The Crossroads of Creation and Consumption

What’s the last thing that you “consumed”?  Maybe it’s a new series on Netflix, or a great book, or maybe you listened to a playlist of songs you love.  All of those could be examples of consumption.  Our students are experts at consumption!  Playing a game while listening to music, and with something on the TV.  I know that often in our classrooms we are seeking to help our students to create something for the world.  In your ELA class you might expect them to create a presentation to go with their persuasive research paper.  In science it could be creating an experiment that shows some of the scientific properties that you have been studying.  In math you might ask them to create a model of some of the geometric shapes you have been learning about.  This list could go on.

Oftentimes we think of consumption as fairly low level thinking, while creating is higher level thinking.  But I want to challenge that a bit today with certain types of consumption.  Recently my family decided that we wanted to have a vegetable garden in our back yard, but didn’t know exactly what that might entail.  I consumed information from websites and blog posts to think about where we should put it, and how we would create it.  After looking at a variety of options, we decided that we were going to do a raised bed in the back yard.

Next we had to come up with a design.  Again, I consumed resources.  I jumped on Pinterest and looked at pictures of examples of raised bed gardens.  Did we want to use stone or lumber?  Once we decided on wood, then it was a question of what kind.  My searches on Pinterest took me to various websites that talked about the advantage of cedar compared to redwood compared to treated lumber.  The options (and the opinions) seemed endless.  Eventually we decided to go with treated lumber.  Check out the pictures below documenting some of our process!

I guess what I’m getting at is that all of us have to consume from time to time, and so do our students.  Part of 21st Century Learning requires consumption, but I think we would all agree that there is a difference in consumption of a series on Netflix or a book that we are reading for enjoyment as compared to the type of consumption that we do when we want to learn about a new teaching strategy or a project that we want to do at home.  That’s where we come in – through guiding our students in how to consume information, we can help make sure that consumption is for the purpose of learning and creation.

What strategies have been successful to guide your students to meaningful consumption?  What things have you consumed that have led to additional learning?  As lifelong learners, it’s important to verbalize what we are still learning about!  That’s part of what I am documenting in these weekly posts, my own learning!  Share with us in the comments below things that you have taken in that have led you to create something – for your students, your classroom, your family, or just for you.  Or share with us some of the things you students have created!

If you find the idea of creation and consumption interesting and would like to dig a little bit deeper, check out the Ted Talk by Larry Lessig titled Laws that choke creativity.  It might lead you to think about consumption a little bit differently!


Selling your content to your students

Sketch of Sir Ken Robinson
Sketch of Sir Ken Robinson

“Nobody else can make anybody else learn anything.  You don’t make the flowers grow.  You don’t sit there and stick the petals on and put the leaves on and paint it.  You don’t do that.  The flower grows itself.  Your job, if you are any good at it, is to provide the optimum conditions for it to do that, to allow it to grow.”

I love the quote above from Sir Ken Robinson.  It goes with the old saying of “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink.”  Recently I was sitting in a meeting with a wise member of our district curriculum team who pointed out that it’s true you can’t make the horse drink, but you can make sure they are thirsty.  Sometime getting our students to learn is a bit like selling them something, and that something is the content you are trying to get your students to learn.

A few weeks ago I shared a TED Talk from Daniel Pink, and now I’m going to use some of the ideas from Daniel Pink’s book To Sell Is Human.  Think about how you might take his messages on his career in sales and translate it into selling content to your students.

  1. Let them tell you why they agree with you. If your students are able to find a connection between your message and their own life, they will take whatever you have to offer.  Set up your lesson so that students have no choice but to agree with you.
  2. Decide whether to pitch with facts or questions. How do you persuade someone to agree with your opinions?  Most of us have figured out that basic persuasion typically requires a combination of facts and opinions.
  3. Remember that your digital audience is wider than ever. Think about the last great lesson you did – if your students were excited about it, you probably had a teammate or colleague asking about it.  Word of mouth spreads it from your students to other students, to colleagues, parents, and administrators.  And in a digital age those activities can easily go viral.  If you have an audience excited to see what’s happening next, they’ll be thirsty for whatever you have to offer.
  4. Be a servant leader. Relationships!  You know it works.  Did you have a good experience the last time you bought a car?  Some of that experience is because the salesman was able to build report with you, and then followed up on your needs.  Students will feel the same way – if they feel there is a relationship with you, they will listen to more of what you have to offer.
  5. Help people find their needs. One of your jobs as a teacher in this new age is to identify problems for your students to solve that cannot be solved by going to Google.  If your students trust you to help them find the problems that need to be solved, they’ll listen to you when you help them learn how to evaluate solutions.

