Tag: teaching (page 1 of 6)

10 Easy Steps to a Maker’s Mentality Classroom

Here are 10 things the innovators of tomorrow should have opportunities to do every single day:

1. Think critically about a real problem

2. Ask questions. Deep, probing, open-ended questions.

3. Communicate/debate the problem.

4. Envision solutions to the problem.

5. Test/prototype the solutions.

6. Solve problems arising from the solutions.

7. Persevere in the face of frequent failure.

8. Regroup and revise solutions.

9. Share what they’ve accomplished and learned.

10. Reflect on the bigger implications of what they did/learned.

The Teacher’s Role in the Blended Learning Environment

Source: https://flic.kr/p/5KS8nD

Beth Holland has a great post in Edutopia on what is necessary for blended learning to be disruptive, transformative, and powerful. There are so many excellent discussion points in Beth’s article that it’s hard to begin to respond. What resonates most with me at the moment, though, is the role of the teacher in a blended learning environment (BLE).

Very significantly, Beth makes the point that the BLE should take control out of the teacher’s hands and make learning more individualized and learner-centered. As she points out,

“True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process.”

The blended classroom should offer students not only a variety of means to get information, but options for communicating and applying learning. Contrary to this, many so-called BLEs merely digitize the traditional, teacher-centered lessons, activities, and assessments of yesterday. Paraphrasing a point I made in a recent conversation with a wonderful, forward-thinking educator, “Simply substituting the teacher’s voice on a video for a lecture is not transformative and is, in fact, quite likely to be less engaging.”

Source: https://flic.kr/p/dryrWw

If Beth’s points about moving away from the teacher-centered, traditional mode of instruction are viewed as valid, what, then, become of the teacher’s role? I have a few roles I think are as or even more important in a BLE:

  • Stage Setter. There is a real art in catching hold of the imagination and engaging students in learning. Teachers should be skilled at asking head-scratcher questions, provoking debate, stimulating questions, etc. This is also where scaffolding and differentiation of instruction can take place.
  • Resource Gatherer. The teacher likely has a broader range of sources for information or creating/sharing products than many students. Once a student is hooked and engaged in learning/doing, the teacher should actively provide the tools (websites, books, software, outside experts, etc.) to get them where they want to be (as needed).
  • Model Learner. Students are not born with the complete set of skills needed to be powerfully equipped, independent learners of everything. Teachers should model skills such as asking deep, open-ended questions, evaluating the quality & usefulness of information, organization, effective communication strategies, collaboration skills, empathy, and more.
  • Co-Pilot. Even enthusiastic learners engaged in powerful, student-driven learning often benefit from redirection. The teacher in a BLE should be actively communicating and monitoring every learner to identify misconceptions or guide students to more effective strategies, resources, etc.
  • Assessment PartnerUnless the robots take over, the teacher will always play the key role in the assessment of student learning, both formative and summative. In a BLE, students’ roles in assessing their own learning and doing should be amplified, but the teacher should be the highest authority in classroom assessment.
  • Motivator. The best teachers have always made children hungry to learn, hungry to achieve. That doesn’t change in a BLE–teachers provide leadership and motivation for learning by helping students understand the power and benefits they can expect. They create a welcoming and positive atmosphere that makes the classroom a desirable place to be.

Blended learning has been proven to be effective and impactful, but it can only reach its potential when the classroom teacher abandons the roles of the past. As Beth states,

“Blended learning can mean a step forward toward something greater—giving students agency over their own learning, but that is dependent on the direction chosen by the teacher.”

Many of our students will embrace the computers, the websites, the iPads, the videos regardless of how we teach, because students simply love the resources. We have to teach differently, better, though, or we should consider spending our education dollars in more worthwhile places.

5 Classroom Strategies to Build STEM/STEAM Skills

One reason I and others promote STEM or STEAM education so passionately goes far beyond the outstanding job opportunities the field affords. Beyond this is the abundance and importance in STEAM of so-called “soft skills”such as problem identification, creativity, innovative thinking, collaboration, critical thinking, etc. Creating a generation of students who are thusly skilled is not just vital to ensuring competitiveness in the current and future global economy, it equips them for life. This is particularly true when paired with other traits/skills, such as adaptability, organization, empathy, initiative, and grit.  As I am preparing for a talk at the STEAM Academy at TCEA next week, the following are some ideas and classroom strategies to promote STEAM-related skills, including critical thinking and problem solving in any subject area:

  1. Stimulate wonder. In any subject area, teachers should work to create situations that will make students scratch their heads and experience a certain level of confusion leading to curiosity. I don’t want to confuse this idea with what I was taught as a young teacher was the “anticipatory set”, which was basically review at worst and far from engaging or stimulating on a good day. Think of a provocative statement, an argument, a perplexing question, a quick but powerful video, or a dramatic demonstration. Our kids need more opportunities to get really engaged in a topic and experience fascination and wonder.
  2. Solicit questions. Once students have been hooked, get them asking good, probing, open-ended questions.

