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Archive for Teaching and Learning

I’m Bad At…

Posted by: | July 17, 2014 | 8 Comments |

When I first started teaching over 20 years ago, I remember asking little kids questions like, “Who is a great singer?” Every single one of them raised their hands. For every grade level “older” I asked the same question, fewer and fewer kids raised their hands. The same pattern emerged if I asked them if they were good artists, good basketball players, good dancers, etc.

As we get older, we start to compare ourselves more with the people around us, and that’s a very human thing to do. Eventually, we start understanding what it means to be a good _______, because we have more experience from which to make those comparisons.

Sadly, the trend I’m seeing in the last decade or so is that I see fewer hands raised when I ask those questions of little kids now. When I returned to the elementary music classroom in 2009, I actually had kindergarten students tell me they were bad singers. WHAT!? How does a 5 year old kid think he’s a bad singer?

When I started at Anastasis in 2011, I remember an 8 year old who told me she couldn’t draw at all. When I asked her if there was something wrong with her hand that made it impossible to draw, she laughed a little but then remarked that she just wasn’t good at drawing. We talked about how we’re all still learning and that practice is important, but underneath it all, I wanted to cry listening to this child’s defeatist attitude at 8 years old.

Where is this coming from?

While I’d like to blame Malcolm Gladwell and his pseudoscientific (and factually incorrect) 10,000 hours claim, I can’t. It’s not Gladwell.

It’s all of us.

I stopped to think about the number of times I’ve apologized to my students or my own children before doing something that I wasn’t really great at doing. There are too many examples.

cc licensed photo by anna gutermuth

cc licensed photo by anna gutermuth*

Whenever I’ve gone up to the chalkboard or whiteboard to draw a diagram or an image, I have apologized to my class before: “Sorry, I’m not a great artist, so this won’t be that good.”

I’ve just set them and myself up for judgment about what is good, and I’ve also given them an example of an adult who is so insecure about drawing that she has to apologize before she even starts.

Additionally, I’ve put a poor value on something that might be better than what my students might have drawn. If I say “this is bad,” then what does that mean to a kid who might not have drawn as well as I did?

“Wow, Mrs. B must think my drawings are REALLY bad then.”

I’ve stopped doing that.

And now I think about all the images and statements we unknowingly pass along to kids:

  • I’m bad at math.
  • Ugh. I hate my body. I’m going on a diet!
  • Karaoke? No way! I can’t carry a tune in a box!
  • I wish I could play tennis as well as Serena Williams, but I can’t… so I don’t even try.

I’m sure there are many more we could add to this list.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect about certain things in the last week, and I’ve come to some very sad conclusions:

  1. My fear prevents me from doing things that I would probably really enjoy.
  2. If I’m not good at something, I don’t do it.

I love to sing and I was a voice major. I love singing karaoke with my friends, because it’s fun… not because I want to show off. However, it’s also a comfort zone. I’m not afraid to get on a stage and sing, because I’ve been doing that almost my entire life.

It really bothers me when I hear people say that they can’t sing. Of course they CAN, they just don’t think they’re any good at it. So, I encourage them… karaoke isn’t about who is the best singer; it’s about having a good time and enjoying yourself.**

I’m such a hypocrite.

My husband wants us to play tennis. I really, really suck at tennis. REALLY. So, I’ve been balking at the idea. When I finally told him that I’m afraid to play because I don’t know how, he just said, “So what. Let’s just go have fun.”

Permission to not be an expert and to just have fun. 

That’s incredibly freeing.

Hmmm… giving kids permission to try, not be perfect, and just have fun with it. I SAY that to kids all the time.

But I don’t DO it.

We all need to be better models for our kids, and DOING is more important then SAYING. We know that.

Time to walk the talk.

Time to stop saying, “I’m bad at...” and start saying, “I can’t wait to try (or practice)… and just have fun!

This doesn’t mean we should take away anything from people who are truly gifted in specific areas or erase competition from everything. Competition has its place, although I’ve written about its overemphasis, too. There is a need for expertise and talent to be recognized. However, there’s also a need for encouragement to SIMPLY TRY, and then practice to improve if it’s something you’re interested in improving.

