Why This Blog? Why Now? Why This title?

I am no longer blogging under duress. This part remains true: I had a blog once and I lost the password...and then, I gave up. I really am not a giver-upper, but there is a point of diminishing returns to anything that takes energy, passion, and vision and yet, doesn't work out. So, off I go again, wish me luck! AND knock on wood I have had luck. And it is sort of fun.

P.S. Why this title? I read this phrase today 6/16, don't remember where. I liked it. I'm using it. I might change it. It may or may not have relationship to the content.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mentor Texts...They ARE Just For Kids

Why Patricia Polacco, Cynthia Rylant, and other outstanding authors make are great mentors for writers and, a the same time, frustrating mentors, and what to do about it.

What I've learned in the month of September from PLCs at my school:

  • Mentor text are important
  • Mentor text need to be within the ZPD of the learner
  • Mentor text need to be closely aligned with the learning

Imagine you are a second grader. You are studying true-stories-that-were-important-enough-to-write-about (personal narrative). Your teacher reads some Patricia Polacco stories like Thunder Cake or Cynthia Rylant stories like When the Relatives Came both captivating, well organized, shining examples of true-stories-that-were-important-enough-to-write-about  "Ahh" you say. "Those are great stories. I liked them, especially the breathing part in When the Relatives Came, and," you think, "I was scared right along with the character in Thunder Cake." Your task is to write a true-story-that-is-important-enough-to-write-about, You can think of some things, you make a list...so far so good. You know what the story is supposed to look and sound like because you've experienced Pollaco and Rylant. The big cliff and the heart of the frustration comes when you, the second grader try to make you writing look like and sound like Polacco or Rylant and can't come close. What do you say to yourself? "I can't. I don't like to write. I am not a writer."

Different mentor text to the rescue!

Imagine you are a second grader in a class where teachers understand scaffolding the mentor text in the same way they understand scaffolding learning experiences in other areas...these teachers understand how important ZPD is! These teachers still read Patricia Polacco, and Cynthia Rylant, AND these teachers show you and your classmates what true-stories-that-are-important-enough-to-write-about look like when second graders write them. Teachers might say, "Listen to these stories. They are true-stories-that-are-important-enough-to-write-about written by second graders just like you!" You think, "Ahh! Those are great stories. The things that happen in them sound like things that I have done or my family and I have done." Your task is the same; write a true-story-that-is-important-enough-for-you-to-tell, but this time you think "I can. I like to write. What I write can look and sound like that. I am a writer"

That is just what teachers at my school have done. Regardless of grade level teachers are using mentor text created by student writers from past years. These teachers had the foresight to save exemplary text because they understand that mentor text needs to meet the writer where he/she is and then lift them up.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I Just Read Another Book---Creating Innovators The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, by Tony Wagner

First of all...my only 'Duh why didn't I think of that?'  moment came when I noticed the QR codes in 'tag' format embedded in the book...what a great idea...elementary teachers whose kids write text for an audience...are you listening...it is easy to do?!

One thing that stuck with me through the whole book:
Play, passion, and purpose are what humans need to engage in in order to create and innovate, period. That of couse begs the existence of time and opportunity and the KIND of structure that allow for the big three.

One push back I have: The all pervasive, and not just in this book, but in all that we do in "preparing kids", focus on getting the good job. There is a tension in me between getting a good job and developing the human. That is not to say that the good job doesn't involve satisfaction, and a focus on making the world a better place, but why do we all ways ask businesses what they look for and then strive to educate for that. OK, that said, the idea of creating places for play, passion, and purpose sound fabulous as does the list of qualities that business looks for:

Critical thinkers and problem solvers
Ability to collaborate across networks and cultures
Ability to lead by influence by

  • engaging people
  • asking the right questions
Agility and adaptation
Initiative and entrepreneurialism

Effective oral and written communication
  • communicate with voice
  • communicate with persuasion ( I would add communicate with passion)
Ability to access and analyze information
Curiosity and imagination

Several great quotes about teaching and learning from the book Creating Innovators:The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, by Tony Wagner:

"Our education system is charged with an essentially conserving task--preserving and transfering our knowledge captial to the next generation..."cultural literacy."...Knowledge is essential in order to innovate. You need foundational information to be able to discern what can and must be improved upon or changed".--Tony Wagner

"Increasingly in the 21st century what you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know."--Tony Wagner

"I believe our job is to look for the threads, plant the seeds, and provide them [students] with the tools and structures for purposefulness. Someone who has purpose or a reason can endure a lot."--Scott Rosenburg

