SubHack: When the Teacher is Absent

The best sub plan is genius hour

Photo of Charles Shryock, IV
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** Implementation. To try SubHack with your students, read "Designing passion projects for when the teacher is absent" (Oct 12, 2016) in the new Google for Education Transformation Center, which has advice and resources. 

** Testing. Read "How Dr. King, Jr. Elementary created a culture of innovation with 20% time" (June 7, 2016) on the official Google for Education blog, which shares the experience of Susan Gonzalez, the teacher who tested this idea in 2016. 

**Prototyping from Make It Real  (October 17, 2015), a workshop with Teachers Guild & d.school K-12 Lab Network:


**Pitch Video for the idea, showed at selection workshop (created Sep 12, 2015):


**Sep 8, 4:17pm EST – New Resources, Evolve Phase Ending – I am posting the current version below for the end of the Evolve phase (in a few hours), although you may find it easier to read in the main Google Doc. Following advice of coaches, I'm trimming the team a little, leaving people who made specific comments (over time) that helped evolve the idea. And finally, I want to point everyone to a few important resources that could be missed among all the other links: 

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SUMMARY OF THIS IDEA: Create a new routine for substitution plans – when a teacher is absent, students participate in 20% time, by pursuing a project of their own design.

Potential For Impact:

    Unexpected absences of teachers occur in every school on a regular basis.  

    Unexpected absences “disrupt” the normal schedule of instruction.

    Substitute plans are often ineffective; teachers rely upon outdated “drill-and-kill” activities that do little to increase (and can even harm) student motivation.

    Collectively, teacher absences across departments/disciplines/courses add up to a lot of time – time that could be recovered for long-term inquiry into a student’s own passion project.

    As culture shifts, this general concept can be adapted to a school’s preferred philosophy or toolset for fostering innovation. Design thinking, constructionism, 20% time, genius hour, tinkering, project-based-learning – all of these could find a home in this new routine for sub plans.

Value Proposition / Pitch:

    Teachers: Tired of scrambling to find a substitute plan at the last second, after you realize you’ll be late or otherwise unable to show up to work? Looking for some help introducing “serious play” into your students’ lives, and giving them "freedom to fail"? Need to find time and support for creating low-pressure learning opportunities?

    Principals: Frustrated by lost instructional time that results from unexpected absences? Tired of hearing that students merely watched a movie when the teacher wasn’t there? Looking for ways to foster 21st century learning experiences, incrementally, without giving your faculty whiplash? Having trouble seeing how the creative arts and humanities can be unified with science, technology, engineering? Concerned that you might invest resources into a makerspace, but have trouble finding time for students to actually use the space on a regular basis? Wishing you could induct new hires by starting them with student-centered learning experiences?

    Guardians/Parents: Concerned that the curriculum does not provide room for innovation or entrepreneurship? Worried about where your kids can find freedom (and have fun) within a testing-dominated educational landscape?

    Students: Wish you had more control over what you learned at school? Wish you had more freedom during the school day – a little more space to be yourself? Want to avoid the boring, tedious, or irrelevant sub plans that you face whenever a teacher is absent?

How would I get this idea off the ground?

    Build upon the excitement that most students experience when discovering that their teacher (even a beloved teacher) is absent.

    Share rationale with faculty for fostering a culture of innovation, from a variety of entrypoints (research into motivation theory, psychology of play, changes in society/industry, case studies, etc.).

    Host an event for parents/guardians to try “serious play” (possibly alongside children) and give them a voice in this initiative.

    Define what 21st century learning looks like in your school community.

How you can get started:

    Start small with a new kind of “emergency” sub plan. Design and implement one single sub plan that allows students to have a 20% Time experience, inside their usual classroom, the first time a teacher is absent. This sub plan should not be related to the current unit plan for the course. Design an experience that is low-budget and low-risk (think cardboard instead of concrete). Afterward, solicit feedback on the experience from the students and the substitute.

