Category Archives: education

Building Sandcastles

Last week I was on the beach enjoying an afternoon with the family, building an awesome sandcastle village. Great teamwork was happening. I was building the main castle while my daughter built the huts crabs would stay in. Then suddenly a wave come crashing in and threatens the front of the village. We hunkered down and built a deeper moat around the village, but eventually the waves did their work and eroded the front of our creation. As always, by the next morning there were no signs the masterpiece ever existed.

Do you ever feel like this in education? We work hard to build something, then the new tide comes in and knocks it down? In my 19 years in education I have seen an evolution, but not at the pace it should be. So, what do we do to stop knocking down our own walls?

I don’t have the answers, but I know as a leader I am going to change my perspective. Are the castles we build gone just because the new initiative has a different name? We have to stop worrying about names and acronyms and seek to make connections between the old and the new. In Professional Capitol, Hargraves and Fullen talk about blending the best of the old with taking risks and implementing new ideas.

By changing the way we look at our sandcastles we can enjoy the beauty of what we are building in the moment and look forward to tomorrow where we will get the opportunity to build a better one using the experience we gained from the last. The new sandcastle will be even better if we take the time to reflect upon our process and visualize the  creation we are going to make with our fresh palette.

I Can't???

English teachers always get on students when they use the word can incorrectly, but do they do the same for the word can’t? How often is the word can’t used correctly? Think about the times you have said the word can’t. How many of those times could you have replaced the word can’t with I won’t, I don’t want to, I don’t know how to, or any other similar phrase? In reality, there are very few things in this world we can’t do. More often we are not willing to do what it would take in order to do something.

If you believe in Carol Dweck’s Mindset:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

People who use the word can’t frequently have a fixed mindset. We need to help them shift to a growth mindset. If we can help people make this semantic shift, we would be helping them begin the journey from a fixed mindset to a growth one. We can all start by modeling the honest use of the words. My question is what else can we do? How can we get those around us to see that the problem isn’t that they “can’t” so something, it is the fact that they are making a choice not to?

What Would my Classroom Look Like? Part 1

If I were to ever reenter the classroom, what would it look like? I have been out of the math classroom for 10 years. A lot has changed. I have changed even more. So, what would it look like? Here are some of my thoughts.

  1. I wouldn’t have grades. Yes, there would be letters at the end of the 9 weeks because the system tells me I have to report out a letter. What would be different is how the letters were generated. There wouldn’t be any daily points that lead to a sum out of a huge total in the end. Mastery of the content and skills would be used to generate the letter. As Dan Pink recently tweeted, “learning should be the carrot.”
  2. I would gamify the classroom. After read Game Storming, I understand that you can turn anything into a game environment. Start with a hook, some way of getting the kids to enter the “game.” Let them diverge from the start into the learning. In the end, they reach a goal. That goal will serve as the starting point for entering the next “game.” I’m not completely sure how to do this yet, but I hope to play more with this idea.
  3. I love the idea of flipping. I hate the misconceptions that are coming with it. Flipping is not a way of removing the teacher. Flipping is a way for the teacher to do more of what is important, spend time with small groups or individuals meeting their specific needs. I would create and use online lessons to serve as the direct instruction. Students would receive the direct instruction on an as need basis. I would use formative pre-assessments to drive the direction students would go.

In part two of this post and beyond I plan on expanding on each of these ideas. Before I get to that, what do you think? What would a secondary math classroom structured this way be like for students?

QR Code Craze

qrcodeAfter attending a session on QR codes at the Ohio eTech conference on Monday, I have become obsessed this thinking of innovative ways to use them in our schools. On Tuesday I was working with a group of 10th grade language arts students. I am helping them create a digital book or magazine. The students get to pick the site they want to use. The teacher created this nice chart to show them some of the potential sites. After doing a quick show and tell we talked about the potential to print these books and put them in our library….ah ha moment…Lets go green. Lets create a QR code for everyone’s book, create page with all the QR codes, and put the codes in the library. A few minutes later after showing what a QR code was and discussing it a bit more, we had decided to do it.

All day I keep thinking of the projects we have coming up and how I can use QR codes with those projects. I now have codes on my desk in the library just hoping when teacher walk by they will ask, “What is that?” Our media specialist had the idea to do something with codes and the upcoming release of the Hunger Games movie. We are also going to steal this idea that Karl Fisch share at the Ohio Summit on 21st Century Skills. Create video book trailers and put the QR code on the spine.

I need more ideas. How are you engaging students with QR codes?

Is Convergence the Key to Change?

So often in education we hear about this initiative and that initiative to the point where educators have initiative overload. How do we fix this? There are always going to be new thing, the nasty C word, changes. How do we make the new feel like it is part of where we are and just the next step to where we are going? How do we structure new initiatives so they don’t feel like reworking the old structure. Many times educators feel like change is made for changes sake.

As I read the book: Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers I am starting to understand the process of how and idea diverges and then converges.