"Today it's not what you know, it's having the right questions. I see three stages in the evolution of learning: the first is the memorization-based, multiple-choice approach, which is still widely prevalent: then there's project-based learning where the problem is already determined: finaly, there's design base-learning where you have to define the problem. That way of learning is part of every class here. We are trying to teach students how to frame problems versus repeat the answers."--Rick Miller, Olin College

"I don't even think about 'failure'. It's not a word we use. Instead, we talk about 'iteration.'"--a student

"Kids need practice at perseverance and resilience."--Tony Wagner

"What I have learned is that merely giving students more of the same education will not create students who can innovate. For student to become innovators in the 21st century, they need a different education, not merely more education."--Tony Wagner

"I have only two rules: safety and character--be careful and caring."--A parent

"Most people have something unique to contribute in the workplace, but it takes the right environment and leadership. You have to engineer the business around the individual who works for you, rather than around the system you use."--Brad Anderson--Best Buy

"All creativity and innovation starts with a 'problem' that needs solving...could be some major, life changing problem, or could be just how to arrange your studio space to be able to texturize paper."--Noreene Thibault-Chen

The big deal about Finland:
  1. They have transformed the teaching profession through a radical overhaul of their teacher preparation programs. 
  2. They've pared down the curriculum to a few concepts that are deeply understood, in sharp contrast to the bloated, fact-and test-based curriculum that burden many or our high schools and colleges. 
  3. They place a high value on career and technical education in their upper secondary schools. 
  4. They emphasize student learning independently and making choices about what they study. 
  5. They have embraced innovation in teaching and learning at every level.--Tony Wagner

Final thoughts:
What does all this look like in elementary school? I'm still stuck on play, passion, and purpose and how very little of that exists in a school day. And, I get the sense anyway, that play, passion, and purpose only exist between organized after school activities. I love the fact that my school has an outdoor environment dedicated to imaginative play and choice. I love the fact that in classrooms in my school time and opportunity still exist for exploration and wonder. That in my school 'iteration' is becoming more prevalent than failure. 

Once again, thanks for reading.

About Enduring Understanding

If enduring ideas are what might be important and worth understanding 40 years from now....here is my running list: **

  • Living things try to survive
  • Motivation counts in trying to do or be something
  • There are many sides to issues...understanding is knowing all sides
  • There is diversity and sameness in the world
  • All structures have a function
  • The parts of a system interact
  • All things are parts of many systems
  • With freedom there is responsibility
  • People communicate in lots of ways for lots of reasons.
  • Communication is important to the human experience.
  • We construct meaning through a variety of media
  • You can be proactive or reactive
  • Within organisms there exists independence/interdependence/dependence
  • Patterns exist in the world and can lead to accurate predictions
  • At the moment…matter cannot be created or destroyed
  • We read to know that we are not alone
  • People have reasons for deciding if they like something or not
  • People are social creatures…they tend to do things together
  • All things in the universe are connected
  • The basis of innovation is close observation
  • People create for a variety of reasons
  • Nature inspires
  • Understanding impacts outcomes
  • Data informs position
  • Parts impact the whole
  • Problems guide inquiry
  • Structure impacts function
  • Perspective influences perception
  • Action by living things impacts all things
  • Beliefs inspired by observations reflect who we are

I also think, but haven't really articulated them well that the following have something enduring about them...maybe some of them belong under the idea that you have to know all sides of something to really understand it.

  • Energy and matter
  • Models and theories
  • Probability and prediction
  • Change and conservation
  • Time and scale
  • Cause and effect
  • Adaption and equilibrium
  • Impulsive and reflective
  • Individual and group
  • Fantasy and realism
  • Inhumanity and sensitivity
  • Chaos and cosmos
  • Objective and subjective
  • Static and dynamic

So why is the idea of enduring understandings so important? Well, past the idea that there is far to much   information (especially information that is constantly changing) in the world, something enduring is grounding. An idea, to come back to. An idea that all other ideas radiate from. I think there is something comforting about ideas that are enduring. Ideas that will last past supper, be with you when you wake up in the morning and when you get home from school in the evening. Ideas that will be with you 40 years from now.

I like the idea of enduring because so much is not. What do you think?

