How to be an Innovative Educator in your classroom

Innovation

Innovation is a bit of a buzz word around town in education at the moment.  You would expect a reference for a strong educator to contain ‘highly innovative’ or something similar within the description to their pedagogical approach within the classroom.  But what is innovation?  Wikipedia describes innovation as shown below:

Innovation is a new idea, device or process.[1] Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulated needs, or existing market needs.

But from who’s perspective and based upon what? An innovative teacher needs to just introduce new things into their classroom that improve the teaching and learning experience for someone.  It does not have to be a completely new idea.  Look at Wikipedia.  An interesting, innovative idea where anybody can add to a body of existing knowledge and anybody and accept or deny its validity (with evidence).  When it first came on to the scene I remember strongly warning my students not to use it as a source for research.   According to Wikipedia my schools official motto used to be…

You can smoke as long as you do not get caught…

This is now fixed but now I understand it is actually more comprehensive, up-to-date and has less inaccuracies than some other well known sets of Encyclopaedias.  From this idea, many people have used Wikis to create a corporate body of knowledge.  It is a tried and tested idea but if you were to use this idea in your classroom to create a class Wiki on the breakdown of Romeo and Juliet it would be considered an innovation within the classroom.  Don’t know anything about creating a wiki?  You can do the same thing using OneNote.  One scene per page.  Original text in black annotations in any other colour.

romeo and juliet So where do you start if you want to become innovative in your classroom?  As with all good planning start with what you want the students to learn.  This is the what.  Let say we want the students to compare the 1960’s with 2015. Now the How.  You have three choices.  The first is go out and search for the best way for them interact with the knowledge so quality, long term learning can occur.  The second way is get together with some colleagues and brainstorm.  Third, and perhaps the riskiest one, ask your students. Great you are nearly there.  Lets pretend we are going to get the students to produce a Sway comparing one occupation from1960 with another from today.  A great plan but you know nothing about Sway.  This is as far as it gets for most people.  Too hard so we go back to page 56 of the text book and we answer the 10 boring, and limited, questions at the bottom of the page. To be innovative we need to ignore what we do not know at the beginning and work it out as we go along.

It is OK that you do not know it all Make sure you have a great professional learning network (PLN).  These are worth their weight in gold and a whole lot more.  A PLN will be able to answer all your questions and more, they will offer constructive feedback and  push you outside the box, out of the room into the world of unlimited possibilities.   How to get a PLN is discussed here. If you can not find the answers through your PLN ask the students.  Some may have already created a Sway.  If you can still not find how to create a Sway use YouTube.  I sometimes think this has more answers that Wikipedia!!  Lets say you have tried all these avenues and are still at a dead end.  The last (or sometimes the first) port of call is having a ‘lets explore’ lesson with the students.  Anything they can not learn in the first half hour is often not worth knowing.  We all know that students teaching students (and teachers) is a great way to go.  By the due date you will be an expert and it has not taken any additional time out of your day.

The Box 2Another way to learn about some of the amazing things out there are to give students an open slate.  Tell them what you want them to learn and let them work out how they can demonstrate their learning.  Creating a rubric with the class is a great way to do this as the students understand the skills and knowledge you want them to demonstrate and they give ideas of what this looks like.  You can also hold an ‘outside the box’ discussion where students are not allowed to put the ‘normal’ ways of presenting information at school (essay, report etc).  The wilder the better.  This is even better than being innovative yourself.  You are letting the students be innovative.  Offer incentives for the most imaginative (and effective) way to demonstrate what they know and can do. Being innovative in the classroom is not time consuming and often you will get better engagement and outcomes from the students.  Take a step back.  Let the students take control for a while.  You may even learn something.

Being Innovating does not mean you have to be overly creating or spend too much of your time creating new stuff.  It does mean your students will be more engaged in the lessons and better, deeper learning will be occurring both in and out of the classroom.