    Image Source: Right Question Institute

    As discussed here before, this is no given, since students all but forget how to ask such questions by middle school.  Re-teach them using a process such as the Question Formulation Technique and give them daily opportunities to practice.

  3. Be less direct. Let your students sort through processes without so much guidance from you. I know I was very guilty of step-by-stepping most of the labs in my science classroom to death when I was still teaching middle school. The best ones, though, were ones where I followed my own advice above and set the stage with a statement or demonstration, then let the kids figure out how to explain, prove, disprove, etc. on their own or collaboratively.
  4. Forsake the multiple choice. I have heard “assessment experts” defend the venerable A, B, C, or D (all of the above) test format for years, claiming it is poor question design that has weakened the art. I believe anything worth learning cannot be sufficiently expressed and assessed with such a format and with no opportunity to see into the student’s thinking. The product of such assessments has no relevance or meaning in the real world, and is I believe multiple choice assessments are a reflection of teacher laziness or inexperience (Before anyone gets your feathers too ruffled, I was as guilty as anyone. Remember those clickers? Ugh.). Leave the format to the people who are paid big bucks to construct shallow assessments and disengage our kids–the testing companies. Instead, utilize performance and alternative assessments, such as rubrics, face-to-face conferencing, self-assessment, demonstrations/presentations, physical products, etc.
  5. Failure doesn’t end with an “F”. There are times in life when you get one shot to get something right, like choosing when to cross the street in heavy traffic. Most of life outside of school, however, is based on a series of trial-and-error events and choices. Whether designing a science project, solving a math problem,  writing a narrative essay, or learning to shoot a basketball, students need to tackle tasks that require evaluation and improvement. Our obsession with grades (in the face of much research demonstrating their failures) means that we too often give students failing marks for a failed attempt, usually the first attempt, when we should be offering meaningful feedback into the process the student is going through. If your school/district requires grades, use them in conjunction with actual feedback that makes the numbers have actual meaning. But, as I advised a robotics instructor in my own district, be careful not to view a step in the process as the end, and be careful not to see a project that has not met hoped for goals as a failure. I watched a robotics team build no fewer than 20 prototypes of 1 model without achieving their very lofty desired outcome, but the group made strides and learned everything I could have hoped. An “F” would have been both crushing and inappropriate.

This is a work in progress, so please give me any ideas or feedback you might have. If I use your comments/ideas, I will even give you a shoutout in my presentation. Thanks!

STEM students image source: http://www.dfrobot.com.cn/images/upload/Image/20140306141707uca3mg.jpg

Sowing Seeds of Innovation in the Classroom

Original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cimmyt/8208414926/sizes/l

Original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cimmyt/8208414926/sizes/l

I have been struggling mightily lately with just how best to give our students more opportunities to imagine, invent, inquire, and create. I have witnessed so many formerly great teachers succomb to the quicksand of assessment preparation in recent years, abandoning the activities and settings that once inspired their kids to do amazing things. I am not judging these teachers. I realize the bureaucracy and profit-driven, immensely powerful forces that work against genuinely beautiful teaching and learning today. But we cannot just cave in and become glorified tutors, not if our kids are going to achieve their dreams and solve the problems we share tomorrow. We must find ways to inspire new ideas and dreams, and achieving exemplary scores on the state tests is, frankly, completely irrelevant.

With the goal in mind of creating this type of classrooms, I would like to offer this quick guide to regaining “genius-inspiring educator” status:

1. Be curious. Teachers who love learning, and I mean really love it, ask questions, read, visit new places, seek out strange new worlds, make, and explore. We all say we love learning, but few live it. Curiosity is contagious, and curious adults beget curious kids.

2. Be bold. Don’t fear trying a new approach or a new resource. Buy that Raspberry Pi or Arduino and see what you can do. You might fail, but you might succeed magnificently. The good news is that your students are highly unlikely to be ruined for life.

