Brain Research, Creativity, Inspiration

Portaging Into the Wilderness of Creativity and THUNKS

A friend of mine is reading a book.  She sent me a quote from the foreword.  It is brilliant.  I decided when I started this blog that I would try to illustrate my quotes with my own photographs (another passion) and with that in mind, I did laugh when I read the quote!  Here it is:

      (For the record, the photo is an intricate light fixture in a tiny burger restaurant in Tokyo near the train station that we went to after a long day in the city).

The title of the book is called, Dancing About Architecture: A Little Book About Creativity and it is by Phil Beadle.  I knew nothing of the book or the author until a few hours ago and I am now hoping to read this book very soon!  What I did read was a fabulous articleby Ian Gilbert on the topic and the book and its author.  And that article made me want to read the book even more.  Why?  Because I am hopeful that it will help fuel further ideas that are currently zipping around my own head for ways to build, structure, plan for and create ‘creativity’ within my own classroom.  I have read a lot of the ‘why’ about educational reform.  I have bought in.  I have signed up.  I’m committed.  Now what?  I am hopeful that this book will spark my own creative process.  Why do I think this book might do that?  Here are a few words about the book and it’s author that have me excited:

Phil isn’t creative to make the world a nicer place. He’s creative because sometimes the world sucks and you need to give it a kick to make it suck less…In this little book, Phil’s first for the Independent Thinking Series, you will find many, many creative ideas to cut out and keep for your classroom or staff training session.  Some ideas are quite straightforward. Some need the leap of faith that by asking different questions you will get different answers. Not always better but genuinely not what you expected. But giving you ideas is only part of what Phil – and the rest of Independent Thinking – is about. The name is the clue. What is more important is that you start to come up with your own ideas. This is where this little book can really help you. Yes, some of your ideas might fail.  Live with it. Creativity and failure are bedfellows, Look at Jonathon Ross. On the other hand, they might succeed. Catastrophically, to borrow a phrase from the White House. Whatever happens, your world will start on that journey to upside down and you can screech to a halt in your grave with the universe well and truly battered. – Ian Gilbert

Sounds great, right? I hope so!  Having posted about creativity quite a lot in this blog already (such as here, here and here) I was equally engaged by Gilbert’s take on how creativity ‘works’. He recounts a five step plan by a man named James Webb Young that was published in a book in 1939.  On the value of the first step (gathering raw material), Gilbert has the following to say:

Part of the first step that we often overlook, however, is the need to feed our brains with all sorts of ‘raw material’ and not just the sort most related to our work. If all you do, as an educator, is read education books then you will never be very creative. You will never succeed in doing what Steve Jobs, the creative genius behind Apple (amongst other things) calls making a ‘dent in the universe’. Genuine creativity needs a collision of ideas, something that will never happen if all your thoughts travel in the same direction. Arthur Koestler in his seminal book on creativity, The Act of Creation, talks about ‘bisociation’. An idea travels in one direction and then suddenly is broadsided by another travelling in a different one. It is used in humour all the time. What’s blue and white and climbs trees? A fridge in a denim jacket. That sort of thing.

I read this and I loved it. It reminded me of the comment left on a previous post recently:

I say ‘get out there’.  Yes, engage in PD within your own like-minded group of educators, but mix it up a bit too.  Be creative!  Make a ruckus! (my new favorite Seth Godin line). A couple of months ago I added a few different sources into my Twitter feed, which  up until now, was almost exclusively teachers.  It is now teachers, authors, thinker, curators, artists and the like thrown in and the new ideas that in turn are reflected in my teaching have been brilliant.

But back to the practical aspect of creativity: where can you start sparking creativity in your classroom? Here’s something you can start with: THUNKS. Part of the Independent Thinking toolkit (registration is quick and free), THUNKS have been described as “thought hand grenades” and are designed to get kids thinking by posing a question with no right or wrong answer. Check out a sample of Thunks, buy the Book of Thunks, or look for more at the Thunks website.