    Introduce the new routine with students, before any teacher absences occur, and allow students to have a voice in the plan for their class. 

    Collect data on the following:

      • number and cause of teacher absences
      • teacher attitudes toward writing sub plans
      • student attitudes toward sub plans
      • pedagogy used in sub plans

    Plan events for displaying/sharing/inspiring projects pursued in “sub plans”

      • make these available at regular intervals
      • provide a “fail wall” and celebrate attempts
      • provide “what if? community videos” to inspire new projects

Required Materials:  

    “Substitute's Guide to Coaching 20% Time” 

      This guide will help the substitute navigate this new learning environment. Some of the norms should be created by the students, during the initial project “launch.” Some classroom spaces will need their own norms as well (e.g. using materials in the art room or science lab).  

    Process Journal (for students)

    This can be a notebook, blog, or shared Google Doc or Google Slide.

    Entry Survey

      An opening survey, used when introducing the project, is a good way to gather info that might help students later, such as finding teammates or new project challenges that interest them. 

    Optional:  Mobile Prototyping Kit

      Inexpensive, reusable, available manipulatives for prototyping. (Instead of bringing the child into the makerspace, you bring the makerspace to the child.)

    Google Innovation Kit

      [Hasn’t quite been created yet… one day!] [Currently at work on this.]

Metrics:

    Continue to collect data on the following:

    Begin collecting data on student projects, to inform future support:

      • what topics/themes emerged?
      • how many switched project? how many times? why?
      • how many work in teams?

    Student use of:

      • process journals
      • fail wall
      • opportunities for public presentations

    Substitute notes on:

      • whether or not students are following norms
      • technology use
      • support the substitute might need for future

Closing thought:  

Maybe one day, the teacher will be “absent” every day – because we will have successfully established a culture where we are all co-learners and innovators.

 

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**Aug 30, 1:13am EST – Update: VERSION 4 – VERSION 4 of the idea is now at the top of the main Google Doc. This draft reflects how the idea has evolved through recent discussion, and also builds out some of the resources that we will probably eventually provide. (I will try to copy and paste this version in here later, but links don't copy easily so it's staying there for now.) 

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**Aug 28 – Prototype Session –  With a group of 4th-graders, Jessica Lura tested her prototype for introducing the project, which included 30 circles, a slide deck, and a planning template for the students to complete. Check out all the links at the top of this document. She gathered quick feedback from the students, shared examples of what they did during the lesson, and has provided a wealth of notes about the lesson plan (solid gold insights!) You can comment in these documents.  

**Aug 27, 4:39pm EST – Student Prototyping Session – Yesterday I used this slideshow to introduce our idea to a group of high school students (mostly 11th grade), who produced some quick prototypes of what might happen if Ss given time this way. (They came early/stayed late on their orientation/book day, since school isn't in session yet, so I was super grateful to them. Names removed.) Because we were prototyping an experience, I gave them a blank storyboard, along with pages 58-59 of the Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit. And just for fun, some did the 30 Circles activity contributed here by Moss Pike. 

After the Google Hangout yesterday (improvised!) and the Twitter chat Tuesday (Storify courtesy of Moss Pike), I am converging on an idea for a resource (grateful also to Nick Giacobbe and his learning community) that we can prototype, which would really help people launch this project. Essentially it's like a pre-loaded process journal shared via Google slides. More on that later (tonight I hope?). My big focus now is on creating a MVP ("minimum viable product," low-budget high-value) version that can adapt into a wide variety of schools. 

**Aug 24, late EST – Jessica Lura produced a rapid prototype of a possible template for implementing the idea. Want to add more later to this myself. Her prototype really helped me think about the logistical issues involved and support teachers will need to take the plunge into an idea like this. 

**Aug 23, 5:35pm EST – I have summarized much of the feedback so far (with links), at the top of the Google doc. This feedback has really helped refine the idea, so thank you to everyone who helped!  Please let me know if I missed anything. Will try to write a new version sometime this week.   

