Friday, December 21, 2018

What IS in our DNA? Anything about learning?

I've been hearing and reading a lot about what's in our DNA or what our brain is hardwired to do. Apparently we are or are not hardwired to remember stuff. Healing is in our DNA as is empathy. I'll track down more on some of those topics over the holidays for other blogs, but I'd like to talk about the Siri-Alexa Effect and its impact on learning and creativity.

Sir Ken Robinson has been talking about the absence of creativity in schools for a while. We've pummeled the factory model of education for a couple of decades now and we're beginning to see some changes in classrooms, though often in the form of bouncy balls and wobble chairs as teachers try to figure out what flexible seating means for them. I think kids are naturally creative and inquisitive, but we tend to stifle that in classrooms and often unintentionally. Hang on to that for a minute.

In 2014, there was a study about learning and our DNA. It's an interesting article. What I found particularly compelling is the notion of whether or not we're "good" at math or reading or something else. Compared to everyone else in the world? Maybe. I need to share a substantial part of the end of the article.

Plomin also points out that genes don't predetermine performance. Appetite is just as important as aptitude, he said.
"The brilliant mathematician — that's all they do for decades, they just think math and work on math," Plomin said. "It's not like it comes to them with a flash of inspiration. It's really a long, long process of thinking about these things."
The study results show that attitudes about learning are out of date and need to change, Bates said.
"Just as we no longer blame mothers for schizophrenia, we should be humble when blaming schools and parents for not every child learning as quickly as we'd desire," he said. "The implications, I think, are that children really do differ at very deep levels in how easily they learn."
Another article in 2016 addressed "the interplay between brain and behavior." It didn't really add a lot to my arsenal for thinking about such things, but the author may have inadvertently reminded me that one of the reasons I'm "not good" at playing the piano (or any other musical instrument) is that I wasn't willing to practice. I think I'd like to know how to play the cello but mostly I like the idea of knowing how to play the cello. I like math, but it isn't my passion. Nor is science. If I could get paid for reading, thinking, traveling to talk with others about ideas, and writing, and doing some teaching, I'd be one of the happiest people on earth.

One of the things I've come to realize in my work with teachers and students is that most of the professional development work we do focuses on the teacher and the teaching. Oh, it makes sense. . . to a degree. After all, the teachers is a facilitator of learning so the strategies an educator learns will help him find better ways to help students learn.

So many of our strategies are on helping students figure out how to complete a task so they can successfully complete a task. We seem to spend much too much time, directly and indirectly, on asking students to focus on completing tasks. Somehow we hope they will equate that with learning.

Which brings me back to my question about whether or not learning, the process of learning, is part of our DNA. I think it is and based on absolutely nothing scientific. See, kids are naturally curious. They are okay with taking things apart and seeing what else they can make. They don't seem to mind trying to figure out how to work something or do something or even learn how to read based on what they hear people do when a book is being read to them. Give them some technology and, when they're young, they'll spend time figuring out how to make it work or one of their classmates will rush over to show them how.

But then they get past about 2nd grade and all that inquisitiveness and willingness to try to do something seems to have been wrung out of them because we have focused so much on the task and its completion. I wonder how many times a teacher says something like, "You've got to get this done." It becomes, then, all about the task and nothing about the process of learning, which is, I think, rambling down a trail prompted by curiosity and creativity.

And because teachers worry about how to grade something--and there are lots of factors to contribute to their thinking, too, and why grades and performance become their focal points--they prefer students to complete a task in a particular way. And creativity gets boxed out.

Now. The Siri-Alexa effect. It goes back further than Siri but it's really blatant with these tools. Kids (and adults) ask a question. They may have to rephrase a few times for Siri or Alexa to be able to give them the information they need or want, but then they're done. "Research" accomplished. Answer retrieved. Because isn't the point to get the right answer? Is there any value in being curious? or being creative in one's approach to answering a question or completing a task?

Teachers complain that kids won't read closely. They want to find the answer right away. They want every answer to be "right there." Just like when they ask Siri or Alexa or Google. They don't know how or think it is important to know how to read more closely, to take their time to read, to realize that part of that reading and thinking and figuring out process is called learning. That being curious and thinking creatively about something is part of the process of learning.

That the point of asking them to read and think and figure out is to learn how to learn.

Or is it?

Or have we become so focused on making sure students complete tasks and in a particular way that we have forgotten to teach them that learning is part of the process and, as one of my friends noted, the process is the process.

We want, or maybe only I want, students to be engaged in the process of learning. I'd love for them to get so lost in looking something up that they forget what they were looking for because of all of the cool stuff they are finding and learning about. I want them to read something and instead of racing to find the main idea or the key argument, I would love for them to say "Hey! Wait a minute. What about. . .?" and want to do the research to go find out more rather than simply taking the word of the author.

Does that mean banning Google, Siri, or Alexa? Nope. We know that asking Siri and Alexa more questions helps the AI software behind the device get smarter. But does that process make us smarter or just more dependent on whatever resources Siri or Alexa happen to tap into (often Wikipedia, by the way).

But that does mean making sure students know there is more to this school experience, so much more to learning, than being the first to get the right answer. And that's a whole different mindset for educators, students, and parents.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Thinking about majors. . . and employability

I remember talking with the parents of a freshman advisee who were worried what their student might be able to do with a degree in English. The student's dad said the word "English" like it tasted bad. I sighed, inwardly, I hope. It was not a new question and neither was the palpable concern that parents were going to be investing a lot of money in a piece of paper that would not translate to opportunities worth mentioning.

Even then, and this was over a decade ago, it was easy to tell parents about the skills their student would gain as an English major and that this learning wasn't as much about the literature he would get to read, but the work he would have to do because of the reading; because of the research; because of the writing; and, of perhaps most importantly, because of the thinking, the necessity of learning how to make connections, the requirement to articulate those ideas, and the expectation of listening to others, making connections with those ideas, and articulating any change of thought or perception. I wish I could report on the trajectory of that particular student, but, alas, I cannot. I do know that some of my English majors went on to be teachers, others went to graduate school in different fields, others went into the military, and still others found a profession and line of work that had nothing to do with English or literature and yet makes them happy.

I've been talking with teachers about their concerns about their juniors and seniors who seem to lack interest in a meaningful future and with students who respond with a shrug or with some semblance of an idea of what they might maybe kind of sort of want to focus on in college. It's hard to tell if they don't know about their options or if they don't care. One of the teachers I was talking to is alarmed that one of her seniors wants to play in the NFL so he wants to go to college to go pro and, if he doesn't get drafted, he'll just work at Taco Bell. Nothing wrong with wanting to work at Taco Bell, but the teacher is frustrated that his vision goes no further. On the other hand, right now, he can't imagine not playing football. That's his dream. At least he has one.

These days there is a lot of emphasis on STEM, and rightly so. We do need more people in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. However, we need them to be creative and collaborative. Personally, I think we need them to be familiar with systematic inventive thinking. I'm sure some of what they're teaching and discussing has changed from what I learned back in 2004 or 2005, and that's good. It should evolve. But one thing that was revelatory to me is that sometimes the best solution is a simple addition or a simple subtraction. It was transformational thinking in the purest sense and recognizing that transformation doesn't necessarily mean massive redesign, but perhaps one small change making a large difference in a way of doing, in a way of thinking.