ACTION:

  1. What things have YOU said, “I’m bad at…” to other people or kids?
  2. What steps can you take to eliminate that negative self-talk, whether you’ve been saying it aloud or just in your head?
  3. What would you like to try, but your fear has been holding you back from doing so?
  4. What can you do to start trying?
  5. How will you change your approach with children?

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

 

*photo credit: CC licensed photo by anna gutermuth, “124/365

**While I know karaoke might be a bad example (lots of “not great” singers get up to sing, usually after some form of liquid courage), singing is a great example. Singing is very personal, and I notice that, in the US especially, very few people in the crowd ever sing the national anthem at sporting events anymore. There’s always some professional at the microphone, and everyone else just listens. In Canada, I’ve noticed more people tend to sing along with their anthem. When I went to a Denver vs Australian Army rugby game a few summers ago, the Australians in the crowd were singing along, quite vigorously, with their anthem. So, is this just an American thing? Are we more insecure in the things we’re not great at than other nationalities? Maybe the Star-Spangled Banner is a bad example, because it truly is one of the most difficult songs to sing, but I still think there’s something about insecurity here that prevents people from singing.

 

under: Teaching and Learning
Tags: , , , , ,

Summer Learning

Posted by: | July 15, 2014 | 6 Comments |

As an educator, I’ve heard people discuss the “summer learning loss” since my first ed methods courses. For that matter, I remember adults talking about it when I was a kid, too. As a kid, I couldn’t figure out what they meant, because I learned all summer long… it just looked different than what it looked like in school.

If we look at learning as facts to be retained indefinitely, then summer learning loss is a concern.

However, if we realize that learning is fluid, that we often temporarily forget concepts, skills, and procedures when we don’t use them regularly, then summer learning loss shouldn’t be a huge concern. When we assume kids should all learn certain concepts by a certain age and then retain them forever, we do a disservice to those children – and it also means we don’t really understand LEARNING.

(How many of you remember every theorem you ever learned AND can use them right this minute with no review? How many of you took a second language and can still speak fluently if you rarely or never used that language again after you graduated?)

I’m worried about some of the articles and posts I’ve read recently about what kids need to be learning over the summer. Many of these posts contain lists that stress more drill including math facts and reading strategies, such as practicing affixes, etc.

“Hey, kids! Let’s have some fun today! We’re going to practice AFFIXES!” [cue kids cheering]

(I wish someone would hurry up and create that sarcasm font we’re all needing.)

Yes, let’s just make summer about killing the joy of learning, just like we have to do during the school year. (I use the word “we” here as a generality. I don’t think all of us have to do that during the school year, and I know for certain that our school, Anastasis Academy, is about bringing back the joy in learning. But that’s not the focus of this post.)

What if, during the summer, kids had the option to learn in a manner that is natural for them?

cc licensed photo by Lotus Carroll

cc licensed photo by Lotus Carroll*

  • running
  • riding bikes
  • swimming
  • playing in the yard or park, running through sprinklers or around the fire hydrant
  • pretending (we spent more time as kids playing Charlie’s Angels than anything else over the summer)
  • neighborhood/street games with no adult intervention

Those 6 things help kids learn a MULTITUDE of important skills, including setting boundaries or rules for games, problem-solving, and being creative just to name a few. The physical activity alone is enough to warrant hours and hours allotted each day for these physical activities. Kids should NOT be sitting around all day, and most especially not during the summer! Sitting has shown to be incredibly harmful to our bodies.

For shorter periods of time during the day, kids should be allowed quiet time to read. The most important part of silent reading time is that the kids have choice to read what they want.

As an adult, when I walk into a bookstore or a library, I feel like a kid in a candy store. That’s because I LOVE TO READ. I love to read, because I had a LOT of choice as a kid. We went to the library often every summer.  My mom didn’t force me to choose books that were at my lexile level, nor did she tell me I shouldn’t choose a book because it was too easy for me. It was always MY choice.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed some of my students love to read fiction. Some love to read non-fiction. Some love to read magazines about animals. Some adore comic books. Some kids will read the boxes of anything in the room, if they’re allowed. (I remember reading every cereal box we had on the table at breakfast!)

