Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us


Recently, one parent loaned me a book by Seth Godin.  Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us would probably not have taken me quite so long to read if I wasn’t stopping to take notes every 5 seconds! I found a lot of applications to teaching and learning that I definitely found valuable.

One of the popular conversations in education these days is the need to teach our students how to deal with failure.  I’m going to save my thoughts on that for another post.  But I found that Seth Godin had some interesting things to say about the tendency to fear failure.  According to him, “what people are afraid of isn’t failure.  It’s blame.”  He goes on to say that any thing that is really worth doing is going to generate conversation – and probably criticism.  He urges, “If the only side effect of the criticism is that you will feel bad about the criticism, then you have to compare that bad feeling with the benefits you’ll get from actually doing something worth doing.”  I think that’s a great message that we should convey to our students.

Along those same lines, Godin gives the secret of being wrong. I hope he doesn’t mind if I divulge that right now.  “The secret of being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong!  The secret is being willing to be wrong.  The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.”

I deal with this in the classroom daily.  Students will be afraid to even attempt an answer sometimes.  I sometimes coax them into it by asking them to think of the worst thing that will happen if they are wrong.  Or I point out a recent incident (and trust me, there are many) when I was wrong and I surprisingly did not self-destruct. Invariably, I can convince the student to take a risk by using those techniques.

I have many other notes, but I will leave you with one last thought that I read near the end of the book.  As is often the case in my life, the timing could not have been more perfect.  You see, the day before I read this particular passage, I took my 5th grade class on a tour of Rackspace, a company located near us that has been named one of the top companies to work for.  In a section of Godin’s book called, “Ronald Reagan’s Secret,” Seth Godin gives the example of Graham Weston, executive chairman of Rackspace, who needed to convince his employees of the wisdom of a recent business decision. Instead of giving a speech to persuade them, however, Weston met with every single employee “who was hesitating about the move and let them air their views.  That’s what it took to lead them: he listened.”

So often, that is what our students need.  They just need someone to listen, to assure them that their voice has been heard.

Teachers like that, too – every once in awhile ;)

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

fantastic elastic brain

One of my student’s parents made a request for me to talk more about mindsets with my first grade GT class.  I’ve been sending information home to the parents about fixed and growth mindsets, and infusing my own language with “growth mindset” phrases, but I haven’t done any explicit mindset lessons for the K-2 crowd.  I went to work hunting for something that might appeal to 6 and 7 year-olds without overwhelming them.

There isn’t much.  I’m going to add that to my list of “Books I’m Going to Publish in the Future Because Apparently No One Else Has Thought of Them Yet.”

I did find this gem, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, by Dr. JoAnn Deak.  The illustrations are colorful and cartoonish – appealing to younger students.  The book is a bit longish, so you may need to split it up into a couple of sessions.  It gives a simple explanation of the basic parts of the brain, but the best pages deal with the elasticity of the brain.  There are relatable examples of skills that we learn over time, and the importance of stretching our brain by taking chances and trying hard.

There is a $4.99 app for the book, but I haven’t downloaded it, so I can’t give you a review.  It appears to be the book in electronic form with some additional interactive features.

The book was published by Little Pickle Press, which is “dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people by stimulating explorations of the meaningful topics of their generation through a variety of media, technologies, and techniques.”  You can find other books and interesting resources on their site, including a lesson plan to accompany Your Fantastic Elastic Brain.


illustration by Sarah Ackerly for The Fantastic Elastic Brain



World Book Talk

World Book Talk

Brad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad if you want to hit him up on Twitter) is a principal in Minnesota.  I’ve referred to him a few times on this blog before, including when I nominated his blog, Adjusting Course, for Best Administrator Blog, and in my post called, “I’d Be Thankful for a Lizard Named Cheesedoodle, Too,” about a video project in which his school participated.

Brad has many ideas for using augmented reality in education, which you can view here.  He can also come up with some pretty cool practical jokes using AR, as evidenced by his appearance on the Two Guys Show.

If you visit Brad’s blog, you might notice a tab at the top that says, “World Book Talk.”  Click on that tab, and you will be invited to join one of Brad’s most ambitious AR projects – and it has nothing to do with discussing encyclopedias.

Brad, along with a colleague, Heather Cooper (@hcooper815), created World Book Talk with the vision of students creating “Book Talk” videos that could be shared with the world through the Aurasma app.  In a nutshell, students submit videos, Brad and Heather upload them to Aurasma Studio along with the trigger images, and then anyone who follows the World Book Talk channel in Aurasma can scan their copy of the book to see the video.

