Running through the sprinkler

As I sit writing this, it’s Sunday afternoon. Sunday’s in my family are often about getting work done – chores around the house, prepping for school, groceries, etc. To fit with that norm for our family, today was no different. This morning my wife Diane, an amazing kindergarten teacher, needed to go over to school to do some prep for her week. I needed to mow the lawn and then get to the grocery store. The kids had no real responsibilities, so they were going to stay home with me. I knew that if I left them inside, even though they said they were going to read, it would turn into a Netflix binge of Dinotrux, or Glitter Force, or something of that nature. I wanted them to be active, so I convinced them to come outside and play while I was mowing.

As I did the front yard, they had out their big wheels, their stilts, and their pogo stick. They were working on creating an obstacle course in the driveway when I finished the front lawn and grabbed the sprinkler to try to deal with a couple of brown spots. As I starting working on the side yard, Lainey came running up to me and asked “Can we run through the sprinkler?”

I started to say no, I mean they had just gotten dressed, we had to run to the grocery store after I mowed, and Lainey was going to a birthday party for the afternoon. But then I looked at the excitement in her face – how could I say no?

IMG_5242.JPGFor the next thirty minutes, while I mowed the rest of the lawn, Lainey and Brody were in heaven with that childhood joy that goes with running through a sprinkler. I may have even let myself get sprayed because I was jealous of the obvious fun they were having.

Seeing the joy on their faces as they played in the sprinkler got me thinking about classroom conditions. How often, when you scan your room, do you see the look of joy that would accompany a kid running through the sprinkler? When I reflect on my own teaching practices, it probably happened far less than I would have wanted it to.

Last week I participated in an online, free, open to anyone PD called Hive Summit. It was put on by Michael Matera, the author of Explore Like a Pirate, and the front man for the #XPlap community. The gist of the Hive Summit was to bring together amazing educators to share little tidbits of knowledge in short, easily digestible conversations between Michael and various guests to provide ideas to help us start the school year off with a bang!

The last session of the Hive Summit brought in Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, and easily one of the most engaging presenters I have ever seen. Towards the end of the conversation, Michael asked Dave for some practical things that we can do right away. Dave started talking about the beginning of the school year. He suggested that we should “Invest time in the front end to build a community, to build rapport, and to create a place that kids are desperate to come back to the next day.” We don’t accomplish what Dave is suggesting by spending lots of time on procedures. Those can come later. We need to hook them, get them excited, get them wanting to be in your classroom, get them banging down the doors to come to school!

Dave went on to share a couple of his favorite activities to accomplish those goals. The first is the Play-Doh lesson. Students walk in to a container of Play-Doh on a paper plate in the center of their desk, and when ready, they are asked to create something out of the Play-Doh. The goal is to create something that is in some way representative of them. Let them know up front that when time is up, you are going to come around, show the class their object, ask a couple of questions about it, and then have them share their name. Let them know in advance that they will not have to stand up or come to the front of the room, and the process will take less than 30 seconds. Letting kids know what to expect will alleviate some stress that comes with any type of getting to know you activity. Give students 10 minutes of work time, and while they are working, walk around and chat with them in an informal way.

This is great because it gets your students creating right away. We live in a world where information is at our fingertips, and knowing things doesn’t make you successful. In today’s world, it’s about what people can do or make. When we show kids that’s what we value right off the bat, they will be more likely to continue to do and make things when asked.

Another activity that Dave loves is the plane crash on a deserted island lesson. 10 people are stranded on an island, and when a rescue helicopter shows up, it only has room for 5 people. Students are given a list of the different people, split into small groups, and asked to work together to come to a consensus on who should be rescued, and who has to be left behind (click here for a shared google doc with the instructions and list of people). Again, this activity immediately gets kids to collaborate, connect, and create to solve the problem.

Activities like this allow kids to engage right away, and think about how much more excited your kids will be about tasks like this instead of a more traditional lesson. All of us bring our own special skill set to the classroom, and we all have the ability to create learning environments that kids will be excited to return to day after day. You get to decide if the lights are on or off when students enter. You get to decide what shows up on your screen or board. You get to decide what is sitting on your students’ desks when they come in. When we pause in our lesson planning to think about those hooks at the start of our lesson, we’re able to create more of those “Running Through Sprinkler” kind of moments for our kids.

