Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Genius Inside

Have you ever seen the movie Good Will Hunting? You know the one with Matt Damon, where he is a janitor at MIT, and he ends up solving an incredibly complex math problem on the wall, leading him from rough, Boston kid, to math genius? If you haven't seen the movie, you should definitely check it out. But this blog is not about that movie. What I get from that movie is an idea that is far too often deemed impossible. Don't get me wrong, the idea of me being a math genius, is definitely impossible. But the story about a kid who is given an opportunity to show his/her ability in an unlikely scenario and proven his/her talent in a specific field is not impossible.

Each year, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, Cal Tech, and other prestigious schools admit thousands of students. These are the "best of the best." These are students with high SAT scores and GPAs well above 4.0, from every AP or IB class imaginable. Most of these students are on a steady path to success from the day they are admitted. By all traditional standards, these students are considered the most "intelligent." In the minds of students, these are the smart kids. But what if we looked at it differently.

Howard Gardner proposed the model of multiple intelligences in 1983. The theory is fairly easy to explain and believe. In a nutshell it states that there are several intelligences that people can have including but not limited to verbal-linguistic, musical-rhythmic, visual-spacial, interpersonal, kinesthetic among others. So in other words, there is not one type of intelligence. So the questions that arise from this are how do we teach students to find their intelligence and how are we as a society or in the education field, measuring this?

It is the sad truth that we only measure a few types of these intelligences in education. We tell students that they should go to college, but the only way that we give them a chance to get there, is by measuring a select few intelligences. Therefore, a large cross section of students are not given a chance to reveal their intelligence and are not given a chance to expand their ability in that area. If they are not college bound, they have to sit idly by to wait for their time to thrive. We as teachers, schools, and parents, need to do all we can to change this.

Schools should become places where students find their intelligences rather than finding out that they are "not intelligent." We need to give kids choices and opportunities to expand their horizons, understand their opportunities and begin to practice those skills. For too long we have held students back from doing this. We have prepared them for tests, given them meaningless homework, and ranked them by their GPAs. There are so many examples of success in the world from welders, to artists, to cooks, to heavy equipment operators, and more. What if they discovered this earlier and had a chance to explore while still in school. We have to push to make this happen in our schools.

We definitely won't all end up like Matt Damon did in Good Will Hunting. But we can give kids a similar story in that they will find their intelligence and thrive. We have to give them the opportunity and spread the message that the world doesn't consist of intelligent people and unintelligent people. We need to challenge the college bound students while also challenging the work bound students. The world is made up of people who found their intelligence and are using it and people who have not found it yet or are not using. Where do our kids fall? Leading is Teaching.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Would But...

"I would but." How often do we use that phrase in some way shape or form? Whether it be in our personal lives or at work, we say this or something like this right before we give an excuse. I believe that more often than not, this phrase is hurtful to us. This is especially true in education, where many teachers, administrators, and school leaders allow this phrase to hold them back.

What are the negative results of the "I would but" phrase? It gives us an excuse to not take risks. It prevents us from trying something new even if we think that it could be great. It represents us telling ourselves and our students that things would be better if only our situation was different. And that take all of our power away. "I would but administration does not support me." "I would but the school board has a different vision." "I would but the state is not giving us the funding we need." "I would but the students just won't listen." "I would but our kids just wouldn't know how to do that." These are things we say all of the time and don't realize how damaging this mindset is to our classrooms and our schools.

We want our students to be risk takers and relentless in the quest for success in life. We want them to take control of their future and to do everything in their power to be great. We want kids to work hard and not make excuses when things get tough. Someday our students will be wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, leaders, community members, business owners, and managers who will do whatever it takes to lead with integrity and drive. We can't do this without modeling this behavior ourselves.

Times have been tough with funding. We have more pressure than ever to implement state standard based curriculum. We are faced with whatever political trend is thrown our way in schools. But the constant is always going to be, "How are we going to make it happen for kids"? We have to apply for grants. We have to be willing to try new things that could very well fail. We have to connect with kids outside the classroom. We have to learn how to teach our kids about things that are relevant to them. We have to embrace the social media that is such a huge part of our student's lives. We have to do everything we can for our students because their success is our job and it is our future. We cannot teach kids that success lies in the hands of others. We must teach them that we are the ones in control of that. So lets replace "I would but" with "How are we going to make it happen for kids?"
Leading is Teaching.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Student Centered Authoring: iBooks Author

Education is rapidly transforming to keep up with the world today. The world in which our students are entering is one filled with uncertainty. We are preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet and in many cases we are preparing them for several different careers within their lifetime. It is up to teachers and schools to change their environments to be more conducive to this reality. Students will need to be creators, critical thinkers, collaborators, and effective researchers. It is our job to find the resources and tools to make this mission a reality. I believe that iBooks Author is the kind of tool to do this.

Gone are the days when teachers pass out textbooks and ask the students to find the answers within its pages. Now, teachers are called upon to be guides in the classroom and allow students to seek the answers themselves and then determine whether their sources were accurate. Their is more media and sources than ever before. With the use of iBooks Author, teachers and students are able to create custom textbooks to both learn and teach what they are researching.

With iBooks Author, students and teachers can create interactive books with video, essays, presentations, interactive maps, quizzes, audio clips and more. Teachers can design books customized to their specific classroom which dig far deeper and are much more engaging than in books from the past. The Common Core asks us to teach students to work with multiple sources. Using iBooks Author, we can do this and more!

Can you imagine the power of students publishing their own novel? How about students making books highlighting local history? Wouldn’t it be awesome if our students could publish a book on how we can improve water storage to help in the California Drought? These are just a few of the possibilities with iBooks Author. And the great thing is, even if you aren’t in a one to one setting, you can still create an interactive book for student learning.

