Posts Tagged ‘connection’

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

Left Behind

Photo by Angella Mueller. Used under creative commons license.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about students leaving a legacy recently. Alan November uses this terminology frequently. (Side note, if he is speaking at a conference or event you are attending, I recommend going to hear him. He is enthusiastic, supportive of teachers, and you will leave with ideas in your head.) In a world where it is so easy to share work and have others, maybe only just a few, but still others, get something out of it, why wouldn’t we want this for our students? I know that whenever I have suggested to my students that the work they are creating will be used by me next year to show others, or shared beyond school, I get more buy-in and better work. Everyone wins with that combination. (I’ll write about a particular example of this next.)

Last week on the first day of school, I found this article on called “Have Students Create Their End of Year Legacy Now” by Maurice Elias. In it Professor Elias suggests starting the year with this goal in mind:

Ask your students to imagine themselves at an assembly in June. All of their classmates, teachers, staff, even parents are there. Every student is called up to the podium at the center of the stage, and the principal reads a statement of what they accomplished in the past year.

I think this is a great idea and one that allows for frequent checking in and monitoring. Professor Elias goes on to say,

Next, you can review the legacy statements at the end of each grading period, which can lead to a discussion, using these questions:

  • How are you doing in working toward your legacy?
  • What can help you make (more, better) progress in the next marking period?

I would go a few digital steps farther, adding the following:

  • How will you share your legacy with others?
  • Who else might benefit from what you have created?
  • How will this add to your positive digital footprint?

I know that not all work needs to be shared. Some really doesn’t deserve to go farther than the recycling bin, honestly. However, if we begin with the notion that creating real content that is of value to others is a goal, then I think it can be something towards which to work. And, there is a huge range of what “of value” means. Curing cancer would certainly qualify. However so would a screencast by an elementary student that explained how to regroup when subtracting.

So, I guess my point here is: what a great way to start the year.

Is there something that you think would really set a great tone or expectation?

So, I’ve been thinking about fitting in and not fitting in. Three seemingly unrelated things brought this together for me.

First, I’ve been thinking about the financial cost of having our children in an independent Quaker school. If I were to be very responsible and talk to a financial planner about this, I feel quite certain there would be gasping for air about the expense we are incurring relative to our incomes, plural though they may be. (Thank you family, and dear, departed grandparents for your assistance!) I loved the trips my family took when I was young, yet I just don’t see that happening for us at the moment, since we did not win the most recent MegaMillions. It has been suggested that maybe it would be better to save tuition money and be able to take some trips. This theory says that the cultural experiences of travel combined with going to the local public school would better than the independent school combined with a lot less travel. I’ve been thinking about it.

The shirt my daughter liked.

Second, in the early spring I went into GAP Kids with my daughter. We were at our local Trader Joe’s and it’s across the parking lot so I said we could stop in. My daughter has recently become a huge fan of plaid shirts, and she was on the lookout for more. (I had not promised to buy anything, it was just a reconnaissance mission.) Anyway we headed into the store. The girl side was all pastel and sparkles. My daughter quickly determined there was nothing there of interest at all. She is not a girly girl, at the moment, and her short hair often gets her mistaken for a boy–a boy with little heart earrings, but a boy. On the boy side she found several plaid shirts that she liked and which we did not buy. In this instance we just happened to be at The GAP, but I we have had similar experiences at other stores.

Third, I read Seth Godin’s most recent manifesto about school: Stop Stealing Dreams. I’ve read a couple of his other books (Tribes, Linchpin, and Poke the Box) so I knew what I was getting into with him. He writes about the early purpose of mass education being the production of a labor force for the new industrialized work place. The goal was to churn out trained and obedient workers for jobs on assembly lines. He contends that too many public, and independent schools, still work on this model, squeezing all passion out of students, forcing them into compliance, and creating graduates ready for the jobs of a previous decade (in a nutshell).

