First and Last

#itecIA 2015  In. The. Books.

First one for me, not the last. However, it will most likely be the last ITEC conference I will attend as an audience member solely. My future will include presenting (background on me: I have never presented outside the safety and security of my old school). My colleagues are great presenters – they have set a high bar.  I will do my best to do right by my team with future presentations.

It was very interesting meeting and seeing all of the different people at this conference. Similarly to a classroom, there are many different backgrounds, abilities and attitudes. I took full advantage of being an audience member but also keeping a keen eye for what the presenters said, did and included for information on their slides. Very informative on many levels.

Everyone seemed to be very welcoming and I do look forward to building many relationships. Technology can connect people around the globe, which is amazing, incredible and so necessary in our society. Consequently, it can also be isolating at times (a large portion of your work day spent in front of a screen and not physically interacting with people). I am realizing the piece I have been missing the past couple of months since packing up my classroom-people in their physical form-I will just have to feed that need at conferences and meet-ups.  Like, mondo feed. Like, all-you-can-eat buffet.

Okay, I’m putting down the fork from ITEC and will pick it back up, well, tomorrow at our statewide bi-annual AEA meetup! An oasis of physical beings this week, yee-haw!

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My First Maker Day!

IMG_1246I have recently experienced my first maker experience in a school.  What a sight to be seen!  I had read about them, I had visited a large maker faire but had never witnessed it at work in the hallowed halls of a school.  The engagement of students was incredible.  IMG_1233Collaboration between kids was breath taking and the creativity, oh my!

What is a maker experience in a school?  It began with the maker movement which is, in a nutshell, a combining of inventors/tinkerers/designers and technology.  The popularity of the movement within schools might be fueled by needing more tactile, physical attributes of science and engineering pursuits to engage young students (without losing them in a screen).  Some schools have devoted areas, blank canvases, IMG_1239stocked with all sorts of supplies for designing, building, creating and inventing.  Other schools opt for a one/two/three day event where regular school stops and “making” starts.  Students rotate through different stations, each one focusing on one or more core concepts but always allowing for authentic work and personal choice.  This is an awesome step for schools shifting from traditional teacher-led classrooms.  These maker spaces turn students to the center of their learning experience.

During my recent “first”, I facilitated three different stations: Sphero Chariot Racing, Cardboard Creation and littleBits for Big Brains.  Each session was designed around the following framework (a shoutout to my teammate Erin Olson for her expertise!):

  • Explanation (less than 5 minutes)
  • Brainstorm/Think time (5 minutes)
  • Create (20-30 minutes)
  • Reflect/Share (10 minutes)
  • Revision (10-15 minutes)
  • Celebrate/Final Reflect (10-15 minutes)

The above framework  guided the kids perfectly (and me too!). I was nearly brought to tears towards the end of the second day… IMG_1256the level of engagement and concentration while the students were creating with the littleBits circuitry was off-the-charts INCREDIBLE!  I have been around the block, I have taught for almost a decade and let me assure you, this maker movement is something to pay attention to.  I believe (hope, pray, wish, desire, crave) this is the future of our education.  Kids central, kids creating, kids IMG_1254problem-solving, kids engaged, kids interested, kids collaborating, kids designing, kids planning, kids active.

Kids. Loving. Learning.

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Building Blocks

The internet is blowing up with first-day-of-school selfies and stories on social media, reflections of the past year, and wishes for the coming year (not to mention back-to-school marketing to test your self control).  My household is is the full throes as well.  Our youngest daughter has started preschool at our local school and with that, lots of firsts have ensued.  My husband and I had an opportunity to “slow start” with her for 1/2 a day.  During these three hours we went over classroom procedures and familiarized ourselves with her room and routine.  As a parent, it was an assuring experience.  I now know my child is safe and engaged.  I can picture what activities she will be doing for the next 179 school days.

IMG_0993As an educator, I had mixed emotions throughout the morning.  Let me explain: there are amazing, fantastic experiences being offered in our preschool classrooms across the nation.  Children can explore cooperative play, verbalize ideas and act out realistic situations in the Home Play Area.  Children can plan, observe, compare, make predictions, and discover at the Science Area.  Children build self confidence, learn cause & effect, are creative and have an avenue for emotional expression at the Art Area.  And the list goes on and on with the Writing Area, Block Area, Listening Area, Puzzle Area, Library Area, and Sensory Area.  Each space offers in-depth exploration and enquiry while the students are always central to their learning which is using essential tools and skills necessary for a 4-year-old to be successful.

