Thursday, December 1, 2016

Innovator's Mindset & Celebrate DeSTEMber

Dave Burgess taught our staff the 6 most insulting words a person can say, "It's easy for you, you're creative!" If you have ever seen Dave speak he doesn't just tell you these words, he asks them out in an over the top, pirate. theatrical production that he pulls off incredibly well. Dave's point is that there is nothing easy about planning these incredible lessons that last with our students, even for  people who seem to have these ideas drop out of the sky into their minds.

As I read The Innovator's Mindset, I connected it to what Dave Burgess had said. Just like creative lesson planning is a mindset, so to is innovation. I approached Hour of Code with the idea that I could do what had been done before, or I could use this as an opportunity to be creative and innovate the experience that we are offering Merton students. From that spark of an idea grew the month of DeSTEMber. An opportunity that goes well beyond the coding work that students will do December 5-9, but also includes outside experiences brought into our schools.

Today I kicked off our Celebrate DeSTEMber month with the STEAM Museum visiting Merton school. I will admit, I was nervous. I had sold this program as being great! I had convinced teachers and administrators to take time out of their day to come. The truth is...I had never seen the program in action. I took a risk, because innovation is a risk. Sometimes it is going to work and sometimes it isn't. I am glad to say today is one of the days that it worked. I watched as 400 kids grades 4K-4th walked through the doors and were awe inspired by their ability to access robots, generators, gears, 3-D printers, and technology in a hands on museum quality exhibit. More importantly, I watched as the light bulbs clicked for our students and they became creators and innovators.

Isn't that our goal? Not that we create an innovator's mindset for ourselves, but that we model an innovator's mindset for our students so that they grow to have one as well. I am so excited about the Celebrate DeSTEMber events that are going to be happening throughout the month. I would never say that it was an easy thing to pull off (and we are only one day into it), but after what I saw today I know that it is going to be every bit worth it.

Curious what else is going on during DeSTEMber? Check out my web page to learn more about it!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Every Day is not a 10! (But today was)

When I took this job, I was very nervous about how it would compare to my days in the classroom. Being a classroom teacher is stressful, slightly chaotic, very busy, and so worth all of it. I loved the victories I had with my students on the personal and academic level. I loved the growth that I could see throughout the course of the year. I loved the people that I collaborated with to plan the most meaningful and long lasting lessons. I loved being a teacher! Therefore, the idea of leaving that all behind and finding that love doing something else was a bit overwhelming. However, just as I expected my students to take risks in order to grow, I had to be willing to step far outside my comfort zone to push myself professionally.

After about 6 weeks in this job my district administrator asked me to rate how I thought it was going. He asked that I use a scale of 1-10 where 1 is I absolutely hate it and 10 is it's amazing. I gave that day an 8. Nothing had gone horribly wrong, I hadn't been offended by anyone's attitude towards me, and I felt fairly caught up on my work (meaning my to do list was on one page not two). He asked what I gave teaching, and I admitted quickly that teaching hadn't been a 10 everyday either. I loved being a teacher, but there were days that I felt things could have gone better, e-mails that hit me the wrong way, or student behaviors that I wasn't please with. I am okay with the fact that not every day is going to be a 10.

I strive for excellence (let's be as close to 10 every day as we can), but I don't strive for perfection. If every day HAS to be a 10, then I fear I will become unwilling to take risks that might lead to failure. I fear that if I hold this expectation of a 10 over my head then I will stop celebrating the successes. Ten days make me feel amazing right now, days that are 8 are fine but remind me that there is something to be striving for.

