EPISODE 28: THE STORY ABOUT

Creative, Innovative Teaching

with Matt Miller

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If we’re willing to have some fun with the lens that we see the activity through, it can totally transform the entire experience for students.

Jamie
Tired of stale lessons being bored with teaching and students tuning out, then I’m glad you’ve tuned in. I’m Jamie Hipp, and this is Teaching Trailblazers, a show about teachers, artists and leaders in arts integration and STEAM. On today’s episode, we reimagine education with Matt Miller, the author of four books, including Ditch that Textbook. His Ditch that Textbook blog reaches thousands of educators in more than 100 countries with inspiration and practical teaching ideas. He’s a keynote speaker, podcast host and the creator of Ditch that Textbook digital summit. Welcome, Matt.

Matt
Hey, it’s so good to be with you, Jamie, thanks so much for inviting me.

Jamie
Absolutely. Thanks so much for being on the show. Now. I want to tell every one of our listeners for anyone that sends Matt an email, you get a return with his name at the bottom along with his title. And that would be the Head Textbook Ditcher. Tell us more, Matt.

Matt
Well, you know, whenever I started doing professional development full time and writing and speaking and stuff, people would ask me, What do I do? And there’s no easy way to answer it really. And so I thought, maybe I’d try one of those creative titles, you know, people, you know, Chief, what is it awesome, Officer, you know, like they they come up with all sorts of creative names. So I thought, Hey, I might give this one a shot. And, you know, I kind of feel like helping teachers to find, you know, creative, innovative ways to teach that will help them to ditch their textbook and a specific activity or lesson or something, I thought, hey, it sorta of fits, so we’re just gonna run with it.

Jamie
I love it. So, if we ditch the textbook, do we have to throw out our tried and true lessons that we’ve used in the past two years of teaching the same content and maybe even the same grade level, that seems like a lot of work.

Matt
Yeah, that would be a lot of work. And if they’re tried and true and they’re working, then it’d be sort of silly to throw all those away, I think. So whenever people see the title of my book and my blog and some of my work, and they see Ditch that Textbook, they just I think, assume sometimes that it’s it’s kind of a binary thing, a yes or no, like textbooks are either evil or they’re not. And the last thing that I’m trying to do is to get all of us to, you know, pick up all of our old traditional practices, the things that we’ve done and throw them in the nearest dumpster. You know, that’s, that’s definitely not the goal. But I think these days, if all we do is just march chapter by chapter through a textbook, assign worksheets and the discussion questions at the end of the chapter and then give students a workbook page to do. I think we can do so much better than that, because we have so many great resources. But we also have lots of best practice and pedagogy and cognitive science and so much we’ve learned so much about the science of learning and the art of learning, you know, over the last decade or two or whatever. And for us to just continue to do that same march every single time, I think we’re doing a disservice to our students. And so that’s really what Ditch that  Textbook is, is to look at new creative, innovative different ways to do teaching that’s beyond just that, that tradition. So it might be just for one particular lesson, or unit of study or you know, however long you want to take it.

Jamie
Now you’re speaking my language, creative, innovative teaching, I love it! As we move towards online or blended learning for the foreseeable future. And I hate to even throw that out there into the universe, but we don’t know at this point. But as we move towards this online, future, maybe sitting in front of a Zoom or Google Classroom screen all day doesn’t really seem innovative or creative? Do you have any practical solutions for keeping students engaged online?

Matt
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think that that’s sort of the, that’s sort of what a lot of people envision as online instruction. I think that they assume that, oh, it’s eight o’clock time to go get on a zoom call. And then kids are just like sitting there, like little zombies in front of their screens for seven hours. And then, you know, three o’clock hits, the bell rings, and they get up and they go and play. And I think if that’s the way that we’re doing it, I think we’re missing out on really, really great opportunities. So I’ve got lots of ideas when it comes to this, lots of thoughts. One is the synchronous versus asynchronous question. Do you want to be on synchronous with your your students being like, you know, synchronous being at the same time, right? And so that would be your zoom, call your Google meet, your Microsoft Teams video meeting or whatever. Do you want to be on doing that? And I think that comes with advantages and disadvantages, you know, being able to see those kids smiling faces or maybe not always smiling, but hopefully most of the time smiling faces, being able to answer questions live, being able to hear their voices. They get to see their friends, they get to make sure that their friends are safe and well, you know, there are lots of advantages to that. But of course, like anything, it can be overdone. And so I’m glad that you mentioned blended because I think from in this remote setting, we’ve got to have a good blend of, in this case, synchronous and asynchronous activities. So let’s go off of that video call. And maybe we’re going to post some things for kids to do. Or maybe the- my favorite thing in this is to give them lots of options for different things to do. And so maybe you go into that Google Classroom assignment, you say, Okay, here are some options on which you can do next. And then, you know, with this being sort of a STEAM focused show, I think there’s a lot of ways to incorporate STEAM, you know, to bring the arts and to bring all of that there’s so much hands on stuff that we can do at home. And I think we’re really missing out on an opportunity if we don’t try to bring some of that stuff in. So, you know, what if part of a lesson could be done in the kitchen with, you know, a parent or a guardian? Or what if they could go outside and find something, you know, do something with rocks or things that they find out there? What if they demonstrate what they know through something related to art, so it could be a sketch note, or it could be, you know, just an illustration. You know, there’s, there’s so much that we can do that goes beyond that. And so I think engaging them in those synchronous spaces, then letting them go off and explore and create and demonstrate what they’ve learned. But then even come back to that synchronous space and share what they’ve learned, share what they’ve created. So then they get that sense of community too. I think whenever we weave all of that stuff together really well, I think that’s what really engages.

