Friday, July 11, 2014

The Power Of An Idea

Source: Amazon
There are wonderful picture books published every year, but sometimes there’s one that stands out from the crowd. What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Bosem is the one. This book is a wonderful story about a brilliant idea and the child who helps bring it to the world. As the idea grows, so does the confidence of the child. This inspirational tale is for anyone, of any age, who’s ever had an idea but may be reluctant to embrace it, because it might seem different, odd, or just a little too big.

The message in this book speaks volumes about giving ideas a place to grow and seeing what happens next. Ideas don’t disappear; they follow us. If we don’t allow them to develop in children as part of the learning process, we will continue to lose the spark of brilliance to rote compliance. Educators want the freedom to encourage kids to cultivate their ideas and bring them to fruition. Sadly, this is not the norm in classrooms today with enormous pressure on them to meet testing requirements.

Source: Amazon
We can talk all we want about “genius hours” and “authentic learning,” but unless the current evaluative system for schools, teachers, and students changes, it’s a moot point. The pendulum has swung so far away from the block areas and free play in kindergartens and toward learning “centers” that we are losing that inventive spirit in kids. They are less creative to think of ideas, and they constantly look for instruction on what to do next. Oddly enough, the successful and highly educated adults who try to initiate reform, who participate in open discussions on social media, and who publish commentary did not go through the school-testing mania, and they’re okay. So how did education get so off track? If we want kids to dream BIG, we need to let them.

Educators need flexibility with an evaluative process based on authentic learning experiences and the environments in which they take place. Would it hurt learning if kids were given "20 percent time" to develop ideas? We think not. Major corporations such as Pixar and IDEO pride their successes on creative work environments, and others like Google and 3M encourage employees to use 20 percent of their work time to play freely to stimulate the growth of new ideas. The upshot of this free time is the many products and services that are second nature to us today.

The more we review our own curricula, the more we see the importance of devoting time in class to allow students to cultivate their genius and creative thinking. To be fair, it should be in school, to give all students the same opportunity. Too many of them are overscheduled outside of school, and others who don’t have the means are at a disadvantage. While we applaud makerspaces and maker fairs, they require payment to attend and parents with time and interest to take their children. By bringing it into the classroom, we can promote a culture of collaboration, guide kids through mistakes along the way, and celebrate the natural growth of discovery.

Steve Jobs was allowed to tinker in his father's garage; Bill Gates played with computers from a young age. Need we say more? Their ideas changed the world, literally. What we want for our students is exactly what the child in the book discovers:
“Then, one day, something amazing happened. My idea changed right before my eyes. It spread its wings, took flight, and burst into the sky. And then, I realized what you can do with an idea… You change the world.”
We don't need to throw out structure and assessment; what we do need is a new system that supports student learning and allows for higher order teaching. With more choice, we can empower the brainchild in both.

Source: Amazon

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

ISTE Recap - Day 4 - The Curse Of Knowledge

Source: ISTE
The final day of the ISTE-palooza felt more relaxed, as the numbers dwindled with the work week and the attendees fell into a rhythm. The emphasis today seemed less about tools for teachers and more about skills for students. Several speakers pointed to the lack of genuine search ability by students who use Google not just as their default research tool but also as their reflexive second brain for information access.

Indeed, Alan November, in characteristic wit and approachability, encapsulated the entire gist of this year's conference in his too-short morning kick-off session about the need for authentic digital use. Ostensibly billed as a talk about what to do during the first five days of school, November effectively marshaled the audience around his claim that before the advent of the web, there were two important concepts to cover: content and skills. Now schools must add “build out your network” as a critical proficiency for today's wired children.

Source: ASIDE, 2014

November also pointed to the "Curse Of Knowledge," a theory in cognitive science described by Steven Pinker at Harvard that claims teachers in effect know too much. Experienced educators have mastered the material already and, therefore, are unintentionally flawed educators. They have difficulty reaching people who do yet know the information. Students teaching other students, however, do not carry this same bias. In fact, the best teachers are those students who truly struggled with the concepts and who understand what it means really to learn.

At ISTE, the same holds true. The temptation exists to feel cursed by the avalanche of knowledge, the overload of "things you're not yet doing." Yet in the Pinker sense, the same is true of teachers teaching teachers; they live on the same plane, within the same general sphere of understanding. Learning between fellow educators, therefore, is efficient and real.

November did offer some intriguing suggestions for the first five days of school, such as spending time on searching, questioning, global connections, year-long projects, and celebrating a culture of failure. Warming up the crowd, he showed the video of "Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap," a winning way to lure any students into a culture of tinkering.