Because I do a lot of work in STEM, and because of my own unusual background, I'm aware that the liberal arts are often maligned and misunderstood. I'm also aware of the concern of underemployment of those with any degree, the subject of many a report this past spring.

Traditionally, students have pursued jobs that aligned with their major; therefore, a business major looks for jobs that seem to reflect the courses taken for that major or the kind of work they think they want to do. However, it's true that one's major does not define one's career. A degree is representative of something in which a student may be interested. I qualify that because I've had my share of students who graduated and realized they had a degree in something they didn't really want to do or didn't really like.


Soft skills aren't new but they are of greater interest to employers now. And why? Well, take a look at those top skills in that graphic at the top of this post. What do you see? Anything about a specific major? Nope.

Seth Godin wanted to call them vocational skills. Meh. I think that what we call "soft skills" are life skills. We need to be active listeners and good communicators whether we're collaborating with work colleagues or life colleagues. Emotional intelligence has value outside of the work place as does, well, pretty much everything on that list.

While a degree might be important for the work graduates might do some day, there are several things to consider. First, the job students get when they graduate may be on the path to their ultimate career or may be a stepping stone to get to where they really want or are meant to go. Second, some students right out of college often lack a clear sense of self and also don't really know how far they can go or what all they might be capable of accomplishing. Limiting themselves to the major on their degree might be self-defeating. Having a sense of their capabilities and their competencies might help them figure out what they really want to be doing and start them on the path to get there. Third, many of us didn't really hit our strides in our work life for a few years or even longer. Fourth, plenty of us have changed career paths more than once, and that's okay.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Contemplating the Future of AI in Education

If you've worked with me, you know that at some point I'll ask about robots and coding. And you know that I'll happily trundle my case of BeeBots, Dash, Ozobots, Makey Makeys, and drones for us to decide what to use and how. . .and why.

Not too long ago I was with a group of administrators and we were talking about STEM. For those of us who have been involved with STEM/STEAM for awhile, it's hard to remember that not everyone is on board. I was asked about virtual classes, about robots, and about AI. The tones were so much inquisitive as somewhat defensive. I recognize this is an on-going challenge because technology moves so fast these days. Yes, some of the administrators were older, but that is no excuse. I am a bona fide boomer and not inept with nor afraid of technology. (So please stop bashing boomers and apologizing that we're not digital natives. We're not digital natives; we're freakin' digital pioneers because it's boomers who designed and wrote the first iterations of most things people take for granted today.)

So, where was I? Oh yes, robots and AI. I'm old enough to remember when 2001: A Space Odyssey first came out and holy moley, HAL was freaky. Most of us are familiar with the Matrix movies when robots really do become sentient and things really get weird, fascinating, yea, weird and fascinating. There are plenty of movies speculating about what could happen if robots could become sentient and lots of discussion about whether or not AI robots can become sentient or conscious beings. What are the moral and ethical implications? What does that mean for humanity?

The questions and responses also made me think about Kate Darling's TED Talk, "Why We Have an Emotional Connection to Robots." I haven't named all of my robots, but I know I treat them in ways that sometimes cause students to look at me askance. Now the students will name the robots they're using at the time, by the way. I've had students burst into tears when they dropped a robot on the floor because they were afraid they'd hurt it.

What has that to do with AI? Well, think of the way you respond to Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Watson, or any other AI technology to which you have access. How many of you say "thank you" to Alexa after the device has done as you asked or answered your question? I do. I also giggle when Alexa thinks I've called out her name but then mumbled some sort direction when I've likely just mumbled and something in that has sounded to "her" like "Alexa." How many of you feel bad when you get irritated with Alexa and use a harsher tone of voice? I've not yet apologized to her, but it's only a matter of time.

As an educator, if you're using some sort of a platform that makes adjustments based on student responses and interactions (i-Ready, Dreambox), you're already using a level of machine learning and AI to help students personalize their learning pathways.

There are, of course, immediate ways teachers can introduce and use AI in their classrooms. There were plenty of educators at ISTE 2018 talking about using Echo Dot in their classrooms. Sure, it can be fun to have a conversation with Alexa but there could be privacy issues, so be careful. Students can learn how to create chatbots and it could be interesting to have students have conversations with chatbots.

I was with some high school students recently who were asked to create their own rubric for their presentations. It was an interesting exercise: frustration on both sides. So then I imagined students having a conversation with Alexa or chatbot to try to explain what they were really trying to say.

If you're looking for other suggestions or ideas for using AI in the classroom, check out this blog post by Shake Up Learning.

It's important to understand that AI isn't coming; AI is here. It's already in your home, your car, your classroom. Data analytics is only a small part of the role AI plays and can play. Heck, sports scouts are using AI to help find the best athletes for their teams. Just as students (and their parents) seem to fret about how robots will change their lives, well, robots have already changed their lives and often they don't realize it. And if it's not robots, it's cobots. Yep, that's a thing.

The reality is that work and the future of work has changed, that education and the future of education has got to change and change faster. Resistance is futile, which is creepy considering the Borg. But the possibilities for what and how students can learn is really exciting. Our challenges remain to figure out what they need to learn and how to help students understand the importance and value of learning.

The dark side of AI and technology exists. Students can't understand why they have to learn things they can look up on their phones if they don't remember it. Students can't understand why they have to make connections between something in French class and something in Economics class. Students can't understand why they have to remember stuff from Math I and Math II to help them in Math III. Why? Because they look stuff up or ask Siri or Alexa.

Even as we are embracing AI and playing with robots and recognizing that cobots are a part of some workplaces, we have to help students understand that doesn't relieve them of all responsibility for learning. In fact, the truth seems to be that if they are unable and unwilling to learn and if they are unable and unwilling to think critically and creatively, they may have less of future than most cobots. On the other hand, if they were able to think critically and creatively and figure out ways to help solve problems and find solutions using AI and robots and cobots and whatever else they might invent, well, who knows how they might be able to control and manage their futures?


For more information about AI and education, you might read:

Monday, September 10, 2018

"It's Hard to Be What You Can't See." So, read more.

In 2015, Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, wrote an article with the title "It's Hard to Be What You Can't See." In the past few years, the phrase has been co-opted by STEAMsters who use it as a clarion call to educators about student opportunities for their futures. The phrase has become "They Can't Be What They Can't See." I've used it myself and, for many reasons, I think it true.

But just recently two things occurred to me. First, perhaps the way we're currently using it is too narrow and second, perhaps we've completely missed Marian Wright Edelman's intent. And so began my research journey.

The article itself was easy to find. Ms. Wright Edelman, born in 1939, is still active with the Children's Defense Fund. She wrote the article in 2015 and it was updated in 2016. Before I address the article and my thinking, a few notes. For those who don't know me, I'm a white female of a certain age; I have a doctorate in education; I've worked in various capacities in education, both corporate and non-corporate, for decades and oh my goodness that sounds like a really long time! Why does that matter? Because I know my age and my color influence my perceptions of context.

Another lengthy note. I worked for Pearson for several years. I was a director in the Teacher Education and Development Group which was, I think, the final name for our little business unit. I got to work with some amazing people as we crafting professional learning experiences and graduate programs for our university partners. We had video. Beautiful video filmed and edited by the ridiculously talented Jules Burke, founder and president of SMART Productions, and managed and frequently voiced by the also immensely talented Vikki Myers, who is one part of Kingdom Impact Ministries with her equally talented husband Michael. So yes, I was surrounded by talented people.