For an example of one of the videos, you can visit the World Book Talk page to see the video that will play when the cover of Zoom, by Istvan Banyai, is scanned using the Aurasma app.

Brad and Heather would love to see submissions from students, authors, and educators all over the globe.  They already have an impressive list of books available, which you can view here.  In addition to the numerous student-created videos, Todd Nesloney (also known as @TechNinjaTodd), a Texas teacher who was recently named by the White House as a Champion of Change, added a video for his book, Spruce and Lucy.   And Jimmy Casas contributed one for the Carol Dweck book, Mindset, that I have mentioned on this blog.

I was excited to see Tuck Everlasting on the list, a book I am currently reading with my 4th graders.  But, alas, there is one hitch in this project.  If a book has had numerous printings, as Tuck Everlasting certainly has, you may not have the same cover that was loaded for the trigger image in Aurasma.  Brad has already encountered this obstacle, and does his best to find as many versions of the book cover as possible to link with the video.  But if you have difficulty scanning a cover with Aurasma (and you are certain you are following the correct channel), then that may be the issue.  In this case, the students of Ms. Zeman’s class also provided a video for the Prologue of Tuck, which worked fine in the several editions that I scanned.

If you are interested in creating a video for the World Book Talk, information is given on the main page.  And if you would like to learn more about the genesis of this project, you can read an interview with Brad that is documented on Monica Babaian’s blog.

This is such a great idea, with enormous potential to effect young readers all over the world.  I hope you will take the time to look scan some of the books listed, and consider having your students contribute a book talk of their own!

For more resources on Augmented Reality in Education, be sure to check out my page of resources and/or my Flipboard magazine.

Hello Ruby!

Illustration from Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas

Illustration from Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas.  Click here to visit her Kickstarter page.

If you are a regular reader, you probably know two things about me – that I am a fan of Kickstarter, and that I am a proponent of teaching kids how to code.  One of my more recent Kickstarter acquisitions was the Robot Turtles game, which is a board game that introduces young students the basics of programming.  My first graders loved playing it during “Hour of Code” week, and it was easy to transition them to other programming games like Kodable once they had that foundation.

Kickstarter apparently knows me well, because one of their recent e-mails highlighted a new project that will also help to introduce students to programming, “Hello Ruby.”

The name of the main character of the proposed storybook, Ruby,  comes from Ruby on Rails, which is described as “an open-source web framework that’s optimized for programmer happiness and sustainable productivity.”  I must admit that, though I’ve heard it mentioned quite a bit in coding conversations, I know absolutely nothing about it.  It sounds intriguing – and completely over my head.

Linda Liukas, who co-founded “Rails Girls“, a non-profit with the goal of encouraging women to embrace technology, wants to help dispel the mystique around programming by creating a children’s book and workbook to introduce the topic.  Ruby is the main character.  According to Liukas, “Ruby’s world is an extension of the way I’ve learned to see technology. It goes far beyond the bits and bytes inside the computer. This is the story of what happens between the ones and zeros, before the arrays and the if/else statements. The book and workbook are aimed for four to seven year olds.”

The drawings are whimsical and appealing, just like Linda Liukas.  If you watch the video on her Kickstarter site, you will find it easy to understand why, even though she only requested $10,000 to back the project, over $175,000 has already been pledged – and there are still 25 more days to go.

I can’t really recommend a product that I haven’t actually used, but I will tell you that I have backed this project because it looks very promising.  For those of you who are not familiar with Kickstarter, there are various levels available for you to pledge, and the money is not taken from you until the end of the funding period (and only if it is fully funded).  Also, if the funding surpasses the original request, there are usually “stretch goals”, which allow backers to receive a bit more than they originally expected. Liukas has already listed the stretch goals for “Hello Ruby” on the site. Also, you should note that delivery of this particular product (if you pledge at a level to receive something) is expected in August of this year.

It’s exciting to back Kickstarter projects – to get in on the ground floor of the creation of something that has the potential to make a great impact.  During the process, you receive e-mail updates, and get to learn more about what has to happen in order for a dream to become a reality.  If you haven’t done it before, I encourage you to take a look at the Kickstarter site.  It’s a great feeling to contribute to helping someone to transform their ideas to tangible products that could effect the world.

Illustration from the accompanying Hello Ruby workbook by Linda Liukas

Illustration from the accompanying Hello Ruby workbook by Linda Liukas.  Click here to visit the Kickstarter page.

