Find the Awesome, Create the Awesome

Below is a visual from a cool site called Tweetping (tweetping.net) that shows all of the tweets at a given moment happening real time.

(The site is pretty neat to watch and this video is not as current as the website but hopefully you get the idea.)

I often show a video capture of this site, as to let people know that even though I am quite the optimist, I understand that at any point, in all of those tweets, there is horrible stuff being shared.

I know this and I get it.

What I really believe we need to do with our students, is not only help them find the awesome stuff, but to create it.

Jennifer Casa-Todd writes a great post on this topic, and shows how young people are using technology to make a positive impact on the lives of others:

Students use technology and social media to…

1.  empower others who have no voice
2.  address societal inequality
3.  promote important causes
4.  learn and share their learning
5.  be a more positive influence in the lives of others

And here are some great examples of kids doing this right now:

  • @ThatHannahAlper (Hannah Alper) uses social media to enpower and inspire–just check out her website, Call Me Hannah to see how she does this.  She is also a champion of environmental causes and just recently became a Youth Ambassador for Bystander Revolution, which is an organization taking a stand on bullying.
  • @Aidan_Aird, a 15 year old student in our District. created a website, Developing Innovations, “To inspire, celebrate and promote #STEM.”  Aird’s website states, “I realized there were lots of amazing kids out there working hard, creating and discovering amazing things. With them in mind, I created Developing Innovations…[which] has featured and celebrated over 65 young scientists from around the world on the website. There are so many hardworking young scientists out there that are trying to make a difference. By being featured on my website, they get the exposure they deserve and are encouraged to keep working hard. It is a place to celebrate their accomplishments and inspire other kids to follow in their footsteps.”
  • Jeremiah is a high school junior and creator of @westhighbros, a Twitter account that tweets compliments to friends and classmates.  Check out the video here. (shared by George Couros @gcouros)
  • Though Kid President (@Iamkidpresident)  gets a little help from Brad Montague, 10 yr-old Robby Novak definitely empowers others through his inspirational videos as well as his own story.  He is also a champion for important causes.  Currently, you can see him fighting child hunger by following the hashtag #hungerfreesummer or by checking out the video here.
  • Joshua ( @Joshua’s Heart) is a young man passionate about inspiring kindness in youth and stopping world hunger. Here is his keynote during the EduMatch Passion Pitch event hosted by @ShellTerrell and @SarahThomas found here.  More information about the great work he is doing can be found at  http://joshuasheart.org/

As Jennifer states in her post, it is easy to identify these kids as “outliers”, but our focus should be on making this the norm.

It is easy to complain that there is so much bad stuff online, so why not focus on teaching our students to inundate the web with the good?

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The One Guarantee

I recently received an email and was asked a question that I get all of the time.  With the promotion of students using social media, what do you if something goes wrong (meaning students swear or say something inappropriate)?

How I always answer this to give people piece of mind, is by saying, “The one thing that I can guarantee, 100%, is that something will go wrong at some point.  What is more important is how you handle it? Will you see this as a teachable moment or will you react and shut everything down?”

Obviously there are different levels of what could happen, but the idea that we shut something down because of our fears of what could happen, as opposed to looking at the possibilities of what we can do is really holding back of our students.  Anyone can write down inappropriate messages with a pencil, yet I have never seen a mass exodus of that tool in schools because of the fear of what could happen.

The best approach, is always a proactive one.  Working with students at a young age to understand the impact of what they share, both positive and negative, will only come from an understanding of using social media ourselves.  Fear often comes from a lack of knowledge, rarely an abundance.

I was reminded of this quote that I heard a student say this year, and feel it is relevant to this conversation.

“Social media is like water because it is everywhere in our life.  We can ignore it and watch kids drown, or we can teach kids how to swim.  Which way are you going to go?”

Understanding that in all learning, things go wrong and people make mistakes.  Guarding them from this doesn’t prepare them for the future, let alone the present.  We can no longer hold back students because of our fears of what could go wrong, but lead by focusing on what could go right.  The probability of something amazing and powerful happening increases tremendously when we focus on making the positive, as opposed to hiding from the possible negatives.

