In Case You Missed It: TED’s First TV Special

I enjoy the occasional TED talk, so it was great to find out that their first TV special that aired this past Tuesday on PBS centered around Education. The musician, John Legend hosted, and talks were given by several education leaders trying to emphasize some of the things needed in education.

Some of the speakers included Angela Duckworth on Grit, Bill Gates on Measures of Effective Teaching, Sir Ken Robinson on the need to start a revolution, Geoffrey Canada on education reform, and Pearl Arredondo telling her own personal story of grit. My favorite talk, though, was Rita F. Pierson’s. Her topic was about what I think matters most in education: Heart. It’s always about the connection and relationship you make with the kids, and your belief in them. You can watch her short talk below, or click the PBS link above to see them all.

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.

I’m All for Squishy Hands-On Learning

What should a five-year old know? This month’s Educational Leadership has a great article about trying to strike the balance between academic rigor and play in kindergarten. Many kindergartener teachers are moving to worksheets in order for their students to take something home to parents as evidence of learning. According to the article, there is also a much bigger emphasis on student performance and outcomes and a “rush to promote content achievement.” But what if we could do both? What if  we could integrate the natural curiosity of a child through play, and at the same time, develop important core concepts? The following TED talk is a fine example of how we can do just that. This video is less than five minutes long and shows how, using homemade play dough, you can turn little kids into electrical circuit designers.

If you like the video, you can get the recipes here.

“Emotions are the Foundations of Reason”

“Emotions are the foundations of reason,” says David Brooks in today’s TED talk, “because they tell us what to value.”

Mr. Brooks is one of my favorite columnists in the NYTimes. Articulate and smart, this TED talk shows that he is also very funny. It’s fascinating that he spent three years culling research about our need as humans to be social. He admits, that emotions are not something he is known for, but in his research has found that “reading and educating your emotions is one of the central activities of wisdom.”

He sums up what many colleagues have been saying for years – that EQ is just as important as IQ, if not more. We do, however, have to be reflective about our biases. By nature, humans need to be social, but according to Brook’s research, it’s the quality of the social connection that matters, not just the superficial connection.

I keep seeing these terms, ‘mindsight’; ‘theory of mind’; ‘sympathy’; ‘group IQ’ (although Brooks says it’s less about IQ than the quality of connections among the group) in most of the books I’ve read over the past couple of years. Learning how to empathize and using one’s emotions to drive one’s reasoning are extremely important skills to grow.

Early in his talk, Brooks mentions what many of my colleagues and I have said: we can build a fancy school building (and we did), but it’s the connections we make and the values we share with each other, the parents, and kids that make a great school. I’m lucky as we’ve got that too.

It’s been an exceptional year of TED talks and I highly recommend this one. Will you take the 18 minutes to watch it?

Looking at Biomimicry and Nature to Become More Sustainable

Anyone looking at today’s headlines may think the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Yet, one of the main reasons I teach is the optimism kids have about their future, the potential kids see in creating a more just world, and the endless possibilities of things they believe they can accomplish.

Over the past few years, our school has run an annual coin drive to benefit a particular global organization. This year, our fifth graders chose World Concern as the organization, but more specifically, that the money collected would go to purchase solar cookers for families in Chad. With the recent population boom in eastern Chad mostly coming from war-torn Sudan, many children are sent miles, through often dangerous terrain, to fetch wood so their families can cook their meals. Aside from protecting children, it also protects the deforestation that has happened in that region. For an area that is often hot and receives a lot of sun, these inexpensive and innovative cookers make a lot of sense.

How innovative can we be with our own sustainable practices? I watched the TED talk below last week and was awed by what people are thinking about and coming up with. Not only that, I also realize how much I have to learn in order to actually teach it. I don’t want the idea sustainable practices to feel like lip service in order to gain whatever points one needs to have a building LEED certified or some other sustainable stamp of approval. I simply want the process to be genuine. One of my frustrations this year has been trying to learn about sustainability because the topic is so complex, full of paradoxes, and for me, something new. I don’t know what starting small means. I’m also not sure how to bring it down to a level that makes sense for second graders (besides reusing, recycling, and composting materials). Our school’s symbol is the sun. Having children understand that it gives us energy that we can harness and store, and that it’s a renewable source is something I can work with and so can my students. Unfortunately, in Seattle, with hydro power being inexpensive, and sunlight being scarce in the winter, I’m curious how long it takes for a solar panel to pay for itself, if at all.

Anyway, take a listen to this amazing talk and you’ll see what I mean by how complex sustainability can be. My favorite line from the video, “You could look at nature as being like a catalogue of products, and all of those have benefitted from a 3.8 billion-year research and development period.” Let’s inspire our kids to develop the tools needed to think this way and “set their souls ablaze” with optimism and hope.

It’s Time to do Better.

Diana Laufenberg (a high school teacher) gives an interesting talk about learning – by making mistakes. According to her, the culture of one-right-answer on a standardized test, is not the way we kids should learn.

Here’s her TEDx talk:

Which Came First: The Paper or the Computer?

For the young children we educate now, they arrived into this world where both existed at the same time. This “TED talk” below features Conrad Wolfram trying to change the paradigm of how math is taught. If you’re familiar with him, he’s the man behind the website Wolframalpha. It’s quite a fascinating website. If you’re a math nerd, or even a teacher wanting to make math relevant to kids, it’s a great website. Just type in any equation like “2+2″ without the quotation marks, or “2,5 torus knot” and see what you come up with. Then get crazy and try entering your birthday or an historical event.

For those of you who remember the quadratic equation, ask yourself when was the last time you used it. More importantly, if you do remember it, ask yourself, how, why, and when you would use it? I think I’m safe with 2nd grade math, even though it’s important to stretch kids in every possible way. For middle school teachers and beyond though, he poses a very good argument. One thing I certainly agree on is that we all need to support kids with estimation, reasonableness, and mental math strategies. It’s well worth the 18 minute video, especially if you’re interested in math ed. reform in this country. Alternately, with TED talks, you can click on a link to get the transcript, if that’s your prefered method of learning.

Here’s the blurb from TED about the following video titled, Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers.

From rockets to stock markets, many of humanity’s most thrilling creations are powered by math. So why do kids lose interest in it? Conrad Wolfram says the part of math we teach — calculation by hand — isn’t just tedious, it’s mostly irrelevant to real mathematics and the real world. He presents his radical idea: teaching kids math through computer programming.

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