The ‘uh-oh’ feeling

Goals. It’s the beginning of the school year, so I’m sure we’ve all got them. As you think about the goals for your year, how do you feel about them? This summer I read the book Run Like a Pirate by Adam Welcome. Adam has been a teacher, vice principal, principal, and director of innovation and technology. He also travels all over the country to speak with schools and districts.

The gist of the book Run Like a Pirate is his experiences during 2017. Now, you may wonder why that year. In 2017, Adam set a goal to run one marathon a month for every month of the year. Personally, I like to think of myself as a runner. Those of you that follow me on Twitter may see me post my run stats, pictures from my run, or something on Twitter about those early morning miles that I get in. I’ve run multiple half marathons and have contemplated stepping up to the full marathon. But the idea of running even a half-marathon a month seems completely overwhelming to me, let alone doubling those miles each month!

When you have set goals for yourself in the past, how often do you set a goal that you think “I’ve totally got this, no problem!” and then you do crush that goal? It makes you feel good to know that you’ve met the goal. After meeting that goal you probably set another one.

But here’s a thought. Goals are meant to stretch us. They’re meant to bring us to the growing edge. They should give you that feeling in the pit of your stomach that says “uh-oh” because you aren’t quite sure if you can do it.

It’s important to set goals with this ‘uh-oh’ mindset because the difficulty of meeting the goal is where the payoff comes from. If you set a goal that you can reach easily, that you can possibly reach without having to put in some extra work, you aren’t growing. It feels good to meet a goal, but what’s our point in goal setting? Is it to be able to say that we accomplished our goals exactly as we set them? Or is it about being able to look back on the process of trying to meet the goal and reflect on the struggle you went through and the growth that happened?

When I made the decision to run a half-marathon, that was a huge jump for me. Prior to registering, I had never run anything longer than a 5K. Suddenly I was committed to run a race that was TEN MILES longer than my previous long. So, I did research. I talked to the people at my shoe store to help pick out a good pair of shoes. I looked at multiple training plans for a beginner running a half-marathon. I read up on training methods – should I run hills? Do interval training? Mix in some rest days (because that’s important too)? Then I read up on nutrition. If I was going to be running early morning miles, what should I have for breakfast? How long before the run? What should I have after I got home? What about gels or chews or some other energy-based snack while I was running? And what about hydration? Do I carry a water bottle? Over time I figured out a strategy that worked well for me, but it took lots of trial and error, and I still haven’t met my goal time that I set for my last half-marathon.

As you can see, setting a goal that pushes you to a place you aren’t quite sure you can go forces you to learn a ton! Ultimately, I was able to finish that first half-marathon in a time of just over 2 hours. And then, a couple days later I signed up for my next half-marathon with the goal of breaking the 2-hour mark. As of the writing of this, I have successfully run 7 half-marathons, six of them in a time of less than 2 hours, but still, I haven’t met that goal of 1:45.

With the beginning of this school year, think about the goals you have set for yourself. Are you at the point of thinking “I’m going to crush this” or are you feeling a bit more of that “uh-oh” in the pit of your stomach. I’d like to challenge you that most likely you’re going to learn more when trying to accomplish an “uh-oh” kind of goal. You might not hit your goal exactly as you set it, but that’s ok! You will definitely learn more than if you set a goal that you can achieve easily. Make sure you have a little bit of that uh-oh feeling when you set your next goal!

Stop talking about what you want to do and start doing what you want to do. If you don't, it's just not going to happen.

What are some of the goals you have set for yourself? Share your plans with us in the comments below! A goal has a lot more meaning when we make it public!

 

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Boundaries and Supports

Last week, we were lucky enough to have Kristina Hulvershorn from Peace Learning Center come visit our school to lead us in a Level 1 Training on Restorative Practices. I have attended this training before, but was excited to participate with the teachers in my building so that we could have a shared understanding of what Restorative Practices are, why we want to integrate this way of thinking into our classroom setting, and have some support on the role of proactive circles in developing a classroom community.

