Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Kindness

An Extraordinary Life

This post was sitting in my drafts folder. When I heard Amy had passed away, I went to write about her but instead just watched this video. I have said before that the key trait I want in a teacher for my children is kindness. The second, is that they are always learning. Amy embodied both of those things with an understated elegance.

How do you want to be remembered?

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Who’s Your Amy?

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Amy visits the American School in Warsaw, 2012. Photo courtesy of ASW

Last week, I was at the American School in Warsaw as a Learning2Leader for the Learning2 Europe conference. Part of my job was to give an L2 talk. A short talk on a topic of my choosing that fit the theme of the conference: Include, Inquire, Inspire.

I was tossing ideas around when, like over 4 and a half million other people, I read Amy’s column in the New York Post, You May Want To Marry My Husband. I was shocked and saddened beyond belief and I was also clear on what my L2 talk would be about. Amy Krouse Rosenthal. 

I went to Warsaw with this idea firmly planted but my actual talk, very much in the air. I kept writing a eulogy that I didn’t have the position or authority to write. I had to make it more about my connection to Amy while still engaging those in the audience who didn’t know this amazing person.

After much drafting and editing and re-writing, The Yellow Umbrella was created. And I felt great about it. It was equal parts homage and inspiration and the most heartfelt thank you I could create for this amazing woman.

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Amy made wishes. She wished for me “Endless Bliss”. In turn, I wish that for her family who must be grieving her loss so much more deeply than anyone.

Here is the talk. The transcript is below. Who is your Amy?

 

The Yellow Umbrella

It seems somewhat weird or maybe even selfish to grieve the loss of someone you never really knew. But the grief and the loss are both real and the knowing comes through the willingness of a maker with an umbrella to share her passion.

Maybe you know Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Maybe you have read one of her books? Or maybe you have your own “Amy” who inspires you with their magic. This is not a eulogy for Amy. In all honesty, I don’t think I can do her justice. But it is my sincere wish that in sharing her story, a part of her maker spirit will live on in us all.

When I finished reading her book “The Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” I felt like I had spent the afternoon with a good friend. I was convinced that she and I, at some yet to be determined point in life, would collaborate on a project together. I wasn’t sure what that project would be and honestly, it didn’t even matter, I was just inspired by her perspective and her vision and I wanted to be a part of that.

This isn’t the collaboration I had imagined but with heartfelt appreciation of her generous spirit, let me share three pearls of Amy-inspired wisdom.

 

  1. Find the thing you can’t not do.

Amy was a maker. Among other things she made short films, salads, wishes and books. When asked, “Why do you write?” She would respond, “Because I can’t not.”

What is the thing that you “can’t not” do? What is the thing you find yourself doing above all other things? For me, I “can’t not” create. Whether it be doodles, a re-designed resume, a collection of art provocations, a book, or the slides behind me, I am constantly inspired to create and re-create. What is your “can’t not”?

 

  1. Stand Under Your Umbrella

On the 8/8/08 Amy put a message out that at 8:08pm she would be standing under the Bean in Chicago and that anyone who wanted to make something with her, was welcome to join. She would be the one with the yellow umbrella.  And the association between Amy and a yellow umbrella was born. Imagine an umbrella, yellow, hanging in your schools – in a shared space, a classroom, a teacher workroom. The umbrella would remind you that in this school, in this space, we

  • Take risks
  • Are makers
  • Amplify ideas

 

We have ‘blue sky’ thinking, why not “yellow umbrella living”? How would a yellow umbrella move you forward in the way you ‘do’ school? What would it amplify? What new things would arise?

  1. More

More is a key word I associate with Amy. It is tattooed on her arm. It is in the title of one of her books. She believed that the more you looked, the more you would find. Her biggest more? Was that through her work she would connect with people.

Like all of us, I wear many hats and have a full schedule. To think of adding more seems near impossible. But then I think, what if I take some things away in order to add more things in? Less structure, more freedom. Less talk, more listen. Less work and more play. How would doing less make room for more?

This umbrella is new. I bought it a week or so after Amy died because I wanted something to hold on to that represented a great maker. Amy taught me to make.When I am stuck, when I am not sure, when in doubt, MAKE.  Make good art. Make a connection. Make a difference. To be a maker was Amy’s passion. It almost seems as if it were her destiny.

Who is your Amy? Who inspires you to make the most of your time here. What magic will evolve from the maker in you?

Action, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Creativity

Watch Me!

It is the phrase any parent will know in their sleep. But why isn’t it echoing in our hallways at school? Where is the demand to be seen? To show off what has been created? To share one’s creative endeavours?

The other day I (somewhat) jokingly said to a colleague that we should “Banksy” the heck out of our school walls. Art Activists. Spreading a message. I think I would start with “Watch me!” – the war cry of children who create.