All of that being said...TODAY WAS A 10!!! What makes something a 10 day? (I know that's what you're thinking) Let me tell/show you!
  1. Amazing progress in the math class that I am co-teaching in. The amount of time that the teacher can spend on small group instruction in our new model is going to help the students immensely. I am already seeing the students more independent in utilizing the technology (tablets and netbooks) and the teacher has learned so much more about each student because of the way we have organized instruction. 3 days in and no turning back!
  2. Awesome planning for science! Our teachers rotate who is teaching science which means a new group of teacher is getting started on a new unit right now, and I had the opportunity to sit down and plan with one of those teachers. Her smile and statement of "This was fun!" was a great way to leave the meeting. The idea that we had 5 days of lessons prepped for next week made me feel accomplished as well. 
  3. I stopped by our middle school science class today to ask a quick question. Instead, I found myself pulled into an engaging conversation about atomic structure and then taken on a field trip inside an atom. Yes, today our young scientists were taken to the back parking lot of the school to understand that if they are holding the nucleus the electrons are on the far ends of the parking lot. It was fun to watch the light bulb above students' heads light up as they could visualize how much empty space exists in an atom, and watching what an engaging lesson our teacher had created was inspiring as well.
  4. Today wrapped up my first quarter of STEM Elective classes. My students in both classes were remarkably dedicated to these classes, but the project created by my Pallet to project students really blew me away. Today they turned in their reflective videos on the process and I was really touched by how much they have grown. 
On top of those 4 things it is Friday, and next week starts new student electives for 2nd quarter. I have a couple of planning meetings and co-teaching opportunities already filled into my schedule for next week and hope the number of chances for me to dive into classrooms continues to grow!Today was a 10, and if Monday is a 10 that will be great! However, if it happens to be a 7 I will just see that as an opportunity to work towards Tuesday being an 8.

Have a great weekend anyone who happens upon my Friday thoughts!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Innovator's Mindset - Part 2: Laying the Groundwork

I am in a book study about the book The Innovator's Mindset. Our second assignment was to choose something from the second part of the book and write about it, get involved with it, react to it, etc. No less than 10 times in this section did I think to myself "There is the quote I am going to write my blog about." But then I read on and had the same reaction 2 pages later. The ideas brought forth in this section are not only thought provoking, but also action provoking. After letting the ideas meld in my mind for a day or two, I have decided upon which portion to focus.

Pages 82-84 talk about Disrupting Your Routine. It includes a blog post in which an educator discusses being a student in the school for two days. The author did everything the students did, took the notes, listened to the lessons, did the school work. The author had the following three take aways...

  1. Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting. 
  2. High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately ninety percent of their classes. 
  3. You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long. 
I found myself reflecting on what our students do all day. I am in the classroom teaching my own students far less now then I have been in previous years, but that means I spend much more time walking around the hallways traveling between places. I think Merton has phenomenal teachers, but I do find that I see a lot of students sitting in their desks. I found myself wondering how our students are actually spending their time. I think it is difficult for teachers to always put together the bigger picture of their students' days when their main focus is on the curricular goals they have for their content area. I found myself wondering what the results of my day(s) as a student would be. 

So I have decided to take action. Instead of wondering what a day in the life of a Merton student would be like, I am going to live a day, or two, in the shoes of our middle schoolers. I am not going in to evaluate the teachers, but instead to be able to come back with an overall look at what a day in our student's shoes would be like. I want to be able to come back with technology integration ideas, engagement ideas, and feedback that will help start conversations.

The book poses the question "Would you want to be a student in your classroom?" I want to experience life as a student in each of our classrooms, so that I can go back and help create environments that will make me want to live as a student in our classrooms each and every day. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Items 2, 3, 9 & 12 Checked off the 16 Things List

In my effort to continue pushing my zone of comfort, and therefore helping the staff I work with push their zone of comfort, In continued this week to check things off the 16 things to try in 2016 list posted by Shake Up Learning. While this list doesn't dictate my day, my goals for tech integration, or my conversations with teachers, it is a good reminder on my desk of where I should be aiming to go with my personal understanding and utilization of technology. Therefore, this week I bring you 1/4 of the list checked off and ready to share. 

Item #2: Sketchnoting: I had tried this last week and posted my attempt. However, I was convinced I could do it better before checking it off the list. This week I left a piece of paper and my package of colored sharpies on my desk and worked to add something to my paper each day as I accomplished it (or at the end of the day reflecting on what I had accomplished) I did far less doodling in between, and like the vibrant colors sharpies provided as opposed to colored pencils the week before. Maybe next week I will attempt a digital version, but for now here is a Sketchnote of my week. 

Item #3: Blogging: I have never been good at journal. The idea of writing things in a little book that no one was ever going to read gave me no comfort. I can't tell you how many pretty journals I begged my mother to buy me, only to use the first 3 pages and never write in them again. To start this school year I decided that I would try blogging (again...I had a failed attempt in college). I don't have a huge following, and I am not sure I ever will, but blogging makes me feel like I am writing for a potential audience and a potential purpose. So if you have read this far in my blog, thank you for being my purpose in continuing to write!

