Indiana STEM Education Conference

Last week I had the privilege to attend the Fourth Annual Indiana STEM Education Conference at Purdue University. Purdue’s College of Education sees K-12 STEM education as one of its two signature areas of focus for pre-service teachers. In this K-12 STEM path, Purdue is “preparing teachers who can weave STEM subjects throughout their curriculum and introduce the concepts through real-world application. Our focus goes beyond the specific STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and math – to include literacy, social studies, problem-solving, critical thinking and communication.” This belief fits well with the Indiana Department of Education’s STEM Six-Year Strategic Plan (can be found here: http://bit.ly/IndianaSTEMPlan). This plan has the stated mission to “Ensure Indiana teachers are prepared to provide every student in grades K-12 with an evidence-based, effective STEM education…”

aldrinThe opening of the conference included a guest speaker that I was super excited to see – Buzz Aldrin!  It was cool to hear Aldrin talk about his experiences, as well as his hopes for continued space exploration. Aldrin is a huge supporter of getting a human being to Mars. Not to mention, there’s something pretty awesome about being in the same room as someone who actually walked on the moon.

The rest of the conference was made up of several break-out sessions, and I have to say that every one I attended was excellent. I want to share some of the tidbits I picked up while I was there.

My first session was on the connection between STEM and Project Based Learning. In that session, we began by talking a little about the Science and Engineering Process Standards (SEPS). If you look at the science standards of any grade level or science curriculum, the first two pages of the standards are made up of these process standards focusing on 8 key areas:

  • SEPS.1 Posing questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • SEPS.2 Developing and using models and tools
  • SEPS.3 Constructing and performing investigations
  • SEPS.4 Analyzing and interpreting data
  • SEPS.5 Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • SEPS.6 Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • SEPS.7 Engaging in argument from evidence
  • SEPS.8 Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

By looking at the specific standards for your grade level or subject area, you can see a deeper description of those process standards. Look here for more info: https://www.doe.in.gov/standards/science-computer-science

In two of the sessions I attended, presenters talked about the value of STEM Challenges or Engineering Projects as a way to help meet some of these process standards. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Paper Chain Challenge: For this challenge, students need 1 piece of paper, scissors, and tape. The challenge? Try to make the longest possible paper chain. As a constraint, you could change the materials allowed. Another variation on this was that you do not provide tape, and you had to make the longest continuous piece of paper without using tape, paperclips, or any other objects to connect the paper back together. When we did this challenge, we were only given 5 minutes, then had a 5 minute conversation to process our designs, compare the length of each chain, etc. In those 10 minutes, we hit on 5 of the SEPS!

 

  • Drop Copter Challenge: Have you ever made a drop copter? For directions, click here: http://bit.ly/DropCopter. Once you have the students create their drop copter, then you add in the challenge. Now they have to make one modification to their copter to improve the way the copter falls to the ground. I’m sure there are a variety of ways you could define “improve”, so you can figure out what it means for you (or even better, let the students decide!). After the adjustment and testing, spend another 5-10 minutes processing the challenge with students. Again, several SEPS hit in less than a half hour!

 

  • Parachute Challenge: Provide students with large sheets of tissue paper (like for wrapping a present), tape, 5 paperclips, and 2 pieces of string (you can decide on the length). Give students 5-10 minutes to design, build, test, and redesign a parachute. The goal is to design a parachute that takes the longest to reach the ground. When time is up, have all the students come to the front, drop from the same height, and compare the fall time. Finally, spend some time processing the challenge with the kids. Again, we’ve just hit on multiple SEPS in less than a half hour!