Work/Life Balance; How OneNote can restore your life

HandsLike most educators I work hard.  My work/life balance is often more WORK/life.  My family, health and mental wellbeing suffer and the demands of being a teacher seem to increase.  Since using OneNote I have found that the balance is coming back.  As a tool for sharing, record keeping and planning, OneNote can help restore your work/life balance to where it should be. By using OneNote for student records I save myself heaps of time.  First there is no photocopying class lists or copying down up to 300 names into some teacher record book which costs me a bundle. I just cut and paste from Excel spreadsheets which are produced from our timetable program.  Ten minutes work and I have all the class lists I need for the whole year.  Even better, when I get a new student into my class or one leaves it is very simple to adjust my table.  Not messy and easy to do.  I also link the students with their individual OneNote notebooks and they have a page where I can record any emails with a click of a button.  Markbook My students use OneNote as their exercise book.  This is a great time saver and has its own built in history.  I do not need to collect books.  I just sync my own OneNote and all my students work is there.  I can see when they worked on their notebook and I do not have to chase students to collect books if they are absent.  Even better I do not have to lug books around and my back is much better for it!  A great thing is if I am tired and can not get through the marking in one night I do not need to hand books back and collect them again at the end of the lesson. The students notebooks are their portfolio of work.  I can show parents development and it is super easy to flick a parent an email to show them what I am talking about over the phone.  This is much quicker that arranging a parent meeting that drags on for 45 minutes! students Using OneNote as a textbook is an amazing timesaver and helps me to be a better teacher.  I can update it on the spot or, if I am in a rush, I can cut and past what I want directly from the internet.  It allows me to differentiate easily and it is not sucking up my time as my colleagues and I can all work on the same task at different levels.  This gives me access to multilevel scaffolding in the same time it would take me to plan a single task or lesson.  Even students can get into the act.  They learn how to summarise and review materials.  Reviewing last lessons practical is also a lot easier if I get them to watch a video they created on OneNote last lesson.Textbook As a tool for planning, OneNote excels.  I can easily share it with my staff or we can work on it together as a shared notebook.  A simple thing to create and modify unit plans which can be ‘tweaked’ as the unit progresses so it is all ready for next year.  I can link online material easily and as it is on my computer I do not have to plug in the URL as it takes me immediately to what I want to look at. Planning The way it should beYour time is valuable.  The last thing you want to be doing is spending it either at work or, even worse, at home doing school work.  Microsoft OneNote is an amazing tool that can help restore the work/life balance. There are a heap of amazing websites that can help you get started but I recommend http://www.onenoteforteachers.com/ as a great place to start.

Top 10 Free Stuff for Teachers! (and your students)

free stuff

Here is my top 10 countdown of free resources found on the Web.  The best is at the bottom. If you know any that are better let me know!

10. Teacher written sites – Why reinvent the wheel when you can get it for free?  Many great educators have produced some fantastic stuff and made it available for all to use.  YouTube, websites, and blogs are all fantastic resources just ripe for using.  Some of my favourite are:

Khan AcademyKhan Academy

Bozeman ScienceBozeman Science

Matthew ObrianMatthew O’Brian

Australian Teacher Blog   Australian Teachers Blog


ixplain9. iXplain – This app is a pen and ink app that also records voice.  Fantastic  for getting students to explain their thinking or creating a tutorial for student and saving it as an mp4  Find it here.

Mosaic8. Mosaic – You need Office 365 for this one but if you do, Mosaic is for you.  Create portals and unique classroom hubs.  It can be used on touch screens as well.  A great way to make things easier on 365.  Find Mosaic here.

Skype7. Skype – This is a great resource for your classroom.  Huh? I hear may of you say.  Paired with Skype in the Classroom students can explore the big wide world without leaving their desks.  Talk with a Scientist working in  Antarctica or talk to a class across the world.  Heaps of lesson plans and ideas available.

To download Skype click here.

 Office Mix 6. Office Mix – Ok you need to have PowerPoint for this free add in.  It is styled as ‘Superpowers for PowerPoint’.   And WOW does it deliver!!  This turns PowerPoint into an interactive one-to-one demonstration and interactive tool.  It can be used to help create a flipped classroom or a great way for students to develop tutorials for each other and to demonstrate their understanding.

To find out more watch this:

Office Mix – a quick tour of features

Office mix is available here.

Ontastic5. Onetastic – Onetastic makes OneNote even more fantastic.  It is for the more advanced OneNote user but there are a few things that are great for the novice as well.  From automating tasks you do all the time with macros to OneCalendar, Onetastic does many of the things you thought you would like and many things you have not even though of yet!  One of the great things about Ontastic is that you can download the bits that you need and ignore the bits you will not need.

Onetastic is available here.

twitter logo4. Twitter – Whether it is for your students or for yourself Twitter is a great marketplace for ideas.  Opinions, research and just good professional discussions, Twitter has it all in nice 140 character bite sized chunks.  An excellent thing to have open during a boring staff meeting or a great way to encourage your students to be precise within their communications.

Twitter is here.

Tweet DeckTweetdeck is a great way to follow several hashtags at once.

