Everything Matters

Until it doesn't anymore

Being a parent and an educator in the same school district is tough. I would go so far to say that being a parent and educator no matter the school district is tough. Heck, just being a parent OR an educator is tough.

However, having children in school district where you work does help to provide little subtle reminders about the power of being an educator.

As a family, we are in a year of transition. My son has now entered 6th grade and attends the middle school where I work. My oldest daughter is in 4th grade while my youngest has entered kindergarten.

As an educator I love learning. My wife and I are both teachers and we just have a deep passion for learning and for kids. We want our children to be happy, to love learning, and to feel successful. We also want that for every student that we come in contact with as an educator.

As an educator it is easy to lose sight of the idea that everything matters. We become so used to the routine and atmosphere of our school and our classroom that we sometimes lose sight of the small details that are the most vital for successful learning. We become so stressed to meet the needs of data, standards, spreadsheets, forms, and other elements that we all know are not always the answer. Because of this we don’t pay much attention to the pieces that have long lasting impacts on a student. We feel rushed to get through more and more and more that we sometimes skip over or gloss over the little moments that can make monumental gains in the life a child. We simply strive to survive a job that is proving to be more and more difficult each day.

My daughter, the one in kindergarten, is just a spitfire in life. She says the craziest things, holds her own to anyone, and can go from giggling to pure anger in a nanosecond. As tough as the tries to act she is very sensitive and thrives off emotion. And so it has been an interesting year as she has moved to kindergarten. Letters and numbers are not her thing because they don’t come easy. She has had problems with speech and a few other things. She tries her best to not act like anything is wrong, but there are times when she shifts from acting angry to tears. She wants to be like her brother. She wants to be successful like her sister. She wants it all to come naturally and easy as it appears it does for her siblings. She is five, but is smart enough to know that mom and dad are intelligent and wants us to approve of her work.

She does not want to disappoint.

Herself

Her mom and dad

Her family

In one of these moments of anger the other day my heart broke as a parent. You see my daughter wakes up every single day during the week and instantly starts yelling. She throws a fit about her clothes. They don’t fit. Therefore, she won’t be able to go to school. Her socks don’t fit right. Her hair is a mess. She won’t eat breakfast. She yells. She screams. She is angry. Why? Is it because these things are true? No, it is because this is how she copes with the idea of heading to school where she does want to go. She wakes with stress. She wakes with fear. She wakes not with excitement to learn, but fear of what she can’t or won’t be able to learn. And this hurts me to the core.

She celebrates days when her class does not have centers. She was talking about school one day and she broke into tears. She was sharing how she always gets smaller stars on her paper because she is not as smart as the other kids. I don’t for one second believe this is intentional. I believe what happens is that during the work time the teacher simply marks the papers with stars as they finish and get things correct. However, in the eyes of a five year old who lacks confidence these stars are everything. They mean the world to her and are a gauge of her self esteem. These five pointed symbols are a sign of how others view her in her mind. It explains why she draws monster size stars at home when she plays school for hours upon hours on end.

Even if it is intentional to showcase the difference between right and wrong this small act, this small nanosecond of a quick scribbled shape on a piece of paper is the difference in the outlook and feeling of school to a child. This split second moment is everything.

Yes, we talked with her. Yes, we are working on things at home, but it is tough because she does not like to work on them because she “knows it already! DAD!”

The moral of this story is to make sure we take notice of the small things. Do we say hello to everyone? Do we acknowledge all kids regardless of how they act, perform, and behave? Do we provide positive reinforcements to help bring a smile to their faces? Do we do the things necessary to create positive relationships? Do we ensure that the stars we draw for our students are big and beautiful?

Because without relationships nothing else matters.

But with a relationship everything matters. With a relationship these small moments can be the difference between a smile and tear on the face of a child in which these two factors can be the greatest impact on any spreadsheet or data set that everyone seems to require these days.

 

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Educators: We cannot rest on our laurels!

Reading the latest issue of INC. magazine where they profiled and celebrated the 500 fastest growing private companies, I came to realization that the messages conveyed over and over again can be/should be applied to education. I know as educators we are not companies striving to make money, but we are teams of people striving to changed education to be the most benefit and create the highest yield of return of students learning in our classrooms.

We are of the very few who work hours and hours beyond our work day because there is always more work to be done. We are constantly being pulled in several directions, needing to do more each year, and often times we sit(when we have five minutes) and question how much longer we can sustain.

I believe that educators work harder than almost anyone on earth. However, I do believe we can work more efficiently and effectively if we could just break through the mindset of always doing what has been done.

