Wisdom and Wonder

Been thinking a lot lately about my years as a Kindergarten teacher.

Saw a tweet the other day that said something like, “We could learn a lot from watching a great Kindergarten teacher.”

Used to have this poem on my classroom door:

All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

– by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned:

    • Share everything.
    • Play fair.
    • Don’t hit people.
    • Put things back where you found them.
    • Clean up your own mess.
    • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
    • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
    • Wash your hands before you eat.
    • Flush.
    • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
    • Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.
    • Take a nap every afternoon.
    • When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
    • Be aware of wonder.
    • Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
    • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK . Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

I just keep thinking we’ve lost sight of the goal of school–and that, for me, is to support students becoming self-reliant, independent learners who care about themselves, others, and the world and who will “always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes.”

“Wisdom was not on the top of the graduate school mountain.” Is it in our schools today?

“Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.” Is this Google’s 80/20 philosophy? Is it Gardner’s multiple intelligences?  Is it learning styles? Does it matter what we call it as long as we provide out students opportunities to “draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day“?

“Be aware of wonder.” Do we even provide time for this in our classrooms? I remember little ones bringing me four leaf clovers.  I remember painting ice in the winter with food colored water and seeing the delight in the faces around me as they squirted the bottles I had so meticulously saved. Do kids have time to even look for clovers in the 10 minutes of recess the state defines? Do they have time in their day for wonder?

I wonder: Why do I teach?  Why am I still in this job after 35 years?  Why do kids like my classroom better than some others?  Why do they find it a “safe haven” in a relatively benign school building? What do I do–what do I teach–how do I talk to kid that makes them want to be in my room? What are my goals for them while they are in there?

For me, the curriculum of factoids comes last–because the big ideas in our core content areas are more important for students to understand than who rode a horse shouting “The British are coming, the British are coming!” WHY was someone shouting that?  What difference did it make? Who cared and why did they care?

For me, it’s not about totally unfettered learning, or completely student- directed learning, but tying student’s prior understandings and experiences to some common springboards. And I believe those springboards should help our next generation tie history and math and science to their world in meaningful ways that help them make sense of their lives and build ideas for the future–for their next generation.

And while it’s not about preparing them for their future world of work, for me, it is sort of, in really important ways.  We should teach our children to live their lives today so that they can make informed choices in the future–so that they have understandings of MANY areas of study and can find-or share-the things that ignite their love of learning and fire for exploration. We should teach our children about the choices they have and give them practice making choices in our classrooms so they can learn how to evaluate their choices to get better at making wise decisions.

For me, it’s about supporting our students to become wise–to think before they act, to look at issues from many perspectives and always listen to learn before responding. It’s about helping students understand themselves and how they learn best; helping them understand social code switching and developing the social skills necessary to get along with all others.

It’s about understanding differences and similarities–and honoring both.  It’s about supporting each other and sharing and celebrating and creating rituals that mean something to the group.  It’s about building relationships of trust and caring that transcend the factoids and instead move to deep understanding and thoughts and questions and challenges that help us all grow and change as we work together and support each other’s independence and interdependence.

And, for me, it IS still true:  “no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

Framing Your Environment

A while back someone asked this question on Twitter:

How do you frame your environment with resources to help students learn? Is it an enabling environment? What does it enable students to do?

Other times, I have seen people asking:

How do we arrange our classrooms or what kind of physical spaces do learners of today need?

In thinking about the optimal environment for learning, I am not sure we need to be thinking physical spaces. In fact, Will Richardson states, in the blog, A New Era Of Learning.

In networked, global classrooms, we learn in ways that physical-space classrooms can’t offer. We’re self-directed, inquiry- and passion-based learners who are finding our own teachers and classmates, writing our own curriculum, and learning anytime, anywhere, with anyone. It’s a learning environment that looks little like what happens in physical space classrooms

I’m thinking we need to be talking and working with the emotional environment–about the trust and support we seek out and provide ourselves for our own learning opportunities, and how we do that.

Look at these two examples from adults about the power of the people with whom they interact and what they count on in those interactions:

The Follis Files–space for a newish teacher to collect and reflect and, Tania Sheko’s Brave New World.

Will has recently been writing and sharing about Allan Collins’ and Richard Halverson’s new book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology. He describes how they note that access to technology has the potential to change education as we know it.

They frame a compelling case that we are entering a third era of learning, one of lifelong learning that is replacing universal schooling, which replaced apprenticeship. And they argue that the “seeds of a new education system” are already taking root, one that builds on the potential of technology that will ultimately leave schools with a “narrower role” in learning.

Will goes on to cite Collins and Halverson as suggesting that

despite the growth of access to technology in classrooms over the last 10 years, schools rarely allow technology’s transformative potential out of the box. In general, schools either condemn the technology, focusing on risks rather than rewards, or they co-opt it, using it in ways that leave fundamental curriculum and pedagogy unchanged, or, finally, they marginalize it, allowing teachers to create “boutique” programs but never changing “the very fabric of education.”

I agree. I think we have so underutilized the potential of the technology in our classrooms–sometimes because we simply can’t think out of the box, sometimes because we don’t know what will happen and perhaps are afraid (or unwilling) to lose that control, sometimes because the network or computer isn’t set up to be user friendly, and part of it may be that people don’t have a picture in their minds as to how it could work or could look. Not only have we not used technology to transform education,I think many of us haven’t opened up our schools, our classrooms and our own minds to transformational learning in any kind of structured way, so that we can begin painting those pictures for ourselves and others. We have absolutely got to start having the open conversations mentioned here, and open our minds to transformational learning for ourselves, sharing how we go about that–then think how we can support our students in building those experiences.