While there were many aspects of the training that were valuable, one of the things that really resonated with me this time was this chart:

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As I have reflected on the training, this chart has come back to me several times and got me thinking about the person I have become, as well as how I got here. All of us have had people in our past who helped us to get to where we are now. As I think back on the mentors who helped shape me, many of them offered me support in the form of encouragement. But along with that support, there were definitely boundaries, that put limits on me and created guardrails that helped to keep me on the path. This combination of boundaries and supports are what I credit in leading me to where I am today and continue to push me to be on the growing edge where I feel a little bit uncomfortable. I’m ok with that feeling though, because I know I still have mentors and colleagues that will offer support as I travel my path. If you think back on what has molded you into the person you are, you’ll probably be able to identify examples of boundaries and supports that helped you grow.

Our students need the same thing to be able to learn and grow. Each child needs someone (or many people) who can offer them support so that if they fail, there is someone to help them. At the same time, there have to be boundaries too, expectations for all our students that push them to be their best self. In our training, Kristina used an analogy that really allowed me to think about this combination of boundaries and supports. I wanted to share it with you.

Imagine that it is a school morning, and you are running late. As you approach school, you see the flashing yellow lights to signify the school zone, but you’re running late. You keep right on at the speed you were going. As you crest the hill by school, you see a police officer. Let’s look at the four different quadrants of boundaries and supports and imagine an officer from each one:

Neglectful: This officer is in position, but he’s got better things to do. He sees you speeding but doesn’t bother to chase you down. No boundaries, but also no support! So, what happens if you’re running late tomorrow? No lesson learned, so you might as well speed again!

Permissive: This officer actually pulls you over, but when you share that you’re a teacher who’s running late, he puts his lights and sirens on, escorts you to school, and then calls your principal to let them know that it’s his fault you were late. This time you’ve got lots of support, but no boundaries. When you’re running late the next time, you’re hoping that he’s the officer on duty! Again, no lesson has been learned.

Punitive: This is the officer who pulls you over, asks for your license and registration, but doesn’t want to hear anything about why you were speeding. He doesn’t care you were running late, or anything about why. He’s writing a ticket, and all you feel is mad and unheard. When this guy lets you go, all you’re doing is fuming about what happened, and seeing the experience as his fault. There are strong boundaries, but no support. Since you’re so caught up in being mad at the officer, you aren’t going to learn anything about the experience. Tomorrow you will probably speed, and hope that he’s not the officer on duty.

Restorative: Like the punitive officer, he pulls you over, but this time the experience is completely different. He approaches the car and asks if you knew you were speeding. When you say yes, he asks why and listens compassionately to your story. This officer starts asking you questions like: What time did you get up? What time did you leave home? In the process of the conversation, the officer talks to you about setting your alarm earlier, and actually asks you to set a new alarm on your phone for 15 minutes earlier so that you don’t have to be in such a rush tomorrow. Finally, the officer talks to you about a family he knows that was impacted by someone speeding in a school zone. In the end, the officer still writes you a ticket, but unlike last time, you feel that you were heard, you have some strategies to avoid being late tomorrow, and you better understand why there are lower speed limits in school zones. There are definitely boundaries here, but you also have lots of support. After this experience, you make a commitment to be sure to be out the house earlier so that you don’t have to speed.

So, what might these quadrants look like in a classroom setting? Let’s take a look:

Neglectful: In this classroom, there are no boundaries, and no supports. If you were to walk into this classroom, it would probably appear to be in chaos. Students are doing what they want, but it’s probably not got anything to do with the content they are supposed to be learning. The teacher probably has the best of intentions but doesn’t understand how to provide more support or appropriate boundaries for their students. When problems arise, this teacher looks the other way, or simply ships the students causing the problem out to someone else to deal with. Chances are, everyone walks out feeling stressed at the end of the day, and very little learning has happened for anyone.