3. Be nonprofessional.  Resist the sage-on-the-stage role now and then, unless you have something to say that inspires or prods a student in the directions that help answer their questions or put their ideas into action. Give up the all-knowing-one title whenever possible.

4. Be equipped. Invention and creativity are resource-intensive tasks. Keep your classroom well-supplied with varieties of paper, fabrics, cardboard, glue, tape, simple electronic components, wood scraps, etc. A simple not home to parents is the ticket to keeping your supply closet or box filled.

4. Be a failure. Plan, execute, and fail, then let your kids see how you respond productively. Don’t fail on purpose, but don’t hide it, either. Ever have a lesson that just fell flat on its face, then you regrouped, redesigned, and conquered? Oh, me either…cough.

5. Be a borrower. Look for ideas from other teachers for ways to make learning more engaging, inventive, and meaningful. Get a PLN if you don’t have one, and start asking questions. Really radical idea–look for ideas from your students.

5b. Be a giver. Share your triumphs, your kids’ moments of inspired genius, your great activities, your hits, and your misses.

6. Be an advocate. Brutal honesty here, but too many schools and administrations have stopped caring about kids and want classes to exclusively be test preparatory programs, often to the point of forcing scripted, horridly standardized curricula. No research on the planet supports this model of student learning. Fight to make your class better for the unique needs of your kids. This means being a bit of a rebel at times, too. It may even mean looking for other opportunities, if leadership can’t reclaim the vision that brought them into the business.

Growing Genius

I had the great pleasure of working at and attending the 2015 TCEA convention last week in Austin. The week was something of a blur, but it was and always has been such a re-charger for me. The professional conversations, in particular, always leave me flush with new ideas and possibilities.

A wonderful highlight was the closing speaker for the week, Arizona educator Fredi Lajvardi. Fredi and his students are the subject of a movie, Spare Parts, and a documentary, Underwater Dreams. The films both tell the story of a group of students that in 2004 approached Fredi about starting a robotics team. The team goes on to shockingly knock off college teams in national robotics competitions, including powerhouse MIT. The best part of the story is that these students are not the types of kids most people would look at as technological and engineering wonderkids. Students at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, where Fredi teaches, are predominantly poor, hispanic, and often cannot speak fluent English. Many are the children of undocumented immigrants. Fredi’s talk was raw and authentic. He passionately described the challenges his kids and team faced and proudly shared their moments of triumph. He was especially proud of the incredible list of achievements his former students had compiled and the legacies they were creating.

UNDERWATER DREAMS – Trailer – 2-2014 from 50EGGS on Vimeo.

Fredi hit on so many critical points, and his students’ experiences spoke volumes about what we do and do not do in our schools. A few of the points that stuck out most vividly to me are:

1. Students drive. The original idea for the robotics team came not from administrative mandates or Fredi himself, but from students. The results were levels of engagement and dedication rarely seen in classrooms.

2. Failure is a step. Students encountered many, many struggles and failures, such as a leaking robot on competition day. They rallied around these problems, though, and turned them into productive failures through re-design, creativity, and innovative solutions (such as using a tampon’s absorbent materials to solve the problem of the leak).

3. Aim higher. Fredi stated that his team decided to compete against college teams, because they wanted to learn from the best. This is an example of setting genuinely high expectations in a powerful and meaningful context, and it motivated students to achieve. Simply tossing around terms like “higher standards”, “rigor”, etc. can and will NEVER accomplish this drive to succeed.

4. Thinking beats memorizing. Fredi stated, “Focus should be on process, not content. Google has all the content we need.” Memorizing facts is great for standardized tests, but thinking is great for real life tests. We continue to languish under a system that is a relic from the 19th century, when it was dictated that memorizing certain facts in 5 core areas made a person successful. Clearly we still aren’t thinking, or we would have seen the folly of this decades ago. As Roger Schank writes in Teaching Minds, “Memorization has nothing to do with learning, unless you want to become a singer.”

The most beautiful thing about hearing stories like that of Fredi and his students is how vividly they illustrate just what our kids can do when the opportunity is presented to them. When they can be in control of real, exciting, challenging learning experiences, barriers like poverty, language, ethnicity, family situations, etc. can be smashed as students rocket skyward. This is a useful reminder of what needs to drive me daily.

