Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Hacking the Curriculum" and Student Engagement

With every conference I attend, professional conversation I have or book I read, something profound always sticks with me. 

Every time that I open up my mind and get out and learn, I become a better teacher. 

I wish I could fully express the impact that "getting out" has had on my past 2 years of teaching. I have traveled to so many amazing conference, Playdates, EdCamps and other learning experiences. I wish I could shout it from the rooftops and I wish I could take all of my fellow educators with me on my journey. However, it is my journey. We all have our own. 

This summer I attended the EdTech Teacher Summit at the beautiful Navy Pier in Chicago. I was surrounded by powerful and inspiring educators. I grew leaps and bounds as a teacher in just two short days. 

However, the idea or question that stuck with me the most was:

"Can your students hack your curriculum?"

That simple questions opened my eyes and my mind to see our school day in a completely different way. 

My students need to be able to open up our curriculum, manipulate it and turn it into what they want and need it to be. 

For me, I am doing this through student-choice based learning such as our Creative Workshop, inquiry groups and Genius Hour

Beside just good learning, this thought philosophy has so many more benefits. Student engagement and organic collaboration is at an all time high in my room. Disrespectful behaviors and boredom are at an almost non-existent low. 

The best part about it, is that it is all happening naturally. It has molded into a way of life in our classroom. We don't have to be told, "this is creative time". The students truly approach all aspect of our day with questions and amazing ideas.

Three factors have helped form this type of learning environment in our room.

     The first takes time and effort to build... trust. I have to be able to trust my students that they will make appropriate and challenging learning choices. On the flip-side, they need to have trust in me that I will let them try this without judgement. I trust my students and I tell them that. 
The second, is one simple word that can change the world... "yes". I have said that word over and over again in my room.

"Mrs. Bright, May I lead a group on Book Creator in a Daily today?"

"May we come up with some new games for word work?"

"May I use Google Earth to help with my writing today?"

"I am dying to create something. May I have tape and paper?"

Lastly, another simple phrase can make all of the difference... "our classroom."  This not a new concept for any of us but this simple phrase can change the whole outlook of our day from the students perspective. It is not "teacher vs. student" in our room. It is "learner with learner". Many times the student's ideas are better than mine. Why wouldn't I let them have an equal say?  They need to know that I view our relationship as collaborative and open-minded. 

Allowing the learners in our room to "hack our curriculum", has been as easy as saying 3 simple phrases over and over again.

"I trust you."
"...our classroom."

Try it and see where it takes your group of learners. 

*Note: All student photos and videos with student faces shown are used with permission from the parents. 

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