Small Packages Lead to Great Innovation

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“There’s so many pieces of candy to choose from!” Sarah said excitedly. “I’m not sure what to pick! I’m getting all confused!”

Every new school year I try to incorporate a new idea, unit, tech tool…something…into my lessons. I’ve realized that for me and my teaching…new is a must, I am not a rinse and repeat teacher; I like taking risks.

This year I signed up for George Couros’ Innovators Mindset #IMMOOC course. I had constructed a unit over the summer, Creativation, and thought the course would be a perfect opportunity to try out my unit.

My inquiry based unit infused DeBono’s  Six Thinking Hats method to assist learners in a debonohatsgreater understanding of their critical thinking and problem solving skills. When I studied DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats in college, I automatically connected with it. I am a thinker. I use these hats when putting forth an idea or discussing a concept. Naturally, my lessons and created units emulate this as well. By using this model, it will require my learners to look at a problem with different types of thinking.  Each type of thinking is represented with a hat color, and at the end of the discussion, learners should have a better understanding of the problem from different approaches in order to reach a highly creative and innovative solution.

My unit revolved around issues, dilemmas and problems that would arise from my children’s everyday life. For example, my daughter Sarah continues to get monkey bar callouses; how can we construct monkey bars to alleviate this? Change the design or add a garment to wear? The assessments were formulated, the lessons were constructed, the materials were gathered and made, and I felt confident in my plan. I was pumped…then the #IMMOOC course started.

When George Couros does something…he does it BIG. Go BIG or Go Home must be his motto. There were over a thousand people signed up for the #IMMOOC course. He also had assistance from Katie Martin, a passionate educator and Director of Professional Learning at the University of San Diego. I signed up to every #IMMOOC  Facebook page and even an #IMMOOC group on Voxer. I received constant updates about the course and various challenges from George and Katie. The highlight was tuning into their #IMMOOC YouTube channel for guest interviews, words of encouragement and ideas.

There were a plethora of ideas. Ideas were coming at me so fast, and so furiously, my head was spinning. I was reading blogs, watching the videos and listening to other’s ideas on Voxer. The more ideas I came into contact with, the more I doubted my own unit and plan. The more I read, the more confused I became. This confusion led to more doubt. The more I doubted, the more I hesitated to proceed. The more I hesitated, the more I began to think and re-think my work.

athis My question then became, can large group collaboration hinder innovation?

When innovating, is it best to innovate independently at the start, then after some time, bring forth ideas to a small group of others?

Is there something to be said about innovation and small group work?

When I think of innovation, I naturally think of Steve Jobs.  Many see him as an inventor, however I do not. He began with an idea to make something better, and from that idea, asked others to assist with his product. He didn’t invent the technology for his products, but he found ways to use the inventions of others to bring forth innovation that could benefit everyone. He worked independently at the start, then consulted with his tribe. Does innovation have an independent side?

I greatly enjoy the podcast, Coaching For Leaders with Dave Stachowiak. In his post, “This One Process Change Will Drive Innovation“, he mentions how beneficial it can be for participants to brainstorm independently, and then (after a few days) release their ideas to a small group. He continues to say that there is less immediate judgement; that everyone’s ideas are heard and discussed. Because of this, there are more diverse contributions. There isn’t a “run with this one idea and leave the rest behind” moment. All ideas are considered.There are many avenues, but one main road to focus on.

As I continue to reflect on the #IMMOOC, I realize I became lost. There were so many wonderful ideas and interesting viewpoints, I could not keep up with them all. As a learner, I was overwhelmed; hence my lack of participation in the course. My take away is simple; innovation needs collaboration, but in small doses. This small group needs independent time to think, brainstorm, and construct ideas. Once all ideas are presented, that small group can elaborate, and even collaborate with other sub-groups, before considering all input and choosing a clear path. It’s difficult to state an idea, have hundreds of others add to it, then know what direction to go. I will continue on with my unit. I will ensure my learners have independent time to brainstorm and reflect, as well as contribute to their small collaborative group.

This #IMMOOC course gave me a better understanding of the importance of collaboration and innovation. It helped me to understand that great innovation comes in small packages.

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Grow Their Brain

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How do you grow a brain? It’s Saturday morning and I’m deep in thought. I’m revising a growth mindset unit for the following week. After 18 years, I still begrudgingly work on Saturdays. Why is it that teachers don’t like to write lesson plans, but like to be prepared?