**my list comes from my thinking,  In Search for Understanding: The Case for a Constructivist Classroom; Brooks and Brooks, Jamie Bailey and the World Class Education team of Douglas County School District, and, most importantly, Pam Cogburn, fabulous art teacher, Debbie Rabideau, and my colleagues at The Renaissance School who wrestle with what is enduring everyday.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Favorite Picture Books--a VERY Short List

My 10 Favorite Picture Books--Today, 10/10/10

I'll start with a tribute to Maurice Sendak. We lost him this year, and his legacy remains. Of course I love Where the Wild Things Are, and I'll choose:

Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

It is folktale-ish, poetic, beautiful and satisfying as a story.
Next...and these books are not in any particular order:

ish by Peter H. Reynolds

It is real, inspiring, and the idea lives long after you read the book.

Goodnight iPad  By Ann Droyd

It is a contemporary take on an old favorite, and just plain funny! Love all the "Goodnight"books.

Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest, Illustrated by Jon J. Muth

I actually chose this one because Jon J. Muth was involved in the book. The story is wonderful--about creating readers--and the illustrations--spectacular. You cannot go wrong with a book that Jon J. Muth has had a part in. Jon Muth writes and illustrates and we agree on the important things in life.

Last Laughs Animal Epitaphs by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen, illustrated by, Jeffery Stewart Timmins

This might be rather morbid--and I guess that it is--but how can you resist poems like this:

For a Bear, Barely There
He crawled inside
to hibernate
to reach his goal
of losing weight

My picks for great story and stylish illustration:

Along a Long Road by Frank Viva

It is the bright, textured, and "graphic arts" style drawings that attracted me to this book. The story is very simple, easy to read and understand.
My next pick for great story and stylish illustration:

Stanley Goes For A Drive by Craig Frazier

Big, bold, simple art, and a compelling story about perception and how perception of how-things-are can change are qualities that put this book on my list. I had to buy all the Stanley books.

Sister Anne's Hands by Marybeth Lorbiecki, Illustrated by K. Wendy Popp

This is a book with a message that celebrates the colors of the skin we're in.

The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee

"The boss. He's here. (and FYI...he's a total baby.)" This is a must read for parents, expectant parents, and anybody else. This book will always be my present to my pregnant friends.

Last but totally not least...in fact if I had to put them in order, maybe first:

The Table Where The Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall

If you haven't read this, you must. If you haven't thought about these things in your own context, you must. If you haven't had a conversation like this with those you love and live with--you will!

I'm sneaking an extra one in.....

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

We ALL know why this book makes the list....AND...I want my, I Want My Hat Back, from who ever borrowed it!

Well, that's it for me for this year. Please read all of them:)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I want to talk about the idea of process. Mr. Johnston starts chapter 3 by talking about process rather than performance.

"We get the most mileage out of turning their attention to change rather than stability, and process more than performance, and by changing the way they think about error." Pg 26

This seemingly simple shift is a powerful one with insidious roots. I say this because at least generally speaking, we and how we are judged in schools, society, and most if not all aspects of life--even those business that are dedicated to creativity and innovation--care, ultimately about performance and/or product--that is what matters. I am not saying that performance/product should not be important as ultimate ends. I am saying that a focus on process is the way to creative and innovative performances and products. Those creative and innovative products, no matter how small they might seem, are the hallmarks of people steeped in dynamic-learning frames. The two are not mutually exclusive, it is just that a dynamic-frame is the kindest, most honoring-of-the-individual, most direct, and well-rounded-person-building way to get "there".

 Mr. Johnston's idea of casual process (pg 31--Problem Solving and Casual Process), also lives in kind of "non-mainstream" thinking around developing thinking individuals (raising kids) outside of classrooms. This reminds me so much of some of Alfie Kohn's writing--the idea of recognizing and naming what someone (the kid) did or is doing rather than a praise comment (good job, you're smart....) I think Mr. Johnston takes it a step further by writing about attaching the idea of cause and effect to the process--"You did this, so this happened". 

"Causal process comments are the most effective way of promoting the belief that the important information is how someone did (or could do) something, because that's what we can learn from."

It IS the learning through the process along the way that is what is important. That old and worn saying about journey not the destination being the most important IS true.

"Observing or experiencing success (or not) is only usefully instructive when we see how it was accomplished."

This reminds me of the reason we read, write, think, and unpack our teaching points in a very visible way. Clearly exposing what is going on in our "proficient"heads out loud and in front of kids. Whether as part of a mini lesson or in individual or small group sessions. There should be no mystery about how the performances/products (reading, writing, science, art, music,...) occur....expose the process to learn from the process. AND the process includes mistakes or non-successes--they are there to be learned from.

Finally, Mr. Johnston offers some very simple and very powerful ways to take the focus off the performance/product and put the focus where it belongs--on the process.