If we want kids to read (and write) better, we need them to be reading MORE. Kids will read more when they’re interested in what they’re reading. The more choice we provide, the more likely they will want to read something different AND will eventually trust us when we do recommend something specific. Summer reading should be an extension of just that… allowing kids to choose what they want to read.

As for math facts and problem-solving skills, of course those things are going to fade over the summer. These are conceptual facts, not just something we memorize and ultimately understand. Kids need practice, but they need practice in context. Flash cards might help SOME kids memorize these facts, but why not provide something real for kids to do?

What if, instead of carving out an hour a day for drill practice, we asked kids to build something that required measuring, adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing? What if we baked or cooked together with kids? What if we gave them a box of craft materials or recyclables that are just going to be thrown out and asked them to invent something? What if we asked them to create a work of art, compose a song, or write and perform a play? All of these activities involve math concepts, among many others, even if those are not directly articulated to the kids.

Now stop and think about all the kids who may not have (safe) access to a library, a yard with grass or trees, or other neighborhood areas that are conducive to the type of play I mentioned above. Should they be limited to “drill and kill” activities? The majority of “summer learning loss” articles I’ve read say that children living in poverty need MORE drill and practice in academic-specific skills (usually math and reading/writing) over the summer. I disagree.

“Welcome to summer, James. You are already behind in school due to factors that are beyond your control, so let’s just make your summer seem like you’re in a prison, too. We’ll start by practicing your multiplication tables for the first hour, and then I’m going to ask you to read something you have absolutely no interest in for the next hour. After that, even though you’re probably already feeling like a zombie in the first 2 hours, we’ll continue to have you suffer through more drill and kill activities for the rest of the day. You’ll be SO ready for school in the fall!”

Again, I disagree whole-heartedly and believe that all children need safe and convenient access to play and pretend opportunities, with physical activity options and music and art. How do we ensure this happens for ALL kids?

KIDS NEED TO PLAY.** Period. They need to be silly, laugh, pretend, and they need to MOVE. When we dismiss the benefits of play for children, we do more damage to their eventual “academic” learning than we realize.

Alfie Kohn has already written more about this than I can even begin to attempt, but here’s a great example of his opinion on summer learning loss: Lowering the Temperature on Claims of “Summer Learning Loss.”

As a parent, I understand the worry that your child might be falling behind in school. Since my children have grown into adults, however, I regret that I worried too much about their academic progress when they were younger. I didn’t worry enough about their happiness, their physical activity, and their growth as complete individuals who would become happy and successful adults.

What do you REALLY want for kids?

 

*photo credit: CC licensed photo by Lotus Carroll, “Summer Essentials: Sprinkler Karate

**Articles on benefits of play

under: Teaching and Learning
Tags: , , , , ,

Have you ever read If You Give A Mouse A Cookie?

Sometimes, that’s what learning is like in an inquiry-based school. And I LOVE it! Kids follow their curiosity into amazing areas of learning.

Today is April 1st. I really detest April Fool’s Day. (such a bah humbug!) I wonder if, in addition to the day after Halloween, this day ranks low on many teachers’ scales of great days. I was determined not to be a crankypants for my kids, though, who were waiting for me with huge grins on their faces. They were definitely up to something, and I had been warned they had a great prank all ready for me.

As I approached them to head upstairs, they all started staring at me, quickly raised their hands in the Hunger Games Katniss salute, and then they whistled/sang the four-note tune that was a signal between Katniss and Rue. It cracked me up. (Have I mentioned before how much I love these kids?)

After they all had a good laugh and we walked upstairs, we plopped ourselves into a room. They started chattering about good April Fool’s Day pranks, but then started discussing the difference between a harmless/fun prank and a mean-spirited prank. I loved hearing examples that they shared – some they had pulled on siblings, some that had been pulled on them. It was a fun discussion.

In any other school, it might have ended there. But not ours. One kid wondered what was the best April Fool’s prank of all time– which led to another asking how long April Fool’s has been “celebrated”– to another asking where it all started. If you give a mouse a cookie… 

I asked them if they wanted to find out more, and they did. So then I asked, “where should we start?” They threw around words like history and origins. We had found our key search terms.