If you are looking for more ideas for amazing engagement strategies, check out Teach Like a Pirate (I linked to it on Amazon above), or if you’d like, I’ll loan you my copy (as long as you don’t mind my highlights and notes in the margins). If you feel overwhelmed by a book, look for Dave Burgess on YouTube or Twitter, or check out the #tlap Twitter chat on Mondays at 9:00 pm eastern. There are lots of small resources that will help you create lessons that engage students on the sprinkler level!

Let me know if you’re planning to try something new to create a sprinkler moment in your class! I’d love to see it, or talk to your students about it. I think we all want joyful classrooms! How will you bring that joy to your room?

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The ways we learn

The other day we were at Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park enjoying some beautiful weather on a late January day – not something you get a lot of in Indiana!  While there, we were passed by a kiddo that was probably about the same age as my son Brody.  She was riding a bike.  Brody watched her go by, and said “I wish I had my bike!”  We told Brody that he could bring his bike the next time we came if he learned how to ride without his training wheels.  Imagine the whiniest 6-year-old voice you can as you read his response: “I’m never going to learn how to do that” and his head went down in disappointment.

I told him “The only way you’re going to learn is if you try!”

This interaction got me thinking about when I was learning to ride my bike.  The training wheels had come off, I may have been wearing a bike helmet (come on, it was the 80s!) with my hockey shin guards and elbow pads.  I mounted up, and I tried…  I didn’t make it very far before I bit the dust.  But I kept getting up and trying again… and again… and… You get the idea!  Eventually I had it down – I could hop on and go without a second thought.

It took time for the neural pathways to connect so that my brain could figure out how to put together the locomotion, the balance, the understanding of body position, and so much more that goes into riding a bike.  Here’s the thing about learning to ride a bike… the only way you can learn is to do it.  No amount of time spent learning about how the bike works would have helped me to ride more quickly.  I wouldn’t have been a superstar rider on that first day if I understood the role that inertia, friction, and rolling resistance plays in being able to get myself to go.

I just had to get on the bike and try.  For those of you who are parents, or who might have helped a youngster you know learn to ride a bike, you know what that it’s so important to try it over and over.

I’d even argue – through my own experiences and the experiences of my daughter Lainey – that we learn how to ride a bike because of our failures, because of the falls.  Our brain figures out that we did something wrong, and helps our body to do it differently the next time until we have it down pat.

Learning anything does not happen by watching someone model.  Showing our students how to do something doesn’t teach them.  Having your students read about how to do something doesn’t help them learn how to do it.  Even watching a video doesn’t help them learn.  Ultimately the only way they are going to learn is by doing something.

Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind

Always be thinking about how you can make the activities in your class be focused on how students can actually do whatever it is that they are learning about.  Less time showing, more time actually doing!  That’s how we all learn just about anything!

What are your thoughts?  Am I wrong?  Are there things you’ve learned that didn’t actually involve “doing” it?  Are there other examples like the bike that you would only learn by doing?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Also, as I was writing this post, it got me thinking about an excellent video by Destin Sandlin, who runs an educational video web series called Smarter Every Day.  It’s a little under 8 minutes long, and goes through his process of learning to ride a bike in a whole new way.  Check it out to see how learning by doing really works!

The teacher from the movies

When you think of teacher movies, what comes to mind? Do you think of someone like Mr. Rooney in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Mr. Strickland in Back to the Future? Or do you go the way of someone more like Miss Riley in October Sky or Mr. Holland in Mr. Holland’s Opus? I’m sure that for all of you, there is a connection (and maybe even a feeling) that goes with each of those characters. You might even be able to think back on one of your own teachers who is a little like one of them.

I’m guessing that we would all agree that some of these teachers are a little stronger than others. But what is it that makes the “good” movie teachers? There are a few things that these great teachers have in common – they build connections with their students, the students and teachers have respect for each other, and the students are empowered. The “mean” teachers were focused on control and compliance, while the “good” teachers were focused on community and empowerment.

In creating the environments of the teachers that they make movies about, you build a relationship with your students where there is an understanding between the teacher and the students that we’re two people here. What those movie teachers understand is that classroom management has much more to do with the environment, and much less to do with the rules that are put in place.

One of my all-time favorite teacher movies is Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating does some amazing things with his group of students. Many people think of the Oh Captain, My Captain! scene when they think of that movie, and trust me, it’s a great scene.  But one of the more overlooked scenes is the soccer scene.  Take just a moment to watch the scene:

The reason I love this scene so much is that it reminds me of the value of movement in learning – especially for students that are in the age group I work most directly with. Most of us know intrinsically that a fifth or sixth grader cannot sit still for much more than 10 minutes, and yet we consistently have classroom situations where students have to sit for double that – sometimes even more! One of the things that will make you a movie star teacher to your students is to allow them opportunities for movement consistently.

I always like to provide some kind of new idea, and here’s one that you could try tomorrow to add some movement in your class. Many people use the turn and talk consistently to get students to share their thinking. What if you take that a little bit further and do something new called musical chairs. Explain to students that you are going to play about 10 seconds of music, during that time they should move around the room and find a partner. When the music stops, they start talking about your question. After enough time for both students to respond, start the music again and let them find a new partner. It’s kind of like musical chairs for a turn and talk. Students get to share their thinking, and get their movement and wiggles out! The best of both worlds! After a couple of rounds, have them move back to their seats and continue.

Or you might try a walk and talk – take your class for a walk on our campus. Talk about your points while you walk. Occasionally stop and allow students to partner up for a pair share, then continue the walk.

With each of these strategies, you have to build to structure in advance. That’s what the movie star teacher would do. Set your expectations high, and then hold your students to them. Don’t let those 2 knuckleheads pull your expectations down to the mean. Let them know that you trust them to do the right thing, and then lay out what needs to happen. Most kids will not want to ruin something fun, even if they are a knucklehead!

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Just a few of the things that happen in the classrooms of the movie teacher!

So what movie teacher do you think of? What made that teacher great? Of not so great? What elements of the movie teacher do you try to bring to your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The value of communication and collaboration

Lombardi - Work Together

About a month ago, one of my posts (What are you learning?) made reference to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook report.  I want to come back to that report today and look at the top 6 items on the report.  As I look over the list it keeps bringing me back to one of my favorite questions when thinking about learning in our classrooms: What do our kids need in order to be successful in the future?  This list can help serve as a guide.

NACE Attributes Employers Seek

Think about some of the most successful companies in our world today.  Whatever the company is, if they are trying to be innovative in their field, they are focused on creating the best products possible for their customers.  What does work look like for those innovative companies?  I’m guessing that they are concerned about their teams of employees working together to create innovation.

Think for a second about your best lessons.  How many of you can claim that every aspect of your best lesson for your students was imagined, planned, created, and developed completely by you?  I know when I was still in the classroom, I was constantly collaborating with other teachers to improve my lessons, to add cool new ideas, or to make the learning experience even better for the learners in my classroom.  I’m guessing that most (if not all) of you will say the same thing.

If we know that innovative companies seek communication and collaboration, and we know that we achieve our own best work through communication and collaboration, and the data from the most recent NACE Jobs Outlook report shows that employers value communication and collaboration, what are we doing in our classroom to explicitly teach our students how to communicate and collaborate?  Paul Solarz, the author of Learn Like a Pirate has an entire chapter on peer collaboration.  He shared lots of great ideas of how he creates a collaborative environment for his students.

Early in the chapter he talks about the importance of establishing classroom expectations and norms as a group, where all members of the class have their input in those norms.  As you build in and truly teach collaboration skills, students will take ownership of those skills and will help one another to be better collaborators, letting each other know what they need from one another so that all can be successful.

Even with the opportunity to teach collaboration, the only way students will be able to learn and grow in this skill is through the opportunity to practice.  Be looking for as many ways as possible to integrate collaboration and communication into your lessons.