One last point. I noticed that Fredi never once mentioned his students’ test scores. Instead, he talked about his former kids’ engineering degrees, non-profit foundations, startup companies, and new families. He talked like a proud dad or friend. While it is practically impossible to precisely quantify the effects of the robotics program and Fredi on these student outcomes, it is reasonable to assume that the impact was far more significant than even the best test prep program has ever achieved. If we must have standards (The talking heads all say we do.), isn’t this the type of standard we should be judged by–the legacy and life-impact our classes have on our students?

New Podcast: #20: 6 Skills You Should Have

Image source: https://conventionsofsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/napoleon_1.jpeg

Image source: https://conventionsofsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/napoleon_1.jpeg

Just uploaded a new episode of the Moss Free Show entitled 6 Skills You Should Have. That’s have, as in already. These are baseline, starter-level skills that all educators (administrators included) should possess by this time. I was inspired after reading about 10 different such articles and blog posts this week, some with as many as 33 skills teachers need (You see–I’m actually much more concise than you gave me credit for!). These kinds of posts are extremely abundant the past few months. I found examples from Discovery, Edudemic, THE Journal, Edutopia, just to name a few. As I read, I started to see that the vast, diverse skills were connected by just a few, broader categories, and this podcast/blog post was born. In summary, the 6 skills are:

  • Find information–Use a variety of tools and strategies to find exactly the thing or information that is needed, when it is needed.
  • Communicate–Use the right tool for the message and the audience; be able to use a variety of means and media, whether written, images, sound, video, etc.
  • Connect–Use technology’s networking capabilities to build relationships with other educators so that you can share ideas, questions, answers, frustrations, victories, etc.
  • Learn–Know how to develop your professional knowledge and skills using online resources.
  • Wisdom–Be able to avoid behaviors and practices that would endanger you or your students safety or privacy, your professional reputation, or your hardware/network.
  • Fit–Understand how technology fits into the flow of instruction in ways that make learning more relevant, exciting, and powerful. This should become as natural as blinking.

I explore these 6 to a little greater depth in the podcast below. Give it a listen and let me know–did I leave anything out? Am I way off or getting close?

No Place in School?

Braeden

Braeden and Fancy the Flamingo

I spent the day today in White Oak, Texas, speaking and learning at the TCEA Region 7 conference. I’ve come to this one for years now, and it is one of my favorites. The people and events are always fantastic, and they feed me very, very well. This year was extra special, though, because I got to meet and learn from an amazing 9-year old, Braeden. Braeden is the nephew of a talented educator friend of mine, Rafranz Davis. Through Rafranz’s Facebook page, I’ve become familiar with this amazing boy over the past several months. Braeden’s unique gifts lie in designing, creating, and using puppets. We’re not talking the paper sack puppets that were the limit of my abilities as a child, either. No, Braeden is a true artist and master craftsman. His puppets resemble something from Sesame Street or the Muppet Show. In fact, he even now corresponds about his creations with Jim Henson Studios.

The striking thing to me is that Braeden has been tested for gifted and talented programs at his school 3 times. 3 times, he has been deemed not qualified. Let that soak in for a minute. I can’t explain it. I know it is an archaic system at work in most schools, one based upon IQ tests most of all–IQ tests that measure a tiny fraction of human ability and are of extremely dubious validity. But I cannot comprehend it’s inadequacy (complete worthlessness) or justify it in the face of such an amazing talent.

Braeden

Braeden’s talents have attracted the attention of Jim Henson Studios.

The thing that hit me squarely in the gut, though, was the thought that Braeden is not alone. In fact, I’d guess he’s in the majority in our classrooms. We force sterilized, standardized, irrelevant, outdated curriculum on our students and ignore their passions and gifts. We spend our time and energy to prep them for annual tests or the misguided goal that all students should be bound for MBAs. Meanwhile, students like Braeden get to have their gifts nurtured only if they have families who gives them  their support and encouragement. Obviously, many of our kids aren’t this fortunate in their homes. We can’t always influence that, but we can change our schools, and it will require that we get past the archaic idea that education and its goals are one-size-fits-all. No discussion of educational “reforms” will ever lead to meaningful change if we don’t question the big ideas and institutions that we cling to with such fervor: rigid curriculum, grade levels, accountability systems based primarily upon tests, college-or-bust mentalities, etc. There are isolated examples where this is happening, but, frankly, we are mostly stagnant and too silent, allowing policy to be dictated in spite of its inadequacy. The power of learning is in the empowerment of the individual to achieve his/her potential, and that potential is unique to every child. When we get to a point where every Braeden is nurtured as the amazingly unique person he is, we’ll change lives, and that will in turn change the world.

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