Archive for October, 2012

sad face

Photo by Brianna Lehman
used under creative commons license

So, I’ve been thinking about motivation. More specifically, I have been thinking about how to get people to submit to my evil plans (insert scary laughter here). It’s almost Hallowe’en and my thoughts have turned to the dark side. I used to have to get students to do stuff like study fractions and the Mesopotamians. Now I have to get adults to do stuff like incorporate effective use of technology in their teaching.

One of the blogs that I read is The Leadership Freak by Dan Rockwell. His blog is not about education, but his brief posts often strike a chord. Leading, directing, teaching–they’re all related. So, the other day he wrote about dissatisfaction as a motivator for change. He said that all the great vision in the world is not going to get people to change if they are not at least somewhat dissatisfied with the present situation.

Change movements begin with dissatisfaction in the present. Create want. People won’t change until they want change.

This got me thinking.

Although I am not a rose-colored glasses wearer, I am a positive person for the most part, or at least I like to think I am. I can wallow in “things are terrible” land for a while if I have company, and I can even get stuck there, but it’s not where I feel most at home. My point here is that I would rather cheerlead and talk about the great things that are possible with some change or other than go the dissatisfaction route. But, Dan suggests that this is not going to work. And, I have to admit it’s not working as well as I would like for me.

So, I may try putting one foot into the dark land of dissatisfaction. I’m going to have my Hallowe’en candy with me in case it’s not a nice place. I am not going to sow doom and gloom where ever I go, but I’m considering tossing little dissatisfaction idea bombs here and there. (This all sounds very militaristic to me, but idea-bombs seems ok for a non-violent person, yes?)

I will kind of by like Miss Rumphius in the classic by Barbara Cooony. Miss Rumphius rides around her town sowing wildflower seeds to fulfill one of her goals: to make the world more beautiful. People in the town start to think she is that crazy old lady with seeds in her pocket. I’ll admit, I’m not looking for people to think I’m older than I am, but I’m ok with crazy. (WOW! I am sounding just like my grandmother here. Many years and a city ago when I told her people were going to think a crazy old lady lived in my apartment if she continued to step out onto the balcony in her slip, heels, and purse to smoke, she replied “I am not old!” She did not bat an eye at the crazy label. I miss her.)

Anyway, maybe these dissatisfaction idea-bombs could have a bit of an odor too? The kind that hangs around a while. Hmm, how to stay positive and yet encourage a little dissatisfaction? Is this something that will work for me? Reader(s), has it worked for you?

So, I’ve been thinking about history and history projects. Projects that not only require knowledge of facts and events, but that ask students to think about a particular  historical time period and how those in it would relate to our lives today. I know that when I taught ancient civilizations in 5th grade it was easy to get caught up in the time period, learning great stuff, having good discussion, etc. and then move on without connecting it too much to modern times. I mean, we were supposed to be studying ancient civilizations, so that is what we did. My concern is and was that the kids were left with the idea that these ancient places might as well be on mars for the connection they had to us. We did talk about inventions and ideas that have been significant; however, I think I could have, should have, done more. I tried a few different things, but was never all that satisfied with any of them.

What got me thinking about this again was a book that I picked up in my school library in the graphic novel section. It’s called And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman who is an illustrator and author of numerous kids’ books. In an early chapter she is writing about her interest in Abraham Lincoln and talks about where she would take him based on what she infers were his interests.

Ok, I think this is a great idea! And, how fun would this be in class?! It could totally be leveled up or down depending on knowledge base etc. Conversations could be imagined, itineraries planned, photo journals written. The possibilities are endless. It could be adapted to be two different people in the past, but from different times or places, you name it. To do a good job would require a real understanding of time periods and/or places. I think as a teacher it would give you a good sense of who “got it”–a great way of seeing who could connect the dots. (I just watched this TEDxYouthBFS talk by Seth Godin in which he asked, “are we asking our kids to collect dots or connect dots?” Although I didn’t agree with everything he said, I think this is a good question. I also understand that there will be some dot collecting too, even it is involuntary.)

