Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Top 10 Lessons for Education from The Lego Movie

10. Instructions can only take you so far. In fact, while they can be really helpful to get you started, there is no one prescription for everything. You should feel free to use your mind to create your own instructions when it’s necessary.

9. Pull a page from the book of female lead, Wild Style (a.k.a. Lucy), and fight the status quo! Sometimes the “master builders” or great thinkers step back, hide, or are off track for whatever reason. So don’t be afraid to work against the grain. And for goodness sake, beware of the “kragle”! Don’t ever get stuck. 

8. One person believing in you can make all the difference. This is why we teach. This is why we do what we do and get out of bed each day. Because making a difference in one child’s life matters. 

7. Trust your instincts - unless your instincts are terrible. As educators, each of us has a niche, and each of us has areas where we struggle. Take what you do well and make it amazing, but never be afraid to push outside your comfort zone. When it’s not working, it’s okay to admit it. Not every idea is gold, and that’s okay. On the flip side, though, sometimes people think your idea for a double-decker couch is lame, and it ends up saving your life. So please also refer to number nine.

6. The only thing that anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be! This is for you AND for your students. Believe in yourself. The world depends on YOU to make a difference. 

5. Build things only you can build. We are all unique and bring different perspectives to every problem and situation. Focus on being the best you that you can be, and bring that to the table. Whether  you are lesson planning, on a building leadership team, at EdCamp, or working one-on-one with a student, you can change everything. 

4. Share what you build! I recently wrote a post called “I’m not THERE yet” and what it really comes down to is that people are inspired by you. Whether you intend to or not, whether you know it or not, people - teachers, kids, parents - are inspired by you, and will take what you made and make something new. And likewise, you will take something somebody else makes and make it your own. Make it better. This is how we learn. This is how we grow.

3. LET. KIDS. CREATE. I don’t think I need to explain this one, but in short - please do not stifle a child’s creativity by trying to fit them in a box that fits what the world expects. See numbers nine and ten. And probably six. Eh, if you aren’t getting it yet maybe you should re-read all the numbers.

2. You are the most talented, most interesting, extraordinary individual, capable of amazing things. So is each student sitting in your class. So is everyone. Embrace what is special about you and share it with the world. 

1. Having a plan helps talented individuals work together as a team and save the world. I love celebrating the unique talents of individuals, but when we can harness the power of those individuals to work as a team for the greater good we can accomplish so much more. When we complement and push each other is when real progress is made. Don’t forget, “Everything is awesome! Everything is cool when you’re part of a team!”

Friday, January 10, 2014

1000 Words #omw1314

When you look out your window, what do you see? If your window is anything like mine, you see fields, trees, maybe a barn or silo, maybe a few other modest houses.

When I look out my window I see majestic branches frosted in glistening snow. I see intricately designed snowflakes falling all around me. I see beauty. I see a glorious piece of nature unique to my window.

This fall I had the opportunity to worth with my amazing friend and colleague, Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher) on a project that was near and dear to my heart, and through that work, and I now also see poetry.

I see a rhythm and beauty and an elegance and a story that didn't exist before. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. These pictures are worth so much more. They are an identity.

By photographing and writing about where I live, how I live, and what makes it unique, I am able to share my view - my window - with the world. Sharing my world via "Out My Window" gives others a chance to see the world through my eyes.

What do kids see out their window? And what impact would it have if they could see out another student's window? Being able to express yourself, share your point of view, and make sense of the world around you are great skills - but being able to appreciate where you are and find the beauty in the ordinary are skills that are undervalued. Those skills, coupled with connections with peers across the globe create an experience that reaches extraordinary.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's funny, isn't it?

It's funny, isn't it? How one moment... one person... one teacher... can change your life?

Life is a series of interactions, of choices, of decisions, of circumstances that build and shape every part of who you are.

20 years ago my parents let me decide whether or not to skip the 2nd grade. A life changing decision left in the hands of a 7 year old.

12 years ago I got to do a job shadow, and if you'd asked me what I'd be as a "grown up," I would have told you I'd be a doctor - a surgeon, to be exact.

11 years ago I took a Chemistry class that ended my dream of becoming a doctor. I left the class feeling like I could never be good enough at any of it to accomplish my dream. Now I wanted to be a lawyer.

9 years ago I headed off to Luther College and discovered Law was maybe not my thing, though I loved history and politics, and changed my life plan to include Social Studies teacher.

8 years ago I restarted my college journey at Iowa State, following the death of my father, only to find that they didn't offer Social Studies certification. Back to Law School!

7 years ago Iowa State changed their minds. Now I can teach!

5 years ago Northeast Hamilton took a chance on an idealistic kid.

1 year ago Prairie Lakes AEA decided to create 4 new tech integration positions.