Perhaps all teachers should experience unfettered learning…perhaps all teachers should decide upon something to learn and design their own assessment and develop their own path instead of following the “one size fits all” PD lemmings.  How well would this go over with your teachers, principals, and school boards?  If we don’t have confidence our adults can do this AND our adults don’t have experience doing it, how can we possibly move in that direction with students? Teachers have been conditioned to rely on someone else (principal or district) to provide PD when, in reality, we should and could provide our own.  Maybe it’s less about a “digital divide” and more about a “learning divide.”

Will speaks to that equity issue in his blog post as well, citing,

older students will be more and more able to carve out their own educational experiences, whether these are online classes, games, technical certification programs, or something else. Halverson and Collins warn that this raises huge concerns around equity and social behavior.

How are you framing YOUR learning environment? How do you do it for your students?  is it equitable?  is it equitable in a transformative way?


Standards Matter, But Kids Matter More–And Passionate Educators Make a Difference!

It’s that time of year. We’re entering the last quarter in US schools and that means standardized testing is taking over the classrooms and dreams–or nightmares–of many teachers and students. So many times, we go about that test prep all the wrong way. Sometimes, though, drastic measures are needed. I’d love to hear your comments on the drastic measures noted below.

I’ll never forget being in an at-risk school and the fifth grade teacher leaving mid-year–(his wife got a job elsewhere, so he had to follow. I love that story!) The principal asked if I would leave my “gifted technology teacher” job to go into fifth grade and teach the rest of the year.  I agreed, and we decided to departmentalize so I taught math and social studies and my partner teacher taught science and reading.

When the kids came back  from winter break in January, we assessed the heck out of them with practice tests to see where we were.  It was dismal. As I remember, the results showed that we could expect fewer than than 50% potential passing students in all areas. SO, we went to work.  The other teacher, Jennifer Morgan, and I knew we had to get the kids to believe in themselves–so our first job was to show them the data and convince them they COULD do it. These kids had had repeated years of failure and felt school was a place to survive–not enjoy or learn from.

We met with them and explained how the SOL tests worked, what a distractor was, and told them we would not only be working on test-taking skills with them, but also that we would make sure they learned the content. We wanted them to be confident going into the tests, and  we told them that we were sure they would blow the top off the tests.  (This was in a school where not one class before had ever met the standard score needed for AYP.) In fact, I was blown away when we (the principal, and both of us teachers) first met with the whole group and explained our plan and  Bobby asked, “Why do you think we can do it? My brother says any kids who have been here are stupid.”

Our response was to talk about the difference between effort and luck and help them understand that it was effort that would get us over the hump of not reaching our goals.  We spoke to the importance of believing in yourself and trying your hardest.  We told them we would NOT wish them good luck the day of the test, because it is not an issue of luck, but hard work and determination. AND, we told them we would be with them each and every step of the way helping them and supporting them.

We began by showing them their math test data and have THEM analyze it for the standards they didn’t know. Each child had a folder with the SOL standards in the front with the standards they needed to work on highlighted.  Bobby had skipped items on the test–the principal sat down with him and showed that if he had answered them, PURELY GUESSING, his score rose 4 points–so he clearly got that he needed to answer each and every question–and he became our evangelist for that test-taking skill.

Jennifer and I made up a system we called “SOL Points” where kids got points for participating in extra work on content, emphasizing  to the kids it was the effort that counted. (Extra work counted things like making posters to put in the hallways so others kids saw them and that reinforced content, attending extra work sessions, reading books at home, being on time with homework and correctly doing the daily “do nows”, etc.) Each child had a folder where we DAILY reported to parents the behavior in class-and the students self-rated their effort. The goal was 100 points in a short amount of time to earn a special field trip to be determined by the students.  (In the end they chose a walking tour of our downtown mall–as many of these kids had little experience with traveling outside of their rural area.)

We offered OPEN after-school tutoring twice a week, and almost EVERY student chose to come, so we had groups of 20 kids for tutoring. We scaffolded the kids every way we could to help them understand they WERE learning and they WERE going to succeed–that their hard work was paying off.  We–all of the teachers–SPED, Guidance, Title 1 teachers, gym teachers, librarian, everyone in the building–worked to help this group of kids understand they were smart, they could do it and they just needed to work hard and believe in themselves. We integrated skills whenever we could, teaching stem and leaf plots through looking at test scores of the class- so the group could see them rising.

Jennifer had the kids practice reading skills with science texts.  We used Virginia Pathways to teach the history standards, having them do history like historians do. We used hands on materials to teach measurement–we compared bags of candy weighed in ounces and grams, and used students from the University of Virginia to help with the groups so they had more individual support and attention.

Our Central Office Science facilitator, Chuck Pace, and our County tech support person, Becky Fisher, came out to do “gym science” once a week during their gym time.  Our gym teacher did brain gym exercises with them during this time to help them attend to the hands on stuff Chuck and Becky led them through. Our county math people came out and targeted specific skills with individual kids as the test came near that still hadn’t gotten the skill–they literally pulled kids throughout the day and worked one on one or in small groups on the patterns, functions and algebra strand.

During lunch, I offered read aloud time–to share one of MY passions, so over half the fifth grade came to my room each day to eat their lunch as they listened to me read picture books and share great literature on my document camera–they loved hearing stories they hadn’t heard before, especially as I shared stories of my love for these books. We read Ghost Cadet during our study of the Civil War and took them to the New Market Battlefield–and an anonymous donor bought each child their own “Cadet Kit.” An observer would have thought they were given gold–but that kit was simply part of the power of the community we were building.

It was an amazing 5 months–and then May came with all the glory of the tests. Our kids WERE  confident.  They DID know it–and they did pass the test well enough so that our school earned AYP for the first time.

More importantly though, the passion we had–all of the adults involved–showed these students that we thought it was important for them to learn.  It was crucial for them to believe in themselves as we believed in them.

The scores were amazing–in the high eighties and even one in the low nineties as I recall.   Even more incredible, though, were some anomalies we found.

