Saturday, May 31, 2014

10 shifts for educators to make in the upcoming school year

1). Stop saying 'teaching' and start saying 'learning.' This simple diction choice makes a ton of difference when it comes to how we think about student success.

2). Stop viewing technology as 'one more thing' you have to do in your classroom. Utilize technology to enhance, broaden, and create opportunities for learning that were never before possible.

3). Stop settling for what has been at the cost of what could be. The world has never before had more opportunity and more possibility to make education both relevant and practical.

4). Stop thinking it's your school or district's responsibility to provide professional development learning opportunities. We all expect our kids to be self-autonomous learners who take some ownership of their learning; educators should be no different considering all the avenues and paths that exist.

5). Stop limiting the audience with whom your students can interact and communicate. We live in a globally connected world so there is no excuse for students to be doing work that is just for one teacher's eyes.

6). Stop trying to teach 'responsibility and accountability' by not accepting late work and not allowing redos on assignments and assessments.

7). Stop viewing education as something that is done to students and rather instead, as something that is done with and alongside students.

8). Stop doing what has always been done just because it's always been done. If it can't be justified with good cause, then yesterday was a perfect time to stop and start something new.

9). Stop fearing the unknown and use it as an opportunity to learn alongside your students. This not only sends a powerful message to your students, it also allows you to learn and grow as a teacher/student learning team.

10). Stop waiting for someone else to make a difference or make the change. You are the difference... you are the change.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Shouldn't learning always be exciting?

Just recently my district purchased four Makerbot 3D printers to complement our drafting/design program, our new robotics program, our graphics design program, and our instructional technology team. At the end of the day though, I see the 3D printers having quite a far reach in terms of their overall impact.

We received the four printers on a Wednesday around 12:30 in the afternoon. By 2:00 p.m. the same day, students on our WIT (Wildcat instructional technology) team had one machine up and running and we were printing.

Now, to be honest, we've spent a couple days fine-tuning the printers and tweaking and adjusting to learn and explore, but the overall setup and use are rather easy and straight-forward.

Here's the coolest and most exciting part...

Ever since students got the 3D printers up and running, students have been visiting the room where the 3D printers are setup to see them, to try them out, and to find out what all the 'buzz' is about.

Yes, the HS where we have the 3D printers has been literally buzzing with excitement and curiosity as students have been talking about and learning more about the new 3D printers.

We've even had staff members stopping by the room and putting in their own requests for students to design and then print.

The student and teacher excitement about the 3D printers is really becoming infectious and ever since getting the 3D printers they have been running non-stop and the make-request list is only getting longer.

My point with this post is simple... shouldn't students and staff always be this excited about learning?

Shouldn't kids be knocking down the door to learn about new tools, new technologies, and new possibilities and opportunities that allow them to be creative and innovative?

Shouldn't learning always be fun and exciting...?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

But that won't help our test scores...

I'm obviously proud of where I work and I'm proud of the work we are doing. I've been in my current position for two years now, and we've done a lot of great things these last two years. Some of these great things include:

Starting a student-led instructional technology team to help teachers integrate technology.

Getting social media filters and many blocked websites removed to enhance authentic learning.

Starting a robotics program at our HS and at two of our elementary schools.

Going K-12 BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

Going 4-12 GAFE (Google Apps for Education). 

Beginning a HS MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) program for students giving them choice & autonomy in their learning.

Now, it's easy to see there is a 'technology' trend here, but I see this trend as much more than just technology. I see the trend as a shift in learning and a shift in how we approach personalized, differentiated, and self-driven autonomous learning.

So here's the thing, I've heard on a few different occasions a comment from educators that is strong enough to shake and rattle you right down to your bones.

'Ya, all that is great and neat and all, but that won't help our test scores.'

This is the type of comment that just hits you like a ton of bricks and almost makes you sick to your stomach. Now, this comment I honestly believe is in part because folks feel the pressure of standardized testing. I don't really believe educators see these changes as negative or bad for kids, but rather they view it as a misalignment of district resources, time, and believe our focus should be on 'improving test scores.'

For the record, I'm still not entirely sure what a focus on 'improving test scores' looks like, but I'm pretty sure the focus won't be on encouraging a personalized, differentiated, and self-driven autonomous learning environment.

Either way, we've got great educators who feel they need to focus on the 'test' while pushing everything else that we know is good for kids to the side.

My challenge to you is to fight that push and fight that pressure and keep the focus on doing what is best for kids. At the end of the day, I honestly believe doing what is best for kids will speak for itself when it comes 'testing' time.

I want our conversations to be about what 'exactly' is best for kids, not what can we do to prepare for them a test...

5 reasons to embrace change

If we never changed, we'd still be using rocks to write on rock walls as our main form of communication.

If we never changed, we'd be preparing our horse saddles rather than fueling up our cars.

If we never changed, we'd still be blowing into Nintendo cartridges before getting to play a video game.

Believe it or not, there are actually some pretty significant benefits to being someone who is willing and able to change.

