This year has been a year of growth and incredible adventure for me. So many firsts....1st time moderating a Twitter book chat, first time speaking at a conference, 1st time at ISTE, 1st time gamifying all of my culinary classes. If I were to choose one word to describe this past year it would be "LEAP". I didn't step out of my comfort zone... I leaped. As I reflect on 2016 all of my leaps have been significant but, two of these leaps have made a profound impact on my journey as an educator.
A year ago I was asked by author of Explore Like a Pirate, Michael Matera, to moderate a Twitter book chat. My experience of moderating book chats at that time...ZERO. Not only had I not moderated book chats, but I had not participated regularly in them either. So here I was deciding to leap big into an unknown world that I knew little about. I signed up for Tweetdeck for the first time and with encouragement and support from Michael, away I went. I remember the first few times moderating, I was terrified. What if my wifi went down, what if I didn't time the questions right? How would I reply to the guests? So many fears and so many questions yet, I still leaped. This leap was like jumping on to a pirate ship and sailing into uncharted waters and... what an adventure it has been. The friendships, the confidence, the growth I've gained has been exponential and if it wasn't for that first leap it wouldn't have happened.
Sometime in the early Spring of 2015 I took my second leap; I was asked to facilitate a session at the Southern Oregon Edtech Summit on gamification. Again, I was approached with a challenge that was beyond my comfort level. I reluctantly said yes, and then the fear set in. I felt that my ship was now in turbulent waters and I truly didn't know if I was going to make it to shore. The next few months I was paralyzed with fear. Why had I agreed to this? What if I forgot what to say? What if I stumbled over my words and didn't make sense? Where would I even start in organizing my presentation?
This summit happened to be on the craziest day of the school year. It was our MIlli Vanilli class dance-off competition at our high school and I was the Jr Class Advisor. If that was not enough, it was my son's 14th birthday. The days prior felt like impending doom as I was certain I had made a horrible decision. However, there was no turning back and all I could do was face my fear head on. I did, and it was a huge success. Looking back on this day in April, I now realize how pivotal it was for me. I had navigated successfully through the waters of fear and realized not only could I do it, but I enjoyed it. Sharing something I was passionate about fueled and energized me and I knew at that moment that the journey was just beginning.
As I look at my calendar for 2017, it is full of new adventures. The fear is still there as these adventures consist of more "leaps" into uncharted waters. However, when I reflect back on 2016 I am reminded of my previous leaps and how much I continue to learn and grow from them. My confidence is so much stronger than it was a year ago. I am more passionate and excited about education than I have ever been before. This would not have come without each leap and the support of my family, PLN, and students that continually encourage me and push me into deeper waters. To the many who have helped me "leap" this year, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
There is something magical about my family cabin in Winter. There are no agendas, "to do" lists, or alarm clocks. The way the snow sparkles, the snow birds that peak in through our window, and the cozy fireplace all make for the perfect retreat. However, what I love best is how are family comes together around the dining room table for game play.
This past week was no different. Hours upon hours were spent around our table playing family favorites: Hearts, Dominoes, Progressive Rummy, Hand and Foot, Cribbage and Dutch Blitz. I truly savor this time for so many reasons. However, this year felt different. I have gained a new appreciation for my favorite family past time and I was able to reflect on this experience through a different lense now that I have spent over a year gamifying my classroom.
I love the playful fun that games bring: the smiles, laughter, and excitement. I have found this dynamic to be true in the gamified classroom as well. When students are having a good time learning, the energy is electric and they are fully immersed. However, let me assure you that games and gamification done right extends far beyond that. The challenge, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking that are woven into game play brings a complexity that goes much deeper than points and badges.
My kids were reintroduced to some card games this weekend that they hadn't played in a long time. As I watched them struggle to learn the game mechanics and rules at the beginning, I thought about it through the eyes of an educator. There was frustration and failure, but my kids were challenged. They were not motivated by the rules, but by how to develop their own strategies to master the skills. As my daughter reflected on the card game "Hearts" tonight she said, "I am excited to play tomorrow, because now that I understand the rules I have some new ideas of how I can strategize." Isn't this what we want for our students? We want them to be challenged to persevere through the struggle and failure and motivated to develop their own strategies to attain mastery.
Something special happens when we gather the family around the table with a game. The laughter and excitement that games bring bonds us in a special way. Everyone is completely immersed as they are collaborating and communicating on how to win the game. Let's think about this dynamic in our classrooms. Creating a sense of community is so vital to building a classroom where learning thrives. Don't we want students to laugh and be excited about learning? What would learning look like if students were continually collaborating and communicating about how to master the content? How would it change the culture to have students that supported and celebrated each other's accomplishments?
The game "Snake Oil" has become a new family favorite. In this game, players have to sell an item to "the customer" by selecting two cards in their hand to combine together. The players have to be creative with their sales pitch, thinking about why the customer would benefit from the item they are are selling. The game is hilarious because players are required to think on their feet and come up with convincing arguments with very little time to think through what they are going to say. I love the creativity that comes out when players are challenged to do so in a short amount of time. I have noticed this same dynamic happen in my classroom. When students are challenged to take their skills and demonstrate their learning in a creative way, they blow my mind! Sometimes we put too many perameters on student learning. Give students challenging opportunities to be creative and watch them soar!
Reflecting on all of the various mechanics in the games we played this weekend, made me realize how much critical thinking was required. Let me use the card game Hearts as an example. In this game, players strategically play their cards to avoid collecting Hearts and the Queen of Spades. You are continually thinking critically about what move you are going to make next so you can end the game with the fewest points possible. In the gamified classroom students are also critically thinking about the content. In culinary, they are daily analyzing, evaluating, interpreting, and synthesizing the content and creatively thinking about how they are going to solve problems that arise. Students are not merely consumers of information, they are learning by doing empowered to create their own learning adventure.
This weekend in a wintery wonderland was just what I needed to rest. restore, and reflect. I am grateful for the time of laughter and fun and the memories made. However, the experience went beyond that, and that is what I want for my students. The fun and laughter is important and what memories are made of, but students immersed in a rich learning environment full of challenge, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking is where the magic truly happens.
Whew! I made it! I love teaching...it's the best, but I'm tired. I am sitting at home this morning on my first day of holiday break with so much to do to get ready for the holidays, but I'm paralyzed by exhaustion. After my second cup of coffee, I bundled up, grabbed my dog and headed out for a much needed walk to think about how I was going to rest, reflect, and recharge this holiday season.
This is a serious struggle for me. My mind doesn't stop. I am continuously contemplating, worrying, and planning. This break I am going to commit to resting with no guilt. Binge watch TV. Bake. Read. Sleep in. Play games. Do nothing. Easier said than done for me, but I need it. My family, students, and colleagues need me. I owe it to them to be the best me I can be. I can't be that without taking the time to really rest without guilt.
Okay, so this is a struggle for me too. I don't reflect enough. Even knowing how valuable it is, I have never been good about reflecting in any form consistently. I love the idea of blogging, but I tend to worry too much about my words being profound or eloquent or people thinking I'm flat out crazy. A friend recently told me to think of it as documenting my journey. It doesn't have to be fabulous or resonate with everyone, just get my thoughts out there. I need to do this for me and if it inspires others than that is a bonus!
I want to go back to school in January recharged and ready to take on the new year. I plan to draw on the energy of my friends and family this holiday season. I want to be present and truly savor every moment spent with them. I want to do more things that inspire me: read, play games, laugh with my family, connect with my PLN, and go to coffee with friends.
How are you going to rest. reflect. recharge this holiday season?
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.