I had a Hispanic kid who was identified for Title 1 services–after working with her a short time, I pulled her OUT of title 1 and two months later she was identified gifted.  I did a spot check through our student information system on some of these kids and she is in 11th grade now, in Adv. German, AP Language and Composition, Honors Calculus, Honors Physics, and taking History at our local community college.

Our resident jokester–whose sense of humor often got in the way of learning–is now in Adv. History, Adv Chemistry, adv. College Algebra and Trig, Adv. German and Honors English.

A quiet girl who just KNEW she would never succeed at this is currently in Adv. History, Adv. Chemistry, Adv. German and Honors English.

Another girl is in Adv History, taking nursing at CATEC, and is also studying digital imaging. (These kids also got to take home digital cameras in fifth grade.)

And, is there a connection between our “doing history as historians do” and the fact most kids I checked are in advanced history classes OR taking history at the local community college?

MANY of these kids are extremely successful at school.  I wish I could say all of them are, but that’s simply not true.  However, I KNOW we made a difference in the lives of many–and it was because of the passion we educators had–and the belief that ALL children can learn.
Check out our gap data on history and science for that year–the first picture is black/white and the second is free and reduced lunch kids.

black white data 2004

SES data 2004

These were children who, as a group,  had experienced very little success in school.  They had very little belief in themselves as successful learners.  Yet, they learned that passionate educators exist–a whole lot of them who helped them AND that their effort paid off in standardized testing AND learning.

For about a week now, @PamMoran has been tweeting about joy of learning, and how the culture of schools and sometimes teachers either nurture or kill student passion for learning. The blogging members of the Cooperative Catalyst Blog agreed several weeks ago to all read the book, Wounded by School and write about it.  I think this is the week we’ll be doing that, so be sure to check it out tomorrow. (We post on Monday.)

Passionate Learning

Yesterday I drove one of my students into town to have a guided tour of our data center.  You see, he had a question about me using a VNC from school to show him stuff on his home computer.  (I have NO CLUE what  a VNC is.  I mean, I understand the concept he’s getting at, but I couldn’t answer the question he was asking.  However, I could connect him to someone who did.)

I had him send his question to our central office person for instructional technology, Becky Fisher. She, in turn, invited him to a tour of the data center and arranged for one of the folks in her department to lead it for this amazingly bright 11 year old.  I was honored to watch the exchange between this kid and the tour guide.

You see, my kid is one of those who doesn’t want to play school, and who stands out in the classroom as somewhat defiant, although he isn’t trying to be. He simply can’t understand why school can’t be a place where he can learn what he wants to learn and he questions the status quo constantly. He wants to pursue his passions in school as well as out and he can’t figure out why he can’t have some time in school to do so.

As an 11 year old, he has learned, though, to shut his mouth and not ask questions sometimes.  He has learned that to NOT lose his ability to have precious moments of free time for his passions, he has to spend time doing rote activities that don’t help him learn much many times. He has learned to play school.

He is writing code and creating his own computer games and has been for years.  He has an intuitive understanding of mathematical concepts and is truly one of the brightest kids I have ever taught–or in some cases, gotten out of his way so he could learn. He stops by my room every morning to touch base and make sure he can have extra time in my room each day.  He comes to my room every recess and lunch to have his own time for learning–to have a 40 minute piece of the day where he can pursue his passions–and I truly just stay out of his way most of the time, watching or asking questions to get an idea of what he is most recently creating. He asks to stay after school so he can work on his own ideas.  He spends hours and hours at home on his wiki, and is the most prolific wikikid I have. His silent leadership has caused me to have at least six kids in my room for lunch each day who are working on THEIR wikis and asking the leader questions OR who are playing his games and giving him feedback on them. They point to his wiki on theirs. By providing him an avenue to pursue his passion and let him bring that into school, he has gone from a classroom loner who was perceived as odd to a leader among his peers.

But, back to the tour…

Becky arranged for a former Murray High School student who is now our Systems Manager to give my kid the tour.  She says Robert is the most brilliant person she has ever met.  I believe her.  Becky was one of the teachers who opened Murray over 20 years ago. (Murray  is our alternative high school, a Glasser school of choice, as well as one of four charter schools in the state of VA, and is described as a school that “honors your heart and respects your mind.”)  Robert attended Murray after Becky had moved to central office, so they never knew each other in that venue.  He says, though, that while she was never formally his teacher, she has taught him much, as she initially gave him his entry into the world of our technology department as a student intern during his senior year at Murray. I have watched Robert grow in the 10 or 12 years he has been with the county as he has moved from his first support technician job right out of high school  to being in charge of all of our technology systems as a 30 year old. Becky and I deliberately wanted Robert to lead this child through the tour, as we knew they would be intrigued by each other.

Robert was amazing with this 5th grader. We had scheduled an hour and Robert gave more than that.  Robert gave this child his undivided attention and answered every question. The child SOAKED UP Robert’s explanations of the server room, the movement of packets of information through our system, and the details of how the redundancy of our system protects our work. He was so excited to be there, and Robert was just perfect as a guide–giving great detail so the kid was fascinated, but not too much so the kid was overwhelmed.  Robert shared reasons and the WHY behind some of the decisions made about our data center and the set up.  He gave enough information that the kid was totally engaged for the entire time. The most powerful piece for me, though, was the last ten minutes or so, where Robert and my kid talked about school.

You see, Robert doesn’t like to play school either, and he ended up at Murray because he was looking for an alternative to traditional high school, where he could learn what he wanted to learn. He was willing to do what was asked through the curriculum, but only if he could show what he knew in reasonable ways and not through doing pages and pages of redundant worksheets as homework. Murray met those needs and allowed him to create his own path of learning through our school system.  He described to my kid how he went from making Ds and Fs in the traditional high school to As and Bs at Murray.  As he described his path through our school system, he often used words my kid has used to describe school and his desires. Again, my kid SOAKED UP Robert’s words–but this time it was hitting him on a very personal level.  This time, those words came from a very successful person who struggled through school as my kid is–but who found a path that allowed him to pursue his passions while playing school.