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Staying the Same is Ultimately Falling Behind

Almost one year ago to the day, I wrote a post entitled, “5 Questions You Should Ask Your Leader“.  Sylvia Duckworth created the image below to go along with the post:

5-Questions-You-Should-Ask-Your-Leader

I was reminded of the last question recently, “What will be your fingerprints on the building after you leave?” Someone shared with me the idea that they had hoped their new principal coming into the school wouldn’t change much, and just let them keep doing what they are doing.  In our world today, maintaining is falling behind, and reminds me of the quote from John C. Maxwell, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

Now I know that consistency is important in any organization, and I am not advocating a 180 degree turn in buildings when a new principal or educators walks into the building.  I also don’t believe that immediate change is necessary as it is important to learn and build upon the strengths of the people already in the building, and for someone to understand the strengths of those that they serve, relationships must be built over time.  But if we truly want to grow as educators, my hope is that when new people arrive in our schools, they will push us to become better, no matter their position.  If you really think about it, would we be comfortable with a teacher that simply maintains the intelligence of the students they receive in any year?  We would expect growth of our students, as we should expect growth from ourselves.

So to the new people starting in your schools this year, what fingerprints will you leave after you are gone?  What change in trajectory will you have created not only in your students, but of your colleagues.  And to those that are hoping things just “stay the same”, I am reminded of the Einstein quote, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

Finding the Genius

This was a fantastic story, shared and created by Michael Wesch:

What I loved about this was the idea that sometimes our perceptions of students, lead to their new reality.  If we think of a student as lazy, what things do we do that actually feed into that?  But if we look for their strengths and how to build upon them, that perception also becomes a reality.

This is one of my favourite images on that very topic, most likely inspired by the Einstein quote,

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.”

climb a tree

If we hold a certain knowledge that others don’t hold, it doesn’t make us smarter than them.  It just means that we have different strengths.  In the mechanic that doesn’t have a high school degree, yet can fix my car, I see genius. Finding that genius is part of what great educators do.

“Fads” and Innovation

It is easy to dismiss something as a “fad”.  I hear that a lot and the word is obviously used to dismiss something.  I have used it myself, but I have been really rethinking this idea in the terms of education.

“Growth Mindset” might be considered a fad. The “flipped classroom” might be considered a fad.  “Maker Spaces” even might be considered a fad.

But for any of these things to even be considered a fad, they have to be widely embraced by a large amount of people.  Anything that is widely adopted or embraced, quickly becomes widely criticized as well.  What is important to note is not that we shouldn’t ask questions or challenge popular thinking.  I believe that makes us all better.  But simply dismissing something as a “fad”, especially as an educator, sometimes shows a lack of willingness to learn about the strengths of any one trend.  There are things that I would challenge and question about all of the things I listed (flipped classroom, growth mindset, maker spaces), but what I do know for sure, is that these things have people asking questions about their practice.  That’s a good thing.

Even though no idea is perfect, there are always elements that will help students, if we choose to look for them.  They may not help every student, but I have yet to see any one thing that helps every student.  Learning is extremely personal, and there will be no “standardized” idea that solves all of the problems in education.

Challenging and questioning ideas is great, but simply dismissing them and labeling them as a “fad” might actually alienate the people that are trying to create something better for kids.

3 Ways to Curate and Share Great Content

One thing that I pride myself on, is the ability to curate and share the work of others.  I have been blessed with a huge network on social media and I want to use that to not only share my voice, but hopefully the voice of others as well.  There are certain blogs that I like reading all of the time, but I also want to find the “best” stuff that is being shared right now, so if I limit it to what I already know, then it is much harder to find that.  That is why I have a few different spaces to find and share content.  Many people ask me how I “find my stuff”, so I wanted to show and share how I curate information.

  1. Inoreader – After Google Reader dissolved (sigh), I wanted to find a great RSS reader that looked similar.  After much research, I settled with Inoreader (inoreader.com), which was a great way for me to add and share blog posts.  With this service, I could easily make my own “bundles” of blogs by any category that I would want to create.  This way I was getting some of my favourite content coming to me, instead of going to it.  Here is how my home page looks:

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What I also loved about this site, was how easy it was to share to social media sites.  On the bottom right of each article is a “share” button, so you can do it directly from Inoreader.  If I know someone blogs consistently I add it to my reader, but if they don’t post for awhile, I don’t have to worry about constantly checking for updates.  It is a minimalist site and that is why I prefer using it.  Less is better sometimes when trying to find information.

2. Zite –  Zite is a mobile app that finds articles for you based on things that are popular in your “network”, or based on topics of your own personal interest.  What I like about this site is that it often helps me find stuff that wouldn’t necessarily be in my blog bundles and it becomes a personalized magazine.  If I don’t like the content being shared, I can give it the “thumbs down” and it will note that for the future.  Here is how the interface looks on my main page.

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Again, nice and clean.

The other awesome aspect is the ease of sharing from your device for the content.  You can share to a plethora of social networks (again, on the bottom right corner).  Zite gives me unique content, but it is important to be aware that if you share or read a blog from any author, it will note that and eventually always share that post.  This is both good and bad, as I try to use that space to find unique information.

