All means all (Part 2)

Last week I shared the following question for us to think about: Should we be worried about whether the kids are ready for the school, or should we be worried about whether the school is ready for the kids?  Today I am going to share my experiences visiting a few elementary classrooms here in HSE a few weeks ago.  I share these not as a way of saying that our classrooms need to mirror these classrooms, but rather to get us thinking about the learning environments that our students will be coming to us from, and in turn thinking about how the changes at elementary schools might change our practices.

Reggio EmiliaA couple weeks ago I had the privilege to visit FCE and see 2 of the kindergarten classrooms that have transitioned to a Reggio Emilia approach (if you don’t know what that is, click here to learn a little more).  A few of the things that stood out to me while I was there: there were no typical student desks or tables, instead there was a large picnic table (that almost the whole class could sit at) as well as a couple of coffee tables, end tables and in one of the rooms, an old dining room table; seating was flexible, there were chairs, stools, benches, tree stumps, and the floor; everything on the wall was student created, the numbers chart, the alphabet, a color chart with labels, and of course student work, I didn’t see a single thing that you would buy at “a teacher store”; all around the room there were stations with questions to get kids thinking, one allowed students to build their own birds nest, another had a mixture of various items in a pan and they could write about their thoughts; this list could go on!  We were there right at the beginning of the school day, and when the students came in they put their things away and then began to explore the room.  In the time that we were there, we saw high levels of engagement, and almost only heard the student voice in the classroom.  I can hear some of you right now – but that was a kindergarten classroom!  I agree, but are there aspects of that classroom that could translate to what we know about the developmental stages of our 5th and 6th graders?

The next stop was BSE to visit a 4th grade classroom.  When we walked in, students were in the process of coming up with the essential questions for their unit on the Civil War – let me reiterate, Students were coming up with the essential questions.  They had been provided copies of various primary source documents and artwork from the Civil War.  In addition to the primary source documents, the teacher had also created a Symbaloo (if you’ve never used Symbaloo, click here to see what that is) students could use to navigate to preselected safe websites to research additional Civil War information.  As I walked around, students were completely engaged in their work.  As they came up with a question they were interested in, they would share with a neighbor.  Eventually some of these questions would be written on a post-it and added to the essential questions chart paper at the front of the room.  The role of the teacher in this classroom was one of a guide who hopped from group to group checking in to see what they were coming up with and thinking about, and at times asking questions to get them to think deeper.

Both of these classrooms were great examples of HSE21 Best Practices in action.  The learning was student centered, highly rigorous, collaborative, and inclusive.  So often as teachers at the intermediate level we build our expectations for our students based on where the students need to get to.  Intermediate schools in HSE were not originally created to be mini junior highs, and in many districts 5th and 6th graders are still in the elementary school.  Again, I’m not saying that we’re doing something wrong, or we need to imitate the examples above, but based on what we know about the developmental stages of our students, what aspects of these classrooms might be beneficial to our students?

What ideas do you take away from the descriptions of these classrooms?  Are there things you could see translating to your own classroom?  What might it be?  How might the physical appearance of your classroom change as you think about the students that will be joining us?  How might teaching and learning look different in your classroom based on these descriptions?  Are any of you interested in thinking about what a Reggio approach might look like in an intermediate setting?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!


All means all

Einstein genius

How many times when talking with others in our school do you hear the phrase “We have to get them ready for ____”?  You can fill in the blank with all kinds of different phrases – things like 6th grade, junior high, ISTEP, or any one of the other things we are trying to get our students prepared for.  It is a valid thing to think about because we do have to prepare our students for the future.  However…

This is how some of the students in HSE are starting their experiences in our kindergarten classrooms.
This is how some of the students in HSE are starting their experiences in our kindergarten classrooms.

How often do you hear the words “We have to be ready for the students that are coming to us.”?  In most schools, the environment of the school is set up for one specific developmental stage.  I know through conversations with many of you that we have at least a cursory understanding of the fact that our 10, 11, and 12 year old students fall all over the developmental spectrum.  It’s one of the things I love about working with 5th and 6th grade students, but it can also be one of the greatest challenges.  While not being intentional, sometimes schools set up a system that expect all students to fit within a certain box, and when they don’t fit, it creates struggles for students, teachers, and parents.  So the question begs to be asked, is our system set up to meet our students wherever they are in terms of developmental needs?

Think about this for a moment: Should we be worried about whether the kids are ready for the school, or should we be worried about whether the school is ready for the kids?

Next week’s post will share with you my recent experiences visiting a few elementary classrooms.  I am sharing these not to say that we need to try to mirror their methods or strategies, but to help us understand the types of classrooms our students will be coming to us from.  One of the things that I feel sometimes happens in education is that teachers of older grades sometimes “look down upon” the teachers of younger grades.  I think there can be great value in learning from the ways that teachers in grades below us meet the developmental needs of their students.