This leads me back to having a Bias Toward Action. Think of your kids. How often are they taking action? And don’t confuse this with “working” or “being busy” but actually making, doing, creating, producing of their own accord? 

One of my Maker heros passed away last week. The phenomenal Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She was a maker. She was a creator. She was someone who looked at the same things as everybody else, but through “Amy colored” glasses. She was kind, lovely, generous, smart, and oh so creative. I miss her already. And I wish for more. I have more to say on Amy. But for now, in her honor, please think about having your kids make things. Challenge yourself to do away with worksheets and pre-cut shapes and cookie-cutter “art” projects. Let your kids MAKE things. Stop having them fill in checklists and tick boxes and conform to your timeframe and LET. THEM. MAKE.

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Innovation

Producer Mindset

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Recently I posted about a Maker Mindset. My friend, Darcy, shared an article with me today about a Producer Mindset – specifically, Raising Producer Kids. Written by Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Philip Guo, this is a great piece with loads of ideas about the concept that we need our kids to be more actively producing ideas/products/songs/plays/art/games than they perhaps are at the moment.

Here are some of the best parts from the post:

Encourage your kids to become producers. To the extent possible, have them strive to consistently produce something new rather than consuming all the time.

Producing isn’t limited to creating tangible artifacts.

…engaging in creative activities can give them a deeper sense of personal satisfaction than the superficial fun that comes with passive consumption.

Fostering a producer mindset isn’t hard.

You can still let them spend the vast majority of their free time consuming media like all of their friends are doing; as long as you encourage them to spend at least some time producing

…kids (at least in America) desire both conformance and uniqueness: Consuming the same media as their peers allows them to conform and fit in with the mainstream crowd, and producing gives them a legitimate sense of uniqueness, which can make them happy regardless of what their friends like.

The key here is intrinsic motivation—doing things for their own sake rather than for the promise of external recognition or reward.

…observe what your kids naturally like doing and then figure out ways to get those activities to involve producing rather than just consuming.

Modifying existing works—taking the constraints of an existing book, game, or activity, and then being creative within those constraints—is often the first step toward developing a producer mindset. It also teaches your kids that the things they buy aren’t sacred—they can feel free to alter or remix them.

Exactly what they’re producing isn’t important; what’s more important is the fact that they’re getting into a habit of producing regularly.

Here comes the part that I just LOVE:

Reading and school learning are also forms of consumption. Yes, they’re healthier than ad-ridden mass media, but they still involve passively absorbing, memorizing, and regurgitating information. I’d go as far to claim that if your kids have hobbies they’re passionate about concentrating on for long periods of time, then that’s better preparation for being a happy and productive adult than studying more and possibly getting better grades.

Whenever people ask me about apps for the iPad, I talk about consumption -vs- production apps. It is no secret that Book Creator, Adobe Spark, Stop Motion Studio, Doceri, Draw and Tell, iMovie, Hopscotch and Garageband are among my favorite apps. Games and apps that are task specific (solve these problems, drag these words, fill in these boxes) are really just a substitution for a worksheet, and while they may be “fun” and “the kids really like them”, they are not building a producer or maker mindset.

So what? What can I do now with this information?

Excellent question! This is why you need Darcy at your school! Cue an email she sent this morning to a small group of us, currently exploring Makerspaces and the Maker Mindset. This email was about a new global event on May 2nd (which happens to be DARCY’S BIRTHDAY – coincidence? I think not!). Check it out:

Global Day of Design

I have signed up and the email confirmation comes with a file of goodies that are absolutely worth your time in downloading and looking through. I also bought the book (all in the name of education as part of my Masters course on creativity, of course!) But don’t JUST look at the resources! Share them, print them, doodle on them, remix them, leave them out for the kids to see, loop the videos on your Smartboard. Part of our job as educators is to “light a spark” – kids are going to be curious about things we pay attention to so make sure the things you are spending your time on are worth it!

How does this link to the PYP Exhibition?

If I were in charge of the world, I would have kids work through as many Launch Cycles as possible leading up to the exhibition. Traditionally, most PYPX groups follow an inquiry cycle. While these are great, many teachers use them in a very sequential manner that is theory heavy and research heavy and takes a lot of cognitive processing time rather than tinkering/doing/making time. In many cases, kids don’t move toward the messy, making, action, doing part of exhibition until well into week three or four of the six to eight week process. I would love to see iteration become one of the buzzwords of Exhibition. Instead of coming up with one way, come up with ten ways, twenty ways. Try eight or nine different ideas out. Be bold!

Embrace the Bias.

Bias exists. Everywhere. We all lean toward one thing or another which inherently means we lean away from something else. We read one more chapter which means ten less math problems. The PYP is HUGE. There are many components, each jockeying for attention in our day. Ideally, we would slice the day up into fractional perfection: Knowledge, ATLs, Concepts, Attitudes, Action. But life isn’t a perfect pie chart. So why not embrace a Bias Toward Action? (Thanks, Patty!)