What's important here is that Vikki is not white. As we talked about video options and as we searched for schools that could help us capture the video we needed and wanted, Vikki ever-so-gently taught me the importance of faces of color in the classroom.

We often heard teachers talking about how they couldn't replicate a lesson taught by a 4th grade teacher because, for example, they taught 2nd grade. Or they couldn't use anything from a particular video clip because that teacher was elementary and the viewer was high school. Gadzooks people! But we knew that people found it hard to translate a learning experience when the ones they were watching did not look like or sound like them.

Even when the grade level and the content area matched, some teachers might say, "Oh sure, but she's only 23 students and I have more," or "Yea, but my school is Title I and urban and his isn't," or whatever nuance and detail did not match almost precisely. By the way, we modified the content to help teachers make the transition though this was often one of the more frustrating parts of our jobs. In this case, they couldn't be if what they saw didn't match their expectations perfectly.

Sure, it could be a simple matter of choice or a willingness to be creative and collaborative or any one of a number of things. However, we heard this from new and veteran teachers from all kinds of situations and demographics, and even from those who seemed to want to learn.

So my first corollary is this: "Sometimes it's hard to be what you can see."

But let's go back to Wright Edelman's article and the points she was trying to make, or the points I think she was trying to make.

She speaks first of diversity and global connection. When speaking of diverse books, she notes "it’s not because necessarily everybody needs to see themselves reflected in every book, but because we need that sense of connection." People have been making connections without those reflections, but why should they have to work that hard? And here is the crux.
It’s hard to be what you can’t see. Children of color need to be able to see themselves in the books they read. Just as importantly, all children need to be exposed to a wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are. 
Deep in our heart of hearts we know that. Years and years ago I got to teach literature at the college level, and I'd do that again in a heartbeat (including teaching freshman composition because yes, I enjoy it!). I taught Children's Lit and Adolescent Lit, too, poor me. Because I taught some of the diverse literatures courses, I was always looking for books that reflected those that were rarely seen in my classrooms. Why? Because I knew, knew, in my heart of hearts that books might be one of the few ways to introduce students to those who were not like them. They might never meet someone like Okonkow in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, or any of the characters in In the Pond by Ha Jin or The Chosen by Chaim Potok or Silence by Shusaku. My goal was to help them see the characteristics that were reflected in their own skin and to figure out what differentiated them, other than accent or geography or skin color and how accent, geography, skin color, and more contributed to that differentiation.

Not too long ago a friend recommended Front Desk by Kelly Yang. The story itself is good and the characters are wonderfully crafted. I recommended it to a teacher in a neighborhood school and she wondered why they would read it since there aren't many Asian kids in the school. So we talked about the correlations her students might be able to draw with those of other races, ethnicities, and religions. And that's when it hit me.

Yes, using the catch phrase "They can't be what they can't see" is GREAT for STEM/STEAM programs, for promoting all kinds of options for kids who think their choices might be limited or who have no clue what possibilities might exist.

But let's go back to Wright Edelman's statement: "Just as importantly, children need to be exposed to a wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are." Kids in rural schools need to have a realistic glimpse of what life is like in suburbia and cities, and vice versa. Kids in white bread schools need to know what life is like when your very being isn't privileged or when it is suspect because your skin isn't some weird beigey pinkish tan (you know we're not actually "white.").

So my second corollary is this: "Sometimes it's hard to imagine what you don't know, can't see, and haven't experienced."

I know of some students of color who have really limited ideas of the possibilities for their lives. I talked to one of the 6th graders who loves to run and loves to run fast. I asked her if she dreamed about being in the Olympics, if she dreamed of being the next Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She had no idea who I was talking about so I bought her a couple of books about African American women runners, including Wilma Rudolph and, of course, Flo Jo. A few weeks later her teacher sent me the most amazing thank-you letter written by this sweet girl. I know the books have changed some of her thinking and I know the experience of getting books was pretty cool for her. My hope is that now her dreams for herself will change.

And so, my third corollary, taking quite liberally from Wright Edelman, is this: "We all know more about what we might be and could be when we get to read a 'wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are.'"

If we want our kids to be better equipped for this world and the world of their futures, they need to read more.

If we want our kids to have more information about what could be possible for them, they need to read more.

If we want our kids to begin to imagine what could be possible, they need to read more.

And they need to read "a wide range of books that reflect the true diversity of our nation and world as they really are." So have them read Front Desk, Long Way Down, The Hate U Give, Holding Up the Universe, I'll Give You the Sun, and so many more.

New City Library
Let them choose.

Let them discuss and reflect in ways that are meaningful to them.

Let them discover and grow.

Let them learn to imagine.

Let them imagine possibilities.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Design thinking in school: Students as designers, creators, and tinkerers

Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman are co-hosts of a new show called "Making It." Makers from around the country tackle projects using their own preferred medium. Because it's a competition, the least successful is eliminated each week. I adore this show and not just because it highlights the maker movement in a wonderfully creative way, or that it's hosted by two of the funniest people on TV. Participants have a limited amount of time to create their projects, but there is no way they don't know ahead of time what some of the projects are. They have to have time to figure out their materials and notify the show so each participant has access to sufficient amounts of the requisite materials. My point is that while they may make it look as though they are designing on the fly, the reality is that they have given some thought to what they are doing and how. Enter design thinking in a very real way.

Okay, you're thinking that's all very well and good for a television show and grown-ups who do crafty things for a living but let's talk about a classroom full of kids and limited resources since your classroom isn't backed by advertisers and a major network. Sure, let's talk about design thinking in the classroom. (If you feel like you need a little catching up, please read my blog post "Design thinking is not an output only process.")

First, I'm just going to say this: what we're calling "making" shouldn't be, needn't be limited to a particular place and time and it doesn't always require duct tape or a glue gun. Sometimes the process of making might require only a pencil and paper. I know, right? How droll.

The good folks at the University of Texas describe and define making in this way:
Making is an iterative process of tinkering and problem solving that draws on a DIY mindset. Making is collaborative and allows for self-expression through the creation of a personally meaningful artifact that is shared with a larger community. UTeach Maker Advisory Group, 2016 
Making promotes creativity and engages students in problems of their own invention. Making helps students develop identities as designers, creators, and tinkerers. Through making, students gain access to sophisticated tools for building and thinking critically.
Hang on to that. Now let's review what we're talking about with design thinking.
Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)
A.J. Juliani and John Spencer developed the LAUNCH cycle as a way for teachers and students to navigate design thinking. It's a great structure and you should most definitely visit their website for loads of resources. But I have to say this: all of the projects you see at this site and at many others are about engineering, about constructing something, about science or math. Nothing wrong with STEM or STEAM. I'm a believer. I'm a STEAMer myself. However, limiting design thinking to STEM/STEAM projects is, well, limiting.

Let's back up to the components of design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. I talk about design thinking and how I used it as a computer engineer/systems analyst in this post, "Design thinking is not an output only process." Or, to simplify: identify the problem and figure out the POV, think about the end user (or reader), brainstorm possibilities, pick an angle and design an approach, design a prototype (write or create that draft), and redesign (revise that draft). How does that work for any content area?

