Learning About Giving

Students love field trips, and I do too. Visits have to be meaningful though, not just a fun day off from school. When planning trips, one needs to ask what  the children learning from the experience. There are many reasons to leave the classroom. A few include, extending the curriculum, participating in authentic learning, and being exposed to new ideas and resources.

I’ve always appreciated the size and scope of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but until this year, didn’t know that they had a visitor’s center adjacent to their headquarters here in Seattle. If you are ever in Seattle, I highly recommend a visit. It’s only about a 7 minute walk from the Space Needle, and it’s free. Our second grade classes visited last week.

The center is divided into 5 main areas:

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Voices

Hear voices from around the world and see portraits of our foundation family—employees, grantees, partners, beneficiaries, and our co-chairs.

Family & Foundation

Find out why and how the Gates family started this foundation, see examples of how we work around the world, and tell others what you’d do if you had your own foundation.

Partnerships

Discover how our partners are making progress on tough problems globally and locally, and weigh in on newsworthy issues.

Theater

Watch and listen to a rotating program of short videos offering a deeper perspective on our work.

Innovation & Inspiration

Solve real-world problems using your own best skills, and learn more about how people just like you are making a difference every day.

My favorite (and I think the children’s) was the innovation and inspiration area. The entire visitor’s center is designed to be interactive, but we could have spent hours in this particular room. Children are asked to think outside the box to design solutions to some of our problems. They also had several examples of products in the field on display such as shelter boxes and filtered drinking straws. They even had prototypes of items like Soccket, a soccer ball that captures energy during play. Enough to light an LED for a few hours or charge small batteries. The foundation pointed out that they weren’t the inventors of these innovations, but supported efforts like these to further their mission.

One of the neat features of this interactive room was that the children’s ideas or creations were displayed and shared instantly on large walls alongside ideas from previous visitors.

One of the other rooms emphasized partnerships. That while one person may have a brilliant idea and can have an incredible impact, it takes teamwork to achieve many of our goals. Our tour ended with our docent asking the children what they would do if they had a foundation. It was great to hear students come up with ideas that were outside the scope of the Gates Foundation, like animal welfare.

Before our visit, our class had a great discussion about needs and wants. The class agreed that basic needs included water, food, and shelter.

They had a harder time deciding at what time in one’s life one could care for themselves. They decided it could be both a need and want depending on the context. The other two topics that students grappled with were education and health. Several students had solid reasons why they were needs, wants, or somewhere in between.

We involve our students in service in many ways such as helping one another in our own classrooms, partnering with students outside our classroom, planting trees in a city park, and packing food at a local feeding center. Helping children see beyond themselves is not always easy, especially in 2nd grade, and some of these ideas come from the adults around them. It’s extremely powerful, however, when service learning ideas come from the students themselves. Hopefully, this visit inspired a few and planted some seeds that will help serve our immediate and global communities.

Does Your Curriculum Allow Enough Play?

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“The best questions are the ones that create the most uncertainty.”

The quote, by Beau Lotto comes from a recent TED talk called: Science is for everyone, kids included. It’s about the importance of play. Uncertainty and ambiguity are naturally uncomfortable for humans, but he says that play has helped us step into that zone of uncertainty. Science experiments are in fact games (play with rules), and scientist and creative types have always embraced this while others have been a little more wary.

In this talk, he describes working with a group of 8-10 year olds in developing an experiment from a question the students had. They are also the youngest group to have a peer-reviewed paper published. It’s an example of experiential learning at its best and includes a lot of great educational topics: risk/failure/problem-based learning/collaboration/inquiry/intrinsic motivation/etc. He also brings out Amy O’Toole (now age 12) one of the original researchers to speak about the project as well.

Here’s a link to the paper.

What about Talent?

If you’ve taught long enough, I’m sure you’ve been able to recognize certain talents in your students. How much of that talent was nurtured so that your students were able to practice for over 10,000 hours? If you’ve read Sir Ken Robinson‘s books or seen him speak, you’ll know that his main message is to find the talents that lie within your students and then fuel them to ignite their passions. In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, he claims that passion is a key ingredient for intrinsic motivation and learning. The Harvard Business Review often has articles about hiring, inspiring, and retaining your talent. They often have entire issues dedicated to talent.

On the other hand, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, based on over a decade worth of analyzing research, says that it’s important to praise and focus on effort, not intellect. It builds resiliency and helps kids become life-long learners. In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell cites the 10,000 hours study and asserts that it is indeed effort, not IQ, that make a difference in becoming successful. And Dan Cole’s, The Talent Code, also looks at the 10,000 hours study, pushing the idea of talent to the side.

