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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

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 Our world is changing so quickly I dare not insert a metaphor here as it would be outdated as soon as this sentence is completed.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

Posted by on in Studentcentricity

learning space

A few days ago, during an interesting conversation with a colleague, a realization came to me.  The conversation began after my class had been cleared of its institution-like tables and chairs.  In their places sprouted various couches, chairs, tables, pillows, and cushions.

"In my mind, they are not being serious if they are not sitting at desks or tables," my colleague, and friend confessed to me.  This had been more than a stumbling block for me as well.  How could they possibly work if they were sitting on a couch or at a picnic table?  And more importantly, how would they test?  We all know that our year boils down to that one day when we test (please note the sarcasm here). 

Over the next few days, the strangest thing happened: work.  A level of engagement began to happen in my classroom that had previously not taken place.  Students were diligently working in the new areas, some together, some on their own.  They had picked their own spots based on where they would work best.  We spent a week moving around and testing out different areas and for the most part, they were making mature choices that were directly effecting their learning and engagement. Listening to their discussions was very interesting.  The students knew exactly where they could work and where they were comfortable or even too comfortable.  

The room consisted of different areas: the library, the mini-rooms, the genius bar, the maker space, the living room, the tech spot, the think tank, and, finally,  the picnic area.  Each area had its own theme that set it apart from the rest of the room.  The living room and the mini-rooms were quickly identified as favorites.  Personally, I adored the mini-rooms.  My room came equipped with three large, 1970s closets.  After talking to our administrator, the doors were removed, the cabinets emptied, and the shelves removed.  Each cabinet was given a theme: Marvel, Harry Potter, and The Walking Dead. Pillows and tables were added as well as lights.  These mini-rooms have become great places when concentration is essential.  

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