Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

What Are You Creating?

I love Hugh MacLeod’s timeliness.  This is a perfect picture for me.  What are you doing to disrupt the status quo and bring about creative change? What are you waiting for?

Some take delight in disrupting … and you know who you are. This one’s for you.

~Hugh MacLeod

If you are looking for inspiration for your ruckus-making, creative trouble, look no further than Phil Beadle’s Dancing About Architecture.  You can take my word for it or read from others much more widely known about the importance and brilliance of this work.

In the words of the author, the book is introduced via the following small paragraph:

Over the body of the this book I propose to look at ways that we might use the arts as forms of pedagogy and, more specifically, how one might use process-led collisions of art forms to produce new learning experiences for students. – Phil Beadle

I really like that phrase ‘process-led collisions’.  I am so much more about the process and think this shift of focus is much-needed and will do wonders for leading us towards more creativity and less ‘factory-raised’, standardized teaching.

Dancing About Architecture is witty, irreverent, timely and absolutely ‘spot-on’ when it talks of the need for rising above ‘average’.  In addition to telling educators WHY they need to change, it details some examples of HOW this could look.  I am not sure it should be viewed as a ‘how to’ book though.  Once it becomes that and we have every teacher regurgitating the same lessons, we are back to ‘average’.

Instead consider…

  • using this book as a spring board for your own ideas or as a way to spark creative thinking amongst your own faculty.
  • trying one idea and seeing how you could adapt it to suit your own kids
  • reading this book and then closing it and writing down what you want to do in your classroom – it might be similar to what you just read but it will have your own twist on it

If you are still not convinced that this book is for you, read the following excerpt from the introduction to the book.  If you are not moved to rip it up, be brilliant, and rise above average after reading it, then there is probably little hope for you…

It suggests you must break the rules.  And you must.  Not just because you are too lazy to follow them (though this sometimes creates an imperative). You must break the rules as a matter of policy – all day, every day, with a degree of rigor and dedication to the cause.  The reason you must break the rules is that not breaking them is professionally negligent.  Following the rules leads to being probably just about as good as everyone else and therefore perpetuates the cause of the average.  Copying a bunch of idiots eventually makes you an idiot: a moronic cut-out from a mediocre comic.  Confounding the expectations that are set for you is entirely the best means possible of maintaining your professional and personal integrity.  

The people you work for (and I mean the children you teach, not the bloke in the flash suit telling you that you’re not good enough at your job) deserve better than working alongside a sheep-like copy of every unqeustioned bad idea they’ve ever encountered.  They desire and deserve you to be brilliant.  You do not get to be brilliant by doing it the same way as everyone else does.  


Rip it up. 

And start again.

21st Century, Creativity, Innovation, Internet

Technology and Innovation Advisor – What’s that?

Next year, I will be teaching the one fifth grade class at our school.  In addition, I will be the Technology and Innovation Advisor – a position that is new to our school. What does a person in this position do? Good question!

Primarily, the role has three responsibilities:

  • facilitating faculty professional development on the integration of technology in a way that sparks innovative ideas in the classroom
  • opening up my own classroom as a ‘practice studio’ – trying out new ideas that incorporate technology and in doing so, allow for innovation
  • working with teachers to facilitate the use of technology within their program of inquiry which, in turn, should lead to innovative ideas and development in teaching strategies

What does that mean in ‘real life’?

Firstly, it means I am super excited for the possibilities.  I work with an amazing group of teachers and I am excited to have the opportunity to take a glimpse inside their classrooms and see how other people “do” school.  For me, that can be one of the best forms of professional development out there.

Secondly, it means I am going to have to be super prepared and organized.  This isn’t foreign to me, but I am going to have to step up my game! As a faculty, we each have areas we would like to focus on and this has been described as akin to wanting to select a la carte services from a menu of options.  Thankfully, I have my PLC to help with their brilliant ideas!

Thirdly, it means I get to share some great ideas (other people’s mostly!) that I have picked up along the way. The one idea that I can claim as my own is the understanding that as teachers, we first need to make the mindshift or change our own world view on how we want our classroom to look and THEN we need to seek a tool to help implement that change.  I know I am repeating myself, but it still hits me as being so important.  Six months ago, Twitter was what small birds did and was mildly annoying.  It is now a source of a wealth of information that I wouldn’t be without.

So, what sorts of things will we be doing?