Other highlights of ISTE's fourth day were the informal "playgrounds" that invited casual, collaborative exchanges. Topics centered loosely on ideas such as the maker movement, mobile learning, and creative play.

Source: ASIDE, 2014
In total, the possible downsides to a conference like ISTE are the enormous crowds, the outsized demand for BYOD sessions that force organizers to require pre-registration, and the omnipresent techies staring at you with Google Glass.

The upsides are the exposure to cutting-edge ideas and the access to leading names in the edtech space. Also, meeting Twitter friends in person feels like speed dating mixed with college reunions. Above all, the ISTE reward for us is being honest about what we don’t know and returning to class in the fall armed with an reenergized toolkit of apps and ideas.

Click here for recaps of Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Monday, June 30, 2014

ISTE Recap - Day 3 - Where Are All Those “Lazy” Teachers?

Source: ISTE
Nationwide, the witch hunt against teachers unions and teacher tenure has built its argument on the gimcrack premise that educators are inherently lazy. Teachers will no doubt recline in their cushy career thrones once granted a decent living wage and professional flexibility. Well, bring those Chicken Littles to ISTE. Their airy thesis evaporates instantly upon entering the convention hall.

There are no lackadaisical teachers here. There are no uninspired trolls among the animated educators chatting in corridors between rapid-fire sessions. There are no sheeple among the collaborative professionals trading tech on Twitter. The best way to bust open a stereotype is open one’s eyes and see teachers in action at ISTE.

Source: ASIDE, 2014

This morning’s keynote address by writer and “katalyst” Kevin Carroll charged the crowd with an emotional exhortation about the benefits of belonging. Carroll preached the power of play as a uniting force among children. He quoted Plato, saying, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” If wishing could make it so, Carroll would speak in every conference, convention, classroom, and living room across the nation. As a former in-house change agent at Nike, he showed the famous “Tag” ad to reinforce his action message.

Other themes from the day centered on digital citizenship as the responsibility not just of teachers but also of students. Schools should let children take ownership over drafting a statement of digital purpose and designing activities to emphasize an Internet honor code.

Source: ASIDE, 2014

Another frequent motif was the power of backchanneling to give voice to the hesitant and to create a crowd-sourced avenue for dialogue. Great resources for teacher-to-student and student-to-student backchanneling include, TodaysMeet, and

Augmented reality has definitely hit the mainstream, given the number of ideas and apps being bandied about today. The maker movement has also gained widespread credence as a hands-on must-have for engaging modern kids. The most pervasive argument, however, remained the reminder that regardless of device or website, learning is a mindset. Passion and sharing are the most potent ingredients in nourishing both the teaching profession and students' lives.

Source: Hakan Forss, via Erin Klein

Click here for a recap of ISTE Day 1 and Day 2.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

ISTE Recap - Day 2 - Creative Confidence: The Teacher Who’s Always Pitching

Source: ISTE
First of all, let’s not kid ourselves, there are a lot of people here at ISTE 2014. The Georgia World Congress Center turns into Pamplona when a marquee session hour approaches. There’s also a panic upon walking past a long, bullish line waiting for an event that you haven’t heard about. You’re tempted to join the stampede for fear of missing out. Still, the hours are impeccably managed by the ISTE organizers, and the mood of sharing is high.

Source: ASIDE, 2014

With the opening of the ginormous Expo Hall today, 12 start-up companies chosen from over 100 hopefuls had five minutes in the Ed Tech Pavilion to sell their ideas to the crowd. Even though there were no educators on a judging panel whose job was to evaluate educational products, the pitchfest was still a fascinating glimpse of up-and-coming learning tools.

It reminded us that teachers themselves are always pitching. Passionate teachers are always trying to carry their voices above the noise to convince students and administrators of the value of innovative learning. At times, they pitch like ships on the sea, trying to maintain even keels among the agitated waters of testing and mandates. But more of the time, they are desperately pitching for more time, more resources, and more flexibility. They are looking to communicate their nuggets of wisdom and their clever approaches to anyone who will listen.

Source: ASIDE, 2014

Because someone is always questioning progressive educators, they must in turn persuade parents and policy-makers that it’s okay to try something new. For their part, Copernicus educational products actually invited teachers to promote their visions on the side of a VW Bus, scrawling their hopes for what education might look like in 25 years.

Source: Creative Confidence
In between sessions today, we read Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All (Crown Business, 2013) by Tom Kelley and David Kelley of IDEO. The thesis of the book is that, “creative confidence is about believing in your ability to create change in the world around you.” All throughout today, that message was echoed by dedicated educators. Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) asked attendees at the #geniushour panel what breaks their hearts in the world and what they are going to do about it. In explaining their inspiration, the pitch team from Modular Robotics invoked the Hebrew phrase, “Tikkun Olam,” which means "repairing the world."

