Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Aha!" THINKING About Education

"We've overemphasized content, when it's context that matters." ~Mitzi Montoya, Dean College of Technology and Innovation, Arizona State University

(A Post not just for the science educator. I promise.)

Recently, I had my students participate in a seemingly straightforward lab activity. They were given three covered syringes. (No needles, of course!) One contained a solid inside, one had a liquid, and one had a gas. It's likely no surprise that when the students slightly pushed on each syringe (plunger), the solid and liquid did not move, and the gas depressed quite a bit.

A myriad observations were recorded in their journals. But one of the requirements was to create a model— draw a picture at the particulate level—to accurately represent the data they collected. In other words, create an explanation for the observations.

Every group drew pictures with the solid particles closest together, the liquid particles farther apart and the gaseous particles the farthest apart. When asked to justify this model using their data, the classes all stumbled. So I asked, "What made you think that liquid particles were farther apart than solid particles? The solid and liquid each behaved the same way according to your data, right? Why did you draw them this way?" Silence. Stunned looks. Some frustration ensewed. But eventually, one student said, "We learned that liquid particles were farther apart than solid particles. We learned it in middle school." So I said, "You memorized that in middle school. But has anyone ever proven it to you? I mean, how do you know whether that's true?" This same student said, "Whoa. What?! That just blew my mind. How many other things have I just accepted over the years?! Holy s#*t!" Clearly, an "Aha!" moment!

So when we educators are asked to investigate, design, implement, etc. anything to do with those famous buzzwords, Critical Thinking, Inquiry, Engagement, Creativity, do we think there's anything left to learn? Or do we robotically go through the motions asked of us thinking we know all there is to know about these ideas. I think we all can admit that indeed, being a robot is easier sometimes. We might shut down based on the design of professional development, or our fatigue, or the climate we're in, or the stress we're under, etc. We end up thinking about our field—education/teaching—the very way we don't want our students thinking about our classes—with a checklist mentality. "Let's get this DONE."

So we need to model the mentality that we're trying to instill in our students. We want them to THINK. To formulate relevant questions. To justify their thinking. To creatively problem-solve. To efficiently and effectively navigate through all the information at their disposal. To communicate well (reading/writing/speaking). To collaborate constructively with their peers. To be empathetic. Etc. (Is that all?!)

With that said, I have two challenges for you. I always think it's beneficial to walk in our students' shoes from time to time, just to see...

  1. Try to pick one thing out of your next department meeting, faculty meeting, committee meeting, (graduate class, association email, etc.) that you care about. Don't just check something off a list or accept an assignment. Ask questions. Gain some insight. Offer alternative perspectives. Brainstorm creative solutions. Enjoy the process. Play. Etc.
  2. The next time you eat lunch with a colleague, discuss the following. If you could change one thing in your secondary education content area, what would it be? And WHY? Most importantly, what would/do you do to MODEL the change? 
These are two ways we create more "Aha!" moments for ourselves!

For the Science and Math Educators:

The New York Times ran a special edition in their ScienceTimes section last Tuesday. The focus? Science and Math Achievement. It was enlightening, infuriating, affirming and frightening all at once. It was the inspiration for the above post. I highly suggest that any educator involved in science or math education reads this special section as a place to begin investigating the status quo in our field, as well as ponder where to go from here.

There were articles that touched on these questions. (The question is a link to each article.)


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get Out of Your Lane...

...and Merge Into the Big Picture!

I found today's post by Michelle Alexander (quoted below) to be quite motivating. (Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom.) I had the privilege of hearing Professor Alexander speak at Northwestern University last year and was moved by her words, inspired by her life's work. After reading her post, I once again reflected on ways to make my life's work (education) more impactful, more wide-spread, more effective. I now see that the radical changes needed in our society are, indeed, all connected and we are in fact working towards the same goal...A world where every single person matters; justice and dignity for all.

