Focus on Student-Centered Activities

Last week I shared a TED Talk from Sir Ken Robinson.  In that video he talked about the factory model that some schools have become.  Our students can be really good at playing the game of school here at RSI, or in junior high, and possibly even in high school.  By playing the game of school I mean finishing homework, not causing issues in the classroom, and being what would generally be considered a “good student” in the old factory model of education.  But when they go on to college, or when they are out in the real world, those students who played the game are not ready for real life.  Know this: Homework completion in fifth and sixth grade are not a sign of success in the future – I consider myself a walking example of that statement.  When graduating from college, our students may have a degree that they don’t really know what to do with, and send out resumes that put them into jobs that they do not find inspiring.

The best way we can break this model is through providing more student centered approaches in our teaching (think back to the post on the HSE21 Best Practice Model).  When students are investigating things that are high interest to them, they find passion and purpose in their learning.  When students want to learn more about their passions, they need only type a few key words into Google.  Through that search they can be directed to pages of information, videos, pictures, and blog posts that may help them learn in a way that fits their learning styles.

Matt Miller -
Matt Miller –

Through integrating the Internet and online tools, you can help students realize that there are things in the world that they want to explore.  You can help provide them with that spark that may ignite their passion.

In what ways have you tried to factor in your students own curiosity in your classroom?  When you try to be more student centered, what do you notice about classroom engagement?  Share some ways that you have tried to keep learning and teaching “student centered” in your class.


Sir Ken Robinson!

Sketch of Sir Ken Robinson
Sketch of Sir Ken Robinson

Many of us have seen the TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson titled “Changing Education Paradigms.”  It is a talk that I find myself going back to again and again.  Early in the talk he shares the story that kept many of us in school.  That story was that “if you worked hard and did well, and had a college degree, you would get a job.”  He goes on to say that in today’s world a college degree, while it does generally make you better off, it doesn’t guarantee a job anymore.

For this week’s PD, I am going to share a link to that video.  The run time is just under 12 minutes.  Don’t be surprised if, like me, this video sends you down a wormhole of other talks by Sir Ken Robinson and some other speakers who are working to transform teaching and learning.

Did you come across any nuggets of wisdom that will transform something that you do in your classroom?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’re interested in more, I included links to a couple other Ken Robinson TED Talks (I love them all!):

Bring on the Learning Revolution!

How to Escape Education’s Death Valley

Getting ALL our students to participate in the classroom

This photo was titles "Boring Lecture, 1940s"
This photo is titled “Boring Lecture, 1940s”

This summer the entire HSE administrative staff participated in a 2 day workshop titled “Undoing Racism.”  For two days all of the central office administrators, principals, assistant principals, and deans sat in a large circle talking about some pretty heavy topics.  Several times things came to mind about the discussion, but I found it hard at times to share that thinking with everyone in the room.  I didn’t want to be judged.  My own insecurities prevented me from actively participating in the discussion at times.

In your classroom, there are students who are actively engaged in your lessons, who have ideas that could be beneficial to all in the room, but for whatever reason they are afraid to speak up.  Using a backchannel during your class (especially a lesson that is heavy on direct instruction, or possibly during a video in class) could serve a couple of purposes.  A backchannel could allow students to share thinking while they are receiving information, it allows more students the opportunity to share their responses (those times when you can’t call on all the hands that go up – just have them all enter share their response in your backchannel), and a backchannel could even be used for a quick check formative assessment to see where kids are in the middle of a lesson (ask a question, tell kids to type in an answer but wait for your instruction to post, and then have them all post at one time).

When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo.
When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo.

Sites such as can allow us to set up a place for our students to go where their voices can be heard, but they don’t have to worry about being singled out or having everyone watch them.  Everyone gets to have a voice.  And it only takes a moment to set up a room (that you can leave open for the entire school year).

Have you tried a backchannel in your classroom?  What went well?  What were some of the struggles?  If you’ve never tried it before, start small.  Have students pose questions or connections while watching a video so that you can more easily monitor the discussion.

Technology to Make Life Easier

Last week I talked about how living in a digital world makes it easier to connect with people all over the world, or in your own backyard.  In addition to allowing us to communicate so easily, technology can make us all more efficient.  While there are times that technology might seem to make life more difficult, there are so many benefits that it’s hard to ignore.

Its easier to go down a hill

Here are just a few ways that tech can help us transform teaching and learning:

-Field trips – instead of spending weeks planning and preparing for a field trip (think scheduling the trip, collecting money, permission slips, scheduling buses, etc.) you can create a field trip experience during a class period without leaving the room. Skype or Google Hangouts can let you chat with people almost anywhere in the world.

-Grading – instead of sitting at your desk with a stack of papers, you can use online methods to assess your students. In the case of simple assignments, they can be auto-graded through apps and websites.  Something more complicated can be assessed and returned to students anytime of the day.

-Materials – no more digging through file cabinets, folders, or binders. Now you can do a quick keyword search in Office 365 or Google Drive to find the document you need.

-New ideas – you don’t have to spend hours flipping through books to find new ideas, now a quick search on Google or communication through social media could come up with new ideas in a matter of minutes.

To understand their world we must be willing

Those of you who know me well know that I am pretty “techy.”  If any of the ideas above sound like something you’d like to learn more about, let me know.  I can help you find resources to use the digital world to allow yourself to be more efficient.

What tech have you used to make life easier in your classroom?  Share some ideas in the comments below so that others can learn from you!