As we move forward, let’s work towards building our expectations for our students based on where they are when they get to us.  We can still strive to move them to where they need to be, but we need to be open to the fact that some of our students do not fit in the box that we have created for them.   Some of those outliers may need us to provide extra support, while others may just need us to get out of the way and let them learn.

What strategies and methods do you use to meet the needs of the student who walks into your classroom on a daily basis?  Are there methods that seem to help your students who are less mature than the rest of your class?  Or, on the other end of the spectrum, what do you do with the students that are much more mature than the others in your classroom?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!


The Pedagogy Wheel

For a little over a year now I have had the Pedagogy Wheel V3.0 hanging up outside of my office.  I have seen a few of you stop to look at it from time to time.  If you walk by today, you may notice that I have changed it to the new and improved V4.1.  The pedagogy wheel is based on the work of Allan Carrington.  In his most recent role Carrington served as a Learning Designer with the eLearning Team at the University of Adelaide in Australia.  While working there, and after leaving, he was thinking about the connections between Bloom’s Taxonomy and the SAMR Model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition – check out a previous post on SAMR here – Or check out a 2 minute video review of SAMR here), and how to integrate technology that would support different levels of thinking.  As he was thinking about that, he thought about the importance of pedagogy being the driver of technology, not the other way around.  Sometimes in educational technology we start with an app that we want to use.  Maybe we heard about it from a colleague, or our students told us about it.  Other times we might have seen the app in use in another person’s classroom, and we decide we want to use that app to accomplish a task.  If that is the way you are thinking, you might be doing things backwards.

Pedagogy wheel 4.1

To truly understand the Pedagogy Wheel, and therefore be able to use it to support the teaching and learning in your classroom, you have to begin at the middle of the circle.  When you look at the Pedagogy Wheel above, you will notice a QR Code in the middle.  If you scan that code in your favorite QR Reader, you will go to this page:

If you want to read the whole post, great, but as a brief rundown there is a reference to something that Carrington calls the Graduate Attributes and Capabilities.  One of the presenters at a conference that Carrington attended in 2012 was talking about research that had been done within the business sector on what skills employers look for.  In the results of this study, they found that the top 15 attributes are:

  1. Having energy, passion, and enthusiasm
  2. Being willing to give credit to others
  3. Empathizing & working productively with diversity
  4. Being transparent and honest in dealings with others
  5. Thinking laterally and creatively
  6. Being true to one’s values and ethics
  7. Listening to different points of view before coming to a decision
  8. Understanding personal strengths & limitations
  9. Time management skills
  10. Persevering
  11. Learning from errors
  12. Learning from experience
  13. Remaining calm when under pressure
  14. Being able to make effective presentations to different groups
  15. Identifying from a mass of information the core issue/opportunity.

What you may notice is that most of these attributes are attitude and values based.  The next thing you may notice is that they are skills that may not often be explicitly taught in most classrooms.  For our students’ long term success, this list of 15 things is something we need to think about at the beginning of our planning.  Once we have reflected on these things, then we can begin thinking about our learning outcomes, activity design, and choosing the technology the works best, which will in turn lead to better engagement and learning.

As you work your way out on the pedagogy wheel, you will notice that the next ring talks about Daniel Pink’s TED Talk on the “Puzzle of Motivation.”  Two of my previous posts have been on that topic, so I’m not going to review them, but you can check each one out here: Motivation Part 1 and Motivation Part 2.

Next we work our way out to the Bloom’s Cognitive Domain Categories, with rings for the action verbs and activities that relate to each.  In the next to last circle we see how Carrington has placed the 122 apps that are included on this version of the Pedagogy Wheel.  In the final outermost ring of the wheel you see how the SAMR model is connected to all the other pieces of the wheel.

So, now that we know what the Pedagogy Wheel is, how can we make use of that knowledge?  Ultimately, the Pedagogy Wheel is something that can be used as a tool to help us plan for the activities that are happening in our classroom.  Start at the middle thinking about the attributes & capabilities that you’d like students to gain, think a little about how to motivate your learners, and then work your way out on the wheel to meet the needs of your lesson. By starting in the middle, you will be putting the pedagogy in the driver’s seat, and using tech as an added piece of the activity.  If you are working towards higher level thinking skills, the Pedagogy Wheel will help you find some apps that may modify or redefine learning in your classroom.

You might also like pdf version of the pedagogy wheel (found here: because you can click on the apps you see and go to an iTunes Preview page to learn more about the app (in case it is an app you aren’t aware of).  I will warn you, not every app on here is free.  If you find an app that is not free that you think would be great, check around, there may be free apps that will do similar things.