These are just a couple of the potential STEM Challenges that were fairly short. Another session I attended also hit on the SEPS, but they were coming at it from the Engineering Design process. I’ve seen lots of different models for the Engineering Design Process, but I liked the language that was used by Science Learning through Engineering Design (SLED). Check it out:

sled

SLED has an awesome website, STEMEdhub.org, but I wanted to direct you in particular to their Design Resources page (check that out here). This page lists a multitude of activities and various grade levels. When you click on a title, it takes you to a page with more information about the project. Want to see more (like the lesson plans, materials needed, etc.)? Click the purple Download button to the right of the title. Unlike the STEM Challenges above that could be done in a half hour or less, these are more in depth, long term projects that will take your students through the design process you see above.

real worldI wanted to briefly touch on my final two sessions, which were on similar topics. One was about an intermediate school in Ellettsville that implemented a school-wide genius hour program. At this school, every other Friday, the entire school basically shuts down for the last hour of the day. Students then work on their genius hour projects. These projects are ungraded, student-led, and lead to a STEAM Night Showcase where students share their findings from their genius hour project. The teachers, administrators, counselors, custodians, and other adults in the building are all able to serve as advisors for students who choose projects on a topic that they have an interest or understanding in. The school has even partnered with outside professionals who can come in and help be mentors for topics students are interested in. Being located near Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center and Cook Inc. opens up the possibility of some great partnerships for this school.

recipeThe final session of the day that I attended was put on by the innovation director and principal from New Palestine Intermediate. This year they created a new day in their related arts rotation called Innovation Hour. Other schools might call this learning clubs, or choice activity time. To create the clubs, staff members signed up with something they were passionate about. Examples include gardening, drones, coding, woodworking, etc. Students then sign up for their top three choices. Once assigned to an Innovation Hour, then they meet every 4th day from 8:30 to 9:20, and all the students are able to participate in the club they are assigned to. So far, everyone has been able to get one of their top 3 choices.

One of my current goals is to figure out how to bring something like either the Genius Hour project, or the innovation hour to Riverside Intermediate. On February 6th, our students will be participating in the Global School Play Day, and we have it set up with choice activities that students will be able to get involved in. It is my hope that this will serve as a jumping off point for one of these more long term learning opportunities for our students!

So, what are your thoughts? Anything here that you plan to use in your classroom? Anything that you already do that you can share with our readers? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

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What is learning

Earlier this week, our district hosted it’s monthly admin meeting. During our meeting, our superintendent led us in an activity to think about defining what learning is. He encouraged us to think beyond the contexts that lead to learning, but the actual understanding of what learning is. After our activity, we were given a homework assignment – to write our beliefs about learning. I decided to be a little vulnerable and share my thoughts publicly. What you see below is what I wrote as a result of that activity.


SapiensRecently I’ve been reading the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I’m about a third of the way through the book, but its premise is centered on the evolution of Homo sapiens as a species. In a recent chapter, I was struck by the comparison between the biological development of humans versus the cultural development of humans. In biological terms, humans have the ability to learn. Our early hunter gatherer ancestors had to learn how to identify what foods were safe to eat, what predators they needed to stay away from, or what places were safe to drink the water. On the other hand, schools are a cultural development created by humans to pass on learning to students. Traditionally, much of that culture has treated learning as the filling of a vessel, not the awakening of the biological processes that encourage learning. The types of things that we teach in schools are not directly related to the future survival of our students (we don’t directly teach them how to meet their basic needs). As with any system, the culture that surrounds it effects how the system works. My understanding of this was further impacted by my recent trip to China. The system of schooling, while there are some similarities to what we do in the US, also had some rather significant differences that are created by the cultural beliefs that Chinese society has about learning. So this leads me to the bigger question, from a biological level, what is learning? Here are my beliefs:

  • Learning builds on prior knowledge – It involves adding to a learner’s current knowledge and beliefs. As a learner encounters a new experience, it changes those beliefs.
  • Learning is ongoing – All people have the ability to learn, and are doing it constantly no matter their beliefs, background, or location.
  • Learning is authentic – It relates to the things that a learner feels they need or want to know.
  • Learning is social – It involves a learner’s interactions with others, and the shared experience that occurs during those interactions.
  • Learning is active – It involves interaction between a learner and the world. These interactions could be through an experiment, a hands-on experience, or through talking with others.

Going back to that comparison between the biological processes that lead to learning, as compared to the cultural systems that exist in schools, these core beliefs should help guide our future decisions on the systems that exist in school. If we want to encourage learning, then our schools need to meet the biological demands, not simply the cultural expectations that some might have for schools. We have a lot to reflect on. Let’s get to work!


