Learning to Cram or Learning to Live?

One of the most powerful moments of the film “Most Likely To Succeed” (shared with me by my friend Abe Moore) was when a group of students, when faced with the question of whether they’d like to learn to apply to their lives or learn to ace the tests, they all choose acing tests.

Why? Because this was me in high school, too. I did not have patience for the teachers that tried to push their mumbo-jumbo philosophy of life on us, because we all knew that ultimately, it was only the tests that mattered anyway.

The tests. The gateways to colleges and careers. And if you hadn’t already started cramming for them, you were doomed, right?

So moving was that moment — especially paired with a parent explaining to the progressive teacher that she just “didn’t want any doors closed” to her child, it was almost enough to throw out the whole premise of the documentary, which is that we must change the way school works in order for kids to succeed in this ever-changing world.

Almost enough. But not quite. Because as I continued to watch, I became curious. If these kids aren’t taking the traditional courses and writing the traditional essays and memorizing for the traditional tests, are they getting into college? And if so, are they succeeding there?

It would seem they are. In my curiosity, I came across these High Tech High alumni stories, and I was impressed to hear the kinds of resilience and self-awareness these kids have clearly cultivated and are applying to their higher education journeys.

But even they conceded that in college, they still must face pressure and cramming and testing — but they reassure younger students that they will be ok and that it’s hard for everyone. Meanwhile, as the end of the movie points out, these students are still scoring well on the state standardized tests and getting into college, even without all the emphasis on test prep.

All this leads me to conclude that cramming doesn’t deserve the emphasis we’ve been giving it all these years. Wouldn’t it be better to first cultivate curiosity, determination, resilience, and sense of self, and then trust that our kids will be able to face the obstacles that arise?

I’ll close with one of the final remarks from a teacher in the documentary:

“There is a chance that they will come out without all of the extremelytangible skills and content that they would get at a normal high school…but if we’re going to believe that the content knowledge we’re trying to impart on them in a traditional school is not being retained, then I would argue, what is it again that they’re missing?…Here, they’re gonna leave with an extreme depth of some content and a whole bunch of other soft skills, they’re gonna have grit, they’re gonna be able to persevere through difficulty, they’re good at communicating with adults and their peers, they’re collaborative, they have empathy, all these things that are not things that disappear your junior year of high school. And so, when parents ask that, and they do ask that all the time, it’s really kind of a what do you want out of your student, who do you want them to be?”

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Fear vs. Passion

Taking part of the Innovator’s Mindset books study via #IMMOOC was one of the most refreshing professional development experiences I’ve had since leaving the classroom.

One of the reasons I chose to participate was because this feels like an important time for me professionally.

For one thing, I just finished the process of renewing my teaching license, which involved a lot of reflection.  For another, this spring marks 4 years since I’ve been away from the classroom, which is as long as I was actually in the classroom!  I used to think sharing this would hurt my credibility as an educator and as a blogger (“what does she know?”).

Now I know that it’s less about writing what I know and more about writing how I’m growing and changing. I thought Katie Martin summed it up beautifully in the last episode of the #IMMOOC:

“I shifted my thinking from I’m an authority to tell people something vs. This is my space to reflect & learn.”

I feel like this also captures the contrast between working and living from a place of fear vs. a place of passion. Sometimes we think it doesn’t matter if the results are the same (bottom-line thinking); the truth is that fear acts as a drain of our energy and opportunities, while passion feeds our energy and opportunities. While many of us readily accept the above statement, it’s tricky to detect the way it’s playing out in our own lives, particularly if we are, in fact, choosing fear.

My graphic below (last challenge of this #IMMOOC) is meant to capture some of the ways I found that contrast  of fear vs. passion throughout reading George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset and watching the #IMMOOC episodes. My hope is that it might serve as a tool for self-reflection. I would love to hear additional examples of the difference it makes to choose passion over fear!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Lessons from Homemade Valentines #TeacherMom

I have zero problem with shelling out $4 for a couple boxes of Valentines for my daughter’s classmates. But when she insisted on making her own for all the kids in her class back in Kindergarten, it absolutely mirrored this Hedge Humor comic:

via Hedge Humor “Valentine Issues”

By the time we get to that last panel here, we’re all ready raise the white flag, drop everything, and run to the store for that silly box of dog and cat valentines with sayings like, “You’re purr-fect.”

But whether it was because she was emulating her hero, Fancy Nancy, in this Valentine’s book someone gave to her, or whether her sheer stubborn will wouldn’t concede failure, she insisted on continuing. Not just then, but in the years since.

And I guess, now that she’s off and away with batch 3 of her annual homemade Valentine’s, I would say I’m actually glad she continued. First and foremost, because it has brought her joy — but also, because it has taught me some important lessons:

1) Stamina is not fun to cultivate — which is why it’s crucial to leverage via kids’ interest. Stamina in writing, stamina in reading, stamina in simply seeing a project through to its completion — we know these are all valuable skills for students and adults alike. But without student-led interest, these skills can be as painful to work on as pulling teeth. At times, we may need to work on stamina as a stand-alone goal (such as training students to be able to read for longer and longer periods of time).

However, we will make much greater progress in stamina when students’ interest is leading the way; not because they won’t experience moments of wanting to quit, but because we can help them use their own end goals to pave their way forward.

2) Student-led endeavors always yield unexpected opportunities for growth. I’ve been surprised to discover that my daughter spends the days before V-day polling her classmates to ascertain their valentine preferences. She has conversations with her teachers about class lists. And of course, she’s always finding new strategies to hone her craft and rein in the glitter. But my favorite discovery here is the fact that there is growth and learning that I don’t even know about — all because she is in the thralls of intrinsic enthusiasm.

3) Zone of proximal development matters even for Valentine-making. Sure, that first year, my daughter pictured herself whipping up valentines as masterfully as Nancy (wearing a chic ensemble to boot). But the zone of proximal development is a place of, well, development. Scaffolding, patience, and time are all needed as we work together with students toward greater and greater independence.

We can also help shape the environment to keep efforts centered in the ZPD, rather than straying into the zone of frustration. For valentine-making, this might include limiting materials or providing pre-cut hearts.

 

In short, though I have no idea where my daughter got this love of arts and crafts, supporting her homemade valentine efforts has reinforced to me the way learning works. I suppose these are lessons I will continue to find most readily when I let my kids lead the way for their learning at home.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Apparently I’m Completing a “Design A Better Future” Project, Too

Each year, the company that sponsors this blog also sponsors a scholarship for high school seniors, which I have the privilege of maintaining. I have been so inspired by the passion of so many of these students!

This year’s Design A Better Future scholarship is much more involved than the multimedia/essay submissions of previous years because we have also dramatically increased the tuition award (from five $1,000 awardees in the past to five $10,000 awardees this year). Thus, we are asking students to dig deep and utilize the design thinking framework to launch a project that will improve their local communities.

Maybe it’s that as these applications have started rolling in, their visions have rubbed off on me. Maybe it’s because my #OneWord2018 is encouraging me to better discover my capacity for influence. Maybe it’s just my innate teacher-drive to model desired expectations to students. Whatever the case, I find myself also completing a project to try and improve my community.

Based on the Design thinking Launch framework (developed by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer), here’s where I’m at so far. I’m usually the one giving feedback to students, so if you have any feedback to share with me, I would love to hear it!

Look, Listen, & Learn: 

I have been an avid urban cyclist with my kids for the past 7 years. Over the years, I’ve noticed more and more bike-friendly changes: murals on the bike trail tunnels, more marked bike lanes, increasing social media presence, and a deluge of bike events, amenities, and general interest. My family and I have directly benefited from these changes as they have made our rides safer and more enjoyable. This has led me to curiosity about why and how these changes have come about? And more importantly, how can I help?

Ask Tons of Questions:

My curiosity led me to volunteer for our local city bicycle committee and attending one of their monthly meetings, during which I unexpectedly found myself signing up for a project to increase/improve bike parking in our city. The questions came in a downpour and continue today:

  • Why is quality bike parking important?
  • What defines quality bike parking?
  • How did the bike parking that exists come about?
  • How do we encourage business/property managers to add or improve bike parking?
  • How do we work with bike rack companies to help make it easier/more appealing for business managers to obtain quality bike racks?
  • How will better bike parking impact biking in our community?
  • Who are the people I talk to about what has been done so far? How do I ask for their help?
  • What existing organizations can I collaborate with to extend our reach?
  • …and on and on and on…

Understand the Process or Problem: 

These questions led me to immersing myself in TONS of literature. I read just about every bike parking guide in existence, and I created a new RSS feed category devoted purely to biking (my growing list currently includes Strong Towns Media, BikeLeague.org, Dero Bike Racks blog, Little Bellas, Momentum Mag, and more). I am also learning a lot from other more experience bike activists in our community through emails and meetings.

Navigate Ideas: 

In this phase, I synthesized what I had learned and started creating graphics to help me distill the most important information and to be able to share moving forward.

I also came to the realization that our bike community needs a coordinated representation of all the bike parking that’s currently available so we know where to go next. This led me to…

Create a Prototype: 

…a bike map! I discovered that I could create my own Google Map with custom layers and location markers for our city. I got started right away and presented back to our committee.