  1. Is there more future or past?
  2. Is black a colour?
  3. If I switch the lights off does the wall change colour?
  4. Can you cast a shadow into a dark room?
  5. In a dark room what does a mirror reflect?
  6. Can you touch the wind?
  7. Can you touch a rainbow?
  8. Is a broken down car parked?
  9. Is there more happiness or sadness in the world?
  10. Can you feel happy and sad at the same time?
  11. If I read a comic in a shop without paying for it is that stealing?
  12. If I swap your pen for one exactly the same without telling you is that stealing?
  13. If I pick up your pen by mistake and put it in my bag is it stealing?
  14. If you ask me if I have your pen and I say no because I don’t think I have, is that lying?
  15. If we borrow every single book from a library is it still a library?
  16. If we move the entire school and everything and everybody in it to Africa would it still be the same school?
  17. If we took the school building and moved it to the other side of town but left the people and things exactly where they were where would the school be?
  18. Does lined paper weigh more than blank paper?
  19. Is it ever OK to cheat?
  20. Was Theseus a cheat in the labyrinth?
21st Century, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

Enough With Keeping Score!

I just read an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article, titled 10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You.  It is funny and poignant and carries with it a deeper message than the pithy, surface humor with which it is delivered. Point 5 on the list leapt from the screen at me:

Kids’ sports are becoming ridiculously structured and competitive. What happened to playing baseball because it’s fun? We are systematically creating races out of things that ought to be a journey. We know that success isn’t about simply running faster than everyone else in some predetermined direction. Yet the message we are sending from birth is that if you don’t make the traveling soccer team or get into the “right” school, then you will somehow finish life with fewer points than everyone else. That’s not right. You’ll never read the following obituary: “Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place.”

Finished life in 186th place. 

If you are like me, you will have chuckled at the ridiculousness of this line.

If you are like me, you will have then thought of the truth in this line – and of how school perpetuates this truth when it insists on pushing all it’s students through the Standardized Test production line. I have never hid the fact that I dislike standardized tests. And this is a dislike based on research and discussion and even formed the part of my University degree for which I gained my first (and only) A+ for the paper I wrote about the topic in my final year of school.  I have taken classes by the one half of the duo in New Zealand who authored the PAT (Progress and Achievement Test) who indicated that not only did their test contain inherent bias that was almost impossible to avoid, it only served as a basis for testing lower level thinking and computation skills.  The New York Times is in a blogging frenzy over standardized tests with  posts on the outcry over a contested question about a pineapple without sleeves, on  parents choosing to keep their children home during tests, and from a staff developer on how testing is hurting teaching. I have read countless articles about standardized testing (read this, and this and this to get you started) and none of them do anything to make me want to throw up my arms and embrace the concept and the reality of the standardized test.

Thankfully, I am not alone.

Shelly Blake-Plock via Mind/Shift on 21 things that will be obsolete by 2020:

The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn’t far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

Seth Godin via Back to (the wrong) School:

As long as we embrace (or even accept) standardized testing, fear of science, little attempt at teaching leadership and most of all, the bureaucratic imperative to turn education into a factory itself, we’re in big trouble.

Alfie Kohn via Standardized Testing and Its Victims:

Standardized testing has swelled and mutated, like a creature in one of those old horror movies, to the point that it now threatens to swallow our schools whole.

Read Seth’s comment again: As long as we embrace (OR EVEN ACCEPT) standardized testing… Too often I am told, “Parents want to know”, “Other schools do it too”, “The kids have to practice for it”, “It will mean free tuition if they do well”.  My fifth graders have seven more years of K-12 education ahead of them.  Seven years! Can we predict what will happen in seven years time to justify pushing our kids through standardized testing today? I have worked with some of my kids for almost two years now, having been their fourth grade teacher as well.  My kids are awesome.  Different.  Special.  Talented.  Unique.  And so smart in so many different ways that it would blow your socks off. After 45 minutes of round one of ‘Test Prep’ for the SSAT, can you imagine how heartbreaking it is to hear a child say, “Wow.  I thought I was smart but I guess I really am dumb!”.  Heartbreaking.  And so, so untrue.   Yet the push continues.

Shelly Blake-Plock followed the “21 things” post with this brilliant article that left me with goosebumps and the final tag line:  DO SOMETHING IMPOSSIBLE.  Are you willing to do just that?


Make a ruckus! Our kids deserve it.

Creativity, Inspiration, PYP

School…with a helping of learning on the side


Learning “by accident”. Sounds weird but that is what we have seen going on at school for the last five weeks as we have been headfirst, up to our knees in Exhibition – the culminating event for students in the IB PYP program.