Item #9: Google+ Community: A few years ago I joined Google+ and was told it was going to be the next facebook where I wanted to check things and post things constantly. Needless to say Google+ has not caught on in my social circle as swiftly as facebook, but in my professional circle it is picking up steam. A book chat professional development series that I am participating in is now through a Google+ Community, and our school improvement committee created and joined a community as well. I see it serving a different connecting purpose for me as compared to facebook, but I think that's a good thing to have separation of personal and professional in that aspect of my technology life. 

Item #12: A Voxer Chat: I will be honest, Voxer freaks me out a little bit. I don't know if it was my principals story of leaving the app on while using the bathroom and providing his group a special soundtrack to their chat, or just the idea of having another thing to keep track of using, but I wasn't one to jump on the Voxer bandwagon. However, I am part of a book discussion right now on the George Couros book The Innovator's Mindset and being asked to use Voxer as one of the communication tools. I don't hate it, but I have not yet fallen in love with it' to the point that I am walking around appearing to talk to myself while actually voxing people. I have played with it enough to cross it off my 16 before 2016 list, but not enough to make a final determination on how long it will remain among my other apps. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Item 1 & 2 in 16 Things Teachers should try in 2016

I recently read a blog post by ShakeUpLearning about the 16 things that educators should be trying this year. It is always interesting to me to see what people think is the next great thing in education and to try to predict where I need to be ready to help teachers go in their teaching. I decided to take some time to see how many of these things I am already doing, and what I needed to give a chance. 

Item 1: Google Cardboard. 
    Google Cardboard is something that I am familiar with. We had the opportunity last year to be a pilot site for Google Expeditions and had 500 students use cardboard in the same day! It was awesome. Now that Google expeditions kits are coming to the market place it is my goal to purchase one for our district as a resource that teachers can access to give their students as close to an authentic experience in places that we would never have had the opportunity to access. 

Item 2: Sketchnoting
    Oh great! I was on item two of the list and don't even know what the words mean. Google I go. I discovered that Sketchnoting is this idea that you can draw/doodle/graphic organizer your notes along the way. This infographic from explains the basics of what you are attempting to do, and Leigh Cassell's share of Sylvia Reosenthal's sktechnote about sketchnoting helped as well. 

Image result for Sketchnoting  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Busy in the Best Kind of Way

    One of my biggest fears in taking this job was that I wouldn't have anything to do. As shown by my blog post "But what do I do on the first day?" I have an ongoing uneasiness that people will not ask to work with me, or find value in sharing their precious prep time working on my ideas. This week, however, I was BUSY! The kind of busy where you are watching the clock to make sure that you aren't late to your next classroom, where you are wishing you would have scheduled a couple extra minutes to get from place to place, the type of busy that leads to apologies for being late to your next meeting. It is a different kind of busy then the busy you face as a classroom teacher. This kind of busy is not just for the students you teach, but accountability to adults and their students. It is the kind of busy that I look back on and think, "who would help if I didn't take this job?" It is the kind of busy that makes me feel appreciated, and needed, and excited about being busy again next week. 

I thought I would take this opportunity to brag about the amazing people I work with and the things that have kept me busy all week. Here are a couple of highlights. 

I would never have guessed that I was the type of person to like meetings. However, my meetings this week included planning amazing Project Lead the Way curriculum, getting teacher buy in to google classroom use, initiating digital assessment with google forms in mathematics, setting up our Global read aloud partnerships, becoming a pilot site for some pretty awesome 3D models, and leading JEDI training on Interactive documents. It was a busy week, but that's the way I like them. I enjoy being busy when it is busy in the best sort of way. Busy teaching, busy learning, busy helping other people impact the lives in even more ways. have a great weekend everyone! I hope it is busy in the best sort of way!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Motivation for Next Week

Sometimes we get to Fridays and say, "where did that week go?" Other times we get to Fridays and say, "Thank goodness we finally made it!" This week I got to Friday and thought, "Wow! What a good week!" This job is a work in progress. There are still moments in my day when I admit to myself (and sometimes others) that I am not sure what I am doing, but I think that is part of any job. The reality is that thinking you know what you are doing all the time leaves very little room for growth. Admitting that I don't know what I am doing gives me an opportunity to grow in that area and I think that is great. 

