Undetected and Undernourished

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visualspatial

Some of you have asked why I have been absent from Twitter chats, reading & responding to favorite blogs and why I’m not as visible on other social media outlets. It has been a difficult school year for my children. After working a full day, I come home to assist my children with their learning. Sometimes I’m reteaching material and other times I’m assisting them with numerous worksheet packets, test prep sheets, and endless amount of homework. That being said, I thought I would give you a glimpse of what our school year has been like. Please no negative comments. Instead, words of encouragement and support for Sophie would be much appreciated. Thank you ūüôā

I hear sobbing from her bedroom again. I hesitate to knock on the door. I know what she is crying about. A lump forms in my throat. My eyes well up. My heart is heavy. I sigh. I take a moment before I knock and ask to enter her room.

14368655_10211563700554859_2999918388971433763_nMy daughter, Sophia (#Sophiegirl) is my heart. She is my mini me. She has smiled and laughed every day of her life. She is our comedienne, our creative artist, and our resident athlete. It’s beyond difficult to see her so upset.

After numerous days and hours studying, memorizing rules and formulas for a math test, Sophie scored a 50%.

Sophie is a hands-on, creative, and visual learner. She is a thinker, “a doer”; she sees things differently. Every year we discuss her learning style with her teachers. We discuss how Sophie needs to make connections with what she is learning; her assignments need to be meaningful. Sophie doesn’t learn like other students in her 6th grade classroom; she does not learn in a linear way. She learns through creating, manipulating and questioning. She is passionate and curious about many things, and needs to express it. She likes a challenge. She likes to figure things out on her own. She is not accustomed to memorizing lengthy test prep sheets. In our home, my children know that learning is not memorizing facts. In our home, learning is anything but memorizing.

Once again, she had 3 days to study and to complete problems from a xeroxed math packet. Her anxiety and nerves were on HIGH alert. She put forth the effort and did not receive the success she was hoping for. Once again, we will reach out to her teacher, asking for assistance.

As I entered her room, I saw her on her iPad. Her eyes red, her cheeks tear stained. Her nose runny. She moved over and invited me onto her bed.

“You okay?” I asked.

She stared intensely at the screen, her eyes becoming moist. She bit her bottom lip (just like her mama) and nodded.

“Did you see my test?”, Sophie asked. “I told you, I’m just not good at math.”

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“I’m re-designing my house. I thought I would add more organized closet space as well as a more detailed laundry room with shelves and a counter. I’m just having a hard time with the measurement, but I think I figured it out.” she said.

As she showed me her creation on a home design app. She discussed how she needed to increase the dimensions of the rooms, which also increased the area of her house. The additional square footage would also mean an upgrade in the heating and cooling system. In the laundry room, she had chosen a plywood based counter but realized it would not be strong enough for the weight of a slab of marble. So, she made the decision to cut into her budget once again, to purchase a solid wood counter. She continued on about her designs, her budget, her measurements, the functionality and proportions of the space.

 


I sat there a bit dumbfounded. She has such an understanding of design, working within a budget, measuring and proportions. So many math concepts. She learned this all on her own. Why are we still drilling and killing our learners in math? Why hasn’t the xeroxed math packet died? Will her teacher ever realize her potential?

Sophie is a visual spatial learner. These learners think in pictures rather than in words and learn differently than auditory and sequential learners. They learn all-at-once, visually and creatively. When the “a-ha” moment happens, the learning is permanent. Visual spatial learners do not learn from repetition, or the dreaded “drill and skill” methods that we see in classrooms. They need to see the big picture first before they learn about the details. They are also non-linear, and do not learn in a step-by-step manner. The fact is, most teachers today, teach in their own learning style. As adults, this tends to mostly be an auditory, and sequential modality.

Success in today’s schools still depends upon a learner memorizing facts, handing in assignments, following directions and having fast recall. These auditory sequential skills are actually limiting the potential of all students to be successful, and gain employment in today‚Äôs world.

Great teachers appreciate that no two students are alike and great teachers recognize differences among students due to readiness, interests, and learning styles. Many teachers try very hard to accommodate the various learning styles of their students, but this can be an overwhelming task, as some of the learning styles inventories and models are quite complicated. We live in an age where multi-modal approaches to teaching and learning are absolutely necessary for our learners’ success. Students need opportunities to engage in mastering concepts and skills by creating, exploring and working with hands on materials and integrated technology.

I know someday, Sophie will be a phenomenal architect and she will meet a teacher who will appreciate her way of thinking. Some day, her gifts will be acknowledged and celebrated. And someday, learning math and studying for a math test will not mean completing problems from a math packet.