This week was the kick off to our Growth Mindset unit.  This inquiry based mini unit focuses on praise, empathy, grit, risk taking, reflection and feedback. It also includes collaborative projects and team building activities.  My learners become familiar with Kid President Pep Talk videos and his words of wisdom and encouragement. It will also be the foundation for our creativity and innovation (creativation) sessions for George Couros‘, The Innovator’s Mindset Online Course #IMMOOC.

Why begin our innovation course with Growth Mindset?

Well, I think about a fixed mindset and growth mindset this way: If teachers or learners subscribe to a common belief that things are good…right here, right now…and not progress forward in any way, the result will be, okay at best (fixed mindset). This way of thinking will most likely not produce anything innovative. If teachers and learners think freely, embrace change (rather than the status quo) they are more likely to create environments that produce risk taking and creative solutions. In other words, a growth mindset will lead to innovative solutions.

When it comes to innovation, I feel a fixed mindset will squash creativity. If my gifted and talented learners believe their innate skills and their current level of intelligence is what helps them succeed, they will fail to recognize the power of continuous learning. They will fail to recognize what they may become.

Can we change a learner’s mindset? How can we best cultivate, nurture and operate a growth mindset within our classroom of learners to drive innovation?

I enjoy constructing units of study. My previous school district did not have a “textbook series” for Language Arts, Social Studies, or Math, when I first started teaching 1st grade, 15 years ago. Our lessons reflected best practices, our learners interests, and each individual teacher’s unique style. They were authentic and real. It’s easy to ditch a textbook, when you never relied on one.

This Growth Mindset unit is called “Growing Our Brain” and it begins with a mini lesson which focuses on the impact of praise. We discuss what praise is, why we give it, what phrases we’ve heard, and how it feels when we work hard on something and then DON’T receive praise. You know, you put your blood, sweat and tears into a project and your work is over looked. OUCH.

As we were discussing this, the conversation turned towards failure and how our learners deal with it. So, I shared two quotes about failure, one from Michael Jordan and one from Thomas Alva Edison. I asked my learners to analyze and interpret these quotes. Some wrote down their ideas, others struck up a conversation. When their responses began to sound similar (they’re about not giving up); I asked them to go deeper, and use their critical thinking skills. I waited patiently. Then, a learner’s profound statement came. He said…

“If we keep trying, and keep trying, and don’t stop trying then we don’t fail. We don’t fail because we’re still trying…we’re still working it out! Failure is when we stop, when we give up. We gotta keep going. Don’t let failure win.”

~ 3rd Grade learner, G&T, Commonwealth Charter Academy

Whoa. My learners “get it”. They understand an important part of Growth Mindset is grit and perseverance. It’s about the process, and sticking with the problem until they figure it out. They begin to understand that their “giftedness” is not so much an innate ability they have, but they can grow their intelligence, continuing their learning. Challenges and working through them will grow their brain. Most importantly, they realize they can succeed in areas that they don’t feel strongly in. They just need to stick with it and grow their brain.

How do you help your students grow their brain? What foundation will you lay for your learners to innovate? How will you do this? Will you adopt a growth mindset? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation Is A Hot Mess

 

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Every September this working mom feels like a hot mess. Unfortunately, the start of the school year is always busy for our family. I have three very adorable, very active kids. I teach all day and I drive home to do the after school activity shuffle. Each day, my home gets messier and messier.

One day, I was home in our office thinking about innovation in my virtual classroom.  I have read George Couros‘ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, a few times. It’s phenomenal and I can not encourage teachers enough to get the book, read it, and share your thoughts. I have also signed up for his online course that mirrors the ideas in the book. My next few blog posts will reflect how I will be incorporating my innovation sessions (Creativation) into my virtual lessons. Yes, I  have a plan…I think!

For those of you who may not know, I am a cyber teacher. I teach learners online and throughout the year invite them to our family learning center.  I feel I innovate everyday as a cyber educator. I work with some amazing teachers, true innovators and educational pioneers; they are finding ways to enhance learning in a non-traditional school…everyday. No, there are no “how to teach the online learner” books out there, nothing to help us (Dave Burgess, you listening?). We focus on pedagogy and best practices just like every teacher out there, but we do it online. I feel we are at the fore-front of providing rich, thought provoking, innovative lessons to all learners regardless of where they live (inner city, rural, suburbia) in the state of Pennsylvania.