So… I’m curious to know your thoughts. If you were to write a response to the question “What is learning?” what would you say? We aren’t talking about the context of learning. We aren’t talking about the environment that leads to learning. I encourage you to really drill down to what happens when we learn. Are there things you think I got right? Things I missed the boat on? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Cognitive Complexity

At a recent PLC meeting of the Humanities teachers at my school, we were spending some time digging into the concept of Cognitive Complexity vs. that of Difficulty. This conversation was rolled into a much deeper conversation about the ILEARN, Indiana’s new computer-adaptive assessment that all students will be taking in grades 3-8. We began talking about the differences in difficulty and cognitive complexity because we were learning that no matter what difficulty level a student fell into on the adaptive test, all students will be solving problems that are cognitively complex. So, what’s the difference between the two concepts?

Difficulty:

When we try to define the concept of difficulty, it is considered a measure of the effort required to complete a task. In the purpose of an assessment, a problem that many students missed would be considered more difficult than a problem that everyone got right. So when looking at the difficulty of a problem or task in your classroom, the more likely it is that all students will get it correct, the less difficult it is.

As we know, all our students come to us varying levels of understanding. In his book The End of Average, Todd Rose talks about the jaggedness of people. Not only do our students walk into our classrooms with physical differences that we can all see, they walk in with different abilities in math, reading, etc. In adaptive testing, an assessment will adjust its level of difficulty based on the answers students get correct or incorrect. As one student gets a question correct, the next question will most likely be more difficult. On the other hand, a student who gets a question wrong will then see a question that is less difficult. All standards can be measured at varying levels of difficulty. Take for example the following two math problems that are working on the same skill:

Easy: Sarah planted 5 rows of 7 flowers in each row. Write a multiplication equation that shows the number of flowers in Sarah’s rectangular garden.

Difficult: Tom told Mary he planted 48 flowers in the rectangular-shaped garden. Select the correct number sentence Mary could use to describe how the flowers were planted.

 As you can see, both questions require students to solve the same type of problem, using a similar level of thinking, but because of the wording, the second question would be considered more difficult.

Cognitive Complexity:

To define the idea of complexity, we have to think about it as a measure of the thinking action, or knowledge that you need to complete a task. One way to think about this is to think about how many different ways can a task be accomplished. I think the best way to think about the idea of complexity is to think in relation to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. DOK can be broken down into 4 different levels: Recall and Reproduction; Basic Application of Skills; Strategic Thinking; and Extended Thinking.

So basically, cognitive complexity is a way to measure how demanding of a thought process is necessary to complete a specific task. Items that simply ask a student to recall basic facts from an article they just read would be much less complex than an item that required analyzing the points of view of two separate authors and making a comparison of their purpose for writing.

So… How should an understanding of these two concepts impact our teaching in the classroom? The reality is, no matter what level of difficulty a student may be working at – whether they are reading below grade level, or working on math that is above grade level – all our students need to see the types of problems that have a high level of cognitive complexity, because no matter what level of difficulty they are working with, they need to be able to use a variety of levels of thinking in carrying out tasks in the classroom.

There are a couple of great resources that you can use to help find ways to up the level of cognitive complexity no matter what level of difficulty your students are working at.

EngageNY: A huge collection of resources for both math and language arts (and everything is FREE!!!) that will include performance tasks and opportunities for students to perform cognitively complex activities. You can search by specific topics, or seek things out based on grade level and topic.

YouCubed: A wealth of activities for math instruction, based on the work of Jo Boaler. You can seek out tasks for your students to complete, find resources for your students or parents, and so much more!

Open Middle: Another math based site that provides tons of challenging math problems. Again, you can search by grade level, topic, and more. Carrying out a problem like this a couple times a week in your classroom will up the DOK immensely!

I’m sure that there are lots of other ideas you may have to help increase the cognitive complexity within your classroom. What resources do you have? How do you make sure that all your students have opportunities to carry out tasks that are truly cognitively challenging to them? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Principles of Restorative Practices in Our Classrooms

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on the Introduction to Restorative Practices. It was one of the most powerful learning events that I have attended in my many years in education. For the past couple of years, I have been dabbling in the concepts of restorative practices, trying to gain an understanding of just what it is, and how we could use the ideas in my school building. Until attending this workshop, I’ve struggled to figure out just how to implement some of the things I have learned. This seemed like the perfect opportunity!