Hang in there #Sophiegirl, we’re working on it.

 

 

 

 

Has Tech Replaced Play As We Knew It?

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Christmas break is a time for my family to reconnect. We like to do this by choosing a series to watch. This year we chose The Goldbergs. This sitcom focuses on the Goldberg family and their life in 1980s. My children have a fascination with the 80s. They ask about historical moments, 80s pop culture (you danced on cardboard?), fashion (why would you wear parachute pants?) and often will ask to listen to music by Michael Jackson, Journey and Def Leppard. But nothing surprised and shocked them more than a Goldberg episode on how we played in the 80s.

In the episode, the middle child Barry and his younger brother Adam, made up a game called “Ball Ball”. The object of the game is to block your opponents score using every body part imaginable. However if your opponent does score, the game is over and they receive the “Ball Ball” trophy cup with their name and date written on it. My children were flabbergasted.

“Why are they playing this?”

“They look like barbarians!”

“Don’t they have games to play? I know they have Nintendo. Why would they make up such a dumb game? What’s the point?”

Their criticism led me to think about today’s child, their toys and their playtime. As toys change, has play itself fundamentally changed?¬†For that matter, does the early attachment to grown-up toys… iPhones, iPads, laptops… in some way shorten the imaginative world of childhood?

Play during my childhood was filled with imagination, outdoor adventure and creativity. I remember building my own Barbie dream house out of shoe boxes and transforming spools of thread into chairs, and using peanut butter lids and thimbles as coffee tables. I remember our neighborhood roller skating shows. We would create simple costumes, bring out our boom boxes and put on a roller skating dance show that was judged by the neighborhood kids. The “winner” was the next judge. Simple wholesome fun.¬†Children of the 80’s were their own source of entertainment. Even now, I can create a fun game out of just about anything! But, can my kids?

My children rely on their tech toys and devices for entertainment; TV, ¬†iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, desktops, and the X-Box One. As I observed them over holiday break, they would go from one device to the other, to a tech toy, and back to a device. This upset me greatly, so…I created a new game. I proposed the Device Free Challenge (a DFC day). One day, no devices of any sort, and find something to entertain yourself. A day of creation, imagination and reconnecting with each other.

The resistance came early.

“Can we talk about this?” Gabriel, our oldest child pleaded.

“No”, I replied.

It was 8:30am. We were at the breakfast table and had just told the children that we were not allowing any tech devices for the day. Nothing. They needed to hand over their iPods, iPads, iPhones by 9am. There was to be no TV, no computers, and no video games. Sarah, our youngest, began to cry. Sophia, our middle child, sat there stunned.

“May I please say my peace?” Gabe shot back.

“Sure”, I said.

Gabe began explaining to me how his generation was practically born with a device in their hands. He went on to say how he remembered being 6 and playing with his dad’s iPhone and how even little Sarah was younger and played with the iPad. How these devices assist in problem solving, reading, writing, (“yes, texting is writing mom”) and math exploration. On his iPhone he can blog, any time he is inspired. On Sophie’s iPod she can design music videos on musical.ly and even Sarah can create her own worlds on Roblox.

“These devices are a part of our lives and have sparked our imagination and creativity in a non-traditional way. Why cant you see that?” he pleaded.

Gabe continued to discus how a device free day is unconstitutional, un-American and will result in serious side effects for them all.

“Nice try, my friend”, I said with a smile.

thisMy kids began their day reading. Each had new books from our local B&N for the holidays. A few hours later, they played card games. They started playing bullshit (a favorite), then moved onto war, then onto rummy. I announced that I was making cookies in the kitchen, they each came in looking to help. They sat at the island, handed each other the ingredients, stirred,  poured, measured, laughed, and joked the whole time. After some cookies they moved on to wrestling, tag, hide and seek and poke your sibling until they scream.

While folding laundry, their creativity and imagination kicked in. A game of sock-o-dunk was born. The object of the game…simple; try and shoot a pair of socks into the laundry basket while your opponent moves the basket and fakes you out. As Sophie, our resident athlete said,

“It’s all about predicting where your opponent will move that laundry basket next, you gotta plan ahead.”

They played “sock-o-dunk” for quite some time. I was happy to see them enjoying a simple game of fake out. It may not have been the best day. There were some “I’m bored moments”, but it was a really good day. A day without checking a screen and hearing a buzzing alert. It was a day to reconnect, talk, laugh, joke and make memories. And it proved to me and to my kids that old-fashioned play…without tech…will not result in any side affects.

