I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the educational shifts happening in our classrooms, reflecting on how to foster the growth we want to see in our students. Although sometimes “old school” still has its merits, old school style classrooms should truly be a thing of the past. I was recently listening to the Mindshift podcast– Be the Change You Want to See, where the teachers were flipping how student work is evaluated. In this podcast, students were an integral part of driving what they were learning in their integrated English class. They were also front and center in evaluating their own work, reflecting and rating the quality of their work. My focus in this blog is not about evaluating student work, but rather the shift in our classrooms to foster student academic understanding, and later their reflection and review of their work.
Embracing the New
While preparing for a Microsoft Education TweetMeet about STEM topics, I had a conversation with a few innovative thinkers, the types who seek to embrace the new. Feeling inspired, I was left with two key ideas:
- You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be willing to try something new
- If you’re a little freaked out to do something new but also excited to try, then you’re good to go
Listening to their stories, I learned about their perspective and the challenges they have overcome. As I think about our students, I also realize they have stories to share, perspectives that can help us to understand their thinking and point of view. These two key ideas apply to all of us, students and teachers alike. If we update our classroom modes of teaching, it can freak us out, it is new. For our students, it is comfortable to be passive learners, and it is scary if the classroom style changes. If we’re willing to be the change, we change how we become an expert and this is exciting.
As educators, we must be willing to embrace the new, shift our mindset to foster student conversations and reflection about the quality of their work and hence their own understanding. As we change our classrooms to fit a more modern style of education, it will look different, it will be noisier and more chaotic. This “new school” classroom is more reflective of the future world our students will be entering. If we want our students to embrace innovative ideas we must provide a venue for students to try, to fail, to try again, ask questions, and ultimately learn. We must ignite imagination, both as teachers and students. We need to reimagine our classroom teaching style as well as helping our students ignite their own imagination to be their own learners. As teachers, we can facilitate, monitor, and jump in with direct instruction, when needed, to help our students understand content, as it is applicable to the learning. We also need to support our students to become their own best teacher.
Innovative Ideas and Conversations
My 6th graders recently finished a fantastic egg experiment, where they learned how water passes through the cell membrane. They initially observed how vinegar dissolves the egg-shell, and then how the egg changed size when placed in a container of different liquids. Students recorded their observations and posted egg “selfies” in OneNote over a course of a week. In class, we discussed and asked questions about what they observed. After the experiment, I provided direct instruction about diffusion and osmosis, to better explain what they observed happening with their egg. The overall goal of the experiment is for my students to apply their new-found observational knowledge to understanding human body systems. The egg experiment is a bit “old school,” as they followed directions and observed what happen. The change will come when my students begin applying what they observed in another scientific context. The exciting (and sometimes scary) part comes in when my students share their observations and experimental questions in a Flipgrid conversation. Utilizing new technology to reflect and explain their understanding in a video response is the first step in becoming a confident science student. While we may not become experts, and we don’t have to (yet), we just need students willing to learn and share what they learned with others. Sharing the learning often leads to questions with innovative ideas. We want the willingness to try innovative ideas.
As I reflect on my more noisier and wonderfully chaotic science classroom, I think “how can I apply what I have learned and become the change I want to see?” Flipgrid is one tool, of many, that allows for this change to begin, a change in conversation of me talking about the science to my students talking about the science they learned. Part of the change might be for educators to listen more and let students do more of the talking.