You can be very basic and just write an iBook consisting of text. But you can also create more advanced books using and other sites to add YouTube, Google Maps, and more. I believe that this is the future of our classrooms. iTunes U and iBooks are tools that can help our students go big and go pro! Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Asking Questions

If you have ever spent time around children ages 3 to 8 (or maybe even earlier or later) you know the same thing that I do. Kids this age ask a ton of questions. "Why do stars shine?" "Why does dad have a mustache and you don't?" Why does the cat meow?" Where do babies come from?" And sometimes simply, "Why?" repeatedly. Well, there is a reason for all of these questions. Kids are learning all of the basic things that one needs to know in life and the easiest way to learn is to ask questions. All of that to say, questions are the source of learning.

True learning starts with a question. You have heard this before on various levels including the scientific method and the Socratic method. But I really just want to make it simple by stating that questions are what lead us to truth and learning. If we don't ask some sort of question, whether out loud or in our head, we are not really seeking to learn anything. If you want to build a wood shed for the first time, you will ask questions. If you want to learn to ice skate at a high level, you will ask questions. Sometimes, if not many times, these questions are subconscious. Like in ice skating you may not think you are asking questions but your mind is wondering why you keep falling! Either way, the source of learning, improvement, or progress is to ask questions and find solutions.

Somewhere along the way, we have "streamlined" education so much that we have slowly strangled questions out of our classrooms. Think about it. If a teacher consistently lecture without giving the students the opportunity to share in the process, the students are being robbed of maximized learning. Don't get me wrong, the student asks questions sometimes in that scenario but when questions aren't a driving force behind the activity, students are not learning at a maximum level. Lecture starts with the notion that, for efficiency sake, I am going to cut out the lengthy questioning portion of class and just tell them everything. The only problem is that then the "learning" becomes memorizing and doesn't allow the student to truly learn to their potential. Don't get me wrong, we have all been guilty of this.

However, I believe that we need to move towards more inquiry based and question based learning methods. Our students have access to millions of resources other than ourselves. They can access information at the drop of a time. So it is critical that we teach them to ask questions. Because if their interpretation of learning is just to "know," then they will become what we are all afraid of...simply....googlers. We need to teach our students to think critically and to seek true knowledge rather than just search for facts.

Questioning should play a huge role in our classrooms. Not yes or no questions, but why questions. We should make it our goal to teach our students how to ask questions and how to answer questions. We need to teach them that sometimes answers are not so easy to find or understand. We need to teach them that we do not know everything, and that is okay because we are modeling life long learning.

We have reached a point where our students just want to know what to do and when to turn it in. We have to shift that notion of learning if we want them to be successful. We as educators have to become the 4 year old kid who is constantly asking "why?" If we teach our students to question and to seek answers, they will becoming true learners and seek knowledge on a deeper level. Leading is Teaching.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

5 Essentials of a Good Project

There is a big difference between designing a project and designing a class to center around the philosophy of Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning takes a healthy amount of structure while also providing for plenty of student choice, critical thinking, and creativity. As schools infuse more technology into their classrooms and aim to implement higher level thinking with their students, Project Based Learning methods will be important for schools to train their teachers on. As I have said before in this blog, Project Based Learning is not all fun and games and if teachers don't understand how to implement it in the classroom, we will not be utilizing the technology to its full capability. Essentially we will be left with very expensive worksheets rather than the laptops and tablets that we signed up for. So in an attempt to summarize the process I wanted to give some tips for designing a classroom to be Project Based.

#1 Modeling and Providing Quality Instruction Throughout

Regardless of what some may think, project based learning requires the teacher to give some direct instruction and model the process. If students are not clear on what is expected or how to get to the finish line, they will give up. Think about it. You are asking students to do things they have never done before in an age of multiple choice questioning. Provide students with written, verbal, and repeated instruction while also revealing to them an example of what the product might look like. This routine will help your student performing better and will give them confidence with your safety net. Don't forget to provide repeated instruction throughout.

#2 Scaffolding From One Project to Another
Always build from one project to the next. Think of this in terms of the use of tools (Keynote, iMovie, Blogger, Google Sites) and in terms of skills (presentation, collaboration, writing) so that each time you do another project, your students will have measurable gains. Teachers should up the ante each time on a project so that students improve and expand their capabilities. If you are not pushing for this, things will grow stagnant, students will work the system, and none of us will be challenged.

#3 Provide Check Points Throughout
We can't design a project, explain it, and then give them the due date. We have to build projects that provide students with check points. In other words, break your project into segments that can be edited and shared. For example, when students are researching, you should have them organize them and present them to you before moving on. When students have manageable short term goals, they are more likely to succeed. When we roll out a huge project and give them a due date, all they see is an insurmountable mountain. This ability should be the end goal but we have to build up to that. Project Checkpoints help in that mission.

#4 Provide for Student Choice and Student Voice
The key to learning is engagement. Our students need to have a voice in our classroom and they need to have a choice in the process. A project menu can be very effective and allow students to choose the subject or method in which they deliver the project will get them to buy in much more than telling them exactly what they HAVE TO DO. You will see students come alive in your classroom if they are able to have a say in their project. You will be preparing them for success in life if they are given the opportunity to work hard on something they are interested in. Student choice and voice are ESSENTIAL to success in a Project Based Learning Environment.

#5 Give Feedback
This is all for naught if students aren't provided with feedback. I don't mean a letter grade here. I mean meeting with students and letting them know where they are strong and what they need to improve on. Can you imagine just receiving good or bad marks on your job performance but never hearing why? We need to communicate throughout the project with our students on how well they are doing and how they can improve. Create rubrics that are clear and understood amongst students. In fact a good exercise is to create a rubric with them. Our students want our approval and it is our duty to provide it to them so they can grow.

Leading is Teaching