3 Tips to Help Students Rise Above the Echo Chamber

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer again as an exhibition mentor at my old IB PYP school. And, as usual, the children were brilliant, brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for taking the lead on their unit of inquiry.

But over the last few years, I’ve started to notice a puzzling trend: no matter how much research and exploring the kids do, and no matter how many counter-articles I suggest, the basic opinion they start with is often the opinion they end with (plus some charts and figures to support it). Why?

How do we help kids make the shift from searching out facts that support their existing opinions (something the internet is all-too-willing to give us all), to instead searching out the truth, even when the truth is surprising?

Here are 3 thoughts I’ve had since the end of this year’s exhibition (that hopefully I can better employ in mentoring next year!!). I would love to hear your suggestions, as well!

1. Model research that responds to the unexpected.

My first thought was on how we model research to our students. Most teachers extensively model how to find answers to their questions. But I wonder how often we show them what it looks like when we encounter an article or chart that assert alternative possibilities? Do we think aloud as we digest this new information, or do we discard it in our search for the information that backs us up? If the latter, I think we’re missing an important opportunity to teach students to be open to new ideas.

2.  Employ visible thinking protocols — especially “I used to think…Now I think…

This is a kind of mental scaffolding exercise to help students break down their thinking and how it is evolving. Reflecting not just what our opinions are, but on why we have them is crucial for healthy metacognition for us all!

3. Play the “Devil’s Advocate.”

I have had a tendency as my students’ mentor to help them find articles to help them find out more about their topic — which generally involves research on their existing opinions. But I have come to realize that what they need more from me as a mentor is just the opposite — to share resources that directly contradict their claims, encouraging deeper digging and questioning.

Videos like these from Futurism come to mind, especially since they start with phrases like “Despite what you might have heard…”

Genetically Modified Food Is a Great Advancement

Three Major Reasons Automation Won’t Leave You Unemployed

In this information age, it’s easy for all of us to get stuck in our own echo chambers of opinion. It’s crucial we help our students learn to rise above it now.

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A How We Express Ourselves [In the 21st Century] Provocation

This is part of a series of of IB PYP units of inquiry provocations. For more, click here.

The IB PYP unit of “How We express ourselves centers around “An exploration of the way which we discover and express our nature, ideas, feelings, beliefs, and values through language and the arts.”

When I taught at a PYP school, I associated this mainly with communication mediums such as painting and poetry. But the more I think about how our world is evolving, the more I realize that “how we express ourselves” has boundless possibilities.

And it’s not just the fact that we have a large volume of choices that matters. It’s that, if we have a more open mind toward change, that volume can allow our children to shape their self-expression/communication –and with it, their futures — in ways that are unprecedented and literally world-changing.

With that in mind (and a bit of humor below), here are 3 resources to help your students inquire into the nature of how we express ourselves in a 21st century connected world.

Resource #1: The Moxie Institute‘s “The Adaptable Mind”

“The skills we need most in today’s world, in any profession, boil down to being human. Basically the qualities that machines don’t have…We’ve arrived at a time when your human skills are just as important as your knowledge.” (Curiosity, Creativity, Initiative, Multi-disciplinary thinking, Empathy).

Resource #2: “Rosie Revere, Engineer” by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

picture via Amazon
picture via Amazon

Resource #3: Pixar’s “La Luna”

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“Connect Where Connection Would Previously Have Been Impossible” #DCSDblogs Challenge

This is in response to the #DCSDblogs challenge prompt, “What is the best thing you’ver ever learned from another teacher?” (Note: While I’m not associated with the Davenport School District, I’m grateful for the warm invitation to participate in their blogging challenge, which is a wonderful initiative to encourage teacher blogging)!

A couple weeks ago, I had the following opportunity:

It was delightful to share with those first graders my pantry and the school lunch I’d packed for my daughter, describing what fresh vs. processed foods we eat and why. They had some incredible questions that really made me stop and think, too!

Later, the folks at Skype reached out to me:

When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite ways to learn was to pop into other teachers’ rooms. Whether I was there to observe instruction or simply to drop in after school for a chat, I felt like I almost always walked away with fresh ideas or perspective.

Now that I’m away from the classroom for the time-being, this ability is no longer available to me. But at the same time, thanks to my amazing PLN, I can still “pop into classrooms” all over the world.

This small Skyping experience is just one of many opportunities for me to “connect where connection would previously have been impossible.”

Take my RSS feed for instance (I love Feedly because I can neatly organize all the websites I like to follow without flooding my inbox with email subscriptions).

As I was finishing up browsing the latest posts from my PLN in my feed a couple days ago, my mom came by. I was casually explaining to her about how thrilled I am to learn so much from so many incredible educators around the world, citing a thought-provoking post I was reading at that moment by A.J. Juliani:

The Game of School vs. The Game of Life

As I turned back to my feed, I commented aloud at a second post that resonated with me by Jennifer LeGarde (aka Library Girl): “The Difference Between I Can’t and I Won’t.”

And that was followed by a third by Pernille Ripp: “On Counting Down the Days.”

And then a fourth by Donalyn Miller: “Desertification by Donalyn Miller

Four in a row! Writing that made me feel, think, and reflect — each tugging me a little further along a path toward change. Pleased with the ready confirmation of what I’d been explaining to my mom about my PLN, I kept exclaiming to her, “See, here’s another! Look!” reading excerpts, and just geeking out in general.

