Challenge Yourself – Try Something New

Four years ago, I transferred to a new school. I loved my old school and I loved the teachers and students that I worked with, but I had become too complacent. I found myself using many of the same lessons that I had taught for years. The worst part… I was not even a veteran teacher and yet, I felt comfortable enough to stop being innovative in my classroom.

I felt comfortable enough to stop being innovative in my classroom.


So, when my county announced they were opening a STEM magnet school, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it and I took it as a wake-up call. With the start of a new job at a new school, I challenged myself to incorporate new things into my classroom instruction. Each year, I’ve taken on new challenges, all of which have fundamentally changed the way I teach. 

1. Computer Programming

Just so you know, computer programming is not my thing. I never took a class in college and I do not particularly enjoy programming, but I am well aware that computer programming is the language of the future. Our students need to know how to create and be active contributors to the digital world and not just consumers.

So, I taught myself the basics (and I do mean basics) of SCRATCH, a computer programming language created by MIT, specifically for kids. I started a SCRATCH Club after school and together with students I learned. As we worked on projects together, the students quickly became the experts and I was just the supervisor. I often had to answer student questions with, “I don’t know. Let’s work on it together and figure it out.” I only lead the SCRATCH Club for one year – much to my relief, a parent took over the following year.

Here are some of the resources I used to help me get started with SCRATCH:

SCRATCH Cards

SCRATCH Tutorial Livebinder

Harvard SCRATCH Resources

2. Student Blogging

A couple of years ago, my class began blogging using KidBlog. It was an immediate hit with students! Students each have their own individual blogs on which they post about books they are reading, share short stories, and write about their new learning. Students even began blogging at home sharing stories about their after-school and weekend activities helping to create a stronger classroom community. Students also comment on each other’s posts, which has created a great online learning space for our class. As a bonus, blogging allows me the opportunity to talk to my students about how to be a responsible online citizen.

3. Genius Hour

Genius Hour has by far been the most eye opening change that I’ve made in my classroom. In Genius Hour, students spend one hour a week working on a project of their choosing. This year students have learned about music, hair-styling, jewelry making, robotics, computer programing, electricity, chemistry, pottery, and community service. The creations of my students far surpassed any expectations that I had. We are coming to the end of our year and I know that my students learned a lot from me, but I also know that the time spent during Genius Hour is so much more valuable and memorable to my students because they learned to love learning.  and what could be better to that!

 

Not everything that I have tried has been a smashing success, but I can say with certainty that by pushing myself to try something beyond my comfort zone, I have become a better teacher for my students. So, I challenge my fellow teachers, as the year is coming to an end, take some time to reflect and think about something new you want to try next year.

 

Feature image adapted from image courtesy of Flickr, eflon.

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