Maker’s Alphabet

Maker spaces are a hot topic in education forums right now.  It’s clear that our culture is craving outlets for creativity, and these are one way to address that.  If you want to learn about making from A to Z, you might want to consider backing this Kickstarter project from Melody Quintana & Sneha Pai, Maker’s Alphabet.  There are only 2 days left on their campaign (April 23, 2014 is the last day) and they have already raised double their goal of $4,500.  For a $30 pledge, you will get the hardcover book, an e-book (with links to resources for each letter), and the opportunity to vote on the letter “X”.

For more information on Maker resources, check out my Pinterest board.

Growth Mindset Videos

I’ve been collecting more and more resources on developing a “Growth Mindset.”  Today I wanted to share with you some videos that could be used to teach students about the value of embracing challenges and finding a way to learn from mistakes.

A little bit more advanced (vocabulary-wise) than the book, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, this video from SciShow, “Your Brain is Plastic,” shows the importance of continuing to learn and making connections in your brain.

“Growth vs. Fixed Mindset” has great graphics that highlight the main differences between these two mindsets.

This 10 minute video of Eduardo Briceno at TEDx Manhattan Beach would be good to show older students, parents, and teachers.

Here are some more mindset resources, and a link to the post I did last week  about a lesson I did with my 1st graders about mindset.

Why My Daughter Won’t Be a Teacher When She Grows Up

My daughter, who is 11, has a pretty standard response prepared for people who ask her what she wants to be when she grows up.

“A teacher – or maybe an engineer,” she says.

I smile inside.  I smile because I think she says, “teacher” for my sake – which means that she: a.) sees how much I love my job and b.) doesn’t think it’s a bad aspiration.

If I really thought she would like to be a teacher some day, I would not discourage her.  Many of my colleagues disagree.  They have told me that they would never allow their own children to become teachers.  I understand their frustration and disillusionment.  It’s not an easy career by a long shot (but, really, what career is easy?) –  and it can be taxing both financially and emotionally.

My own teachers in high school registered disappointment, one by one, when I told them I had decided to pursue a career in education.  Despite the fact they had inspired me, some of them obviously felt themselves to be personal failures for not convincing me to go to medical or law school – or to become a college professor at the very least.

I was undaunted by their discouragement, and I’m sure my own daughter would be, as well.

No, my daughter will not be a teacher.  Not because I will prevent her – but because I suspect she doesn’t really want to be a teacher.  Unlike me, she never spent hours teaching her dolls and stuffed animals when she was in pre-school.  Her patience with children younger than her has never been exceedingly long.  And, she never goes out of her way to explain difficult concepts to others; in fact, she rolled her eyes when I asked her to explain how to play Flappy Bird.

She will not be a teacher because that is not her passion.  She may not see that yet, but that’s okay.

Could teaching become her passion one day?  Possibly.  If it does, I will whole-heartedly support her.  But I will also support her if she decides to become an artist, a rock star, an astronaut, or a stay-at-home mom.  If she is willing to put in the work and sacrifice to follow her dreams, who am I to stop her?

In my post on The Science of Character, I included this quote, “Instead of asking students what they want to be, we should be asking them who they want to be.”

I asked my daughter to look at the Periodic Table of Strengths on the site, and her goals for the future her are: creativity, enthusiasm, kindness, fairness, appreciation of beauty, and optimism.

If she becomes that person – and, truly, I feel she is already well on her way – then I will feel that we have both been successful.

This is Your Brain on Engineering

GoldieBlox, the company devoted to encourage more females to develop interest in STEM, has had its controversies.  But I think they’ve done an excellent job with their latest PSA, a video that parodies the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” campaign.  The ad creatively shows the use of its toys to highlight the entertainment value of engineering and design.  However, it also sprinkles in some sobering facts about the relatively low participation of our gender in engineering careers.  I like that GoldieBlox offers explanations, resources, and links about each of these facts on its site.

For more information on STEM resources for girls, you might want to visit my recent post on Women Role Models, or this one that gives several links to books, games, and sites.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

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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 ;)

Some Genius Tweaks to our Genius Hour

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(If you are unfamiliar with Genius Hour, be sure to visit my Genius Hour Resources Page.)

One of my many goals for rebooting Genius Hour this year was to help the students to create more engaging presentations.  Their passion just wasn’t coming through when it came time for them to share it with their peers.  It intrigued me how, during a reflective discussion about a presentation, many students would suggest making it more interactive or entertaining.  But a few weeks later, when it became their turn to share their own learning, their presentations would follow the same already-determined-to-be-unexciting formula.

This school year, I was determined to change this.  I believe that it was because of some of the change that I made that last week, I was rewarded with some of the best Genius Hour presentations I’ve seen since I started doing GH several years ago.

Change 1: My 4th grade GT students, who had never done Genius Hour before, created proposals for their projects – and then the class voted on them.  I was a little hesitant to try this idea at first, but pleased with the results.  Several proposals were voted down the first time based on the criteria we came up with (will the researcher learn anything new? will the class learn anything new from the presentation? will the class be able to use this new information in a practical way? is it interesting?)  Then the students went back to the drawing board and came up with better ideas, which were approved.  No feelings were visibly hurt, and the topics that seemed weak to me were also the same ones that didn’t receive enough votes from the class.

Change 2: To give my students ideas for alternative methods for presenting, I pointed out that I pretty much never use Powerpoint to give them new information – nor do I talk at them for 20 minutes or longer spouting facts.  Then, I gave them the Show What You Know paper to spark some new ideas for sharing their learning.  When they realized there were so many other options, suddenly Powerpoint lost its popularity.

Change 3: I gave them some tips from the SlideShare presentation, “What Would Steve Do?”  (“Steve” is Steve Jobs.) Specifically, I told them to work more on creating a visual story than on a slide show with bullet points.  And – now this is the big one – I emphasized the importance of rehearsing.  After looking at the SlideShare myself, I realized that this was a major weak spot in my classroom.  Students would spend several days on research, several days on creating the presentation, then – boom! – they would inform me they were ready for an audience.  “From now on, we are giving equal time to all three,” I told the students.  “As much time as you spend on research, you will spend on production and then on rehearsal.”

The first 2 groups were ready to present last week – and, wow!  They blew me away with their creativity and polished performances.

Group 1 presented on “How to Take Better Pictures.”  They first shared a poster with information using examples of pictures and a timeline about the history of the camera.  Then they involved the audience by having a game show to review what they had learned from the poster. They performed like real game show hosts, and used an iPad with the Game Show Sound Board app to make it sound realistic.  They had a name for the show (3,2,1 Snap!), a catchy intro, and even a commercial and poster advertising their show!

Group 2 presented what they had learned about Mars.  They did a well-scripted, well-rehearsed play that involved scenery and props, included a salt-dough representation of Mars, and invited the class to fill out a Venn Diagram comparing it to Earth!

After the two groups were finished, we reflected on both presentations as a class, and the students took notes on what they thought did or did not work.  I told them that I would hold them accountable for those notes.  Whatever they felt needed work in the first two presentations, they needed to be sure to improve in their own.

This was the first time that I saw the entire class engaged in someone else’s projects.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

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