It is also available for free here.

PIL network3. Partners in Learning Network – Good PD costs a lot right?  Not here.  Microsoft host an amazing Professional Development on many aspects of technology across the curriculum.  There is also access to free tools and a bank of learning activities from the most amazing and innovative educators across the world.  There are discussions on just about any topic and a whole lot more.  It is about great practice within classrooms across hundreds of subjects.

Join the Partners in learning Network here.  Tell them Ineke sent you 🙂

To do this you need a Microsoft account.  Sign up here if you do not already have one.

Sway2. Sway – Unlike anything you have ever seen before.  Word was created to replace the typewriter, PowerPoint was created to replace the slide show but Sway is just for itself.  As they say on the Sway website:

Sway is an app for expressing ideas in an entirely new way.

It helps you to put ideas and graphics easily into a Sway which will then become the graphic artist for you.  Fantastic for student presentations or for sharing ideas.  Check out example Sways and have a go for yourself here.  You will need a Microsoft account (see above for how to do this).

cropped-onenote.png1. OneNote – They say that the best things in life are free and this proves it!  OneNote is the best thing to come on a screen in my opinion.  A notebook you will never loose and can have everything in the one spot.  It is a filing cabinet in a computer and you can share with as many or few as you wish.  I use it as my students exercise and text book – always up to date and current with everything being relevant to what I am teaching.  It is my planning, mark book and meeting agenda and minutes.    It is found on just about every platform and every device so you always have your OneNote at hand.  If you only look at one thing on my list it has to be this.

Find OneNote here.

OneNote classroom creatorOneNote Class book Creator is a great app that makes setting up a class notebook even easier.

Download it from here.

What is a PLN ? And why do I need one?

What is a PLN

I have often heard educators using the acronym PLN.  I had no idea what it was.  So I did a bit of investigating and discovered that I already had several I just did not call them Professional Learning Networks (PLN’s).  A good, rounded PLN helps me to be a better educator.  It is a place I can gain inspiration and fresh ideas as well as learn from others mistakes.  A good PLN will inspire me, give me great feedback and will challenge me to go further outside of my comfort zone.  They will also offer advice and support if everything does not go according to plan.  Sometimes they will just listen.  Many people in my PLN I have not met and some I will never meet.  Some I will connect with once and some will be with me over my career.  I have not one PLN but many PLN’s that all fill different needs.

My first, and probably most important, are my work colleagues.  As a college we work quite closely together on pastoral care and curriculum development both within and across departments.  These are my everyday, go to, learning network.  They are hardest on me but also know my capabilities better than anybody else.  They challenge me to be better and I intern support them.

I am still learningMy second network are my other Heads of Department within other Catholic schools.  We meet once a term formally but there are a lot of emails going too and fro asking for advice and suggestions.  A great source of sharing resources and discussing pedagogy.

Websites are another way to grow your PLN.  There are a few out there but I would like to tell about the Partners in Learning Network.   This is an amazing site that connects me to over 800 amazing educators from all over the world.  It has access to teaching and learning resources for just about every subject, innovative ideas, tutorials, free professional development,  and discussion boards.  As a free international resource you could spend all you allocated time for professional learning on this site and still have heaps top learn.

Teaching is listeningCurrently I have been selected as a Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator which has connected me to over 40 amazing innovative educators from across Australia as well as others from New Zeeland.   This Network has pushed me to be the best that I can be and helped me to move away from my comfort zone.  I have been exposed to pedagogies that I have experienced before and this network have encouraged and support me to get into staff training.  They have shown me it is possible to lead from behind.  With their support I am making a difference both within my  classroom and across others classes.

Twitter is a great PLN.  I have direct access to experts from around the world on every topic imaginable.  If I want to look at assessment with out grade s I go to #TTOG.  OneNote advice (#onenote) and how to use Minecraft in the classroom (#minecraftedu) is also available.  #aussieED is great for Australian content and discussions from flipped classrooms to formative assessment.  I have even learned how to teach like A pirate!  If you have never been involved in a tweet meet have a go.  Even if you just want to be a voyeur for a while it is ok.  All are welcome.

We learn moreFacebook is more than just for catching up with friends.  There are a lot of pages that deal with all aspects of teaching.  Teachermama.com is the facebook page of a website that has a heap of great ideas.  ‘Teacher Memes’ is a lot of fun and the mission of ‘Teacher ideas’ is to support students learning and save teachers time.