If I’m going to collect and grade a project or piece of work, not just evaluate informally and give feedback, then I want to be sure that the item being graded does a good job of giving me the information I want. I think a project inspired by this idea would do just that.

Any takers?

(Calvin Trillin wrote about the restaurant tour he would plan if he got to drive Mao around NYC for a day, called “Mao and Me” from Alice, Let’s Eat and also included in The Tummy Trilogy. His essay was more about food than history, but also worth reading.)

Still from “Calypso” video.

So, I’m still thinking about leaving a legacy. I wrote the other day about starting the year with that in mind. I thought I would share an example of some work I did with my class where we did leave a legacy, however small.

Last year I asked my students to create “common craft” or “in plain English” style videos based on events in The Odyssey (We read this version in 5th grade). Each group picked a chapter and planned a short video which I filmed and shared to Vimeo. See them here. Please go watch one, they’re pretty nice, if I do say so myself.

We did this at the very end of the year, which is often not a time of great learning. I told the students the following:

  • We needed to brush up on our summarizing skills.
  • This would be a chance to try to represent big ideas in a simple, visual format.
  • They would need to work effectively together. (We’d been practicing)
  • I was going to use these videos to teach next year’s class.

Summarizing is something that one might think is not necessary by the end of 5th grade, but that would be wrong. In my experience, kids are so attracted to those “fun facts” and “sparkly tid-bits” as I call them, that they often write so-called summaries that do in fact record events that happened in the reading, but are not really summaries. They are more like “my favorite parts” collections.

We had also been talking a lot about big ideas. It’s not easy to go back and forth in your head between thinking about lots of explanation and then boiling it down to a word or image  or both.

Of course the age-old working together and time management reared its ugly 2-headed self as well. Each group had to write a script, practice it, run it by me, practice it some more etc. They also had to plan how to move the pictures in and out of the camera view. This was actually our second video project like this. And, the improvement from one project to the next was huge! Hmm, practice is beneficial?!

None of these first three topics were really lighting up the room, which I am sure will surprise no one. And, by the end of the year, honestly, I could have predicted with a high degree of accuracy which students could do these tasks and to what degree. But at the end of the year what I can’t always do is inspire students to do good work. Here is where the “I’m going to use these next year” part comes in.

When I said I was going to use them to help teach next year’s class, it was a whole new ballgame. There were questions about how I would save them so that I would be able to show everyone. There was talk about what the younger students would like (thinking about our authentic audience). The attention shifted from “who’s in my group” to “what cool thing we can do with our chapter.” Now, as it turns out, I’m not teaching that anymore, but I didn’t know that would be the case at the time. We made the videos, put them in an album for next year, and felt good.

And, then I saw some post on Twitter asking for examples of using video in class or something or other. So, I added our link. A little later, I got a message thanking me for the examples and telling me the videos were helpful at a conference. When I told my students they were not only surprised, but thrilled. They were teaching other people-other teachers.

(Small) legacy left.

So, I’ve been thinking about what is enough. Of course that depends on what we might be having enough of. The answer, for me anyway, if very different if we are talking about cupcakes or shoes as opposed to broken legs or dental appointments.

What got me thinking of this was Silvia Tolisano’s blog post “The Power and Amplified Reach of Sharing” which she begins with this statement:

It is no longer enough to do powerful work if no one sees it.

-Chris Lehman.

I know neither one of them is talking about giving a paper at a conference once in a while as being enough either. I mean, I don’t know them personally, but from what they create and share, I know them as educators. They both do powerful work and share it. I know them because I see the work they share and am a better educator for it.

This post and my then somewhat tangential thoughts about it led me to several conclusions:

  • I have once again been neglecting this blog.
  • I have a lot to share that I have not shared yet.
  • I know a lot of educators who do great work that no one else sees.

For those who don’t buy this, I guess the question is why? Why is it not enough to do powerful work? Silvia has some good answers in her blog post.

For me I guess part of the answer is this. As is true for any experimenter working in a lab, in this case the classroom, the successes and breakthroughs are not just for me. They are for everyone. There certainly was a time when the cost and time it would take to share was prohibitive.

That time is gone.

This is for everyone.
London Olympics Opening Ceremony 2012
Image from The Guardian