One of the key takeaways from the magazine was the idea that we cannot rest on our laurels for too long. There are times when we do great things. Amazing things happen. We start to gain a reputation for certain things. This helps us mentally survive this job, but we cannot become stagnate. We must push our own boundaries. We must embrace the next area of unknown and uncertainty. We must continue to push forward to become better. New research shows that teachers can continue to improve and don’t become flatlined after their first 3-5 years like previously thought(DUH!)

What we need are leaders among the teacher ranks. Teachers who share. Teachers who continue to inspire others. This is where I believe the key to growth is vital. Yes, we need strong admin leadership, but at the end of the day admin will not make everyone happy(it really is a thankless job and one I would never want). The strength comes from the teachers. If we can continue to support one another in positive ways, share our own learning, and collectively as teams of professionals improve ourselves, then we will make some amazing learning opportunities come to life.

By doing this we can embrace new possibilities. This prevents us from pointing fingers at others. This places the responsibilities on our own shoulders. We cannot complain because we are in the drivers seat. Really, the things we strive for in our students should be the same things we strive for as educators.

Let’s go make it happen!

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Think About This: Personalized Learning, Gifted, Student Voice, and Equity

Unfortunately, of the millions of potential world-changers who are born each year, only a small portion will be noticed and given the resources they need to develop their prodigious gifts. By refusing them an education that is appropriate to their abilities, we are potentially hobbling our economies and denying our civilization its next generation of innovators – the Salks, Mozarts, and Curies who can push the frontiers of knowledge forward.

Education researchers now estimate that the academically gifted make up 6 to 10 percent of the U.S. school-age population. When the definition of gifted is expanded to include artistic, athletic, and other talents, the proportion is much higher. In fact, the latest research suggests that nearly everyone has the capacity to achieve extraordinary performance in some domain of expertise that allows his or her unique set of personal attributes to shine.

But what does it take to identify and develop the raw material of talent and turn it into exceptional accomplishment? How do we parent and educate extraordinary determined and intelligent children and help them reach their potential? How can we help more conventionally talented children find the self motivation and external support that moves them toward the fulfillment of their dreams? And how do we shift the course of an educational culture that has, for the past several decades, under challenged the children it once regarded as its best hope?

 

Excerpt from the book The Boy Who Played with Fusion by Tom Clynes

 

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Designing Learning Spaces Is Not About The Space

Several months ago I presented on designing innovative learning spaces. As I continue down the path about idea learning conditions, makerspaces, cultures of inquiry, etc. I thought it was time to share this reflection I typed up to spur some summer discussion.

“Design an Innovative Learning Space”

This was my first time presenting on this topic so to say I was nervous was an understatement. I woke up at 3 am to make sure I was ready to go for the day. I headed out to Ames, Iowa around 4:15 and before I knew it I was up and ready to go.

I started off this session by having the audience draw their rooms and offices. I had them speak and interact with one another about their spaces and make connections. I wanted them to be challenged, to share the good, question the bad, and walk away with new ideas that would cost them zero dollars.

As I continued this session and we explored many new ways to design the revelation really hit home for them and for me. This whole notion of learning spaces is not about the room. You can make the smallest, ugliest, or most unlikely space a powerful learning space if you can deliver as an educator. Learning spaces do the following

  • create a feeling of safety
  • create comfort in trying new things
  • not being ashamed for being wrong or failing
  • excite the student to learn
  • create an unique atmosphere unlike any other room

You can see my slides and what I shared here

I won’t go into everything I shared as that would lead to a very long post, but I want to drive home the notion of two very important things.

1. To change our learning spaces requires no money

2. To change our learning spaces start with our inner selves

Start small and change something that is easy. Try teaching from a different wall. Get away from the “front” of your room. Move the desks to face a different direction.

Play music when they walk in.

Once you do small things you can step up the challenge by removing your teacher desk, upgrading furniture, painting, etc.

What I want to learn from you is how to do you design your learning space? How is your learning space branded where kids don’t feel like they are walking into another pastel prison like they have been doing their whole education career?

I would love to talk more with those of you who want to talk. I am beyond fascinated with this whole notion as I strive to make Coffeechug Cafe an unique environment. Just today a teacher was in my room getting coffee and told me he loved my room because everyday it looks different.

 

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Don’t Be A Generalist

Something that I have been struggling with lately is this idea of who am I? Not as a person per se, but more of as an educator. I have been reading all types of books, magazines, blogs, research articles, etc. to expand my thinking and more importantly to challenge my own thinking.  Through this reading as well as my new projects to learn new things I have started to think about what is it that I want people to think of when they reach out to me for help or guidance in education.