This week there were things that came up that challenged me as an educator and as a person. I could take that challenge and use it to feel defeated. I could take that challenge and use it to do better. I could take that challenge and ignore it. It is how you choose to accept that challenge that defines who you are as an educator. The role that I have been placed in means that I have the opportunity to impact every child in the district! If I work my days right I get to contact two building principals, classroom teacher K-8, students K-8, and everyone else who makes this school what it is. That is a huge privilege that I didn't have trying to manage the day to day happenings in my own classroom with my own students. There is a quote...

but I would argue that with great privilege comes great responsibility as well. I have the privilege of being in every classroom, but the responsibility that high level science education is being delivered. I have the privilege of seeing countless children's faces light up when they get something to work on their computers, but the responsibility to support their teachers in providing those opportunities. I am challenged to be better, because we should all be challenging ourselves to be better. 

As part of my new role, I built on the ideas of our middle school teachers and started a website called Merton Science Scholars. the idea of the site is that 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who are interested in science, reporting, photography, website building have place to showcase their skills and share their work. I talked to three grade levels of students during the second week of school and 31 of them have signed up to take part in this project. I have 13 reporters, 24 photographers, 3 guest bloggers, and 7 website editors (I know that adds to more than 31...some kids just wanted to be part of it twice!) 31 kids who agreed to take time, outside of school, to work on science, to write about science, to share their love of science. Today I took all of their responses to the question "Why do you want to be part of science scholars?" and dropped them into a word cloud generator and this is what emerged...

This is why I will embrace the challenges of this position, the challenges of education in general. I want to create a generation that is all of the things that this graphic embodies. I want to create a generation of Merton students that truly LOVE SCIENCE!

Friday, September 9, 2016

So i have survived the first two "weeks" of being in my new role. We are well past the 'what do I do on the first day?' and onto the 'what can wait until tomorrow?' question. I had a staff member comment today that I looked really busy. The good news is I AM! 

One of my biggest fears of leaving the fast paced, busy environment of the classroom is that I would be bored in my new job. I am not the type of person who would do well sitting at a desk doing the same task day after day. I didn't even have a concept of what that would be like. My fear has been extinguished as I finish my week with a to do list already in the works to work on over the weekend and tackle head on next week. This week had some low points (Imagine spilling a tray of hundreds of VEX parts all over your office floor. That was me on Tuesday), but when it came down to reflecting on each day I was able to find high points, and continue to be reminded why I took this position. Here is one of the highlights of the week... 
I get to teach Pallet to Project an amazing opportunity for our 8th graders to try out woodworking. Today we started breaking down our pallets. It was hot, the kids struggled, there were bees flying around, and not a single child complained to me. I said to our District Administrator that I wish kids embraced struggle in ever class as well as they embraced it today. They came into the building, put their stuff away, and started talking about the great ideas they had for projects to build. When I brainstormed the class I figured we would have some picture frames, a birdhouse, maybe a stool. But today a kid told me his group is building a wooden biplane! Amazing! Not only did they struggle through the experience, they came out the other side ready to challenge themselves even more. 

Have a great weekend everyone, and gear up for a 5 day week!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

But What do I do on the first day of school?

Since accepting the position as the Science and Technology Integrator for our district, I have had one question that I have asked repeatedly "What do I do on the first day of school?" Having been in the classroom for the last 5 years, the first day of school is often filled with getting to know you activities, team building, talks of summer break, and establishing of routines. It is sometimes filled with hallway confusion as sixth graders first learn to navigate a schedule with different teachers for each subject, and panic as students try their combination for the 5th time only to find that the locker is still locked. After 5 years in the classroom, I knew how to manage a first day of school like that listed above, what I didn't know how to manage was a first day of school where I didn't have students to be responsible for, or a schedule to fill my day. This led me to the repeated question of "What do I do on the first day?"

Then, yesterday, it came to me, that I really needed to decide for myself what I was going to make of this first day. I could sit in my office and say I had planning work to do, and read up on the new technology innovations I could help people integrate. I could stand in the hallway and help kids read their schedules and unlock the lockers that are just too hard to unlock on the first day. I could do whatever I wanted. I was free to make the day whatever I wanted it to be. 

