Your classroom and a hole-in-the-wall

I don't know if it is obvious or not, but I am thoroughly enjoying blogging.  I can barely put into words how alive, refueled and invigorating it is to me.  For all those times or situations where I felt I didn't have a voice, I am making up for them now.  I feel like a lion - ROAR!

I hope little O feels like this during her life.  Happy.  Although, it looks like she's doing a decent job of that below.  Perhaps, I should concentrate on world peace instead.

Yesterday's Theories on Thursday introduced (or "reintroduced" -  for those of you who already knew of Dr. Sugata Mitra's work) the idea that sometimes less is more in education.  Less teacher dialogue, less sage on the stage, less lecture loser.  Yep, I just referred to myself as a lecture loser.  I am holding a big "L" hand gesture to my forehead right now.  Let's face it, sometimes we teachers talk and talk and talk and talk. 

Life is about balance.

As promised in yesterday's post - by the way, if you missed the post yesterday, you must click here and watch it.  Yes, this one is a watchable post (I just had to make certain "watchable" was truly a word in the English language).  Whew, we are safe.  As I was saying before I interrupted my own self (see, talkie, talkie, talkie....), today's post will summarize some of Dr. Mitra's research findings.  How will you use these findings in your classroom (or for our parent readers, with your children)?

Dr. Sugata Mitra's research findings:
  1. Children will learn regardless of income level and the presence of teachers. 
  2. When given the opportunity, children will self-organize their own learning groups.  Four learners in a group seems to be the optimal number, from Dr. Mitra's studies.
  3. For each group, a learner will emerge as the "group leader" or expert.  This would be a great opportunity to use our metaphor, Captain, Crew and Cargo to discuss those important roles.
  4. Allowing ample time for learners to observe the expert and/or the other group mates is paramount.  This is one of the cornerstones of my beloved Montessori education.  More on Montessori education another day.
  5. Children in self-organized groups need plenty of time to learn by discovery.  Trial and error, rehearsal and practice time all contribute to optimal learning and growth.
  6. Children gain much from capable peers (sorry, lecture losers....).  I am sweaty at the armpits.  Am I unneeded teacher?
  7. When teachers (and parents) take on the "grandmother approach" - admiring kids' work and asking reflective questions - children learn more.  OK, now I have something to work towards.....
  8. There is no room for bullying when children are self-organized and working collaboratively.
  9. Carrots and sticks (rewards and punishments) are unnecessary when the above conditions are present; children intrinsically and innately want to learn.  Does anyone else hear the sirens singing?
If you are like me and you want fancy charts and graphs of Dr. M's research findings, click here.  You might also like to review some of the international published studies on the Hole-in-the-wall project.  Click here if you do.

As we take off for the weekend, the question is this, "What will you do with these research findings?  How will they impact teaching and learning (or child rearing, working with colleagues, etc)?

Food for thought.  My head is spinning with the possibilities.

All the best,

PS - Will I see you next week for our first giveaway?  Come on and join us!

When less is more: Theories on Thursday

I had my world rattled and my passion ignited at the AEE international convention this past November 2010.  Dr. Sugata Mitra, an unassuming man from India, rattled it.

He spoke of his "Hole-in-the-wall" research where computer terminals where set-up in the slums of New Delphi, India, given to children who spoke no English, had no computer instruction, barely formal teaching, no rewards, punishments, carrots or sticks and then watched the magic unfold.  What he discovered could be summed up in this quote:

"Where you have interest, you have education." - Sir Arthur C. Clarke

I would never demand you watch a video, but this is a must.  This 17 minute, TED talk by Dr. Sugata Mitra sums up his Hole-in-the-wall Project - a project he replicated, again and again, to prove his assumptions about human learning and demonstrate the willfulness and tenacity of kids, an often times under-valued resource.  He is exceptionally brilliant, completely unassuming and has a tremendous sense of humor.  I believe, every teacher and parent should see this as a testament to the capabilities of our children and students - capabilities that should never be underestimated. 

Without exaggeration, Dr. Mitra's findings brings me to joyful tears.  This TED talk, but the way, is almost an exact replica of the keynote address Dr. Mitra gave at the AEE conference. 

Now, that you have watched the TED talk, what do you think?  Is the quote above correct?  What role does, or should,  a teacher (or parent) play in learning?  Use the comments window below to record your thoughts.  As always, no password or user name required.

If you check back tomorrow, I will summarize some of the keys points of Dr. Mitra's research and we can strategize how to include those in our everyday teaching and learning.  If you want to look for more information before then, check out Dr. M's think tank website.


PS - I know I am not alone in my admiration of Ted talks.  I just watched this one by Jacqueline Novagratz and I am com-plete-ly moved.  She talks of living a life of "immersion."  How's that for some Thursday passion?