My kid said in the car that he would love growing up and being like Robert-he would love to have a job like his.  Robert is an idol for this child.

Connecting gifted kids who struggle to survive in traditional school settings to successful adults who survived that system is crucial to give them hope.  My kid has that model now, thanks to Robert. I’m not sure Robert will EVER understand the impact he has had on this one kid with sharing his time and his story. MY whole purpose of this trip was to give my kid hope–hope that he will survive the next 7 years and manage to hang on to his passion for learning.  Thanks partially  to Robert, I think he will.


Choosing How to Engage

If you do a google search on “essential learnings” you will find many school systems use this terminology. Maybe it isn’t grammatically correct, but if you do a search on dictionary.com for “learnings”, up comes learning as a noun, and nothing there says it can’t have an s.

But you know what?  In this context, (and this is my opinion, spoken as a n American who has the freedom to voice my opinion) I don’t think it’s really as important as some comments yesterday seem to imply.

I believe those of us who participate in EdChat want to talk to other educators about substantial topics.  I was the person who submitted question # 4 and I am extremely sorry it precipitated the nitpicking it did.  Good conversation was all that was behind MY submitted question, “What should be the essential learnings that students get from attending school?”

So, in the interest of moving beyond those who want to talk about grammar, I’d like to reword it a bit to say

“What should be the essential outcomes students take away from our lessons?”

and I’d like NOT to waste #edchat space on talking about whether learning is correct with an s or not. I did NOT intend learning to be synonymous to “lessons” as someone suggested. To me, they are two very different things.

I personally plan to ignore any comments made about that or yesterday’s edchat tweeting.  I am not going to engage with those topics.

I care about what others have to say about the chosen topic–what they think should be what kids carry away from school.

I’d like to suggest everyone do the same so we can concentrate on the topic at hand, but it is an open conversation and people can absolutely do as they please.

I simply will choose not to engage in conversations that address grammar or EdChat practices during the chosen topic conversation..

I’m like Steven (@web20classroom) in that my typing does not indicate my intellect, and I spend time on my blogs, wikis and untimed writing proofing and re-proofing to make sure I don’t post misspelled words. So, prior to the speediness of typing tonight, I’d like to ask in advance that you consider the medium and not make judgements about my intellect or thougthfulness based on my poor typing skills.

Let’s choose to engage in conversations around what we believe are the “take aways” kids should carry away from school.

Thanks to all the folks who donate their time to help facilitate EdChat in whichever way they do.  I appreciate the chance to talk and listen to the many people who participate.

And, thank you all for engaging me in thoughtful and thought-provoking conversations!

Big Paradigm Shifts

Several weeks ago, Matt Guthrie and I decided to pre-load #Edchat with entries on our blogs. Last week Chad Sansing and I did the same. They each call it the pregame show, so I’m going to begin to use that language as well. 🙂 In the conversation on my blog about grading, though, Matt Townsley stated that, “Allowing new evidence of learning to replace the old is a big paradigm shift.” Since then, I have been thinking about the big paradigm shifts we need to undergo to really change our schools.

I  lived Educon last weekend, participating in some amazing conversations.  I encourage you all to go to the Educon site and live through the conversations vicariously, and join in any way you can. I’ve also been exploring some Edutopia links (thanks to a tweet I read sometime this past week) and am also involved in an online eTeacher course through my county while I’ve basically been at home snowbound!

So I’ve had lots of time to think, reflect and the question I’ve been thinking about since Matt’s comment is

What are the big paradigm shifts that need to happen for education to be most meaningful for students?

In the past week or so, lots of people way smarter than me have put proposals out there based on Educon conversations or Twitter interactions or life experiences. Some of the suggestions I have seen include

  1. Teaching kids HOW to think, rather than “to think critically.” (Thanks to Kevin Washburn.)
  2. Students graduating with a resume rather than a transcript (Thanks to Ken Bernstein)
  3. The link between inquiry and care-Chris Lehmann’s reflection from Educon
  4. Teachers encouraging their students to evaluate them ( (Teacher Gets A Report Card from Deven Black)
  5. from a new hashtag #rbrc (rubric without the vowels)
  • Students designing assessments for learning
  • Students designing their own learning plans
  • Students creating rubrics
  • Students pursuing their passions and being taught how to do so (research, etc.)
  • Community supported inquiry–learning from each other

A visual from Kathy Sierra that I found from reading Pair-aDimes for Your Thoughts from David Truss

6a00d83451b44369e200e54f7eb7638834-800wi

Then, in my Edutopia reading, I saw this:

“Today’s students will enter a job market that values skills and abilities far different from the traditional workplace talents that so ably served their parents and grandparents. They must be able to crisply collect, synthesize, and analyze information, then conduct targeted research and work with others to employ that newfound knowledge. In essence, students must learn how to learn, while responding to endlessly changing technologies and social, economic, and global conditions.”

Okay, I don’t think the people I interact with on Twitter and #Edchat would argue too much with that statement. I think all the parts and pieces listed above it could fairly easily be included in learning experiences that allowed students to do the things listed in that quote. I also think about my student who clearly showed MY emphasis when she made a “Cool Math Words” page on her wiki–look at the first word.

So, I proposed the following question to #EdChat :

What should be the essential learnings that students get from attending school?

(and maybe “attending school” should be “our lessons” so it would read

“What should be the essential learnings our students get from our lessons?”)

I’d like to see what others think and what you’d add to that quote.

And, beyond that, what would lessons look like if we designed them so that they clearly showed what we value in education?