As I look around our messy home office, strewn with back to school calendars, sport forms and paper work, the questions begin to swirl around in my head…

What conditions are ideal for creative innovation?

How important is the working environment to innovation?

Are there ready made barriers in classrooms or cyber rooms that could discourage students and impede innovation?

All of my learners are home schooled and each of their home environments’ are different. Some live in more urban areas, in small apartments, others may live in homes or on rural farms. Will one environment provide a better platform for creative innovation than another?

When I think about my gifted and talented class and our innovation sessions, I don’t worry so much about the actual virtual room environment. We see each other via webcams, they talk and interact with one another.Our relationships are strong. We have breakout rooms that provide a small group setting for collaboration and individual work. I know many learners feel comfortable, eager to participate in our lessons and hungry to learn. However, I know some will have difficulty with risk taking. I know many will struggle with multiple solutions. “Is this right?” they will ask. Most gifted and talented learners struggle with growth mindset. Some learners will have a hard time with the amount of freedom to innovate. I am anticipating some sort of issue with generating ideas and being open to others ideas. I have not thought about their physical working environment and it’s possible impact in regards to innovativeness.

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This quote speaks to me and makes me wonder. Could the environment we’re in, lead to more innovative ideas?  I’ve never been a fan of having an extremely messy desk or house, but I’m starting to think I might need to leave it messy more often. It may be time to test this theory. What conditions will you have in place for your learners to innovate?  Will you be changing your physical working environment for learners during your innovation sessions? How? Why?

Going Bananas Over Apps

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This summer was an extremely hot one. Often times the heat index surpassed the 100º mark. It was almost as hot as the Pokémon Go app that came out in early July. I remember being at Sunset Beach, NC with my family, as my children and their friends were playing it. They were trying to find and capture Pikachus, wandering throughout our complex, glued to their iPhone screens. They stumbled over curbs, bumped into people, and were even honked at by passing cars.

A day later, the Twitter buzz on how to bring Pokémon Go into the classroom developed. Before I knew it, there were numerous Twitter Educational Chats and blogs on enhancing units of study with the game. I even tweeted an article about it. As I look back on it, I cringe a bit. I usually don’t jump on the bandwagon so quickly. I am the fish that swims up stream. I like to question, and want to feel confident in what I am putting out there to my followers. As a cyber educator, I am not skeptical in using apps as learning tools. I use quite a few to enhance learning in my cyber classroom. I’m skeptical in an educator’s need to rush into using them. I have so many questions surrounding the benefits of using the latest app phenomena into a learning environment.

Why do we as educators feel the need to rush into incorporating “the latest app” into our learning?

Are teachers over eager, latching onto the newest apps, for that tiniest sliver of learning, or for an easy connection to their learners?

Is it about the learner or the app?

Are we robbing children of owning something for themselves?

When I look at the numerous apps my own children use (Instagram, Snapchat, PokemonGo, Musical.ly), I can’t help but think that we may be robbing them of the joy of exploration, discovery and ownership. I have seen it with my own children. My daughter Sophia greatly enjoys the arts. As Ms. Creativityshe thinks creatively, and sees things differently. She has even created her own line of plant based lip gloss for teens, infused with vitamins (lip gloss with raspberry juice, and hardened coconut oil). Sophia always finds the next hip app and creates something amazing with it. Musical.ly is an app she greatly enjoys at the moment. She loves to make music videos.When I asked her what app it was and if I could join in, she said, “Mooooom, really? Can’t this just be my thing?” Her comments sounded so similar to my own youth, when my teachers would try to impress a class by reciting lyrics from a popular song. Some learners thought it was cool. But it made us want to find a “new” song because we didn’t like them in “our territory”. We didn’t want our “coolness” to be associated or connected to our teacher or any adult for that matter.

If we as educators rush to incorporate the next best thing, are we robbing our learners of their youthful identity just because we as educators are struggling to reach them?

I feel our learners need an identity. We as teachers don’t need to poach every single thing kids like and try to use it for learning. I think the older the learner gets, the less receptive they are of us, as educators, hijacking their interests. In all honesty, I’m not sure Pokemon Go is the future of learning. The idea of using it in the classroom is still focused around finding things, not around powerful learning ideas, and being empathetic to student needs. Learners need personal connections, more than another learning fad.

