Saturday, February 16, 2019

3 Books That Support Remaking Literacy

If you are one of many teachers who are wondering how maker education fits into your curriculum, I'd ask you to think about literacy as a potential pathway.  There are so many engaging books that can lead students to meaningful opportunities to make. Hands-on learning has the ability to engage disengaged students and boost student understanding when it comes to reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

We have an opportunity to "remake" our literacy practices and take the effective strategies that we already know and use and ramp them up with an added layer of maker education.  Within our classrooms, we can share stories with our students that lead to creativity and design.  Finding the right stories or taking time to find the connections within children's literature can be a challenge, so I wanted to share three great books that can support remaking literacy in the classroom.

The Branch is a great story that you probably haven't heard of.  It shares the connection between a young girl and her neighbor who work together on a project.  This book can lead to a number of maker experiences.  The girl and her neighbor explore tools in the workshop and move through a number of steps. The story provides opportunities for students to use their imaginations to create something out of a problem.

Remake Opportunity: Simulate the idea of the branch and provide every student with a large chunk of cardboard.  It's essentially a blank slate. What ideas do they have? What steps will they take to create something new out of this material?

Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing provides a some historical context about the Brooklyn Bridge.  With concerns that the bridge wouldn't be strong enough to hold them, the members of the community look to circus legend P.T. Barnum for help.  In response, he sends his herd of 21 elephants across the bridge to ensure that it is structurally sound.

Remake Opportunity: This book is a smart choice if your students enjoy bridge building and you are looking for a literature connection. Use your favorite maker materials and have students design and build bridges for strength. Spaghetti and marshmallows, craft sticks, or cardboard--any materials that you have available would work.

The last book to share is Green City which taps into environmental awareness and the importance of sustainability.  The author shares the story of one town that was devastated by a tornado and worked together to create a green city that would sustain their community in the future. 

Remake Opportunity: This book can lead to opportunities to explore solar and wind power. Imagine your students designing solar panels and wind turbines or other creations. Create a "green" challenge for your class to create a new power source or get involved in the Future City project. 

Books can be one way to engage your students in connected, hands-on learning. The content that they learn about within literature can be applied through maker learning in your classroom or in a school makerspace. These books are just a starting point.  There are hundreds of  stories that present opportunities for "remaking".

Interested in more ideas like this?  My book Remaking Literacy will be coming out later in 2019 with Solution Tree. Check their site or my website for the release date. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Cabin in the Woods: One Writer's Secrets

I never understood in the movies how authors would lock themselves away in a cabin in the woods and pound out a novel in a matter of days.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for solitude.  I long for an escape to a serene location to stir up some inspiration, but my process isn't that linear.  Partly because I can't find those big chunks of time and partly because I don't think my brain works that way.

I often struggle (when I do have some quiet time) to just sit and plug away at my writing.  My process takes twists and turns.  Rarely do I find myself focused in for a long period of time on one topic, chapter, or idea.  I wish I had that in me, the ability to just lock myself in a room and crank out page after page, but I don't.

Over the last year, I've been reflecting more about myself as a writer.  I love the idea of a writer's retreat.  Who doesn't need time at a chalet in the mountains or a lakeside getaway, right?  But since I don't often have that luxury, I have to find my own strategies to persevere as a writer.

Here's what I have figured out so far on my journey as an author.  Perhaps some of these strategies will work for you too.  Maybe you will take one strategy and put your own spin on it.


Collect your ideas--Let me start by saying that my "pre-writing" happens all the time.  I literally carry around a notebook with me wherever I go.  I jot down quotes that I hear or ideas that I have.  Sometimes it's just scribbles.  Once in a while I will use the ideas right away and other times the thoughts will stay stashed away in my notebook for months before I return to them again.

Create your atmosphere--a quiet room or a noisy coffee shop, maybe some distant background noise. It seems that every writer has their preferred way.  For me, it's no TV, no soundtrack playing to get me motivated. I find that I just need to be alone with my thoughts.  Not too comfortable of a place to sit, I need to keep focused and not wander away in the coziness of the spot.  I often find myself at the dining room table or sitting on the couch with the sun from the outside shining in on me. Every writer will create a different atmosphere.  Find yours and make it work.

During Writing

Get it on the page--Some writers are intentional about working from chapter to chapter, from logical beginning to end.  Not me.  I jump around to wherever my thoughts take me.  I may write a few paragraphs in one section and then move to something completely different.  I know that I need to get it on the page, in whatever way I can, reassuring myself that I can always go back and change it later.