Restorative PracticeToday’s post will focus primarily on the principles of restorative practices as shared by Kristina Hulvershorn of the Peace Learning Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. But before we get into the principles, let’s talk about why we should be looking at restorative practices as a piece of our plan for handling behavior and conflict.

One of the things that I think we can agree on is that our more traditional methods of blame, shame, punishment, and exclusion just don’t effectively work for our stakeholders. It may make you as the teacher feel better when the student who has made a poor choice is removed from the room, but does it really solve the underlying problem? When we push students out, we’re providing the opposite of what they really need – an opportunity to learn to do better. When misbehavior occurs, it’s the perfect time to help students learn the skills they are lacking. As Dr. Ross Greene reminds us in his book Lost at School, “Kids do well if they can.” In addition, restorative practices help to address disproportionality of discipline on students of color. I hope we can look at restorative practices not as something new and different, but another tool to use when incidents of misbehavior occur.

So, what are the principles of restorative practices?

  • Acknowledges that relationships are central to building community.
  • Builds systems that address misbehavior and harm in a way that strengthens relationships.
  • Focuses on the harm done rather than only the rule-breaking.
  • Gives voice to the person harmed.
  • Engages in collaborative problem solving.
  • Empowers change and growth.
  • Enhances responsibility.

Traditionally, our system of discipline in schools has been mostly based in punitive measures. Things like detention, suspension, or expulsion has been the primary method of handling student discipline. I know that in my own history, I had moments of discipline where the consequences were purely punitive. But let’s remember for a moment the root of the word discipline – it comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil. That word is also the source of the word disciple. What if we began shifting our mindset on discipline towards the idea that it’s based on teaching, not on consequences? How might that change what you do when a student misbehaves?

Now I know the pushback from some of you – the real world won’t look at discipline as a teaching tool. If our students make these mistakes in the “real world” when they are older, they will face serious consequences, like losing their job, facing fines, or maybe even jail. You’d probably be able to come up with some great examples of times where this has happened. I agree that maybe this isn’t how the real world works. But here’s the thing: We’re a school, we’re dealing with kids who are bound to make mistakes, and we’re teachers. Shouldn’t we make it our goal to teach students how they should behave while they are still with us?

So, what can you do to start building a more restorative setting in your classroom? There are a few universal steps that will help you start down that path:

  • Daily community circles – Think about sitting in a circle with your class every day. Take a few minutes to have students share how their feeling, a high or low point of the weekend, what they are looking forward to, etc. The ideas are endless, and if you are struggling to come up with topics, ask your students to submit them for you! These circles will help build safety and trust among your class, help kids make connections, and help you build relationships with your kids because you know more about their interests.
  • Student-led norms/rules – What if all your classroom norms and rules were set by the students? I know there are a few classrooms in my school that use this. If you don’t, what ownership do students have in the norms? Most of the time, students will create norms that all can agree on, that meet your needs as the teacher, and then we can all agree to those norms and refer back to them on a regular basis.
  • Explicit teaching of SEL skills – Social Emotional Learning is such an important piece that too often gets shoved to the bottom of the to-do list (which means it doesn’t get done). If we want students to understand what is appropriate in our school, we have to take the time to teach them. It’s tempting to say “they should already know this!” but if their actions show that they don’t, then maybe it’s something they need to be retaught. Just like how you’d reteach a math or English lesson if you realized that students don’t understand, it’s important to reteach behavioral skills too!
  • Affective StatementsRestorative language (the use of affective language) – To the right you’ll see a screen shot of a document with sentence starters for affective statements (I’ve also included a link to the document at the bottom of this post). If you share this with your students, post it in your room, and begin using statements like these, the kids will too!
  • Effort to build relationships – I think all teachers have stories they can share about “that kid” who has given them so much trouble, but then when you take the time to get to know them and what they care about, you begin to have more success. Building real relationships can help you get there with any kid! The community circle is one way to learn about kids, which can then help you find connections and conversations that you can have with that kid.