First, you have to start with the right question, which may not be an actual question. I'm not going to talk about the "right question" strategy in this post but will in another. I'll make the connections for you, I promise. The not-question might actually be a concept or a broad area of reference or, my favorite, an "I wonder. . . " statement. Why not a question? Because students infer you want a specific answer if you ask a specific question. And they get frustrated if the question is too general.

Eons ago I did a high school paper on the religious and political implications of nursery rhymes. I did that paper because I'd heard someone mention that "Little Robin Red Breast" had religious and political implications about a particular Cardinal of the Church and I found that fascinating. That was an "I wonder. . . " moment and I had a fabulous time doing that research.

Let's think about social studies. The Treaty of Versailles was signed by Germany and the Allies in January 1919 at the end of World War I. The United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy negotiated the treaty. However, in November 1919, the United States rejected the Treaty of Versailles and refused to join the League of Nations. Rather than give a specific assignment or ask a specific question, I might offer up some "I wonder" statements to give students some idea of possibilities and then let them go from there. For example, I wonder what it felt like to be one of the allied countries negotiating that treaty. I wonder how one of the negotiators might explain what was going on to people back home, politicians or family. I'd also leave the "what" wide open so maybe students would write a series of letters from the POV of one of the negotiators. Or maybe do a series of news bulletins or broadcasts.

Design thinking might not work for every lesson or every assignment, but once students get in the habit of thinking in terms of empathize, ideate, design, prototype, and test, they will use those strategies whenever they can.

As a former English teacher, I get that you don't always want to read papers and not just because students don't always want to write them. Yes, they need the writing practice, which is one of the reasons we make them write papers, but there are other ways for them to convey that information. Even if they do a green screen presentation or use Adobe Spark or Book Creator or maybe even assessment tools like Nearpod, Quizlet, or Quizizz to present their content, they could easily use design thinking. And how much more interesting for them and for you if you ask them to write for a different audience. You could let them choose or you can use something like Wheel Decide to randomize options; that could be FUN.

Let's go back to that making definition, specifically this part: "Making promotes creativity and engages students in problems of their own invention. Making helps students develop identities as designers, creators, and tinkerers. Through making, students gain access to sophisticated tools for building and thinking critically." Think about tools your students use or could use. Even if they're creating a rough sketch or draft using pencil and paper, isn't that a form of tinkering? If they're working with classmates and they're pointing and grabbing at the pencil and erasing and talking over each other to adjust lines or numbers or ideas, isn't that tinkering? isn't that making? And while they're working alone or with each other working on that draft, whether using pencil and paper or a computer, they are thinking about the end user, they are thinking about the best approach, they are thinking about what will work and what won't: they are, probably almost by default, using elements of design thinking.

The more we encourage students to use design thinking, formally and informally, the more likely we are to help them tap into their skills and "identities as designers, creators, and tinkerers." Having said that, however, let me strongly encourage you NOT to formalize design thinking or laminate the steps as an anchor chart. There are ways to encourage this way of thinking without making it too formal.

Years ago, when I was still teaching literature as a general education class, I decided I could not read one more 20+ page research paper written under duress. I thought about why we were asking for such papers and I knew it was a culminating project to demonstrate learning. Okay, so why torture the students and me? So, way before all of this stuff was cool and trendy, out of sheer exhaustion and in self-defense, I told students they could do a final project however they wanted and for whomever they wanted as long as the audience wasn't me. They could create a video, design a game, create a sculpture or a painting, etc. Whatever as long as it expressed something about something in the class. And, of course, they could write a paper if that's what they wanted to do. I asked for an abstract so they could tell me what they were doing, explain the intended audience, and how it connected to the course which enabled me to create a simple rubric. I told them they were NOT being graded on the level of craftiness but on how well that product connected to what they wanted to say about what they learned in the class. I got some amazing work.

They were designers, creators, and tinkerers and I got student work that enabled them to express themselves in ways that truly reflected themselves as learners. Younger students might need more guidance and help with resources, but don't underestimate what wonderful creative thinkers and designers they can be when given the opportunity.


Additional resources
5 Ways to Use Design Thinking in Your Classroom
8 Steps to Implementing Design Thinking in Your Classroom
Design Thinking in Education
Introducing Design Thinking to Elementary Learners
Improving Schools Through Design Thinking
The Beginner's Guide to Design Thinking in the Classroom

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Reading with BHH. Book. Head. Heart.


I love Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. I love the way they write. I love what they write. I love them and yes, I'm privileged to know them. I'd love to hang out with them pretty much any time.

All of their books are useful and insightful, infused with that Beers/Probst humor. Their Notice and Note books are amazing but I want to talk about Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters.

Herewith some highlights and observations although it will be much, much, MUCH better for you to just get the book and read it. In fact, use it as a book study with your colleagues. Follow Kylene (@kylenebeers) and Bob (@BobProbst) on Twitter. It's entirely possible Kylene and/or Bob will agree to Skype in to talk with you and your colleagues about the book.
Too often, the right book created a compliant one-book-at-a-time reader, that kid who will willingly read the book we promise him he will enjoy. And yet, he doesn’t become the committed reader who searches on his own for the next great book.

And then we wondered if we were trying to solve the wrong problem. . . . Perhaps what was missing was helping students have the right mindset while reading. Once we reframed the problem, we began to understand why how kids read matters so very much (p. 17)
I was in a school library last year when kids were trying to finish all of their AR requirements. Kids were looking for books with the right colored dots. A few kids had finished their AR requirements and were looking for books to read for fun. For fun! Elementary students!! The library staff was making all kinds of great recommendations (that I was writing down for my own reading stacks). What was particularly fun was how enthusiastic the librarians were as they were describing the books they were recommending. Some of the books were not the right color dot, and the librarians would encourage the students to give the book a try. Calloo! Callay!

Students learn to extract information from texts and most of the work they do is about extraction. The following quote reminds us of the importance of flexible thinkers, which is often a challenge to the way we tend to want to do things in our classrooms.
We would argue that in today's world, learning to extract information is not enough. It's not enough to hold a reader's interest and it's not enough to solve our complex problems. . . . [Students] need to be flexible thinkers who recognize that there will rarely be one correct answer, but instead there will be multiple answers that must be weighed and evaluated (p. 21) 
I'd never thought much about a reader's responsibility to the text, but this section of the book was eye-opening. Beers and Probst state "While we, of course, want students who pay attention to what's in the text, we know that the most responsible reading requires that students pay attention to their own responses, their own thoughts, their own reactions" (p. 31).

Please note the emphasis on the word "own." Reading teachers like to talk about making connections: text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world. I remember startling a group of students by asking them what they didn't like about a story. When they were reluctant to answer (it probably felt like a trick question), I told them one of the things I didn't like about the story. Small light bulbs exploded as they began to realize that part of reading is recognizing what they like, how they connect, and, yes, what they don't like.

Heidi Weber sketchnote (p. 37)
If you're familiar with the Notice & Note books, you're familiar with the three big questions: What surprised me? What did the author think I already knew? What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?

These questions assist students in their process of becoming responsible readers. These questions provide a means for expressing text-to-self and, quite possibly, text-to-text and/or text-to-world. But that's not the whole point. These questions also help students begin to think about what affects them, and why.