Permissive: You might hear this teacher say something like “My sweet babies just can’t handle anything more.” The students feel like they are supported. So much so, that they don’t really accomplish anything. They are never pushed out of their comfort zone, and as a result they don’t learn much either. In this classroom, the teacher does all the work. When you walk in, it may appear that students are engaged in learning, but the learning that is happening is simply surface level. And when problems arise, this teacher steps in the middle and works to solve the problems between students. The efforts may lead to short term solutions, but in no time at all the problems are occurring again. At the end of the day, students walk out of the room feeling mostly happy, while the teacher probably walks out feeling tired.

Punitive: I think any of us who have been in education have a memory of this type of teacher in their past. I’m not going to name anyone here, but some examples from my past: The teacher who took away the baseball cards that I brought to school because someone else took them out and was looking at them. They were never returned. Or the teacher who would throw chalk at anyone who did not appear to be paying attention. One time I was writing notes about the class in my notebook, but he threw chalk at me because he thought I was drawing. These are the classrooms where students are living on the edge of fear. The only kids that are successful in this classroom are the ones who “play school” well. Kids may appear to be well behaved and on task, but really, they are living on the edge, waiting for the next moment that the teacher will yell. When problems happen in this classroom, they are handled quickly by the teacher with severe consequences. Students may not understand the why behind what went wrong, which means that the problem may occur again. Learning may happen, but again it is probably surface level because students are more concerned about not upsetting the teacher than focusing on learning the skills in the class. At the end of the day, the teacher probably feels pretty good about things, but the students probably are still in fear of what might happen tomorrow.

Restorative: In this classroom, there is a different feel in the air. When you walk into the class, you can feel a sense of community. Problems are rare, but when they arise students are able to try to work it out with their own conflict managements strategies. When these don’t work, they may get help from peers or the teacher. Students trust their peers and teacher because of the community they have created. When a major problem happens, the class is able to circle up and talk about it. It may sound like this is time consuming, but the time invested in early community building saves so much time later in the year. This teacher intentionally chose to not begin content work until the second full week of school, devoting all the earlier time to community and team building strategies. Since students have learned to solve their own problems, things that happen at recess or during unstructured time are less likely to take time away from classroom because the teacher can allow students to hash it out on their own or with the help of a peer mediator. At the end of the day, people walk out of the room feeling happy about their experience. Learning has happened, and the community has continued to be strengthened.

So, take a moment to think about where you fall as a teacher. Which quadrant are you in? As with any continuum, you could fall in lots of different locations, and it may be that you feel pretty comfortable with where you are and what you are doing. But remember what it was that helped you become the successful person you are. It took boundaries and supports to be successful. Keep looking for ways to make those boundaries and supports clear to your students. Everyone will benefit from it!

What are your thoughts? Have you thought about integrating Restorative Practices into your classroom? What do you see as the benefits? What are the potential hurdles? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Gone sailing…

Gone sailing…

As I sit at my kitchen table tonight, just after having received the news that school has been cancelled tomorrow, and trying to wrap my mind around how cold a -40°F wind chill will actually feel like (yes, I do plan to go outside just to say I did it!), I find myself thinking about summer and much warmer weather. For some reason, I started thinking about my summers spent on Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin at Camp Brosius, and the time I spent learning to sail on one of the many Sunfish sailboats.

campbrosius
The sunfish that I learned on may very well be one of the boats in this picture, with one of the buildings of Camp Brosius in the background.

My first experience with sailboats involved a Hobie 16, my dad, and a little help from the rescue boat. We were both learning what we were doing! Over time he became better, and I recall as a young boy enjoying riding with him while he guided us around the lake – sometimes on the Hobie, other times on a Sunfish, or any one of the other boats that the camp had available to use.