Wondering, Questioning and Learning

red sky at morningred sky at morning

Red Sky at Morning, Sailors Take Warning. . . Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight

Why is that, I wondered?


and then,


How much of
learning is wondering?

As I began the Thinking About Words Through Images 365 project this month, I was watching my kids and taking pictures of things we did in school. However, as the month went on, the weather in VA is SO unusual this year, I found myself thinking about what I was learning about it instead. I don’t have one picture to show my ‘vision’ of learning this month, but instead, felt like I wanted to describe the things I had learned and wondered about based on our weather. So I decided to document that instead.

We have about 5 acres, part of which does not “perk.” That part also has an artisan well on it. In the summertime, it is sometimes impossible to mow part of the bottom field because it is so wet. We’ve gotten cars and boats stuck going down to the big shed!

Our land also slopes down from the mountain (Afton Mountain, part of the Blue Ridge), so when it rains heavily, we always have water coming through our yard and also racing down the ditch beside our road. During the month of January, I was amazed to see the wet weather streams freezing over, and also surprised I could see them so well defined in the snow. I don’t remember seeing them ever before so clearly in the winter.

In December, we got over 2 feet of snow, and then it stayed VERY cold (for VA in the winter) for over a month–so literally, a month later, we still had snow cover from that Dec. snow. Watching snow stick around and melt over time caused me to questions some aspects of snow and water that I’d never had opportunity to wonder about before.

So here goes,

my wondering. . .

I heard on the radio that westward facing slopes were going to get upslope snow showers. I wondered why only westward facing slopes get them.

IMG_7949.JPG

As I rode to school this month, I also noticed that westward facing slopes were not melting as fast as eastward facing slopes.

IMG_7972.JPG

Here’s a perfect example of the unevenness of the melting. It’s NOT a case of where the sun shines.

IMG_8014.JPG

Why would morning sun not melt the snow like afternoon sun?

Why would upslope showers happen to the westward facing slopes?

(corollary–How could I get kids to ask these same kinds of questions?
Would sharing my series of pictures help them wonder about the natural world
and ask those questions in school?)

IMG_7947.JPG

Then I noticed that our wet weather streams were staying MUCH wetter than normal, and that it was so cold parts of them were freezing over.

icydrivewayPractically the whole month water ran across our driveway.

Was it the melting snow out of the mountains?

IMG_7943

It got so cold the whole stream would freeze over at night and then thaw during the day.


How could running water freeze?


IMG_8043.JPGEvery morning I see this view out of my living room bay window, but only some mornings are red. That made me think of the old saying quoted at the top of this page.

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning;

Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.

What’s the science behind it?

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The red goes away SO very fast.

And then, on the way to school only red wisps of clouds are left.

But it’s not just clouds–several days later I noticed the mountain.

These are NOT fall colors, but instead the sunrise on the mountain. I saw this about a week after documenting the red sky on the way to work.

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Why does ONLY the side of the mountain  look red? Why not other stuff  the sun is lighting?

This is the same mountain from the end of my driveway, and I began to wonder about reflections and refractions–

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Why does it look like the sun is catching the trees on fire?

And why do the colors change?

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Just riding to school, it looked like the mountain was going through the fall leaf color change-on fast forward.

About halfway through the month, I realized I was often looking at the weather  on the mountains nearby and I began wondering about student learning about weather–just what they really understood about fronts, winds, heat rising and falling, what things like fog, sleet, and hail really were, and I wondererd if my curiosity and picture taking could impact them. I haven’t tried it yet–We’ve missed too much school due to the weather!

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This picture was taken about 4 PM on my way home. With my initial glance, I thought it was snow on the mountain,

but then I realized it wasn’t snow.

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Zooming in, I realized it was fog in the dips and valleys on the side of the mountain. I hadn’t noticed this ever before, and I’ve been driving this road for 30 years.

Why does the fog settle?

Why in this way, today?


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THIS is snow on the mountaintops–near Wintergreen Ski Resort, VA, over a month after the snow fell in December.

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So, in the following pictures, three days after our day off  for localized flooding,

is all of this water just runoff,

or are they each separate wet weather streams?

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The big wet weather stream is still showing as it was beginning to snow February 5, 2010.
How long will it remain visible before the snow covers it?

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So, the upshot of this page is that in looking at the world around me this month and thinking about learning, and taking pictures during the weird weather we’ve had, I am now thinking about what part wondering plays in learning.  I wonder how we encourage questioning in school. How or when do we give kids time to pursue what they are interested in learning? If we put provocative pictures around our rooms, around our schools, around anywhere the kids will be, will they look at them and wonder, or will they be like me as a kid and NOT notice details?

What will it take for us to help kids be observant and wonder?

Would an exercise like this work, where they have to take pictures of a concept for a while?


Reformational Evolution

As Educators what do we do to further educational reform?

That’s one of the #edchat questions for this week, and today I got this tweet from @GardnerCampbell: Re-reading Papert’s “Why School Reform Is Impossible.” So, so deeply resonant for me. http://www.papert.org/articles/school_reform.html

So, here’s my preload for tomorrow’s #edchat:

First, I think we need to examine what we mean by educational reform.

Many of us talk about needing to switch the emphasis in our schools from “teaching” to “learning”.  It’s not about what we teach, it’s about what the students learn—we can no longer say, as in the cartoon, “I taught it, he just didn’t learn it.” We can no longer absolve ourselves of responsibility—thus the data-driven instruction movement, the need for PLCs, the growth in RTI movements.

Many educators are talking about student ownership of learning. . . Students do so much of it OUTSIDE of school on their connected tools—they stay connected whenever they are NOT in school and are constantly engaged—perhaps playing games, perhaps interacting with friends, perhaps building websites or blogging or constructing and creating new materials, apps or even devices. How do we move that engagement, that initiative, that drive into our schools?

