Saturday, August 31, 2013

What’s Wrong With “School”

"What's wrong with school? Why don't you get more excited to be here?" I had to ask. I wasn't sure I wanted to know, but I had to ask. Knowing I will be going out and trying to inspire educators to make the world, or at least their world, a better, more engaging, more meaningful place for students, I had to know what we were up against. So I asked some kids: What's wrong with "school"? Their responses are bulleted. 

  • At least 55% of the information I will never use in real life

Now I'm pretty sure this number came out of nowhere, but the point here is that these students felt that MOST of what they were being taught was irrelevant to daily living. We have one of two problems here: 

1. They're right.
2. They aren't being shown how what they're learning IS relevant.

How can you remedy that? Is your content irrelevant? Are you presenting it in the right way?
  • Teachers are mean with no reason - not understanding something is not reason to yell
I don't have an argument here. I think this is pretty meaningful. Haven't you ever been frustrated trying to learn something? My husband tried to teach me to golf. He tries to be really patient, but sometimes I know he gets frustrated. Just because I'm not understanding the correction he's trying to help me make does not mean I'm not trying to make the correction. Come at it in a different way. Have somebody else tell me! Because eventually, you're going to get mad and I'm going to shut down. And that doesn't help anyone.
  • Not enough creativity - I get bored. We get bored doing the same thing every day.
One of the things that has really hit home with me from reading #TLAP this summer is the idea that just because you may not be super passionate about a certain topic, doesn't mean you can't make it exciting. And when you can share excitement and passion and enthusiasm about something, your students are going to want to get in on it.

I'll be honest. I'm guilty of this. I tried not to do it often, but I will admit it did happen. There were some topics that I wanted students to be familiar with but that I just wasn't that excited about. Once in a while that meant we used the chapter in the book - section by section, took some notes, a test at the end, and moved on. It happened less and less the longer I taught, but I'm embarrassed to admit it happened at all. So I want to share a different example, too.

I hated Econ. It was the subject I was least excited to teach to my students. So instead of working through the book like we did the first year I taught, so I ordered Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat" and began teaching that. We tied in the Iowa Core in some very different ways than a traditional economics class, but my kids got real-world views of the job market, the type of education they were receiving, where new markets and technologies were taking us, and what that meant to their future. And I was a better teacher because I found a way I could be passionate about the topic.
  • Teaching the same old thing, not updating lessons for modern students
With all of the amazing tools and opportunities available to us via technology I am baffled by the number of people teach just like it was done 30 years ago - or worse, 100 years ago. Start small. Make a commitment to try one new thing this term. I have faith that you can do more, but at least try one.
  • Not allowed to make mistakes without penalty - If I try and fail, I shouldn’t get in trouble
Failure is how we learn! Have you ever had a lesson fall flat? Did you get fired? If you did, that sucks. If you didn't, which I'm guessing is much more likely, remember that and offer your students the same kind of mentoring and suggestions and critiques and scaffolding that you were offered to improve your lessons.
  • We are all individuals - don’t compare me to others
In our world of high stakes testing that's all we do, right? Compare how Iowa did to how Massachusetts did? How Waukee did to how Johnston did? How Bobby did to how Susie did? But when is the last time you learned something exactly the same way and at exactly the same pace as your colleague? Or even your sibling or neighbor? 
  • Be patient!
These are kids, and they are growing up, and they are learning, and most of the time they are doing their best while trying to find their place in the world. Cut them some slack once in a while.
  • Trust us
Remember to give your students opportunities to try. They might fall sometimes, they might miss the mark, and they might even make a poor choice. But when they know that you're trusting them to be great - to do their best and to make good choices, they usually don't want to disappoint you. You get the respect you give.
  • We don’t always like to write papers - we like to create things and do projects!
We all know writing is important. But if we don't give kids the opportunity to create, what will there be to write about? Let them get down and dirty with the content. Let them make their mark on the world - and then let them write about it. But don't just have them write about it, have them publish it; share it; use it; read it - anything to get their voice out into the world about what they've created; learned; mastered.
  • Take the time to develop a relationship with us - encourage us, get to know us
Very few things will take your farther in your efforts with your students than taking the time to get to know them as individuals. And if you can take what you learn about them and turn it into a lesson that inspires them to do something great, you will have created a life-long learner. 

These kids are smart. They had a lot of great advice. Which parts will you listen to? I wish I'd asked this one day 1 in my classroom. Try and use it in yours.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Aaden's Hungry Caterpillar

My children are obsessed with telling and sharing stories using Videolicious. This is the story Aaden told tonight using a "prop" he created in his Kindergarten class. Rylee's turn it tomorrow after she "gathers some things around the house to show". I don't know what she's gathering, but I'll add another one when we get hers done. It's funny how something as simple as creating this 1 minute video gets kids so excited!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bring on Mammoth!