Every day it seems, we are seeing learning EVERYWHERE. And it’s not just us (the two fifth grade teachers who are biased toward the genius our kids possess). It’s the kids’ mentors, other members of faculty who are working with our kids, people from our school community, Boise locals and people scattered all over the world who are constantly saying things like, “You are really only a fifth grader?“, “I can’t believe you are only in fifth grade!” and “You are amazing!”

In terms of ‘things we never planned but learning has happened anyway’ here is a short list of things we have observed that our kids are doing:

  • organizing themselves digitally
  • writing sophisticated letters/emails requesting help
  • following up requests for help with equally sophisticated thank you emails/letters
  • organzing meetings and interviews
  • setting up job shadow days
  • organizing their own field trips
  • taking their own photographs to visually represent their learning
  • taking the initiative
  • making and keeping appointments
  • supporting each other with their inquiries
  • planning a live TED-style presentation to showcase their utter brilliance
  • making, creating and doing their ‘art’, their passion

They are passionate, engaged, independent, committed, inquiring learners – and did I mention they are fifth graders?

But the learning doesn’t stop with them. My teaching partner and I are exhausted. And we couldn’t be having a better time! The school day – the school week! – fly by in a flurry of activity. We meet in the morning, fueled by coffee and a collective, unspoken commitment to facilitating this process in order to best support our kids. We ask each other:

  • what do they need?
  • what else can we ‘put out there’?
  • who could support them?
  • is there any coffee? (this one VERY important)

And then we get to work.

Our 28 kids and us on this journey that none of us have been on before, to a place none of us really have ever seen and none of are sure what it looks like. But we have each others backs and we want everyone to succeed.

I have been thinking a lot about the type of planning that is needed for a true inquiry based program to flourish. In a recent Twitter based #pypchat (that is on, my time, at 4am so not sure how engaged I would be!) the topic of discussion turned to how much we plan ahead and how much unfolds naturally along the way. There is an excellent article summarizing the thoughts on this topic. The chat participants were varied in their approaches but seemed united in their belief that inquiry is best supported by teachers who are prepared to forgo their plans in order to be ready to support and facilitate their students inquisitive natures and passionate wonderings.

I know, first hand, that this is hard work!

It is also so inspiring, so rewarding and so much fun. And what I signed up for when I decided to become a teacher.  In addition,  as I reviewed this post, it made me reflect back on my reading of Tony Wagner’s new book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World”. Instead of hoping kids will develop the type of skills listed above as an ‘aside’ to their school career, Tony believes we need to explicitly look for ways to equip students with skills needed for what he describes as “an increasingly flat world”.  He calls these the Seven Survival Skills:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship
  5. Accessing and analyzing information
  6. Effective oral and written communication
  7. Curiosity and imagination

He published this list of skills in his previous book, The Global Achievement Gap but has since conversed with people across different fields and discovered that there are other skills that needed to be added to this list of ‘essentials’.  These include:
  • perseverance
  • a willingness to experiment
  • taking calculated risks
  • tolerating failure
  • a capacity for “design thinking”
The last skill, ‘design thinking’, is a concept employed at IDEO . (If you don’t know a lot about this company, take a look here or go straight to this great Fast Company Design piece on what schools can learn from IDEO, Google and Pixar – brilliant!).  Wagner shares IDEO’s design thinking concept as an example of a way of viewing the world that is fundamental to any process of innovation. (Wagner, pp13).  The CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, goes on to describe five characteristics of ‘design thinkers’:
  • empathetic – looking at the world from multiple perspectives and putting others first
  • integrative thinkers – being able to see all aspects of a problem and possible breakthrough solutions
  • optimistic – believing that no matter how challenging a problem, a solution can be found
  • experimental – being willing to use trial and error to explore possible solutions in creative ways
  • collaborative – this above all!

Wagner goes on to list further studies, more conversations and addition research that provide similar lists of requirements and criteria for innovative thinkers, ultimately summarizing them as follows:

    • curiosity – being in the habit of asking good questions with a desire to understand more deeply
    • collaboration – listening to and learning from others who have perspectives and expertise different to your own
    • associative or integrative thinking
    • a bias toward action and experimentation
What he then wrote should have us all leaping for joy:

As an educator and a parent, what I find most significant in this list is that they represent a set of skills and habits of mind that can be nurtured, taught and mentored!