After some powerful conversations with some educators about website design and in particular my own I realize that I need to give some clarity and focus to what I am an “expert” in. I use that word lightly because I don’t feel that I am an expert in any field, but there are things that I know pretty well that I could help others in getting started.

This summer has my head spinning. I realized that I don’t want to be a generalist. This whole idea of being a jack of all trades is such a fallacy. It is a lie we tell our students that they need to be well rounded and a lie we tell ourselves. The reason we tell ourselves to be a generalist is that it is much easier to be mediocre in a bunch of things rather than excelling in one or a few fields.

Think about it.

When you go to a doctor for life saving operation like cancer or your heart would you rather

A. Go see a doctor who practices pediatrics, physical therapy, mental health, and whatever else you want to fill in OR

B. A doctor who specializes in your field and has a history of performing the necessary operations needed to allow you to survive

I think we need to be honest with ourselves and students and help find their niche in life. This is not to suggest that we don’t expose them to other ideas, skills, and concepts. Rather, help them chart their path. More importantly, as educators we have to do the same. We must embrace what we are really good at and then find other educators who can help us enhance our weaker areas.

As the quote suggests, 

Celebrate what you are good at. Embrace it. Make it better. Don’t be content just being average across the board. To be mediocre is no longer acceptable. We don’t expect this of our students so don’t expect this of yourself.

Now, I just need to figure out what it is that will move me above the life of a generalist.

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How Amy Poehler Taught Me To Be Better

I was reading an interview conducted with Amy Poehler and the following two quotes really resonated with me. In life, in education, in parenting, in whatever situation you are in currently these two statements hold some powerful truths.

“It all goes back to improv. It’s all about flexibility, about not knowing what’s going to happen next. You have to listen and stay in the moment. You have to play with people who will support you. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

“I’ve failed a million times on stage, just not getting laughs. I’ve listened to notes that I knew weren’t right. I’ve pitched idea and let other people change them, knowing that it was the wrong choice. The question you have to ask yourself is: How do you want to fail? Do you want to fail in a way that feels like it respects your tastes and value system?”

You cannot predict your future. If there is something you want to achieve in life you have to go after it. You might not make it, you might miss the target, but the key is to stay in the moment and keep working. Find those people who will support you and challenge you. It is not always about hearing the positive, but the ones that call you out, make you think different, challenge your ideas, and also are there to let you know you are on the right track. You must not settle. As Amy states above you must stick to your own guns and believe passionately about what you are doing. If you are, then when things don’t go right you at least know you stood your ground with who you represent as a person.

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Computational Thinking: Why Don’t More Schools Embrace This Buzzword?

 

Computational thinking is a process that every learner should understand and utilize in order to be a successful and productive citizen to society. This is a bold statement, but one that is important for educators to understand. The thinking required to develop solutions and ideas is a skillset that is not only needed for learners in school, but for every single person to develop in order to function through all the obstacles life sends our way. This paper will be making a case that computational thinking should be taught to everyone and not just in isolation. The paper will examine what is computational thinking, how it can be taught, how it can be measured, and how this type of learning can meet the needs of any school through Common Core, personalized learning, blended learning, project based learning or any other buzzword initiative taking place in schools across the nation.

 

According to Wing, computational thinking is “taking an approach to solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behaviour that draws on concepts fundamental to computing”(Wing, 2006). There are many different ways to define computational thinking, but at its essence the idea is to understand a problem and be able to gather the necessary tools and data to create possible solutions to solving the problem. Even more importantly, the learner should be able to develop and understand this problem solving process and apply it to any other situation that requires a solution. Often times computational thinking is considered to be in the realm of math, computers, technology, and the abstract. However, once a learner understands the process it can be applied to any subject or situation and this becomes the critical piece. If schools could develop this type of thinking and apply to all subjects in a cohesive fashion, learning could really go deep in application and thinking.

 

A critical piece to helping young adults develop the skillset of computational thinking is the notion that it cannot be taught in isolation and without justifiable reasons. So many things taught in education are pulled from context and do not have any real world application to the students so the material and skills are not truly developed because there is no purpose to the learning. As stated in the book Invent to Learn, “The best way to ensure the development of design thinking is for students to be engaged in the authentic design activities.” (Martinez & Stager, 2013) We could easily swap out the word design for computational thinking because the concept applies in anything we do in life. There must be a connection and reason to what we are learning. If not, then we have a situation which is no longer beneficial to either the educator or student. As Joi Ito is famous for saying, “Education is something that is done to you. Learning is something you should do for yourself.” (“Learning Over Education,” n.d.) If we don’t ensure that we develop the critical pieces and components to computational thinking, then students will develop “ennui normally reserved for algebra” (Martinez & Stager, 2013) and that would be a disservice to every single learner. Learning must be meaningful and serve a purpose to the lives of learners. The beauty of computational thinking is that it can be applied to any subject and topic as long as a problem is presented for the students to be able to solve.

 

As schools continue to figure out the best ways to connect the Common Core standards to the classroom and more importantly the lives of students there is a huge opportunity to bring in computational thinking. Google for Education has a site for computational thinking and the first paragraph of the site reads:

 

Computational Thinking (CT) is a problem solving process that includes a number of characteristics and dispositions. CT is essential to the development of computer applications, but it can also be used to support problem solving across all disciplines, including math, science, and the humanities. Students who learn CT across the curriculum can begin to see a relationship between subjects as well as between school and life outside of the classroom.(“Google for Education:,” n.d.)

 

The beauty of this definition is that it showcases how this idea can be applied throughout all disciplines. As schools feel the pressure to hit test score numbers and meet state and federal requirements they are placed between a rock and a hard place. At one end many realize the beauty and power of interdisciplinary learning, problem/project based learning, and basically understanding that schools need to change from the status quo. On the other end there is so much pressure to perform that many skills are taught in isolation without much meaning, packaged curriculum and claims to be the answer, and forcing teachers to be on the same page and not trusting their professionalism. If you take time to look through a Google search on lessons for computational thinking you can find lessons on any subject. Take this page of resources as one example. Many of these lessons can be used, modified and adjusted to bring real world meaning to the classroom. The key is not to just do a lesson to do it, but to take a problem or something that intrigues students and develop a system around finding solutions or answers to the task at hand.

 

Looking exclusively at the Iowa Common Core many of the standards lend themselves to the computational thinking system to show mastery of the standard. For example we could look at the following social studies standard:

 

SS.6–8.G.1

Essential Concept and/or Skill: Understand the use of geographic tools to locate and analyze information about people, places, and environments.(“Geography | Iowa Core,” n.d.)

 

This standard by itself does not sound exciting. It does not sound like something a middle school student would jump out of bed and run to school to learn. However, their community matters, their school matters, their city/town matters to them. Through class conversations, current events, exploration of how their house, school, activities affect their daily lives, an educator could start to develop a problem for them to solve about why they make the decisions they make in their lives. Next, students could start to analyze data about their city and start to apply skills and tools to connect their lives to the standard. Reading a map about a location that holds no meaning to them in a textbook is a wasted effort. Studying maps showcasing crime, pollution, poverty, etc. in their city and then overlaying that with the problem they are trying to solve brings more meaning to their lives and their learning.

 

Once classrooms start to shift to these deeper learning opportunities whether it is a problem based learning opportunity or creation of programs and coding a critical issue is the assessment piece. Much of education has been low level learning – memorize the states, spelling tests, multiple choice tests – that are easy to assess, but do they really demonstrate learning or compliance? Deeper learning that derives from thinking like computational thinking is much harder to assess. There are different options, but one that works well with any age is the creation of a portfolio or artifact collection. Mitch Resnick, the creator of Scratch has written many times about the beauty of sharing artifacts of work. Anyone can access the massive database of Scratch programs where you can view them, remix them, and share your own. The power of teaching students to document their learning journey is that they are able to see their own learning progress. There are many options for creating portfolios of learning. So much of the framework depends on each individual school. The key is for students to document the journey through blogs, reflections, video, pictures, animations, etc. In the end students should be able to explain what they learned and how they reached the answer to the problem.

 

Finally, computational thinking is a great framework for any goals that schools are working towards. There are a lot of buzzwords in education i.e. project based learning, problem based learning, STEM, blended learning, personalized learning, gamification, and deeper learning to name a few. All of these items are powerful learning opportunities. The beauty of computational thinking is that it fits all of these along with all subjects being taught in schools. It is a thinking process. The days of teaching how to think through a paper in language arts, fill out a lab report for science, studying formulas for math are over. Why not use one system of thinking and then modify accordingly? Once students start to understand that this problem solving system can be used in any subject, then they are able to see that perhaps it could work in other parts of their lives as well. From an educator and administration perspective this is not one more thing to add to our plates. Rather, it will help streamline the system. For example, my school has a very heavy focus on project based learning. If we could utilize computational thinking and help educators understand the what and how we could really dive much deeper. We would not have to spend time teaching our own unique methods of thinking, but instead focus more on building more tools and skills into their problem solving toolbox. It comes down to wordsmithing to make it all work and that is the beauty of this thinking. In the end, no matter what we teach, we all want our students to be able to do the following four things on their own:

  • Decomposition: Breaking down data, processes, or problems into smaller, manageable parts
  • Pattern Recognition: Observing patterns, trends, and regularities in data
  • Abstraction: Identifying the general principles that generate these patterns
  • Algorithm Design: Developing the step by step instructions for solving this and similar problems

(“Computational Thinking for Educators – – Unit 1 – Introducing Computational Thinking,” n.d.)

