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Showing posts from June, 2017

How Do We Enter if We Know Failure is Inevitable?

It takes a certain kind of mindset to plow forward knowing you will have to begin again. To stay the course when you know things are not going to work out the way you planned. Forging ahead through the obstacles and road blocks only to make a u-turn and have to traverse them again. For some this resilience comes naturally, they often seek the opportunity to struggle because the journey is more rewarding then the solution. There are many however, that if they feel even an inkling that they will not succeed they will never open the door and venture inside. So how can we make sure that our students will face failure, not just be prepared for it, but actually live through it, embrace it, and rather than cower in the corner with frustration, run back in the ring ready for the fight?

As teachers we have to set them up to fail, make sure that they are put in situations that are not only challenging and rigorous but filled with anxiety and pressure. The reality of life is that there are expec…

Makerspace or Spheros? : An Enlightening Conversation with Students

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I have written many articles and blog posts about makerspaces, a place set aside in a classroom or at home, for pure imagination and discovery. Unencumbered by worksheets and expectations. Fostering cleverness, inventiveness and vision. To be able to look at a myriad of utensils and items and giggy rig or engineer a model to display just about anything. We have one in our classroom and students use it almost daily. They love to use play-doh and other hands-on materials to design and tinker. The smiles on their faces is beautiful as they dig through crates of recyclables, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks and construction paper. A little glue here, a dab of tape there and voila' a model to demonstrate every science concept imaginable.

I bring out the I-pads and computers on occasion and they get excited for a bit, often feeling trapped within the confines of programming, they definitely prefer digits over digital. The tactile, viscous nature of clay and glue. The choice of color and t…

Spheros, Slime and Science Camp

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I have always taught middle school, I have delved into an elementary classroom or two during my student teaching but knew early on that I was meant to be teaching junior high. Every summer, I teach a science summer camp at the STEM center. My audience is 3rd and 4th graders. I enjoy a week of connecting with these beautiful little people. They are energetic, out-going, friendly, loud, funny, affectionate and did I say loud. They are wiggly and squirmy and need constant reassurance and affirmation, yet they are eager and willing to try anything and don't mind getting a little dirty in the process. This year our theme for the camp is Science Through Time and each of the five instructors chose a century and are highlighting scientists from that era and the science that was coming to the foreground during that time in history. I chose the future, so my scientist of the century (seeing as he is a futurist) is Neil deGrasse Tyson. An astrophysicist that few of my students knew. So it wa…

Indelible, Universal, Transcendent: Joy

External it is in the beauty of seeing someone we love achieving their goals. Graduating high-school, getting into the college of their dreams. A friend getting married to the love of their life. Watching our students struggle and overcome their difficulties to grow as learners. Internal it is feeling valued, understood and feeling like you belong. Setting a tough goal for yourself and over time with hard work and dedication achieving it. It is a deep sense of satisfaction from knowing you can do it. Taking a risk, pushing through the fear and win or lose entering the battle. It is a mindset, a thought that does not dissipate but adheres itself and leads us to be motivated and driven. Resilient and eager. All bringing us to a place of fulfillment and contentment.


It is an emotion, an expression, even a sentiment. It can lead to a prosperity of happiness and rejoice from the success of the day, if we heed its call. It can also be a momentary elation or amusement when revelry makes itse…

Guest Post: The Power of Student Led Conferences by Sheldon Soper

The Power of Student Led Conferences
The parent-teacher conference is an age-old educational tradition. At these meetings, parents sit down with their child’s teacher(s) and the two parties exchange some insights about a child’s progress. Meanwhile, both parties are typically evaluating each other: what impact is the other is having on the child in question? How can this group of adults work together to positively impact the student?
When all is said and done, there’s a problem with this format: while it is about students, it very seldom involves students.
In schools across the globe, a shift is happening that is transforming the parent-teacher conference into a student-led conference. In these conferences, the script gets flipped and the adults get real feedback from the most important stakeholders, the students. This fundamental change can be the launching point for more meaningful conversations about growth and the student as a whole. How It’s Done The majority of what you need to…

Kobayashi Maru: A No Win Situation: Is Failure Inevitable?