Here I am. Do I make my decisions and way in this world, or do the decisions of others create the path that is before me?

Who are you? Are you helping others find their way? Are you shaping lives in positive ways?

Ultimately it's a combinations of the positives and negatives and my actions and your actions that brought me to where I am. It could be divine intervention, it could be random chance.

But it's funny, isn't it? How all the pieces come together? It's funny how we find our way in life. Be a positive force. Be a role model. Create. Make. Do. Your actions and inactions don't impact your life alone - you shape and impact and change the world around you with every move you make. Or don't make.

So if everything you do and don't do impacts everything around you, you might as well make it count. Make it matter.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why my 5 year old has Twitter

My 5 year old son (@AadenLK78) and my 7 year old daughter (@RyleeBK) both have Twitter accounts. I can guarantee, unless you already know the value of being a connected learner, that you probably think I'm crazy right now.

"Who cares what a 5 year old had for breakfast?"

"What does a 7 year old have to share on Twitter?"

"Why would you put your children 'out there'?"

I care.
Rylee cares.
Aaden cares.

My children will grow up in an environment where they are encouraged to have a voice and opinion about the things they are passionate about.

My children will grow up in an environment where they are excited to share their learning and their ideas with the world.

My children will grow up in an environment where they are guided by a responsible adult from an early age through the tangled web of pros and cons of social media.

My children will grow up in an environment where being a good digital citizen is valued.

About a year and a half ago my Street Law students created a video about cyber-bullying. We had in depth conversations about the hurt and pain behind social media, and we shared our stories. We used twitter to ask other people to share their stories, and this is what they came up with:

These stories, along with stories of those like Rebecca Sedwick, are heartbreaking. These stories are why I have chosen to educate my children from an early age.

I would never hand kids a car and say have fun - we spend time as parents teaching them (from a very young age if you live on a farm!), they take courses, and there are guided pathways and exams to teach about responsibility. But I also would never sit a kid in a class about driving for 15 hours, have them pass a test, and declare them qualified to drive. The hands-on practice is an essential part of that. Does it work out perfectly? No, there are still accidents. We live in an imperfect world. Do I always send my text messages to the person I intended? No, because I'm not always paying attention. But my children and I have conversations about appropriate things to share and about talking to strangers in a digital world just like we do about our physical reality. Students get fire safety, tornado drills, and character lessons from PreK on - where is the digital safety/citizenship piece of that conversation?

But while we do have those conversations, the focus is more about the good that they can do. They share their ideas, creations, and experiences. The looks on their faces when they read comments from others about their work, or read tweets written TO them, is priceless. You'd think it's Christmas morning! It's not because it's digital, it's because someone in this great big world has valued their ideas and their opinions! Feeling validated for their work at 5 years old, or 7 years old, has inspired in them a drive to create and share more.

We spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy telling kids no, no, no, and don't, don't, don't. I believe there is a place in which we can teach responsibility and accountability in schools and at home, which is why my children each have a blog (Rylee's and Aaden's) and an account on Twitter. However, there also needs to be an emphasis on the POSITIVE things we can do with social media! If we spent more time empowering kids to create something positive and amazing with their voice instead of trying to block and ban them, we might get somewhere.

My children have voices. They are passionate, creative, inquisitive individuals. They have stories to tell. I have provided them with a public, but guided way to express those qualities and stories.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

But what if my kid can't use an encyclopedia?!

My morning routine started like it normally does, wake up, check Twitter, check Facebook, get kids ready for school... As I was checking Facebook this morning, I came across the following post (Original post was something along the lines of "I hate that the kids are getting iPads") and 42 responses...

These two are my favorite, but let me pick out the best parts for you.

It looks like somebody missed the memo that Encyclopedia Britannica stopped printing encyclopedias after its 2010 volume, citing that it had long since moved toward a business focus on its online educational materials. 

And I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but as a parent of 3 awesome kids, I do not wake up in the morning saying, "I hope your life is hard, because mine was, and I made it." I work my butt off to make sure they have the tools they need to be successful. I want them to not only have the amazing experiences I did growing up, but to give them bigger, better, more exciting opportunities. And then I want them to share those experiences with the world.

To quote Scott McLeod, whose video I'm about to share with you, "I want to tell you a different story about youth and technology." 

What about the students in my colleague Erin Olson's classroom who are using *gasp* Twitter to share their voice? Or the students in my own classroom who, when asked to identify what they NEEDED in their education, came up with ideas like technology, internship opportunities, hands-on learning, and personalized learning opportunities. My students, who were able to learn from people across Iowa, Hawaii, Minnesota, Sweden, and South Africa. My children, who travelled through space using their iPads. Kids are doing amazing things, and experiencing life outside of their four classroom walls, and writing, publishing, and creating for a real life audience.