PSS - Join Upcycled Education for our first giveaway.....You deserve some love.

Giving feedback

As promised, this is Part II of last week's post when we shook up behaviorism.  If you missed that post, click here.  How did the three types of responses work with your students (or loved ones)?  I'd love to hear about them; use the "comments" window at very bottom of the post to share your experience(s).  Like always, leaving comments is simple stuff - no password or user name required.  

Today's ideas will be short and simple - how to give feedback to students (kids, colleagues, loved ones and assorted others) in tactful, respectful, effective and non-behaviorist ways. 

I think of "contrast" when I consider these suggestions.  "Two sides of the same coin," as the idiom goes.....

Feedback Idea #1:  Stars and Wishes
When offering feedback to students, share their "stars" and your "wishes."  Stars are highlights of their best work or behavior.  Wishes are thoughtful suggestions how to improve.  Sometimes, I have peers give each other stars and wishes.  I usually "train" them first by granting me stars and wishes.  When they are savvy at that, I have them give stars and wishes to each other.  Students seem to especially like feedback from their peers versus me all the time.  Of course, caring classrooms and stars & wishes training them is paramount.  For this feedback, I typically use these handy slips I created and have students (or myself) circle the appropriate icon and grant the star or wish (sometimes both).  If you'd like a full sheet of them ready to go, click here

Feedback Idea #2:  Pluses and Deltas
A decade ago, I worked for Outward Bound and was taught this useful strategy.  Like stars and wishes, it fosters constructive, non-behaviorist feedback.  In this case, the pluses are highlights of a student's best work or behavior and the deltas are areas that need change.  Delta, in this meaning, comes from the math and science worlds where the delta sign often means, "a small change in....".  I generally use a paper tool like the one below.  If you'd like a full sheet of pluses and deltas, click here.  You can tell I am into paper feedback.

Feedback Idea #3:  Glows and Grows - my new favorite!
I thank one of my graduate students, Josh, for this strategy he picked up from another educator and was kind enough to share with me (and his classmates during a class online discussion).  Like the previous tools, glows are highlights in a student's work or behavior. Grows are areas to improve.  There is something about the rhyme and alliteration of "glows and grows" that speak to me.  It is my feedback tool of choice, at the moment.  Click here for a full sheet of glows and grows.  A big thank you to Josh!

What other types of "contrast" feedback tools do you use? Share some of your ideas in the comments window below.  If you are the first to leave a comment, click on the word "comment" to get us started.

My best,

PS - One week until the first Upcycled Education giveaway begins!  Want to win something cool?

Doodle for Tech Tuesday

Is it just me or does anyone else have a difficult time setting meeting dates and times that work for everyone?  Sometimes it takes ten or more emails for my colleagues and I to reach consensus on an inclusive meeting date. When I am organizing a "Girls Night Out" or a family get-together, the same email barrage happens.  Things are going to change today.

Say "adios" to the email-derrumba.  Since I taught in Quito, Ecuador for a year, I figure I can throw in Spanish words here or there to show-off.  Today's Tech Tuesday, free web tool is going to change how you set meetings, nights out and family dinners.  Say "hola" to Doodle.

Doodle is a free, web-based scheduler that enables you - the user - to set meeting dates with multiple people with ease.  You don't even need a log-in or password (I log-in because I typically have multiple Doodles scheduling at once).

To begin, go to Doodle and "Schedule an event."  Next, choose your possible meeting dates.  Though completely selfish, I always start with all the possible meeting dates that work for me.  You can see my choices in green below.

Next, choose possible meeting times.  You can add up to five different time slots per day.  You do add your own "pm" or "am" descriptor.  I once scheduled a meeting for 5am!  Yikes.  My bad.

Lastly, Doodle generates two web links:  one for your invitees and one for you, the amazing administrator.  I usually copy and paste the participant link into an email and send it to my invitees.  Then, they all respond via the link and voila (is that Spanish?  Ha!), you check back (via the administrator link provided) to see what the consensus date and time are for the meeting.

Que fantastico, no? (I couldn't figure out how to get the accent or the other upside-down question mark for this phrase.  If you have a doctorate in Spanish Composition, please educate me).

Ahora (or "now," for you non-Spanish speakers), go try Doodle today.  If you prefer a two minute video about Doodle than my above ramblings, click here.

Off to schedule a Girls Night Out meeting,

PS - One week until the first Upcycled Education giveaway begins! Get ready to win!

Graphics Fairy

My husband and I have a 5.5 year old little girl.  On the blog, I refer to her as little O.  Little O sometimes refers to her age as 5.5.  How 21st century of her, no?  30% of little O's time is spent dreaming of fairies (and mermaids).  Yesterday when the HVAC repair guy came to our house, I even referred to him as a "serious tinker fairy."  That made little O smile.  And the repair guy.