 

No matter the definition we use for computational thinking we cannot argue that the skillset is essential to being productive members of society. If schools could work together to cohesively showcase to students how it fits all areas of learning, schools could really enhance the learning for all. This is not a radical shift, but something that has been talked about for many years, but never implemented. It is time to use tools like Scratch, Minecraft, coding, and all the other platforms to push the envelope of learning while helping students see how the steps in computational thinking can help them in any aspect of their lives.

Bibliography

Brennan, K., & Resnick, M. (2012). New Frameworks for Studying and Assessing the Development of Computational Thinking. Proceedings of the 2012 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Vancouver, Canada.

Computational Thinking for Educators – – Unit 1 – Introducing Computational Thinking. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from https://computationalthinkingcourse.withgoogle.com/unit?lesson=8&unit=1

Geography | Iowa Core. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from https://iowacore.gov/iowa-core/grade/6/social-studies/geography

Google for Education: (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from www.google.com/edu/resources/programs/exploring-computational-thinking/

Learning Over Education. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://learn.media.mit.edu/

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom.

Wing, J. M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33.

 

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It Is Time To Challenge Educators and Leaders

Reflection of TIC and Future Ready

The beginning of this week was a blur of three days of some really powerful learning. I was asked by my district to attend with our district team to the Future Ready Summit in Chicago. We headed out late Sunday night and after the second full day of learning on Tuesday we did not get home until late Tuesday night.

I was supposed to be at TIC in Dubuque Tuesday and Wednesday, but was only able to attend Wednesday. I got up early in the morning and headed to Dubuque. Despite only having one day at TIC I had the most amazing time and once again I am reminded why I love this conference so much.

Anytime I have a blur of learning like I had for three days it takes me a day or two to wrap my mind around it all. After a nice long run Thursday I was able to process my thoughts. Here are some of my main takeaways from my summer learning.

1. Be Prepared – I was asked last minute to attend the Future Ready. I am glad the dates worked out as I was able to go. Being ready, being flexible to doing the work to be prepared for what was to come was essential. Had I come into things blindly and unprepared it would have not been very good. Now, I could have been a bit more prepared but with doing some pre reading I was able to contribute as needed.

2. Be Ready For The Unknown – I was planning on using the days before TIC to rehearse, practice, and finalize my presentations for TIC. With the invite to Future Ready I lost those days. When I arrived at TIC early Wednesday morning I was making a few final touches. While doing this I realized I left my cable to connect my Surface Pro 3 and had a mild panic attack. No problem I told myself I am prepared and converted my slides to Keynote for my Mac. Well, everything converted in a massive mess. I had to redo two slidedecks from scratch in the 45 minutes I had before the keynote. I was shaking, stressed, and not in a good frame of mind. I was able to recreate two decent slidedecks and was able to deliver, but it was not the start to my day that I needed. This is just like teaching and life, sometimes you have to adapt on the fly.

**I later realized in my state of panic that I was a fool. I could have easily used my Mac adapter for my SP3 but for some reason that never crossed my mind.**

3. People at the conferences are not enough! – Once again I attend conferences which I love. The people at the conferences for the most part get it. They understand what is needed for education to change. What we need are those educators who do not go to these conferences, those who do not connect and build a PLN, and those who don’t a see a need for the ideas to be at the conferences. They need to attend so they can learn from others. They need to attend to be reaffirmed that they are doing great things. They need to attend to realize that what they have at their disposal is a blessing. They need to attend to realize what is happening around the state and nation. They need to attend to realize that they can improve.

4. Treatment of Others – One of the reasons I love TIC and it has become one of my favorite conferences is the way the organizers treat people. The whole Keystone AEA just rock it when it comes to bring this upbeat happy vibe. I love talking with Bev Berns because she is always smiling, happy, and excited for the opportunities for education. It is not just Bev, but the entire group who make this conference happen. It is all about delivery and making people feel good. This conference does just that! A key reminder when kicking off a new school year, developing culture in your classsroom, and just working to create positive relationships.