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**Aug 22, 6:55am EST – Super excited that this idea moved into the Evolve phase! And thanks for all the comments here and in the Google doc!  

We've got more to do. To really make an impact, we need to focus on the idea's scalabilityfeasability and adaptability. Please envision how this might work in your school. We need to start prototyping for fit in variety of situations – different funding, existing culture of innovation, schedule of classes, etc.  I plan to do some in-person sessions next week, and include some students in the process. Thanks for helping!

-------------------------------VERSION 3 BELOW LINE-----------------------------------

(NOTE: The Google Doc is easier to read. All links are to Teachers Guild posts.)

OVERVIEW: Create a new routine for substitution plans – when a teacher is absent, students report to a makerspace and/or participate in genius hour. The students pursue a project of their own design, possibly long-term.

Potential For Impact:

    Unexpected absences of the teacher occur in every school on a regular basis.

    Unexpected absences “disrupt” the normal schedule of instruction.

    Substitute plans are often ineffective; teachers rely upon outdated “kill-and-drill” activities that do little to increase (and can even harm) student motivation.  

    Collectively, teacher absences across departments/disciplines/courses add up to a lot of time – time that could be recovered for long-term inquiry into a student’s own passion project.

    The general concept can be adapted to a school’s preferred philosophy or toolset for fostering innovation. Design thinking, constructionism, 20% time, genius hour, tinkering, PBL – all of these could find a home in this new routine for sub plans.

Value Proposition / Pitch:

    Teachers: Tired of scrambling to find a substitute plan at the last second, after you realize you’ll be late or otherwise unable to show up to work? Looking for some help introducing “serious play” into your students’ lives, and giving them "freedom to fail"? Need some administrative, material, or curriculum support for creating low-pressure learning opportunities?

    Principals: Frustrated by lost instructional time, resulting from unexpected absences? Tired of hearing that students just watched a movie, when the teacher wasn’t there? Looking for ways to foster 21st century learning experiences, incrementally, without giving your faculty whiplash? Having trouble seeing how the creative arts and humanities can be unified with science, technology, engineering? Concerned that you might invest resources into a makerspace, but have trouble finding time for students to actually use the space on a regular basis? Want a way to induct new hires by starting them with student-centered learning experiences?

    Guardians/Parents: Concerned that the curriculum does not provide room for innovation or entrepreneurship? Worried about where your kids can find freedom (and have fun) within a testing-dominated educational landscape? 

How would I get this idea off the ground?

    Build upon the joy that most students experience when discovering that their teacher (even a beloved teacher) is absent.

    Share rationale with faculty for fostering a culture of innovation, from a variety of entrypoints (research into motivation theory, changes in society/industry, case studies, etc.).

    Host an event for parents/guardians to try “serious play” (possibly alongside children) and give them a voice in this initiative.

    Define what 21st century learning looks like in your school community.

How you can get started:

    Start small with a new kind of “emergency” sub plan. Design and implement one single sub plan that allows students to have a genius hour experience, inside their usual classroom, the first time a teacher is absent. (Better yet, find a place where students can travel for that period. Doesn’t have to be fancy.) This sub plan should not be related to the current unit plan for the course. Design an experience that is low-budget and low-risk (think cardboard instead of concrete). Afterward, solicit feedback on the experience from the students and the substitute.

    Collect data on number of absences, teacher attitudes toward writing sub plans,  pedagogy used in sub plans.

    Planning meetings can model the type of inquiry that we wish to share with our students.

Materials:  

Metrics:

    Public event for displaying/sharing projects pursued in “sub plans.”

    Continue to collect data about sub plans and teacher absences. 

    Maybe one day, the teacher will be “absent” every day – because there no longer will be teachers and students. We will embrace a culture where we are all learners, together.


-------------------------------VERSION 2 BELOW LINE-----------------------------------

**Aug 18, 9:43pm EST – Currently revising here in a Google Doc. Join me! 


-------------------------------VERSION 1 BELOW LINE-----------------------------------

What if every time a teacher was absent from class, the students experienced genius hour? 