Setting our kids up for failure isn't handing them iPads. Setting our kids up for failure is continuing to educate them in a system that was built for how we lived 100 years ago. We cannot keep preparing students for a world that will not exist by the time they are ready to enter the job market. And it's not just a world that won't exist, but a world that doesn't exist. Even living in rural Iowa, you have to see how even something as basic to us as farming has changed in the last 10 years.

We're not quite here yet, but check out John Deere's vision of the future of farming:

If you are lucky enough to have students in a district where they've been provided with devices that will allow them to produce, publish, create, explore, and contribute to the world around them, get excited! Challenge your students and their teachers to use that technology to do something amazing; to transform their educational experience. But please, please don't underestimate the amazing opportunities being offered to children all across the globe as technology becomes faster, cheaper, and easier to use.

Monday, September 16, 2013

PK-2: We can do it too!

In all the times over the years that I have prepped for a presentation I have never once felt the gut-wrenching sense of urgency and need that I felt while preparing to share this presentation today. I even got a little choked up as I shared during my second session, trying to describe the impact that feedback on a video had had on my son's life. We cannot wait on this any longer.

Think for a minute. How many of you have kids? Or know kids? Or teach kids - that you would go to the ends of the earth to help? To provide a life-changing education? When you think about those kids is there ANYTHING you wouldn’t do to offer them the world? To engage them? To empower them?

Some of the educators in the room today I knew, others I didn't, but what I know about every single one of them, based simply on the profession they chose, is that THEY KNOW that our youngest learners can do amazing things. And what I asked them to do today was spend 45 minutes a journey with me, looking at some ways we can continue to offer these LITTLE kids BIG opportunities.

Me must take our youngest learners and help them find their voice. Express to them early on how much their voice matters. We cannot afford to wait until they are 10, 11, 12 - they are living in a world in which EVERY voice matters. EVERY voice can make a difference. That includes 5 year old voices. Six year old voices.

If you look at Kathy Cassidy's blog you find learners who have an entirely different vocabulary than they did even ten years ago. How amazing is it that these 6 year olds are talking about sharing their learning and connecting with others?

I challenged the educators I spoke with today to take their most phenomenal lessons and look at how they might step it up a notch to empower their students. Or to take a lesson that seemed a little flat and rework it a bit to engage students in a powerful, authentic learning experience.

I can tell you, I have seen first hand how a kids’ face will light up when someone communicates that they have watched or appreciated his work. Here’s an example my son made. We took one of his Kindergarten projects that he was SO excited to share with me. I heard the story over and over and over. So we recorded it. And he shared it with his grandparents. He shared it with his aunts and uncles. We put it on Facebook. But beyond that, we shared it with the world. I could literally see the pride on his face when I showed him the comments on his work.

Primary school teachers have students who are more creative, more trusting, more inquisitive, and more innovative than almost any other learners we will see throughout the course of their school careers. We must harness that power and model how to use their voice in a positive way. I love the idea of taking this group of kids who are so innately driven and fearless and giving them a stage on which to produce and share their creations.

I asked Kathy Cassidy this summer why she uses blogs and twitter with her first grade class. She told me because it creates a more authentic learning experience. The kids focus on writing in a focused 140 characters. They read tweets and comments that are written FOR THEM. How powerful is that? Her kids tweet. They share. They converse. The question. They use hash tags geared toward learning events. Matt Gomez’s kids have a map of all their “twitter friends”.

These teachers are creating authentic learning experiences for their students. They know that their kids have powerful things to say. Your kids have powerful things to say. I want to challenge you to find an audience for your kids. It might be parents right now. You may not be ready to share a blog with the world yet, and that’s okay. But there are a lot of people out there who can help you make those steps.

I know that each and every educator I spoke with today is working hard to do something amazing with his or her students. I know YOU are working hard to do amazing things with your students. And I want you to share it. The educators I met with today shared their successes on a Padlet, and I shared a resource bank that I collected, as well.

Birth to 5 years is the most important developmental period of a person's life. These kids matter. Their voice matters and their ideas are worth sharing. How are you changing your students' lives? How are you helping your students share their voice? I said it once, but it's worth repeating: we cannot afford to wait until these children reach an age that WE think is appropriate to have a voice. We cannot wait to teach them how amazing and powerful their voice truly is. They have thoughts and they have ideas and they have the power to change the world. We must give them the tools, the guidance, and the support to do that.

Change a life. Let your students BE AWESOME. Help them share their awesome.

*Thank you @mattbgomez for letting me share some of his resources, @mrfsfirstgrade and @kathycassidy for Skyping with me and sharing thoughts and resources, @TammyMassman for inspiring me