I hope to share more about restorative practices in the future, but here’s my ask to you: Take one of the 5 universal steps and give it a try. See what happens in your classroom. Does it change the way students treat one another? Does it lead to better relationships?

I know there are some of you who are already doing these things. If you have tried any of the ideas offered here, share with us what your experience has been. Let us know that positives (or struggles) you have found with these ideas?

Affective Statements

What’s the goal of education?

As many of you know, I love to listen to podcasts. I probably spend more time listening to podcasts than listening to music. I see them as an awesome learning tool. In past posts, I’ve shared tidbits that I gained from some of those various podcasts. Recently I’ve become a big fan of Reimagine Schools hosted by Dr. Greg Goins. Goins is currently the Director of the Educational Leadership Program at Georgetown College in Kentucky, and previously has worked in many different roles in schools, including time as a district superintendent in Illinois. The podcast is a way to share some of his ideas on transforming our schools.

He’s had several great guests on the podcast, but a recent episode really struck a chord with me. That episode was an interview of Alfie Kohn. Kohn is a writer and speaker on topics such as human behavior, education, and parenting. He has written 14 books, as well as numerous articles over the years. I must be honest, some of Kohn’s ideas really push me to the brink of being a little uncomfortable, but they cause me to pause and reflect on his thinking. I’ve said it before, no growth takes place when we are entirely comfortable, so I’m hoping these ideas will help me grow in my thinking. I’ll include a link to the podcast episode at the bottom of this post.

There were several things about the conversation that really made me pause and think. While the conversation meandered between topics, I’m going to break up my thoughts into what I saw as the 3 primary topics: what’s the goal of education; measuring student growth without traditional assessment; and the role of homework in education.

What’s the goal of education

During the conversation, Kohn shared that “Traditionalism has ill-served the students of today.” Much of the current American system of education is based in economic and competitive ways. Things like standardized assessments were often instituted and created by people who look at education from a purely economic perspective – we put in this amount per student, and based on that, this percentage of students can pass a test at the end of the school year. For those of us in education, we understand that this economic perspective is not where learning happens. Kohn pushes that we need to move beyond stuffing kids with facts, and instead get to understanding ideas from the inside out.

Many schools are still focused on grades, rubrics, tests, quizzes, homework, and worksheets. Kohn calls this “intellectually unengaging” and shares that based on research, learning shouldn’t be this way. Instead, true learning should grow from kids questions. Our role as educators is to empower our students and create welcoming communities that encourage student learning. We as the teachers have to start by minimizing our own power, and providing students with the opportunities to make decisions because the only way to learn to make good decisions is by making decisions.

Student growth without traditional assessment

Most of the timeIn his conversation with Goins, Kohn challenges us that there is no way to measure or quantify true learning. The moment we try to put a numerical or letter-based score onto a learning task, we take away much of the motivation that students have to learn, and instead we create a system that trains our students for compliance. The things that can be easily measured in an assessment are not the things that truly matter. The example that Kohn used here was that on an assessment of a writing task, we may spend more time and effort in measuring the number of times that a student used punctuation correctly, however we don’t spend nearly as much time on whether the student expressed meaningful ideas in their writing. If we are developing learners in our world, what’s more important? I think most would agree that the ideas are the most important part, but ideas are hard to quantify, so we struggle to factor that into our assessments. As Kohn puts it “More focus on data in teaching means that we teach the trivial stuff more than the important stuff.”

This was an area that I really struggled. Currently we live in a system that we are judged based on our data. For better or worse, that is the system that we live in. If I as a teacher, or we as a school, decided to shy away from that data and focus on the so called “more important stuff,” there may be stakeholders who question our choices because the data is important to them. It’s a struggle between what we feel is best for students, and what our community and society expect for students. What to do?