Describing Failure versus Success
There are so many words for making a mistake: blunder, misstep, snafu, flub, faux pas. Just to name a few. But when it comes to brass tacks, how many do we have in use for success? We have a lot that are a result of success: fortune, prosperity, fame, progress. Even accomplishment and achievement generally represent an occurrence after a success, not before. We seem to have far more words that imply we made an error or are defeated then we do for if we win. I am curious about this fact because as humans we are measured by our successes not our failures. When we feel good about ourselves it is due to an advancement or triumph, not how we got there but what was achieved. Yet, in life it is our struggles that push us forward. It is the setbacks that drive and motivate us to overcome and endure. To take-risks and solve the problem. But, it is not the process we acknowledge it is the completion. Predicaments, complications, and quandaries may not be solvab…

The Feeling Begins

The feeling begins. The strum of an acoustic guitar, liberating, like a door once closed: everything is open waiting for you. Hidden beneath, it lingers. It has resided deep below for so long you are not sure if you should coax it out, keep it imprisoned or extinguish it once and for all. Energy lulls at first then slowly builds like the rapid beat of a million drums, echoing, reverberating, drawing you forward. The path leads straight ahead, little option if chosen. Yet, comfortable and safe. It is the book opened by many, words taken as gospel, a route often traversed because it guarantees arrival. Arteries branch, providing continuance, current, continuity of thought. Violating the typical, establishing a resonance of pulsation, melodic and cathartic, a heartbeat, speeding and thrumming. Instinctual and emotional. It rises, bringing with it an unravelling, extrication and resolve. Luring you, sheltering you from the storm, temporarily, you hear what you want to hear, disregarding …

The Twitter Chat that had a Mind of it's Own

What happens when technology does not work the way we planned? Tonight, I had one of my Twitter chats, moderating that usually goes on without a hitch, decided to take a nose dive. Many people couldn’t see the questions. Several others were seeing Tweets delayed. On the chat feed, #stucentclass, as far as I could see, it looked as if everything was normal but then Tweets began to not send, I began to see the Tweets of participants asking where the questions were and where I was, they were not seeing any of my posts. So obviously things were amiss. But lucky for me, people went to my feed to find the questions, many of my friends began to retweet the questions and those didn’t reach the feed and then they were copying the pictures and creating different Tweets to get them to reach the feed. It was very stressful. I have been in several Twitter chats where I could not see the questions and people had to retweet and I had to go to the moderator’s page. So, I have seen it happen, rarely,…

Unlocking Motivation: Getting Students and Ourselves to Break Out From the Pack

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. - Thomas Edison
What is motivation- Really?
It is often defined as the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a specific way or the general desire or willingness of someone to do something- Webster’s Dictionary, but what does that mean? For some it is a whisper in their ear, a spark of curiosity or even a glimpse into the future. An idea that embeds itself like a worm, slowly nagging until they act upon it. While for others motivation is a part of them: enthusiasm and determination both a driving force in their personality and perseverance. While one thing may be a focus to one it may be a distractor to another. How do we hone in on our interests? Psychologists and educators have written countless books on the subject. However, what truly motivates us as individuals is not fully understood because motivation is internal, personal and fluid. What may be a catalyst fo…

We Walk Before We Talk: Exploration is a Human Need

We evolve, improve and progress because we are curious beings. Students grow as learners when teachers let them control their learning. We solve, invent and process data because we can see the big picture. Classrooms are the conduits for the power of knowledge and students should be free to harness it on their own. Direct it towards their interests and use it to make connections. We make informed decisions, form fundamental understandings, and develop skills because we explore the world around us. Curiosity leads us in a forward motion while motivation keeps the momentum. If students are not lead but simply directed to their individual thoroughfare the potentiality for personal interest and growth is boundless.
If we are given specifics, commands and decrees with little negotiation, we may forge ahead and innovate however, we lose the drive of imagination that makes us engineers and inventors. Likewise, students without freedom and independence might comply but they will never become t…