What are your thoughts on the attributes and capabilities above?  How do you help our students to learn those skills?  What ideas do you have to strengthen those areas in our students so that they are better prepared for the future expectations of the workforce?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Don’t deny the technology – permanently…

As most of you know, HSE21 has been a multi-year project in which administrators, teachers, parents, and students have been looking at how best to create a 21st century learning experience for our students.  Through the program the Best Practice Model was developed, and in time the decision was made to transition to a 1:1 environment as a way to enhance the Best Practice Model.  These decisions were made as a result of the changing world around us.  As teachers we have all seen more of our students, and possibly more of our own lives, occurring in a digital world.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

For most of us, if we see that a child is engaged in a particular activity, we find ways to try to encourage that skill.  If your child is coloring on the wall, you may initially be upset, but you may also be tempted to put up a chalkboard, or get an easel that they can use to encourage that skill.  Who knows, that kid that started out painting on the wall may turn into the next Picasso or Van Gogh.  In your classroom that may mean allowing students to choose what product would best represent their learning.

Now think of our students.  The second they walk out of the building they are bombarded with digital options.  Smart-phones, tablets, computers, apps, websites, and more are competing for their attention.  If we don’t notice that and innovate towards that, we will lose some of our students.  The way I see it, more and more, technology is a right for our students in their learning.  Are there moments when it may not fit, or they may not use it?  Yes!  But it’s also important that we all recognize that devices and digital tools are becoming interconnected with our lives and with education.

FriedmanI have had many conversations with teachers who fear that we aren’t “preparing students for the real world.”  How can we accurately predict what that world will look like for our students?  I struggle to predict what next week might look like, let alone predicting what the world will be like in 10 years when our students either have entered, or are entering the workforce.  One thing I feel confident in telling you: they will need to know is how to use technology in appropriate and responsible ways.  If our only solution for poor decisions with technology is to try to permanently take technology away from our students, we are doing them a disservice.  Remember, our kids are 10, 11, and 12 year olds, and they are going to make mistakes, but going to the nuclear option of “you can’t use this anymore” doesn’t teach a child anything.  However, taking the device away for a period of time, and then having a conversation about the repercussions of their actions creates a learning opportunity for a child.

Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken to maintain the kind of classroom experiences that our students need – things like a temporary ban on technology – but we have to go back to the fundamentals.  To be relevant for our student we must use the best tools at our disposal.  By avoiding the technology permanently we are missing out on amazing teachable moments.

Thinking about your classroom, where are successes that you have had that would not have been possible without technology?  Have there been times that taking the technology out of a lesson has led to better engagement and learning?  Share with us some of your opinions!

The importance of failure (and a little about Elon Musk)

Last week I received an email from one of my favorite blogs directing me to a post titled “What Teachers Can Learn About Failure From Elon Musk” (you can click on the link if you’d like to see the original post).  The gist of the post is that as teachers and learners, we have to fail, and be willing to share those failures, as part of the learning process.  I thought of the saying “Fail Forward” as I read one of the early paragraphs.

elon-muskThe post then talked a lot about Elon Musk.  This is a guy I had heard of – I’ve seen his TED Talk, Tesla makes some pretty cool cars, and as a self described nerd, I have watched multiple SpaceX launches and attempts at landing with interest.  So as I was reading about Musk, I was curious to be directed to a series of posts about Elon Musk from the blog Wait But Why (Check it out here: Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man).  After going deep into some background on the history of fossil fuels, automotives, space travel, and a few other topics, I also walked away with a newfound interest in Elon Musk, as well as an understanding of why Tim Urban, the author of Wait But Why, describes Musk as such a rad dude.

As a college student what were you thinking about?  When Musk was in college, he asked himself “What will most affect the future of humanity?”  His list contained 5 things: “The internet; sustainable energy; space exploration with a goal of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code.”  I can tell you that as a college student, this is most certainly not what I was thinking about!

Whatever skeptics have said can't be done, Elon has gone out and made it real. Remember in the 1990s, when we would call strangers and give them our credit-card numbers- Elon dreamed upSo here’s a brief rundown of Musk’s career:

1995 – starts Zip2 – think Yelp and Google Maps in a pre-smartphone era – in 1999 at the age of 27 Zip2 sells for $307 million, and Musk’s take was $22 million.

1999 – Musk takes three quarters of his personal net worth to start – an online bank (before those really existed). merged with Confinity to create a money-transfer service that we now know of as PayPal.

2000 – Musk is replaced as CEO of PayPal, but stays on the team in a senior role.

2002 – eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion, and Musk walked away this time with $180 million.  He was 34 years old.