I feel stronger after reading her post, more confident that pushing back on universal standards, accountability, high stakes testing, etc. is necessary. These are destructive forces and have nurtured ingnorance, complacency and indifference by all parties—students, educators, parents, etc. We've created a system where we brand children as "more" or "less" gifted, intelligent, worthy of opportunities. And the catastrophic, punitive reforms are based on irrelevant assessments, skewed data and self-serving data analysis. Our children then grow to be adults who accept the very society Michelle Alexander is working so hard to change.

I need to get out of my lane, too, expand my thinking, connect the dots and continue working towards a better tomorrow. The destructive changes being implemented in education are a part of a big picture, not isolated in some "school" bubble. Knowing this, I might be able to more effectively and efficiently expend my energy towards the overarching, radical change needed in our society. We'll see. But I'm certainly going to try.

Drink in her words and use them as fuel to make a positive difference. The following is a post by Michelle Alexander.

"For the past several years, I have spent virtually all my working hours writing about or speaking about the immorality, cruelty, racism, and insanity of our nation's latest caste system: mass incarceration. On this Facebook page I have written and posted about little else. But as I pause today to reflect on the meaning and significance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I realize that my focus has been too narrow. Five years after the March, Dr. King was speaking out against the Vietnam War, condemning America's militarism and imperialism - famously stating that our nation was the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world." He saw the connections between the wars we wage abroad, and the utter indifference we have for poor people, and people of color at home. He saw the necessity of openly critiquing an economic system that will fund war and will reward greed, hand over fist, but will not pay workers a living wage. Five years after the March on Washington, Dr. King was ignoring all those who told him to just stay in his lane, just stick to talking about civil rights. Yet here I am decades later, staying in my lane. I have not been speaking publicly about the relationship between drones abroad and the War on Drugs at home. I have not been talking about the connections between the corrupt capitalism that bails out Wall Street bankers, moves jobs overseas, and forecloses on homes with zeal, all while private prisons yield high returns and expand operations into a new market: caging immigrants. I have not been connecting the dots between the NSA spying on millions of Americans, the labeling of mosques as "terrorist organizations," and the spy programs of the 1960s and 70s - specifically the FBI and COINTELPRO programs that placed civil rights advocates under constant surveillance, infiltrated civil rights organizations, and assassinated racial justice leaders. I have been staying in
my lane. But no more. In my view, the most important lesson we can learn from Dr. King is not what he said at the March on Washington, but what he said and did after. In the years that followed, he did not play politics to see what crumbs a fundamentally corrupt system might toss to the beggars of justice. Instead he connected the dots and committed himself to building a movement that would shake the foundations of our economic and social order, so that the dream he preached in 1963 might one day be a reality for all. He said that nothing less than "a radical restructuring of society" could possibly ensure justice and dignity for all. He was right. I am still committed to building a movement to end mass incarceration, but I will not do it with blinders on. If all we do is end mass incarceration, this movement will not have gone nearly far enough. A new system of racial and social control will be born again, all because we did not do what King demanded we do: connect the dots between poverty, racism, militarism and materialism. I'm getting out of my lane. I hope you're already out of yours." ~Michelle Alexander

Monday, August 26, 2013

All For 1:1 and 1:1 For All!

Our first week of the 2013-14 school year is under our belt, and from the buzz around our building, it seems that most educators are feeling very excited. I, too, am walking around with an abnormally large spring in my step; I am having some of the funnest conversations with my colleagues at the start of a school year that I can ever remember having! Brainstorming ways to tap into students' creativity, providing them with appropriate but myriad choices, developing a community that extends beyond the classroom walls, figuring out ways to modify, rather than add to, the classroom work flow, etc.

I've also had other conversations, just as informative, but with a different level of energy. These made me think of an article I recently shared with my colleagues, "Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply." I find this a pertinent article, not only because I believe it should be the foundation of developing a constructive classroom climate, but it should be the foundation of our interactions with colleagues. Empathy. And although many of us are feeling excited to explore and play and live spontaneously during this new 1:1 paradigm shift, others are feeling overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, and yes, quite lonely.

I see you. I hear your concerns. And I want you to know that your feelings matter. And I'd like to help, if I can.