In their book, Tom and David Kelley point out that there is no word in the Tibetan language for “creativity.” The closest translation is “natural.” It is ironic and affirming, therefore, that good teachers are naturally creative. Each presenter today demonstrated imagination and curiosity. They reiterated the same lessons from Creative Confidence: sustaining a doer’s mindset, not rushing to judgment, acting with intention, and leaping with courage. In essence, the Kelleys promote “karaoke confidence,” to put aside ego, build on the energy of others, value team camaraderie, and keep a sense of humor. That is ISTE at its core.

Source: ASIDE, 2014

On a practical level, our favorite apps and sites from today were Pop Lock Robot, Listen Edition, Pear Deck, and IFTTT. Our favorite quotes came from Twitter friend Sylvia Martinez (@smartinez) who encouraged educators to stop getting mad when kids won’t learn exactly as they are told. She also admitted, “I’m greedy. I want every hour to be genius hour.”

Check out the recap from Day 1: "Who Is Standing On The Shoulders Of Teacherpreneurs?"

Saturday, June 28, 2014

ISTE Recap - Day 1 - Who Is Standing On The Shoulders Of Teacherpreneurs?

Source: ISTE
Most conferences by their nature host an eager pool of participants. Without some authentic interest, why else would individuals sacrifice their time and dollars for days of intensive workshops? The Twitterverse and the edtech sphere, however, seem to reserve a special place for ISTE, the annual see-and-be-seen summit staged by the International Society For Technology In Education. This year’s #ISTE2014 network is no exception, with a zealous crowd of conference goers expected to top 20,000. There is even a trending #notatiste14 thread to loop in curious parties unable to visit Atlanta. And with the lines for the first ISTE Ignite session as a prime indication, it’s going to be a convivial, congested weekend.

If attendance ratios are anything like last year, though, only 19 percent of ISTE attendees will be actual PK - 12 teachers. The rest will be split among tech coordinators, administrators, consultants, media specialists, and "others." Perhaps this diverse turnout is beneficial toward nurturing a melting pot of tech ideas and professional experiences. But perhaps there is a downside to this relatively low presence of classroom educators at a convention intended to improve education.

Source: CTQ
On the plane from Douglas to Hartsfield, we read Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don't Leave (Jossey-Bass, 2013) by Barnett Berry, Ann Byrd, and Alan Weider of the Center For Teaching Quality (CTQ). These writers ask whether there is a genuine career trajectory for teachers to become school leaders while still remaining in the classroom. They pinpoint four waves of teacher leadership in both formal and informal structures. 

Yet the book also identifies two institutional impediments to these kinds of leadership roles: “egg-crate” schools, in which teachers are separated into cordoned-off rooms of solo instruction, and  “crab-bucket” schools, in which teachers are pitted against each other to impress administrators and claw to the top of the heap. Both models stifle voices that might encourage creativity. 

If entrepreneurs are those optimistic business-types who thrive on risks and self-reliance, then teacherpreneurs are those agile mobilizers who encourage democratic deliberation and digital ubiquity. Most schools, however, do not recognize this evolving and nuanced educator mantle. In other words, there is not currently a familiar, accurate name for the type of teacher-leader who continues as a daily classroom instructor while also inspiring change among colleagues, administrators, districts, policies, and social media PLNs. 

Source: ASIDE, 2014

One idea from this evening’s ISTE keynote session is to station in a school’s faculty lounge a savvy teacher who can be “on call” to answer both small and large tech questions. For one class period, for as many mentors as possible, a trusted colleague might be more approachable for fellow faculty to ask for help. On the school’s part, the key is to build this tech mentor role into the teacher-leaders’ schedules and compensate them in the form of salary, reduced duties, or equally as meaningful ways. Entrepreneurship is not charity, ask any businessperson, and neither is teaching.

Perhaps the reason ISTE, and other favorites like NYSCATE, have struck such chords among forward-thinking pedagogues is that these types of teacher-leaders are exactly the people who attend these conferences. They soak in the progressive philosophies and emerging tools and bring those revelations back to their communities. Every single person we met today was a sharer, an experimenter, a wonderer, a pioneer, a doer, and an ally. These are the types of people who need to stake careers in the classroom to helm their schools and to engender innovation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Educating Entrepreneurs: A Little Maker, A Whole Lot Of Genius

Source: ASIDE, 2014 - RPH Recycle Water Bottle Holders
While we think highly of incorporating maker education “back into” the school environment, leadership should never have let it go to begin with for the sake of test preparation. We lock up or throw away the blocks in kindergarten or cancel a kindergarten performance so kids can focus on college prep. Who are we kidding? We know this sounds ridiculous, but it happens.