Eventually, around middle school, I decided I wanted to learn to sail all by myself. I remember Jim, the camp director, pulling one of the Sunfish into the swim area one morning, teaching me about the various parts of the boat, and what they did. As I reflect on it now, after a shockingly short lesson (probably not over 30 minutes), he had me climbing aboard and shoving me out into the lake. I can hear Jim saying “You don’t learn by talking about it and looking at it, you learn by getting out there and trying!” The wind wasn’t that strong yet that morning, it normally picked up in the afternoon, so I was planning to tool around just off the shore in front of the camp’s waterfront. I grabbed the rudder and main sheet, set my sails, and I was off! Or so I thought…

As I got further from the shore, the wind caught a bit more of my sail, and instead of heading straight, as my rudder was pointing, my boat seemed to be sliding sideways across the top of the water. No matter how I moved my rudder, the boat just wouldn’t go in the direction I wanted.

As I drifted further from the shore, without any real control, I could hear someone yelling at me from the swimming t. Jim, the camp director, was yelling “You forgot the centerboard!” I looked, and sure enough, the centerboard was laying inside the cockpit. I quickly pulled it out and placed it down the middle of the hull. Next thing I knew, I was moving (mostly) in the direction I wanted (remember, I was just learning).

Thinking about sailing got me thinking a bit about teaching and learning. Part of what I love about the Sunfish is how simple of a boat it really is. There’s the hull (or body of the boat), the mast that holds the sail up. Then there’s the sail that absorbs the energy of the wind and translates that into motion. The rudder helps the sailor to guide the boat in the correct direction. And finally, there’s the centerboard. Even if everything else is working in perfect harmony, without the centerboard, the best sailor isn’t too likely to stay on course.

What’s the connection to learning? The hull of the boat is our classroom. Then let’s think of the rudder as being our standards. They help us decide on what our students “need” to be learning about. It gives our boat direction. The sailor on the boat (most of the time) is the teacher. You get to make the decisions about how to set the rudder and the mainsail (although hopefully your students are getting some input here too). You point the boat in the direction you think it needs to go. The sail is our students, and the wind is the constant opportunity for learning. So that sounds like most all that we need to think about, right?

Not quite. For true learning, we need to have the centerboard to help keep us on course. That is our North Star of Learning.

Moving the RockGrant Lichtman, the author of Moving the Rock: Seven Levers WE Can Press to Transform Education, has often used the metaphor of the North Star to talk about the idea of having a shared vision of where we want to get to in terms of great learning. If we don’t agree on where we are going, we have random movement, in random directions, and we end up nowhere! Think about the North Star, no matter where you stand, we can all find it, we can all point to it, we can all figure out our route to get there. In that same way, when we have a shared vision of learning, and we understand that no two educators are moving towards it from the same place, we all have to set a course of our own.

As educators, we are used to the idea that our students all come to us from a different starting point, and we have to adjust our teaching to meet them where they are in order to get them to where they need to be. What does it mean though if not all educators are starting their trip towards the North Star from the same place?

It means the day of one size fits all professional development has passed us by. It means that each of us has to be reflective on where we are on our path towards our North Star. It means recognizing our own strengths and weaknesses, accentuating our strengths, and being willing to seek out opportunities to professionally grow in order to move closer to our North Star. It means deciding to take your own learning into your own hands. If there’s something you need to get better at, seek out a resource. It might be someone just down the hall, it might be a blog post or article, it might be a book. It could also mean approaching your administrator to ask for ideas on how you might continue to grow in that area. Given that our focus is on LEARNING, I would hope anyone would feel comfortable to ask for assistance in finding the best possible resources for their personal growth. I know that I am constantly seeking resources from colleagues, mentors, and leaders that are around me.

As an educator, I’m hopeful that this post encourages you to reflect on a couple of things. First and foremost, do you feel that there is a North Star for your district or school? If not, start a conversation with your colleagues, ask your administrator, reflect on your own opinions and beliefs, and start that conversation for a true shared understanding. Next, take a moment to reflect on where you are as an educator, and what it is that you need to do to course correct so that you can help your students to reach that North Star.