I stumbled into this idea with a colleague, on our drive back from ISTE 2015. We were exploring ways to expand our program of instructional rounds, in which teacher teams observe class in groups. Increasing the number of observations would put a big strain on the schedule, especially with all that missed "instructional time." (Teachers and administrators already have enough difficulties designing meaningful learning experiences for those times when they don't expect to be absent... so we don't want to add to that.)  

At the same time, we are looking for ways to introduce "serious play" into the school day, make space for innovation, practice design thinking...  Could a fully dedicated makerspace be part of our solution?  (Imagine the substitute telling you: "Your teacher is absent, please report to the makerspace.) 

This idea is rough, new, and I think could really benefit from some feedback – please help! 

Would students work on an extended project over time? If they are new to genius hour, what scaffolding might they need, if any? What are the benefits of traveling to a new location, instead of staying in the classroom? Should there be a dedicated "substitute" who is always on call in the new space? 

Version 1.0: I'll add inspirations later – didn't want to wait any longer to share the idea.

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Team (11)

Charles's profile
Elsa's profile
Elsa Fridman Randolph

Role added on team:

"Provided early encouragement and connected this idea to other inspirations. Helpful question about the meaning of innovation."

Michael's profile
Michael Schurr

Role added on team:

"Focused coaching at critical moments – provided encouragement and a structure for refining the idea. Introduced me to design thinking, and later The Teachers Guild."

Michael's profile
Michael Schurr

Role added on team:

"(See above)"

Paula's profile
Paula Marra

Role added on team:

"Suggestions about integrating in lower school"

Ian's profile
Ian Hoke

Role added on team:

"Suggested tech integration for documenting process, considerations about pastoral/advisory care, wonderful statement of purpose. (Also, along with Dewey, introduced me to Project-Based Learning.)"

Matthew's profile
Matthew Buckley

Role added on team:

"We came up with this idea together, on the drive back from ISTE 2015. (See first draft.)"

Chris's profile
Chris Disimile

Role added on team:

"Emphasized need for teacher buy-in, building culture first."

Tom's profile
Tom Sayer

Role added on team:

"Offered robust commentary in the Google doc to help evolve the idea, especially with eye toward adaptability to different school environments."

Jessica's profile
Jessica Lura

Role added on team:

"Prototyped important resources, including how to introduce the idea to students. Tested prototypes with a class of students. Gave useful, timely feedback throughout entire evolve phase. Generated essential ideas for making the idea adaptable, scalable, and feasible."

Nick's profile
Nick Giacobbe

Role added on team:

"Contributed idea for multimedia journaling via Google slides, to document and later easily share process. Taught me about constructionism, guided me to learn more about integrating Google apps."

37 comments

Join the conversation:

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Photo of Jill
Team

Hi - Just wanted to share that Substantial and MOCHA are co-hosting a free day-long training for teaching artists interested in becoming subs on August 22 in Oakland: http://substantialclassrooms.org/mocha-arts-sub-training-august-22-2016/

Photo of Jill
Team

Sorry, I wrote Charlie, and meant to write Charles!  jill

Photo of Charles
Team

Jill, you are so thoughtful! Everyone on the Guild calls me Charlie now, so that works just fine! Thanks!

Photo of Gel
Team

What an incredible idea!!! I love how it puts the onus on learning back on the students - they are free to learn whatever they like. 'Genius hour' would become an oasis in the desert for some. I wonder how it might be more frequent rather than students having to wait until one of their teachers is absent to enjoy it.

Photo of Charles
Team

Thank you!!! I think your "Mix and Match" idea really adds to this, and so I've added it as an inspiration. It would be wonderful if this space did become an "oasis" for some. I'm hoping that by requiring intermittent visits, students might discover something that resonates with them, and return as needed to quench their "thirst" for serious play. If we start small, perhaps enthusiasm can build slowly.

