Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

So, I’ve been thinking about how some of my lessons changed over time. In a recent post I wrote about coming up with new ideas. One thing that didn’t make the final draft of that post was the idea that sometimes a plan is good the first year, but then a lot better in later years. Here’s an example.

One year, I came up with the idea of having a “descriptive language Olympics” lesson. We were reading Tuck Everlasing and it was spring time and there was going to be some visitor. I remember this because we got an email from the assistant division head asking if any of us were doing anything particularly “outside the box”. When I thought about what I was planning for that next day, I realized it was firmly in the box and decidedly not that interesting. So, out it went.

Why is it that sometimes a simple question like that is all it takes to get me thinking about something better? Could I not ask that question myself? Does this happen to other people too?

Anyway, I believe it was in the shower that I hit upon this idea. There would be 5 events. In groups students would contribute passages from the text that best exemplified the particular kind of figurative writing for the event. I would judge and award 1st place, etc. I made a super-quick PowerPoint with the olympic rings on it and the following categories:

  • mood madness
  • sensory overload
  • figurative language freestyle
  • wonderful words
  • show not tell showcase

How did it go? Well the first year, it was pretty good, if I do say so myself. And, it was too long, too many “events”, and since I wanted to spread the winning around, the judging left a little to be desired.

The next years I tried a few little changes: fewer events for classes that were not that interested, having students come in with passages ready.

Then, last year, I made a bigger change. To be honest, I was partly trying to cut down on the time it took. In the end, the time was not that different, but the outcome was a lot better.

  • Instead of having the students collaborate on what to “enter” into each event, I asked them to enter 3 of 5 events digitally on our class blog for homework. Each entry was to have a passage and an explanation of why it was a good example of the given kind of descriptive writing.
  • Then in class, we discussed how to evaluate each entry (we decided on 10 points available for each entry-5 for the passage choice, 5 for the explanation).
  • The students collaborated on giving the medals to individual entries. No one judged an event in which they entered a passage. The judges posted their decision on the blog.
  • There was a brief and moving medal ceremony at which each judging group called up the winners for gold, silver, and bronze medals. There was cheering etc.
Judging team evaluating entries with scoring notes.

Judging team evaluating entries with scoring notes.

So, why was it better?

  • All students entered passages.
  • Even though everyone had to enter, they had choice about which events to enter.
  • Explaining the passage was added and important.
  • Students were involved in how to evaluate the entries.
  • Students actually did the evaluating. (And, this is the biggest bonus I think. There was a lot of discussion about this. In the end it was often the explanation that won someone the event.)
  • I did less and the students did more.
  • A lot more of the class time involved thinking, collaborating, and communicating. There was a lot less waiting around time.
  • There was more suspense, and everyone had a horse in the race.
  • There was cheering.
  • The winners were spread out across all sorts of people, without me engineering anything.
The medal ceremony. Note different height pedestals.

The medal ceremony. Note different height pedestals.

Medals all around!

Three Empty Boxes #1

cc licensed photo by z287marc

So, I’ve been thinking about what thinking outside the box about school, independent school in a very competitive market in particular, would look like.

I have no answers, and yet I really want in on this conversation. This is the kind of thinking that I LOVE to do. Plus, I love to brainstorm. I’m the person who makes a list of 5 new recipes to try when people are coming over. (Not everyone in my house thinks this is a good idea. And, it usually ends up being a new recipe.)

Don’t start getting worried about my school. We do so many great things. Maybe that’s what makes the conversation hard. Even so, I think that having that conversation would be interesting. Couldn’t such a conversation in an ongoing, semi-regular, informal, food-provided, sort-of way be inspiring and enthusiasm generating? Personally, I think it’s sometimes hard to get to the really super-duper ideas if you stick too close to the box. And, I fully understand that wandering away from the box creates the potential to come up with some real stinkers. But, just because one comes up with an idea doesn’t mean one has to use it.

If we’re just talking, isn’t that ok?

Is it just me?

Do other people think those are conversations worth having? Conversations that would be interesting to have?

Could having those far out conversations lead to us finding an entry point for something that isn’t so far out after all?

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.)

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

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.