Kohn did have some awesome suggestions for ways to assess students in more authentic ways. He talked a little about performance tasks, which I know there are teachers in my current building who do this at times. He talked about exhibitions of mastery – imagine a gallery walk at the end of a unit, or grading period, or school year at least, where students are able to share something that they learned with an audience of more than just their teachers and peers. Another suggestion that I know that I’ve mentioned below is a portfolio with a place for reflections by students. I see this blog as my own personal learning portfolio – by scrolling through past posts you can see what I’ve learned about, what I’m passionate about, and you can see my own reflections on those topics. You may even notice that opinions on some of the topics have evolved in the time I’ve been posting. A final suggestion from Kohn is something that a teacher, or even school as a whole could do to assess overall learning – that’s a random sample of students achievements (notice that both are plural, that’s important). By looking at the achievements of various students, you can see a little about the types of learning that have happened within your classroom / school over a given period of time.

The role of homework in education

For those of you who know of Alfie Kohn, you may know what to expect here. Kohn is not a fan of homework. As a short precursor, Kohn sees homework, especially before high school, as educational malpractice, and he has a few reasons for his opinions. First a foremost, he doesn’t feel that a kid should have a “second shift” of school at home. Most people, when they leave work, are done with work, but in education we send students home with more to do.

Now I know, some of you are saying “not my homework, it’s meaningful,” but let’s keep in mind what we are asking when we send work home with a student. First, homework can be tough on families and kids. By assigning homework we are imposing our demands on their family time, and Kohn feels that families should be able to determine how to use their family time. Second, according to Kohn, no study has found any benefit of any kind to any student before high school. And finally, Kohn says that homework leads to several potential negative outcomes for our students: frustration; exhaustion; family conflict; less interest in learning; and less time for kids to develop in other ways (socially, artistically, etc.).

I’m not saying that we should never assign homework ever again, but Kohn’s thoughts fit with some of the opinions that I have as a father. Our family time is precious, and I don’t want to spend it fighting with my kids about whether they have their assignments done from school. We’ve got much better ways to spend our time. Kohn’s definition of appropriate homework is “on those rare occasions when we can say that this will help kids think more deeply about questions that matter, and when it will make kids more excited about learning, then and only then will we infringe upon family time.”

So what are your thoughts? Are you going to listen to the conversation (the link is just below)? Do any of the ideas shared above cause you to reflect on your own practice? Do they make you uncomfortable? I can say for sure that there are things from this post that make me a little uncomfortable, but I’m trying to live on the growing edge! Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Progressive Education with Alfie Kohn

Lines of permission

How many times have you heard about some cool project that a teacher you know is trying, and had the thought “Man, I wish I could do something like that with my class!”

I know that there were times that I would have those exact thoughts – sometimes the thing holding me back had to do with resources, sometimes it was fear that I couldn’t pull something like that off with my class, and sometimes it was that I wasn’t sure if it was something that I would actually be allowed to do with my students.

At the beginning of the school year, our Superintendent shared with all the teachers in the district a catchphrase that he wanted to become a phrase we all used to describe learning: “Incubating Awesome!” If we believe that it is our job to create an amazing learning space that leads to awesome opportunities for students to learn and grow, we cannot allow any doubt to get in the way! We have to move forward and do amazing things for our students because it’s what we know is best for kids!

In his book Creative Schools, Ken Robinson shares that “People everywhere have ideas they would like to develop, but they need permission to try them out and see if they work. If they fear failure or humiliation or disapproval, they usually hold back. If they’re encouraged to try their hand, they usually will.” I want this post to be that encouragement for you! Don’t let any of those fears or that thought of needing permission, be the thing that prevents you from incubating awesome in your own classroom!

It is my goal to create a culture where all the people in our school feel empowered to do what they think is necessary to create awesome learning opportunities for the students they work with! Robinson reminds us that culture is about permission. Not so long ago, the NFL was kind of a no holds barred world. True, there were personal fouls and calls for unnecessary roughness, but this year the NFL put into place new rules regarding leading with the helmet. This rule was put into place as an effort to keep players safe, but in the NFL Preseason there was an uproar over some of the penalties that were called. As a former football coach and player, this one is an example of some of the struggles with the new rule:

To me, this looks like a perfectly clean tackle. However, the referees in the game saw it as a player leading with the helmet, and called a penalty. The reality is that the lines of permission in society have been redrawn. We can see this in sports, or in the real world. The things that once were impermissible become common place, while other things that were once the norm become impermissible. Schools are changing too, and that affects our own lines of permission.