What I have seen first-hand over the last five weeks is proof-positive of that. And it is a beautiful thing.
Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

Putting It Out There

Recently a friend started a blog and I started a book.

For both of us, the idea of ‘putting ourselves out there’ is a scary one.  “What if….” thoughts run through our minds: what if no one reads it, no one likes it, no one cares?

So what?

As I have gotten further along with my book, quite a few people have asked me, “Who is your audience?” or “Who is your target market?”.  And I haven’t had a crystal clear picture.  I am sure there are a million reasons/blog posts out there that would tell me that finding my market should have been done before starting my book.  But I didn’t do that. What I have come to realize is that the person who I am writing this for is me.  I am choosing to respond to something I read that resonated LOUDLY with me.  It inspired me.  It moved me.  It has, daily, motivated me to be a better teacher and a better student AND a better advocate for change in the way we deliver education to kids.

Writing this book has clarified ideas. It is has made me articulate my thinking.  I have questioned my position and I have asserted my opinions.  I have thought creatively, collaboratively and independently.  I have tapped into prior knowledge and I have built new understandings. I have gathered a ton of knowledge.  A ton.

But as Tony Wagner so eloquently said:


What am I going to do with my knowledge? 

I am going to put it out there.

I don’t know how this will look just yet but I think it will be great – no, awesome. And if it is not?

My book is inspired by the work of Seth Godin – specifically his manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams. I therefore did not find it at all surprising that this morning, I was delivered a special message from Seth to me (ok, he sent it to all his blog followers, but I would like to think he knew what I needed to hear). And what did I hear?  That putting it out there is what matters.  Shipping it.  Committing.  Seeing it through.  Doing something with the information.  Finishing it.

As a teacher, I wondered how this applied to the work I ask kids to do? We are in the middle of our Exhibition and it is a big deal.  I have enjoyed sharing my journey with them so they can see that it really is true that it doesn’t end once you leave school.  That you might always be a little scared of putting yourself out there but the worst that can happen is that no one else applauds.  Feedback from our kids today was that hearing my journey, really helped to clarify how they are going to shape and share their own journey – fantastic!

I know there is more to this though. I have a whole lot of other information swimming around inside my head about effort and grading and rubrics and grading and how that links to putting it out there.  I know there is a connection, I just need to smooth it out a bit in my mind.  Ultimately, I want to focus on how I can support my kids in also choosing to put themselves out there.

What do you do?  How do you encourage them to take that leap?  Or do you?



Innovation, Inspiration


I have a child in my class who must keep moving.  He has more energy than you can imagine, snacks and wanders whiles he works and is the very definition of ‘if I had half of his energy….’

We are currently in the throws of our PYP Exhibition – the culminating project for fifth graders in IB PYP Schools.  It is awesome.  The basis of our inquiry is an inquiry into how our passions inspire us as learners, spark our creativity and help us contribute to our community.  This child’s passion is being physically active. (No? Really!?)  As part of the exhibition, we set each child up with a mentor – another member of faculty from all over the school – art teacher, head master, 2nd grade teacher, physics teacher – they are all in.  The mentor for this boy is the Director of Outdoor Education.  Perfect fit.

We are a few weeks into our project and most kids have had a couple of meetings.  Yesterday, I was told that this boy wasn’t having mentor meetings anymore.  Before I got too shocked and I was quickly told “I am having Mentor Miles.

I was informed that Mentor Miles are mentor meetings that occur whilst walking the Greenbelt that runs right out the front of our school and beyond.  A safe, shared path for walkers and bikers to enjoy the outdoors off the main roads.  It clearly didn’t take long for the mentor and the student to put two and two together and come up with a perfect plan for keeping engagement high, on-task behavior high and spark off a huge burst of enthusiasm in this student.  And how easy!

We talk a lot about programs that could be implemented to help children learn.  How about thinking of the individuals first?  None of this was my doing and yet as soon as I heard it, I knew how perfect it was and how much I wished it had been my idea! What about the rest of my kids?  What is their ‘thing’ and how can we work collaboratively to make sure all our kids really are all our responsibility when it comes to doing best by them?

21st Century, Innovation, Inspiration

Stop Stealing (MORE) Dreams

A while back, I posted about Seth Godin’s manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams“.  A few people read the post, a couple more clicked the links to the copy of his work and I’d hazard a guess that many saw the length of it and skim read some of it.  I urge you to go back and read again.  The kids in your life deserve it. You deserve it.  It will be one of the best, most inspiring readings on education and the world of possibilites in front of us that you will have read in a while.  If you really don’t have the time, let me share with you a few of my favorite gems – a little amuse bouche if you will to whet your appetite for more.  The numbers refer to the section of the manifesto from which the text has been pulled.  All work below is straight from Seth’s pen (or keyboard):



122.Some courses I’d like to see taught in school

  • How old is the Earth?
  • What’s the right price to pay for this car?
  • Improv
  • How to do something no one has ever done before
  • Design and build a small house
  • Advanced software interface design

114.Let’s do something interesting
Every once in a while, between third grade and the end of high school, a teacher offers the class a chance to do something interesting, new, off topic, exciting, risky, and even thrilling. I’d venture it’s about 2 percent of the hours the student is actually in school. The rest of the time is reserved for absorbing the curriculum, for learning what’s on the test.Just wondering: what would happen to our culture if students spent 40 percent of their time pursuing interesting discoveries and exciting growth opportunities, and only 60 percent of the day absorbing facts that used to be important to know?

130.Whose dream?
When we let our kids dream, encourage them to contribute, and push them to do work that matters, we open doors for them that will lead to places that are difficult for us to imagine. When we turn school into more than just a finishing school for a factory job, we enable a new generation to achieve things that we were ill-prepared for.


My class is in the middle of the fifth grade Exhibition.  They are choosing their own path for this unit.  They each have been asked to identify their passion and pursue it with abandon.  Reality – there is a lot of nervousness in the room!  But there is also the beginnings of the understanding that this really is about them.  Their dreams, their passion, their chance to “do something interesting, new, off topic, exciting, risky, and even thrilling.”  Tomorrow, one of my kids is sitting down with a published author to find out what it takes to ‘make it’ in the world of books and writing.  Another is going to take a flight in a twin engine plane to learn more about aviation and airplanes.  Two more have put together an after school activity where fashion meets soccer.  Do I know exactly what each kid is doing?  No.  Are they engaged, focused, organized and committed?  YES!  Amazingly so.  And I trust them.  I trust that they are making good decisions.  I trust they are using their time wisely.  I trust that they are seizing the opportunity to pursue their passion.  And I trust that they are loving it.

For those who are not quite there yet, here are some sage words from Seth:

21st Century, Creativity, Inspiration

Inspire My Kids…and yours, and theirs….

On my old blog (sorry blog, I still love you and promise I will visit soon!) I posted about this great website called Inspire My Kids.  Inspire My Kids is a website where you can find real life stories to inspire the kids in your life. The site is organized under four headings:


– such as goodness, perserverance, responsibility and sportsmanship


– such as leadership, charity, environment, sports and music


Age Range
– 5+, 8+, 12+, 18+ and All


– article, podcast, reference or video



According to the website itself, here are ten reasons teachers should be using Inspire My Kids in their classrooms:


1) It’s good for the world and your kids.

2) The site makes it fun for kids to see the pillars and traits of character education in action.

3) Get ideas and inspiration for Service learning projects.

4) Students love it. Really.

5) It’s free and you can use it today.

6) You and your class can help us shape the site.

7) inspiremykids is being used successfully in classes today.

8) The content might even inspire you! You will likely be amazed (and probably brought to tears) by the amazing stories we feature here.

9) Did we say that students love it?

10) You likely started your career to help inspire children and make the world a better place. We’re here to help you do this.


This website is perfect for everyone but especially those doing the PYP Exhibition.  We want kids to take meaningful action?  What better way to get them motivated to do so than by searching through some of the content on this website?  What I really like is that not only can you get inspired, you can offer inspiration to others and share your kids stories in order for them to continue to share the love with other kids.


Inspire My Kids turned 1 in November last year.  In recognition of this, they published the 11 posts they felt had made the most impact.  What I also like (I will say this a lot – there is nothing to ‘dislike’ about this site!) is that at the end of each post, they don’t just leave the reader hanging.  They offer some follow-up prompts to encourage further thought and discussion on the ‘inspiration’ piece.   Here are the top eleven followed by the three question sets you will find at the end of each post:  Topics for discussion, Take Action, and Teacher Features.

11.  Eric Thomas – The “Hip Hop Preacher”

10.  High School Track Star Crawls Her Way to the Finish Line

9.  Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

8.  Wesley Autrey – The “Subway Superman”

7.  The Panyee Football Club – A Near-Impossible Dream Realized

6.  A Brilliant Idea – A Special Soccer Ball That Provides Energy to Developing Countries

5.  Rory (Craig) Koonce – Making the Impossible Possible!

4.  The Ultimate Act of Sportsmanship

3.  Nadin Khoury – From Bullying Victim to Brave Spokesperson

2.  The Incredible Story Behind the Star-Spangled Banner

1.  Friends at First Sight – Suryia the Orangutan and Roscoe the Dog


Topics for Discussion:

  • Which Inspire My Kids post is your favorite? Why?
  • Which Inspire My Kids posts have inspired you to make changes in your life?

Take Action:

  • As you read through the top ten posts, look at the Take Action sections and see which ones you can participate in today!
  • Set a goal to take positive action in your life, just as the people (and animals) in these posts have done. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the subject of one of our future posts!

Teacher Features:

  • Here is a link to a Critical Reading Skills worksheet that you can use for elementary school students.
  • Here is a link to a Critical Reading Skills worksheet that you can use for middle school students.


I am looking forward to seeing how this website will help inspire my kids as they start to think about taking authentic action as part of the Exhibition – and their lives. I am looking forward to seeing how they do at putting themselves ‘out there’ and sharing their thoughts and actions with others.



SIDE NOTE: With the idea of ‘putting themselves out there’ fresh in my mind, I just read an article written by someone who does ‘put themselves out there’ and in doing so, subjects herself to the possibility of criticism.  I think this is a really interesting point worth talking about and in many ways, links back to creating a positive digital footprint.  I was surprised when I googled my name that high up on the list was a link to a comment I had posted on a friend’s website.  I was writing ‘to him’ but clearly I was also writing to the whole world.  To me, this reinforces the comment made by Marina that digital citizenship is really just ‘citizenship’.  What makes you a ‘good person’ in real life also applies to your digital life.  If you disagree with someone’s ideas in real life you don’t go up to them and call them ‘ugly’ or ‘stupid’ but it is ok to respectfully share your different opinion.  When it stoops to name calling – inappropriate.  Take a leaf out of the Inspire My Kids book and use your words for good.

Inspiration, PYP

Student Led Conferences and SMART, NICE, DUMB and BHA Goals

“Student Led Conferences involve the student and their parents. The student is responsible for leading the conference and also takes responsibility for their learning by sharing the process with their parents. The conference involves the student discussing and reflecting upon samples of work that they have previously chosen to share with their parents. These samples have been previously selected with guidance and support from the teacher and could be from the student’s portfolio” ~ IBO Guidelines for Implementing the PYP

Just before our Spring Break, our school conducted two days of Student-Led Conferences.  This year, my teaching partner and I wanted to set them up a little differently from the norm at our school.  Typically, the student, parents AND teacher would sit together and go through previously marked and annotated samples of work from the child’s portfolio.  What evolved, was valuable discussion but more of a three-way  conference than one that was genuinely student led.

As we were preparing to begin the Exhibition, we wanted a more authentic, student-led component.  We wanted the parents to come to their child’s place of work to meet with them in their professional environment.  We wanted autonomy for our kids.  We wanted them to share their work, their understandings and their goals, using their portfolios as a tool for sharing.  Most of all, we wanted to empower our students and make sure they were supported by us through the process.  In order to achieve this, we had them look at the Transdisciplinary Skills alongside their porfolios and identify where they had struggled or succeded, documenting evidence from their own work.  Having done this, they looked at their notes and wrote goals for each section of the TD skills:  research, communication, thinking, social, and self-management.

But we were not yet finished.

As we sat down with each child’s work prior to the conferences, we could tell that the goal-setting needed some work.  The goals were vague.  They didn’t really make sense and they seemed more like the kids were writing them because they had to rather than because that was actually the areas they wanted to focus on in their last eight weeks of life as an elementary school student.  What they needed was one-on-one discussion to flesh them out, further explanation to really get to the crux of the child’s area of focus and parental buy-in to ensure the child was supported in the pursuit of their goals and they were just not something we could ‘check off’ our list of teacher to-do’s: Have children make goals and show parents we do that – CHECK!  What we ended up doing, was using our goal sheet as the major focus of the conference with the portfolio in the role of supporting artist to be referred to for evidential support.  The discussions between parents and their kids were fantastic.

This wasn’t ‘the best’ way of doing it but it was better than we had done it in the past.  I still think it needed more work and I was left asking myself the question: “What is it about ‘goal setting’ that makes some of our kids (and some teachers!) roll their eyes with that ‘here we go again’ look?”  Here is what Seth Godin has to say about goals:

Having goals is a pain in the neck.

If you don’t have a goal (a corporate goal, a market share goal, a personal career goal, an athletic goal…) then you can just do your best. You can take what comes. You can reprioritize on a regular basis. If you don’t have a goal, you never have to worry about missing it. If you don’t have a goal you don’t need nearly as many excuses, either.

Not having a goal lets you make a ruckus, or have more fun, or spend time doing what matters right now, which is, after all, the moment in which you are living.

The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run.

It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact… those people have goals.


I have heard about SMART goals before.  But today I found out about NICE goals, DUMB goals and BHAG goals.  I wish I had known about these when we did it.  Luckily, it’s never too late to learn something new, so I think I will share these with my kids next week.  Take a look at the types of goals you may have encountered or are currently working towards (below).

Who will you share these with?  Or are they even worth sharing?  Further research led me to a Squidoo lens on Creative Goal Setting. For a wealth of information on this topic click here.  There is more here than you could EVER need to inspire a more creative approach to setting goals. I am now going back there to investigate further and see if I can’t find something better than NICE or SMART….


A Reading Treat in time for Earth Day

In celebration of the second posthumous publication of Shel Silverstein’s poems, a 1973 animation of ‘The Giving Tree’ has been released.

The new anthology “Everything On It” contains never-before seen poems and drawings.  There is a fabulous article on NPR that goes ‘behind the scenes’ into how the collection was put together and gives a sneak peak of some of the poems from the book.

On choosing poems for the book, the editor worked closely with the poet’s family and tried to stay true to the aesthetic of his other books:

The right-hand side of every page had to entice young readers to turn to the next page. The poetry needed to be arranged carefully to create a mix of funny, poignant and naughty.

This comment made me think of my role as a teacher – what am I doing in my classroom each day to entice my students to ‘turn the page’.  Do I provide opportunities for funny, poignant and naughty in my classroom.  How will I make sure that what happens at school is poetry – because is that not what our kids deserve – more poetry in their lives?

Celebrate Poetry Month this April, Shel Silverstein style.

21st Century, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

We Say It Is About The Process But Is It Really Still About the Product?

My teaching partner and I have recently (today) merged our two class blogs into one fifth grade blog.  We were finding that we are collaborating so much that separate blogs means duplication and sometimes information slipping through the cracks.  I was somewhat surprised that our request to do so was met favorably and made me think that perhaps it was starting to trickle down that the process is rising to the top of the totem pole of importance.  Do we each have one class blog?  No.  Will our parents and kids now be getting a more consistent message, communicated by both teachers and encompassing all learning?  Yes. Are we fulfilling our school-agreed obligation to communicate with our parents?  Yes – it just looks different to how other people do it.

Why then, do we still sometimes see teachers insisting on students sharing their understanding in the same format as everyone else?

A few weeks ago, I shared with my parents my thoughts on Process -vs- Product.  We had come to the end of a persuasive writing unit and so much had been learned by all the students in terms of who they were as a writer and what the writing process was all about.  Here is a little excerpt from that post:

I then asked the class to think about Persuasive Essay Writing as a pie and to divide up the pie between process and product.  I realized as we began to share our percentages that I had not been specific in terms of the criteria for dividing so we got a range of percentages ranging from 70/30 to 95/5.  I asked the two students who had volunteered these numbers to explain how they chose them:
“I chose 70/30 because we spent a lot of time working through the process in order to write the essays and because we were so thorough and did so much work, the final finished work should be considered fairly important and therefore get a big piece of the pie, just not as much as all the work we did to get there.”

“I chose 95/5 because I felt like all the work, all the writing and gathering information and editing and everything that went into making each part sound good, was the most important.  The part at the end where you make it look good and print it all together is just a small part of the whole point of the project.”

Interesting responses, right?  What was even more interesting was some of the responses I got back from my parents:
Parent A:  When it comes to my kid’s work, I love a well-crafted, polished finished product as much as anyone. However, what really matters to me is not the finished product, but the process of thinking by which V could arrive at that finished product. It’s on the ‘knowing how’ and the ‘knowing why’ of the process that that I put my emphasis. 95/5
Parent B: Having just finished the Steve Jobs book, I’m big on product, but as much as one tries a product is never perfect and they always must evolve with the times, so the process of striving for a perfect product is what’s exciting for me.
Parent C: I loved your email regarding “process versus product”! Thanks! I’ve been talking to L about this idea as it relates to her math.  I’ve tried to encourage her to use scratch paper every time she does Khan Academy and not to get too focused on just getting the answer. The important thing is to understand the process to get to the answer.  I’m sure you are emphasizing this too but I thought it might help her if you know we were talking about it at home too.
Was that what you would have expected?
What it did for me, was make me realize that our parents are in on this game too.  They are involved, invested and interested.  They are educated, well-read and curious.  Knowing that, we need to make sure we are not just cranking out “school” as it was ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Would you go to a doctor that used techniques from 1912 to cure your tonsillitis?   Don’t we expect professionals to be at the cutting edge of what is new in their field?  Why then, do we still see school projects that insist on one way of doing?   We might give a tiny bit of choice here and there but some will always decide what the product will be and then hold everyone to that standard.  As a kid, I loved being told to ‘make a poster’ – that was my nirvana.  If I was told ‘interpret through dance’ I would probably have suggested to my parents that I skip school that day.   I’m not saying that we don’t need to challenge children to step outside their comfort zones now and then, but can we do so without squeezing every ounce of interest in learning from them with our brochure/tri-fold board/poster requirement?
We are two weeks into our Exhibition unit.  Today we talked about Seth Godin’s book ‘Ship It’.  Our ‘it’ is the evening presentation.  Our shipping date is May 21st.  Already, some kids are trying to think of how they can make their ‘it’ by then.  Will it be a tri-fold, a 3D model, a …..?  As they discussed their ‘products’ lots of really innovative and interesting ideas and processes were being thrown out as they would essentially ‘get in the way’ of the paper mache model making.  Alarm bells!  A relaxed weekend later, the solution was clear: the “it”, the product, was their story.  We want them to share their journey over the eight weeks and if that thing that they might usually bring on ‘sharing day’ wasn’t ready or didn’t exist – great!  If they had a burned wing from what used to be a model plane – great!  If they had a Kitchen Aid, a running shoe and a pogo stick and told us their journey through that – great!   A collective sigh of relief seemed to reverberate around the room.  Suddenly the big ideas were back on the table.  The switch between ‘product’ (what can I make by then) to ‘process’ (what can I do by then) had flipped again – thankfully.
Here’s what I know to be true (thanks Oprah) about Products and Processes:
  • give your kids lots of tools to choose from to share their learning process – do you think if you gave a kid free reign in a candy store they would only eat from one jar? all the time?
  • if the process is what is important in a concept-driven curriculum, let the process be the most important thing put on display
  • if we keep having Open Houses at the end of a unit in which every child shows their tri-fold/shoebox/poster and parents take time off work to see said tri-fold/shoebox/poster (which, let’s face it, they probably made 90% of anyway) we are telling the parents and the kids that that was the most important thing from the unit – if we invite them in to see the debate, the organizing, the struggle, the tension, the discussion, the group work, we are showing them that these are valued over the tri-folds
  • making a beautiful product doesn’t mean you are the smartest person in the class.  It means you can make a beautiful product.
  • from some of the ‘worst’ projects or essays or posters have come some of the most profound learning experiences
  • putting your work on a tri-fold board can for some people be akin to poking yourself repeatedly in the eye.  Seriously.

Where do you you split your process/product pie?

For more on how we have asked our kids to share their story with us, read “It’s Story Time…”

Disclaimer: No tri-fold boards were harmed in the writing of this post.