Many of us talk about needing to restructure our learning spaces—that it no longer meets the needs of today’s learners.  We need collaborative spaces—but we also need the caves, the watering holes, the fireside gathering places for the many different kinds of learning that needs to occur at various times.  We need openness and light, we need materials to tinker with and fiddle with and play with to energize our brains and allow the creativity to flow.

Brain research shows that “sittin’ and gittin” doesn’t do it for best learning. We also know that we are not supporting our students to learn profoundly, understand deeply and think critically and creatively with many of our current structures in place. Both teachers and students feel stifled in the current culture of schools.

Having recently read Papert’s  “Why School Reform Is Impossible,” I must say I agree with him that reform is NOT the same as change, and I believe we need more than reform. In the world of today, we need a different idea of what school, teaching and learning is and should be.

Today’s students bring to us a very different type of sophistication about learning and researching and sifting and sorting information than did the students of the 1800s and even the 1900s. Am  I saying they come to us proficient?  Of course not, but they do come with strategies and experience–and we need to honor that while shaping it to be more efficacious. The knowledge students often bring TO the table is much greater, having been indoctrinated into the world of science and history through TV offerings like the Animal Planet, the History Channel, Discovery Education, National Geographic, interactive web sites and the ability many have to travel so much more easily.

However, while many educators recognize the need to do something differently, we often bemoan the systems that keep us from doing so. The culture of schooling as it has developed from the early 1900s to today is a culture not easily changed. Papert describes the system of schooling as one that has “developed harmonious and mutually supportive — mutually matched forms. There is a match of curriculum content, of epistemological framework, of organizational structure, and …of knowledge technology.” When we try to change one of those, the other “matches” in place pull us back into line and that makes the whole structure much more resistant to change.

However. ..

We know that powerful changes in nature often come about, not though deliberate design, but by evolution. So instead of thinking about how to change schools, about how to reform them, suppose we look at how we can help speed up the evolution of them—the metamorphosis of them into the learning places we want them to become?

So, let’s look at what Papert says:

“the shift from a stance of reform to a stance of evolution does not exclude active intervention, but the role of the change agent becomes less like the architect or builder and more like the plant- or animal breeder whose interventions take the form of influencing processes that have their own dynamic.”

Computers—whether they be in the form of cell phones or iPods or laptops- are becoming more ubiquitous and students come to us knowing a LOT about the world around them and a LOT about how they can learn more. Teachers can leverage that ability to help students become even more sophisticated learners at even earlier ages than ever before.

“As ideas multiply and as the ubiquitous computer presence solidifies, the prospect of deep change becomes more real. Their day-to-day work with computers will be the seeds from which it will grow.” (Papert)

One of my Twitter friends today DM’d me: I’d like to see Tweets be about HOW to effectively use tech not IF we are using or SHOULD be using tech.

We need to start sharing lessons where the technology is transparent  and the learning deep. Papert speaks to students being able to use computer simulations at an early age—even elementary- to understand concepts such as a parabola.

Suppose “imagining an alternative mathematical education in which the typical activity begins with and consists of creating, modifying, or controlling dynamic computational objects. In this context the parabola may be first encountered by a child creating a videogame as the trajectory of an animal’s leap or a missile’s flight; here, the natural first formalism for the parabola is an expression in a child-appropriate computational language of something like “the path followed when horizontal speed and vertical acceleration are both constant.” “For children who have acquired true computational fluency by growing up with the dynamic medium as a primary representation for mathematical thinking, I argue that it would plausibly be more concrete, more intuitive, and far more motivating than quadratic equations.”

Suppose we provided elementary students “an entry into rigorous mathematics and science” through the activities and experiences we provided?

Suppose we began sharing how we do that in our isolated classrooms, our outlying schools and we make a repository of those reformational lessons somewhere?

Suppose we continue deep conversations we begin over Twitter, at conferences like EduCon 2.2 and we REALLY began thinking about how to offer, as Papert suggests, “an example showing a different content, different style of learning, different epistemology, and a different medium all matched to one another and to a form of school structured without curriculum or age segregation.”

Suppose we allow that to evolve as we provide rich experiences for our students, invite their expertise in, and allow them to use those tools they use so well outside of school?

Suppose we create the conditions to simply let the rich diversity of our students’ knowledge and abilities play itself out inside of those brick and mortar buildings we call school?

If we paint those pictures and build those structures, will school evolve more quickly into powerful cultures of thinking, inquiry and capacity building for profound –and playful–learning?

Grade Fog? Or Effective Grading?

This morning, @MattGuthrie and I were talking about how fast and furious #edchat goes and how we wish we could preprime the pump with some thoughts to get people thinking more deeply ahead of time. We decided to take it on–he wrote about question # 1 (With an overloaded curriculum, what should be emphasized and what should be eliminated?) and here are some thoughts on question # 3-Should the current system of grading be outlawed and replaced with something more “21st Century?

A caveat:  The following post is created from notes I took in a talk given by Carol A Tomlinson, a brilliant educator and differentiation guru that I am lucky and blessed enough to call my friend and colleague. The stories are mine, the brilliance is hers!

There are some pieces of and questions about the grading puzzle that I believe teachers may not even consider.

  1. The power of grades to impact students’ lives creates a responsibility in giving grades.
  2. In what ways do our current grading systems motivate struggling readers to persist in the face of difficulty?
  3. Is there an opportunity for struggling learners to encounter excellence in grading?
  4. Do grades teach our brightest students to struggle in the face of difficulty?

So, what keeps us going as learners? If we experience success as a learner, then it may be something we want to keep doing.  If we need to put forth too much effort, then perhaps we quit.  (I can’t imagine trying to light a bulb 1000 times, as the poster says Edison did before he succeeded!)  The success to effort ratio needs to be in balance for learners to WANT to keep going.  If success is heavier, then learners learn to be lazy.  If the effort is heavier, learners tend to give up.