Highlight & Fix: 

Feedback from others in the committee led me to create multiple layers to differentiate which bike racks are in ideal condition, which need improvement, and which need to be installed. I also realized that the Maps layout can be kind of clunky for smartphones, and since we decided it would be best to use this as a crowd-sourcing tool, it has led me to tinker with other options like Google sites with an embedded Google Form.

Thanks to feedback from a particularly active member of the committee, I’m also working on incentivizing contributions to the map by asking for swag donations from local bike shops, as well as working to find discounts on bike racks to help encourage business owners to purchase.

Launch to an Audience: 

I have cycled back and forth between the “Highlight and Fix” and “Launch to an Audience” phases as I’ve met with various individuals and committees. But I’m currently working to prepare to launch to our public community for the crowdsourcing to commence. I know that my work with our bicycle committee will have me cycling through this Design Thinking framework again and again!

Whatever our role in working with students, it’s always a mutually beneficial exercise to try out what we’re asking of them. Not only does it help us develop more accurate insight on all that’s entailed in our requirements, but it demonstrates to our students that we are willing to continue to learn and grow alongside them as well.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Attitudes: Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm comes so naturally for so many kids (especially before they get old enough that it becomes uncool), it can be easy to overlook having a real discussion about it. But I’m pretty sure we could all use more of its rich, sunny, creative goodness in our lives. Enjoy this week’s provocation!

Resource #1: Me and My Cello – Happy Together Cello Cover by The Piano Guys

Another fun video from these guys packed with enthusiasm:

Resource #2: A Pep Talk from Kid President to You by Soul Pancake

Resource #3: Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor & Robin Preiss Glasser

Provocation Questions: 

  • What is the connection between enthusiasm and individualism?
  • What are some of the obstacles to enthusiasm? How can we overcome?
  • How does enthusiasm change over a person’s lifetime?
  • What is the connection between enthusiasm and creativity?
  • How does enthusiasm impact our world?
  • How does enthusiasm impact an individual’s work?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Just Trust Me” #TeacherMom

You know, for a person who as written about trust, autonomy, and ownership as often as I have, you think I’d be pretty dang comfortable with it. The truth is, it takes a many shaky, conscious decisions every day, every hour, to choose whether we’ll walk that uncomfortable path.

Will I let the 3 year-old carry his full cup of milk to the table even though I know odds are high that we’ll need a mop? Will I trust that my 7 year-old is getting something out of that chapter book she excitedly chose at the library, even though I know it’s a tad beyond her independent level? Will I permit the 1 year-old to help me unload the dishwasher even though he occasionally gets over-excited and spikes the plates on the floor?

It’s more than setting aside our own agenda and worries about mess and time. It’s showing our kids that we genuinely trust their growing abilities.

This opportunity to test my commitment to these principles arose again earlier this week on an unseasonably warm day when my kids wanted to play outside–all of them. My 7 year-old and I went back and forth for a while about whether she would be able to watch the 1 year-old at all times. As I continued to hem and haw, she pulled out the line, “Mom, just trust me?” As I looked into her earnest eyes, I knew that she would take the responsibility seriously.

And she did. When they came back home, cheeks were flushed with joy and success.

It’s never an easy decision to trust our kids–especially because sometimes, they truly are not yet ready for certain responsibilities. But we need to be careful that when these decisions arise, we do not choose on a basis of fear. As my friend Aviva Dunsinger recently wrote,

Is every safety concern we have actually a big problem, or would some deep breaths and a little more watching and listening time change our views? I wonder how frequently our fears prevent opportunities for children, and if it’s time to make some changes.”

Though I don’t know that I will ever become completely comfortable with choosing trust, I do know it will increase my kids’ trust in themselves.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Learner Profiles: Risk-Taker

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Risk-taker has always been my favorite of the PYP learner profiles. It seemed the most natural of conversations in the classroom as it connected to any new venture on which we embarked. After all, authentic learning takes a large degree of courage. But do how often do we really dive into naming and investigating what it really means to be a risk-taker as a learner? This provocation is designed to help students ponder more the what and why of risk-taking.

Resource #1: The Courage to Invent: A NASA Roboticist Tells Her Story by NPR via The Kid Should See This

Resource #2: Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

Resource #3: (for a touch of playfulness) Don’t Put Any Coins In This Cardboard Coin Box via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: Piper short by Pixar 

Provocation Questions: 

  • What is the connection between risk-taking and creativity?
  • How do we know we are really taking a risk?
  • What’s the difference between positive risk-taking and negative risk-taking?
  • What are the perspectives on risk-taking? Does that perspective change for people over their lifetimes?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto