Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Do you Want to Code a Program?

Principal John Beeck puts it like this:  "First of all, we want to teach the kids basic programming skills.  Then, we'll use that basic understanding of programming to enhance student's understanding of the existing curriculum--of reading, math, social studies and science."  Loess Hills Elementary School is a neighborhood school with a specialty emphasis---everyone codes!  When I was first introduced to the idea of an elementary computer programming specialty school, I wasn't so sure.  I wondered if coding was a broad enough platform to build and sustain a specialty focus.  Would kids (and teachers) lose interest in the coding software available to elementary aged kids?  Could the coding skills really be leveraged across multiple content areas to deepen student's engagement with the core content?

After two years of implementation, teachers and kids at Loess Hills would answer with a resounding "YES!"-- and then, they might break into a Frozen tune:  "Do you want to code a program?"  What does coding bring to a classroom?
Don't take my word for it:  see for yourself!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Seven "C"s of Student Agency

For the past academic year, the teachers in Sioux City Community School District have been studying "Growth Mindset, a New Psychology of Success", by Carol Dweck.  As we finish the year, I have found myself wondering, "What is the point of a book study, unless it impacts our classroom practice?" 

We do not think ourselves into new ways of teaching.
Yet, we can teach ourselves into new ways of thinking.

Just like our students:  it's not just about what we know.  It's about what we are able to do.  

For me, the Growth Mindset "Aha!" occurred when I made this connection:
Student Engagement  +  Growth Mindset  =  Student Agency

Recent work in brain-based learning has demonstrated that student agency (voice and choice) is critical to the neuro-chemical processes that support learning.  
There may be 4 "C"s of 21st Century learning (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Collaboration).  However, there are 7 "C"s of Teaching which develop student agency. 

Read the study yourself, HERE.

Reference:  The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores:  Engagement, Mindsets and Agency,

How many of the 7 "C"s of Student Agency do I bring to my classroom?  Watch the teachers (and students!) in the video below, and see if you can identify any of the 7 "C"s of Student Agency as you listen in on their conversations, and watch them in their classrooms.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I Don't Have to Wonder if It's the Right Work

There are times when I wake in the night and find myself wondering about what's best for kids in our schools.  Too much technology or not enough?  Too much assessment or just the wrong kinds?  Too much discussion about standards or not yet enough?

However, when it comes to Deeper Learning, I don't have to wonder if it's the right work.  I know that I know that I know it.  Kids at the center, teachers as facilitators, messiness and creativity and persistence and personalization.  That's everything RIGHT about today's educational innovation.  Take a few minutes to watch the Sioux City kids in this video.  Look at their eyes, notice their interactions with each other and study the learning environments

Oh, and don't worry.  These Middle School exploratory courses have plenty of technology; it's essential to the work that kids are doing.  We do assess; we use rubrics to measure growth in communication, creativity, critical thinking and accountability--all based on the Iowa Core standards for Middle School students.  So, maybe I should spend less time wondering about the right work for schools, and more time celebrating the student-centered innovation happening both in our district and in hundreds of others across the nation.  Deeper Learning.  I know that I know that I know.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Game Based Learning and a Growth Mindset

It's the holiday season.  Time for family, for food and for.....a growth mindset!  When our family gathers, we play games.  We play cards, put together puzzles, roll the monopoly dice and laugh at our competitive spirits.  This year, I am trying to take a step back and think about how a Growth Mindset impacts our inter-generational connections as we play games. 
Do we encourage and value risk-taking and mistake-making?  Do we let the youngest cousins win too easily?  Do we let Grandma bend the rules? I think, generally speaking, we play family games with a Growth Mindset without even realizing it!
Why do we play games at family gatherings?  Because it's fun, interactive, skill-building and better than sitting around watching TV.

The idea of game-based learning is making its way into classrooms around the country as educators discover its power to motivate--the human mind tunes in to the situational challenges that games create for our growing minds.  Game-based learning is NOT playing "hangman" with vocabulary words on a Friday afternoon. 
Game-based learning looks like the classroom in this video from Edutopia, featuring a 6th grade Social Studies lesson.

How does game-based learning fit with Growth Mindset? I think that the two ideas go "hand-in-hand". 