I'm going to fast forward a bit to the BHH part; otherwise, we'll be here all day.

I really, REALLY wish I had a recording of Kylene reading this part of the book and I'm going to quote from the text at length because it gives you insight into how they came to the BBH framework.
Our experiment with getting kids to read with the possibility of change in mind, willing to let the text be disruptive, got off to a rocky start. . .
We visited one classroom and said to the fifth graders, "As you read, we want you to think about the textual, intellectual, and emotional aspects of the text. In other words, we want you to read responsively and responsibly." We won't even record here how poorly that lesson went.
I must interject. These are two very experienced teachers who get to work with students often, so it wasn't lack of experience or perspective. I can't begin to tell you how helpful it was to me to understand this journey.
Next classroom: "Reading can change you. It can open up the world for you. But as you read, you need to think about your responses and you need to think about what's in the text. And you ought to ask yourself how this will help you be a compassionate person." One student responded, "Will you two be here all week?"
 My guess is that was not a question posed with joy and excitement.
Another day. Another class.  "As you read today, we want you to think about what's in the text and at the same time think about what your responses are to what's in the text." The response from the girl on the third row, middle seat: "Did you say if this was for a grade?"
Finally: "Okay. Today, as you read, think about what's in the book, what's in your head, and what's in your heart." Kids looked up. No one said anything. We took that as a good sign and wrote three words on the board: Book. Head. Heart. One boy repeated, "Book. Head. Heart." Another said, "Like what for the head?" We said, "Just ask yourself, 'What surprised me?' Then you'll be thinking about what was in the book while thinking about what you already know." He nodded and said, "Cool." Another asked, "What's a heart question?" We said, "Try 'What did this show me about me?' or 'How could this change how I feel?'" More nods. We held our breath.
The room was quiet. Kids studied our three words as we added some prompts. Then they shrugged and said, "Okay." And there it was. Three words. Book. Head. Heart. Our frame to remind kids that they need to do more than simply extract information from the text. . . .
 It's simple. Direct. And it keeps kids focused on where they must begin--with what's in the book--and where they must end--with how it's changing them. We tell kids, "Of course you must read what's in the book. The author put those words there for a reason! But you also must read thinking about what's in your own head, your responses. And finally you must read thinking about what you took to heart--your feelings, commitments, and values" (p. 62-63).

Why should you read this book? Why should you think about adopting some of their ideas and strategies? Because reading is meant to inform, entertain, and yes, can change us. It can change the way we understand. It can expand and change what we know or what we think we know. But we have to know how to read effectively, doing more than simply extracting information.

At the beginning of the book, Beers and Probst explain that disruptions begin because someone realizes there is a need for change. They note there are two questions asked: 1) What needs to change? and 2) What assumptions make that change hard? (p. 7).

We want students to be willing readers. We want them to be responsible readers who are will to reflect on what they are reading, who are willing to question what the writer has made them think and feel. It's possible that to help our students become disrupted thinkers, we have to disrupt our thinking and our teaching about how (and what) our students read.

You might also check out their Ten Tips:
Tip 1 Teach More by Talking Less
Tip 2 Value Change
Tip 3 Reading as a Transaction
Tip 4 Let Kids Reread
Tip 5 Book, Head, Heart
Tip 6 Give Kids Choice
Tip 7 Reading the Same Book
Tip 8 Books You Haven't Read
Tip 9 When Your Child Says "I Don't Get It"
Tip 10 Understanding Non-Fiction

Sunday, August 12, 2018

SEL isn't just another edutrend

A couple of years ago I would have scoffed at myself. I would have said that SEL is a new touch-feely trend in education destined just to add one more thing to the already overcrowded plates of teachers and administrators. And then I started paying closer attention to students and to teachers, and to the interactions of students and teachers.

In one of "my" schools, I witnessed a young boy slamming open the classroom door, then slamming it shut, and then heard him walking down the hall pounding on the wall. Second grader, maybe third. It was an explosive response to a teacher's quiet request. She looked at me. She had 24 or so other kids in the classroom. The phone was across the room. I got up and went after the student.

I pulled him down to sit on the floor next to me. It was easier than trying to kneel to be eye-to-eye and then we didn't have to be eye-to-eye. "So," I asked, staring at the opposite wall, "what's going on?" I felt him shrug because he was leaning towards me. I leaned back. He tensed, then relaxed a little.

"Oh. Okay. I thought you were upset the way you slammed the door. My bad."

After a few minutes of quiet, the two of us just sitting there, came the torrent of what was bothering him that had little to do with what the teacher asked or how she asked it but that she asked and, in that moment, he felt picked on. We took a few minutes to discuss why he felt picked on and it turns out he'd had a really rough night and a not very good morning. Lots of family stuff.

"So now what do we do?" I asked him.

I got a quiet "I dunno."

I told him I had some ideas and shared those, then asked him what he thought he might do. He started to get up and, because he's young and I'm not and I felt like he needed to feel in charge and needed, I asked him if he could help me up which was really funny because he really didn't know how to do that so we got the silly giggles which helped a lot.

As we walked back to the class I asked him if he was good for now. And he said, "For now."

Yea, for now. He was an elementary school student but old enough to know that our solution was for that moment and only temporary because there was still stuff going on at home and it would be there when he left school. He wasn't old enough to know how to manage those emotions and fears.

In my conversation later with the teacher, I told her what had transpired and she said something I've been hearing in schools for a while. She told me they needed school psychologists or people who could be in the halls when a kid has a meltdown so the student would have someone to listen to them and help them talk through whatever is going. She, like every other teacher, has other students who aren't acting out, who aren't throwing chairs, who aren't tossing books or iPads or Chromebooks out of frustration or whatever attitude is gripping them. She couldn't chase the one. Because I was there, she could attend to her students knowing that the one was being taken care of.

If I hadn't been there? She would have interrupted her lesson even more to call the office so someone could come to get him to take him to a buddy room or the timeout space or whatever they have for kids who aren't behaving. And what happens during that time? Nothing. The kids sit in those spaces still angry, still frustrated, and even more convinced that no one cares about their feelings or them as a person, even if they can't frame it in those terms. Then that student eventually returns and because the emotions haven't been handled, that student is still simmering or even angrier or more frustrated AND further behind.

That is just one of many examples of how I've learned firsthand the value of social emotional learning.

But let's start with what that is if it's not some eduspeak buzzword. According to CASEL, SEL "is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions." Their wheel of the five core competencies provides a framework for their work in SEL.

Okay, so that's a definition with a nice graphic, but what does that mean for students and teachers in the classroom? Because SEL cannot be a one-way street: kids have to be part of the conversation. Ideally parents or guardians would be involved, too, but starting with the kids helps.

Researchers Roger Weissberg, Joseph A. Durlak, Celene E. Domitrovich, and Thomas P. Gullotta try to explain this more in their book Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice. They explain each of the core competencies and explain the value of students being able to manage themselves, make better choices, etc. Right on. That's good for everyone.

If you're anything like me, you want to know how. How do I integrate SEL? How do I help students learn to sort out whatever is going on at home or even at school and make good choices, manage their emotions, etc.?

