Make no mistake, innovative learning experiences like Genius Hour are not always unicorns and rainbows. In fact, this type of learning can get really messy and feel uncomfortable for both teachers and students. You see, passion-based learning requires everyone to assume different roles in the classroom and the reality is that that is much easier said than done. Teachers must become facilitators and give learners the opportunity to learn by doing, experience real struggle, and figure things out on their own. Learners must be willing to drive their own learning, ask questions, and push through their struggle in order to figure things out on their own.
When first embarking on an innovative learning experience, everyone will be excited. It's new, it's novel, and it's different. All of those those things make it easy to dive right in. However, after diving in, it quickly becomes evident that this is not just fun and games, it's hard work. It involves a give and take that we aren't comfortable with in education and requires everyone involved to see learning through a new perspective.
I have recently learned of the book, The Messy Middle, by Scott Belsky. Learning that the "messy middle" is a reality that so many people experience had me really thinking about how to survive the messy middle of Genius Hour. What do you do when things get hard? What should happen when both educators and students are uncomfortable? How do you continue to move forward when everything in you is saying to go back to what you've always known and what has always "worked" in your classroom?
There are certain things that you can do to stay the course, stay focused, and continue to the do the work that will ultimately result in your learners being given the opportunity to learn by doing through pursuing their passions during the school day. Below are five easy things to remember when (not if) you find yourself in the messy middle...
1. Endure the lows and optimize the highs. Scott Belsky says, "Every advance reveals a new shortcoming. Your job is to endure the lows and optimize the highs to achieve a positive slope within the jaggedness of the messy middle — so that, on average, every low is less low than the one before it, and every subsequent high is a little higher.”
This makes so much sense to me. Believe me, there will be lows. Passion-based learning is messy. But enduring those lows so that you can optimize the highs is worth every single shortcoming that is revealed. Be willing to learn from those lows and then get excited when a high comes along. Optimize those highs by celebrating, talking about them, and reflecting on what has been learned. In doing so, you will be able to sustain that positive slope and continue to move forward as you create new learning opportunities for your students.
2, Rely on your connections. Connecting to others is a vital part of being innovative in your classroom. Those connections will be your sounding board, have your back and hold you accountable as you try new things and take risks. Not everyone will understand the why behind what you are doing when it comes to passion-based learning. You will be asked hard questions, forced to defend why Genius Hour is a priority, and may even be misunderstood until Genius Hour is seen for what it is (which is a real opportunity for students to learn by doing as they pursue their passions during the school day). Connecting with others who have survived or are currently experiencing the messy middle, understand why you are doing what you are doing, and believe in the opportunity for students to pursue their passions will result in real collaboration. Connect with other educators on Twitter using #geniushour and be willing to share what is working, what isn't working, and where you are in your Genius Hour journey. We are all so much better together and being honest and vulnerable gives us the real opportunity to learn and grow together.
3. Pay attention. Optimizing the highs can only happen if you recognize them. Pay attention during Genius Hour to the conversations that are happening, the connections that are made, and the creativity that is sparked. It might even be a good idea to keep a journal of these things so that when things get hard you can be reminded of why you are making this a priority. Look for opportunities to weave standards and real-life skills into the learning experience. Ask questions about what your students are working on and what they are learning in the process. Pay attention to how everyone feels, how you feel, and what you might be able to do support, encourage, and inspire your learners as they take risks and try new things.
4. Keep moving forward. I always say that the messy middle can feel a bit like quicksand. You feel like your sinking and there are so many things pulling you under. The only way to escape quicksand is to continue moving forward. If you panic and begin to thrash around, you will sink. If you stay put and do nothing, you will sink. However, if you are willing to stay calm and immerse yourself in the water by floating on your back and paddling, you will be able to survive. Be willing to immerse yourself in innovative learning experiences. Don't panic when things don't go exactly as planned and don't give up. Instead, stay calm, learn all that you can, and take risks to continue move toward that positive slope with those jagged edges of both highs and lows.
