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Gina Taylor @RLTaylor94

Gina Taylor @RLTaylor94

After graduating from the University of Cincinnati I began teaching sixth grade.  I have taught at the same rural Appalachian school district for the last 20 years and consider it an honor.  Learning is my love.  Continually taking coursework is my second hobby.  While I have earned my masters degree from the University of Massachusetts, I have taken classes from Penn State, The Harvard Extension School, Savannah College of Art and Design, the University of Cincinnati, and The University of Queensland. 

Posted by on in General

quiet students

Recently, I read a study about the importance of the practicum experience for pre-service teachers (Leko and Brownell, 2011). Reflecting back to my own experience reminded me that, first of all, I am closer to retirement than the dawning of my career, and second, times have certainly changed. My practicum focused on maintaining control. Control meant that learning was happening in your room.  Old school evaluations focused on students in their seats, quietly listening to the words magically cascading from the teacher's mouth. Compliant students equated to the best possible environment for learning.  The best possible environment? For whom?  That question rung heavily in my mind, sitting, stirring, until my professional self was able to pull it out, clean it off, and whole heartedly evaluate what was happening in my classroom. 

There were no lightbulbs going off in my room.  There was not a place for discovery in my room.  There were, however, no behavior problems.  I was comfortable at the expense of my students. I knew that if I were to change there would be obstacles to overcome. My room was going to be noisy.  Students were going to be moving.  I needed to learn how to facilitate my students learning and let them lead the way.  This process began by giving the students choice.  Differentiated instruction was the new buzzword.  As my students chose their path of learning, this meant the room was not uniform and not quiet.  My stress level soared and my discomfort was palpable.  This, however, was my problem.  This was the beginning of the journey that would change my professional career and allow me to see  what was possible not only for my students but for me as well. 

Fast forward a few years.  A student, from the past, visited my classroom as a parent (this is mortifying if you haven't experienced it yet).  They walked in and exclaimed, "Wow! This looks so different!".   Thank goodness.  Thank goodness, the room looked different.  If I were about to teach a second generation the same as the first, that would have been hard to swallow.  My room now has few tables.  I have moved to flexible seating where couches and overstuffed chairs have replaced the institutional seating of the past.  My overhead lights are barely on as the room is now lit by lamps.  Paper no longer exists in my room as we are now 1:1 with chrome books.  Those are the visual aspects of my room that are different.  Pedagogically, I have not only changed zip codes but moved continents. 

Currently, students decide their own path to mastery and I facilitate the journey.  What does that look like?  A group of students are sitting on the floor creating a brick film about the rock cycle.  Another group of students are coding a game that will journey through this same cycle.  The discussion is often loud but meaningful.  The excitement is often boisterous but celebratory.  The change is powerful and I would never return to the days of quiet compliance. 

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Posted by on in General

Kerry Gallagher was extraordinarily powerful in the first ISTE Ignite session: I don't just want my students to learn. I want them to WANT TO LEARN.

School hallways are filled with these conversations. "How do I make my students want to learn?" Or the soul crushing "I can't do it for them."

Another speaker went on to say that if one is trying to grow lettuce and it does not grow, it's not the fault of the lettuce. All I can say to that is AMEN. Our world is changing so quickly I dare not insert a metaphor here as it would be outdated as soon as this sentence is completed. Yet, daily, many of our classrooms resemble the 1950s. While our students may be highly prepared to See Dick and Jane Run, are they really prepared for their swiftly changing future?

A far better question, as the future looms over us like the a science fiction nightmare: are we ready to prepare them for that future? When thinking of this question, waves of chills wash down my spine as if the metallic skull of the Terminator himself were breathing down the back of my neck. Racing and working to prepare our students for standardized testing does very little to enhance creativity, invoke problem solving, and bring forth collaboration. We are looking at short term solutions for problems we have created. These short term solutions will leave our students stranded and alone without the skills needed to be successful in their future.

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Posted by on in Game-Based Learning

GameBasedLearning

Gamification has changed how I teach.  It's a game-changer so to speak. There are many ways to bring gamification to your classroom.  Deciding to start small is often a good choice but don't be afraid to throw yourself into a game whole heartedly.