I hope that the following ideas provide you with some comfort and a needed sense of calm as you journey through the "buzz" of this school year.
  1. You're not alone. I feel these similar levels of anxiety with this 1:1 adoption. I really do. All of us do. When I hear someone share a really exciting, innovative lesson plan using the new 1:1 environment, I feel happy for the teacher, and I feel excited for the students, and I feel this sense of defeat and pressure envelop me. "How did s/he make that happen? Where did the idea come from? I'll never get there!" But then I remember...
  2. ...It's not a competition. Perhaps if we all remember that each of us brings a different perspective to the classroom, unique ideas and ways of experimenting, we can calm down, take a deep breath, and simply try something. Try anything. And remember, students like freedom, so...
  3. ...Let your students help. Throw them an opportunity and see how they might help create a collaborative learning environment using their Chromebooks. You can then learn from the experience, formulate some questions about both the mechanics and content of the lesson. And with those questions...
  4. ...Reach out. Get feedback from colleagues who teach the same class. Or brainstorm with your Instructional Tech Faciliators. Or contact me. I'd love to sit and work/play with you! I'll learn as much as you do! 
  5. Lastly, and most importantly, let's remember, that the best 1:1 "device" is a caring and curious teacher. Don't let go of the things you do that so brilliantly and uniquely communicate your sincere concern to your students. Whether you are gifted at storytelling, or have a fabulous sense of humor, or you generate lively, engaging conversations, or you inspire kids with new opportunities, or your presence floods a room with a needed sense of calm now and then, or...whatever the case may be, bring THAT with you every day. And...

...The rest will follow. Each of us possesses talents that might be getting lost in the shuffle right now: through your passions, you've already figured out how to reach your students. As long as you remain as playful and curious as you have in years past in order to connect with your students, anything you try in this new learning environment will be beneficial.

And know that we really are all in this together.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Classroom, Our Playground

"We all need empty hours in our lives
or we will not have time to create or dream." ~Robert Coles

For the 24th time in my career, I find myself bidding adieu to a wonderfully
Biking through Sonoma!
adventurous summer break. I took a glorious vacation to California—Santa Cruz and Napa Valley. I sat in my back yard/garden reading an assortment of books on my Kindle. I jogged, worked out, kayaked, and biked as often as I could. And my favorite part? I got to spend quite a bit of unstructured, connected time with family and friends.

As I purposefully floated through summer, partaking in as many spontaneous events as possible, I realized how much happier I felt, how much more creative I felt, how much lighter I felt as I dove into my days' explorations without having a "lesson plan." And then I read the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart BrownFascinating. And quite ironic. When I came back to school last week, the first word my Director of Instructional Technology (Ryan Bretag) used to describe our 2013-14 school year was "PLAY!"
"It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self." ~D. W. Winnicott
Play. A carefree, beneficial mentality that eludes adults way too often. I don't remember a time in my youth where I didn't feel like I was playing. Exploring the creek in my backyard, making up yard games with my siblings and neighborhood friends, playing hours of basketball in my driveway, etc. What followed those moments of pure joy included creativity, human connection, utter freedom and laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

Picking pomegranates in Napa.
Of course, as an adult, the art of play becomes more difficult. "I don't have time." But sometimes, I think it's more that we've forgotten how to do it. We've forgotten how to let ourselves go, how to play. Isn't that unnerving? It certainly might be due to running out of time in a given day. But it also might be that play involves failure, falling, frustration. It has to. Because without those pieces, you wouldn't get to the creativity, the sense of community, the feeling of flying, and the treasure of having a sense of humor.

So how will I play during this school year?
  1. I will embrace the unknown. I don't know where the 1:1 Chromebook adoption will take my students. Nor do I know where it will take me and my teaching. Nobody does. But that's the FUN in it! That's FREEDOM! It's the curricular version of Lewis and Clark! It will be an experience that will bring our district closer together if we allow it to. We need to take the time to laugh and joke with one another. And we must respect the myriad of perspectives and stories that will blossom out of our classroom playgrounds.
  2. My students will be just as instrumental in mapping this journey as I am. It can't be about control and shutting down. It has to be about exploration. And watching them explore is fun for me! All the research in the world won't tell me how our Glenbrook students will benefit from this newness. Because our students haven't tried it yet. If they don't play, we'll never be able to see the benefits that lie on the other side of play!
"Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn." ~O. Fred Donaldson
Here's to 2013-14! Have a fabulous start to the year!