5. Share your success! It's so important that we share our successes. The reality is that it it's just as important to share our failures. For me, I shared the 6 Ps of Genius Hour because the process was something that worked in my classroom. I was in the messy middle and we were struggling. My students were lost and I was spending so much time managing the process of Genius Hour that I was missing opportunities to help my learners make connections. When I realized that the 6 Ps of Genius Hour made the process both manageable and meaningful, I began to share them with anyone that would listen and eventually wrote about them in Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry. They changed everything for me and sharing them helped others understand how the process might help them as well.
There you have it...5 simple steps to survive the messy middle of Genius Hour. The reality is that if you give you up, no one wins. Realize that you are never alone and it's not supposed to be easy. Be willing to endure the lows and make it a priority to optimize the highs to make Genius Hour all that it can and should be for you and your learners. Before you know it, you will be on the other side of the messy middle and so thankful that you didn't give up.
Want to learn more about the 6 Ps of Genius Hour? Check out the ONLINE COURSE!
I was super stoked to hear that Flipgrid has made augmented reality available on their platform! Yes, you heard me correctly...FlipgridAR is a thing and I can't stop thinking of ways that this will enhance the learning experience for so many students!
In order to use FlipgridAR, you just need to make sure that you have updated the app and that you are using a device that supports augmented reality.
I'm sure that you can think of so many ways that this can work in your classroom but just in case you need a few ideas to get started, here ya go...
Okay, obviously I'm obsessed with Book Creator right now. Today I sat down to create a Book of Wonders.
I often recommend Wonderopolis for educators that need something for early finishers or those that have already mastered what is being learned. I've also suggested that they implement Wonder Wednesdays and give students an opportunity to explore Wonderopolis and learn based on their curiosity.
If you haven't seen Wonderopolis before, let me introduce you. I am such a fan of their work and used it in my own classroom almost every single day. I love that students can learn new vocabulary, practice comprehension, and dive deep into a topic of their choice all on this one platform.
After coming home from ISTE, I was looking through several of my notes and realized that I hadn't spent much time in Book Creator. Sure, I share it sometimes with educators and talk about how it can be used as a product creation tool for students, but I hadn't considered how it might be used for students to document their experience throughout Genius Hour.
Then, I was tagged in a tweet in which Krystle Bassett shared her ISTE takeaways. She used Book Creator to share her thoughts and I LOVED it. I couldn't help but begin to think about how this amazing resource could be used to organize and document the 6 Ps of Genius Hour, so I got to work right away.
If you haven't heard of Waco, Texas, you might not be a fan of Fixer Upper on HGTV. Chip and Joanna Gaines have created quite the stir in our little town and have created an experience unlike any other. They are a local couple that take older homes and remodel, redesign them into beautiful living spaces that people are going crazy for right now. They also own Magnolia Market, a place for others to find home decor similar to that used on the show.
As I drove by the Silos (a shopping experience created by Magnolia) the other day and saw people walking around with smiles on their faces, excited to be part of the Magnolia experience, I couldn't help but wonder what we need to do to make school a similar experience. What if our students came into school looking forward to what would happen, wondering what they might see, and willing to spend time exploring, investing, and ultimately learning?
So, it's no secret that I think reflection is not just important but imperative for every learner. Finding time to reflect and ensuring that the reflection is meaningful is not always easy. I think the first thing that has to be considered is the difference between reflection and remembering. We have asked students in our classrooms to remember...remember a fact, remember a strategy, or remember a deadline. But what if we began to focus on reflection and what's the difference. I think it's fairly simple. Remembering is what I did and how, reflection is what I learned and why.
Creating a reflection grid on Flipgrid is a great way to make reflection meaningful and manageable. I'm a huge fan of the Reflection QR Code from Tony Vincent. This is a randomized code, which means that students can scan the same code and receive different questions. I talk about it all the time as I used it in my own classroom to help my students learn to move from simply remembering to reflecting. I wish I had known about Flipgrid because by smashing these two things together, you can create a really cool reflection opportunity for your learners.
Here's how I created my Reflection Grid and it was super easy!