According to the d.School, here is the What/Why/How on Bias Toward Action:

Bias Toward Action

How amazing does this sound? We promote action-oriented behavior. We see action as a way to get a group unstuck. Action inspires new thinking. Action promotes group agreement. Action helps make decisions.

Why would we NOT want more tinkering, producing, and action in our classrooms?

 

What else can I read about tinkering & producing?

For further reading on the subject of tinkering, have a look at these posts previously published with links to loads more ideas to bring a Producer Mindset to your classroom:

Action, Exhibition

Inspiring Action

Action.

It is one of the core components of the PYP and yet it is often something teachers seem to struggle with – inspiring action in their students and helping grow authentic action from inquiries.

Thankfully, there are a lot of really great resources out there to help us in our quest to help kids take action. I have posted about a lot of these, but in light of the fact that it is “Exhibition Season” for many PYP schools, I thought I would do a little roundup of some oldies-but-goodies from the Post Archive and a new graphic that I created last week on the heels of a quick photo posted by a friend of her kids in Singapore working in their classroom.

Speak to Inspire Action

This is the title of a post and of a download by Simon Sinek with 11 “tips to help you speak and present in a way that will inspire others”. It is a great resource and is accessible to fifth graders as well. Check out the blog post about this resource.

Six Ways of Taking Action

This post was sparked by one I read by an Aussie educator, Richard Black, who had broken “action” down into six ways of being, doing, thinking, saying, feeling, and having. I took his words and turned them into a set of posters to help kids visualize what it means to take action. The post also includes links to playlists of inspirational videos for kids and teachers to get them fired up for making a difference.

Action Pyramid

I was tagged in a tweet by my friend Jocelyn, who teaches in Singapore. (Side note: Jocelyn is an amazing educator, please follow on Twitter – she is so generous in her sharing and creative and thoughtful and inspired in her teaching practice). As I flicked through the photos, I saw an action pyramid. I loved it. And I also knew I could feed my addiction to The Noun Project if I took her picture and ramped it up a bit with some iconography.

Here is the visual or here is the PDF of the Pyramid

Pyramid

I really like this as a conversation starter for kids. I think it breaks things down really nicely, having them look critically at what is happening, hypothesise why this might be so (and even research to make sure that is true), reflect on the impact their own actions could make, think creatively about solutions, and DO IT!

How do you build a culture of action taking at your school?

 

21st Century, Change, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

Imagine A Teacher

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Imagine you are a teacher.

The school year is about to begin – it’s the first day for teachers to arrive at school.

You walk into your classroom and there is a letter for you. From your students.

Dear Teacher,

The most important thing you can do for us this year is to teach creativity. Consider yourself no longer our teacher but be our ‘Captain Creative’ and we, your eager cohort of innovators, curators, makers, and thinkers.

To teach creativity is to equip us with the skills to think critically. To examine, debate, discuss, agree, argue, dissent, come to a consensus, and to think.

To teach creativity is to question. To make sure you ask questions you don’t know the answer to and let us ask questions too. Let’s solve them together in short, frantic bursts of excitement and long, drawn-out wondering that go far beyond the lesson plan.

To teach creativity is to teach us that ideas are treasures, to be gathered and cherished with pirate-like pleasure! We need to come to school each day more curious than the day before and should know that our actions have an impact that goes beyond our classroom walls.

To teach creativity, one can start with empathy. When we know that to empathize is to arrive at the starting point for change and possibility, that to try and to trial and to test and to try again are all part of process, and that there is never a ‘one way’ of doing (but always your guiding hand should we get stuck down a wrong way), you will be a teacher of creativity.

To teach creativity, is to allow us to bloom. To nurture each of us through the learning process at a different pace and in a different space, feeding our quest for knowledge so that new ideas can flourish. Teach us to connect rather than simply collect the dots.

To teach creativity one does not need to be creative (but you are). To teach creativity one does need to rethink ‘school’ (and you will). To teach creativity is to respect us as individuals, to seek the ‘so what?’, and to be authentic in all that you do.

What are you waiting for? The creativity revolution begins with you. And with us. And it starts now.

Sincerely,

Your students

What would this inspire you to do? What does it tell you about your school leadership team? And where does this school exist?

Approaches to Learning, Inspiration

How To Write A Great Blog Post

Step One: Don’t give your post a lame title 🙂

Our fourth grade students are blogging this year. It has taken a while to get them started but they are growing in their tech skills to be able to do this more independently. Now that they (mostly) have the mechanics of blogging sorted, I wanted to switch my focus to the content.

Up until now the posts they have done have been directed by their homeroom teachers or by me. As they head off on their own, I wanted there to be some sort of checklist in their room to help them. But more than a checklist. I didn’t want it to be purely mechanics. So I turned to two of my favorites: Simon Sinek and Peter H. Reynolds.