 

 

 

 

Small Packages Lead to Great Innovation

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“There’s so many pieces of candy to choose from!” Sarah said excitedly. “I’m not sure what to pick! I’m getting all confused!”

Every new school year I try to incorporate a new idea, unit, tech tool…something…into my lessons. I’ve realized that for me and my teaching…new is a must, I am not a rinse and repeat teacher; I like taking risks.

This year I signed up for George Couros’ Innovators Mindset #IMMOOC course. I had constructed a unit over the summer, Creativation, and thought the course would be a perfect opportunity to try out my unit.

My inquiry based unit infused DeBono’s ¬†Six Thinking Hats¬†method to assist learners in a debonohatsgreater understanding of their critical thinking and problem solving skills. When I studied DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats in college, I automatically connected with it. I am a thinker. I use these hats when putting forth an idea or discussing a concept. Naturally, my lessons and created units emulate this as well. By using this model, it will require my learners to look at a problem with different types of thinking. ¬†Each type of thinking is represented with a hat color, and at the end of the discussion, learners should have a better understanding of the problem from different approaches in order to reach a highly creative and innovative solution.

My unit revolved around issues, dilemmas and problems that would arise from my children’s everyday life. For example, my daughter Sarah continues to get monkey bar callouses; how can we construct monkey bars to alleviate this? Change the design or add a garment to wear? The assessments were formulated, the lessons were constructed, the materials were gathered and made, and I felt confident in my plan. I was pumped…then the #IMMOOC course started.

When George Couros does something…he does it BIG. Go BIG or Go Home must be his motto. There were over a thousand people signed up for the #IMMOOC course. He also had assistance from Katie Martin, a passionate educator and Director of Professional Learning at the University of San Diego. I signed up to every #IMMOOC ¬†Facebook page and even an #IMMOOC group on Voxer. I received constant updates about the course and various challenges from George and Katie. The highlight was tuning into their #IMMOOC YouTube channel for guest interviews, words of encouragement and ideas.

There were a plethora of ideas. Ideas were coming at me so fast, and so furiously, my head was spinning. I was reading blogs, watching the videos and listening to other’s ideas on Voxer. The more ideas I came into contact with, the more I doubted my own unit and plan. The more I read, the more confused I became. This confusion led to more doubt. The more I doubted, the more I hesitated to proceed. The more I hesitated, the more I began to think and re-think my work.

athis My question then became, can large group collaboration hinder innovation?

When innovating, is it best to innovate independently at the start, then after some time, bring forth ideas to a small group of others?

Is there something to be said about innovation and small group work?

When I think of innovation, I naturally think of Steve Jobs. ¬†Many see him as an inventor, however I do not. He began with an idea to make something better, and from that idea, asked others to assist with his product.¬†He didn’t invent the technology for his products, but he found ways to use the inventions of others to bring forth innovation that could benefit everyone. He worked independently at the start, then consulted with his tribe. Does innovation have an independent side?

I greatly enjoy the podcast, Coaching For Leaders with¬†Dave Stachowiak. In his post, “This One Process Change Will Drive Innovation“, he mentions how beneficial it can be for participants to brainstorm independently, and then (after a few days) release their ideas to a small group. He continues to say that there is less immediate judgement; that everyone’s ideas are heard and discussed. Because of this, there are more diverse contributions. There isn’t a “run with this one idea and leave the rest behind” moment. All ideas are considered.There are many avenues, but one main road to focus on.

As I continue to reflect on the #IMMOOC, I realize I became lost. There were so many wonderful ideas and interesting viewpoints, I could not keep up with them all. As a learner, I was overwhelmed; hence my lack of participation in the course. My take away is simple; innovation needs collaboration, but in small doses. This small group needs independent time to think, brainstorm, and construct ideas. Once all ideas are presented, that small group can elaborate, and even collaborate with other sub-groups, before¬†considering all input and¬†choosing a clear path. It’s difficult to state an idea, have hundreds of others add to it, then know what direction to go. I will continue on with my unit. I will ensure my learners have independent time to brainstorm and reflect, as well as contribute to their small collaborative group.

This #IMMOOC course gave me a better understanding of the importance of collaboration and innovation. It helped me to understand that great innovation comes in small packages.

 

 

 

 

Grow Their Brain

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How do you grow a brain? It’s Saturday morning and I’m deep in thought. I’m revising a growth mindset unit for the following week. After 18 years, I still begrudgingly work on Saturdays.¬†Why is it that teachers don’t like to write lesson plans, but like to be prepared?