Posted: June 6, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about how I haven’t been writing anything here. I don’t know what happened, except for a million things I had to do at home and school. Nothing out of the ordinary. Anyway, I have a bunch of posts partially written; a few more swimming around in my brain.

One of the things I’ve done recently is attend TEDxNYED. Here’s my photo to prove it. I took it from my seat in the auditorium of the Museum of the Moving Image. I went with a friend and colleague from school. We didn’t stay the whole time since we each had things we had to do later.

Anyway, it was exciting to be at a live event. And, it made me realize how much I appreciate time to think and process things. With one talk after another coming at you, it’s hard to take anything in. I took notes and on the ride back to PA my friend and I tried to review what each person talked about.

Even though it was too much to take in, I’m fascinated by the idea of doing something similar at my school. Wouldn’t it be great to hear from a range of teacher, students, staff in the community? I’m putting it on the list of things to do next year.


Read down a little and then imagine this scene with teachers (so more women) and better snacks and some comfortable chairs

So, I’ve been thinking about EduCon and conferences. EduCon is always in Philadelphia at SLA. I live in the area and can get there easily. So, even if not every session I attend is earth shattering, and really that is a lot to expect, it’s worth it to me for a number of reasons: ideas, interesting people, good conversations with people I don’t see everyday, short travel time.

I’ve been trying to read what others have written about their experiences at EduCon. Shelly Krause (@butwait) keeps an unoffical collection of blogger reflections here. There is a real range. Some people can’t get enough of it. Other attendees found the conference not different or ground breaking enough. Personally, I was looking for great conversations around what to do better and I found that in many (not all) sessions. I don’t think it’s that I had low expectations. I expected to hear some new ideas. I also expected to have to bring something to the discussion myself. The attendees at this conference are generally not people who haven’t done a lot of thinking already. The low hanging fruit is gone. If even half of the several hundred people in attendance could be truly innovative on command, the last weekend in January, in the midst of whichever dramatic weather Philadelphia is featuring this year, then the world would be a very different place.

I think I might feel differently if I were traveling a long way and paying lots of money. Last year I went to ISTE, which was also in Philadelphia. It’s not free, but my school covered registration and a little more for train tickets. So again, a no-brainer for me. However, this spring ISTE is in San Diego. So, let’s see– registration $, flight $$, hotel $$, food $, extra childcare and babysitting while I am gone $$. That’s approximately $$$$$$$$, which I could ask my school to help cover. However, as I was talking with Hadley Ferguson (@hadleyjf) about it she made some good point. First, it’s a lot of money (well, this was not new information, but she got more thoughtful as she went on). Second, she said that she didn’t need more ideas so much as to implement the ones she already had. Isn’t that the truth!

Let me be clear: I am sure I would find new and more ideas at ISTE this June. And yet, I haven’t even made sense or sifted through all the ones I got last year or ideas from the many edcamps I have attended. I have some ideas that I have been meaning to implement for a while. I got to thinking about what kind of PD I really need. Here’s what I decided.

I need the following:

  • Dedicated time, duh, and not an hour here or there, but a whole day or days.
  • To do some pre-sifting of ideas before this dedicated time begins.
  • A group of colleagues who want to meet and collaborate. A lot.
  • A space with good wifi, power sources, and proximity to food, water, and bathrooms.

Here’s my idea:

  • I don’t go to ISTE.
  • I do meet with some amazing, interesting, and interested teachers during that time.
  • We come with ideas that we want to evaluate and/or work up into units/lessons/game changing events.
  • We meet in groups and work on whatever projects grab us.
  • We meet some more and revise what we did.
  • We share this with whoever cares to listen/read.
  • Some of those ideas that we have so many of, turn into action.

Who’s in?

I’m thinking Phila area around the time of ISTE. I can work on a location. I have ideas a plenty and energy to commit. What can you contribute?


(Creative Commons licensed photo by Johanna Kollmann)

So, I’ve been thinking lately, but as my lack of posting here shows, I have not been writing about it. I could and have come up with all sorts of reasons, which I will not bore you with here.  Anyway, I decided to make a list of topics I would like to write about, if I could get myself going.  I love to make lists, which is a post for another day.