As we come to the end of this post, take a moment and think about what your beliefs are about students. What is your personal North Star of Learning? Share with us in the comments below!

Cognitive Complexity

At a recent PLC meeting of the Humanities teachers at my school, we were spending some time digging into the concept of Cognitive Complexity vs. that of Difficulty. This conversation was rolled into a much deeper conversation about the ILEARN, Indiana’s new computer-adaptive assessment that all students will be taking in grades 3-8. We began talking about the differences in difficulty and cognitive complexity because we were learning that no matter what difficulty level a student fell into on the adaptive test, all students will be solving problems that are cognitively complex. So, what’s the difference between the two concepts?

Difficulty:

When we try to define the concept of difficulty, it is considered a measure of the effort required to complete a task. In the purpose of an assessment, a problem that many students missed would be considered more difficult than a problem that everyone got right. So when looking at the difficulty of a problem or task in your classroom, the more likely it is that all students will get it correct, the less difficult it is.

As we know, all our students come to us varying levels of understanding. In his book The End of Average, Todd Rose talks about the jaggedness of people. Not only do our students walk into our classrooms with physical differences that we can all see, they walk in with different abilities in math, reading, etc. In adaptive testing, an assessment will adjust its level of difficulty based on the answers students get correct or incorrect. As one student gets a question correct, the next question will most likely be more difficult. On the other hand, a student who gets a question wrong will then see a question that is less difficult. All standards can be measured at varying levels of difficulty. Take for example the following two math problems that are working on the same skill:

Easy: Sarah planted 5 rows of 7 flowers in each row. Write a multiplication equation that shows the number of flowers in Sarah’s rectangular garden.

Difficult: Tom told Mary he planted 48 flowers in the rectangular-shaped garden. Select the correct number sentence Mary could use to describe how the flowers were planted.

 As you can see, both questions require students to solve the same type of problem, using a similar level of thinking, but because of the wording, the second question would be considered more difficult.

Cognitive Complexity:

To define the idea of complexity, we have to think about it as a measure of the thinking action, or knowledge that you need to complete a task. One way to think about this is to think about how many different ways can a task be accomplished. I think the best way to think about the idea of complexity is to think in relation to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. DOK can be broken down into 4 different levels: Recall and Reproduction; Basic Application of Skills; Strategic Thinking; and Extended Thinking.

So basically, cognitive complexity is a way to measure how demanding of a thought process is necessary to complete a specific task. Items that simply ask a student to recall basic facts from an article they just read would be much less complex than an item that required analyzing the points of view of two separate authors and making a comparison of their purpose for writing.

So… How should an understanding of these two concepts impact our teaching in the classroom? The reality is, no matter what level of difficulty a student may be working at – whether they are reading below grade level, or working on math that is above grade level – all our students need to see the types of problems that have a high level of cognitive complexity, because no matter what level of difficulty they are working with, they need to be able to use a variety of levels of thinking in carrying out tasks in the classroom.

There are a couple of great resources that you can use to help find ways to up the level of cognitive complexity no matter what level of difficulty your students are working at.

EngageNY: A huge collection of resources for both math and language arts (and everything is FREE!!!) that will include performance tasks and opportunities for students to perform cognitively complex activities. You can search by specific topics, or seek things out based on grade level and topic.

YouCubed: A wealth of activities for math instruction, based on the work of Jo Boaler. You can seek out tasks for your students to complete, find resources for your students or parents, and so much more!

Open Middle: Another math based site that provides tons of challenging math problems. Again, you can search by grade level, topic, and more. Carrying out a problem like this a couple times a week in your classroom will up the DOK immensely!