I decided that in an effort to be visible, around, and not in my office all year, I needed to start on the first day by being just those things. I decided to spend my first day of school documenting everyone else's first day of school. I made it my priority to visit every classroom at least once during the day and photograph the looks of the kids as they found their cubbies for the first time, or came to 4K for the first time, or came back for their final year at Merton school. I documented the teachers leading their spaghetti tower building contests, burning balloons to show chemical reactions, and playing name memory games to get to know there students. I was introduced to class after class of students as "This is Mrs. Iwanski. You will see her a lot because she is going to help make Science awesome for you!" I had contact with more individual students and teachers then if I would have been in my own classroom. I branched out of my zone of comfort and into the zone of my new job and in doing so experienced the first day of school in a whole new way. 

Here is the quick list of some things I would have missed if I had my typical 6th grade first day of school:
  • A kindergartner offering that a class rule should be "Don't pee your pants"
  • Meeting our 7th and 8th graders with "Happy New Year" hats and noise makers
  • 5th graders learning to live out of cubbies instead of desks
  • Hearing a group of students react when a teacher introduced me as a Tech JEDI
  • Getting to help problem solve and make a solution to a video problem so the primary building can have Merton Way day tomorrow
  • Laying on the floor of the hallway coloring with students from last year creating our mural of hands for the hallway
  • Seeing in person how hard all of the teachers at Merton work to make it the best place for kids to learn
There were moments today when I missed having my own classroom, but then I remembered that if I was in my classroom then I would have missed all of the other moments I was having in my day, and all of the moments I was able to capture. All in all it was a great first day on a new adventure. All I am left wondering is "So, what do I do on the second day of school?"

Monday, August 22, 2016

Nervous, Enthusiastic, eXcited, and Trust - Four words leading me to what's NEXT

8 months ago I was approached about leaving the classroom. As someone who has known she wanted to be a teacher from the first day she knew what a teacher was, this thought had never really crossed my mind. I loved the work I was doing in the classroom, and though the hours were long and the culture of education wasn't always the best, I didn't have any career regrets. 8 months ago I sat and cried at my dining room table trying to figure out if this is the next step I wanted to take in my career. If I was ready to leave the teaching team that had been my family for the last 5 years, if I was ready to be responsible for something at the district level instead of just my own classroom level. 8 months ago I made the decision that in order to grow I was going to have to take a risk, to push myself outside of my comfort zone. With the support of my husband, my family, my teaching team, and my administration I accepted the job as Merton's Science and Technology Integrator and step away from life as a classroom teacher. 

To say that I am not Nervous would be a lie. After 5 years in the classroom I had become pretty good at setting things up for a new year, knowing what to do on the first day of school, and how to channel first day jitters into smiles and laughs. Now as I prepare for this school year, I find myself unpacking an office for the first time ever, leading professional development, and hoping that the enjoyment I find in technology and science will wear off on other people. The nerves I have are not the nerves that trigger the flight of fight response, but the nerves that feel like butterflies before going out to perform a recital. They are the nerves that let you know what you are about to do is important, that it matters, and that you care. They are the types of nerves that I am OK with because they remind me that I am ready to go. 

The Enthusiasm and eXcitement that I am feeling for this school year if different then previous years. I am enthusiastic about the potential that my position holds. The potential to help people see past what they have done in the past and what they could be transforming into doing in the future. The enthusiasm to take the "I can't" and turn it into the "I can't, yet." It is enthusiasm to work with students in all different grade levels, and to plan and co-teach with teachers all over my district. It is excitement to have the flexibility in my schedule to support people in the things that they are enthusiastic about. I am excited to be doing something different, but also to be doing the same things that I have been doing in my own classroom for year. I am excited that the possibilities of creation, exploration, and technology are my job to explore every day. 

As I enter this new career and adventure I am placing my Trust in the potential others have seen in me and the amazing staff I work with. I can not be successful at this job on my own because it isn't about my own group of students in my own classroom. I am trusting that the people around me will accept me into their classroom communities and trust me to lead them in the right direction. I am trusting that when I make mistakes I will be forgiven, and that when I don't have an immediate answer I won't be criticized. I am trusting that this is the next step in my career in education. 

Being a STEM integrator is what is NEXT for me as I move into the 2016-2017 school year. I hope that whatever is making you Nervous, Enthusiastic, eXcited, and Trusting in this school year also brings you joy. My principal, Jay Posick, had a saying to make this the Best School Year yet, and I have a good feeling this is going to be. Happy 2016-2017 school year everyone! Embrace what is NEXT!