Within ten minutes, my students had found very few answers.  They were able to find some traditions that dated back to the 1500s with mentions of England, Scotland, and France, but no definitive origins. I showed a video that explained that no one really knows where April Fool’s actually started, but there are several theories. Within the theories presented, the kids recognized a few stories from their research this morning. Their favorite was the story of the rural French citizens who were never informed about the 16th century calendar change from Julian to Gregorian. They were ridiculed with fish slapped on their backs  et voilà! Poisson d’Avril!

If you give a kid a question, she will want to find some answers… but then will ask more questions.

After the laughter about a fish being slapped onto someone’s back, somebody asked, “What’s a Gregorian calendar?” My standard response in this case is, “I wonder how you could figure that out?”

Cut to kids looking up information about the Gregorian calendar. And the Julian calendar. And the Roman calendar. “Wait! There were only 10 months in the Roman calendar?!”

[Me] “What do you notice about the eighth month?”

“It’s October. Hey… OCTOber. OCTO means 8!”

[another student] “And SEPT means 7… and NOV might be 9… and DEC is 10!”

If your class of kids pranks you on April Fool’s Day, you can have meaningful discussions about word origins relating to an ancient calendar. 

Hmmm… that sounds about right.

 

From our @TeamBaldwin tweets today (first tweet is at the bottom):

AprilsFools2

AprilFools1

under: Teaching and Learning

Struggling vs Suffering

Posted by: | March 18, 2014 | 1 Comment |

No parent wants to see their children suffer. We want to surround them, protect them, and help in any way we can. I’m a parent. I get this.

However, there’s a really big difference between a child “suffering” and “struggling.” Struggling is a necessary part of learning. When we learn to walk, we struggle. We fall down. A LOT. We keep pushing ourselves past that point of frustration in order to take those first steps. It’s natural. It’s developmental. It’s necessary.

Struggling is nature’s way of helping us move along to the next level. It’s gamification (I really don’t like that term, but that’s another blog post) in reality. If we didn’t have to struggle to learn something, there wouldn’t be the sense of accomplishment we gain in order to want to keep improving. Struggling helps us move beyond the need for instant gratification.

When we protect our children from struggling, we deprive them of a very important step in the learning process.

I watched the movie Ray again over the weekend. In one scene after Ray has just lost his sight as a child, he falls off a chair in his childhood home. His cries for his mother are heartbreaking. She stands there silently, tears streaming down her face… and she doesn’t help him. As much as she wants to go pick him up and console him, she doesn’t move. Ray wasn’t hurt, and he wasn’t in danger. He struggled to pick himself up, walk around his home, and learn how to navigate using his sense of hearing, smell, and touch. After a few minutes, he stops crying, and he begins to smile. He walks around his home, and you can see that the struggle is fading… the accomplishment is clear. Soon, he senses his mother standing nearby. He speaks softly to her and says, “I know you’re right here,” pointing directly at her.

This scene really stuck with me. I know Hollywood took quite a bit of license here, but I also know that Ray Charles often spoke about how his mother, Aretha Robinson, really taught him to fend for himself. To be independent. She didn’t enable him when he lost his sight. She knew he would have to learn to function differently.

How often do we allow our children to struggle? How many times do we swoop in and rescue kids who don’t really need to be rescued?

Please don’t misunderstand me as write this… there are a lot of kids suffering in situations where learning has become painful. Where life in general is painful. Those kids need rescuing.

There are, however, a lot of kids who are never allowed to struggle, and we are doing them a huge disservice. They need to fall down. They need to learn how to pick themselves up again. They need opportunities to struggle in learning without fear of great penalties.

Struggle is important. Without it, are we truly learning?

 

UPDATED: I just read an article today: 5 Things Teachers Wish Parents Knew: Your Children Can Do More Than You Think. There are a couple of sections in there that complement the idea of “struggle.”

under: Teaching and Learning

Attribution

Posted by: | January 29, 2014 | 4 Comments |

A couple of days ago, someone shared an image of an anchor chart (for lack of better term) for questioning levels. I thought that my kids could really benefit from it, but I wanted an illustrated version. So yesterday, I spent about an hour making my own version of the poster on chart paper. This is what I made:

4LevelsQuestionsIllustrated

 

As I started to write the original “creator’s” name at the bottom, I realized I didn’t know who had shared it. I spent a couple of hours (yes, hours!) looking for it and could not. The best I was able to find was a couple of teachers who had shared the item via Pinterest.