Jamie
Oh, now my wheels are turning, this idea of really asynchronous and a blend of synchronous and asynchronous, I should say. And thinking about maybe moving our devices to different spaces like the kitchen, like you said, or allowing students to go outside during a Zoom or maybe in between synchronous Zooms. Hello! Okay, the wheels are turning, those sound like awesome activities for learners in online or blended spaces. Now, when innovating with technology, can teachers have some fun also, or is the fun kind of trumped by all of this work to create new lessons with the edtech in mind?

Matt
No, I don’t think that we’re allowed to have any fun, no fun whatsoever, no. I think absolutely, we definitely need to have fun with it. I mean, I think if we don’t look at ways to enjoy the technology that we do, or even let’s throw the technology out for a second, if we just don’t find ways to enjoy education to, you know, of teaching our learners, we see the numbers of, you know, all of the attrition of, you know, teachers leaving the profession after just a few years. And so there’s some real concerns there. And if we can’t find the joy in teaching and learning and interacting with our learners, and I keep saying learners, because sometimes we’re in the K 12 environment, you know, sometimes we’re working with adults on the we could be on the college level, and so, you know, whoever those learners are, if we can’t find the joy in that, if we can’t find some ways to bring a little bit of ourselves into it, or find the things that we’re passionate or excited about and bring that into it, then teaching and learning is going to be a drag, you know, so, no, I whenever, whenever I finish up a training, and I say okay, sometimes at this point, people feel overwhelmed. And the problem with being overwhelmed is not having too many options. It’s just not knowing where to start. And so one of the things I suggest to them is, you know, one of several places they could start is start with something you’re passionate about. What are you excited about? Because passion creates momentum, you know. And so I don’t think I don’t think that our passion and the emotion, the positive emotions that go with things that we’re doing, I don’t think that’s just fluffy, unimportant stuff. I think that it’s crucial.

Jamie
Vital to teaching and to learning. Absolutely. What in your opinion, is the most important tech for the classroom? Is there a specific app? Is there a specific device? What do we need?

Matt
Oh, goodness, that is such a hard question. It’s like trying to pick between your children you know, I mean, and it’s so hard to – I’m glad you asked this question – but it’s so hard to make a blanket statement across, you know, all the way across the board when you have you know, even before just looking on the K12 space, you know, from kindergarteners all the way up to seniors in high school and you’ve got urban schools, you’ve got rural schools, and you’ve got, you know, high poverty schools, and you’ve got well to do schools, and it’s like, they’re – and each class of kids has different needs. And so, you know, I really think I’m… okay, I’ll give you the wishy washy answer. And the wishy washy answer is that you know, your students as well as anybody, if not better, and you know what their needs are. And if you can pick out the device, sometimes the device is already picked for us. So we don’t get a whole lot of choice in that. But if you can pick the app, or if you can pick the activity that pairs well with what they need or pairs well with what they are strong in, you know, you take all of that into consideration, and you find the thing that’s the best fit. So that I’d say is the wishy washy answer of not narrowing it down to anything in particular, but I will give you a couple of my favorites right now. So one of them in particular, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Flipgrid. So, you know, Flipgrid is this great tool that lots of folks are using during remote learning, where the teacher can create a prompt, they call it a topic. And the students respond with short video clips. And so they can record with their camera, they can record their screen, they can draw on a whiteboard, there’s like lots of options when it comes to Flipgrid. And then the students are able to, if you set it up this way, they’re able to jump into each other’s videos, watch each other’s videos, and then leave a video reply back to them. So let’s say we were asking students about what their favorite books were, and then they record a video, they might even hold the book up or they might even put a picture of one of the illustrations up on the screen during their video. Then another student goes and watches it and they leave a video or they say, Oh, I love that book. That was one of my favorite books. And you talked about this part being your favorite, but this part was my favorite. And then you get to hear their voices and see their faces and everything. That’s one of my absolute absolute favorites.

Jamie
But man, I’ve got some questions about Flipgrid. I’ve got some real teachery questions that your mind will be telling me about it because I’ve never used it before. My number one question, is it free? Do I have to pay for it?

Matt
Ah, okay, so the price of Flipgrid. The price of Fipgrid is the teacher’s favorite price. And you know what the teachers favorite prices? Right?