5. Leadership is Everything – My biggest takeaway is how important leadership is when it comes to education. I am talking at all levels from leadership among the teachers, to leadership in TLC, to admin leadership at building levels, to central admin. Without a strong leadership foundation all the amazing ideas are a waste. We must have leadership who makes the tough decisions while still giving flexibility for those working in the district and school(s) to develop their own path. I have stated this many times, but leaders need to clearly define the goals of the district and schools. Then, have faith in your staff to achieve those goals. Let them create the pathways. Let them prove that they are professionals and can get the job done. This also requires leaders to make some thing mandatory. It cannot be wide open, but give some parameters and a framework and collectively let us achieve the goals.

6. Stop with the sit and get – So much of any conference is a long list of apps, tools, tips, tricks, and ideas to implement. What does drive me crazy is how many still want to sit and get. They don’t want to engage. They don’t want to question. They don’t want to share. We must continue to push for more interactive sessions that get people talking and sharing. For example, I ran a Sphero session with Andrew Fenstermaker and it was awesome. All participants were active and willing to participate. It was a great session. The time flew by and because of their willingness to try we had a great Q and A afterwards. On the flipside I had a session where I built in time to share, ask questions, and network and it just did not happen. I accept some of that for maybe my presentation sucked, but we must continue to push our comfort zones and engage in the content and the sessions. It confirmed my belief that I must go back to interactive sessions and not just talk the whole time.

It is time to embrace that ideas that have been going one for some time now. It is time to break free from the past. It is time to transform education where we as professionals connect with kids with where they are and learn to up our game. It is time to quit looking in the past at what was. It is time to prep the students to be problem solvers, networkers, and collaborators. In order to do this we as educators must be able to do the same.

I had three great days of networking, learning, being challenged, and exploring new ideas. I have a whole list of new blog posts that will be coming from these days. This is what summer is about. It is about reigniting ideas, people challenging what you think, and becoming better.

If interested here are the resources and slides from my PBL: It Can Be Done With 1100 Students . This is a link to the draft version, but you can access the videos in this one

Here are my slides and resources for 3 Stages to Student Voice and the draft version so you can access the videos

I will be sharing the final slides with a Office Mix recording soon as I was not happy with the last minute conversion effort. They will do for now.

 

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Make Your Move – Speech to BHS Students

Friday, I was given a wonderful opportunity to speak to students at Bettendorf High School. Students had a choice between three speakers who were all speakers that the students were able to connect with. I was beyond honored that the student council reached out to me to speak.

I won’t lie, after saying yes I was very nervous. I was not nervous for the sake of giving a talk, but I was nervous because high school students can be a challenge to hold their interest AND I also know there is a chance that the words I speak could make an impact.

The whole week the school focused on the theme The Power of One helping students to understand that they matter, their voices matter, and that they can do amazing things if they want to.

As I plotted, organized, developed, and practiced my speech over and over I finally was able to connect the dots and make it work. I only had about 23 minutes to deliver my talk which is not a lot of time. My first practice run was over 80 slides and 47 minutes long. Through practice and practice and more practice I was able to get the talk down to under 25 minutes.

The other challenge lied in the issue that I needed to deliver a message that they have heard a million times but in a new way. Students are constantly being talked to about failure, growth mindset, achieving your goals, etc.

For the first time I brought to life personal stories that I have never shared before to a public audience.

Here are my slides

Here is the audio of my words

Or listen to it on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/coffeechug-concepts-podcast/id438001112?mt=2

I believe things went well. I believe my message was received. I hope that my words connected with them. With high school students you don’t always know how they receive information, but I know they were listening. The key is will it transform to action?

Still honored to have had the opportunity and it was so great to see so many former students grown up. It was a reminder why I work hard in education because I am so motivated and inspired by the opportunities for them to be #changemakers.

Going back and listening to the talk and reflecting I see a few key areas of improvement and things I would change if given the chance to give this speech again. That is what life is about. I made move and will now be able to learn.

UPDATE

Here are links to the recordings of the speeches. I have included all three speakers. Enjoy!

Here are the speeches from Leadership Week:

HARKSEN SPEECH:

MAURER SPEECH:

​WILMING:

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“Is it really the goal of schools to create college and career ready students?”

This is a question I posted on Twitter the other weekend as it has been a topic that has remained in my brain for some time and continues to swirl around the the chaos of my cranium. I keep reading about College and Career this, College and Career that, a committee for this, a taskforce to transform education to get students ready for what is supposed to happen after high school.

And why are we doing this?

What about now?

Is the goal of what we do in our classrooms on a daily basis really to get them ready for another four years of school or to enter the job force right away?