It's almost time. The first day of school is almost here! I know that this is a busy time and there is lots of PD and prep work happening for educators right now. However, I want to encourage you to take some time do something that will drive and influence your entire year...identify your core beliefs. You see, your core beliefs about education, students, learning, and relationships are already impacting what you do and how you teach. They are your "why", the reason that you do what you do. But have you ever taken time to really stop and name those core beliefs?
Identifying your core beliefs and sharing them with others help to make them a reality. So, how do you know what they are? How can you share them and why should they be top priority? I think it's best to start with what you believe that every student deserves. I like to think of them as targets that I was aiming for with every experience that was designed, every tool that was used, and every relationship that was built. Now don't get me wrong, there were many times that I missed the mark. But when I did, I knew it and was able to regain focus and aim more carefully with the next attempt.
As you think about your core beliefs, don't think about standardized testing, standards, or lesson plans. Just focus on what you truly believe that every single learner needs and deserves from you and your classroom this year.
Let me share my core beliefs...
I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to experience new learning.
I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to share their learning.
I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to learn from failure.
I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to learn by doing.
I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passion during the school day.
Those core beliefs drive everything that I share. Because I believe these things, I am passionate about real learning experiences like Genius Hour and Makerspace. I will talk to anyone that will listen about my experience with my own students and how allowing them to own their learning by pursuing their passions changed everything.
Now, it's your turn. Think about what you believe to be true about what students deserve. Start with something as simple as I believe...and then be completely honest. Don't get caught up in worrying about what others will think about your core beliefs or if you will really be able to make them happen. Just focus on what you believe students deserve.
Now, write them down and put them somewhere that you will see them every single day. Don't lose sight of these beliefs when things get hard. Instead, hold on to them throughout the year as your guide, your compass when you aren't sure if you are going in the right direction. If you question something that you are planning to do in the classroom, ask yourself if it matches any of your core beliefs. More importantly, ask yourself it goes against any of your core beliefs.
Often times, we have great ideas and ambitions when the school year starts. Then, things get crazy and we revert back to what's easy, what's comfortable, and what's familiar. For me, having these core beliefs held me accountable as I took risks and tried new things. I knew that if it was going to result in one of these beliefs being activated, it was probably a good idea, even if it wasn't successful right away.
In short, here are some simple steps you can take to create, activate, and share your own core beliefs.
Take some time to focus on what you believe to be true about education.
Write down 3-5 of those beliefs that you believe deserve your focus and attention.
Think about the ways that your beliefs can be "activated". In other words, how can you make it happen?
Post your core beliefs in a place that you will see them every single day.
Share your beliefs on Twitter using #ameaningfulmess and with anyone else that will listen.
Very soon, you will have students coming through your doors. And while you are accountable to lots of people, your ultimate accountability is to the learners that are relying on you to create meaningful experiences that will engage and empower.
It's going to be a great year and I can't wait to hear your core beliefs for 2018-2019. Take some time and make your core beliefs a priority...I think you will be so glad that you did!
In Episode 1 of A Meaningful Mess Podcast, I talked more about core beliefs and how they can impact you as an educator. Listen below!
Is it really already 2016? 2015 has come and gone and it seems like it went by so quickly. I like to start the new year by setting new goals for my classroom and this year is no different. So here we go...my educational priorities for 2016 are (drum roll please) boldness, passion, and conversation.
I'm a little late on writing this post but wanted to share because it was such a fun day for our students and gave them an opportunity to see themselves as teachers as well as students.
We were recently given the opportunity to participate in a Mystery Skype with teachers at a session at the Microsoft campus in North Dakota. Kelly Rexine had contacted me to ask if we would be willing to participate and we were more than willing. We were so excited! Our third grade students absolutely love to Mystery Skype and I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to share their expertise and excitement about the topic with teachers that were wanting to learn.
So I recently began challenging my students to find ways to apply specific standards when working on their Genius Hour projects. For example, this week I gave them a TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills)objective for Math, ELA, Science, and Technology. I then asked them to tell me if they found a way to incorporate that specific skill into their project.
© 2018 Andi McNair