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Celebrating Teachers – Mike Jessee

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Sometimes there are teachers you just need to celebrate…..and that is this blog post (and the next).

This week is only two days old but I’m already excited at what teachers who are finishing our COETAIL course are producing. The final course has them implementing everything we’ve learned in the four classes before into units or lessons within their content area. It also calls for us, the instructors, (Kim, Dennis, and I) to observer a lesson where they implement everything they’ve learned and using this rubric have a discussion with them about what we observed in their lesson and room.

The last two days have been even more special in the fact that I was able to observer a 3rd grade classroom and an IB High Level English class (11th grade). I wish everyone had the opportunity to see the whole spectrum of learning as I do.

Monday I sat in a 3rd grade classroom and watched, talked to, and just smiled in amazement of what happens when we let students be creative with their own learning. I’ve talked about Mike Jessee’s classroom many times on this blog (here and here). In my opinion, he’s an amazing teacher that gets inquiry learning at a level that I myself struggle with. I’ve never witnessed a teacher that has been able to freely give control over to students like Mike does. I think his most favorite phrase is, “I don’t know…what do you think?”

His lesson on Monday was not the original lesson that his project outlines called for. No, the project called for students to create VoiceThreads, or to keep working on the VoiceThreads they stared in earlier science units. There was only one problem…when Mr. Jessee told the students they were working on VoiceThread the student’s energy disappeared. Wait a minute…they didn’t want to use this cool tool? Why not?

“It allows me to be creative”

“I can show what I learned and create my slides the way I want to”

“I created a VoiceThread, but it didn’t allow me to show what I know so I wanted to make a Notebook file that allowed me to show what I know…but I linked it to my VoiceThread…see…watch”

Yes…those are direct quotes from 3rd grade students on Monday as I watched them work on their SmartBoard Notebook files.

You see….when Mike saw the energy disappear from the kids eyes when he mentioned VoiceThread he asked them what they would rather do….without hesitation they asked if they could use Notebook instead. The students wanted to create their knowledge not just talk about it.

Here is where Mr. Jessee went wrong. He allowed the kids to create Notebook files for their Student-Led Conferences (Here’s one page from each student). Students had the creative bug and they wanted to be creative…they had the freedom to create slides of who they were as learners and now they wanted to create slides of who there were as scientists.

Mr. Jessee gave students the choice of creating a VoiceThread or a Notebook file. All but one student created a Notebook file. The one student (quoted above) is a verbal student…he can explain his learning better verbally then he can through writing. The problem is the one picture in VoiceThread didn’t allow him to “show” his creativity so he created a Notebook file as well….and with a little help from Mr. Jessee he was able to link it to his VoiceThread.

Mr. Jessee listened to his students and didn’t realize until they spoke up that he was actually standing in their way of being creative.

On Monday I saw what the students were creating. They’ll be posted soon on the class blog, and what they have created is so individual, so amazing, so 3rd grade that I was literally in awe.

I watched students check their spelling using the built in dictionary app on their MacBooks. I saw students literally draw….on the screen….a crayfish. I saw another student choose a background that was blue and green because, “It’s like their habitat”.

There’s only one problem with the project….the kids don’t want to stop! They have one more day to finish and they don’t want to stop creating their learning…in a way that represents them.

This is what we’re talking about….allowing students to be creative, getting out of their way, listening to them, and just allowing them to create their own learning and show us what they have learned through that creation.

The data that Mr. Jessee will be able to get out of these personally created masterpieces is more than any test would have told him. Misconceptions, big moments, and knowledge….and recorded individually and posted for the world to see (soon).

This is it….this is technology being used in amazing and authentic ways in allowing students to create and show their knowledge. This is why every student should have access to a laptop when they need it to learn…even in 3rd grade….we need to give student access to these amazing creative tools and then get out of their way and watch them create masterpieces!

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Pingback: Celebrating Teachers – Jim Fitzgerald | The Thinking Stick

  2. I am a teacher of year 7 & 8 students in a small town in New Zealand. I have 32 students with 1-1 Macbooks and we are constantly on the lookout for great ideas and tools and how to use them. I love to read about the amazing things that your teachers are up to and it keeps me keen to get to work on new things. We use wikis rather than blogs and would love some feedback or suggestions.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • I took a look at your wikis today and they look fantastic. I shared your link out on Twitter and others have come to take a look at the work you’re doing as well. Keep it up and a great use wikis!

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