But, here’s what happened. A lot of the things I would really like to write about didn’t seem like a good ideas once I took into account the whole “public” part of blogging. I have to say here that I am probably more cautious in this area than many. I have read many interesting blog posts by educators that I would not have been comfortable writing. These were not posts that were insulting or offensive.

I’m not sure how much the public/private school thing impacts this discussion. I, like the vast majority of teachers in independent schools, have a year-to-year contract; I am no longer a member of union as I was when I taught in the Chicago Public School system.  I teach in a competitive independent school market where there are a number of top-notch schools competing for students. If any school’s enrollment goes down because they cannot attract students then there go the jobs. I know that I am completely foolish to write assuming that no one will see it. First of all, I used my name so that it would be more public on purpose and so that I would not be fooled into thinking that I could actually be anonymous anyway. Plus, I know for certain that at least a few of my current class’ parents have seen my blog.

As I said, I have a low tolerance for airing laundry of any variety, unless it’s real laundry, in which case I hang it all outside and my neighbors are welcome to see what color underwear we wear at our house. When I started writing this blog I wanted to write about more than just my classroom.  I was not looking to chronicle the  days and weeks of 5E. There are plenty of things that go on in my room that I am happy to relay to the masses my one or two readers. There are even plenty of mistakes that I have made that I have and would freely share. Where I am having second thoughts is in just those bigger issues that I was interested in from the start.

Here is a list of some topics that I have seen others write that I would be uncomfortable with:

  • Ideas about administration reorganization
  • Thoughts on how to maintain interest in teaching the same thing
  • Opinions about the requirement or lack there of for teachers to use technology
  • Teacher evaluation
  • Teacher pay
  • Teacher evaluation and its connection to teacher pay
  • Ideas about balancing supporting students and honestly reporting progress
  • Administration’s balance of supporting teachers and parents
  • Teacher frustration with student interest level

I may not be as young as I used to be, but it’s not as if I’m about to retire anytime soon. I like and need my job. I am in no way looking to go down in a blaze of any sort. So, I guess I’m wondering what other people think? How cautious are you, would you be, or recommend me to be?

So, I’ve been thinking about conversations I do or don’t have with my students. Two events got me thinking about this.

First, I was at school a few Saturdays ago for an open house event. This year there were a number of 5th graders there too. They were adding a student perspective, which I thought went well. Anyway, I had a 5th grader in my room as we waited for the tour groups to come by. We had quite a bit of time to chat. This student is not in my section and so I don’t teach her directly. Well, we had such a nice conversation. It began with movies, turned to books, then desserts, and finally candy. There was a little horseback riding talk in there too. How great to get a chance to know this students.

Second, my daughter had a friend over last Friday for a sleep over. (It was almost just an over as there was very little sleeping. I personally believe that no one needs to be playing with LEGO at 5 am, but that’s just me.) Anyway, my daughter and her friend are in 3rd grade and are both pretty good readers, meaning that they are reading some of the things that I read with my fifth graders or that I read to keep up with the fifth graders, though I am sure with a different level of sophistication. We had a lovely conversation over spaghetti about the books we have read recently. We each had some to suggest to someone else. We compared Harry Potter to Percy Jackson. (FYI, the girls thought Percy Jackson was a better series, due to Harry Potter’s frustrating perfection! My daughter and I are recommending Project Mulberry. I also suggested Cosmic.) Everyone was excited and enthusiastic.

Last Conversation Piece

cc flickr photo by Cliff1066

These two events got me thinking about the conversations I could have with my students. I would love to be able to have such intimate conversations with them. We began this process of getting to know each other with our 5E Identity day and students are blogging about topics of their choosing, but after the two conversations I just described I am reminded it’s time to pick up the conversation. Of course, there would have to be many more topics of discussion as not everyone wants to talk about books. I’m fine with that. As I think about my students, I suspect I would need to brush up on some sports stats, a bit about Mars, construction practices, swimming, and geology for a start. I’m ready for yoga, skiing, horseback riding, eggs, art, dessert, books, and general sports.

Now, how to make it happen? I am really committed to this. Thinking about how to work the schedule, I’ve always got the option of small lunch gatherings in the room. Hmmm. The wheels are turning, the smoke is coming out of my ears. I’ll keep you posted.

Any ideas on logistics are more than welcome.