If my child is exposed to all these rich experiences then why do I have mixed emotions as an educator?  Sadly, these experiences will wane throughout her elementary and secondary school movement. The magic will go away, the excitement will fade.  Real-world experiences are replaced by the next test.  Projects will be replaced by reports or Powerpoints that are assigned by the teacher, probably driven by state standards coverage, and these papers or projects will never see the light of day outside the classroom.  Kids will do (or not do) homework for a grade.  The grade will go in the gradebook and at the end of the quarter or semester that student will get an A, B, C, D or F.  Ok – but what did the student learn?  What will they take from their learning to contribute to our society?  What real-world skills were honed?  Did memorizing those dates and names teach them anything?  Can what they are taught be easily Googled?  If so, we failed.  We are failing.  Our educational system is failing by the lack of change in an ever-changing technological world.

Somewhere between preschool and 12th grade our focus shifts from what’s actually important to what seems like it’s important.  The poem Just Playing by Anita Wadley is a good reminder.

Fellow educators – let’s keep playing, let’s keep advocating for play – our kids deserve that much.

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Recipe for Magic

Ingredients:1

(1) nephew, age 15

(1) daughter, age 6

(1) Mr. Pibb, sustenance for teenage-boy when snarky-ness ensues

(1) Lego Mindstorms, EV3 package

(1) Pandora station, recommend: classic rock or an 80’s station (teenage boy needs to have autonomy with music choice)

Directions: Provide ingredients, a workspace and a gentle push.  Step back and enjoy.

Nutrition: Natural learning occurs on many levels.  Engagement in the activity occurs without prompts for all parties involved (including the chef).  Focus, collaboration, problem-solving and excitement happen simultaneously between ages.  All this with a bonus nourishment of learning to code…..or, rather, coding to learn.

Chef’s Notes: I highly recommend cooking up some of this pure, absolute magic.  You are in for a treat!

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My Tribe

I would like to introduce you to my new tribe and quite possibly, my first tribe.  I’m learning (thanks to Seth Godin) that a tribe is a group of people that are connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea.  My tribe is the learning, technology, and innovation team at Prairie Lakes AEA – pure awesomeness.  They have enveloped me into their group, or rather tribe, warmly and without hesitation.

I will begin introductions with the tribe leader, Dr. Scott McLeod. When Scott speaks of education and any facet of education, you listen, learn and go!  He has challenged me in wonderful ways and I look forward to soaking up as much information, stimulation and motivation as I can carry.  He has proved to be an inspiring leader and it’s only week six.  (However, I have known from day one…he’s THAT good.)

The other members of my new tribe are three very fascinating, independent and knowledgeable women.  Julie Graber, Erin Olson and Leslie Pralle-Keehn are going places.  Spending six days with them in Philadelphia and being in constant electronic contact since June, I have learned from each woman in some capacity.  I forecast many more lessons they will teach me.  Ladies, thank you in advance.

We are connected in many respects.  The tribe is connected in a literal sense (albeit virtually most of the time), but most importantly we are connected by an idea.  We believe in increasing innovative educational practices which focus on deeper learning, student autonomy, and authentic work using digital tools (if said tools are relevant of course!)

My tribe is awesome.  My tribe rocks.  I’m one lucky girl.

 

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Influence

I just started reading Influencer-The New Science of Leading Change written by several leaders in best practice training products and services.  Sounds kind of dry, right?  Actually, no.  I was very surprised on how easy it was to pick it up given the title and the very boring cover.
Influencer

Chapter 2 outlines the three keys to influence and the 3rd key is what really got me thinking: Engage all six sources of influence.  This is the ‘what’ after you’ve figured out the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ if you are familiar with Simon Sinek and his Golden Circle.  I found myself thinking along the lines of leadership influence (for lack of a better word) again.  This seems to be a recurring theme within my blogging.  The six sources of influence are:

1. Personal Motivation – Do they enjoy it?

2. Personal Ability –  Can they do it?

3. Social Motivation – Do others encourage them to enact the wrong behavior?

4. Social Ability –  Do others enable them?

5. Structural Motivation –  Do rewards and sanctions encourage them?

6. Structural Ability – Does their environment enable them?

If an educator has poor leadership, their answers are probably: no, maybe, yes, no, no, no.  0/6  If an educator has a supportive leader, their answers are probably yes, yes, no, yes, yes, yes.  6/6

I prefer the latter.