I personally don’t think that is the goal of education. It surely is not the goal of learning and shouldn’t school be about learning? Learning is about empowerment, bettering ourselves, keeping us engaged as human beings, and working towards solving problems. Learning is an action. It is something we do. It is not something we receive!

To be fair I think the intent and drive behind all the college and career initiatives are after something good and is needed. However, it is the delivery I question. The systemic changes to make this happen is screwing kids and their education(or at least that is what I think). The implementation to help students score a 306 to show they are ready is flawed. I am not a research expert, but a score to show us what? That we are human. All this does is lead to tests to prepare for tests which lead to test prep, test practice, and aligning teaching practices to tests. Test, test, test. My children don’t need a test to figure out where the stand among others or what they want to do with themselves. I don’t believe a score is going to help them carve that path.

You cannot standardized people!

I don’t want to rant as that provides nothing of value. Instead I want to share key ideas shared with me in some very powerful conversations I had on Twitter, Facebook, G+, and email. I have curated the content to be sure I do justice to the ideas. I hope you find the ideas as engaging and thought provoking as I did. I removed names and condensed conversations and ideas to protect people and make for smoother reading(if you would like your name added please let me know and I will add your name). I am by now way intentionally stealing thought, but don’t want to drag other names into the post, but want to share all the ideas with hope that it sparks more conversation.

What About Now?

A current topic that must be addressed. I am tired of hearing people tell kids when you are older, when you get to high school, when you enter college, barf, barf, barfity, barf. What about RIGHT NOW! This moment, this year. What is the purpose behind what we are doing now? Is it really to threaten them with what comes next? And we wonder why kids are not excited for school and learning? We must do this tedious task now to get you ready for more painful work next year. Take care of me now and let the future take care of itself when it arrives.

As Timothy Monreal(I am sharing his name because he has great blog posts that must be read on this topic) shared with me the following which was great “Students are always thinking about next, or the next grade. How do we value you them now, in this moment.  I recently read a post by John Spencer that got me really thinking about this again –https://medium.com/synapse/that-s-not-why-we-make-stuff-fdc5e4efecb5”

I love the last paragraph of that article when John Spencer states,

When kids are designing a video game or making an arcade out of cardboard or building a circuit board, they’re not thinking about how we can beat China. They’re not thinking about a job that doesn’t exist. They’re thinking about the joy of making stuff. Ultimately, that’s why we make stuff. Because, it’s fun and it’s human and it’s a part of how we learn.”

Tim also shared his writing where this statement really resounded with me, “They must wonder whether anything they are learning is of relevance and importance right now, in the present.”

Keeping with the idea of now, what about the learners? I love the idea shared of “just in time learning” where we have to keep things fresh. We don’t have to change our curriculum but we must change how we deliver the content to make it real for the learners. When you look at the all the CCR jargon and systems does it excite learners? I don’t think so. Once again we must create life long learners where learners and excited about learning.

Should it be OR instead of AND?

Does the way it is written matter? Do learners need college? The end result is to help push learners to move their potential into ability and figure out how to optimize those traits. Not everything in life requires college as we often make kids believe and if you are not motivated for college then don’t individually place yourself in debt.

Recently there was an article posted about how Q-C employers can’t find enough skilled labor to fill jobs where jobs are needed, but they cannot find people with the skills. What is the point of placing yourself in debt and not having the skills? I question the notion of pushing for this future goal where that goal is not preparing people for the workforce. This is a very general statement but we don’t share enough in schools the importance of manual labor, factory work, and more. These are frowned upon which there are very skilled technical jobs that create sustainable living. Not everything requires a four year degree like we make students believe. If people don’t have the skills for these jobs, then what are colleges and these major money making schools doing?

As I stated before I know not everyone agrees and I am not asking you to agree but to continue conversation. One question posed through it all was the following:

“What would the goal be then if not preparing them for life after HS?”

This question is a good one. What is the goal of education in school? This is the crux of the matter. I don’t think anyone would argue that we need learners to be able to contribute to society, hold down a job, sustain themselves and their family, and be a good person. If we don’t place the goal on college and career, then what do we call it? What does it look like? I am not sure what the alternative is and maybe there is not one, but as I posed earlier I am not against the idea, but the implementation is not working. I don’t have the answer and I love this question to challenge my thinking.

Another educator that always shoots it to me straight shared the following statement which I think hits the nail on the head in many places.

“In my jaundiced view, many “good” high schools are churning out students who jump through all the right hoops, get all the right grades, test scores, acceptances to college, etc., but aren’t taught to think critically, or to take ownership of their own learning and success. When they get into the career world, they are lost, because of this lack of skills.”