"The simplest way into process conversations is to ask how questions: 'How did you do that?' 'How did you know that?" pg 31

"Asking 'What are you thinking?' is a simple way to expand this process thread in classroom talk. These 'How did you...' and 'What are you thinking?' conversations invite agentive narrative, increase the available strategic information, reduce the likelihood of fixed-performance theories, and, at the same time, invite dynamic-leaning theories." pg 32

Even though "simple" is not always so simple...I am going to bite my tongue while my brain goes through my old ways of responding and then start talking when I can ask some "process" kinds of questions.

Thank you Mr. Johnston!

**my apologies to all that are paying attention to the punctuation rules around quotes...I am sure I have been inconsistant and have violated quite a few:)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Tuesday's "assignment"--Teachers Write
2min. to describe a place, then one minute each to add what I see, hear and feel.....go (skip this part and scroll down to the revision for my final draft)

This place is right out side Lake City Co, up Henson Creek canyon actually. It is right off the road after a big hill. It used to be a damn across the river, but now is a damn with a hole in it where you can sit is actually a big, flat rock right off the road. To sit there and look down is breathtaking, historical, beautiful, full of possible stories, and broken dreams as it really represents a piece of Lake City history that is almost all that remains of mining in Lack City. I loved to ride my bicycle up to this spot and have a picnic, or just spend the day because although it is right off the road you cannot be seen from there by passing cars, jeeps, truck, or bicycles. If you are very brave you can walk across the top of the damn. I was neer very brave. I just enjoyed being on top of that part of the world.

Is see the white of the rock, the green of the trees even though they are far away. Although the rock looks white, it is granite, if you look close it it full of specks, pieces, sparkles, and chunks, cracks. Look even closer and you will see parts of brave vegetation growing up between the cracks...strong roots breaking up what has been there for ages. I see the blue, very blue of the Co sky. Sometimes I see "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon clouds, but mostly not...only chunks of blue, chunks of green and expanses of white...the concrete of the damn and the flat of the rock. swallows dipping and diving for bugs

First I hear nothing. It is really vey quiet up there...but du you ever hear just nothing? i don't think so. I hear  rushing. The lazy rushing of the water, or sometimes desparte rushing of the water...depends on the time of the year and how much water has to fit into the hole in the damn. I hear creatures, mostly marmot or pika...squeaking "intruder, Intruder" I hear the call of birds, wind in the trees, occasional stuggles of cars up the dusty road, or huffing and puffing of bicyclists up the the dusty road. Hikers...not so much as they usually start up much higher.

I fell the heat of the summer, the cool breeze...cool by comparison to a Gunnison breeze or a Denver breeze. I feel the heat of the sun, the sweat on my body from the ride, making the breeze  more cool and more welcoming. I feels the squish of my handle bars, the tension of my feet and legs on the pedals as they push down and ride up. I feel the ground under my bike shoes, walking stiffly, over the gravel first and then the rock toward my spot. I feel the heat on the white rock, the smooth surface, the slope of the rock, sloping down to the dam and the cliff. the gentle ripples of stone that make up the flat rock.

My revision

Up Henson Creek

This place is right out side of Lake City Co, up Henson Creek canyon actually. My place is right off the road that winds its way past the Ute Ulay Mine just past a big hill. My spot over looks the remains of a damn across Henson Creek that used to control water resources for the mine, but now is a concrete reminder of what was. The damn is ragged with broken pieces and rebar remains that create a hole in the damn. Where I go is actually a big, flat rock off the road wide enough to feel safe, yet slanted enough to feel risky. Although the rock looks white...it is granite...if I look close my rock is full of specks, pieces, sparkles, chunks, cracks, and ripples. Look even closer and you will see parts of brave vegetation growing up between the cracks...strong roots breaking up what has been there for ages. To sit there and look down is breathtaking, historical, full of possible stories, and broken dreams as it really represents a piece of Lake City history that is mysterious and intriguing.

Mostly the sky is the very blue of a Colorado sky, sometimes broken up with "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon clouds, but mostly not...only chunks of blue, chunks of green and expanses of white...the concrete of the damn and the flat of the rock.  Swallows dipping and diving for bugs, the longer I stay the more swallows show up...they love the attention as much as they love the bugs. When the background noises separate themselves into recognizable chunks, the loudest, although not distracting, is the rushing of the water. Sometimes lazy, sometimes desperate depending on the time of the year...run off or mid summer...as water competes to get through the hole in the damn. I can hear the squeak of  pikas and the fuss of whistle pigs, the occasional vehicle or huffing and puffing bicyclist, although by walking just a bit further I remove my self from all noises man made.