Since my life is steeped in fairy- and mermaid-hood, it makes sense I visit the Graphics Fairy often and like to download her finds - graphics.  The Graphics Fairy, aka:  Karen, posts daily and highlights interesting graphics dated pre-1923.  She cleverly does so to avoid copyright laws as the images from that time period (and before) fall under "public domain."  Of course, in education, teachers have that fair-use-I-am-educator-using-this-one-per-student leeway, but sometimes I use my stuff over-and-over again, thousands of students later - using public domain materials is safer and....prudent.

Check out the Graphics Fairy and see what you think.  I mix in vintage graphics in my handouts, documents and presentations just to keep my students guessing and engaged.  Variety is the spice of life.  Do you agree?  Special tip:  Within the Graphic Fairy's web page, you can search for graphics or look at specific categories of graphics; look for the search window and categories on the right side of the web page.

If you are looking for backgrounds, Karen does offer the Background Fairy site, too. In fact, the blog header above is mostly artwork I downloaded  from Karen's site.  Thanks, Graphics Fairy.

Guess what?  The Graphics Fairy herself visited Upcycled Education and left a comment below! 

Friday love and pixie dust,

Behaviorism (or not): Theories on Thursday

Ready to shake up the theory of Behaviorism?  There are many people who are associated with behaviorism including Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson, the infamous Skinner and most public school teachers & parents.  The list of behaviorists could go on to another post (but, I have some mommy-esque things to do shortly).  Behaviorism at its core is all about consequences - which includes punishment and reinforcers.  The basic idea is if we (educators, parents, leaders, etc), control those consequences, we can affect behaviors.  Thus, if I tell a student they can use the beloved Internet when they have completed their writing assignment, I am, in most cases, rewarded a job completed - finishing their writing- and most likely extrinsically encouraging a student to complete their writing as soon as possible.

The challenge with behaviorism, most times, is it is over-used.  Instead of a student relishing in the art of writing, the student may rush through the process to get to the beloved Internet  - the carrot waved in front of them.  Alfie Kohn, another favorite writer of mine, calls these "carrots and sticks."  Click here for a good interview with Kohn.  Carrots are the rewards placed in front of you.  Sticks the punishments.  In education (and life) we do this to humans all the time - wave things in front of them.  "Do this and you'll get this."  Or, "Do this or this will happen to you."  For many humans, it's no longer the journey, but the destination and the rewards (or avoidance of punishment) that is driving behaviors.

I liken this faux journey to being on a road-trip across Europe and only caring about where you will land that evening.  What about the gorgeous landscapes you drove by that day?  The kind people you met at the cafe along the way?  What about the seaside walk you took mid-day?  How about the wines you sampled from a local vineyard?  Isn't that as meaningful as the destination that evening?

Of course it is.   The journey is often times more richer than the destination. 

So, what to do then?  How do you not wave carrots, sticks, stickers, points, grades and "good jobs" in front of students?  How do you give students feedback minus the carrots and sticks?  Parents, your ears should perk up, too.

Today's ideas are part of a two part series.  Part I today; Part II next Wednesday, February 23rd.  Giving feedback sans reward or punishment.  Thankfully, it is relatively simple to do - it just takes some getting used to.....Here are three responses to try when students (or children) are along the journey or have arrived at the destination AND you want to offer feedback to them.  These are borrowed from the amazing Alfie Kohn.

Response 1:
Say nothing.  I know this one may sound foreign to you.  Believe me, I have to literally bite my tongue all the time.  When little O landed a jump this last ski trip, instead of showering her with "good jobs," I just bite my tongue.  The humongous smile on her fast said it all; she knew she was on "ski" fire that day.   A "good job" would have belittled her personal accomplishment. Could you try saying nothing to students?

Response 2:
Be descriptive, but not judgemental.  In the story above, I could have said something descriptive to little O, "I saw you land that jump."  OR "You seemed to float in the air."  No judgement, no "good jobs."  Just describe what you saw, read or heard.

Response 3: - my favorite & best response
Ask reflective questions.  For example, I could have asked little O, "What was your secret in landing that jump?"  OR "How do you feel about landing your jump?" OR "What will you do next time to improve your jump?"  Response #3 comes easy to educators, I believe.  We are used to encouraging reflection in our classrooms. 

For the next week, try embracing the three responses above (or one or two of them). On February 23rd, check back for other (favorite) feedback ideas for you - more tools for your toolbox, yes?

Bye, bye carrots and sticks,

Dedicate your work

One of my favorite authors is Daniel Pink.  I like Pink for two important reasons: 
  1. Pink spends time collecting useful research and succinctly includes this research in his books (two of my favorite reads:  A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future and Drive) .
  2. Each book contains thoughtful sections, called "Portfolios"  or the "Toolkit," which include clever ideas how to put research into practice.
You know I adore practical things.  If you don't believe me, re-read my initial post here.

....I just thought of  one more important reason I like Pink (besides the cute color name, no?), he emails back lickety-split when I email (or my students and I) email him a question.  Seriously, can you name other authors who email back?  Or so quickly?  The longest it has taken him to reply is 48 hours.  He is the Nordstrom of writers.

I have been using an activity from Pink's book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future.  It comes from the Portfolio section under the chapter about "Meaning."  Who doesn't want meaning in their life?  Wouldn't learning be more engaging to students if they felt it had meaning?  Pink borrowed this activity from Naomi Epel's The Observation DeckBy association, Epel is brilliant, too.

Here's the skinny:

First, read students this passage from Pink's book, page 243 (I've shortened and modified it a touch; that's what we educators do to fit the needs of our students). 

"Look at the page immediately before the Table of Contents page in most books.  You will find a dedication page.  Why should authors have all the fun?  Why can't everyone - teachers, students, salespeople, doctors, managers, engineers - dedicate their work to someone else? 

The actor Danny Glover once said that he dedicates every performance to someone - it might be Nelson Mandala or the old man who guards the stage door - but he is always working for someone other than himself.  This focus gives his acting purpose and makes his work rich.

You can do the same.  Dedicate your work today, or this class or lesson, to someone you admire or who matters in your life.  You can infuse your work with purpose and meaning when you think of it as a gift."

Second, provide time for students to think about who (or what) they want to dedicate their work to that day.  I give my students a "dedication log" where they can neatly record their dedications (a PDF is included  here).  For the first two weeks, I make daily dedications mandatory, after that it is optional.  Guess what?  When I surveyed students last year, they ALL continued their dedications throughout the semester - some even made dedications on non-school days! A few more details:  I generally write my dedication on the board to model dedicating.  Sometimes, I even write descriptors like "Dana - my sister."

Third, depending on time (and mood), I may ask students to share their dedication with a partner, small group or the entire class.  This is always optional for them as I want to respect their privacy and dedication.  Some days we write down our dedications and move on without discussion.  The process without discussion takes about 30 seconds at most - think, dedicate, move on.

Fourth, you can stop there with the dedication process - just thinking about someone else can be novel for some students.  Many days, though, I do end class and ask students to revisit their dedication log and think "one more time" about their dedication.

See what you is different.  I was pleasantly surprised when I surveyed students and they all reported this activity brought more meaning to their lives and afforded them the opportunity to think of others.

Ready for my dedication?  You and Daniel Pink. Thank you both, amazing blog reader (or follower).  This post is dedicated to you.


PS - For Parents:  Little O and I started daily dedications at home.  Over breakfast, we each choose a person, animal or thing (like a doll, for example) and dedicate our day.  We literally are two days into it, so I will  let you know what impact it has on both our lives at a later date.  :)

Dedication log in progress....student sample

Jing for Tech Tuesday

THIS IS MY FAVORITE WEB-BASED TOOL.  Did I say that loudly enough?

Jing rocks.  Plain and simple.

Jing allows you to create free five-minute screencasts and take screenshots with ease.  A screencast is a digital recording of your computer screen.  That means, anything you do on your screen could be recorded and shared with others.  I use this ALL the time with students (and my mom - more on her later).  I use Jing in a variety of ways:

  • Walk students through how to access online course information
  • Teach students how to do something (like remove hyperlinks or create APA-friendly title pages)
  • Give quick instructions via a screenshot
  • Offer verbal feedback on a student's work (I don't have permission from students to share those examples publicly but basically students submit an assignment electronically to me and instead of typing or handwriting comments to them, I speak and walk them through their assignment while Jing records it).  Then, I save via the "share" option and simply send the URL/link to students in an email. This description sounds 100x more complicated than it really is.  Trust me.
  • Teach a colleague how to add shapes and animation in PowerPoint (this is just Part I of this particular mini-lesson)
  • Drop subtle hints to my husband I am ready for a road trip to Colorado.  Shocking.

Jing is absolutely free and their online tutorials are a must watch as they are short and to-the-point.  I would start with their first tutorial; I have no doubt you will be a pro in no time.  My department did splurge and buy me Jing Pro for $14.95/year.  Though the Jing banner ad that appears at the top of the free version isn't uber-annoying, I like my Jings banner-free.  Plus, you can easily upload your Jings to Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter (and add webcam footage) with the Pro version.  However, keep it simple and start with the free version (again, trust me).

To narrate your screencasts, you do need a microphone.  I use a headset with attached mic that I received free at a workshop a few years ago.  My point is most any microphone will do.

Operators are standing by.....He he he.....

By the way, my mom has gotten more tech savvy over the years, but when she can't figure out how to do something on her computer, she calls me.  The best way to teach her, I have found is Jing.  So, I tell her to give me five minutes.  I put on my mic, record a Jing (about how to use Excel, create a new document, etc) and send her the link via email.  She thinks I am a tech rock star :)

Fooled her.


Valentine's Day: You deserve some love

Shhh...don't tell anyone, but I used to be anti-Valentine's Day.  However, with little O around and her love of all things holiday, I have slooooowly embraced this fictitious-Hallmarked-induced-I-don't-need-a-day-to-show-my-love-for-others holiday.  See, I'm taking baby steps.

As fellow educators, I think the more we can show our love and support for each other, the better.  I'm blushing.  I bought you a present.  I hope you like calendars.

Choice number one.....

Choice number two......

Which will you choose?  Click on your favorite, follow the easy directions and turn on your printer.  I would tell you they are free, but that would be tacky to give you a present and tell you the price.

Enjoy - you deserve it!

Happy fictitious-Hallmarked-induced-I-don't-need-a-day-to-show-my-love-for-others-Valentine's Day,


Coffee Monday morning

I normally do not post on Saturday, but I wanted to entice some new blog readers....

In preparation for school Monday morning, you might want to print one of these and have it handy for your Starbucks run.  Better yet, print them now and leave them for your loved one.  Maybe they will take the hint that on Valentine's Day you want to strut to school in lovely style!

Happy Saturday, fabulous students and educators!


Paint swatch activities

I don't know about you, but I am haunted by things that are free. Two of my biggest haunts - FedEx envelopes and paint swatches.  Paint swatches, in particularly, are like sirens calling my name at Home Depot and Lowe's.  I can barely walk by the paint section without caressing a colored swatch and dreaming how (or why?) I need a swatch collection.  Must be genetic, little O loves them, too.

Thankfully, teaching gives me an excuse.  Free swatches + gorgeously inspiring colors + students = An activity.  Here's what I've come up with so far....

Pick a color.....

Convenient way to group students (Thank you, Linda, Nathan and Jordyn)....

Choose a swatch.....

Colorful way to debrief a lesson with exit tickets.....

Pick up some of the multi-color paint swatches.....handy for mini-KWLs.....

And mini-KWLS....

Mickey friends, I bet you have a way to put these to teaching and learning use.....

Fabulous blog reader (or follower), what clever ideas do you have for paint swatches?  Are there free items that haunt you?  As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Please use the comments section below (no password required, so comment away - Yippee!).

UPDATE:  Here's another idea how to use paint swatches.


Erik Erikson: Lessons Learned

For Theories on Thursday, I only write about theories we can put into practice the next day.  Or for my 6 a.m readers, put into practice that day.  I am a practical person as I described in yesterday's post.  I need as much time as possible to teach and plan lessons, parent the way I like to parent and do the 30 day Shred.  Yep, I am on my way to being shredded.

Today's theorist, Erik Erikson, is just my cup of....smoothie.  His eight stages of psychoemotional development is easy to understand and apply to students.  I will spare you a lengthy discussion of the eight stages as 1) if you are a teacher, you have studied all eight before in your Educational Psychology  or human development class and 2) You can read Wikipedia for yourself if you are not an educator or cannot remember Erikson.  Yep, I just hyperlinked to Wikipedia.  Take that!

By the way, if you are one of my current Educational Psychology students, our textbook author, R. Slavin, does a bang up, superb job discussing Erikson's eight stages.  You can by-pass Wikipedia.

Here, however, is what I want to emphasize today with regard to Erikson.
  • Erikson's eight stages are stepping stones - one to another.  Thus, if a student gets stuck in one stage or doesn't quite make it out of a stage unscathed - which is more likely - expect some disequilibrium to arise.  Read this post if you are unfamiliar with Piaget's disequilibrium.
  • From my armchair, bullies didn't make it out of Erikson's initial stages.  Though I dislike bullying and bullies, we, as educators, need to be sensitive to our bullies as they have major (self-improvement) work to do as they are the definition of scathed and disequilibrium; They just like to mask it by picking on others and having faux-control.
  • Students need our help and guidance to navigate through a stage.  How to do this:  Identify which stage(s) your students are in and create opportunities to help them master and balance the qualities of that stage.
    • For example, if you are working with high school students who are typically in Erikson's Identity v. Role Confusion stage, design lessons, activities and/or assignments that allow students to explore their identity in structured ways.  They can compare themselves to a science concept.  A metaphor like Captain-crew-cargo.  Write an essay comparing themselves to a character in a novel. Or design their own life soundtrack.  Plenty of structured ways.
  • Since one of the earliest stages in Erikson's eight is Autonomy v. Doubt, provide as much student choice as you can - at any grade level - without overwhelming students.  I do this all the time as a mom with little O.   "Do you want a vanilla yogurt or strawberry?"  "Do you want to take a bath or a shower?"  "Do you want to wear pants or a skirt today?"  A small menu of choices.  Offered succinctly.  Special tip:  Make sure the choices you offer sit well with you before offering them.  For example, if I really don't want little O to take a bath because she is muddy, I don't offer that choice as an option.  If you really don't want a student to work with a partner, don't offer that choice as an option.  You must be OK with the options.  "Do you want to write an essay or create a glog?"  See?  
  • For your own teacher fun, think about which stage of Erikson you are currently in and if any waves of disequilibrium have risen.  Some writers believe the only way to embrace a concept or theory is to apply it to yourself.
Alright, off I go to contemplate my own stage of development.  If you have other practical ways you like to apply Erikson's (useful) work, please leave your ideas in the comments section below. 