Still… no attribution.

I don’t believe in using other people’s work without giving them credit. My friend, Krissy Venosdale, has had her share of issues with that lately.

So here’s the deal… teachers love to “steal” each other’s work. We joke about using that word, steal. I have no problem with doing that as long as we also share the credit.

If you know whose original work THIS is, please let me know so I can properly credit him/her. Thanks.

Original4LevelsQuestions

 

under: Teaching and Learning

Reinforcing Our Philosophy

Posted by: | January 15, 2014 | 2 Comments |

At our school, Anastasis Academy, we offer CRAVE classes to our entire school – we meet once a week for an hour for about 7 weeks.

CRAVE is an opportunity for teachers to offer something different – perhaps an experience kids might not have the opportunity to explore during our “regular” class time. We share a list of options with the kids, and they choose what they are interested in exploring. Any student can sign up for any class with any teacher, grades K-8. Our CRAVE classes are always mixed ages.

Some of the options we’ve had in the past are healthy cooking, hockey, clothing design, coding, ball sports, crocheting, nature inspired art, junk sculptures, chess, iPad rock band, DaVinci inspired art, and build your own instruments. (this is actually a small sample of the offerings)

The emphasis is that the kids are able to choose something that interests them, but also something that they might not have realized they could be interested in learning. CRAVE helps kids explore different areas to expose them to something new. Each class is based upon areas of passion or expertise by the teachers who offer them.

 

As I was trying to decide what I should offer this session, I thought, “Hey! I’ll crowdsource some ideas! Brilliant!” So, I sent out the following tweet:

CraveTweet

 

 

Some really helpful people responded with wonderful suggestions:

  • Coding
  • #GeniusHour
  • Let them explore their individual passions/ Ask the kids what THEY want to learn (MANY responded this way!)
  • How to value their authentic self
  • Recording music
  • Build a catapult
  • Build something
  • “Hack the classroom style” learning
  • Research and design
  • How to research
  • How to share what they’re learning
  • Problem-based learning

 

As I read the incoming tweets, I often responded, “We do that already on a daily/weekly basis.”

And then I continued to respond the same way again and again.

When it was time for lunch and tweets continued to roll in, I left the building to grab something to eat and realized something that I have started to take for granted:

What we do as a rule at Anastasis is an exception almost everywhere else. 

  • Our kids have choice to follow their passions DAILY.
  • What some schools do in their #geniushour or 20% Time (or whatever they rename it) happens every day at our school.
  • As a teacher, I am not stuck in a lesson plan or canned curriculum. When my kids make decisions about what they want to learn, it’s my job to ensure they also pick up skills and concepts they’ll need to know along the way.
  • Our “regular” class time doesn’t look the same as other schools.
  • In my class, we regularly make time to tinker, explore, share, and value each other and ourselves.
  • Our classes are maxed at 12 students per class – the time the students and I have together to really get to know each other and personalize our learning options is invaluable!

 

By no means is this post meant to be a “thanks, but no thanks” to any of the suggestions I received today… and I hope it’s not reading as arrogance, either.

Two and a half years ago, I picked up and moved from Omaha, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado because Kelly Tenkely  and Matthew Anderson decided to start a school. Every day, I think I’m lucky for being able to be a part of this incredible experience, these amazing families and kids who make up our community.

Today, I remembered just how lucky I am. I believe our philosophy at Anastasis is truly best for our kids. All the suggestions reinforced how we operate.

And today, I also wished that every student had the opportunities that our kids have. 

If you sent me a tweet today… thank you. I’m grateful for the work you do for kids and your willingness to share your passion and suggestions with others.