When a new initiate comes about, there is a period of time where some diverging will occur. In education this is where you see the early adopters vs the laggards. Then people talk, get professional development, and implement. If those things go well, you start to see a convergence. A large majority of the people moving together toward a goal.

So if my analysis is correct, the new goal is getting to the convergence faster. Now off to ponder how to make that happen. What are the keys to speeding up this vehicle of change?


Go, Edcamp Go

I just read a new post on the Edcamp Foundation website that:

Based on current known & planned events, by May of 2012, we estimate the total number of edcamps will be 92.

Think about this, there are 92 education un-conferences happening around the world being organized and ran by volunteers. What makes someone dedicate hours of their own time to creating one of these events?


When a person finds something they are passionate about, time disappears. They enter the state of flow. The people who run these events understand that changes need to be made to our education system. These changes cannot happen unless those who are doing the work have the opportunity to get together and figure out the best way to make the change happen.

While those who organize the events are the first line of change catalyst, those in attendance have the ability to turn a murmur into a shout. Those who show up on a Saturday morning to lead and join in on conversations are just as important. They are the people in the education community who are seeking the answers to how do we make it happen. Are you one of these people?

The message on the Edcamp Foundation website closed “go edcamp, GO!” My message is a little different, go to an edcamp, GO!

If you are in, or near Ohio we would love to see you at Edcamp Columbus on March 3rd.

TED Talk Tuesdays

Writing a new post everyday for 30 days had made me start to think about how I can sustain my writing over time. My answer, use cheesy gimmicky themes. So every Tuesday’s post will be about a TED talk that has made me think, motivated me, taught me something new, or just plain entertained me.

I am going to kick off the series with a TED talk I was lucky enough to see in person. On November 10th, 2011 at the TEDxYouth@Columbus event Chris Timko gave the following talk:

My talk will be about my involvement as a rider in Pelotonia and my cross country bike ride two summers ago. I will focus in specifically on the way I went about getting involved in Pelotonia and how I took it one step further with my cross country ride. The talk will focus more about the methods I used to go about accomplishing these things and less about the accomplishments in and of themselves. The talk could be summarized as a story about my involvement with cancer as a whole.


As I listened to this story I knew I had to ‘ride’ for what I believe in, for what I am passionate about, learning. Not the learning that comes from our standards, our classrooms, what we the adults think students should learn, but the learning that stems from kids passions. This young man learned more from riding a bike than school could ever teach him. He learn about life, himself, selflessness. He learned what he was passionate about and what he wanted to dedicate his life doing. How many of our students have experiences by the age of 19 that teach them that lesson? Why don’t they? Isn’t that our hopes and dream for every kid to figure out who they want to be? Don’t we want our students to find something they care so much about that they will ride a bike across the country to achieve it?

So why doesn’t it happen more? Why is this story an anomaly for a 19-year-old as opposed to the norm?  We can find every excuse in the book, testing, standards, funding, on and on. The truth of it is, if this is what we as educators truly value for our kids, we will find a way to make it happen. For me, my moment of dipping the tire in the Pacific Ocean will be when we do make it happen.

Shopping for Change

This is the story of a shopping trip for a new shirt and tie. I went into the store and started to get overwhelmed by the choices. There were 7 different blue shirts that all looked the same, but had a different name of blue on them. Then I go over to the ties. 20 different ties that match, or seemed to match since I don’t always have the best eye for fashion. How do I pick one? In the end I was overloaded by the number of choices so I went home and keep wearing my old worn out ragged shirt and tie.

The metaphor: The shirts are education initiatives and the ties are our methods of employing them. Project Based Learning, UBD, Problem Based Learning, 21 Century Skills, RTI, Differentiated Instruction. These are all good things, but not when you have all of them presented to you and you have to choose. As a school district, you cannot have 7, 5, or even 3 major initiatives happening at once. You need to do one thing and do it well. This doesn’t mean you can’t do more than one of the things I mentioned above. It means you have to create a clean package where the initiatives are one thing. For example, you can do UBD, project based learning, 21st century skills and differentiation (or RTI since it is the new d-word).

Once a district picks a focus (if they do), how often do they pick the right tie? This is the interesting part…Not all people want to wear the same tie. Just like our students, all teachers come to us at different places. There needs to be a plan put in place where each individual can pick their own tie. The method they feel most comfortable with. Some people just want to know what to do, others want intensive professional development, others need peer coaching. You can pick any tie and it will look good with the shirt, but you have to feel good with the tie or in the end you wont wear it.

Just like my shopping trip, when we give teachers too many choices (or mandates), they don’t buy anything. How can we make changes to a system when the most important cogs in the machine don’t buy into the change?


Is Education Broken?

Once again, Chris Lehmann gives an inspirational TED talk about what education should be. He is a hero in the education world. Living the transformation of education everyday.

I did enjoy reading David Truss’ follow-up to this related the language we use. Is education broken, or in a period of transformation? either way, both the David’s post and Chris’ talk are thought provoking and well worth the time.

Give it a watch.