Persistance to Mastery (Using Skateboarding as an Analogy for Learning)

I attended an incredible event at TEDxEastsidePrep today. The topic was: Evolution of Instruction: Inquiry, Innovation, Identity and it exceeded my expectations.  I tweeted a couple of nuggets I got from each presenter and I wonder if that will encourage teachers to take a risk with twitter as a learning tool.

There’s an overwhelming amount of great things to share, and perhaps I’ll write about all of it.  One speaker, Dr. Tae was off the charts. A physics professor and avid skateboarder, he talked about what has been a common theme at our school: Learning by making mistakes. He walked through a trick he wanted to learn by showing us a shortened video of his progression. He got it on his 58th try. That meant he FAILED 57 times. There was no physical incentive for this trick other than the accomplishment of the act itself. There were no letter grades (an F for his first attempt, maybe a C+ near the middle). He only had a clear goal, persistance, practice and hard work. How are our children learning? Are their learning tasks as relavent, engaging, and clear to them? Do they persist or do they give up easily? All extremely good questions to ask oneself and their students.

Here’s a video on Dr. Tae’s blog that gives you an idea of what he means when he says we need to build a new culture of teaching and learning. The end of the school year is upon us and it’s a fairly busy time, but I hope to share one nugget from all the speakers.


A Sustainable Field Trip?

Where do you think this is?

I’ve always lamented the fact that teachers get plenty of time off, but never get to choose when it occurs. I won’t be able to see New England in the fall until I retire. It’s just one of those things. But then again, when we Seattlites are given a day like today, sunny on Halloween, we take advantage of it.

The next couple of pictures were taken from the Japanese Gardens in the Arboretum. The fall colors were magnificent.


Then we discovered a new area called the Pacific Connections Gardens that have gardens from Australia, New Zealand, The Pacific Northwest, China, and Chile.

You can read more about the project here.

It fits in with our garden and sustainability theme this year and is near enough to our school to also fit in with our sub theme of sense of place…

It’s only a 20 minute walk from our school which would add to our other sub theme of sustainable transportation, and I started thinking of the social studies connections, or integrating it with the service learning project at Seward Park, as well as our own school garden that we started this year. The opportunities seemed limitless, but then I thought about safety and walking with 20 children through busy roads to get there. I’ll have to think it through, but I’m glad the sun in shining on this beautiful fall day, and it’s amazing what one can stumble upon in your own neighborhood.


Fitness over Competition

Before retiring, our former PE teacher left our school with a program that emphasized fitness over competition in sports, and when I read this article, it was yet another thing that our school does that is validating. Not only do we have a traditional PE program, but also a fitness program, and the richness of the two really build a life long positive attitude towards exercise.

When listening to Yong Zhao speak this weekend about test scores and achievement gaps, he put it very plainly. If you spend more time doing something like math (or drinking beer), it’s obvious you will be able to achieve higher test scores or drink more beer.  Will that make you a more balanced person though?

Because of programs like No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top (and possibly our weak economy) many schools are getting rid of recess, PE, Art, Music, and other specialist subjects so that they can have more hours of math and language instruction. If we do succeed as a nation who can all ace calculus, we will lack the diversity and creativity that has made this country what it is today.

That article talks about a school that uses fresh methods to keep kids active. It may not seem as fresh at our school, but at the time, though it made sense, it was a risk. Without risks, schools don’t move forward. However, those risks may include some failures here and there. Being able to acknowledge those and learn from them isn’t necessarily easy.

With our new school building, we are taking a lot of risks. Greening our curriculum through teaching about sustainability, adding a school garden curriculum, focusing on how to ensure the students’ well-being through a robust social and emotional curriculum, and looking at gaps in our own traditional curriculum are all risks. But as we learn and grow, the rewards are great.

Bodies in Motion

Continuing with The Third Teacher, the next section, titled “Bodies in Motion” deal with the importance of movement and learning. Number 20 to 29 in their 79 ways to use design to transform teaching and learning are:

20. Make peace with fidgeting

Kids fidget. It’s part of brain development. Deal with it.

21. Decide on dynamic

22. Swivel to attention

23. Make classrooms agile

Whether teaching on the floor, outside, or at desks, having a flexible space and keeping kids moving throughout the day, impacts learning in a positive way.

24. Respect fitness facilities

Several years ago, before she retired, the PE teacher at our school saw the need to build fitness into the school day and together with our PE program, our kids have PE everyday. Being someone who never really got into sports, I absolutely detest going to the gym. I love going for long brisk walks (but only on nice days – in Seattle, that doesn’t work for about 9 months of the year). It’s amazing that all the kids seem to love physical activity. When its built into the culture, it becomes the norm.

25. Take the “ground” out of “playground”

I’ve noticed that there are more after school programs that deal with circus and acrobatics arts. I think that’s pretty nifty.

26. Promote healthy play

27. Naturalize play spaces

With our school’s new focus on sustainability (the focus of section 5 in this book), we are gaining a lot of new outdoor play areas and a school garden. The landscaping will also include native and sustainable plants. Hopefully there will be areas where kids can play among the plants.

28. Scale the wall

29. Free choice

Allow kids in some of the decision making. This includes curriculum,  class expectations, game rules, and how to solve problems.

I wonder if we can apply this to some of our faculty meetings. If we met in small clusters and discussed school themes/issues as we went for a walk. I keep thinking that all that apply to children, also apply to grown-ups, but that change is gradual and takes time.