And something has to be said about the classroom environment in order to create an environment that is conducive to communication and collaboration.  Think about when you are working with colleagues, how do you choose to sit?  Based on my informal observations visiting team PLC time in our building, generally we sit in a group in such a way that everyone can see everyone else.  Students need to be able to do the same when they have time to collaborate.  Rows aren’t conducive to communication and collaboration.  Seats where students are far away from their nearest neighbor don’t facilitate collaboration either.

Many of the classrooms in our school have created opportunities and spaces for students to be able to sit together and collaborate, whether it’s a small spot on the floor, a rug area, creative seating options, a couch, or high tables and chairs, there are places where students can sit together and collaborate in the classroom.  To take it a step further, how many of you have considered not having a seating chart in your classroom?  A true flexible seating environment can be created where there are norms about students choosing the space that they are able to do their best space.  And as a safety net for you, you can always set the norm that poor choices by students may result in the teacher asking the student to make a different choice.  Think about the way you would empower the learners in your room to be able to select their own seat each and every day in order to meet their learning needs!

I want to conclude this post sharing some pictures from offices for Google and Apple, two of the most innovative companies around today, as well as one of my favorite shared working space, Starbucks.  I’m not saying that our classrooms need to necessarily look like these (they’re a bit extreme), but we might want to think about how spaces like this create environments where employees are able to put out amazing and innovative products.  We also should realize that some of the students will be doing work in environments like this in their future.  What can we do in our classrooms today to help them be successful in their future?

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So what are your thoughts?  Have you had success teaching students communication and collaboration explicitly?  What has worked for you?  What concerns do you have about integrating more collaboration and communication into your classroom?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

A walk in the woods

One of the things that I love about our school is the wonderful outdoor areas that we have on our property. From the simplicity of the outdoor amphitheater that could be an awesome place to take your class to change up the learning environment, to the trails, river, and prairie area we have just a short walk from the doors of our building. Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend Ditch that Conference at Turkey Run State Park with several of the teachers in our building. This conference was put on by Matt Miller, the author of Ditch that Textbook and co-author of Ditch that Homework. One of the ongoing themes of the conference was “An Analog Conference in a Digital World.” This is the first conference I have ever attended that actually told us in advance not to bring digital devices. I left my computer and iPad at home, and took along my journal (little did I know that I wouldn’t even need mine, because when we checked in we got an awesome Ditch That Textbook journal!).

Ditch Journal
This is the front cover of the cool journal that every attendee who was at the conference received!

 

There were so many awesome things that I could share with you, but I just wanted to talk about one idea in particular. During one of the sessions, Jed Dearybury took us on a walk on the “Art”side! At the very beginning of the session, Jed had us all pick a leaf from along the trail. We were told that while we were walking, we should be thinking about a story involving the leaf. The reality is that you could have kids pick anything that you want (or you could even allow them to pick whatever they wanted to carry with them). Jed shared that if he was doing this activity, he would encourage students to jot down as many details as they could while they were walking – things they saw, things they heard, etc. Then, when they return to class, students would write a story about their leaf. They would use as many of the details they wrote down to include in their story.

There are some variations you could do with this activity as well:

  • Working on persuasion? Have the student’s object be trying to convince you of something.
  • Social studies? Tell students they need to set the story in the context of the unit you are currently studying.
  • Science? Have the story tie into the biome that students have been studying.
  • Math? Can we figure out a way to find the area of the leaf we picked? What about the volume of a walnut on the ground?
  • Collaboration? Have two students partner up and create a shared story involving both the objects they selected.

These are just a couple of ideas I came up with in just a few minutes of brainstorming. With as many smart and talented people as we have in this building, there could be a multitude of others that never yet crossed my mind!

In our 50 minutes together, Jed shared 2 other awesome ideas that could easily be integrated into activities for any classroom. Want to know about them? Ask me and I’ll share – I don’t want this post to get too long!

I walked away from this short session wanting to encourage you, once again, to find as many ways as you can think of to get your kids outside of the concrete box that is the typical classroom. So many of our kids don’t get the opportunity to spend much time in nature – seeing what happens in the woods, listening to the sounds of nature, and learning from those experiences. Make use of our beautiful campus and great outdoor spaces!

