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GTL March Edition, Breaking out of the Box: Students as Innovators

diy

After months of dealing with an ever-dying battery, blurry classroom pictures, and limited hard drive space, I gave in and bought a new Android. It always amazes me to see just how quickly technology advances itself and this phone has been no exception. The first time I scrolled through the Facebook app, I was instantly mesmerized by the videos which automatically began to play. As much as I hate to admit it, I must have watched at least 10 clips of recipes and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects that first day.

When watching these videos, one cannot help but adopt a DIY attitude – an inner voice that claims, “I could totally do that.” Some people adopt a DIY attitude to save money, others simply enjoy the opportunity to flex their creative muscles. Even as I write this, I have a DIYer friend who is beginning the stages of building his own dining table. And, why not? In this day in age, with easy access to resources and experts (in person or virtually), more and more people are exploring the world of DIY.

“every child has a genius”

One fascinating thing about DIY is that it gives people the time and space to explore skills they would not necessarily use on a daily basis. It requires them to think outside the box and to stay motivated, even as unexpected challenges arise. During our March GTL event, Breaking out of the Box: Students as Innovators, we explored the work of a true DIY educator, Steven Levy, author of Starting from Scratch: One Classroom Builds Its Own Curriculum.

Famous for his innovative nature, Levy offered his students in Massachusetts the tremendous opportunity of designing their own curriculum. He even identified his “ideal classroom” as one that was completely empty on the first day of school. He wanted to allow his students to create a space that fit their needs. Why was Levy such a strong believer in “starting from scratch”? He understood the unique power of innovation. Levy recognized that when you give students the time and space to explore, you will begin to discover that “…every child has a genius”. Although this idea is not new to me, I cannot help but smile and nod agreement. As young as Kindergarten, students begin to realize their strengths and weaknesses. Michelle knows she is good with numbers and John knows he is a better reader, but what about the skills not found in a textbook?

“Brian’s” genius was professional wrestling. He wasn’t interested in learning to be a better reader. In fact, he struggled to write more than three words in his writer’s notebook. (Anyone out there find this familiar?) So, I did what any teacher would do, I begged him to write more. When that didn’t work (of course it didn’t), I knew I had to change something. I hopped online and began to teach myself all I could about professional wrestling. I read articles and watched videos, familiarizing myself with the “pros” and began to surprise Brian with wrestling-related questions in his notebook. His three words turned into a sentence and before I knew it Brian was writing a paragraph. Turns out, all I needed to do was ask the right questions.

Are you using innovation to support your students in discovering their “genius”?

Interested in learning more about Steven Levy? Check out his book (one of my personal favorites)!

 

small steps = big innovation

During this edition of Google Teachers’ Lounge (GTL), participants explored ways in which they can build innovative practices into their instruction. From discussing flexible classroom seating to learning about digital makerspaces, teachers figured out what worked best for them. One of the best takeaways of the evening was that innovation does not have to mean “starting from scratch”. There is no need to throw away those boxes of curriculum that are in your closet; instead, start small.

Build in innovation by offering students a menu of options. Let students choose how they want to show their understanding of a concept. A Google Slides presentation that includes graphics? A letter written from a character’s point of view? Maybe they could even record their thinking when solving a math problem. Offering these options allows students to draw from their “genius”, while still providing adequate data for a teacher. Most importantly, it allows students to become DIYers, while staying within the confines of that pesky pacing calendar.

Ready to break outside of the box and take on the attitude of a DIYer?!

…Because you can “totally do this” – Check out our full list of resources here!

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em

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