(Two more enjoyable, informative resources below.)

An article that summarizes Brown's work. The Importance of Play for Adults.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Tragedy

We will all be grieving for a while. Appropriately so. This is an incredibly sad day. But when the news starts sucking you into the drama of "evil," when you don't think you have any tears left, look at the images and the videos again and notice all the people running TO help one another. All the CIVILIANS grabbing those without energy or those in shock to bring them to a safe place. Notice those who stop and provide physical, pychological and spiritual support to people on the ground until the professionals can arrive. Putting others before themselves. Notice that. Perhaps that will help. A little.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Looking for Answers

Dearest Students,

I am so deeply sorry that our community is going through such a tough year and that we have experienced yet another loss. As a mother, you have no idea how badly I wish I could wave a magic wand and take this struggle from all of you. I would willingly carry the burden if I could. As a teacher and, well, a member of the human race, I know that these experiences, however painful, however tragic, happen. And that these life lessons, as cliché as it may sound, will make us stronger and hopefully more appreciative of and connected to those around us.
So what’s next? What’s the answer? How do we prevent such tragedies from happening again? What’s the magic formula? And how do the survivors move forward?
I don’t know. And what’s more disconcerting, nobody does. There is a process, for certain. But just as certainly, there isn’t ONE answer.
So here’s where I spend my time. Here’s where I find a great deal of comfort. I know what the answer isn’t.

  1. The answer is NOT in comparing my feelings with others. Of course people have different relationships with the loved ones we’ve lost. But feeling insulted or annoyed  because a stranger might break down more than a close friend or family member is pointless and harmful. I did not know Ryan or Kyle, two of the young men we lost last summer. Yet I haven’t stopped having bouts of tears for them since I heard the news of their loss last summer. Why? I don’t know. Why do I need to answer? Those are my feelings and I own them. They are sincere. I am not looking for attention. I simply need to go through whatever process my mind tells me to go through. I do not compare myself with the way a colleague might be dealing with these experiences. I do not assume that because others aren’t crying that they feel less pain than I. We are not the same people. We all process life experiences differently. So why compare feelings?

  1. The answer is NOT in accepting statistics and moving into a world of indifference or defeat. I have lost many people in my life. I have lost family members to cancer, to blood clots, to car accidents, to heart disease, to Parkinson’s disease, to Alzheimer’s, to doctor’s negligence, to old age, and yes, to suicide. All of these loved ones have become a statistic in the eyes of others, professionals and actuaries, etc. But I don’t care about the numbers. Yes. I’m a science teacher. And I don’t care about the data. I won’t allow the distant discussion of percentages and probabilities to mess with my heart and my being. These were people. These were people I loved. Unique, extraordinary, flawed, loving and loved people. And although the cause of their death has inspired me to act constructively to try to prevent those losses for others, the cause does not reflect the level of the loss I feel for each. They are not stats to me.

  1. The answer is NOT in pretending that there is ONE answer. That one way of grieving is the right way. The sensible way. The healthy way. Why is this thought comforting? Because it automatically means we can connect. We can be ourselves. We don’t have to be self-conscious of our tears, our smiles, our silence, our laughter, or our confusion. We can stop ourselves from offering advice, in telling others how they should be behaving, (unless of course, you’re a professional, like Mr. K, Ms. L, Ms. H, Mr. W, Mr. E., etc.) We can instead, connect. One answer is that there’s comfort to be found in no “right” answer.

How do I close this letter? How do share with you my confidence that over time, the pain will subside? The confusion will dissipate? The anger will diminish? The memories will provide strength?

I give you the three P’s.
Patience, Persistence and People.
Give it time.
Keep moving forward.
And surround yourself with your family and friends.
Patience, Persistence and People.

And know this. And here’s where I have a great deal of expertise.

It gets better. It gets so very much better. If you trust me at all, please believe that.

And that I am here for you. Always.