This week was the kick off to our¬†Growth Mindset unit.¬†¬†This inquiry based mini unit focuses on praise, empathy, grit, risk taking, reflection and feedback. It also includes collaborative projects and team building activities. ¬†My learners become familiar with Kid President Pep Talk videos and his words of wisdom and encouragement. It will also be the foundation for our creativity and innovation (creativation) sessions for George Couros‘, The Innovator’s Mindset Online Course #IMMOOC.

Why begin our innovation course with Growth Mindset?

Well, I think about a fixed mindset and growth mindset this way: If teachers or learners subscribe to a common belief that things are good…right here, right now…and not progress forward in any way, the result will be, okay at best (fixed mindset). This way of thinking will most likely not produce anything innovative. If teachers and learners think freely, embrace change (rather than the status quo) they are more likely to create environments that produce risk taking and creative solutions. In other words, a growth mindset will lead to innovative solutions.

When it comes to innovation, I feel a fixed mindset will squash creativity. If my gifted and talented learners believe their innate skills and their current level of intelligence is what helps them succeed, they will fail to recognize the power of continuous learning. They will fail to recognize what they may become.

Can we change a learner’s mindset? How can we best cultivate, nurture and operate a growth mindset within our classroom of learners to drive innovation?

I enjoy constructing units of study. My previous school district did not have a “textbook series” for Language Arts, Social Studies, or Math, when I first started teaching 1st grade, 15 years ago. Our lessons reflected best practices, our learners interests, and each individual teacher’s unique style. They were authentic and real. It’s easy to ditch a textbook, when you never relied on one.

This Growth Mindset unit is called “Growing Our Brain” and it begins with a mini lesson which focuses on the impact of praise.¬†We discuss what praise is, why we give it, what phrases we’ve heard, and how it feels when we work hard on something and then DON’T receive praise. You know, you put your blood, sweat and tears into a project and your work is over looked. OUCH.

As we were discussing this, the conversation turned towards failure and how our learners deal with it. So, I shared two quotes about failure, one from Michael Jordan and one from Thomas Alva Edison. I asked my learners to analyze and interpret these quotes. Some wrote down their ideas, others struck up a conversation. When their responses began to sound similar (they’re about not giving up); I asked them to go deeper, and use their critical thinking skills. I waited patiently. Then, a learner’s profound statement came. He said…

“If we keep trying, and keep trying, and don’t stop trying then we don’t fail. We don’t fail because we’re still trying…we’re still working it out! Failure is when we stop, when we give up. We gotta keep going. Don’t let failure win.”

~ 3rd Grade learner, G&T, Commonwealth Charter Academy

Whoa. My learners “get it”. They understand an important part of Growth Mindset is grit and perseverance. It’s about the process, and sticking with the problem until they figure it out. They begin to understand that their “giftedness” is not so much an innate ability they have, but they can grow their intelligence, continuing their learning. Challenges and working through them will grow their brain. Most importantly, they realize they can succeed in areas that they don’t feel strongly in. They just need to stick with it and grow their brain.

How do you help your students grow their brain? What foundation will you lay for your learners to innovate? How will you do this? Will you adopt a growth mindset? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation Is A Hot Mess

 

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Every September this working mom feels like a hot mess. Unfortunately, the start of the school year is always busy for our family. I have three very adorable, very active kids. I teach all day and I drive home to do the after school activity shuffle. Each day, my home gets messier and messier.

One day, I was home in our office thinking about innovation in my virtual classroom. ¬†I have read George Couros‘ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, a few times. It’s phenomenal and I can not encourage teachers enough to get the book, read it, and share your thoughts. I have also signed up for his online course that mirrors the ideas in the book. My next few blog posts will reflect how I will be incorporating my innovation sessions (Creativation) into my virtual lessons. Yes, I ¬†have a plan…I think!

For those of you who may not know,¬†I am a cyber teacher. I teach learners online and throughout the year invite them to our family learning center. ¬†I feel I innovate everyday as a cyber educator. I work with some amazing teachers, true innovators and educational pioneers; they are finding ways to enhance learning in a non-traditional school…everyday. No, there are no “how to teach the online learner” books out there, nothing to help us (Dave Burgess, you listening?). We focus on pedagogy and best practices just like every teacher out there, but we do it online. I feel we are at the fore-front of providing rich, thought provoking, innovative lessons to all learners regardless of where they live (inner city, rural, suburbia) in the state of Pennsylvania.

As I look around our messy home office, strewn with back to school calendars, sport forms and paper work, the questions begin to swirl around in my head…

What conditions are ideal for creative innovation?

How important is the working environment to innovation?

Are there ready made barriers in classrooms or cyber rooms that could discourage students and impede innovation?