A few notes:

  1. If you’re curious about what we do at our school, I’m glad to share our story with you over a cup of coffee, a Skype/GHO call, or whatever you decide. You can also read our class blog at http://architectsofwonder.edublogs.org
  2. One of the ideas I had been juggling around in my mind for CRAVE – in addition to something music-related (I’m a Music teacher by trade), photography, or crocheting – was centered around “super challenges.” Our school has held an all-school marshmallow/spaghetti tower challenge as well as the Rube Goldberg machine challenge on #dayofplay. I decided after reading all the great responses today that I would go with the Super Challenge Power Hour. Each week will have a new challenge. Stay tuned for updates!

 

under: Teaching and Learning

My Issue With Standards

Posted by: | October 6, 2013 | 6 Comments |

On Friday, October 4, our school participated in the Day of Play, inspired by the Caine’s Arcade and the Cardboard Challenge. This was our second year to participate, and the kids absolutely love it.

Earlier in the week, we had decided that our focus could be a Rube Goldberg Machine theme with cardboard as the main building focus. As I talked with my kids about Rube Goldberg, they grew more and more excited to create their own. We watched a LOT of videos about Rube Goldberg Machines (RGM), including these:

 

From one video in particular - Andrew’s Rube Goldberg Simple Machine - my kids heard some simple machines vocabulary. Some of the students had been exposed to this language before, and some had not. They started asking some really good questions about levers and inclined planes. I asked them if they thought it might be helpful to learn about simple machines before we started planning our own RGM. They agreed and starting researching different types. They broke into small groups, each taking a different component, and even built prototypes to share with the class.

After we shared our discoveries, I asked the kids to start designing a plan for our RGM. As is typical for my class right now, there were a lot of leaders, and not enough “listeners.” When it came time to actually have a plan, there were a lot of great ideas, but no plan. I agreed to act as facilitator, since we were limited by time- being ready for Friday’s Day of Play.

On Friday morning, we jumped into a learning lab room and used a whiteboard to sketch out our major plan. We had decided that 5 components in our machine would be a good limit, since we only had a few hours to build and test the machine. Additionally, we knew that we would connect ours to Miss Nancy’s class machine, and that her class had already planned for a ball to roll down an inclined plane to then initiate OUR machine.

The kids chose to stick mostly to inclined planes and levers for our RGM. This is the design we started with:

RGMPlan

After spending most of the day building, we were able to get a few good tests in before we had to share with the whole school. A couple of components failed, but the connection to the other class’s machine did function properly, and the end of our machine worked exactly as we had planned! (The last part was a chain reaction of books – levers – falling onto a Hoops & Yoyo button that made a lot of noise.)

Building our Rube Goldberg Machine

Building our Rube Goldberg Machine

SUCCESS!

Some of my students were upset.

“It didn’t work!” “We failed!”

I asked them if they thought they could fix the components that failed if we would have had more time. They all agreed that they could easily fix those pieces.

“So, then did we really fail, or did we just run out of time?”

What a lesson that was in that short conversation! On Monday, they’ll write some reflections about what they learned last Friday, their favorite part of the activity, and how they feel they could improve the next time. We’ll probably write a class song about the machine we built. My kids think differently about their learning when they put it into verse, especially with a kickin’ beat in the background.

My favorite part of this entire activity? I didn’t plan A THING for those kids to learn. They did this all on their own. Everything I contributed was “just in time” learning.

Is learning about simple machines a standard in most science curricula? Absolutely. Did I plan for my kids to learn that? No. THEY were the ones who sought out that information through their own curiosity.

Now… let’s back up and pretend this entire activity never happened.

Let’s say I plan a lesson on simple machines. I deliver the vocabulary and explain to the kids how the machines work. I assign them an activity where they build prototypes, and MAYBE then I introduce the idea of RGMs and try to hook the kids.

It might still be a successful learning activity, but the difference here is that it is all teacher-driven.

When we depend upon standards to tell us what to teach kids, the kids don’t own the learning. 

When we give kids the ownership of what to learn and let them run with it, we find that they naturally hit standards without us having to plan for it.

In this one activity, my students hit multiple standards, across multiple grade levels in science, math, language arts, and maybe a few I haven’t even noticed yet.

They measured. They drew blueprints. They collaborated with each other. They learned about trial and error. They wrote down what was working and what wasn’t working, then shared hypotheses with their group to plan for the next success.