I have expressed the idea many times on this blog and to many people that school forces kids to learn how to game they system, but fall flat when the game is over and reality sets in for them. I guess I question whether our day to day operations in the classroom should be focused on preparing for college and career readiness or more focus on the now/present and developing learners who understand how they learn and how they operate. If we could transform our classroom experiences for learners to tackle relevant issues and help them plot their own course based on their experiences they would be better prepared. Hint….hint…. do I think deeper learning, pbl, and personalized learning can help?

Once again we pay heed to the idea of relevant and authentic learning. Or perhaps you like to use 21st century skills. Or maybe the 4 C’s. Or perhaps the 4R’s. Pick your system as they all strive for the same thing.

I am tired of “We don’t know what jobs the future holds….blah blah blah”

I also think that the idea that we don’t know what the world will look like when they are older has merit, but that is nothing new. People treat that notion like this is some brand new concept that we don’t know how to grapple with. I bet every generation can make that case. Isn’t that why it is called the future? No matter the future, the 4C’s, being a good person, and being able to solve problems will tackle any situation. Stop with using this as a reason for why we implement what we implement when deep down we know there is little value.

As we grapple with this topic we must not forget that the push for CCR and standardized testing leads to the removal of essential classes. We must provide multiple learning opportunities for students to find their gifts and explore those areas whether it is music, arts, tech, engineering, cooking, etc. It is hard to judge people(not just students) by a same set of standards when we are all unique individuals.

I was reminded of two great quotes from the book Shop Class as Soulcraft

“When the point of education becomes the production of credentials rather than the cultivation of knowledge, it forfeits the motive recognized by Aristotle: “All human beings by nature desire to know.”

― Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

“It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years in school, and then indefinitely at work, yet with the dismantling of high school shop programs”

― Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Content or Thought?: Which comes first?

The next question that fall into place in this discussion is  Does this come down to the question of whether we should be teaching content or thought?

This is perhaps a question for another time. I recently listened to Chris Emdin speak at Deeper Learning conference and he suggests content is the last thing you think about for your classroom. I really have be interested in his ideas and what he has to say so I would push more to thought(yes, blog post on this will be coming). Content is simply a platform to teach skills and how to think for success in the world in my opinion. There were many others who argued the opposite stating content should be taught. There were varying levels of how we should choose content, how much content and the to what extent, but I would say majority of people in discussion believed in content over thought. This conversation among the channels was quite interesting and one I would like to continue another time.

Closure

So, I understand the goals of people who are pushing for CCR, but I feel like this is not the real goal of education and why we learn. I don’t continue to learn on my own because I want a job(granted I have one). I believe the human condition is curious by nature so education should be a place where we cultivate and nurture the idea of lifelong learning. Our goal as educators and schools is to help develop and enhance the skills to being a lifelong learner and college and careers are just byproducts of our path in life.

We also had some pretty powerful conversation about preparing people for jobs to work through the issues of poverty. I understand the ramifications of can you be a lifelong learner if you live in poverty and are unemployed and simply are not equipped to do so. Well, let me state I understand the argument as I have been fortunate enough to not have a life down this path so I don’t understand the experience, but I understand the idea behind the argument.

If we are equipped with a passion for learning, developing, and making ourselves better, then doesn’t those skills and mindsets keep us out of poverty? School sucks for so many people. It is tedious and not engaging. If we were to provide them opportunities to engage in learning, discover the possibilities of where their interests could take them, then the college and career aspects take care of themselves. I guess what I am saying is that there is more pressure for standardized tests, college readiness cut scores of 306( or whatever system you are implementing) and these do not measure how successful everyone can be. Focus on the now as we can control that and the future work itself out.

And here lies the crux and more conversation. Do we equate CCR with testing or are they two separate things? If separate then why so much testing emphasis to determine if a student is CCR? If not, then how do we separate the two monsters and give equal attention to both?

I want to clarify a few last ideas

1. I am not equating passion with careers and jobs. You can have a passion that provides no income but keeps you happy. However, we must find what we like, what we are good at, and what we would like to do with our time on earth. It is limited so we do want to make the best of it. Not every job can be passion filled, but we must find jobs that we can tolerate so we can have time and resources for our passions.

2. I am not right. I am not portraying that I am right. These are my current ideas. My ideas shifted through these conversations and I hope to keep powerful dialogues like this going in education because I feel like there are small shifts where educators are finally having real talk. Talk and discussion like this can strengthen educators which will strengthen schools and education.

So, what is the answer? Maybe there is not one, but let us continue to go down this path to unearth what is really needed to prepare students to be their best.

Thanks for reading and would love to hear your thoughts.

 

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