1). The more you are able to change and the more willing you are to change, the more flexible and adaptable you become. This in turn results in more flexibility and adaptability in all facets of your life, which then leads to less stress and increased levels of patience.

2). It actually takes more energy and time to resist and go against change than it does to go with, start, or initiate change. It's natural to change in life... we have four seasons for a reason and change is a healthy part of all life and all that exists in life.

3). Change makes you smarter. If things never changed, you'd never learn anything new. Every time you learn a new skill - even if it's something simple and trivial - you are that much smarter than you were yesterday.

4). When you accept and embrace change, you are accepting and taking full responsibility of yourself. Embracing change is empowering because it's something you can control and it's something you have a 'say' in.

5). Change also helps to remind us that anything is possible. What's already possible has already went through the beginning stages of the change process, but at one point what is currently possible was just an idea or thought someone hadn't yet acted on.

What you have today may not be there tomorrow. What you think today may not be what you think tomorrow. What you see today might not be what you see tomorrow. The only thing certain is that something will change.

Don't focus on reasons why not to change, but instead start thinking about what will happen if you don't change...

10 images to inspire you this week...

Friday, May 16, 2014

3 ways to prepare our kids for beyond the 'test'

One of the biggest challenges we continue to face in education is the ‘teaching to the test’ mantra that we too often (whether on purpose or accidentally) seem to get caught up in. We first determine what it is we want kids to learn and then we design the corresponding assessment. Students spend time learning and then they are assessed. In short time unfortunately, much of the information is forgotten and the rate of retention is rather low. In this scenario, education is being done ‘to’ our students rather than ‘with’ our students.

To ensure our kids remember beyond the test, a strong curriculum built around innovation is needed. This type of curriculum has three main components for students: voice, choice and audience. When these three pieces are present in the day-to-day instruction we deliver in our classrooms, we have a much better chance of longer, deeper, and more sustainable retention levels.

Voice: Think about your education... did any of your teachers ask your opinion on the structure of learning or the structure of the assessments in your classes? Most would probably say no. This is where we have a huge opportunity to give our students voice in the learning structures within our classrooms. It’s this voice that creates buy in and support for students and their learning.

Choice: We talk a lot about empowering our students, but it’s not often that we give our students choice in the learning process. Imagine a classroom where students are able to pursue and engage in their interests as it relates to the bigger picture. Obviously there are standards and learning objectives that need to be met, but except for us, the educators, there is nothing preventing our students from addressing these standards as part of something they are interested in learning more about.

Audience: When kids create, write, and design just for their teachers, they make sure it’s good enough for their teachers. Here’s the thing, we don’t want our students doing work that is ‘good enough.’ We want our kids doing work that is out of this world. We want our kids sharing their genius with the world, and to do that we need to give them an authentic and global audience.

So, my challenge for you is to redefine your instructional model and empower your students to be actively involved in THEIR education. At the same time, create ample opportunities for your students to share their genius with the world. If you do this, then kids won’t be learning for a test, they will be learning for their life.

We probably need to stop saying 'rigor'

I don't know about you, but after reading this, I don't feel comfortable using the word 'rigor' to describe anything we should be doing in schools...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Share a little spark of love & humanity...

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:

'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection.

Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.

Where is the natural order of things in my son?'

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. 'I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'

Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again.

Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the Plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside  for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.

The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.

The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.

As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman.

Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.

Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first!

Run to first!'

Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.

He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'

Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball. The smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.

He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head.

Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third!

Shay, run to third!'

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'

Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the  boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this  world'.

Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!


We all send thousands of jokes through the e-mail without a second thought, but when it comes to sending messages about life choices, people hesitate.

The crude, vulgar, and often obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about decency is too often suppressed in our schools and workplaces.

If you're thinking about forwarding this message, chances are that you're probably sorting out the people in your address book who aren't the 'appropriate' ones to receive this type of message Well, the person who sent you this believes that we all can make a difference.

We all have thousands of opportunities every single day to help realize the 'natural order of things.'

So many seemingly trivial interactions between two people present us with a choice:

Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity or do we pass up those opportunities and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?

A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate amongst them.

With something to think about...

We no longer need to ask 'what if?'

What if more and more people were talking about education and its effects on society?

What if differentiating and personalizing a student's learning experience was easier than ever?

What if we knew more about the brain and how it impacts learning?

What if information was easily and quickly accessible 24/7?

What if we had the tools to connect with and collaborate with people from around the world?

What if the 'opportunity gap' and the access to information gap were shrinking and education wasn't reserved just for the privileged?

What if we had problems in society that needed as many brains as possible working together toward solutions?

What if kids growing up needed us more than ever?

The good news here is that all of the above questions are true and possible and/or already occurring.

The great news is that the value and importance of education only seem to be going up.

The even greater news is the point that now is the most exciting time ever to be in education.

The scary and daunting news here is that the role of education has become so critically important that we have very little room for error.

Don't forget how important you are, and also don't forget how important the time you spend with your students is...