Also in 2002 – Musk begins researching rocket technology and after the finalization of the sale of PayPal, he invests $100 million of his own money in a rocket company called SpaceX.  The stated goal of the company was to revolutionize the cost of space travel in order to make humans a multi-planetary species by colonizing Mars with at least a million people over the next century.

SpaceX Logo

Let that sink in for a minute…  In the span of 7 years he went from dropping out of a Stanford PhD program to starting SpaceX.

And he wasn’t done yet…


2004 – still in the middle of the SpaceX experiment, Musk personally invested $70 million into an electric car company called Tesla.  The last successful US car startup was Chrysler in 1925.

2006 – invests $10 million to found another company – SolarCity with the goal of revolutionizing energy production by creating a large distributed utility that would install solar panel systems on millions of people’s homes and reducing their consumption of fossil fuel generated electricity. Because, I mean, what else did he have to do?!!

Side note: As I was reading through this, especially in reading about what Musk has done since 2002, I couldn’t help thinking of someone winning the PowerBall and deciding that they are going to use their money to feed the people of Africa, only to go bankrupt before they send anything across the Atlantic!  I wonder what I would have done if I was in his shoes when PayPal sold to eBay – it would be so tempting to take that money and go live on a tropical island for the rest of my days!

So, what does this have to do with failing forward you might ask.  Looking over the list of accomplishments above, it might be hard to find the failure.  During a 2005 interview with Fast Company, Musk was quoted as saying “Failure is an option here.  If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”  He was speaking about the culture of business at SpaceX.

Let’s look at some of the failures in his time at SpaceX:

I'll admit - this isn't a picture of one of the failed launches, but look at it! How cool is that???
I’ll admit – this isn’t a picture of one of the failed launches, but look at it! How cool is that???

2006: First launch – failure

2007: Second launch – failure

2008: Third launch – failure

At this point, it was easy to have doubts in the likelihood of success for SpaceX.  They had yet to prove that they had the ability to be successful.  And yet, those who worked at SpaceX, Musk included, were supremely confident.  With each of the failures, that had been livestreamed to the world, the company had learned and made improvements.  The engineers and scientists at SpaceX would go back to the drawing board and try to improve.

In the fall of 2008 SpaceX only had enough money to try one more launch.  Failure here would mean failure to the entire company.  But on the fourth launch they achieved complete success.  With it came new funding in the form of funds from NASA to make multiple deliveries to the International Space Station.  So what does this have to do with education?

In reading about SpaceX, Tesla, and other companies that Musk has been involved in, the key to their success is the feedback that the company seeks from it’s failure.  They are working in fields where there has been little to no success, so there isn’t a blueprint of how to succeed.  Failure is part of the process, whether they are building a rocket, a car, a battery for the car, or some other component in the process.

We can all agree that failure is an important part of the learning process.  But for it to be a learning experience, failure can’t be the end point for our students.  We can’t just put a failing grade in the grade book and move on.  Instead we mark that section at ‘needs improvement’ and we get back to work through meaningful feedback.  At SpaceX and Tesla, that feedback is an important part of the process to innovate.

Check out this video of a launch in June of this year.  It will pick up about 10 seconds before launch.  If you watch until about 2 minutes after lift-off, you’ll see the result:

As you can see, SpaceX still has failure.  But those failures continue to result in innovation!

We need to be providing that same type of feedback for our students.  There should be a two-way feedback loop between a teacher and student.  You have to provide your students feedback on the work that they are submitting.  It must be specific and lead to action that your students can take in their learning.  At the same time, your students have to be able to provide you feedback about their learning.  They need opportunities to make choices – in what they are learning, how they are learning it, how they are showing their learning.

Students can feel defeated when they try something new and things don’t go as they hope.  We have to continue to help them to understand that the journey is just as important, if not more so, than the end point.  We all learn from our failures, and getting up and trying it again shows that we are truly working for something better.

And just to show that success in one place doesn’t mean an endpoint, it’s important to think about what Musk and SpaceX are up to now.  They’ve shown they can successfully launch a rocket a get a payload to the ISS, but now they are trying to learn how to land a rocket that has just been in orbit onto a landing pad in the ocean.  Because, duh!  Why not???

There is no such thing as a quantum leap. There is only dogged persistence - and in the end you make it look like a quantum leap.So far, no success.  All four attempts have been failures.  But think back to Musk’s earlier quote – failure is an option.  I’m guessing that before too long, we’ll see a successful landing by SpaceX on a launch pad in the middle of the ocean.  When you see that landing, remember that it didn’t just happen.  It took tons of man-hours to get the feedback necessary to learn and adapt.  In the same way, our students need our feedback in order to continue to learn and grow.

Think back to a time that you learned something from a failure.  What steps did you take to improve?  Did you eventually find success?  Share with us in the comments below.  Or share your own example of a person who has show you what it means to “fail forward.”