So, putting those three little bits together, I started thinking about trips and school first. If school is a bit boring, that might not sound that bad, but if boring is not “just boring” it can head right into mind-numbing. Then we are into the realm of and dangerous in my opinion. Yes, those fun trips surely would be memorable, but if I believe, as I do, that the school my children attends is fostering their love of learning, encouraging them in their passions, and valuing them as individuals, a week or two a year of big excitement is not a good trade for an entire school year of boredom and potentially the need to undo a lot of what happened during that school year. Now, we live in a “good” school district, so I know it would not be as bad as all that. And yet, my school gets students from the local “good” districts all the time. The parents and children are, almost to a person, thrilled with the difference they see.

Then, I added in the GAP piece and thought about my daughter in particular and fitting in. I find her to be an interesting, challenging, and sometimes infuriating person. Seems about right for 9 1/2 I think. She still has good friends who are both boys and girls and invites either over to play. She loves poetry, LEGO, reading both fiction and nonfiction, playing in the dirt/garden, and is currently creating a ninja club with my son and some friends from school. Training is proceeding according to schedule as far as I can tell. So far I have not received my letter to join. As we walked around the GAP kids, I felt that my daughter, the interesting, and yes sometimes infuriating, person in front of me was not really wanted. We have no problem shopping in the boys’ department there or at any store (especially when buying shorts as apparently all shorts for girls are actually made for hookers, which I find inappropriate, even though I do have a bit of a soft spot for short-shorts.). But why weren’t some of these shirts that could be worn by anyone, as clearly several of the shirts in the boys’ section could be, in some sort of anyone zone in the middle of the store? Traditional girl colors have been adopted for boys, great. Boys now have the option for dark traditional boy colors and patterns as well as new pastel options. What about some range for the girls? (Note: on a later visit to the GAP there was a wider range of color choices for the girls as well as some shorts that did not make me think of the “street-walker or starlet” game on Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police.)

Finally, as I have been reading Seth Godin’s manifesto, I am more convinced than ever that although we should check out our local public school more thoroughly, and perhaps play the lottery a bit more, we should stay the course in terms of our children’s school. I don’t think any trip can compensate for a year of having the fire stamped out of you. If a world of pastel and sparkle is what is waiting, it’s clear that my daughter does not see herself in those neatly defined boxes right now, and I certainly have no need to put her into one. Her class is very small and she has had her issues with a student or two. She’s not perfect. She gets her feeling hurt and is very undone by any perceived injustice. And, she has a healthy sense of self, regardless of where we buy her clothes. Her school is not perfect either. Still, I think we are making the right choice for now.

So, this spring vacation we hung around the house. We did a lot of cleaning out of junk and rearranged bedrooms. It was very satisfying. We drove to Washington, DC and spent 1 night. We had a great time, and on Monday we all went back to school feeling good about our choices.


A transistor, one of Bell Lab's inventions

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the article in The New York Times from February 23rd: “True Innovation“. Jon Gertner is the author of a forthcoming book about Bell Labs called The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation and this was a kind of preview. There was plenty of detail about Bell Labs that was new to me, all well and good. What I thought was most thought-provoking was to think of how the characteristics of Bell Labs that Gertner identifies as success generators might or might not be present in schools.

Gertner contends that  Bell scientists “worked on the incremental improvements necessary for a complex national communications network while simultaneously thinking far ahead toward the more revolutionary inventions imaginable.” This idea of combining incremental change and visionary thinking is what struck me. I think this is what schools should do. They should work continually to improve what they do (tweaking this and that) while at the same time be working towards that revolutionary (re-)invention. Gertner states that Mr. Kelly, who ran the lab for many years, believed it was necessary to have “a ‘critical mass’ of talented people to foster a busy exchange of ideas.” If schools can attract and retain talented teachers, they should be all set in this department. A little more respect for the teaching profession would help here, yes? Anyway, what professional doesn’t want to work with a team of talented colleagues? I know some people don’t want to work with a team, talented or not. But, let’s just say you are working with others, not too many people would say, yes give me the duds. So it seems obvious. However, I think that what is not obvious is that you want bunch of talented folks in the same place. It’s not overkill. It means that they will have peers and be able to have that exchange of ideas that is so important for real innovation. This is a place people will want to be! Excited and interested teachers will attract and produce excited and interested students. There’s our critical mass.

