Sunday, January 29, 2017

Innovation Day - IUSD Google Summit 2017

This week, I had the awesome privilege to present at our Custom IUSD Google Summit. It was amazing! I was really nervous, but it all went really well. I am so glad to say that my first time presenting in front of others was very successful and well recieved!

Here is the presentation I shared on Innovation Day. Enjoy and thank you to all who attended!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Innovation Day: Giving Class Time Back to Students

Innovation Day has been a tradition in my classroom for as long as I have been teaching 5th and 6th graders - which is about 6 years, now. The first time I heard of it was on Twitter. One of the amazing teachers I follow had been doing it with her class and I thought it sounded amazing and wanted to do it too. I learned from her and copied a lot of what she did. It has grown and evolved since then and now days it is often referred to as Genius Hour or Passion Projects. No matter the name, Innovation Day, Genius Hour, and Passion Projects are all the same thing. I choose to do mine as an Innovation Day because I teach in a self-contained classroom and I can dedicate an entire day to the student projects. Genius hour is better suited, in my opinion, to middle school classes who only have their student for one class period per day.

The idea is that every day, we (teachers) ask students to learn about what we want them to learn about.... Mathematics, History, Literature, and Science topics and standards that WE choose for them. We often tell kids not only WHAT they are going to learn, but HOW they will show that they learned it. Kids come to our classes every day and, for the most part, diligently jump from hoop to hoop to master the content we, as masters of curriculum design, have laid out for them.

In my class, Innovation Day is a day that gives back class time to students who then can choose to spend that time learning about whatever THEY want.  It is a self-selected, project day and it is one of the best things I do for my kids each year because I give the reigns of learning back to them.

The guidelines for Innovation Day are:
  1. Learn It! - You must determine what you will learn, and how you will learn it.
  2. Make It! - Make, build, or create something to show what you have learned.
  3. Share It! - You must be able to share what you have learned with others, preferably with an audience beyond that of our own classroom. 
That's it. 

This blog post will help others understand how I set kids up to be successful. The first thing I usually tell teachers who want to try Innovation Day is that you are going to have to let go of "the power". That is hard for some people to do. But for the kids to be able to take risks, try new things, and FAIL, they are going to need some leeway. You don't want to over plan, but you want to make sure the kids are prepared so they can get the most of the day.

When I tell my students about Innovation Day, I tell them what it is and why we do it - which is the rationale I mentioned about giving class time back to students. I get them excited about an entire school day they can spend learning about whatever they want to. I have seen student's eyes begin to gloss over with the possibilities as I explain the purpose of this day... Next, I explain how to choose a topic. I give them a handout to lead them through the process of determining what they want to learn about. I ask them to think about what they are passionate about, good at, want to know more about, etc. and assure them IT REALLY CAN BE ANYTHING THEY WANT. As long as they follow the afore mentioned guidelines!

Inevitably someone will ask me how they (the students) will be graded. I always smile and tell them that I don't give grades for Innovation Day. This really throws some kids for a loop because they aren't used to that. More on what to do when a student can't take initiative for their own learning will be addressed in a future post, because it does happen. Some kids really don't know what to do and the fact that this is not laid out for them really bothers them and stresses them out. 

I help the students to write Guiding Questions that will guide their learning as they progress during Innovation Day. While they do not need to complete their entire project by the end of the day, they must provide enough depth in their planning to keep busy for the entire day. I tell them to consider what their next steps will be. What would you do next? How will you extend your learning? I encourage them to follow their ideas like one might follow a rabbit down deeper into a rabbit hole... 

Then I follow up with my favorite question, "What will you do when you fail?" Notice I said "when". "Failure is a part of the learning process. So when you come to a road block, how will you recover? Will you go around it, over it? How will you adjust, salvage, and move forward? Will you be able to look around you, get help and ideas from others, and forge on?"

As a class, we brainstorm some ideas and students share what they are thinking of doing. Some students will jump on board quickly and already know what it is they want to learn about. Others will get ideas from them. I am careful not to tell the kids too much about what other students have done in the past because I want them to try to come up with their own original ideas. Students are permitted to work with a partner if they want, as long as they both share the same passion and working together makes sense. Kids will sometimes jump straight to the "make it" phase of the project and tell me what they want to make/build/create, but I encourage them to back up to focus on the essential questions and allow them to guide the project.

At the end of the introduction to Innovation Day, I give students the handout and have them fill out the first part at home. The next day, I have the students share out the topic and essential questions with their table mates, then the whole class so I give them feedback. This is done in both groups and whole class because it helps others who are not sure what they want to learn to come up with ideas. Then I will have them finish the rest of the planning page over the next couple of days. When they have completed the planning page, I meet with each student to have them explain their project to me. I give them advice and feedback, help them determine what materials I have available for them to use in class and what they will need to provide for themselves (things like software, cardboard boxes, tools, etc. that we don't have access to at school). Then, I have them get their parents' signature that they will agree to help their child get the materials they need to complete their project. A digital and printed handout are both available below.

View the digital version of the Student Handout.
View the original, printed Student Handout.

I have to remind students that the learning occurs during the school day. Not ahead of time. I've had a few kids go home and learn, make, and try to show up on Innovation Day with a completed project. On one hand, I am glad they were so passionate about their learning that they wanted to get right to it, but then they have to come up with an extension or different project to do in class. 

On the day of Innovation Day, the students show up with all their materials, the planning sheet, and their excitement. We divide our day into three, loosely structured segments of time. The three phases are before recess (Learn It), after recess (Make It), and after lunch (Share It). But it is flexible because some projects won't really fit into the mold. This is true of construction tasks, or computer coding where the kids will learn as they make. I walk around and support kids as they need it and take pictures and videos of the day. 

I invite parents, other teachers and administrators to pop in during the day to see our progress and tweet our progress for those who can't make it. The students are encouraged to be able to tell anyone who asks what they are learning and explain their project. The kids also walk around and check out each other's projects and often take a short break from their own project to help someone else out. It is a pretty amazing thing to watch. Students are invested, engaged, and dedicated to seeing their project through. At the end, they present to their classmates and share what their original plan was, what worked and what went wrong, any adjustments they made to their original plan and what they learned. 

I hope this gives some insight into what Innovation Day looks like in my classroom and helps others to implement it in theirs. I will post some student projects in another blog post, but please feel free to post any questions below and I will answer them!