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Swimming Lessons

Sunday afternoon, 90+ degrees and two cranky kids.  We headed to the pool.  I made 3 very interesting observations.  Thanks to Garr Reynolds’ book Presentationzen Design, I was reminded just today to: “…notice the lessons.  But in order to see and take note, you have to be aware.  Awareness is the first step to personal kaizen [Japanese term meaning ‘improvement’]….Find a time during which you can slow down long enough to see the lessons around you and take special note of them.”  The local pool was the perfect observation station.  Here’s what I got:

1) A toddler WILL figure out a way to open the gate because he/she desperately wants on the other side.

2) A patron knows that there are chemicals in the pool but still can’t help but be horrified when they see the actual bleach being dumped in next to their swimming child.

3) Children love to show off, whether it is a new scar on their foot or a skill they just picked up from swimming lessons.

What lessons did I learn from those observations that I can relate to education?

1) If a child has a personal connection to finding the answer, they will stay determined enough through the learning process (failures, setbacks, frustration) to see it through to the end.

2) Adults like to stick their heads in the sand.  We like to have things done for us but we don’t want to know the messy details on how it happened or occurred.

3) Showcasing is key.  Kids love to brag and be in the spotlight.  If we can focus that energy and motivation towards a passion project, kids will make amazing things, be amazing and that amazing energy will spread.

Slow down, take it in, learn.

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Up or Down?

A colleague and I had a conversation the other day about my previous trickle down prescription statement regarding the needed change in our educational system.  He challenged me with a question similar to: Do you think the systemic change should come from the bottom up instead of the top down?  Yes. No. Maybe. Both.  I went through all of those answers in about 5.5 seconds (my brain is trying to stay on top of the front load of information I’ve been blessed with recently).  I’ve settled on the answer: both. 

I compromised on a “meet-in-the-middle” model.  A grassroots movement of self-motivated teachers curbing the focus from low-level thinking with teacher-led classroom to high-level thinking where students are the center sounds fantastic…however, teachers need comparable support to what we want our students to receive.  The movement of project-based learning, passion projects, maker spaces, STEM/STEAM, etc. have a facilitator/coach (teacher) hanging back supporting the learning by providing resources, spaces, materials, guiding questions, and criteria for success.  Leadership on all levels needs to work hand in hand.  This reminds me of my previous school’s motto: Working Together, Achieving Success. Yes to lots more teacher autonomy but also yes to positive, meaningful leadership. Teachers will feel supported to do the right work the right way.

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Broke

Our educational leadership system is broken. I used to think that the majority of schools have supportive, thoughtful administrators that communicate with staff in a humane, decent way.  If you were a school without that support, you were rare. Right?

Wrong.  It’s a systemic problem that needs to be addressed and fixed.  Like, now.

How can I make that sweeping statement today when just a few weeks ago I was a naive teacher thinking everyone was “keeping on keeping on”?  I just witnessed something incredible.  It goes like this:

I am attending an international educational technology conference and my focus has been school redesign.  How can we transition our school systems to move from the traditional teacher-led classroom to student-centered, creating classrooms? This afternoon, one session in particular grabbed my attention. It’s focus was bridging the administrator barrier in our digital age.  Since strong, effective leadership is a prescription to educational change, I thought it appropriate to catch this session which was presented by three US principals.  Within minutes after starting the presentation, the audience was instructed to recite a SAMR cheer.  Yep, I typed that correctly.  It went something like this: Ok, give me a S (repeated S), give me a A (repeated A), etc., etc. 

The rarity I thought existed only sporadically throughout our educational system managed to present itself on a very important platform.  I do not think this is a mere coincidence. Something, very important, is broken. 

I’m going to go get my toolbox.

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