According to Gertner, Kelly also set up the building to encourage, if not force, people to come into contact with each other regularly. On top of that, he gave researchers freedom and time. Just let that sink in a little. Employees have a physical space set up to allow and encourage them to run into each other, they have the freedom to follow paths they think will be valuable, and the time to do so. Sound good so far?

There are lots of other interesting details in the article. It’s worth reading the whole thing, in my opinion. What I noticed was the powerful combination of purposeful design of space and culture in the service of understanding. That is certainly what I want to be going on in my classroom. I want to set up a physical space that allows for easy and frequent interaction by students. I want to give my students more freedom to follow their interests, trust them to be serious (serious for 10 year olds) about it, and time to get lost in what they find. And, I want that for myself as a professional. I want to run into all different colleagues regularly, not just the ones whose classrooms are next door to mine. Once I run into them, I want to be able to sit down somewhere and talk, not necessarily in a room filled with laminator fumes on a cast away sofa. I want to have the freedom to do new things and spend time, lots of time, working on how to do what I do best. Some, even many, of these things I already have, but as my students will tell you, I’m not really about half-way. I want the whole thing. I want it for me and for my students.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Vincent Connor)

Twitter Tuesday Thumnail with Helvetica font

Photo by FreshAlex online used under creative commons license

So, I wasn’t thinking about having a super interesting evening when I got home from school on Tuesday. Honestly, I had a frustrating day and might have been ready to wallow in it, just a little. I figured I wouldn’t participate in #5thchat on Twitter because I just wasn’t in the mood. (If you are not familiar with Twitter chats, there is a hashtag, #5thchat or #edchat for example that all who are participating add to the end of their tweets. Then by using the search option in Twitter or columns in Tweetdeck one can follow all tweets with that hashtag and “have a conversation” with lots of folks you may or may not know.)

Well, I am so glad I did participate! What a chat it was! Sometimes Twitter chats are on topics that just don’t take off or just don’t grab me, and I can’t always guess which ones will be which. Tuesday’s topic was creative ideas for teaching novels. (Here is the archive.) So many great ideas you really will want to read it.

To be honest, I am a gatherer. I gather ideas as well as stuff. To me the gathering and input of ideas and images is energizing. I love a good conversation or brainstorming session where anything goes. One of my colleagues jokes that she like to “watch me think” because she can see the wheels start to turn. Now, she does not say that great ideas are always the result, just that it amuses her to watch my head spin. So, given that I love to gather, this chat was a particularly good one. I finished the hour not only with a renewed energy in general, but specifically with a more positive feeling about the rest of the week.

And finally, I may collaborate with another teacher on a project in January. I’d say for one hour of my time, that’s pretty good return.

Conversations Update

Posted: November 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking more about having more individual conversations with my students. And so I told them.

speechThis morning I was updating my class on a few things at the beginning of the day, typical stuff. I also explained, like I did in my last post, that I had so enjoyed talking with a 5th grader from another class and it made me think I would love to get a chance to talk with each of my own 5th graders. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much of a response one way or the other.

But, right away a few kids perked up.

  • Can we talk about white boards? I am really interested in them right now. (Ok, something else for me to brush up on.)
  • Does it have to be about school? (No.)
  • This is going to be so fun.

So, I kept going with some logistical options: lunch in the room, before classrooms are open in the morning (Now that it is colder, rather than outdoor play, students have to wait in the lunch room. Not as appealing as the playground.), recess if anyone is interested. I also have a few students who are not able to participate in PE at the moment for various reasons. So, I might grab them during that time.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to chatting with my students and am glad to know that at least some of them are also interested. Now, to think about how not to make it seem like an interview. I am sure with some students it will just become a real conversation. With others it will be harder. I think I’ll start with some of the easy chatters first to warm up.

I can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

(Photo by Timothy Morgan used under creative commons license.)