Most of all, they had so much fun building and playing. Our school provided an opportunity for them to see each class’s RGM. They were so excited about this day!

Shouldn’t ALL kids have an opportunity to learn like this? Or are we content to sit back, deliver content, and ensure we’re hitting all the standards?

Sometime next week, I’ll be able to list all the Common Core standards, as well as those outside the Common Core, that we “hit” during this activity. I won’t do this to prove that the Common Core works, but simply to show how limiting the Common Core can be.

When we allow ourselves to be driven by standards someone else imposes upon us, and then TEST the kids on those very standards, we limit what our kids are able to do. I refuse to be bound by those constraints, and most especially refuse to limit my students’ curiosity.

under: Teaching and Learning

The Myth of Engagement

Posted by: | September 14, 2013 | 12 Comments |

If you just get kids excited about learning, they will be engaged.

We hear statements such as this so very often in education. I agree with the point that we must help kids find what ignites their passion and assist them to pursue learning.

it is vital to light that proverbial fire in a child’s spirit. 

It’s not about the technology or the tool… it’s about the kid. Yes, technology can be engaging occasionally, but eventually the novelty wears off. If kids are doing the “same old, same old” on a digital device, the novelty of the device will not keep any kid engaged.

Digital worksheets are not more engaging than paper worksheets. Interactive white boards are not more engaging. Trying to find a “hook” for bad pedagogy doesn’t mask bad pedagogy.

To engage a kid, you have to look at the kid.

As an educator creeping up on the 20 year mark, I feel like we’re bombarded with new tips and tools to “trick” kids into being engaged. The problem with those tips and tricks is that they’re usually gimmicks, and kids are not fools.

Want to engage a kid? Get to know him. Ask her what interests her. To engage children in learning, show them that you care about their interests and what makes them tick.

BUT…

Realize that kids are not learning machines every day. Some days, they haven’t had enough sleep. Some days, they haven’t had adequate/proper nutrition. Some days, they’re having problems at home. For many kids, sleep, nutrition, and personal safety are daily issues.

Even if you help them pursue their passions, they will not be engaged all the time. 

They need compassion and grace, not gimmicks. Sometimes, that project isn’t the most important thing.

They need love and understanding. Sometimes, math isn’t more important.

If you want a kid to care about his learning, he needs to know you care about him. We KNOW this. I just don’t think we’re always that good at PRACTICING it.

Don’t fall for the gimmicks. Remember that kids are human. Remember you are, too.

under: Teaching and Learning

My ISTE Wish

Posted by: | June 23, 2013 | 2 Comments |

I’m sitting in San Antonio, Texas right now ready to attend ISTE 2013. This is my 7th year to attend this conference, and I have to credit ISTE with providing opportunities to learn and think differently about myself as an educator.

This is the place where I meet (quite literally) hundreds of new people. Considering ISTE brings in tens of thousands of attendees, that’s still a mind-boggling concept for me. Some of these people I meet will become part of my learning network. Some of them will become (and have been, as time has proven) some of my closest and dearest friends. I’ll admit… I geek out a little and may even scare a few poor souls when it comes to my excitement for learning from someone new. Where else can an educator go and have this type of environment to meet and learn with 15,000 or more of your “closest”  friends?

Someone once said, and I wish I remembered who, that the ISTE conference has become the premier education conference (not just ed tech) in the world. I don’t know if I agree with that statement, but it did get me thinking. When I first started attending ISTE/NECC, the focus was most definitely on integrating technology into classrooms, helping educators learn best practices in using technology, and creating some technology standards for students, teachers, and administrators. At the time, that was definitely needed, and kudos to ISTE for leading that charge.

I wonder now, though… no, I don’t wonder. I fully believe that the conversations and the focus need to evolve. I don’t think there are too many educators, parents, or communities who would argue against the need for technology to be included in education. It’s simply a part of our world… and yes… I know there are still those holdouts that cling tightly to their pride in being blissfully anti-tech.

So where does that leave ISTE?