Another network I have are my local and National Associations.  The Science Teachers Association of Tasmania and the Australian Association of Science Teachers are both great networks for fantastic opportunity’s for me to learn about Scientific developments as well as resources and curriculum development.  The Maths Association of Tasmania is also another great resource that does the same things for Mathematics teachers.   I know there are also many other fantastic associations out there for just about every other subject.

Developing and maintaining a PLN as an educator is not longer optional if you want to stay current and do the best for your students.  It easy and all it costs it some time and the desire to learn.

If you are in one of my PLN’s Thankyou.  I am a better teacher because of you.

Please feel free to add any other places to create to a great PLN below.

Technology – The great divide between teachers that do and teachers that do not.

I have noticed throughout my career that there are two types of teachers:  The first are those that embrace technological change, run with the new, try everything that crosses their screen. The second are those that think that using the internet to research and Word to present an assignment is using technology effectively in their classroom (if they do that much).

Some of these teachers are new to the classroom and have had little experience with technology through their schooling.  Commodore 64Many of the teachers that do not actively use technology as part of their teaching pedagogy started teaching when I was in primary school or

before.  I am not that old.  My cousins got a Vic 20 when I was about 10 years old and I was so excited when my parents purchased a Commodore 64.  BBC’s were the height of technology in the classroom in grade 6 and we all went to the AV room to watch Behind The News every Tuesday at 11:30 live on the ABC.  Back then computers were pretty unstable.  You needed to have some basic programming skills to get the most out of the software.  The user manuals took longer to read than the program took to run and if you pressed the wrong button you lost everything.   Printouts were always dot-matrix and looked pretty horrible.

Do not get me wrong, some teachers who are more experienced will take to technology like a dog will chase a bone.  But for some reason, many will not.  When talking to them about the reasons why they do not use technology in their classrooms I get answers such as…

“What if I press the wrong button?”

“I do not know what to do.”

“I might break the computer.”

Back when many of us were introduced to computers they broke pretty easily and had lengthy manuals.  You never just pushed a button to see what it did as you may wipe the hard drive.  Now computers are pretty bomb proof.  The programs are pretty stable and many even back themselves up.  Microsoft products do not even come with a manual as they are pretty intuitive and are designed to be ‘played with’.

COmputer HackerI have been to professional development training sessions where these same technophobes are saying how wonderful the program, idea or task is but then they go back to their classrooms and do the same old thing.  So what is the main difference between teachers that do use technology and those who don’t?  I think that these, very good teachers, have lost the ability, or are scared to play.  It is not their unwillingness to incorporate technology but the fear that they were taught when computers were new about ‘breaking’ the computer.

So what can we do to help people lose this fear?

Start with something that is pretty bomb proof.  Something that links in with what computer skills they already have.  My choice would be OneNote.  You can do amazing things at a very basic level.  Most teachers have some word processing skills and this is easily transferable from Word to OneNote.  Attack their fear head on.  Challenge them to crash the program in 15 minutes or less.   You can not be scared of achieving the task set.  Tell them they need to press every button and see what it does.  Some people may still find this a bit hard so get them to work in pairs, with another person as hesitant to use technology in the classroom as they are.  We know they will not break the computer.  They will get lost, so show then how to get back to where they need to be with as few steps as possible but reward getting lost with lollies or small prizes.  This will help to change their feelings about not wanting to push the wrong button.

Ribbon Hero  2 is also a good way to add a fun element for office 2007 and 2010 version. Read more here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/education/archive/2012/02/15/ribbon-hero-2-free-software-for-teachers-in-february.aspx .

Using OneNote to map flora and fauna in a local area

CameraStudents have difficulty getting enthused about classification.  It would be great if we could step out of the classroom into the middle of the Daintree Rainforest or go diving on the Great Barrier Reef.  Unfortunately the costs are prohibitive, the risk assessment astronomical and I do not think I could convince the English teachers it would be a good use of student time.  Even a short trip to my local national park would be about 5 hours preparation for 30 minutes actual time on the ground after travel.

When looking at classification, adaptation, food webs and all those important biological concepts we are left with books, film, the internet, preserved specimens and our local environment.  This year I decided to try something a bit different.  Each student was asked to take a camera and photograph a plant on the school grounds.  They had to take note of its location, size, any animals on/near and around the plant.  We then created a shared OneNote notebook.

Location of plants on the school grounds.  Red are for living plants.  Yellow are for no longer there.

Location of plants on the school grounds. Red are for living plants. Yellow are for no longer there.

On the fist page was a large map of the school.  We used Bing Maps but any map would do.