Here’s my personal story on that one: I know a kid who, in 4th grade, bright, but LD as one can be, started becoming a reader that December–took books EVERYWHERE, read all the time, discovered authors–and was reading on grade level. Family pulled him OUT of SPED for literacy, and the teacher was supposed to transition him into the regular classroom. However, he didn’t do his Accelerated Reader tests, so got an F on his report card in January. When Mom went to see the teacher, she literally said to Mom–“What grade do you think he should get?  I’ll change it to whatever you want.”  The kid has struggled through school and at the F, quit reading–his words were “why should I try?  I can’t do anything right.”  He STILL has not regained that attitude of wanting to read. . . and this is several years later.

There is truth in the saying success breeds success.  When one invests in learning and finds success, then one is more likely to repeat that risk. BUT, for other students, year upon year of “not good enough” results in lack of effort, and a seemingly uncaring attitude. I’ll say again, though, as I did in my last post, that I simply don’t believe students come to school saying to themselves, “I want to be a failure today.”

So, the big questions become:

What role should grades play in regards to the success to effort ratio?

and

Can we do anything to moderate the negative effects of grading?

Let’s think about some people in real life who get judged on their performances every day they work—like sports players or musical performers, and look at how they learn as we think about some key principles of effective grading:.

1. It’s unwise to overgrade student work.  Coaches don’t grade practices—the judgement comes in at the game—or at the recital!

2.  Why would anyone think grading a pre-assessment is wise?  That’s what‘s supposed to give us information as to what to teach and how to group.  Why grade someone on something they are ABOUT TO LEARN?

3. I’ll say it again—Coaches don’t grade practices, so why over-grade ongoing assessments?  Students need opportunities to practice, analyze work, and learn from errors in a safe context.   The formative assessments given should be just that—formative—not final grades.

4. Use summative assessments as primary data for grading. Grades should be reliable over time, meaning that the results of any given test on the standard would be relatively the same for the same kid.

5. Grades should be based on clearly specified learning goals.  Is the learning target clear?  Do students clearly understand what they need to know, understand and do?

6. Grades should be criterion-based, NOT norm-based.

In norm based grading systems, the human factor suffers:

a.) There will necessarily be winners and losers competing for scarce rewards.
b.) The implications for learning environments are predictably negative.
c.) The outcomes for both struggling and advanced learners carry high negatives as well.

Students should be striving to reach the standards that have been set for them to learn, not competing against classmates for the top part of the bell curve.

In norm based grading systems, clarity of communication suffers:

a.)  A could be the “best worst”

b.)  C could be “knows the stuff but doesn’t look so great compared to others”

In norm-based grading systems, confusion and lack of clarity reign as no one really knows what that A or C really mean.

So what do those key principles look like in practice?

1. Data used for grading MUST be valid and measure what we intend to measure –mastery of the material.

Grades we give MUST be free of grade fog.  In a standards-driven classroom, how can we take points off for talking in class, or students not putting their name on the paper, or not finishing several homework assignments??  Those types of requirements can be dealt with separately, but must not be confused with the student’s understanding and mastery of the content.

2. Grades should be given later in the learning cycle rather than sooner.

If we are doing our job, the students SHOULD know more as the semester goes on—so earlier misunderstandings should not be part of a grade that shows (or doesn’t show) final mastery. IF, in the end, the students show mastery, why grade them down for earlier mistakes?  Isn’t our goal for the student to master the material?

Again, crucial to remember is: The power of grades to impact students’  lives creates a responsibility in giving grades.

3. When it’s time for report cards practice 3-P grading
Students, parents and others deserve to know the extent to which the learner has learned agreed upon goals. Using SINGLE letter grades with no clear meaning is an issue. We should perhaps be giving three grades—or three ways of reporting:

*Performance (based on criteria and performance standards)
*Progress  (progress/improvement)
*Process (work habits, effort, attitude)

Shouldn’t all learners know the material, show progress and growth, and know what to do when they don’t know what to do (have strategies)? If those are our goals, then, why are we not reporting—and students self-reporting– on each and every part of the three Ps??

I believe these grading practices ARE contemporary. . and yes, the system many teachers use SHOULD be outlawed, but it’s not about outlawing grading–it’s about grading–or reporting–or assessing–or giving feedback– responsibly and effectively!

Post Script (and post-edchat):  I ‘m not sure anyone is saying we should keep grades.  I  am saying it is a reality of most of us and IF we have to do it, until the system changes, we should do it responsibly and not pull in all those foggy facts of talking in class, doing (or not) homework, neatness, names on paper, etc. as part of the summative grade. Those go in another area–process or maybe even progress, depending on the prior conversations.

It absolutely IS, as Will says below, all about what you can do with what you know, NOT the grade. We need to be moving towards that faster in schools.

It IS , as Chad says below, about leveraging inquiry to help students design and participate in authentic, personally meaningful learning opportunities.

It IS, as Karen says, about coming to common understandings about grades (while we have to use them.)

It IS, as Michael says below, about students owning their own competency and learning.

It IS, as Matt reminds us, about “big paradigm shifts.”

But mostly, for me, right now, it’s about getting all of us as educators to talk about grading practices, to wrestle with it, to challenge each other’s thinking, to share great ideas, to work together to figure out how to give feedback and assess well and SHIFT those paradigms so children don’t go through experiences like the kid cited above.

You guys sure have made ME think, and for that, I thank you mightily!

Matt Guthrie (@mattguthrie) and I started this topic and his blog on overloaded curriculum to pre-load the conversation at #edchat and make it deeper, not just occurring in 140 characters.  I think we succeeded. We hope you’ll continue it at the Educator’s PLN ning–or somewhere.