3. Tweetdeck –  I love Twitter, but it is very hard to information on any topic unless you utilize hashtags or lists to help you out.  Tweetdeck (tweetdeck.com) allows me to search by hashtags, and even if I am not following someone, if they share to the hashtag that I am following, it is really helpful.  Here is a snapshot below:

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My very good friend and AMAZING leader, Dwight Carter, shared an amazing analogy on hashtags, likening them to “TV channels”.  As shown by the image above, the “channels” I am watching for content (in this example), are #psd70 (my school district), and #cpchat (Connected Principals Chat).  This way I can see what is being shared in my school district, while also seeing what other educators are sharing that they feel is relevant to school administrators.  What is important to note here is that #cpchat is not exclusive to only school administrators sharing to the hashtag, but anyone that feels the information they have found is relevant to school administrators.  I try to help people find content by filtering it for them.  For example, if I find something that is great for kindergarten teachers, I would use #kinderchat.  For science teachers, I would use #scichat in my tweets.  This helps others find great stuff in an area of interest.  (Here is a list of educational twitter hashtags from Jerry Blumengarten to help if this is new to you.)

Many people ask “who should I follow?”  I always try to encourage them to find a hashtag that is relevant to them first.  If you are a math teacher, following other math teachers does not mean that they will share stuff related to the topic. But if you follow #mathchat, the opportunity to find stuff that you are interested in on that topic, is more likely to happen.

This list is not meant to be the only way that you can curate and find content, it is simply part of the way that I do it.  I encourage you to write in the comments any other ways you find content and share it with others.  This is something that I think is important for educators to do, because it is also something students should understand and make part of their learning as well.

Hopefully this helps some people find and share their own content as well.

Taking Notes vs. Taking a Picture of Notes; Which Wins?

Although I have seen this picture before, I saw it tweeted again recently:

Taking Notes

Although this seems like a no-brainer as a method to quickly capture information, there is also the challenge that if you want to “retain” information, writing it down is a much better method.  In an article titled, “Want to retain information? Take notes with a pen, not a laptop”, the author shares the following:

To examine the possible advantages of longhand note taking, researchers from Princeton and UCLA subjected students to several TED Talks and then – after a break featuring “distractor tasks” designed to disrupt memory – quizzed them on their recall of the content. Students were equipped with either (internet-free) laptops or paper notebooks while they watched the talks and instructed to take notes as they normally would for a class. Test questions included both factual recall (names, dates, etc.) or conceptual applications of the information.

Because the quantity and quality of notes have been previously shown to impact academic performance, students’ notes were also analyzed for both word count, and the degree to which they contained verbatim language from the talks. In general, students who take more notes fare better than those who fewer notes, but when those notes contain more verbatim overlap (the mindless dictation issue) performance suffers. As one might expects, students who watched the TED Talks equipped with laptop were able to take down more notes, since typing kicks hand-writing’s butt in terms of speed. However, the luxury of quick recording also resulted in the typed notes having significantly more verbatim overlap than the written ones, and this was reflected in test scores. While, laptop and longhand note takers both fared similarly on factual questions, those taking the tedious pen-and-paper notes had a definite edge on the conceptual questions. So while laptops allowed students to generate more notes (on average a good thing), their tendency to encourage writing down information word-for-word appeared to hinder the processing of information.

So one is easier and much less time consuming, and one seems to improve the ability to “retain” information and be able to share it back.  So which one is better for learning?

How about neither?

The ability to simply obtain information and recite it back is not necessarily learning as much as it is regurgitation.  I might better be able to retain the facts shared, but it doesn’t mean I understand them.  On the other hand, if I am taking a picture, putting it in my camera roll and doing nothing with that information, then really, what good is that?

What is important here is how you make your own connections for deep learning.  Taking a picture is obviously much less time consuming (why would not just give the information over in the first place?) than writing notes, so with the extra time, the ability to do something with the information is where the powerful opportunities for learning happen.  For example, taking this picture and writing a blog post on it, will help me more than simply retweeting the picture out in the first place.  When I speak, I try to challenge people to create something with the information I have shared, whether it is write a blog post, reflection, podcast, video, or any other type of media.  If they really want to process what I have shared, they will need to make their own connections, not the connections I have made for them.

Having easy access to the information is great, but what we do with it, is what really matters.

“The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).” Thomas Friedman

Hopes for the Future

I thought this was a very powerful video:

Just an idea…would this not be an amazing project to do with students if they talked about their hopes and dreams for both long term and short term? What would they hope for at the end of the school year? What would they hope for ten years from now?