The next time you have an idea to try something new and innovative with your class, you may have something that pulls you back and tells you not to do it. Don’t listen! When we take risks as educators, we encourage our students to take their own risks. When we show our students that we’re willing to try something new, we show them that it’s ok to try something new. We teach in so many ways, and sometimes what students learn from us is not as much about the lessons we have planned as it is about the skills we help them develop through our own efforts to model what it means to be a lifelong learner.

And here’s the reality, if you are trying out new and innovative things, there are going to be times that you fail! We have begun to celebrate failure in our society. One thing that I’ve been thinking about though: it’s not the failure that we need to celebrate. It’s the willingness to reflect on that failure and figure out what we can learn and how we can get better that we should be celebrating.

So, knowing that you have permission to go out there and do something new and innovative, what ideas do you have? What ways are you going to incubate awesome in your classroom this year? Share your thoughts in the comments below! I can’t wait to hear about your ideas!

Essential skills

I’ve recently been spending some time looking at the Innovation Playlist, a series of links, ideas, and videos all about ideas for how schools need to innovate in order to prepare our students for the future. That future is one that is ever changing and hard to imagine. It’s a dynamic and uncertain place, and we need to help our students be better prepared for that.

In a recent post, I mentioned that the smartphone debuted in 2007 (see that post here). Think about all the changes that have happened since then… Off the top of my head here are a few things that are commonplace today because of the existence of the smartphone: bluetooth, podcasts, wifi, iPads, the Apple watch, turn-by-turn gps navigation, the permeation of streaming video, in-app purchases, order ahead (via an app) carryout at numerous restaurants. Honestly, this whole post could be a list of the technologies that exist because of how commonplace the smartphone has become. That’s not the main point.

Exponential CurveThink for a moment about the exponential changes that have happened since the roll out of the smartphone in 2007. Then think for a moment about how exponential curves work (you can see an example to the right)… If there has been that much change since 2007, think how quickly our world is going to continue to change!

Looking back at the history of my posts, one of the running themes has been about the fact that the factory model of education has become obsolete. In the past, content knowledge was something that had to be given to you by a teacher. But today, content knowledge is ubiquitous. It’s free, it’s readily available, and it’s ever changing. No longer is what you know important, now it’s what can you do with what you know. That’s a totally different way of seeing education!

BewareThomas Friedman says that our students need to be capable of innovative thinking – critical thinking and problem solving should be a given for all in this day and age. He wrote about the importance of those skills in The World is Flat which was originally published in 2005. Now he’s thinking more about that idea of innovative thinking, which to him means not only are you able to do the job you are given, but you are also able to invent, reinvent, and re-engineer the skills necessary to accomplish that job.

And what’s difficult about that is that our education system is not ideally set up for innovative thinking. You can’t create a test that is going to easily measure someone’s ability to think in an innovative way. Those skills are not easily assessed, and yet they are the skills that employers are seeking (See what the National Association of Colleges and Employers say they are looking for in job candidates here).

Add to this, much of what we do in the traditional model of schools actually discourages creativity. As educators we often discourage creativity when we expect students to:

  • Answer with what others think is right.
  • Find answers rather than ask deep questions.
  • Shoot for efficient answers in our classrooms rather than allowing deeper exploration.

So… If our system isn’t set up to train students for innovative thinking, what are the things that we can do to better encourage innovative thinking in our students? What are the ways that we can disrupt the system from the inside? Here are a few ideas that I picked up as I explored the Innovation Playlist (linked above):

  • Have your students invent a science experiment – what is it that they want to test? How do they want to share their learning?
  • Ask students to write a creative essay – by encouraging creative thinking in the context of the classroom, you give them permission to think about the things that provide them wonder and curiosity.
  • Give your students the opportunity to come up with an interesting historical perspective on an event that they care about.

These types of activities push our students real world thinking that integrates what they know from multiple perspectives and fields of knowledge. These also create more opportunities for student voice and choice. While they may be harder to assess, they push the students to a culture of learning, which is very different than a culture of being taught.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you found ways to provide your students opportunities to be innovative thinkers and learners? Share your thoughts in the comments below!