Photo of Gel
Team

What a great idea, Charles. Perhaps being frequently exposed to such a space, whilst it may seem a bit foreign for some students, means that they would soon cmoe to find it inviting and mirror what is happening within the physical space something that translates to the mental / emotional landscape.

Photo of Charles
Team

Mental spaces reflecting physical spaces – I like that notion!

Photo of Charles
Team

BTW, I'm guessing that in a high school each student would still get the experience pretty frequently, if adopted across the curriculum – because they would have "genius hour" time each time any one of their teachers was absent. That might not be the case in middle school and elementary school though, so I feel like I need to get input more from teachers at that level.

Photo of Charles
Team

Hi Gel, what do you think of the newest updates to the idea? Would you like to prototype a lesson plan for how you would introduce to a class (or group of teachers), or possibly a resource that could support it?

Photo of Jessica
Team

Version 3, 4th grade lesson plan & resources (in progress): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1__u1ek3hhyxi4qaGJXeN7FRgHaNMdIEQJc_YQmrkrQU/edit

Photo of Charles
Team

Awesome!

Photo of Charles
Team

To learn more about 20% time at Google, I bought a copy of Laszlo Bock's "Work Rules!" book, and I was struck by these two sentences: "The use of 20 percent time has waxed and waned [at Google] over the years, humming along at about 10 percent utilization when we last measured it. In some ways, the idea of 20 percent time is more important than the reality of it." This speaks to 20% time as an important symbol of innovation in a workplace/school culture – whether or not the time actually adds up to 20%.

Photo of Jessica
Team

Okay--did some prototyping --borrowed 26 4th graders (first full week of school and a Friday so a bit tired).

Link to what I did: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jWKrI6d6WocgsgrsIejIoYacGDA9eoFScONqJZDvgpY/edit#

Photo of Charles
Team

Awesome!! I will add this to the main post right now. The start of the year is both the best (fresh start!) and the worst (so much to do!) time to be prototyping, so thank you for everything you've shared through this process – truly tremendous effort to help this idea evolve.

Photo of Jessica
Team

Great! I also have student reflections that I need to listen to--I plan on doing that today and will add any feedback they provide.

Photo of Charles
Team

Thank you! Also, I'm thinking that it's about time to update the idea with the next iteration, since we're already testing it. Do you agree? Maybe that can help focus new comments from people who haven't been following the discussion inside the Google Doc. I've got limited time this weekend, so want to know your thoughts on how I should proceed.

Photo of Jessica
Team

Probably a good idea. In terms of proceeding, maybe we could focus on creating something that we could encourage others to test or at least give feedback on--a complete teacher's package?

Photo of Charles
Team

Agreed! Let's do it. :)

Photo of Jessica
Team

Charles,
Fun idea. I wonder what would happen if the students were involved with what was created--what do you think you should be doing with a sub while I am out. Then the students would have ownership over the day and would actually know what was going on (which would help if the person who was covering had never been in the class before).

Photo of Charles
Team

Thanks so much! Let me check that I understand your suggestion: This conversation would be lead by the "regular" teacher, and it would happen before any teacher absences occur, as a way of introducing the new routine. Is that right? I like this idea a lot – probably just the kind of scaffolding that everyone involved (teachers, students, substitute) would need. And it would be a wonderful way for each school to adapt the routine to their particular educational climate.

Photo of Charles
Team

And actually, I am looking for a way to try prototyping with a group of students sometime soon... maybe this could be our focus for that session.

Photo of Jessica
Team

Yes! That way the sub is supported..