I am a Lizard and Words Can't Hurt Me: Bullying in Schools

I was a precocious child, never sitting still long enough to be considered well-behaved by any one in my family. At church, I would wiggle and squirm, wrinkling my Sunday dress to the annoyance of my mother, in school I would doodle and write poetry, when I should have been listening and at the dinner table I would tell endless stories of other children in my class doing awful or amazing things. I rarely if ever shared the events of my day at school because mine would not be one of entertainment nor comedy. I grew up in a family that did not want to talk about our troubles only our triumphs and as a child, at least in school, I had very few of those. My older sister of course was a cheerleader, honor student and extremely popular. She always had exciting and engaging tales of her active and busy social life. This made it even more of a challenge to discuss my woes with my family. Instead I would line up my dolls and stuffed animals and tell them of the bullying and isolation that pla…

Will it Blend? Does a Blended Classroom Work with a Student-Centered One?

If you have not watched the Will it Blend? segments on You Tube you must. They are simply hysterical. Each clip is a different item being shredded to dust in the BlendTec blender. Everything from I-phones to golf clubs, highlighters to Hot Wheel cars. A true testament to the immense power and design of the product because no matter what he puts inside the blender, it blends with ease into a fine gray powder. I was watching one such video today, a set of billiard balls colorful and shiny were obliterated into a dark, wispy concoction. This got me thinking about the word blend and how it is used to describe many flexible learning environments. A mixture of things or qualities, like a blended classroom but also to mix or amalgamate into a mass. How can we blend our curriculum, creating a combination of technology: pre-loading information at home on an individual level and hands-on: classroom activities that are both collaborative and authentic? How can we truly blend our classroom, creat…

You Can't Break a Stick in a Bundle: Having Difficult Conversations with Students

Why do we rush to start and quickly race to the finish line? Keeping the wheels in constant motion. Why do we feel the need to always be on the move. There is such a push to better ourselves, forge ahead, embrace change. These of course are all necessary skills to master throughout life but for some reason the expectation we place on ourselves and often our students is a constant motility of progress and evolution. Test scores, evaluations, approval of colleagues and peers are constantly bombarding us keeping us in a fluid state of uncertainty and doubt. Competition, trials, tournaments, internal battles all leading us to the edge. Everyone finds their ledge eventually that they sit upon, halting reason, becoming frozen in anxiety. After arrival, it is difficult to find the momentum towards solid ground when all of our insecurities are packaged tightly into a parcel. Each blending with another until a single concern becomes a bundle of misgiving and trepidation. We have all felt this …

Student Autonomy: Can There Ever be too Much?

Can We Allow Students to be Truly Autonomous?

Rules, routines, regular brain breaks. Rigor, resilience, resoluteness. There are so many expectations as teachers we place on ourselves and our students. The push for progress and mastery often overtakes our desire for joy, autonomy and pleasure in learning. When the focus of learning becomes intrinsic and competitive it loses two of its most valuable aspects- inquiry and curiosity. It is no longer personal and self-driven but has become expected. When children feel like a certain grade or positive evaluation is expected they forget to have fun and learn for the benefit of interest. But, grades are not going to go away. Standardized testing is ramping up not slowing down. So how can we create learning environments that foster creativity, optimism and joy? By giving our students autonomy and decision making opportunities that will directly impact them. Not just choices of demonstration of knowledge but "unpacking" the standards a…

Concept to Application: Is a Student-Centered Classroom Right For You?

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This is my first attempt at writing what I will call a concept to application article. I generally write more free form but today, after teaching two classes on the subject and having conversations with many teachers I felt that I needed to write a more purposeful and meaningful piece about student-centered classrooms and how this style of education has changed my teaching forever.

Student-Centered Classrooms-What Are They Really?
Ask a teacher what a student-centered classroom is and they will tell you, students working and collaborating, flexible seating, and makerspaces or student options of demonstration of knowledge. They will explain that they are full of engaged students with choice of process, product, or procedures, performing authentic, student-led relevant and interesting activities designed for learning and growth to take place. This is true but they are so much more than that. It is not merely a location, or student generated atmosphere it is a frame of mind that comes from…