An article came out in today’s nytimes saying that we can’t dismiss IQ (or talent), and simply think effort alone will help us get from good to great. The title of the article, “Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters” doesn’t suggest that effort and practice doesn’t count. It just wants us to know that we cannot dismiss intellect and talent.

If you asked me which is more important, talent or effort? I’d say both, but both should allow for mistakes – something some kids are being deprived of in the name of ‘accountability.’

In any case, I’d like to end this post with a quote from Sir Ken Robinson.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Autonomy vs. Collaboration: Are they Exclusive of Each Other?

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of Daniel Pink, and his book Drive. If you haven’t read it yet, I repost a great animated summary at the end of this post. Using a lot of current research, Pink makes a case for autonomy being an integral part of motivation. The other two parts: mastery, and purpose.

I’m also a big fan of collaboration, and in todays world of sharing everything openly, its also really important. The summer issue of the Harvard Business Review is all about collaboration. In the book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Stephen Johnson, he makes a very clear point that great individual a-ha moments are rare and that it’s often the confluence of two or more ideas that lead to game changing innovations. There’s a great quick animation of this as well (posted below).

My personal answer to the question posed in the title of this post is, NO!

A large percentage of our faculty just finished a summer institute at our school that was organized by our school leaders. I can truly say, that I left feeling more excited, motivated, and inspired of the potential that our school has to continue growing. If the aim was to begin cultivating a community of professional learners with growth mindsets who are both autonomous AND collaborative, the institute was an incredible success. Another underlying principle is that everything we do promotes the same kind of purpose, relevance, and collaboration for students.

How was this done? By finding the strengths within each individual, yet creating a safe, trusting environment to share these. By making the purpose a clear and shared one. And by promoting mastery. It was hard work, but work everyone was so eager to do because it had meaning. It wasn’t busy work. Aside from that, the institute was run using a variety of effective models of instruction. That kind of modeling is key for inspiration and the transfer of effective teaching practices into the classroom.

If you’ve read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Things are Hard by the Heath Brothers, the way to do this is to find a way to motivate both our emotional and rational minds, and set a clear path for how this will be done. I sense the beginning of purposeful changes happening at our school this year, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Play

 

Last week, I posted a TED talk about the importance of play. If you watched the talk, the speaker said we have an education “that values rote learning, memorization and standardization, and devalues self-expression, self-exploration,questioning, creativity and play.” Play is universal, promotes creativity, mastery, and purpose. Current research in neuroscience supports this. The New York Times reported last week that principals are finally re-evaluating homework. At work, play includes going out with coworkers for lunch, doing something you love, being autonomous, and not being a prisoner to a schedule. Some of those things are beyond most teachers’ control. Ask a teacher when was the last time she went out for lunch with a coworker (even on professional days, the trend seems to be that most teachers are working through lunch). I’m lucky, since I love my job (lunches and schedules aside). It allows for some autonomy and creativity, gives me a sense of purpose, and I get to laugh with the kids a lot.

Of course, teaching has the perk of summer break. So what I have done these first three days of summer break? Spent it at work. Something I’ve been meaning to do for the past 10 years is organize materials better and purge old stuff (belonging to previous teachers) that could be better used somewhere else. Well, I almost did it, but I feel good enough that I can leave the room alone until August. Now, I can go play. Before the ISTE conference that begins Sunday night in Philly, I will get to spend some time in NYC and do some of the other things I love: seeing a couple of shows, trying new places to eat, discovering new neighborhoods, and some art.

In the meantime, the ISTE conference is shaping up to be overwhelming. I’m trying to narrow down my choices and just to give you an example, here are my already pared down choices for the concurrent session number 5 on Monday (there are twelve – some are two hours long). Yes, I managed to narrow that one down to seven. Maybe since it’s a tech conference, I’ll use a randomizer app on my phone. I wish I were more decisive.