Photo of Elsa
Team

Hi Charles,

Great contribution! It reminds me a lot of Garth Nichol's post on creating an Inquiry & Design Lab --> https://teachersguild.org/challenge/how-might-we-create-rituals-and-routines-that-establish-a-culture-of-innovation-in-our-classrooms-and-schools/ideas/inquiry-design-lab

You should reach out to Garth and you may also want to get in to touch with Andrew Goodin who is creating a checklist for designing innovation experiences --> https://teachersguild.org/challenge/how-might-we-create-rituals-and-routines-that-establish-a-culture-of-innovation-in-our-classrooms-and-schools/ideas/a-checklist-for-designing-innovation-experiences

Photo of Charles
Team

Love this -- thank you!! I linked/added these ideas from Garth and Andrew as inspiration.

Photo of Elsa
Team

So glad you found the other posts useful, Charles! I have to tell you, I am blown away by what you've done with this contribution--the format is fantastic, I love that you've included a link to a Google doc and invited the community to join you in editing your idea, and it's great that you've linked to so many other ideas on The Teachers Guild. You've created a truly compelling opportunity for deep and meaningful collaboration. Wonderful work!

Photo of Charles
Team

Wow, thank you!! That's so humbling. To be honest, my normal inclination is to keep ideas like this to myself, or maybe just start with a smaller group -- so it's kind of exhilarating to share it so openly here. Your encouragement and suggestions really helped motivate me to take it further. Still more work to do! Thanks for collaborating!

Photo of Elsa
Team

That is so wonderful to hear, Charles! Sharing out the impactful and creative ideas that teachers too often keep to themselves and collaborating with a wide network of educators on refining and implementing these ideas was exactly what we were hoping the platform might help achieve! I am so excited to see this idea get pushed forward!

Photo of Ian
Team

I love this idea as a way to honor strengths and passions while avoiding busy work. I wouldn't get too hung up on accountability, frankly. Trust and opportunities for choice offer rich learning when used well and when used in ways we might not embrace at first. A school with a regular pastoral care program could include progress conversations on passion projects as part of the advisor-student relationship and could easily lean on blog platforms that are freely available for reflection, tracking, and publishing results in multimedia formats. Charles, nicely innovative concept!

Photo of Charles
Team

Thanks Ian!! Your statement on its purpose is beautiful, and would like to use that language in next iteration of the idea. I agree we shouldn't get too hung up on accountability, and would like to insist on that being part of the final idea. Kids need #freedomtofail in this kind of experience. Integrating into a pastoral care / advisory program would give them at least one consistent voice of support through the whole experience (since in theory they are engaging in these sessions with a different group of co-learners each time). Documenting process through tech is a great idea. What about using Google slides along the way, for posting pictures/notes during each session and to build a presentation-ready journal? Could be shared with teachers or other collaborators at various points for feedback (and fun!).

Photo of Ian
Team

Exactly - Google Slides could even be embedded in a Google site or a blog-based digital portfolio, keeping the process visible and public (as appropriate).

Photo of Paula
Team

Quite an interesting concept. Quite drawn to it. Wondering about kinder and first grade genious hour.

Photo of Charles
Team

I really appreciate your question, because I'm coming from a secondary school background and need to evolve this idea from other perspectives. Now I'm wondering about that too. Would love to know your thoughts.

Photo of Paula
Team

Thanks for adding me to the team! Let's think together! Cheers, Paula

Photo of Charles
Team

For sure, thanks so much for contributing!

Photo of Chris
Team

Impressive idea, Charlie. Our faculty recently reacted with a lot of skepticism about the possibility of a new "innovation/makerspace" proposal (mostly because of time/scheduling concerns.) I think if it was framed in this manner, there would be more serious buy-in.

Photo of Britta
Team

I love the idea of a genius hour AND reporting to the maker space in the event of a sub. What if the plan for a substitute was to have the sub be the maker spaces manager with grade appropriate challenges in the ready for such an instance? Genius hour could be a reward for class good behavior or results. Great start down this path.

Photo of Charles
Team

Right on! Maybe we need dedicated subs, for specifically this task. This might even become a form of on-the-job training for inducting new people into the profession.

I know some others on here are developing plans for grade-appropriate challenges, so I'm going to try to loop some of those into this idea too, like suggested below. Thank you for the feedback!