Jamie
Please tell me it’s free.

Matt
It’s totally free.

Jamie
Yes!

Matt
Yeah, there u- it used to be one of those freemium like, paid version free version, and then it got acquired by Microsoft. And Microsoft is like, no, we’re just gonna make it free to everybody.

Jamie
Even better. Okay, question number two for Flipgrid. user friendly. I mean, I had a speaking of flip things. I had a flip phone until 2016. So user friendly?

Matt
Yes, very much so. So you, you sign up for a Flipgrid account and then you’re able to start setting up topics. And it’s really just like put a title for the topic. There’s some other stuff down below. But you don’t even have to fill it in. And you create that topic and you give your students a link to it. And it’s really just that easy as the teacher and then for the students too, they click on that link. And then there when they get there, there’s a great big green plus button. And that’s the button that they use to record their video. And so, yeah, if they’ve done anything with like, YouTube and lots of the other user friendly websites they’re, it’s gonna be a piece of cake.

Jamie
Sounds easy, even for me. Okay, last Flipgrid question. Yes. When I think about students creating videos and sending content, maybe over the internet, is this password protected? Or is their image likeness or video going to wind up somewhere that it shouldn’t?

Matt
Right? No, that- it’s not going to and you can protect it down as much as you want, you can make it password protected, so only your students are able to go into it and then, you know, Flipgrid’s held to the same high standards for data privacy as anything else and they’ve got, you know, documents on all of that where you can read through what they do with it. But you know, millions of students around the world are using it on a very regular basis.

Jamie
Very cool. Thank you for unpacking Flipgrid for us. Any other tips about making learning memorable? You touched on finding what they’re passionate about, student choice and options, this idea of innovating with technology synchronous and asynchronous. Any other tips?

Matt
Yes, absolutely. So you said something about making learning memorable, which perked my ears up because that’s kind of the central focus of my new book called Tech like a Pirate, which sounds like kind of a silly name if you don’t know behind the story behind it. It’s a follow up to the book Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. And so my version is how can you use technology to teach like a pirate which means how can you make those unforgettable, memorable, exciting, fun lessons and use technology to do it, so I want to give you one of the key concepts from the book that kind of runs throughout the entire book.

Jamie
Are you going to do it in a pirate voice for us?

Matt
Uhh no, probably not.

Jamie
Yar.

Matt
No matey, I won’t be using me pirate voice. That’s about all you get.

Jamie
Well, we’ll forgive you this time.

Matt
Okay, thanks. No, so the that key concept is it asks the question the lens that you are seeing your activity through. And so here’s what I mean by a lens. A lens is almost like a fun way of looking at something that you want students to do. So for instance, if you want them to recall what they remember about a certain event in history, how can we do it as if we’re somebody else or as if we are someplace else? So for instance, let’s say we have them do one of those Flipgrid responses and they’re recording video, instead of just you know, head and shoulders looking straight at the camera reciting their facts – that’s not much fun. What if we do it as if using those words as if we were a TV news anchor, giving the news of the day.  See, now we’re acting as if we’re somebody else. What if we acted as if we were on one of those reality game shows like Cash Cab, where they show up in the cab, you don’t have to answer a bunch of questions and stuff and they get lifelines and everything. Whenever we see an activity through a different lens like that, it can give a new level of motivation. You know, it activates different parts of our brain that make us you know, that’s that’s the cool thing about our brain is that when we look at things this way, we start to go there, you know, it’s as if we were actually there. And it really does make it more memorable. So I think, as we do this in remote learning, but also in face to face learning, if we’re willing to have some fun with the lens that we see the activity through, it can totally transform the entire experience for students.

Jamie
And I personally love that it’s bringing in some of the theatre arts drama, performing skills as well!

Matt
Yes, definitely.

Jamie
Always fun for students and for their teachers. Yes, Matt, how can we find out more about you and your work?

Matt
So I’m going to the Ditch that Textbook website is probably the easiest way. ditchthattextbook.com. I’m on twitter at jmattmiller. That’s letter J. Matt with two T’s Miller and then I’ve actually got something free I can give away to your listeners if you’re okay with that.

Jamie
Oh, we love free. Yes. You said free giveaway. Okay, everybody’s ears perked up, right?

Matt
Yeah, yeah. So if you like the idea of some of these creative, innovative techie lesson ideas, I have three free ebooks that I make available on my website. And so if you go to ditchthattextbook.com slash 101, it’s one on one because one of them is 101 practical ways to ditch that textbook. And so yeah, we’ve got all of these all of these ebooks with a whole bunch of great creative, practical things that you can do in your class right away. And so if you head there, that’ll sign you up for my email newsletter where you can also get regular new ideas in your inbox. But yeah, ditch that textbook.com slash 101 is the place where you can get all of those free ebooks.

Jamie
Teaching Trailblazers is a production of the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM and I’ve been your host Jamie Hipp. This podcast is produced, edited and mixed by Jaime Patterson.