Emelina Minero offers 13 activities. Okay, some of those make sense for some students and some classes. If you've read them, you're already thinking of the kids who will try to make a joke of some activity because it makes them uncomfortable, perhaps touches too close to an emotion they don't want to feel, or perhaps it just seems stupid for reasons they don't quite understand but that's their usual defensive posture.

Elizabeth Mulvahill offers 21 ways to integrate SEL. These are mostly designed for younger students but can be adapted for older students, of course. There are some growth mindset and mindfulness in this as well as the other activities, all good.

One of the 21 ways is simple: a check-in. Teachers stand at the door and greet their students, getting a sense of how they're doing that day. I've seen teachers do a check-in as students arrive and that's it. And even if the student is feeling sad or grumpy, the teacher might offer a few words of encouragement and that's it. Why? Because 14 kids have already arrived and there are 9 more straggling into the classroom and he has to keep the 14 in check or focused on a task and he has to hurry the 9 stragglers into the room so they can get started. Will he check-in with that student or any others any other time during the day? Probably not. Why not? He's got standards to address and a lot of work to do before the end of the class period or the end of the day.

I can hear kids thinking, "If you don't really care how I feel, don't bother to ask me." Why? Because then they'll lie so the teacher doesn't think the student is a loser--student's thought process, not mine--or they'll sink further into whatever funk they're in because the teacher is just one more example of no one really caring about them.

We have to remember that they're kids. Even if they're in high school, they're kids and there are a lot of emotions running rampant for a lot of reasons. Kids learn to hide things really well. It's one of the ways they survive. Overly dramatic? Not to them. Yea, I remember being one of those kids and for the majority of my school years.

Posters in the classroom might help some students. Games to build community will help many students. Whether the kids are from at-risk homes or apparently nice middle-class suburban homes, students struggle with figuring out their role in the emotional mess. I remember thinking that some of my mother's behavior towards me had to be my fault even though I knew she was angry with my dad. At some level, I understood the vicious circle of my parents' emotional battles.

So, like many other students, I learned to play the games, to participate when and where as needed to keep up appearances. One of the reasons I was hospitalized with an ulcer in high school is because I internalized my emotions and found other ways of expressing my anger, fear, and frustration, some healthier than others.

I'm not belittling posters or any of these strategies. I think the more resources and options teachers have available, the better. But I also know that many of today's kids need to know that someone cares, really and truly and deeply cares about them and, perhaps most importantly, that someone will listen to them and help them figure out how to make sense of whatever chaos is churning their lives.

We forget how much one or two kind words can matter because then a teacher gives the student the sense that he or she matters; that someone cares about them as a human being. It might not shut down the anger or help with the frustration, but it might.

Angela Maiers is the disrupter and innovator behind the Choose2Matter movement. She's incredibly driven and incredibly passionate about reminding people of the value and importance of these two words: you matter. I have the privilege of knowing Angie and yes, I promote her work whenever I can. If you don't have 20 minutes right now, watch the first 5 minutes of this video to give you a sense of how she's been trying to reconnect people to remember the value of the sense of community, the need we humans have to matter to one another and to belong. Then call her or email her. Book her to speak to your school district AND the community because Angie has been promoting and investing in SEL since well before it was a thing.

And even if you don't work with Angie, even if you don't completely buy into SEL as an important component of your students' lives, I can't encourage you enough to invest in your students as individuals. Do more than just check in with them first thing in the morning. Check in with them throughout the day. Let them know that they matter and their presence in the building makes a difference.



Additional resources:
The Future of Education Depends on Social Emotional Learning: Here’s Why (2018).
Social Emotional Learning: A Short History (2011).
"The Need for Social Emotional Learning. (1997). Promoting Social and Emotional Learning.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What about a student's WHY?

You've probably heard about Simon Sinek's books Start with Why and Find Your Why. You may also be familiar with his TED Talk; if not, check out the edited version. In this video, Sinek talks about his idea of the Golden Circle and the center of that circle is, of course, WHY.



Now Sinek's idea was for organizations and leaders. One of his key lines in this video is that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

In the past year or so, there have been a lot of videos, articles, and more for teachers to reconnect with their "why." It's sort of like purpose-driven teaching. WHY do you teach? If you had to articulate a vision statement for you as a classroom teacher, how would it read? Would your statement be anything like this?
I am an educator because I love to use my skills and talents to help students be successful in every area of their life. Every student in my school is my kid. They have value. They have the potential for greatness, and I am dedicated to provide them the best education possible.
Finding and holding on to your why has become something of a business in some quarters, and for others it's simply a matter of asking some fundamental questions, though it mangles the Golden Circle because these questions start from the outside rather than the inside:
  1. What do we do?
  2. How do we do it?
  3. For whom do we do it?
  4. Why do we do it? What value are we bringing?
Sinek believes you should start from the inside of the circle and start with why because WHY informs HOW and then WHAT. Think about your approach to teaching if this was your WHY:
Everything I do as a teacher, I believe in helping my students identify as citizens, scholars, and individuals whose voices matter. I believe our world is better when individuals understand their value, believe in their capacity to cause change, and take action to better the world around them.
I think this is important, but the teacher's WHY is only part of the equation. As teachers are preparing for a new school year, they're thinking about those critical first few days and ways to start to build rapport with their students. They are thinking about how students see them as teachers and how they can learn more about students as individuals and as learners through different activities.

But what if teachers were to ask students about their WHY? What if students were given this prompt: "Everything I do as a student. . . " or "I am a student because. . . "? Sure, the responses from 1st graders might not be very deep, and you'd hope to hear something a bit more profound and insightful from a 9th grader and certainly from an 11th or 12 grader. But I have an itchy feeling about the kinds of responses we'd get from most students.

I had an interesting revelatory moment late last spring about which I was very uncertain because it seemed so odd: kids don't understand WHY they are going to school. I think most students know they go to school because it's what kids do, but they don't really understand what learning is and what learning could be. They don't really understand the potential of learning. They don't have the capacity or the experience or the exposure, maybe, to dream about what they could be or do because of learning?

Last year one of my big phrases was "they can't be what they can't see." I still believe that. Learning is a window to possibility.

If we want to help students be prepared for the world, we need to expose them to possibilities of the world. Yes, we need to be realistic about what we can do, about what they can do. At the same time, we can't underestimate their capabilities and capacities for learning. So we need to read them books and show them videos about scientists, engineers, mathematicians, inventors, writers, cartoonists, artists, and more. And we have to encourage each of them to think expansively and imaginatively about what learning is and what learning could be for them as an individual with all kinds of potential we might not yet recognize.


Resources
Defining your WHY – Keep Yourself Inspired as a Teacher
Starting with WHY

Friday, July 27, 2018

On being your own kind of pirate

I've just recently read Dave Burgess's book Teach Like a Pirate. Yes, I'm slow to this particular party, but I have my reasons. ;)

There were lots of things I like about his book and some I don't. I understand the appeal and I can only imagine the energy he brings to any presentation he does and maybe it was his high energy brashness that made me hesitate. I'm an introvert. Yes, I do like to be on stage to present to people and I love to teach, but I also know my strengths and I know what makes me uncomfortable. Dave Burgess makes me uncomfortable in good ways, and bad.