Happily in Stage 7, I believe,

Assets: How many do your students have?

At a recent AEE conference, I was introduced to a gem.  A gem on student (heck, human) development. As a practical person, mom and educator, I appreciate succinct information backed by research.  If you can summarize that research in a chart, table or checklist, all the better. 

Let me introduce you to the Search Institute.

Search Institute meet amazing blog visitor (or follower).  Blog visitor (or follower), meet the Search Institute.

The Search Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to understanding what kids need in order to thrive and grow .  Through studies involving 2.2 million kids (now, that's a sample size!), the Search Institute realized that the more assets a student has, the less likely they are to engage in at-risk behaviors and the more likely they are to be successful, thrive and grow.  To me, it is like a checklist for successful development.  All new parents at their child's birth should be given a pack of cloth diapers, a giftcard to Starbucks and a checklist to plan how they will help their child thrive and grow.

The asset checklists are divided by age group starting with age 3 years and going all the way to 18 years.  They are available in English and 14 other languages.  Evidently, the Search Institute is uber-diverse and brilliant, too!

Some of the bummer news: Out of the 40 identified assets, the average female student encapsulates about 20 assets, while their male classmates about 17 assets.  Of course, I felt eagerly inclined to count up little O's assets.  Whew, I counted 39 assets.  You know I am unbiased.

Here's the great news:  It doesn't matter which assets your students have, what's matters is how many assets they have.  Hooray!  As educators (and/or parents) we just need our students to rack up those assets.

Take a look at the main Developmental Assets Tools page.  The (brilliant) Search Institute has offered all their rationale, research findings and checklists.  Consider downloading the asset checklist for the age group you work with most often.  Then, apply that checklist to a challenging student, a student at-risk or just your average student.  From there you will have a clearer understanding of how to nurture them and cultivate more assets.  By the way, for upper elementary, middle and high school grade levels, you might have the students check off their own assets and plan their own unique ways to acquire more.

Though it is still winter in most parts of the northern hemisphere, I liken this asset post to planning your spring flower garden.  Identify which flowers will be annuals and decide which new flowers - which new assets - you need to plant and grow.

All the best,

Glogster for Tech Tuesday

With all the new tech lingo, what do you think the next edition of the Webster's Dictionary will include?  I am at the library crafting this post and when I checked the 2002 edition (what, no 2011 edition here?) the word "text" hadn't been updated nor the word "virus."  Surely in 2011, text and virus both have new additional meanings, wouldn't you agree?  Even my awesome grandfather in Florida would think of text and virus in new ways in the 21st century.

Photo credit:  sAeroZar; Photoshopped:  J. Lara
....By the way, do people still use old school, print dictionaries?  Had I not been at the library, I don't think I would have even considered looking for a dictionary in print form.  Dictionaries in print form remind me of the children's book Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct.  Come on print dictionaries, don't fight it.

So, if text and virus, need an update in this relic book I am sitting next, too (which, by the way, weighs at least 15 pounds - Can you say "Kindle?"), then surely there are many other words and acronyms that will either need updating or adding, like (this fantastic) blog, LOL ;)

.....Do you think I am being paranoid?  I really think other patrons at the library are staring at me because I am actually using a "real" dictionary.  I just polled the woman next to me and neither one of us can remember the last time we used a print-based dictionary. 

If text, virus, blog and LOL are all probable dictionary additions or updates, then, you better add "glogs" to the list.  Glogs are online multimedia posters students (or non-students) create incorporating text, images, videos, sounds, data attachments and drawings.  Glogster is the free, web-tool designed to create glogs.  My college students and I experimented with glogs last semester and all of us who used Glogster liked the process and product.  Warning:  It is easy to get carried away with all the themes, call out shapes, and colors.  I would suggest two things.  Number one:  Allow time for students to play with Glogster at home or in school.  That way they get out their "sillies," so to speak, before they really need to be academically productive.  Number two:  Have students sketch out a mock-up glog first - similar to a rough draft - and then, stick to their drafts as much as possible when they go online.  That will curtail the overwhelming feeling of wanting to use every shape, banner, color, font and image.