Do you have any ideas for variations on the leaf activity above? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Using outdoor spaces

Today I was reading a recent blog post by John Spencer about the ways that nature helps us to be more creative (check it out here).  Personally I love to be out in nature, so the post really caught my attention.  The gist of the post was about the fact that time in nature can lead us to greater levels of creativity.  His 5 ways that nature makes us more creative are listed in bold below, with my own thoughts added:

  1. Nature creates positive disruptions – Life draws us into the natural hustle and bustle of our world. Being in nature helps us get away from technology, current events, and everything else that makes it hard for our brain to stay focused.  That time away from all those distractions allows our brains to think more deeply.
  2. Nature encourages problem-solving – Almost every time I go for a hike, or spend some time in nature, I’m inspired to write a new blog post, or solve a problem, or be creative.
  3. Nature helps us embrace deep work – When do you do your best thinking? There is a lot of research that says that simply being active can lead to deeper thinking.  Simply going for a walk helps us activate our brain in different ways.  According to some research, throw nature into the mix and you multiply that effect.  So what does that mean for you?  Before teaching a particularly important skill, take your class for a walk in the woods outside of school.  Your students brains will be better prepared for deeper thinking when you return.
  4. Nature humbles us while also expanding our worldview – I’m not sure how many of you know this about me, but I was a 10 year 4-H member. I didn’t show animals (we weren’t on the farm), but I did lots of other projects over the years.  One of the projects I did required me to take multiple observations of a natural environment every day over multiple weeks.  I chose a small wooded area with a trail just a little over a mile from my home.  I had to observe at different times in the day, and I began to notice changes in what seemed like an untouched environment.  Some animals were more or less active at certain times of the day, some plants looked different depending on various factors.  The time I have spent in the natural world helps me realize that there are so many things happening in the world around us that we miss when we are in our cars, or on our devices.  Sometimes you really do have to slow down, look around, and smell the flowers in order to be aware of what’s happening in our world, and to realize how little control we have over so much of what’s around us.
  5. Nature can spark innovation – Did you know that Velcro was designed by a Swiss engineer after his dog was covered in burdock burrs after going on a hike? Or that the design of the nose of Japanese high-speed trains was meant to mimic the beak of a kingfisher?  These are just a couple of examples of innovations that came about because of things that people noticed in nature.  Imagine what the future scientists of the world (our students) may be able to develop if they learn to look to nature for ideas and solutions to our problems.

Reading Spencer’s post got me thinking about the natural wonders just waiting to be explored outside of our school.  By walking out the doors of our building, you can access a variety of outdoor environments.  Between the trails in the wooded areas, the stream running through the woods, the untended plain near the baseball fields, or the river, there are so many ways for us to access nature.  And the benefit doesn’t just stop with the kids being out in nature away from their devices.  Something they see while they are with you may inspire creativity and wonder in a way that is totally unexpected.

What have you done with your class in our outdoor areas?  Have you seen increased levels of creativity as a result of the time you have spent outside?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

#IMMOOC #IMMOOCB1: A culture of yes!

So we say we want innovation in our schools, in our classrooms.  Many of us feel that this is the best way to get our students past the point of engagement, and moving to the level of empowerment.  But there is one little word that can kill that process – no.

In the past couple of years, we have had many opportunities to interview potential teachers.  Every time we bring an interview team together, we all agree that we are looking for people who are “go-getters” – people who will do whatever it takes to make the learning experiences for their students new and exciting.  They have helped to bring exciting new learning opportunities into our school.  At the same time, many of the teachers in our building continue to learn and evolve – trying new formats of teaching, new activities, new technologies.  This innovation continues to spread, and is so exciting to watch!

If you know much about improvisational comedy, you know that during a scene the key is to not say no.  The mindset has to be to have an attitude of “yes, and…”  This is what we’re seeking for innovation.  When there are new and exciting ideas that will make learning better for students, I strive to say “yes, and…”

My hope is that this culture of yes will allow us all to continue to learn and grow.  Ultimately, our growth will allow us to make learning more innovative for every student!  Isn’t that the goal?