Newspaper Blackout Poems

A newspaper blackout poem by Austin Kleon

A newspaper blackout poem by Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, also has a book called Newspaper Blackout.  He recently participated in a Twitter chat, #edbookchat, co-moderated by Chris Couch (@the_explicator), which found its way into my Twitter stream.  Austin, who lives in Austin (fancy that!), has posted some of his poetry on his blog here. He creates one of these each day, and posts them on Instagram.  I find this method of creating poems so intriguing.  To take a piece of writing that is meant to be informative and light on figurative language, and make it into a work of art that speaks deeply and lyrically really appeals to my appreciation for irony, I suppose.  I want to try this with my students, but I’m still working out the logistics (which grade levels, how much to scaffold, etc…)  And then there’s the newspaper.  Do I limit it to certain sections and/or articles?  Or maybe I should start with a Scholastic Weekly Reader, or a website, or a picture on the iPad of a textbook page.  So many possibilities!

Regardless of the educational implications, it’s Phun Phriday, so you don’t have to stick this in a lesson plan.  Just read, and appreciate the talent of Austin Kleon!

(Strangely, right after I saved my draft of this post, I saw a tweet from @PrincipalOgg about a great writing blog.  I followed the link, and found a recent post on “Erasure Poetry.”  I highly recommend you visit “Two Writing Teachers” for some more awesome ideas!)

UPDATE:  After this post was shared on Twitter, Mr. Theriault (@davidtedu) shared this link to a Slideshare about creating Novel Blackout Poetry by Sean Ziebarth (@MrZiebarth).  Thanks for the tip, Mr. Theriault!  And, one of my Tweeps, @ArinKress, was inspired to create her own Newspaper Blackout Poem and share it.  The pic is a bit difficult to read, but it says, “Enough with worrying when falling because we all stumble.”  Love it!

Set a Goal to Change Some Mindsets


image from:
You can buy the poster here!

“You are so smart,” could be the most damaging 4 words that we ever say to children.

That sentence may seem innocuous, even encouraging, but repeated use might actually reinforce attributes that we don’t find very appealing: laziness, risk-aversion, the inability to problem-solve.

Researchers like Carol Dweck (author of Mindset) are showing that statements like, “You are smart,” help to instill a “Fixed Mindset.”  Children who are told this on a regular basis believe that they have an innate ability which produces their achievements – not hard work.  They become reluctant to put themselves in situations where they might not appear to be smart.  If they can’t do something well the first time, they refuse to do it again.  Mistakes are disastrous, and the only thing learned from them is to stop trying.

As a teacher of gifted children, I have been a witness to the detrimental effects of a Fixed Mindset.  Students who are a victim of this show a gradual decline in curiosity and enthusiasm through the years, and their parents and classroom teachers will talk to me about how these children seem to be determined to do the “absolute minimum” in required tasks.  Since I first learned about the concept of mindsets, I have been making a concentrated effort in my classroom to change the language.  Instead of, “You are so smart,” I will say, “You must have worked really hard to figure that out.”  When students say, “This is really hard!” I say, “Good, that means you are being challenged, and that’s good for your brain.”  I praise the students who I can tell are really persevering on a difficult task, rather than the ones who complete it in record time.  (“Gosh, it looks like we need to find something a bit harder for you,” I might say to the latter students, or “How could you have made that more of a challenge for yourself?”)  I emphasize that the minimum is not acceptable.  A few weeks ago, several of my first graders, when asked to write down what they thought the “Rules” for GT were, put, “Go above and beyond,” which warmed my heart.

As parents and teachers we also need to model the Growth Mindset.  We need children to see us taking risks, doing things that are outside our comfort zone.  They need to witness us deal with mistakes and setbacks in a healthy way – as opportunities to learn.  And they need to know about the hard work we put into achieving our goals.  We need to stop saying things like, “Well, I’ve never been good in math,” or “Science was never my thing.”  If they don’t see their role models taking risks, trying new things, working to get better – then why should they?

Another thing that we can do is to teach our children about Mindsets.  This year, our director bought us a great book that I have been using with my 3rd grade students: Aim to Grow Your Brain by Joanne Billingsley.  It has completely changed the conversations in our classroom, making the students aware of their own mindsets and remind each other to learn from mistakes and take on new challenges.

Here are some other great resources about Mindsets:

Video: Carol Dweck on the Effect of Praise on Mindsets from Larry Ferlazzo (EYE-OPENING!!!)

Creating a Growth Mindset in Your Students from

5 Strategies for Creating a Genius Mindset in Students from

Struggle Means Learning: Difference in Eastern and Western Cultures from

Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick from

UPDATE:  More Mindset Resources