4:15-5:15pm

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Assessing Students Using Web 2.0 Tools [Concurrent Session; Lecture]
Location: PACC 107B
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Integrating Digital Citizenship in a Web 2.0 World [Concurrent Session; Lecture]
Location: PACC 126A
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A Leadership Framework and Instrument for Technology Innovation in Schools [Research Paper; Roundtable]
Location: PACC 105B, Table 3
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4:15-5:15pm

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Separating Truth from Fiction: Information Literacy for Elementary Students [Concurrent Session; Model Lesson]
Location: PACC 119A
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Beyond Literacy to Information Fluency in the Age of InfoWhelm [Concurrent Session; Spotlight]
Location: PACC Grand Ballroom B
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The Information Fluency Classroom in Action [Concurrent Session; Model Lesson]
Location: PACC 119B
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Plan for Integrating 21st Century Skills in the Elementary Classroom [Research Paper; Roundtable]
Location: PACC 105B, Table 1

There are of course all kinds of other meetings in between, 3 keynotes, exhibits, demonstrations, people to meet, and for a fee, there are even evening workshops. Hopefully, I’ll be able to fit in a historical sight or two like Independence Hall, and write about some of the resources and learning I’m doing. As overwhelming as this conference appears, I’m very excited and can’t wait.

What is the Point of Learning?

Several weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend a TEDx event at Eastside Prep. Several speakers really spoke not only about what’s wrong with much of our education system (that would be too easy to do). They also spoke of changes that would enhance learning – the real kind of learning where you take risks, sometimes fail, but persevere until you get it. The reward is intrinsic. The value and motivation comes from the learning itself. For example, changing the schedule to allow for longer deeper inquiry or assessment without grades. Honestly, if I was evaluated on a grading system rather than through goal setting, feedback, and reflection, I wouldn’t do it. So why do we do this with kids in middle, high, and even some elementary schools? I’m glad people are motivated to put on events TEDx events focused around education. There’s another TED education event in this area, TEDxOverlake (How People Learn,) happening on June 18.

This week, the videos of these talks were posted, and I wanted to highlight a couple of speakers that addressed the above in different but concrete and passionate ways. The first is by Shawn Cornally, a high school math and science teacher called The Future of Education Without Coercion (you should also check out his blog, ThinkThankThunk.

The second is the talk by Dr. Tae whom I wrote about a few weeks back. His talk was titled: Can Skateboarding Save Our Schools?

If you’ve read Daniel Pink’s Drive, read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, seen the movie Race to Nowhere, or heard Sir Ken Robinson speak or read his book The Element, a very similar theme emerges in all of them.

Blogging Heads 15 Tips

Recently, my head of school suggested that he was almost ready to take a leap and start blogging. He just needed a little nudge. Hopefully this post will help.

Here are just a few tips:

1) Decide on purpose: to share what you’ve read both to teachers and parents, to share resources, to highlight your school, to be reflective and tell stories about the realities of school life, for personal professional development, to take a risk, to learn, etc.

2) Keep it related to education. – I’ve heard that nobody wants to read about what you had for lunch (unless of course it somehow relates to school).

3) Not everyone will like what you have to say (or care) – that’s okay, some will.

4) Keep it professional: don’t name anyone unless they don’t mind; I’ve learned that “transparency” is not the same thing as “say anything”; if you mention another school, do so because you like what they’re doing;

5) It’s okay to comment on issues and write your opinions: some issues are going to cause disagreement – that’s good, as long as the discourse is civil

6) First, read some other blogs written by Heads and Principals: Here are a few suggestions of Independent School Heads to start (there are other independent school blogging Heads and plenty of great public school ones that I’ll share another time):

21k12 (I like palindromes) – by Jonathan Martin: Head of School at St. Gregory’s in Tuscon
Peak Experiences – by Michael Ebling: Head of PK to 9th grade Summit School in Winston-Salem
Compass Point – by Josie Holford: Head of Poughkeepskie Day School

These three hosted a session called “Blogging Heads” at the last NAIS conference in DC, which I followed remotely. You can read a summary of their panel discussion here.

7) You don’t have to write every day.

8. It’s a way to responsibly model an authentic medium that many of our students will or already use.

9) You may reach people well beyond our own school community.

10) Think of it as a discipline that motivates you: for some that’s running, gardening, knitting, volunteering – do it because you want to

11) Like those other disciplines mentioned above, don’t do it for extrinsic rewards. The intrinsic rewards should be good enough.

12) Don’t always expect comments or replies.

13) Don’t expect all your teachers to blog. Do encourage them to be reflective about their practice – whatever form that may be. Blogging is not part of a teacher’s job. It’s just one of many ways to share.

14) Realize that sometimes, you have to stop, and even though you set out to write 15 tips, sometimes 14 will do.

A nudge was asked for. The  book Nudge is a book about the psychology of choices.

The philosophy called libertarian paternalism is what the authors of the book say works best in designing choice architecture.
I’m just a teacher who likes to think about education and share what I’m thinking: I’m not a philosopher, psychologist, or even a Head of School. To blog or not to blog? I’ll keep you posted.