Teaching as Learning

I joke with my kids (honestly) about not knowing everything. but sometimes I think they believe I really do.  They see me as smart, and they like learning with me. I am a human being to them because I frequently say. “I don’t know, figure it out.” or “I don’t know, let’s see if we can find out.”

I believe kids want to relate to their teachers as a human being–there’s certainly enough research out there to show that the relationships between teachers and students are key to successful learning. There are so darn many ways we distance ourselves from that, though, as we work in the classroom. First, when we say to a child, who may have been misbehaving, “And what is Ms White’s rule about that?” (when it’s Ms. White doing the talking), how corny is that?  WHO in real life refers to themselves in the third person?

Then there’s the “I like” people.  “I like how Johnny is showing me he’s ready.”  “I like it when Susie raises her hand.”  I like it when. . . blah, blah, blah. . . What do kids learn from those types of “reinforcing statements”?  That school is all about what the teacher likes and if you don’t do it, you’ll get in trouble.  Best to play along and do what Teacher likes.  (If you don’t believe that kind of thinking is pervasive, please go read ONE Junie B Jones book. Her teacher’s name is “Mrs.”) If I could outlaw ONE practice in school, it would be that one–because that simple statement makes it ALL about the teacher, and does NOTHING to help the child understand why the BEHAVIORS matter.  (And I believe half the time they really don’t.)

Suppose, instead of “I like,” the teacher said, “Johnny is showing he’s ready by having his book out and waiting quietly.”  or “Susie’s hand up shows me she has something to say.” or “Wow, when you all sit quietly, it’s so easy to hear the speaker .” or “When you sit quietly and listen when someone is speaking, your behavior shows you are a kind person ”  (or courteous, or care about what they have to say…) Suppose the feedback had everything to do with the kid and ALSO everything to do with how the behavior impacts the rest of the group, constantly reinforcing that one does NOT go to school by him/herself, that we are part of a group and that we need to co-exist in that group to be successful in school. Because, I also believe that no child (initially) comes to school, saying “Today I want to be unsuccessful here.” Part of our job is to ensure success–after mistakes, maybe, because they are part of the learning cycle, but we need to ensure success MORE than failure.

Teaching IS learning–about ourselves, about our students, and yes, about our content as it changes and grows through the diligent work of geographers, and mathematicians, and scientists, and educators, and everyone else all over the world.  And learning IS a hub. . of feelings, thoughts, ideas, caring, sharing, growing, thinking, reflecting, mistaking, trying again, designing, talking, working together, redesigning, hypothesizing, working alone, generalizing, creating, etc., etc., etc.

When a child brings a test to me and I glance over it to make sure they didn’t skip any questions, and I see that they worked a problem correctly in the work space, but circled the wrong answer on the multiple choice part, I am REMISS if I don’t ask them to recheck their answers. The test is not about me playing “GOTCHA” but instead helping them to develop habits that will reduce those kinds of careless mistakes. The test is a place for them to show what they know–and if it is standards -based, it’s not about playing around in the grade fog of catching them in mis-marking something they clearly showed they know.

When Pam Moran, my Superintendent, asked,  “How do we use tech to shift from district hierarchies to leadership nodes and hubs connecting people in the learning web?” I paid no attention to the “how do we use tech to” piece–I read and began to think about the “shift from” part.

When I read @dennisar asking, “How do I co-create with my students?
” and answer his own question by saying, “I ask them to create personal meaning from class activities by using their own choice of digital tools for learning logs.” and saw Melissa Techman’s response:

@mtechman love your question re co-creating – I’m going to start with posting goal or topic and then stepping off-stage to join them in exploring/making/presenting

I realized I often do that with my kids–I often pose a problem that I KNOW is rich–but that I may not know the answer to initially.  What I do know is that I can figure it out, I can (probably) beat them timewise doing it, and I will both hear and figure out some great questions along the way as we struggle together with a challenge I have set forth. So I shift from, as Pam says, a hierarchy of me posing the problem to a learning hub where other leadership hubs emerge as people begin to work together to figure out the problem.

As I looked at the twitpoll for this week’s edchat,  I realized that, for me, # 1 and 3 were closed questions–a yes or no or simple list, unless we get to the HOW.  In #1, WHAT we teach is dictated. . . can we talk HOW we would emphasize what should be emphasized instead?  I want to figure out the HOW of school reform. . .

  1. With an overloaded curriculum, what should be emphasized and what should be eliminated?
  2. What are the advantages and drawbacks to single gender classrooms?
  3. Should the current system of grading be outlawed an replaced with something more “21st Century?”
  4. How do schools and districts help retain quality educators?
  5. How do educators deal with the question of “Friending” students on social media sites and applications?

And I realized, I want to learn the HOW from other people.  I want to struggle with others to verbalize how schools should change to meet the changing needs of the world and our students.

And then I read  this post by @JerriDKrusse and this ending:

To summarize, I think the reason so many reform efforts have had problems is because they do not address the fundamental issues at hand in education. Most importantly is the role of and decisions made by the teacher. Instead of giving teachers shiny new stuff (whether that be superficial strategies, or technology), we must address teachers’ fundamental views on learning and how to build student knowledge so that it is deep and transferable. (something that can be done with or without the use of modern electronic technologies).  Until we try to modify fundamental teacher beliefs about teaching & learning, our reform efforts will be wasted.

And I realized he has it–a fundamental point–until we begin talking basic VALUES of teaching and learning with one another and get down to the nitty gritty of  why we speak to kids in the third person or say “I like” or “don’t smile til Christmas” or any of those other things we do that negate setting up a true learning hub or web, schools won’t change.  We need to discuss what IS a learning hub–do all teachers WANT them in their classrooms, what are the teaching and learning behaviors we value and where DOES grade fog play in all of it?  How do we assess our students for real learning, and where REALLY are the opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking, interdisciplinary thought and transfer of knowledge? When do students engage and how can we leverage those instances and those behaviors for more sustainable learning?