I’m sure that there are lots of other ideas you may have to help increase the cognitive complexity within your classroom. What resources do you have? How do you make sure that all your students have opportunities to carry out tasks that are truly cognitively challenging to them? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

#RSIpln – The Riverside Intermediate Personal Learning Network

I know that around our school, or any school, there are a variety of ways that members of the staff go about expanding their knowledge base. For some it may be through conversations with colleagues within the building, some might go beyond the building and reach out to friends around their school district, others may be less social and look for ideas on their own with tools like Google, Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, or other similar resources, and some might just look towards books as resources. Each of these methods have their benefits, but there are also drawbacks – the biggest of which is that we are limited to a relatively small number of resources.

Almost nine years ago, I joined Twitter. At that time, I mostly followed my favorite athletes, some actors, tv personalities, authors, and other pop-culture icons. It wasn’t until quite some time later that I realized that Twitter could be a learning tool that could help me grow as an educator. At that time, I began to see that I could follow other educators, learn from them about what they were doing in their classrooms, and schools, and grow in my own craft. Hence, the PLN – Professional/Personal Learning Network.

Around the 300th person I began to follow is a guy named Brad Currie, who along with Scott Rocco founded #SatChat as a way to connect with other emerging school leaders. By hearing about his journey on Twitter, I realized that my phone could connect me with educators all over the world. Many of my best ideas have been based on things that I have learned while on Twitter.

Today in our building, we are rolling out a way for all the teachers in our school to expand their own PLN, and find ways to grow as an educator, and as an added benefit, share the amazing things that are happening within our building. We can share with one another, with our local community, and ultimately with the world!

The plan, that I must admit I got from a conversation with John Hochstetler (Teacher Librarian at Sand Creek Intermediate), is to play a massive game of bingo, built around the idea of growing the PLN of each and every person who participates!

Why Twitter? Well, as Matt Miller has shared:

Congrats!

In the keynote at #DitchCon2017, Miller shared that as the lone Spanish teacher in a small rural school in western Indiana, he was struggling with whether or not he was actually able to create meaningful learning opportunities for his students. He then found a PLN through Twitter, and realized there were so many more possibilities for his students. His learning on Twitter led him to begin presenting to countless educators, and eventually writing 2 books for educators. Without the connections he created through Twitter, he feels he would have burnt out, and eventually left education.

It is my hope that through our game of bingo all the people who participate will have an opportunity to expand their own learning, and see that there are ways to get awesome ideas from others (and also have a little fun!). And the best part? By working with my PTO, I was able to get some prizes donated for those who are able to earn bingos! Each Friday of our Twitter Bingo we will do a drawing for a gift card to local restaurants for the teachers who have reached a bingo. At the end of October, we will do a Grand Prize drawing for a really spectacular prize (the details are yet to come, but it’s going to be HUGE!).

So without further ado, check out our Twitter Bingo board! Follow along with the hashtags #RSIpln and #RSIbingo. That way, you’ll see the awesome learning happening at Riverside Intermediate, and hopefully be able to further grow your PLN.

Twitter Bingo

And – for those of you who are already on Twitter, share in the comments below about your own experiences! I know that we have some pretty prolific Tweeters in our building already. Why do you choose to use this as a tool in your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Maybe you’ll convince a colleague that they should join in!

If you’re interested in seeing the actual bingo board, and the directions on page 2, check it out here: #RSIpln School Year Twitter Bingo

Developing wonder

I was recently having a conversation with a teacher. We were talking about her efforts to integrate more creative, outside the box style of learning activities in her class. She knows that for future success, her students don’t need to simply be able to regurgitate facts – Google can do that for anyone. It’s about what students can do with that knowledge, and she’s struggling with how to get there. You see, some of her students just don’t seem to be able to “think” in a creative way. They seem to prefer to have an activity with direct questions and correct answers. If given a choice between a creative activity that forces thinking in depth of knowledge level 3 or 4 or a worksheet with depth of knowledge level 1, her students would choose the worksheet.