Check out the review I did of the new Mammoth program over on our "work blog"! I think it has potential. If you haven't signed up yet to reserve your name/get your page started, you can do it here!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I want my kids to...

Go there!

             Have that teacher!

                                  Do that!

Do people say this about your district? Your classroom? Your work?

Do you say this about where your children go to school? The work that they do?

Too often I think the answer is "No" or "Not often enough".

What if your students' did this?

Or if your kids' learning experience was like this?

What do you want your kids to do? How will you make a learning space where kids are excited to pop out of bed in the morning (which is exactly what my son did this morning for his first day of Kindergarten)? Or as the new year starts and kids are excited to come back to school - how will you maintain that enthusiasm and not give them more of the same? How many of your students will be sad to leave in May/June?

Start somewhere. Pick one unit. One lesson. Make it something that people say, "I want my kids to do that!" or even "*I* want to do that!"


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Caine's Arcade: Imagination + Exposure = Endless Possibilities

The other night I was watching TV and came across this amazing story on NBC Nightly News. 

Meet Caine, a little boy from East L.A. Caine spent the summer in his father's auto parts store, and used tape and old cardboard to create his own arcade. A filmmaker came into the store to buy a part, and was so inspired by Caine's creativity that he turned Caine's work into a movie, shared it online, and over the last year Caine's arcade has become a global movement. Caine was invited to be a guest lecturer at USC, has been featured in numerous publications, and inspired a global initiative to foster creativity in children through the "Cardboard Challenge". Caine now has over $250,000 in his college fund stemming from donations by people he inspired. If you needed yet another example of the power of sharing your students' work and allowing them to be makers and creators, here it is!

*Cross Posted

Monday, August 12, 2013

What kind of teacher are you? aka Boom!

Here comes the...

I was watching a mediocre Kevin James movie a couple weeks ago, Here Comes the Boom, about a teacher who becomes an MMA fighter in order to raise money for his school’s music program.

He starts out as this kind of teacher... 

Hiding behind the paper, avoiding the one hand in the room that is raised. He is disengaged, tells his students that outside of the classroom this stuff won’t matter anyway (he’s a Biology teacher... if there was a subject that would matter in the outside world, you’d think this would be it!). Are you this kind of teacher? Just trying to get through the day to the weekend? Hoping that nobody comes into your room to check on you? Living in a silo where you get through your day 45 minutes at a time? How many teachers do you know like this? I hope not very many, if any.

There’s a line in the movie where he says, “But I was teacher of the year” and the principal replies, “that was 10 years ago”. He hadn’t done anything since, was skating by on a reputation from a time when he had been motivated.

But then there is this guy. Kevin James walks down the hall to the snack machine. He hears the band playing and walks into a dilapidated classroom where students are creating something beautiful, despite broken instruments and budget cuts. 

This teacher (Henry Winkler) is doing the best that he can with what he has, but is, at any given moment, on the verge of being ready to give up. He is going to push his students to be amazing for as long as he can, but even he has his breaking point. When the lack of funds, district support, and outside factors (parents and admin not thinking music is important enough) weigh too heavily on one person. This teacher is probably a more common one to see. The one that has been torn down, is running too hard, and would do anything for the students, but is trying to do it all on her own. I bet you know at least one of these teachers. 

Finally, there is this teacher: The NEW and IMPROVED version of Kevin James. This version of Kevin James’ character, through the circumstances of the movie, rededicates himself to his students. He finds his passion and motivation and isn’t going to let anyone keep him down. He’s working with and for the kids, but also with and for his colleagues. He’s creating a community in which the members care about each other. At first his students look at him like this:

Because he’s doing things like this:

and this:

But ultimately, when his community (district) works together, and not just the teachers, but the nurse, and the principal, and the KIDS are invested in the learning, in the education, in the environment, they end up with learning like this:


Where they’re not just getting by. Where one person isn’t hiding in his classroom while the guy down the hall struggles to take on the challenges of education by himself. Where they bring each other up for the sake of the community - the family - they’ve created. I mean hi, this teacher was willing to get his butt kicked in a UFC fight in Vegas so that he could raise the money to save his students’ music program. “Here Comes the Boom” is NOT a top 5 Kevin James movie by any means, but I took more away from it than probably any other movie I’ve seen this summer.

What kind of teacher will you be this fall? What kind of environment will you help create?