Developing the questions for themselves would be powerful as well. This could make not only for a neat project, but it could help you understand the hopes and dreams of the students that we serve, and build relationships with students in a pretty powerful way.

As the new year is upon us for many teachers and students in parts of the world, a question I always think about is, “What would the students say about this year ten or twenty years from now? What impact will this year have on their lives?” Every moment is precious and while so many are so focused on the future, it is greatly important to remember to also be fully immersed in the present. This year could mean all of the difference to many students.

What about the title of “teacher”?

There is an interesting conversation that was started by Daniel La Gamba on Twitter, regarding the terms “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” in reference to the changing role of the teacher.  It started with the following tweet and his attached blog post:

Daniel facilitates some great discussion on the topic and the following conversation on Twitter that has gone on for a few days, reminded me of why I love the medium so much.

In the pursuit of creating the new cool title for a teacher, maybe it is more important that we understand the role of a teacher, instead of trying to give it a new name.  Instead of saying, “You shouldn’t be a ‘sage on the stage’, but a ‘guide on the side'”, maybe it is about understanding the fluidity of the role.  That sometimes a teacher is the sage on the stage, and sometimes the teacher is the guide on the side.  Sometimes they are an “architect of learning experiences” but sometimes, they let the student design the experiences themselves.  Sometimes teachers can lead the learning, and sometimes they have to take part in the learning (in the classroom). Sometimes it is doing both at the same time.  This also doesn’t recognize when a teacher has to decide between when to be firm, and when to soften up.

Maybe we need to realize that for years, the title of “teacher” encompasses all of these things (and more), and instead of renaming the role, we just have to talk about the shifts that are happening, and how the best teachers in the world have always recognized that the title of “teacher” means a lot more than what we have given the term credit for.  Some of the best teachers I have ever known have done all of the things that I have discussed and so much more, and the title of “teacher” was one that was defined by how they brought the role to life, not how someone else named and defined it.

If we embrace  and understand that the role of the teacher can change multiple times daily, and that the title does not mean any one singular thing, we might spend less time trying to change the title, and more time focused on the actions that make it so meaningful in the first place.

“Hard Work is No Guarantee of Success”

This is a post where I am trying to write to understand and process my thoughts.  I think it is important that we try to make the process of learning visible, not just what we have learned.

One of my favourite speakers of all time is Jim Valvano. His speech at the ESPY’s where his famous words of “don’t give up, don’t ever give up”, remain powerful so many years later. I love watching his other speeches as well, and in this one, he shares something his dad shared with him;

Hard work does not guarantee success, but lack of hard work guarantees that there will be no success.

I have noticed this theme in some articles that have passed through my feed as of late. James Harrison, a football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers known for his amazing work ethic, while also having one of the greatest touchdowns in Super Bowl history, shared how he took the trophies away from his children that they received for participating. He shared this on his Instagram below which has gone viral.

This is not about demeaning the effort of people “showing up”. In myself, I am trying to get back into better shape, but going to the gym is not enough. It is what I do with that time that matters, and how I eat. It is a struggle. Waking up early to go to the gym means something, but not if I slack off while I am there, and do not achieve results.

This is also understanding that winning isn’t everything as well, but how we develop as people under adversity.  As a coach for many years, I would try to communicate to my team that at the end of the year, only one team would ultimately be the “champion”, so if we deemed success as winning it all, we would most likely fail.  But if we looked at how we developed as people, how we would look at working together as a team, and how we were when we faced adversity, those were things that were really important.  How you are when you win and how you are when you lose, in my opinion, are both equally important.

In an article titled, “Iterate, Iterate, Iterate, Innovate”, they share a story of how WD-40 came to be, it shares the name that the “40” comes from the number of times it took to get the formula right.

The term WD-40 is derived from “Water Displacement, 40th formula”.  It was the 40th formula the chemists tried before finding success. The product is produced by the Rocket chemical company and is distributed in over 160 countries.

If the company stops at 39, this is not being shared, but since it kept going, here we are talking about it.

I have shared before that failure is nor the thing that we should be celebrating, but the grit and resiliency to move forward. But “showing up” is only part of the story. I believe that school should be enjoyable, but I also believe that it should be challenging. “Flow” is something that we should constantly strive for in our learning with ourselves and our students, but it takes hard work.

Whether it is “success” or “innovation” or both that we are striving for, the common element is the work ethic that it takes to get to that point up. It goes way beyond showing up, and is important that we help to instill that into ourselves as well as our students.