Here is a basic example of a glog below.  You can see how this student - whom I semi-randomly chose - incorporated all different multimedia aspects - images, text, video, hyperlinks and roll-over animation - into the glog.  If you go to this Glogpedia (oh my, Webster's Dictionary, you have some catching up to do), you will see thousands of other examples.

I personally like Glogster's free education version, but if you really wanted to embrace Glogster all the time, then you might want to compare the free versus subscription features here in this neatly designed table.  Also, Glogster does have a non-EDU version.  The EDU version allows a teacher to set-up a private virtual classroom/account and has some other security features that your kids, parents, families and school districts might appreciate.

....I need to get my workout for the day and carry this 15 pound weight dictionary back to its reference rack. 

Please leave links to your glogs (or your students' glogs) in the comments section below.  Think of it as a blog show-n-tell.


PS - As I am writing this a former student, Samantha, emailed me a glog she is working on for a class - we must be kindred spirits!  I think she is refining it as we speak, but you can get a feel for how each glog can be very different from the next.  In fact, this glog almost has a timely Valentine's day feel.  It almost makes me feel good about childhood obesity.  Agree?

Food and Parties: My Debbie Downer Philosophy

It is almost that time of the year again.  Celebrations for Valentine's Day (or something cleverly disguised as such).  Some of you may dislike me for this stance.  But, I can't stand celebrations in the classroom that include food.  Why? Let's make this simple.

Childhood obesity.  Diabetes.  Food allergies.  Food intolerance and sensitivities.  Celiac Disease.  Prader-Willi Syndrome.

Someone is going to be left-out.  And that someone is going to be a kid who is alienated all the time at birthday parties, family gatherings, most restaurants and just about every theme park on the planet.  Why do they need to feel left-out again in our classrooms?

Join me in saying "No" to food in our classrooms for celebrations.  Save the food stuff for at home.  Instead, say "Yes" to alternative celebratory activities:
  • Hat day!
  • Pajama day!
  • Crazy hair day!
  • Backwards clothing day!
  • Read your favorite story or magazine day!
  • Bring your iPod, iTouch and headphones to school day!
  • Bring a special person to school day!
  • Reverse schedule day!
  • Silly music day!
  • Awesome music day!
  • Pirate day!
  • You get the drift day!
I don't mean to be Debbie Downer, I am just so tired of our kids having to feel alienated one more time, in a place that should be inclusive - our classrooms.

Join me - please!


PS - If you must include food in your classroom, make the food decoration, yes?  Little O and I made this from this tutorial in about 1.5 hours.  We both have the hot glue gun marks to prove it.

New Film: Race to Nowhere

In case you like side-slanting films (I do!) and need something to do over this Super Bowl weekend, check out the latest education documentary Race to Nowhere.  You can watch the trailer below.

Since my local screenings do not start until next week, let me know if you see the film and your reaction to it by leaving your comments below.  Click here to find local screening information.

See you next week for Tech Tuesday!  It's going to be a great one.


Vygotsky Crash Course

Give me an opportunity to talk about skiing or Colorado and by golly, I will take it.  Worse yet, is when I can discuss the two in the same sentence or photo.  Case in point.

Yep, that's my little munchkin dropping into a bowl of snow in Colorado.  She skied the entire run and days later went up on the t-bar for the first time in thigh deep powder.  (You are probably wondering about the Vygotsky crash course...patience, young grasshopper).  Let's enjoy the splendor of Colorado and skiing.

(Dramatic pause.)

(Deep, yoga breath.)

(Humongous grin.)

You see Vygotsky must have been a skier during his 37 years of life in Russia.  Because skiing is all about one of Vygotsky's main concepts:  Zone of proximal development (ZPD).  ZPD is all about helping a human (or animal, I suppose) progress from one stage of development to another.  Or, you could even break it down into much smaller increments, one step of development into another.

Thus, in the photo above, little O (my daughter), is ready for the next step of development in her skiing.  She started years ago on the bunny slopes.  And has progressed to skiing bowls, black diamonds and landing tiny jumps in terrain parks.  Her ZPD keeps getting nudged the more she skis with my husband and I (and the more mileage she puts on her skis).

Take home message for you:  Great teachers nudge their students!  We are constantly looking at our students' current step of development and crafting ways to coach them to the next step (or level) of development.  Coaching and nudging are nurturing behaviors.  Thus, be kind, gentle, sensitive and aware. 