Take a sidebar-- I know that we just got started writing so taking a sidebar may seem a bit like procrastination but sometimes that's how my writing goes. I had a great writing professor once tell me that writing doesn't have to always be writing.  Work on a reference list.  Stop to reread your notes.  Write a list of alternate titles.  Sometimes formal writing takes a backseat to other strategies that lead to future writing, so taking a break and having a short sidebar is OK.

What does this look like? For me, it might mean:

Hopping on Twitter to search a hashtag for ideas
Google image search related to what I'm writing about
Reading quotes from others on the same topic
Paging through my notebook for handwritten ideas that strike a chord
Leafing through a magazine
Draw, sketch, or doodle
Closing my eyes for a minute or two to pull ideas together
Talking to someone else about the topic

Post Writing

Walk away-- Sometimes I just have to step away from my laptop.  Sometimes you just need to take a mental and physical break from writing and clear your head. Don't sit there and beat yourself up waiting for the perfect idea or transition sentence to come to you. Walk away and take some time to refresh.  It will help you to returned to your work refocused and ready for your next piece.

Share with a critical friend--Just when you think you are done with a blog, an article, or chapter the last thing you might want to do is revise and edit your work, but sharing it with a critical friend may be what you need to take your writing to the next level.  Find a trusted colleague or valued critic who will give you some honest feedback.  Getting someone else's perspective may help you in your process.  Join a writing group like Teach Write  or create your own.

Finally, take some time to celebrate.  Writing is hard work.  Sometimes it can be exhausting.  It can also be invigorating and joyful.  As writers, we can't forget to step back and appreciate our own accomplishments. You have taken a risk and shared your ideas.  You are a writer.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Why Every Educator Needs to Attend an Educational Conference

I just spent the last few days at the Future of Educational Technology Conference, so I am still coming down from my "learning high".  If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you probably haven't been to a great conference in a while.  It was an incredible opportunity to learn new things, see new products, and connect with some of the most influential innovators in education.

You see, when I go to conferences I try to get to as many sessions as possible and absorb as much learning as I can.  I find joy in listening to engaging speakers and gaining new knowledge from their experience. I'm also the kind of person who gets mad when someone knows something that I don't know. In turn, my thirst for knowledge grows.

I NEED to learn more.

Share your knowledge with me, please!

I don't know about you, but I like to surround myself with lifelong learners who can make me better. I find myself drawn to educators who have the passion for teaching and the drive to continue their own learning. This is why it's disappointing when I talk to educators who never get out of their buildings to learn and grow from others. There may be lots of reasons why educators don't get out to conference more often:

"My district doesn't have any money to send me to a conference."

"It's too much work to prepare for a sub while I'm gone-----if I even get a sub."

"I don't know which conferences are the best ones to go to."

Let's get rid of these excuses!  I know, conferences cost money, but there are options out there.  Some conferences (like @FETC) offers free registration for educators who are willing to present.  Many others provide group discounts when more than one educator attends.  Some conferences will offer a discount if you volunteer a certain number of hours at the event. Need another way to get yourself there? Maybe you are connected to an educational company?  Are you an Ambassador for Microsoft, Buncee, or Osmo?  Ask them if they'll provide you with a sponsorship or a stipend.  Every little bit helps.

So, grab a buddy and plan your road trip to the next big conference.  Start saving up now if you have to.  Find an inexpensive Air B&B and join in the learning!

Not sure which conferences are right for you? Check out Cybraryman's  always-amazing collection of resources.  He shares upcoming EdCamps, Conferences and other regional PD.  You are sure to find the right event for you!  The Education Calendar site is also a helpful tool, as you can search by state/location for great event near you.

We all need time to recharge our minds and refocus on our educational role. Time away at a conference fuels my need to learn and grow.  It allows me to connect with enthusiastic educators who love what they do.  I also get the opportunity to hear from thought leaders in education. When I map out my schedule, I look for the educators who I follow on social media and am rarely disappointed when I get to meet them face-to-face.  If you don't follow Heather Lister or Jaime Donally, check out their work. I've followed them for a while and was ecstatic to finally meet them in person!

Educational conferences are just one pathway to personalized professional learning, but it is a path that every educator needs to explore. While every conference experience is unique, it is a time to reflect on your practices, refresh your mindset, and rejuvenate your practices.

Teachers--take time away from your classrooms and attend an educational conference this year.  It will be worth it. You will return to your students filled with new ideas and a renewed sense of purpose.

School leaders--remember the importance of helping your teachers to learn and grow. Carve out time and money to make sure that opportunities exist in your district.