Simon STARTS WITH WHY so I did too. We talked about leading with WHY, following up with HOW, and concluding with WHAT. Typically a blog post from a student goes like this:

This is my video of my project.

Using the Sinek way:

I wanted to explain how I understand the connection between people and the impact on the environment. The best way for me to do this was using Adobe Spark Page so that I could add pictures, videos, and links and so I could make sure to tell all the things that I know and how I want to make a difference. I hope you learn from the Page that I have created.

How do you minimise your impact on the environment?

Typically the content speaks for itself but this simple WHY/HOW/WHAT routine helps give a snapshot into the purpose of the post and its content. The question at the end is to give the readers of the blog (mostly classmates) something to respond to in the comments.

My other favorite person is Peter H. Reynolds. He has collaborated on the 4C’s project. I love the 4C’s. In addition to checking other mechanics of their blog post (capitals, punctuation, categories) I wanted to challenge them to check their blog post against the 4C’s. Does their post (and thus the content they created) hit on one or more of the 4C’s? Massive bonus if it hits on all four!

Here is the blogging checklist I created (PDF download):

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Creativity, Inquiry, Thinking

Informed Thinking

In a course I am doing at the moment on Creativity, we were asked to do some Informed Thinking. 

This is the task we were given:

You will inform your thinking about the scholarship of creativity studies through historical and contemporary resources.  Afterwards, you will share on the blackboard some key concepts, definitions, models, theories and information that is particularly important in your eyes.  This should be in the form of bulleted list of at least ten items. Each item should have a 1-2 sentence description to explain it.

We were given a curated list of videos, studies, research projects, Keynotes, visuals, documents to read/watch and then had to create our own ‘top ten’.

About half of the class have done the assignment and it is really interesting to see what others pulled out as ‘important’ or stand-out ideas. It is also really interesting to think about yourself as a reader/viewer when ideas you never heard of appear in someone else’s list. And it is a great way to summarize and inform your thinking in preparation for the follow-up task (which is to apply the new learning).

This would be a great way to guide students through the research phase of a unit that is heavy in names/dates, theories/ideas. One of the group said she is planning on using this during her G5 Governance unit.

I chose to add pictures to the mix in addition to the one or two sentences. I love icons (shout out to the Noun Project) and it helped me to consolidate my chosen ideas into a visual image.

Can you use this in your classroom?

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Innovation

MakerSpace or MakerMindset?

Makerspace.

Trendy? Needed? Overused? Underused? Lots of discussion in our school – and many others – about this ‘new thing’. Sometimes I find it exhausting that we have to form a committee to come to the shared understanding that kids making stuff, tinkering, thinking, designing, prototyping ideas, and playing, is a good thing!

Nonetheless, what if you have already decided it is a good thing? Where to from there? My suggestion: differentiate between a MakerSpace and a MakerMindset.  These are similar but very different at the same time. Don’t get hung up on how many hot glue guns you are going to buy, start by getting buy-in on what it means to be a maker and part of the maker movement.

If you are not sure what this would look like, take a look at the NIST Makerspace website. They do a great job of spelling out the things you see in a Maker Mindset and a Maker Space.  I liked the idea so much I started drawing out my own idea of a maker mindset:

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I would then suggest that you Start With WHY. Why do you want a Makerspace? Why is this an important thing to you? You could try framing your thinking by filling in the gaps:

“Because we believe…………………………………….. we have a Makerspace.”

Move on to HOW. How will a Makerspace work in your school? Within the curriculum? Parallel to the curriculum? Embedded in the curriculum? Totally optional and separate to the curriculum?  How will teachers know it is valued? How will parents share in your vision? How do kids have input?

Finally, WHAT. Now is when you can get the glue gun catalog out and spend! But you can also gather (hoard?) and collect and put out specific requests for those egg cartons, buttons, fabric offcuts, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and the like. One thing I think would be useful at this point is for teachers to spend twenty minutes in their rooms. Mentally divide the room into four quadrants and spend five minutes looking at each section, asking yourself:

  • what is useful for making and tinkering?
  • what storage do I have?
  • what could I take out of my room to make more space?
  • are there outlets in this part of the room?
  • is there ventilation in this part of the room?

I subscribe to SmartBrief on Education and in today’s edition, they had a piece on Tips For Meaningful Making. This advice section concluded with links to free resources that may be of interest to anyone in the process of beginning a Makerspace.

  • Wicked Decent Learning blog. Check out Dan Ryder’s “Design Thinking” section to get insights on making and reflection.
  • Agency by Design. Visit the Educator Resources section to see different ways to approach the thinking behind making. This is a phenomenal resource from Project Zero. If you love Visible Thinking Routines, you will love AbD. 

Do you have a Maker Mindset?

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