 I loved to ride my bicycle up to this spot. The squish of my handle grips and the rhythmic push/release/push of my feet and legs as I ride up to my spot makes the sweat and the effort worth it. I am grounded in my spot. I can have a picnic, read a book, think, or just spend the day. I feel safe, secluded and on top of that part of the world.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Monday Morning Warm Up--Teachers Write

So, I started participting in teachers write hosted by Kate Messner and other great people willing to guide.
My first task was to decide where to house my teachers write writing. And after deciding my blog was a good place, I began the "quest for the password, which, I believe, is some sort of a write of passage when one is trying to access something that has not been touched for a while. Finally ready to write about the Monday AM warm up...thanks to author Jo Knowles

A bit about my kitchen...
After experiencing life in a construction zone our kitchen was finally remodeled. My mother, or maybe it was my father, had a passion for things Native American. In this kitchen, by the backdoor, was a wooden sliding door that covered some sort of closet or pantry. It was a plain, hollow, wooden two panel sliding door, that said to my father, "paint me".

In my world my father was the best artist. He could draw a very compelling alligator, but his real "thing" was designing and constructing. The design and painting of this sliding door presented a challenge right up his alley. Black, glossy background (lots of coats to make it really shine), carefully cut stencil of a circle bisected by arrows and feathers, and painstaking work with little brushes created the most precise Native American symbol that ever graced anyone's kitchen! I believe this door was the only nod to Native American art in my otherwise eclectic kitchen, and although the painted door was in corner, away from the kitchen action, I can still see the design and smell the oil based glossy paint.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

QR Codes Finally Have a Purpose

Finally, I can see the point and the possible power of using QR codes ( do you call them codes?) in my professional life...I am going to use them to tell visitors more about my school; The Renaissance Magnet School, an Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound School. I'll build web sites or record explanations of various philosophical pieces of our magnet school and publish the QR code to the website so that vistiors have access. I might put the QR codes close to the object/poster/painting that needs explanation and/or publish the codes in a handout.

I am also going to use them as tools to further explain our "brochure" wall. Let me further explain:) There is a big wall down our main hall way that we use to keep our community aware and engaged with current Learning Expeditions. As crews do field work, or create products, or engage in projects, photos of student learning go up on the "brochure" wall. We (I) call it a "brochure" wall because the detail is in the pictures and not in the text...so it resembles a big brochure "advertising" the ongoing Learning Expeditions. This is where the QR codes come in...I am going to start including QR codes in the display so that visitors can get a bit more information and/or student reflection/explanation if they wish. For example; I will use a QR code to direct visitors to the website detailing the gold mine our fourth graders visited as part of their field work. I think it is exciting to think about asking teachers to video students explaining the learning experiences depicted in the pictures. I'll create a web site or youtube video, and then use the QR code to direct visitors to student's talking about the experiences shown in the pictures. Great idea huh! Like all great ideas this one came from collaboration at a regional tech conference. The QR code session was facilitated by Liz Walhof...thanks Liz!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Rest of the Book

I'm going to take the twitter approach to the rest of the book, "Making Learning Whole" By David Perkins.   I'll take the authors sage advice (pg 219 and also somewhere in the beginning) "do not read this book too closely". I feel that is exactly what I have done, although interesting and through enough, I'll stay true to the sprit with which this book was written and try the 140 character summaries.

I left off at the Chapter; Play Out of Town....Shepard the transfer of learning, ZOPD is real, necessary and effective, learn to do by doing, ask, "where else is today's learning useful?"

Chapter 5; Uncover the Hidden Games....all lrnng has hidden aspects, dimensions, perspectives, 4ex; hidden strategies, causal thnkng, inquiry, powr. Games hide n simplicity,  "good enough", almost unconscious knowledge, readiness, so...empower learners to uncover the games

Chapter 6; Learn From the Team....+other teams, participation structures...including wkshp model. We are social animals, Vygotsky=social scaffolding....rule: "Hardly anyone does anything solo for long." How can paring learners and learning in groups serve learning?

Finally, Chapter 7; Learn the Game of Learning...learn how to learn=putting lrnrs in the driver's seat, avoid the shallow 4 shallow's sake=avoid the passenger seat (i.e just the facts and skills), go for deep=reaching for comp, learning the game of learning=name and label the games as they happen...games accessible to students

In the end I think Dr. Perkin's advice was well taken...even though I read the book closely, trying to stick to the 140 character summary, (and I didn't always make it... ) helped me visualize the big rocks. More advice...pick a place to start...his advice...play the whole game.