Let's start with one of the things I don't like. I don't like his over-the-top nature. It made me uncomfortable. I've never seen him, but his boisterousness comes through in his book and it's clear that his style works for him. When he talked about Anthony Robbins, aka Tony Robbins, I understood immediately. In fact, I wrote in the margin, "that explains a lot." I'm not a fan of the Tony Robbins bigger-than-life style; however, I really like his PIRATE acronym and I wanted to give Burgess a fair shake--he's successful for a reason--so I kept reading and thinking.

Unless you've managed to ignore it as I have, you're familiar with the PIRATE acronym. Burgess speaks first of PASSION and notes there are three types of passion: content, professional, and personal. Middle school and high school teachers might be able to express content passion more easily because that's what they teach all day every day. Elementary school teachers might find this a bit more challenging because they may teach content for which they have less passion. I remember a 3rd grade teacher telling me she wished she could teach more science because it's her favorite subject, but she felt like she had to spend too much time teaching reading. Huh. Well, that's a different blog post BUT it was an opportunity to talk with her about what I'd now call content passion intersecting professional passion. So she didn't much like teaching reading, but why not use more science picture books and chapter books when teaching reading? She could get her science fix, show her students her content passion for science, and kids would learn how to read and get introduced to science in a different way. Seems obvious, but one of the challenges for teachers is that we develop blinders of sorts and struggle to see opportunity and possibility.

Burgess states "[o]n all of those days when you don't have passion for your content, you must consciously make the decision to focus on your professional passion" (p. 6). Absolutely. On those days that teaching something that doesn't move you feels really hard, you must dig deep into professional passion and what drives you to do what you do. (Cross-reference Simon Sinek's Golden Circle and the importance of knowing your "why". You might also watch this amazing video about how why informs what.) What Sinek is saying is: "When you know your why, your what has more impact."

Burgess also notes that our personal passions can drive our professional passion as well as our content passion. We all know those teachers who have interests that support what they teach, some to what might seem like an excessive extreme. But we also know others who have personal passions that can somehow be informed by their content passion or might contribute an idea to their content passion. What's also important about personal passion is what an impact those revelations can have on our students when we allow those bits to creep into our classrooms. Students are often astonished to learn teachers are real people with real lives and real interests outside of the classroom, and even more amazed to learn they might have something in common. With their teacher!!

What comes after PASSION? IMMERSION. Students know when we're disconnected in any way. I'd been invited into a 5th grade class to show students how to use a particular tool. I'd asked her what the students were learning and what she wanted them to be able to do with the tool. She gave me answer though I was a bit uneasy, but, well, I dug into my passions and went all in to show these kids this tool and make some connections with what they'd been doing. I glanced over at the teacher in case she had any questions or comments she wanted to make, but she was busy with her phone. She was paying no attention at all. I felt like the message to the kids was this: "I need to catch up on a few things so this person is going to fill some time for me and it doesn't really matter to me if you learn anything from her or not." Now I'm a professional and I felt that slap, but I figured she just gave me an huge opportunity. I figured I'd keep going since she was in no rush to take her class back. I checked the schedule and realized how much time I had and went on with showing them the tool, inviting some ideas how to use, asking them to show me what they could do with whatever they'd be learning, pushed them to ask a few more questions. It took a while for the teacher to realize the kids were having conversations with me and really into whatever it was she'd missed. She stood up suddenly; the surprise registered on her face when she saw the time and what was going on in her room. She clapped her hands because it really was almost time to go to lunch or specials or whatever (I really don't remember) and the oddest hush fell over the room. That thirty minutes spoke volumes about this teacher and her content and professional passions, her level of involvement with her students, and their interest in learning.

Immersion is a bit easier once you have established a RAPPORT with your students. Burgess observes that misbehavior is often a result of students being bored, overwhelmed, or having a lack of connection with the material (p. 20). Building a rapport isn't just knowing a student's name. Building a rapport is taking the time to know something about each student.

I was lucky when I was teaching freshman writing. Lucky because I enjoyed teaching it and lucky because I had a lot of flexibility in how I could approach it. I hated those "What you did over the summer" essays, and so did the kids. Predictable. Sure, I needed a sample of their writing at the beginning of the semester, but I was going to get junk if they were bored. So I'd ask them to tell me the most interesting thing that never happened to them. Or the most important things they think I need to know about them.

When I first started teaching writing, I made the same mistakes as every other writing teacher by asking for a word count or a specific number of pages and making sure they knew to use one-inch margins and a specific font. So dumb. And that was made abundantly clear when I got the requisite two pages from a student with only one sentence on the second page. That's when I started telling kids I didn't care how many words or how many pages though I did care about margins and fonts; no funky fonts that were hard to read. They were to write as much as they thought they needed to write. Here's what so funny about that: the shortest papers were usually about three pages, sometimes more. In other words, I often got more and I usually got better which meant I had better insight into how each student thought and what sorts of things moved them. My point is that I learned a lot about my students from those initial papers. Because of what I learned from them, I was able to have better conversations with them which meant I could offer more specific coaching and mentoring to them because I was talking to each person as an individual.

What comes next put me off a bit, but I understand why he did it: he talked about his first three days. Burgess explains how he gives his students the full pirate treatment in those first few days. My thought? "I could never do that." And I couldn't. It would be inauthentic. Burgess isn't asking us to mimic him, though; he is asking us to think about those really important first few days.

I want you to think about Day 1 and what you do typically. What kinds of activities? How do you take care of the administrivia of the day? What's most important? What happens on that first day of school sends a message and informs how students experience every subsequent day after that. Again, I remember doing the roll call thing followed by the review of the syllabus thing. So boring. And if I was bored, the kids were comatose. I had to do the roll call to make sure students were in the right classroom. Here's what I did once and wished I'd done again but once I started teaching majors classes and advising, I knew the majority of the students so it wasn't as much fun. But it's easy to forget how many students, whether in middle or high school or college, don't know some of their classmates. So this worked out for them, too. I wrote one name on an index card and just put the index card face down at seats. As kids came in, I welcomed them and asked them to find a seat but not turn over the index card. When it was time for class to start, I asked them to turn over the index card and explained they would probably not see their own name. Their task was to find the person with the name matching their card but every time they met someone whose name didn't match the one on their card, they needed to get at least the first name and one fun fact that didn't have to be related to college. So let's say Eli found Jose but Jose still had to find Nathan, so Eli and Jose went together to find Nathan who was looking for Ashley who was NOT looking for either Eli or Nathan. Oh it was absolute chaos as groups formed, broke, reformed. Eventually I called time. I asked how many had found the name on their cards? A lot had, but not all. I asked how many had learned something interesting about at least one of their classmates. Every hand went up. I'd wandered around and eavesdropped on some conversations. I called names at random for a quick introduction with a fun fact. I had them return to a seat, handed out the syllabus, asked them to read it before the next class, told them to be sure to have a writing utensil with them, and then did a quick roll call. Class dismissed.

Your first few days may not be anything like Dave Burgess's or mine. The point is that you set the tone for learning. You establish the framework for the culture of learning in your classroom. You give students some insight into how you see them, how you see your work, how you see learning, and how you see them as learners.