This teacher however, understands that things that are depth of knowledge level 1 may not be what students ultimately need to be successful in the future.  Check out this short video that will show why:

If you search for Siri, Alexa, or Google Home homework help, you will find videos of students going down their worksheet and asking their “smart speaker” the problems they have to solve, and then copying down the answer. If there are other kids who have figured this out, you can guess that your students have too. Personally, I don’t have any problem with students using the tools around them to help them with their homework – I mean, what do most of us do with a question we don’t immediately know the answer to? But I recently read a quote from Yong Zhao, a Foundation Distinguished Professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas gave me pause and made me think about the types of questions we’re asking students:

If all children are asked to master the same knowledge and skills, those whose time costs less will be much more competitive than those with higher costs. There are many more poor and hungry people in the developing world willing to work for a fraction of what workers in developed countries need. To be globally competitive, developed countries must offer something qualitatively different, that is, something that cannot be obtained at a lower cost in developing countries.

In this quote, Zhao was talking about the standardization of curriculum and teaching methods, and the fact that our standardization fails our students in the long term. You see, when our students from a developed country move into the workforce, they will be too expensive for the jobs that take a low level of thinking. The students from developed nations need to be able to do things with their knowledge, and developing those skills can’t be done from DOK 1 questions on a worksheet. WorksheetsIf a student can turn to Google, Siri, Alexa, or whatever smart tool comes out next to find the answer to your question, then maybe we aren’t asking the right questions.

So here’s the challenge for this teacher. She knows that students will get more out of learning opportunities that push into higher level thinking. She knows that activities that require more creativity are inherently more “sticky” when it comes to student learning. But her students are have not been successful in doing this so far this year. Does that mean we give up? My answer would be no – just as with anything else, we have to keep trying.

Compliance-PinkThe students in our school in general are very compliant. Compliant students sometimes struggle with creative tasks because they want specific directions to follow. They may not remember what it feels like to be creative or curious. Years of compliance in the school setting seems to suck creativity and curiosity out of our students. I think that sometimes students lose that ability to be creative and curious because they have grown accustomed to the amount of scaffolding that we provide for learning activities. That scaffolding can begin to feel a bit like a cage, and students forget how to get out.

I’m not sure how many of you have had the opportunity to be around a kindergarten classroom. I get to visit one on occasion because my wife is a kindergarten teacher. When I walk into the room and listen to what’s going on, all the students have questions, and comments, and wonders. All those students feel creative and love to color, draw, paint, write, tell stories, and so much more! When I talk to the fifth and sixth grade students in my own building, many of them have a hard time identifying their own curiosities, their own interests, their own what ifs.

So how do we bring a little bit of that creativity and curiosity back to our students? One suggestion that seems promising is the idea of a Wonder Day. In a recent blog post by John Spencer (you can access it here) he talks about the idea of a Wonder Day where students spend the day immersed in research on something they are curious about, with an end goal of a multimedia presentation – it could be a blog post, podcast, video, or whatever other multimedia format that the students choose.

If you’d like to see a short intro of what a wonder day project might look like, here’s a 2 minute intro from John Spencer.

And if you’re not sure when you’d have the time for something like this, I love the suggestion that I’ve seen elsewhere that one of the best times to try something new and innovative is when the schedule is a little wacky. In my school, next week is the week of ISTEP, our annual state assessment. Because of the test, we run on a different schedule on each of the test days. I would encourage teachers to think about a time like this as the ideal time to try something new. If it doesn’t work for you to try during your testing window, then maybe you try it right before or after an upcoming break, or on the day of a school assembly, or just because it’s a Tuesday!

Our students need to be able to think. They need to identify their curiosity because, as Ken Robinson shares in his book Creative Schools, “Human achievement in every field is driven by people’s desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?” If we have the goal of students who are college and career ready, we have to help them develop that wonder.