Each class had a section and each student had a page.  On the map students were to put an X to show the location of their plant.  This X linked to their own page where they were expected to have at least one photograph. I also encouraged them to have close-ups of the leaves, stem, flowers, seeds or specialised feature.

Students then went out to classify their plant and told us a bit about their plant including scientific name, common names, where it originated from etcetera.

 

Towards the end of the task we asked students to look through the other pages and link their pages to any other students who have the same species of plant.

An example of a typical page created by a student

An example of a typical page created by a student

Over time I hope to map the entire plant population of the school and include all fauna as well.   We will identify local food chains and then develop a school habitat food web.  The depths to where this can go are endless.

The shared OneNote will then be updated every year by each current year 7 class with plants that did not survive being documented with a different coloured X and new plants being included.  The growth of the plant can be included so we can look at growth rates if particular species.  I also hope we can include abiotic factors such as pH, moisture content and other mini climatic factors.  The possibilities are endless.  Please comment if you have any suggestions of how I can improve this task.

 

Enthusing Students through Creating a Film in Science

I had an amazing experience this year.  My colleague and I were reviewing a unit we taught on the creation of the universe last year.  It was a bit blah and students did not engage with the subject matter as much as we would have liked.  The other enemy of teaching was not on our side -time.  We though we would open it up a bit and give students ownership of their own learning and also allow them to work as a group.  We wanted to enthuse the student by creating a film in Science.  In Tasmania Grade 10 is the end of high school so many of our students would be going their separate ways and would not get to work together again.  We decided to take a chance.

We threw out everything we had done before.

The universe in my students hands.

The universe in my students hands.

A rubric was created and we went through what the students were to address.  We discussed that it would be peer assessed.  We discussed what the students knew about the beginning of life and the universe.  Students were told that they had four weeks to research how life the universe and everything came to be.  They needed to create  a film in science and an A4 hand out.  They were allowed to be in groups no larger than three.  We also took a risk and said that the mark was for the group.  There would be no allowances for the student who did nothing and they could not blame an individual for not having their work completed.  If the task was not handed in, the whole group got nothing.  This was made very clear.  We recommended that students mapped out who was doing what and create deadlines for when the research was going to be completed etc.  We also explained that each group would have a formal meeting once a week to discuss their progress.  Students were asked to consider copyright and they were informed that their films were going to be placed on YouTube for public viewing.  Then we left them to it.

As a support we created shared OneNote Notebooks where all students in a group could contribute the content.  We provided help on how to use PowerPoint to create a film in Science but students were allowed to construct their film anyway they wanted.  It was a bit messy.  Students needed to go to silent rooms to record their voiceovers.  Some students would spend some time not working at all.  As a group we very quickly became experts in free text to voice programs and sources for copyright free pictures and music.  I learned a lot about many different video programs and the difference between Microsoft’s PowerPoint versions for the Mac and PC.

In my meetings with the different groups I would generally ask 5 questions:

  • How are you going?
  • Are you having any problems?
  • How are you solving these problems?
  • Where are you going to next?
  • How can I help you?

The groups always amazed me.  Students were enthusiastic about Science by creating a film.  Even groups that looked like they were doing nothing were achieving.  Students who had not handed in a single thing all year were producing work.  There was one student who I had taught for 4 years.  The amount of assessable work he had produced in that time was negligible but in this task he was researching, contributing to his group and doing what we would expect an average student to do.  This topic was no longer ‘blah’ for my students.  They were connecting to it in a meaningful way.  Students were enthused by creating a film in Science.

I got some great films.  Out of 60 students only 3 groups did not get their films completely finished and 2 of those were only because they were not rendered.   This is amazing as the ‘hand it in on time’ rate up to now was about 60%.

Some quotes from my students about this task:

‘I loved this assignment.  It was so much better than doing a project.’

‘The film was a hard but a lot of fun.’

‘Some of it was hard to understand but I really got in to it.  I liked being able to talk about what I had found out with my group.  You should definitely de this again next year!’

I did have a few problems.  One parent really objected to her son being assessed as a ‘group’.  The rubric was done in a bit of a rush and needs some work.  The task needs a bit more definition, some scaffolding would not be a bad idea and students need to remember to focus on not using copyrighted material.  But overall this task is a keeper.  We will be continuing to get students to create a film in Science for this unit next year.

Here are some links to my students films if you would like to see for yourself.  They are not my best ones but generally average and below average students:

                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DtBJzsjEi8

                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Vaf0vZk9FU

                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3c_UT9JOfmg

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