So you need to do and be you. Bring on your content, professional, and personal passions so students can see what you do and how you do, with or without a high energy sales pitch or a funky costume or whatever you think you need to do or bring to distinguish yourself from everyone else but mostly to make yourself vulnerable enough to establish a rapport with your students. (For a really interesting perspective on Day 1, check out this video of Jeff Bezos answering the question, "What does Day 2 look like?") Jeff Bezos, quite possibly the richest man in the world, once said this: "The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind."

I think there is an important part of the Bezos Day 1 philosophy that can apply to our classrooms: it's all new, it's all fresh, it's all ready to discover and examine and determine and figure out. If we can somehow keep that Day 1 excitement and anticipation, at least at some level, just imagine what might happen.

ASK AND ANALYZE. That's what comes next. I don't agree with all of his questions, but that's fine. I certainly agree with what he's pushing teachers to think about, which is the kids. Maybe you're not worried about creating a "lesson outrageously entertaining, engaging, and powerful so that [your] students will never forget it and will be desperate to come back for more?" (p. 43). I think his point is this: we need to design lessons that meet students where they are and challenge them in unexpected ways, maybe prod or push or poke them in ways that make them take notice, maybe entice them in ways that encourage them to be willing to try a little harder or engage a little more. We've all talked or worked with teachers who either blame the students for their inability or unwillingness to learn OR fret about keeping their attention and interest.


This can be dangerous for a coach, but sometimes I ask teachers if they'd want to be in their class as a student. Burgess says much the same when he asks if students would come to a teacher's class if they didn't have to (p. 58). Once we've ripped off that bandage, let's pour some lemon juice on the wound and ask, "So why wouldn't you want to be in your own class?" They know. They do know and some are willing to admit it, but now there's an opening to tap into content or professional passion because we have to start there.

Burgess notes that too many teachers offer up the excuse that they're not very creative or not as creative as he is. Okay, so they're not willing to dress up like a pirate or channel Tony Robbins. I get it. Me neither. But that doesn't mean they're not creative. That's just balderdash.

Scott Berkun wrote The Myth of Innovation (2007) to share some insight about that creative burst, that "Eureka!" moment we believe somehow comes from nowhere. He offers a summary of the ten myths of innovation, the most popular of which is that moment of epiphany, that moment of revelation and insight. You may know of the story of Archimedes and his use of the word "Eureka!" when he made a discovery about water displacement. As Berkun notes, such moments of insight are a result of effort. When we have that "Aha!" moment, it's often because we've heard or seen or thought something that was the final piece of the puzzle to something we've been thinking about for some time. For most of us, creative insight comes with some hard work and tinkering, and maybe some perusal of Pinterest.

So relax. Think about what your students can do that will help them connect to what you need and want them to learn. Put your brain on "daydream" as you wander through a dollar store or do idle searches in Pinterest. Think about what you know about Omar or Bethany or Amari or Destiny or whoever. Just let kids float through your head. Something will come to you, and it doesn't have to be grandiose or super duper amazing. Sometimes just a simple twist to something you've always done can make a difference in the way students respond to a lesson. So you can't be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions and analyze the answers as well as pay attention to the way which students respond to which parts of your lesson.

Burgess speaks next of TRANSFORMATION in context of "position and reframing" as you strive to "transform your class into something irresistible to your students. (p. 60). He refers to some marketing strategies here and how important positioning is for marketers to win new clients and retain existing ones. "Why should our students bother to learn what we are teaching? Why should they bother to give us their attention and active engagement in the first place?" (p. 61).

I understand those questions. I asked them when I had to take algebra. We've heard others say that we know something is hard but it will be important for later or for the test; I've said that. And then we wonder why our students don't rise up with all kinds of enthusiasm and beg to learn whatever is hard or "not exactly fun."

Two things: Day 1 and connect. As you settle in with your students, you make little mental annotations about every kid. Every day you add to those mental annotations when a student lives up or down to your expectations. I agree that transformation is often the way you position or frame what you're asking students to do, but transformation is also in your attitude. Those two things? 1) Think of every day as a sort of Day 1 as you reset and refresh your expectations and perceptions of students and 2) Think about your students as you design lessons to meet them where they are and help them in their own transformation as learners; help them be able to make connections with their learning from where they are and what they already know.

I hear ya. Some things are harder to reframe than others. But you have resources other than Pinterest to help you find options. Maybe you have a trusted colleague or an instructional coach who can help you brainstorm. The reframing doesn't have to be huge; it can be a small change in one small activity.

I've learned that multi-digit subtraction is the bane of a 2nd grader's existence. Subtraction is hard to begin with and then they have to do multi-digit subtraction. Yikes! But what if you make it into a game? Kids are still working problems and they have to understand regrouping and place value, but their thinking about the problems might be different because it's not a standard worksheet. (I have several ideas for this using BeeBot, so give me a shout if you want some help.) Even if you can't or won't make it into a game, why not offer some choice in what problems they do and how they have to show you they know how to solve them.

ENTHUSIASM. Remember earlier when Burgess said that some days you're going to have to draw on your professional passion because your content passion just ain't workin' it? (Or something to that effect). Well, sometimes we're just not enthusiastic, even if we know our why, even if we're trying to make this Day 1, even if we have this kickass lesson that reframes and transforms in amazing ways, even if. . . . Some days are just hard and sometimes for no reason at all; they're just hard. We're all familiar with that phrase "Fake it until you make it" and some days, that's what we have to do. You will have to find your own recipe for this kind of emotional and mental success; your own routines to overcome whatever malaise has got you in its grip. A lot will depend on your students
and what grade level you teach.

Burgess speaks of Robbins's notion of "acting as if," which is rooted in some thinking introduced by Aristotle. It has to do with reaching deep within and finding some tiny spark, finding those reserves. And sometimes it means upending everything and doing something completely different. Don't tell your students what you had planned for the day and you're doing something different because you're having a bad day. Let's say you're supposed to teach a lesson in probability and you have some pretty cool activities planned but you're just not feeling it. You read recently that there's an intersection that seems to have an unusual number of accidents and the community is trying to figure out what to do. You can't tell if there is really an unusual number of accidents, but you know the intersection isn't too far from the school. You decide you're going to ask students to do some research about that intersection and you start by asking them to work in pairs to read the article and start coming up with questions they think they need to ask and who they think should be providing answers. After some time, you ask them to square up their pairs and compare their questions and sources to come up with the best questions, then chart them. Buzz ensues. Conversations, even arguments. Then someone asks something like, "How do we know the real number of accidents and the probability of accidents happening?" Boom. Now they're excited to find the answer and all you have to do is guide their learning and ride that wave and then you find you're a little more interested and enthusiastic about this lesson, too.

What Burgess doesn't say is that your enthusiasm, fake or real, circles back to your content, professional, and personal passion. Your ENTHUSIASM feeds those PASSIONS which inform your willingness to be IMMERSED which is made easier by the RAPPORT you've established with your students which is deepened when you ASK AND ANALYZE good questions that reflect your ENTHUSIASM that is informed by your PASSION. Well, you get the idea.

Maybe you're not going to be a Dave Burgess-like PIRATE because you don't have his extroverted style or way of doing, but you don't have to. You can be your own kind of pirate because what's really important is that you are willing to take risks and, if I might paraphrase, travel as far as you possibly can for that which you value: your students and their learning (p. xii).

Because your why is about your what--what you do every day with those students, and your wanting them to be able to realize their very best selves. So go swash that buckle as much as you dare!