Next, Vygotsky believed in cooperative learning.  Let's be clear.  Cooperative learning is not group work.  Group work does not denote "cooperation," though I'm certain most educators wish it did.  Cooperative learning means in small groups or teams, students work together collaboratively and cooperatively to achieve a goal.  That goal can be a task, a brainstorming session, a project, whatever.  Vygotsky realized the power of cooperative (and collaborative) learning.  Future researchers later identified other benefits of cooperative learning to include better race relations in schools and higher student achievement.  However, some studies on cooperative learning (post-Vygotsky) point out that cooperative learning doesn't always work as well for high performing students.

Take home message for you:  Variety is the spice of life - employ cooperative learning, but not 24/7 (or would that be 24/5?).  Train students to work cooperatively.  (Yes, I said "train.").  If you missed the  post on t-charts, you might start there with your training.  Once students understand "how" to work cooperatively and what that looks like and sounds like, then they will be more capable of working collaboratively to accomplish a goal.

Last, crash course item (though, with Vygotsky, this blog post could rival the one from last week on Piaget):  Private speech.  Vygotsky realized humans "talk" to themselves internally when problem-solving and decision-making.  Heck, some of us do it externally, but I'll save that for an abnormal psychology post. 

Take home message for you:  Encourage students to problem-solve in their minds or heck, why not do so on paper?  Using Inspiration?  Or with a Tagxedo?  You can learn more about Tagxedo from this blog post.  Along with this, you should consider using "think alouds" in the classroom with your students.  All you have to do is make your (brilliant) private thoughts public and students will get to see how an intelligent adult thinks and problem-solves.  For example, when I used to read Native Son with my high school students, I would read a few pages, then, stop and say, "Hmmm, I wonder why Bigger made that decision?  I think I would have done XYZ."  See?  It's easy.  Just make your private thoughts public.

Give me a "V!"


PS - If you desire another snapshot of cooperative learning, visit this succinct webpage.  Anything with backing by Disney has merit in my book, plus I use some of their other resources with my college students.

PSS - Did you need another Colorado-skiing fix?  Here you go.  Dramatic pause.  Deep, yoga breath.  Humongous grin.

T-shirts and T-charts: Long live them both!

My favorite non-teaching book these days is Generation T:  108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt.  If you are into repurposing, or upcycling, using old t-shirts is a fantastic way to honor the art & craft.  Who doesn't have a stack of old tees laying around?   Plus, this blog (and the book) have so many clever ways to transform a tee into something fabulous.  Over the weekend, my nieces and I upcycled some old tees using Nicolay's ideas.  Funky, no, for a fourth grader?   All those 5K t-shirts are getting a new lease on life.

Thinking about old tees reminds me of a teaching strategy that has been around for a while...the T-chart.  It is an efficient strategy as it can be used with a variety of subjects, in a variety of ways AND students can be coached to create t-charts for themselves.  What you say?  Students can create their own t-charts without teacher-direction?!  Indeed.  Long live t-charts and self-directed-learning!  Let's begin.

First, a t-chart looks just like the name suggests, a "t."  Actually, a lowercase "t," to be exact.  You and/or your students fill in the descriptors, criteria, elements, etc. on the top line of the "t."  I used an old classic, "What does partner work look like and sound like?"  You may be smirking, but how many times have you expected your students to work successfully and diligently in pairs or small groups to soon find out they lack the necessary skills to do so effectively.  In comes your handy-dandy t-chart.

Then, either individually, in pairs, small groups or as a whole class fill out the t-chart.  I often times like to start with individual brainstorming first and then move to pairs and larger groups.  That way, each student individually has an opportunity to process their ideas and the t-chart at their own pace - this would be especially true for students with special needs or English language learners.  A finished t-chart might look like this.....

(By the way, the English teacher in me wants to add "s" to Looks like and Sounds like. I will refrain.)
I adore using t-charts to....
  • Discuss pros and cons
  • Explore what something "Looks like" or "Sounds like."  This would be super in a science lab setting.
  • Good and evil in literature, politics, or life!
  • Compare and contrast
  • Opposites
  • Cause and effect - If, then scenarios (This is especially helpful to discuss how a student might handle a situation.  "If Sandy tries to pick on you during lunch, then..."  "If you do not have Internet access at home, then.....)
Are you in love with t-charts yet?  What about t-shirts?

T-bars?  T-birds?  Model Ts?

How do you use t-charts?  What other ideas for t-charts do you have?  Please leave your brilliant comments and ideas below in the comments section (so adequately named). 

Off I go to t-chart the universe and upcycle a tee.   My sweet husband kindly cleaned out his t-shirt drawers last week for me.  Now, my cup runneth over with cycling tees from every road and mountain bike race in our region.

T-otally happy,