After presenting to a group of teachers recently, the overwhelming feeling involved a sense of reluctancy.  "I'm not a gamer.  There's no way I can bring games to my classroom." Being a professional gamer is not a prerequisite to bringing gamification to your classroom. I had played a few video games in my time.  I'm not sure however, that my high score on Galaga in the late 80s would be helpful in this situation. Regardless, the idea is to create a meaningful learning experience for your students.  Classroom learning need not always be text book/worksheet driven.  Personally, if my room never sees a worksheet again it will be too soon. Gamification allows for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and most importantly, if done right, powerful situations that will allow the students to acquire the content and have it stick with them.

When my journey began a few things needed to change about my classroom.  I needed to give some of the control over to the students, and why not?  This is their education.  They needed to be in the driver seat, making choices and interacting with the game.  Once I let this go, my students became fully engaged. An engaged classroom is messy and loud.  It is full of collaboration and discovery.  It is a powerful environment to experience.  The clock moves swiftly and the days pass quickly.

How to begin?  Start small with a well known game.  I started with a garden sized Jenga game. Be forewarned, it is quite large and makes quite a sound when it comes crashing down.  The sound the kids will make however, is much louder.  Taking time to color the end of the pieces makes the game much more versatile.  We were working on a unit review.  Using a set of twenty multiple choice questions the students pulled pieces.  The color on the end of the piece was matched with a set of questions.  The students then decided which question they wanted to complete.  If we completed the entire question set without the tower tumbling, the entire class received extra credit on the unit test. The reaction of the students was nothing short of amazing.  Their level of engagement was incredible.  It was all I needed to start adding more.

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Posted by on in General

HaveweDone

Recently, I had a student ask me for a review pack for our upcoming state test.

"I'm not giving review packs this year," I said confidently knowing my time spent gamifying their content would surely payoff.  My ego was quickly put in check by the student's pale and unnerved face. 

"Wait. What?! No review packet?! I WON'T PASS THE TEST!" And she meant business. Her world was crumbling around her.  Noticing the panic in her face, I attempted to bring a little levity to the situation.

"Except the big, thick one packet you are getting tomorrow for your Social Studies test!" I said with the absolute cheesiest smile I could muster. 

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

stencil.twitter post 67

Education is the place to be.  Where else does one have the ability to inspire a group of young, malleable minds to reach beyond their wildest dreams and mold a future that holds endless possibilities?  That is certainly a tall order for 180 days. 

As the year winds down, how do we keep the shiny determination and resilience of the first day of school?  It seems like just yesterday the smell of wax permeated our nostrils as we excitedly sharpened a bouquet of bright yellow pencils.  Their shavings falling to the ground like confetti on a parade route.  Flash forward to today.  The wax is just as worn as our patience.  The fresh, flowery spring air activates a hormonal switch that now only knows one position: on.  In middle school winter pants have become spring bermudas (literally) and flip flops are all the rage because shoes do not fit anymore.  One last item: it's testing season.  All pre-service teachers should complete a practicum entitled, "Hormonal Spring: The Dawn of the Teenage".  Please, don't confuse this with a horror movie, new graphic video game, or water training for the Navy Seals.  For those of us who have endured it for several years, learning to surf is your best option. 

Hello SummerWhat do I mean by this?  Show up each day in your Volkswagen van (because that's how they see us), throw the door open and put on the best show possible.  Fill it with excitement, energy, and fire.  Literally, fill it with fire.  Creating a fireball in class will have them eating out of your hands.  It also really gets their attention.  They like to stare at bright shiny things.  For those concerned about the fire code:  I get it.  The chief and I are on a first name basis.  Stick to your comfort zone and put on the best show your nerves will allow.

My point?  Bring your "A" game until the last day of school.  Take every moment you have to stretch their minds and push them out of their comfort zones.  Disney and Universal are not paying us to show their movies until the end of the year.  Invoke a little Genius Hour time or set up a Makerspace.  When students pursue their own interests, the results are often powerful.  Plan a mini field trip around your campus or turn your room into a tropical island.  Use devices to go on a virtual field trip or mystery Skype with another class.

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Tagged in: active learning