I know that most of us didn’t go into education to be able to “sell” our students information.  We want our students to have a desire to learn.  But just as we can’t force the horse to take a drink, we have no way to force our students to learn.  In addition to the sales techniques listed below, the HSE21 best practice model is a good guide for creating the conditions in our classrooms and the learning environments that will cause our students to be thirsty for the knowledge we have to offer.  Work to include the core pieces of the best practice model in your classroom everyday – don’t reinvent your lessons, just find ways to remodel them to bring the aspects that will sell our students on our content.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

How have you sold knowledge to your students?  What strategies have you used that made your students excited to learn whatever you had to share with them?  Share some of your successes in the comments below!

PLNs – Professional Learning Networks or Personal Learning Networks – you choose!

Many of you may know that one of my personal passions is cooking.  I learned to cook basic things when I was in elementary school.  When I was in 4-H I had multiple county fair champions, and sent a few things to the State Fair.  In our house now I do most of the cooking because it’s something I enjoy doing.  Over the years I have developed my “favorite” meals that I have found out there and adjusted to suit my tastes, or the tastes of my family.  Last fall however, I noticed that I had a series of 10-12 things that we were just cycling through.  It was hard to choose anything to cook because I was getting bored with the options I had.  I needed something new.  Then, I happened to be listening to an interview of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the author of The Food Lab, and I knew I had to get his cookbook.  The guy was a self-described science nerd who became a chef and uses the scientific method to perfect his recipes – sign me up!

The book is almost 1000 pages, includes awesome step by step pictures and instructions for hundreds of recipes, along with scientific descriptions of what happens during the cooking process, explanations of experiments to find the best option in preparing certain dishes, and suggestions for home cooks to be able to carry out techniques that normally are reserved for professional kitchens.  In the several months that I have had the book, we have upgraded our meals in the Behrman household.  The only complaint?  I think I need to run a few extra miles every week with the food we’ve been eating (it’s been hard not to have a second serving with most of these meals!).

Now, some of you may be wondering what this has with a PLN, but I promise, I’m going to try to make it connect.  When you think about what you need to grow as an educator, what comes to mind?  Jot down the top 3 things that you think of.  Really… Take a moment to jot down those top 3.  This post will still be here when you get it done.

Now, if I were to poll you, there would be a massive variety of choices that would make it impossible for any administrator to come up with a school PD plan that would meet the needs of all of you.  Instead, here’s what I suggest– think about your passions, your areas of continued growth, and get learning!  You could talk to your colleagues about things you’re interested in.  There are tons of experts within your building and throughout your district.  If you’re looking for someone to help you in a specific area, ask around.  Maybe your administrator can point you in the right direction.  By sharing our knowledge and sharing our curiosities, we can become an environment that encourages lifelong learning.

You know when you find something exciting!  You know when you have an idea that you just have to try out!  Just like I became excited about new cooking with The Food Lab cookbook, you can find your own ways to grow as an educator, and hopefully the rest of this post will help with that!

Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before! Matt Miller -
Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before!
Matt Miller –

A couple weeks ago I shared links to some education hashtags for Twitter (click here to go back to that post).  See if there are any that tie to your 3 things you jotted down earlier – want to learn more about standards based learning? #SblChat might be perfect for you!  Interested in educational technology? Check out #edtech!  For things specific to your grade level, you might want to check out #5thchat (5th grade chat) or #6thchat (6th grade chat).  If Twitter isn’t your thing, you might try a search on Pinterest (yes, even I have an account!).  You can also search Facebook, and often you can find great videos on YouTube that may help you learn.

If you aren’t quite sure what you want to learn about, then you might have to take some other steps to find a path – you could ask your students what you should learn next.  Find out what interests them, what learning methods work for them, or what they’d be excited to do.  You could also check the blogosphere.  You’ve heard me reference blogs in the past – blogs like Edutopia, A.J. Juliani, Cult of Pedagogy, and The Cornerstone for Teachers are a few that I like.  Most of the blogs I have found have been through links from blogs I already followed.  If you find a blog you like, subscribe, or use Feedly as a single place to keep track of them all!

I know that some of you may be thinking that it’s the end of the year and you don’t want to mix anything up.  Think about it though – wouldn’t it be better to try something totally new with a group of students you already know, as opposed to trying it with a new group of students you don’t know yet?  Isn’t it easier to make adjustments to your teaching when one of the variables – students – is a known quantity?  Don’t put the pressure of learning something new on your future self!  There is no better time to try something new than right now!

Finally, one suggestion that might make some of us a little uncomfortable – seek out people with beliefs that might be different than you.  Being brave enough to learn from those who challenge you can be one key to your continued growth.  Find someone who challenges you and talk with them with the purpose of understanding their thinking, not getting it to line up with yours – you might learn from them, and they might learn from you.

What things have you learned through your professional learning network?  Share with us in the comments below!  We’d love to hear about it!