Then, there’s Twitter. Every day, I get to browse photos of classrooms from India, Australia, Canada, Vietnam, and more. We exchange tips, share aha moments, and lend support. In this way, I still almost always “walk away” with fresh ideas or perspective as I did in my old building.

This ability to connect where before, I would have been completely cut off from the teaching world is nothing short of a miracle to me. I am grateful every day to be a “global citizen” and feel confident that when the day comes to return to the classroom, I won’t have too much catching up to do!

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The Price of Diminishing (any) Relationships? Our Humanity.

“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic

I shared this quote this a few years ago in a post about how the digital age is altering education’s landscape. Today, it returns to mind as I reflect on how this “society-wide experiment” is impacting relationships. I have spent a good deal of time writing about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to make global connections that would never have been a possibility without technological advances.

But there are moments we ought to pause and consider some of the less positive detours this experiment can sometimes lead. Here’s a powerful short video by Matthew Frost that allows such reflection (please note that there is some language).

My question is this: whose humanity was diminished more in this video — Kirsten Dunst’s, or that of the 2 young women?

The moment we start to see anyone as less than a human being and more like an object to be used, or even as a product to be pushed through, we devalue our own humanity.

Of course, this base mentality has been around for much longer than the digital age, but devices, social media, and online anonymity provide a much more varied, efficient, and enticing ways to encourage it.

If there’s ever a time we’re willing to overlook another person’s need for authentic connection, we put our own ability to connect at risk. As the line between our digital and physical worlds become more and more blurred, we can’t hope that such a mindset will stay safely boxed in the moments when we think we have enough digital anonymity.

On the flipside, when we make authenticity and genuine connection a priority in all our interactions, we show that the impact of this digital experiment is to amplify positive connection in both the physical and digital sphere.

It also makes it easier to answer questions that involve the quality of our relationships, whether they are with our family members, our friends, or our students. Regardless of the possible efficiency or increased productivity or raised test scores, if the cost is quality relationships with one another, it is. not. worth it.

It would serve us all to remember that this society-wide digital experiment is, in fact, an experiment, and as such, we should occasionally stop to reflect on how it is shaping our lives.

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The Consuming that Leads to Creating #TeacherMom

While watching DisneyNature’s Growing Up Wild documentary, my two year old son assumes new roles: first, a bear. Then a monkey. Our dog becomes the scary lion. His crawling brother, a baby monkey. The couch, a big tree for scurrying to safety. For the rest of the day, we are not allowed to address him by his name, and with every turn, his surroundings transform into elements of his clearly vivid habitat.

We often hear caution about consuming — with technology, food, entertainment, and more. And especially when people allow themselves to be consumed by their own consumption — that is, they don’t reflect upon and make deliberate choices in what/how they consume — those warnings are probably warranted.

However, I am inspired as I further ponder this cycle of positive, deliberate consuming and creating. My son is currently enamored of the animal kingdom; every new show, book, or toy seems to spark some new fantastical adventure for him. As a toddler, he obviously isn’t yet terribly discerning in his media consumption. But when we help provide him with material that lends itself to his budding interests, he goes from being an passive audience to a vibrant creator.

And it makes me wonder…

…how often do we deliberately fuel our own fires with the things that bring us inspiration?

…how often do we teach our students to be similarly purposeful?

…what if, instead of attaching blanket shame to consuming, we spend our energies teaching our students to become more intentional and aware in their decision-making process?

I love that watching my kids’ creative process unfold gives me the opportunity to reflect on my own habits and interests — one of the more unexpected outcomes of a toddler pretending to be a monkey.

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When We Love Spreadsheets Too Much: Matching the Tech to the Need

Three years ago, I was hit with bed rest right before the start of our school’s IB PYP Exhibition (a student-led unit in which students exhibit their abilities to direct their own learning on a topic of their choice).

Though disappointed to miss out, I was pleased to discover that I could still mentor groups via Skype, which I’ve continued to do each year since.

However, we still had some hurdles to overcome with our unique mentor “meeting” setup. How to organize our ideas? How to keep track of when we’d meet next? How to exchange links to helpful resources?

I turned, as always, to Google apps, whipping up the collaborative little beauty below to send to the students via the teacher. With more than a little extra time on my hands (remember the whole bed-rest thing?), I found fancy fonts, froze the top rows, and everything.

It was a spreadsheet to be proud of, and I was excited to see it in action!

Only… it didn’t quite perform to my expectations.

For one thing, the kids didn’t have access to 1:1 tech, so they usually only saw the document through their teacher.

For another, they were frankly too busy to be bothered with updating yet another form! Exhibition is one fast-moving, action-packed unit!

Ultimately, the kids didn’t get a lot of the resources they needed in a timely manner, and our communications often felt encumbered.

So, as this year’s exhibition kicks off, we’re keeping it as functional as possible. As we Skype (something I continue as the school is too far from where I live), I type notes in a basic Google Doc just to keep track of the different groups’ ideas. Afterward, I’m emailing the teacher easy-to-print feedback or even pasted-out articles to get resources in those kids’ hands asap!

In the end, it’s possible that this problem might be unique to my quirky infatuation with creating neat and color-coded spreadsheets. However, the general principle applies universally. When we keep our sights on what’s best for the kids, we are less likely to get caught up in bells, whistles, and all-around helpful-in-theory-but-not-in-practice methods and resources. Here’s to a better year of exhibition mentoring!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto