Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Creative, Autonomous, Accountable

Image result for flipgrid

We have been using Flipgrid quite a lot this year - it's one of my favourite new finds. I dabbled a bit last year, but this year I've made a concerted effort to use it more consistently. I've made some progress in that area, and I'm looking forward to using it more effectively as time goes by.

This is the tool fo you if you have ever wanted a way for students to provide a verbal/video response to a prompt without needing to host the video somewhere (eg film on an iPad, then upload to Google Drive, then share... so many steps!) Students can log in with their school email credentials and record a video right away. The teacher has control over whether the videos are private or viewable by other students in the class (or, in fact, by other students with the link to the "grid")

There are lots of great resources created by teachers for integrating the use of Flipgrid in the classroom and beyond. For example :

Flipgrid eBook - The Educators' Guide to Flipgrid. This has everything you need to get started. How to sign up, how to give your students access, how to go beyond simple videos.

Flipgrid Integration - So many ideas for integrating Flipgrid in specific subject areas, for specific ages!

Following Global School Play Day (see last week's post), I asked my students to reflect on their experiences. I recorded a video prompt in Flipgrid, and provided them with some reflection questions to consider.

I was out sick, so this was an activity that I was able to leave for my students to complete with a substitute (another perk to using Flipgrid!). Many responses were thoughtful and detailed some (as is often the case in middle school when there is a substitute) lacked depth. When I do this again next year, I will take more time to prepare my students to respond thoroughly.

Most of the feedback I received was very positive. Students were happy to have had a "break from the normal school day." For the most part, students felt that the expectations had been followed by their peers, and that it was a fun experience. Many of them commented on the fact that it was enjoyable to be able to do what they wanted, when they wanted, speaking to the fact that a "normal" school day is generally structured by the teacher. I am interested in exploring how more of that freedom can be incorporated into my classroom.

One of the comments that was surprising to me came from a grade 8 student. She stated first that she enjoyed Global School Play Day, but that, "I wished there were more activities I could do, because I was kind of bored. Like, if I was allowed to, like, build a fort, I would be pretty happy."

I was surprised by this response because I tried very hard to be clear that I was not putting any limits on what students were "allowed" to do. In fact, I explicitly stated that, as long as they were following the expectations we established together, anything was possible. All of the students in my classroom chose to spend most of the day playing either cards or board games, so I wonder if she felt that building a fort would break some sort of unspoken rule. I will absolutely follow-up with this particular student, to determine how I could have made it clear that any activity was possible.

Students' Flipgrid responses

Another comment that came from multiple students, and one that didn't surprise me at all, was that they wished there had been more organization to the day. They are so used to having their time scheduled for them, they struggled when they were given freedom to choose their own paths. I see this in project work as well, and I hope that having experienced this day of unstructured play will allow them to draw some comparisons when it comes time to choose their passion projects, or other free-choice ways of showing their learning.

Thinking creatively, making decisions autonomously, and holding themselves accountable are skills I strongly encourage in my students. These are the skills they will need moving forward. These are skills we could all stand to improve upon.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

It Takes Time, and it is Incredibly Worth It

Today was Global School Play Day ( and my students and I participated wholeheartedly. There was a wonderful hum in the room all day, with all of my students engaging in unstructured play time. They organized themselves, chose their activities, rose to the expectations we had set out, and generally had an awesome day. The activities they chose were varied and completely self-directed.

Some students preferred to spend their time reading...
... or drawing ...

... or learning to play chess!

Some of the highlights from the day include:

- My newest student (arrived just three weeks ago) noticing someone not being included and inviting them to take part in a game without making a big deal out of it.

- The sincere and sudden vocal excitement from all players when another player took a risky move in Black Jack and it paid off. The rest of the activity in the classroom stopped and we all revelled in the glory of a well-timed risk.

- This exchange, fully embracing the expectation to be good communicators :
     "Do you feel like playing Spot It with me?"
     "Not right now, but when I'm done this game of Solitaire I will."
     "OK, sounds good."

- This statement when I approached a group playing Cranium, showing their willingness to improvise. "We don't really know what the actual rules are, so we made up our own. Is that OK?" YES.

One of the most important contributors to the success of GSPD was the lead-up over the two days preceding the actual event. As a class, we spend a significant amount of time focused on building strong community, so I already have some structures in place to set expectations collaboratively with my students. For this activity, I began by outlining my expectations of them for the day.

Students then took some time to come with expectations they had of me and of each other. Each class came up with their own, and the differences in their expectations is reflective of the culture of the individual classes. The grade 8s spend a lot of time with me (at least 3 hours daily), while the grade 7 class only comes to me for an hour each day. As a result, we haven't had as much time to focus on community building.

Grade 8 Expectations

Grade 7 Expectations

We also talked about what they were excited about for a day devoted to unstructured play, and what they were worried or concerned about. This part of the conversation was very helpful to me, as it let me put some of their worries to rest (some worried about what would happen if a toy was accidentally broken, some that they would not be able to handle a full day without an adult organizing them into activities and groups, others that there might be judgement about what games or activities people chose) I was so impressed with their openness in sharing their worries, and the care they took in responded to the concerns of others (some of the expectations above came out of the conversation about worries) Without those conversations ahead of time, I think our day could have played out very differently. Having a list of expectations that we co-created allowed me to quickly make reference to #4 for example, and students would use them to remind each other of what they should be doing.

This student taught multiple classmates how to play chess over the course of the day

Students creating a marble maze together

I had a moment of concern when I sent out my memo to parents last week, explaining the event. We have had some school closures lately because of weather, and this would be another day without "real school", but I did not receive any negative responses from parents at all. I've been really focused on building community with my parents this year as well, through very regular communication about what goes on in our classroom. I hope and believe this has contributed to a certain level of trust when it comes to some of the paths I take with my students.

Grade 7s at play!

Building a strong community is the reason I can engage in the types of activities I write about on this blog. It takes time, and it is incredibly worth it.