Tag Archives: teacher tips

How Dr. King, Jr. Elementary created a culture of innovation with 20% time

Editor's note: Today’s guest author is Susan Gonzalez, district preparation teacher for grades 4-6 at Bayview Elementary School in San Pablo, California and Dr. King, Jr. Elementary School in Richmond, California. West Contra Costa Unified School District introduced a new program to give students time to explore passion projects, based on Google’s concept of 20% time. To learn more about this idea, read Kevin Brookhouser’s blog post about 20% time in schools.

Sixth grader Johntae Tolerson plays basketball every day during recess and dreams of becoming a professional basketball player, but that dream often feels disconnected from the work she does in the classroom. When her school, Dr. King, Jr. Elementary in Richmond, California, gave her 100 minutes a week to explore one of her passions in class, she researched the requirements for becoming a professional basketball player and the background of some professionals in the game.
Johntae dreams of being a professional basketball player
Johntae’s basketball project is just one result of our school encouraging students and teachers to build a culture of innovation. We wanted to engage and motivate students in new ways and give them the opportunity to take the lead. Many of our students see street violence on a regular basis, and a majority live in poverty. With those hardships on their mind, it can be difficult for them to stay fully present and motivated at school. We wanted to give them a sense of purpose and help them drive their own learning.

Last summer, Google and West Contra Costa Unified School District came together to help launch IDEO’s Teachers Guild, a creative collaborative for teachers to design solutions to the biggest challenges in education today. Teachers and district leaders from around the U.S. went on a design thinking journey to answer the question, “How might we create rituals and routines that establish a culture of innovation in our classrooms and schools?”
The Teachers Guild brings educators and partners together to tackle big challenges in education today
With the help of IDEO’s Teachers Guild and Google, we focused on how to answer this question. We were inspired by Charles Shryock, an educator in Maryland, who came up with the idea of a “sub hack” that would let students pursue passion projects. Days when teachers are absent tend to be filled with rote, “drill and kill” activities since substitute teachers have minimal time to prepare a lesson plan and lack context about what’s been going on in a given classroom. Charles set out to turn this otherwise unproductive time into opportunities for students to pursue their passions. Students come up with a project that sparks their interest and spend time on it when they have a substitute teacher.

The projects range from poetry to fashion design to researching family heritage. I’ve been so impressed by the creativity and personality students have put into their projects. Lashay chose to research her favorite sport, football, and wrote about why boys and girls don’t play football together. MarShawn wrote a poem describing how the emotions he expresses don’t always match how he feels on the inside.
Katie Von Husen, coordinator of educational technology, helps a student identify his essential question
Before rolling out this idea across the district, we tested the idea with one fifth and one sixth grade class, with a small change. Since it’s hard to predict when teachers will need a substitute, we used my class period, when students typically focus on keyboard and computer literacy skills, to trial passion projects. Students worked on their passion projects during two 50-minute class periods weekly for a 12-week period. I created a website as a resource for students to brainstorm their essential questions, get inspiration from their peers’ projects, locate graphic organizers for the research, including links to videos to fuel inspiration, ask questions, and communicate with me via the site. Having a workspace with computers for students to do research and setting aside dedicated time each week for passion projects were instrumental to our success.

Dr. King, Jr. Elementary values positivity, teamwork and support. Since introducing passion projects, I’ve seen students who weren’t always motivated come to class with big smiles and energy. Students shared their projects on a celebratory day at the end of the trial, and it was especially motivating to hear students ask when they would have a second opportunity to pursue a passion project.

We’ve seen this program inspire students like Johntae, Lashay and MarShawn to be critical thinkers and problem solvers while developing their reading and writing skills. It empowered them to take initiative in personalizing their learning, which had the result of boosting excitement about coming to school. The Teachers Guild collaborative helped our school identify how to establish a culture of innovation and better utilize substitute time for passion projects. I encourage all teachers looking to create a culture of innovation to turn underutilized time into opportunities for students to pursue their passions. It truly is a win-win!

Finding Math in the Everyday with Sesame Street and Google’s Course Builder

Editor's note: Today’s guest author is Kayla Nalven, Content Specialist in Sesame Street’s U.S. Social Impact department. Through her work, Kayla aims to support the many adults in children's lives in their use of Sesame Street content and resources. She managed the content development for the “Make Believe with Math” course.

To date, more than 5,000 early childhood educators have enrolled in a free online course from Sesame Street, “Make Believe with Math”, created through Google’s Course Builder platform. The course - which will run through October 31st - emphasizes finding everyday opportunities for math in any setting and seeing pretend play as a tool for math learning.
This self-paced, three-hour experience includes videos featuring Sesame staff members, short activity challenges, discussion boards for reflection, and access to new content, so educators can bring activity ideas and strategies into their own settings.
Built with Google’s Course Builder platform, the course was a natural extension of Sesame’s legacy as the “first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC),” according to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Course Builder gave us a way to continue this work more literally by creating a modern online course with a goal of reaching thousands with no cost to the user; furry monsters and giggles included.

Although creating virtual classroom experiences for adults is an area we’re growing into, the process guiding us is a familiar one—in essence, it’s no different than the method behind making an episode of Sesame Street.

Our team at Sesame Street started with a goal and a concept. We wanted to make the task of incorporating math into the early childhood setting less intimidating for educators by highlighting opportunities that exist to “find the math” in everyday moments and interactions. Research describing the benefits of combining math―which relies on language as well as object/people relationships―with a highly social activity like pretend play inspired the approach featured in the course.

Next, we engaged our end users. We asked expert teachers to provide guidance on how to present information to fellow educators in a way that would add value and adhere to the standards they must follow. We developed the course curriculum based on their feedback and the Sesame Street Framework for School Readiness (which aligns with National Head Start and National Research Council math standards).

We then tested our ideas in a formal research setting. We held a focus group with educators and program directors, and heard from them that the course needed to look and feel like Professional Development―except “Muppetized”.

To ensure what we were offering felt unique, we focused on providing actionable tips and strategies that could be used by educators right away. We worked to streamline the course format and include relatable imagery and additional, single-page resources, all based on what educators told us they wanted to see and experience.

We then held a pilot offering in August, and monitored closely to ensure educators were completing activities successfully and finding value in every aspect of the course.

After the pilot, we knew there was still more work to be done. We followed up with participants and listened closely to their feedback. The data from the first launch was promising. We saw an above-average percentage of course completion, and educators told us there was a strong likelihood that they would implement strategies offered in the course in their own settings.

Finally, we set our sights on iterating. For the current offering, we applied what we learned from rich Course Builder analytics and survey data to continue making this online learning experience worthwhile for educators. We also partnered with multiple states to offer credit/contact hours to educators in those states who complete the course.

We hope to continue learning from our users so we can offer more free trainings directed at educators, parents, and community providers―and continue doing what we do best: reaching learners wherever they are. Course Builder was a natural platform to enable us to do just that.

So get your thinking caps and imaginations ready, and join us in class! Register now at www.sesamestreet.org/makebelievewithmath. The course will run through October 31st, so don’t wait until the “number of the day” is 0.