All of my learners are home schooled and each of their home environments’ are different. Some live in more urban areas, in small apartments, others may live in homes or on¬†rural¬†farms. Will one environment provide a better platform for creative innovation than another?

When I think about my gifted and talented class and our innovation sessions, I don’t worry so much about the actual virtual room environment. We see each other via webcams, they talk and interact with one another.Our relationships are strong. We have breakout rooms that provide a small group setting for collaboration and individual work. I know many learners feel comfortable, eager to participate in our lessons and hungry to learn. However, I know some will have difficulty with risk taking. I know many will struggle with multiple solutions. “Is this right?” they will ask. Most gifted and talented learners struggle with growth mindset. Some learners will have a hard time with the amount of freedom to innovate. I am anticipating some sort of issue with generating ideas and being open to others ideas. I have not thought about their physical working environment and it’s possible impact in regards to innovativeness.

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This quote speaks to me and makes me wonder. Could the environment we’re in, lead to more innovative ideas? ¬†I‚Äôve never been a fan of having an extremely messy desk or house, but I‚Äôm starting to think I might need to leave it messy more often. It may be time to test this theory. What conditions will you have in place for your learners to innovate? ¬†Will you be changing your physical working environment for learners during your innovation sessions? How? Why?

Going Bananas Over Apps

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This summer was an extremely hot one. Often times the heat index surpassed the 100¬ļ mark. It was almost as hot as the Pok√©mon Go app that came out in early July. I remember being at Sunset Beach, NC with¬†my family,¬†as my children and their friends were playing it. They were trying to find and capture Pikachus, wandering throughout our complex, glued to their iPhone screens. They stumbled over curbs, bumped into people, and were even honked at by passing cars.

A day later, the Twitter buzz on how to bring Pok√©mon Go into the classroom developed. Before I knew it, there were numerous Twitter Educational Chats and blogs on enhancing units of study with the game. I even tweeted an article¬†about it. As I look back on it, I cringe a bit. I usually don’t jump on the bandwagon so quickly. I¬†am the fish that swims up stream. I like to question, and want to feel confident in what I am putting out there to my followers. As a cyber educator, I am not skeptical in using apps as learning tools. I use quite a few to enhance learning in my cyber classroom. I’m skeptical in an educator’s need to rush into using them. I have so many questions surrounding the benefits of using the latest app phenomena into a learning environment.

Why do we as educators feel the need to rush into incorporating “the latest app” into our learning?

Are teachers over eager, latching onto the newest apps, for that tiniest sliver of learning, or for an easy connection to their learners?

Is it about the learner or the app?

Are we robbing children of owning something for themselves?

When I look at the numerous apps my own children use (Instagram, Snapchat, PokemonGo, Musical.ly), I can’t help but think that we may be robbing them of the joy of exploration, discovery and ownership. I have seen it with my own children. My daughter Sophia greatly enjoys the arts. As¬†Ms. Creativity,¬†she thinks creatively, and sees things differently. She has even created her own line of plant based lip gloss for teens, infused with vitamins (lip gloss with raspberry juice, and hardened coconut oil). Sophia always finds the next hip app and creates something amazing with it. Musical.ly is an app she greatly enjoys at the moment. She loves to make music videos.When I asked her what app it was and if I could join in, she said, “Mooooom, really? Can’t this just be my thing?” Her comments¬†sounded so similar to my own youth, when my teachers would try to impress a class by reciting lyrics from a popular song. Some learners thought it was cool. But it made us want to find a “new” song because we didn’t like them in “our territory”. We didn’t want our “coolness” to be associated or connected to our teacher or any adult for that matter.

If we as educators rush to incorporate the next best thing, are we robbing our learners of their youthful identity just because we as educators are struggling to reach them?

I feel our learners need an identity. We as teachers don’t need to poach every single thing kids like and try to use it for learning. I think the older the learner gets, the less receptive they are of us, as educators,¬†hijacking their interests. In all honesty, I’m not sure Pokemon Go is the future of learning. The idea of using it in the classroom is still focused around finding things, not around powerful learning ideas, and being empathetic to student needs. Learners need personal connections, more than another learning fad.

The use of Pokémon Go as a learning tool has died down tremendously. I am sure that there will be another new and exciting app around the corner, waiting to be hailed as the next latest and greatest learning tool. As I write this though, I still have many questions surrounding the use of apps in learning. Are we personally experimenting with these new apps, trying to find the connection and relevance of bringing it to our learners?  How do you know which one will be the right one for your classroom environment? Enlighten me. What are your thoughts?