One of the things that many people are keen to start with is blogging.  For some, this will be their first blogging experience.  So what is blogging?  To answer this question, I want to quote from the YIS IT Department:

Thinking, Writing, Reading, Connecting

Blogs are about thinking, reading, writing, commenting, connecting, sharing – not just one individual’s thoughts. Try to make as many options for connecting and sharing as possible to make the blogs more than just an online workbook. Take a look at this heirarchy of blogging from Will Richardson’s first book (Blogs Wikis, Podcasts and other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom, p. 32) to give you an idea of their potential:

  1. Posting assignments (Not blogging)
  2. Journaling, i.e. “this is what I did today.” (Not blogging)
  3. Posting links. (Not blogging)
  4. Links with descriptive annotation, i.e., “This site is about…” (Not really blogging either, but getting close depending on the depth of the description).
  5. Links with analysis that gets into the meaning of the content being linked. (A simple form of blogging).
  6. Reflective, metacognitive writing on practice without links. (Complex writing, but simple blogging, I think. Commenting would probably fall in here somewhere).
  7. Links with analysis and synthesis that articulate a deeper understanding or relationship to the cntent being linked and written with potential audience in mind. (Real blogging).
  8. Extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments. (Complex blogging).

Kim goes on to say:

Since we’re just starting out with blogging, we might be asking students to do very simple blogging now, and we certainly have the potential to develop complex blogging skills and tap into the true power of blogging. I’m also working on finding other schools around the world that are working towards this type of blogging to be “buddies” with our students.

As we ‘find our feet’ as a school, I am hopeful that we will begin to do the same.

Personally, I would like to move toward the idea of a Faculty Blog in which faculty share their experiences with technology and innovation.  I have seen an example of this in the form of Striking Educational Flint – a school blog from Flint Hill School in Virginia. I love that it links to individual teacher blogs and that it also presents a school-wide approach to ideas and innovation (and use of technology) in the school and beyond.   I am also really interested in starting QuadBlogging – and am really looking forward to signing my own class up for that in the Fall.

In addition, I want to spend some time over the summer taking a look at the following blogging platforms to see what would work in which grades.  Many of these I became aware of after reading an awesome blog, Free Tech Tools 4 Teachers.

Wix is a free service for creating and hosting beautiful websites. It is has recently been updated so that sites created in Wix are visible on all devices including iPads. When I first saw this, I was eager to share with my very tech savvy class – I am keen to see what they will come up with – especially after viewing this video which outlines some of what can be done with Wix.

Weebly for Education allows for the creation of class blogs by the teacher as well as individual student blogs.  It’s finished user interface looks more slick than the likes of Kidblogs which I used with my fourth graders and I like the intuitive way you can go about building a blog with this tool.

Webs is awesome.  Some people might think it too basic, but for elementary school bloggers, I would highly recommend it.  What I like most about it is the ‘drag and drop’ feature for adding things like text, pictures, pictures with text, slideshows, videos, audio recording, buttons and more.  It it intuitive, looks great and is easy to set up.  Love it.

Yola  is another free site that looks awesome.  A step-up perhaps from Webs in that it doesn’t appear to have ads or pop-ups, it is a slightly more sophisticated version of a website builder.  The following ‘how to’ create video outlines all the best features and personal experience – it really is that easy!

Because we already have Google Accounts ,Google Sites is already available to us. This looks like a fun way for kids to store an online portfolio of work and I really like how easy it is to customize and add to content.

School Rack offers a free service for teachers to build and host their own classroom websites. This doesn’t look as slick as some of the other options and because there is an upgrade feature, I am always wary that I am not getting the “works” and will be ‘forced’ to upgrade to get what I want.  I could be completely wrong and I do like that it is a site especially structured for teachers.  Just not for me – it seems too much like an electronic mark book than a blog for sharing innovation and ideas.

Web Node is another slick looking option that does not carry advertisements on your blog and is free.  I like the templates and again, the simple ‘drag and drop’ interface would make it suitable for all ages.

Smore  looks awesome! Self-described as “beautiful by default and impossible to screw up” this looks like an awesome ‘one stop shop’ for publishing content online.  What I really like (apart from what seems to be a ‘standard’ drag and drop interface) is the fact that the content you produce on your computer will look exactly the same when you access it on your smartphone or iPad.  Smore pages could be linked to from within any of the other blog providers listed.  This could be great for one-off projects (the site markets itself as a ‘flyer creator’) or for young bloggers finding their feet.