Even in the May issue of Leading and Learning With Technology from ISTE, almost every article on maker, flip, STEM, and coding justifies these teaching approaches with a qualifier that kids who have access to these programs do better on standardized tests. Is that what matters? Are all programs to be judged on how well they perform on standardized tests, or do we want programs that demonstrate raw critical thinking that pushes kids out of their comfort zones to engage with material, design what they want, and try to market it to the hilt?

Source: ASIDE, 2014 - Stress Squishy
For the last four years, we’ve witnessed the entrepreneur program run in the fifth grade do just that. It’s tough at first. Ideation does not always come easily for kids, and working through honest criticism on par, but not quite as intense, as the famed television program “Shark Tank” can be tough on our praised youth to swallow. We’ve seen partnerships split up, but not friendships; parents who want to help, but can’t; and kids so frustrated they want to quit, but we won’t let them. So what’s the take away?
Source: ASIDE, 2014 - Point Protection

Well, it’s one of the highlights of their middle school years, because we allow them to time to develop their genius. No, not the genius we often associate with intelligence, but the one that Rick Ackerly refers to in his book, The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity, and Creativity in Children. It’s when we partner with our learners’ genius “to create conditions for self-actualization.” The sky is the limit as long as you can justify your idea and cost, and build a prototype to make sure it works.

Watching these kids go out on limb and take a chance on their ideas is a critical skill not only for this project, but also for life. Some of the highlights are scattered through this post, and many of these young entrepreneurs were determined to bring their ideas to market their way. Make or lose money, their determination can be fierce. For these young entrepreneurs, it did not matter if they had it wrong. It’s all part of the process, and we've yet to see passion not win out. Seeing it all come together at the entrepreneur fair is the most rewarding, and sometimes emotional, eureka moment. They get it.

Source: ASIDE, 2014 - Smart Soap
We’ve watched the program grow over the last four years. It was no surprise that the final products for this spring were beyond our expectations, and it was not just the items at the fair. It was the enthusiasm of the student visitors moving up in grades talking about ideas, and the upper classes reminiscing about their experiences. The supporting for their peers was overwhelming.

Source: ASIDE, 2014 - E & V's Stylish Stands
It’s that moment when the school community, including administrators, parents, and teachers, hear from these young entrepreneurs, see the extraordinary amount of work these kids put into their ideas, and realize this project is genius at work. The seeds of “I can be entrepreneur” are real, and the stimulation in seeing young minds believe in themselves is pure joy.

For more resources, please see:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why We Need A Peace World Cup: The 2014 Global Peace Index

Source: Vision of Humanity
Yesterday, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) released the 2014 Global Peace Index (GPI) on its Vision of Humanity website. The goal of this interactive site is to bring peace research to life with interactive maps, reports, and the latest media pertaining to it. As with our earlier posts on the topic of peace, and in particular the release of the 2013 GPI, it is important that we continually share these findings with our learners.

Source: Vision of Humanity
We see the excitement surrounding the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament daily with kids and adults. It is no wonder the current IEP used this public attention to release the latest GPI report with the banner "Peace World Cup."

Peace is not always easy to define, but perhaps simply put, it is the absence of war or conflict. That is at least the most tangible definition for our learners to grasp, but it is much more. If we live in harmony with the world around us, we think of it as “positive peace;” yet countries that achieve a state of peace because they are not involved in conflicts either external or internal can be in a period of “negative peace.” In other words, the level of peacefulness is not necessarily in harmony with the discord felt among citizens.

The map below shows how 162 countries around the world rank according to their peacefulness based on the 2014 GPI. There is also a concise PDF download of the report with colorful visuals, charts, and statistical information. Both of theses resources will be helpful to teachers in designing lessons to use with students.

Source: Vision of Humanity
The video for the Global Peace Index 2014 summarizes the state of peace around the world over the last seven years, and it is well worth the few short minutes to watch and discuss with students. It brings together the research to show how the GPI, the Cost of Violence Containment, and the Pillars of Peace are all connected.

We want our students to be those “pillars of peace” who take a vested interest in attitudes, structures, and institutions that underpin a peaceful world. With over 200 million people living below the poverty line and over 9 trillion dollars a year spent on containing violence, it’s more important than ever to help our young learners see peace as the most fundamental human right of all people.

For other resources, please see:
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