My ISTE wish is that the organization and, subsequently, its conference, would move forward into a heavier emphasis on educational progress with the technology and the tools taking a supporting role. As a former coordinator of technology professional development, our first step was to help our educators begin using the tools. After a short time, I understood the need for a significant change. The tools were taking a starring role – we used technology simply for the sake of using technology. We needed to help educators focus on the learning. The tools were simply that… tools.

If you look at the ISTE program this year, you’ll see a very common theme. Session descriptions include names of specific tools, products, or technology emphasis. I get it. The “T” in ISTE is “technology.” Even in my own group’s presentation/workshop, we’re sharing some web tools that can be used in the classroom. The focus is still on the tools, and that’s not how I operate. I would much rather be sharing with interested educators how inquiry can help lead students to deeper learning, and “Oh, by the way… here are some tools that can help you do x, y, or z.” In my own classroom, I rarely ask the kids to use ONE specific tool. They have options and choice to use the tool that best works for them to demonstrate their learning.

Ten years ago, I attended the now defunct Midwest Internet Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska, and David Warlick was the keynote speaker. He shared a lesson idea with us about how technology could transform a traditional lesson from a textbook. Mashups were still fairly new at the time, and definitely new to me. David shared a map and then created an overlay with video (I don’t remember all the specifics), but we were somewhat in awe of what we had just seen. The key point I remember from that day was that David didn’t have us gushing over the technology. It was the way he talked about what KIDS could do to learn differently – gain a deeper understanding, share their ideas differently, etc.  - that made the biggest impact on me. I jokingly call David Warlick my “Educational Philosophy Godfather,” because it was that day when I started to realize that education had to change. My philosophy about teaching and learning shifted, and that impacts me greatly yet today. As my Anastasis students always say, “That’s an epiphany moment, Mrs. B!”

This is what I want to see at ISTE. I know that the vendors are great supporters of ISTE and a necessary piece of the puzzle, but I think they drive what happens at the conference with too great an influence. I’m not a fan of financial supporters who say, “Sure, I’ll give you a lot of money, but I want to direct some /all of what you do.” Let’s be done with that. (I know, I know… but let me dream here.)

I want the opportunity for educators who have not had their own education epiphanies to come away from ISTE completely inspired by an educational idea… not how much free stuff and t-shirts they accumulated. Don’t even get me started on the Surface tablet giveaways.

For me, I want the opportunity to have rich conversations with the brilliant people around me- to learn with them and to be able to take back some great new ideas to our school. If tools are mentioned in those conversations, great. I know, however, those tools won’t be the focus. When I think about education, I bring every new idea back to one simple thing: how will this impact a student’s learning? Plain and simple.

If you’re here in San Antonio, I hope you have a fantastic conference. If you feel like sharing something you learned this week in the comments, I would be most grateful.

 

under: Teaching and Learning, Tech Conferences
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cc photo by cdsessums

Some people like very well-defined lines.

Black and white.

Nice, neat boxed-in rooms with corners.

 

 

 

 

 

cc photo by Matt1125

And then there are others who prefer blurry lines.

Grey.

Overlapping circles.

 

I think that learning is a blurry line. Definitely grey (hey! Brains are grey matter, right?). Things we learn often cross and overlap.

It’s difficult to measure things that are blurry, grey, and overlapping.

 

Most schools tend to live in that “well-defined lines” area.

Math is done in math class. Science is done in science class. Writing is done in writing class. You get the picture: nice, neat boxed-in rooms with corners.

Learning is measured with black and white numbers.

 

Personally, I like those grey areas. I like living in the middle. There’s nothing -EST about the middle.

The middle is neither the oldest, nor the youngest.

The middle is neither the highest, nor the lowest.

 

The middle can be extremely uncomfortable sometimes, because it refuses to be clearly defined.

The middle of the journey isn’t the starting point, and it’s not the ending point.

From the starting point, you can only see forward. From the ending point, you can only see backward. From the middle, you can see all around you.

 

It’s the beauty of the middle that stimulates learning. So many paths to take. So many beautiful things to experience along the way.

It’s the misfortune of the middle that it doesn’t always lend itself to measurement. To black and white numbers. To nice, neat boxes and well-defined lines.

 

How do you share the joys of the middle with those who attempt to measure it… and who are subsequently disappointed with the metrics?

 

under: Teaching and Learning

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