If we set the stage well for our learners, games will provide a safe framework for trying new ideas and stretching our student's skills. Take a look at the Edutopia Blog post HERE. In my opinion, there are close connections between game-based learning principles and the Growth Mindset.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Growth Mindset: Praising the Process

Praise the process, first. 
Last summer, my oldest and my youngest daughter spent a week together, making a stand-up paddle board. They bought a kit and borrowed power tools.  They had very little experience and zero supervision.  But, they did approach the entire project with a Growth Mindset.  My only contribution to the project was to exact from them one promise, "Wear Goggles". 
The project was most certainly not error-free.  What they did discover, however, was that almost all mistakes can be eradicated if given sufficient amounts of time and sandpaper.
They mixed epoxy resin, sealed the frame with fiberglass and created a pretty impressive paddleboard.  All along, I doubted their ability to bring the project to completion.  And yet, they did it!  I think that hefty doses of process praise (from their Dad) kept them going when the project may have faltered.  In the end, the process praise resulted in a great final product.
Sometimes, we classroom teachers are so concerned with outcomes that we tend to emphasize the perfect final product more often than we notice (and praise) the effort in the process 
In the end, all of the mistakes come together to make a beautiful, if imperfect, finished product.  Begin with a Growth Mindset, and who knows what might be able to float! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Thinking about Thinking: Growing or Fixed?

Carol Dweck and her book on Growth Mindset are the focus of our district's 10-minutes of think-time during PD each month.  We're blending the book with online PD modules and face-to-face collaborative discussions.

It's important for us to ask ourselves if we teach with a Growth or Fixed mindset.  

I think I have always acknowledged the power of effort, but I also (mistakenly) assumed that some students were simply better at math and chemistry than others.  In essence, I used my fixed mindset to let myself off the hook by thinking that some of my students just wouldn't get it--no matter what we did in the classroom.  It's hard to admit it, but before brain research changed my idea of teaching and learning, I honestly believed that some kids were just destined for the "D".  Ugh. 

I know that I am not alone in coming to terms with this new realization of the importance of high expectations.  Listen to the opening lines of this discussion between Carol Dweck and Sal Kahn.  I like the hashtag #YouCanLearnAnything.  Really.  Even chemistry.

Monday, March 9, 2015

3 Steps to the Next Level for Iowa's TLC

What are the next steps for the Iowa TLC in Sioux City? 
We've marveled at the impact of our teacher-leaders, as they have invested in teacher-initiated, classroom-embedded, professional development.  Recent conversations with coaches have identified three steps which we must take in order to climb to the next level with Iowa's TLC.
Step One: We need to train our coaches to light fires.   
With a partnership-approach, I believe teacher-leaders can go places with constructive feedback that will transcend the typical administrator interactions about classroom management or instruction style.  A coach can light a fire within a teacher, looking for the burning purpose rather than the burning platform.  There is a strong bond of trust among our classroom teachers and our teacher-leaders.  This trust opens the door for professional growth and healthy self-reflection.

Step Two: We need to act on insight rather than instinct.   
In a data-rich school culture, our best teacher-leaders are effectively utilizing real-time achievement data to immediately impact instruction.  We are increasingly seeing teacher-leaders rely on data-based insight rather than gut-level instinct to recommend changes in classroom instruction.  Achievement data is somehow “safer” in the hands of a trusted colleague…it isn’t evaluative, it’s informative.  Teacher-leaders can lean into the data and leverage it for positive change.

Step Three: We need to stop making everyone happy 
Our consulting teachers must develop strategies connected to both consensus building and team leadership in order to empower classroom teachers to raise the bar on curriculum, instruction and assessment.  Teachers don’t teach in isolation anymore—and teacher-leaders need to be able to knock on closed doors and pull up a chair at team meetings.  The district as a whole is experiencing an increase in communication and collaboration as a direct result of this work. Yet, coaching for consensus means that ideas must be examined, compromise must be shaped and practices must be altered.  At the end of the day, not everyone is happy; but we are all better, together.

Our teacher-leaders continue to exceed our performance expectations and anticipated outcomes for Year One of the implementation.  To climb to the next level, we need to ensure that our next steps include lighting fires, acting on insight and building great teams that will not settle for less than excellence.