The use of Pokémon Go as a learning tool has died down tremendously. I am sure that there will be another new and exciting app around the corner, waiting to be hailed as the next latest and greatest learning tool. As I write this though, I still have many questions surrounding the use of apps in learning. Are we personally experimenting with these new apps, trying to find the connection and relevance of bringing it to our learners?  How do you know which one will be the right one for your classroom environment? Enlighten me. What are your thoughts?

 

Don’t Miss The Boat

Online education is like a rising tide,it's going to lift all boats.

“Are you crazy?! Have you really thought about this?! People would KILL for your position!”

These are the things my siblings said to me when I told them I was leaving my 3rd grade position at a public school in NJ. I worked there for 16 years. It was a great place to start, I met some awesome lead learners (Hi Brad!), it was fine. As the years progressed, I felt I needed something more. I needed something challenging, something different, something more than fine. I applied and was offered a teaching opportunity at a public cyber charter school in PA. And then things became very interesting.

Most people aren’t familiar with public cyber schools.  I often find myself telling them about our cyber school and all the wonderful learning that happens online and at our family learning center. Then, almost instantaneously the questions begin…

“Do you even teach?” (Yes)

“Do you have a class?” (Yes)

“Do you see them, can they see you?” (Yes, we use webcams)

“Are you giving them links to click on and learn?” (Yes, sometimes)

“Do your learners spend the entire day in front of a computer?” (No)

“How can they learn from the internet?” (Oh, boy…)

A question that a fellow educator and Twitter friend recently asked me has been lingering on my mind. He asked,

“Can you build strong relationships with your students online?” ~ Oskar Cymerman

This stopped me in my tracks. Why would he question this? Don’t we build relationships with individuals online, like I had formed with him and so many others, on Twitter? Can learning relationships only be formed face to face? I continue to learn a tremendous amount from my fabulous #PLN and the numerous chats, blog posts, edu articles, and blabs. Yet, I have only met a few Twitter friends in person. Why was he asking this?

When I began my cyber teacher experience, one of my fears (I had many) was if I would be able to connect with my learners. How would I do that? I have always been an animated teacher. I’m able to capture their attention and incorporate playfulness visually, kinesthetically and vocally into my lessons. I know how to simplify ideas and concepts to reach all learners. Would I be able to do all these things as a cyber, online teacher?  Can I build relationships with my cyber students as I had done with my traditional “brick and mortar” students?

Yes, I can and I have. Yes, we can build strong relationships online. Yes, I am still animated, playful, and fun. Yes, students can connect and learn from a cyber teacher. How can I tell? At our school we receive feedback from parents, students, colleagues and administrators.  My learners and I interact online, and in person. We email, FaceTime, call, we attend various meet and greets, and field trips. I speak not only with my learners on a regular basis but also with their parents who attend lessons with them. YES! Parents sit in on every cyber lesson I have! The trifecta (Student, Parent, Teacher) relationship is so powerful. I am most proud of the relationships I have with my parents and learners. Parents learn together with our class. They support the work we do, add to our discussions, reinforce concepts and ensure deeper learning at home.

I often ask my son Gabe to read my blog, and let me know his viewpoint. This is how he responded…

“You know mom, school is just a place where teachers teach what they have to, you know, curriculum and test prep. When I want to learn something, something that’s important to me, I know where I can find it and who I can learn from. I build those relationships online, I can make them happen. Kids just go to the source.  A lot of the time, well recently, its not from a school, its not from a teacher or the relationship I have with my teachers. I just think teachers don’t understand that.”

~Gabe Howard, 15

Whoa.

Today, learners are not waiting for a relationship with their teacher to form, to learn something new. They don’t have to wait to learn. They build relationships and learn concepts online daily. To disregard this fact, is to disregard our times, what is relevant to our learners now. Our generation of learners are an iPoding, texting, Googling, YouTubing and Facebooking. They live during a time of dramatic technological changes. For many of them, texting is the chosen method of communication and YouTube is the chosen method of online learning. Whether you feel this is good or this is bad, is irrelevant. This virtual presense will not go away.

We as tenured teachers form and maintain relationships by meeting face to face, talking on the phone, and writing notes and letters.  Today’s learners build relationships by texting, Facetiming, emailing and social media. They have access to so much and often times contact the source directly. We need to bridge the gap of old and new. There are more ways to form a learning relationship than face to face. We need to accept and adapt to this modern way. We can’t afford to miss the boat any longer.