Less curious

What do you think? Have you seen similar issues to the teacher above? What’s worked for you to spark that curiosity in your students? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Or, if you decide to try a Wonder Day – or something like it – share you experience with us! We’d love to hear about it!

College and career ready

Think back to the beginning of your college career.  What did innovation look like for you?  What did technology look like for you?  What did learning look like for you?

I know what it looked like for me:

 

 

I’m sure that each of us could come up with a different description of what learning and innovation looked like at the beginning of our college career.  Then I think back to my 5th and 6th grade years.  The first time I remember using a computer was as a 6th grader.  Our school put in a computer lab that year as part of a remodel.  The only thing that we did with the computer was learn keyboarding skills (as far as my teacher was concerned, the computer was just a fancy typewriter).

Now let’s think about what innovation might look for our students after they graduate from college.  For those of you who work with kids who haven’t even hit junior high yet (like me), it’s kind of hard to imagine, right?  The sixth graders in my school will graduate from high school in 2024, and our fifth graders will graduate in 2025.  We could make predictions today about what specific skills our kids may need when they graduate, but knowing how much things changed between the time I was in 6th grade and when I graduated from college, and knowing that technology is accelerating at a pace much faster than it did during my formative years in the 80s and 90s, there is no way for us to be sure what specific skills our kids will need in terms of innovation and technology.

And yet, there’s always that idea that we need to “prepare our students for a successful future.”  Isn’t that what most teachers would agree is our goal?  So how do we do that when we don’t know exactly what our kids need to know?

Edutopia is one of my favorite social media follows, and this is what popped up in my Instagram feed the other night:

What strikes you as you look at that graph of job growth?  Look at the growth in the need for analytical skills and social skills, while there is a massive fall off in the need for an ability to complete repetitive tasks.  What are you doing in your class to explicitly teach social and emotional learning to your students?

Daily Quotes

Recently I was sitting in a meeting with a family, and the teacher of the student leaned over and said to the student “When you’re here, I’m worried about expanding your heart … and your brain.”  I loved how this teacher put the heart first, and how there was a pause before the brain!  In a world where the answer to almost any question can be found by looking on Google or YouTube, college and career readiness isn’t going to be defined by how many factual questions your students can answer.  It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to be empathetic towards others.  It’s going to be driven by your student’s ability to see problems in our world, and collaborate with peers to find solutions.

I’ve recently been reading the book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, and there was a quote that stood out to me:

Our communities depend on an enormous diversity of talents, roles, and occupations. The work of electricians, builders, plumbers, chefs, paramedics, mechanics, engineers, security staff,

Let us all remember that our students’ futures don’t necessarily rely on their ability to recite their math facts, to memorize 20 vocab words in this unit, to be able to identify all 50 states and capitals, or be able to list the names of the planet in order from the sun to the end of the solar system.  All of those things can be answered now, in most living rooms, by asking Siri, Alexa, or Google.  Also remember that academia may not be the path for every student who steps into your classroom.

There is such a diverse range of needs for the future that I believe the best thing we can do is to focus on those so called soft skills.  Take the time to model what collaborative skills actually look like.  Use a fish bowl activity where some students model while others observe, then have students both on the inside and the outside of the fish bowl discuss what went well and reflect on areas that they need to continue to grow.  If needed, as the teacher you should give them the feedback that they need to be successful the next time they are working collaboratively.

Help your students learn how to use technology to accelerate their learning.  It’s not just for consumption, but also for creation.  Allow them to notice real world problems, and then help them to figure out ways to solve the problems they notice.  Keep working with them on their communication skills – both written and spoken.  Find ways to encourage every student not only to speak, but to lead in the classroom.

As the Friedman quote above reminds us, we are preparing our students for an unknown future.  The constants for our kids will be collaboration, technology, problem-solving, communication, and the ability to be a leader.  As you plan your lessons, focus on those skills.  If you empower your students in all those areas, they will be ready for whatever the future holds.