Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday's Five - Success Stories

Friday's Five is a feature every week where I pick a new topic and list five items that I think fit best.  Then I ask you to share your thoughts in the comment section.  For an archive of past topics, check the Friday's Five Page

The moment that one realizes that which they are passionate about is a special moment.  In an instant motivation and possibility are awakened, usually leading to amazing results.  If you've been lucky enough to hear Kevin Honeycutt speak, you'll recognize this as what he refers to as seeing someone "launch."

I've been lucky enough to see people around me have such moments this year: my students, other students in my building, and colleagues.  It's these successes that make teaching one of the most rewarding professions.  Here are some of the awesome successes that I've seen and heard about in my district so far this year:
  1. A couple of weeks ago a teacher in the faculty room during lunch was frustrated because her students were not taking any pride in the reports they were writing.  They were totally unmotivated.  The conversation turned to Project Based Learning (PBL), and she made the decision to try something a bit out of her comfort zone. Instead of having students write reports on marine animals, she would have act as marine biologists to design an aquarium exhibit.  Students would have to learn about the animals to be able to determine which could share tanks, and how best to teach the public about them.  Today, as I walked down a stairwell, I heard a student go up to that teacher bubbling with excitement as he explained to that teacher the research he had learned about an octopus.  Another student (who is also in that teacher's class) earlier in the day asked me if she could skip her recess to research some marine animals.  I don't think that teacher has to worry about lack of engagement or interest any more. 
  2. For the past few years our 5th graders have collected food for the local food pantry during November and December.  This year we wanted them to understand the importance of what they were doing in addition to simply collecting the cans.  Each of the three 5th grade classrooms was responsible for running an advertising campaign that included posters, a bulletin board, and a video commercial convincing other students that they should bring in food.  It was fantastic to see students authentically engaged in debate over how best to help others.  Below is the commercial that my students created without any help from adults.
  3. I remember a few years ago I had a conversation with a teacher in the faculty room about math.  She was complaining that her students were asking her why multiplying two negative numbers resulted in a positive answer.  She just wanted the students to memorize the rule so that they could get the right answer.  That same teacher has started using Number Talks, a program from Math Solutions, with her students this year.  This afternoon she was excitedly telling me how her students are understanding addition, subtraction, and multiplication, making connections, and learning so much more than just the rules she used to teach them.  She also mentioned how much she's enjoying learning some of those connections along with them.  Launch!
  4. One of our special education teachers recently introduced her students to some new web 2.0 tools, including GoAnimate.  All of her students loved playing with the new tools, but one of them absolutely launched.  He's now more engaged in class and is constantly asking to share what he's learned by using the tools.  As an added bonus, the teacher told me that for the first time all year he is checking his spelling with a dictionary or the computer because he wants the pronunciation on GoAnimate and the other tools to be correct when he embeds them on the class wikispace they are building.
  5. I recently shared the benefits of student blogging in a class I'm teaching on 21st century skills to other teachers.  At the same time I got my 3rd grade daughter set up with a blog to share some of the things she is learning both in and out of school.  Several teachers shared my daughter's first blog post with their students, allowed them to comment, and told them that they would have the opportunity to share their learning on a blog, too.  Those teachers have overwhelmingly reported increased interest from those students in writing, and learning in general.  Those students want to learn so that they have something to share.  Writing is no longer an assignment to be handed to the teacher, but rather a mode of communicating with the world.  
Now it's your turn.  Take a moment and share something inspiring that you have seen this year.  Have you seen a student "launch?"  What amazing things are you and your colleagues doing?  Share with us in the comment section below, and share the post on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Plurk so that we can hear from others as well.