A Cupcake Story from Smore on Vimeo.

Blogging is just the tip of the iceberg though.

I haven’t even started to explore Wikis as  a tool for a more collaborative and interactive classroom!  That is probably what I am hoping to get most out of this position – the opportunity to explore, across the school and within my own classroom, how we can use technology to become more collaborative, more connected, more interactive.  It is exciting!

What would you want in a Technology and Innovator Advisor?

How would you want their support in your classroom?

Innovation, Inspiration, Internet

To Tweet or Not To Tweet – It is Now A Conscious Decision


Gone are the days when it was “cool” to not know what Twitter was.  Or any form of Web 2.0 technology that enables you to connect to the bigger picture.  I took a while to become a fan of Twitter and now, I can’t imagine my life as an Educator without it.

But first, came the change in my mindset or my world view and then came for the need for a tool to support that change and that tool happened to be Twitter.

That is worth me repeating.  Seriously.

First came the change, then came the need for a tool. 

I really don’t mind if you use Twitter or not.  What I do think is important, is that you challenge yourself to maintain a connection with other people wanting make the same kind of ruckus you are making – or wanting to make.  Over the last six months or so, I have become more active on Twitter and would site this tool as being in the top ranking of the Professional Development that I have gotten as a teacher.

Why? Because I am connecting with other Educators and we are not bound by geography.  We are able to quickly share in 140 characters or less, what is going on in our classrooms and to connect.

Just today, in the last half hour or so, I have:

  • Been inspired by the amazing work happening at my former school, Yokohama International, in a post titled Tech Pilots Taking Off.  It really is inspiring to not only read about a phenomenal program, but I am both blown away and grateful for the thorough documentation of the implementation and goals for this program.  The example set here of initiative, forward-thinking, collaboration and leadership is truly outstanding.  What’s more, it is not being hidden but put out there for others to use, copy, emulate, remix and build upon.  Did I mention I am inspired?
  • Been taken through a very thorough analysis of what it means for a project to be authentic.  “What Does It Take For A Project To Be Authentic?” gives great understanding about the use of the word authentic as it applies to Project Based Learning (PBL) or just learning in general.  It cleared up a few wonderings I had and has given me a new lens through which I can take a look at the assessment of and for learning that occurs in my classroom.
  • Spoken often of the amazing work in inquiry-based learning that I experienced first-hand in the classroom of Tasha Cowdy.  I was so excited to see Tasha post about the Morning Meeting routine she establishes with her kindergarten class.  It is phenomenal and so empowering and a must-see for anyone interested in inquiry teaching and learning.
  • Been reminded of a tool I was introduced to a a couple of weeks ago called Thinglink but have not explored fully.  Turns out I can now benefit from other’s explorations via the post 26+ Ways to Use ThingLink in the Classroom.
  • Been introduced to a new app called Kids Journal which I have not downloaded (yet!) but could be a fun tool for easily documenting summer activities such as the Summer Bucket List challenge we just set our fifth graders as a ‘prewriting’, information gathering exercise for their first sixth grade writing assignment in the new school year.

And this is just the surface!  I use Instapaper as my ‘read later’ service.  When on Twitter or browsing the internet, one click of ‘Read Later’ and all these goodies get stored on my Instapaper account – kind of like my own awesome newspaper of awesomeness.

I keep my Twitter account mostly for following educators but also writers, artists, musicians, curators, innovators, movers and shakers.  I want to know what is new and exciting in education but also around education – we are not in isolation.

If tweeting is not for you, fine.  But I encourage you to find some way of connecting yourself to big ideas in a way that works.  You will thank yourself and your parents and students will thank you even more.

21st Century, Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

We All Need A Little Resistance

You know you work with a pretty switched on group of parents when not only do you get flowers and a thank you speech penned by your students at the conclusion of an eight week marathon journey of work, but you also get two books: Seth Godin’s “Linchpin” and Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”.   Way cool.  I had previously read Linchpin, the one book Seth Godin says of:

If I could have every administrator, teacher and parent read just one of my books…it would be this one.

I was excited to read it over again (skim it and this time start highlighting as it is my own copy!) and I was reminded of how important his idea of the need for resistance was.


What?  Need resistance?  Yes!  If you are throwing out new ideas, suggesting different tactics, implementing innovative programs and basically making a ruckus – CONGRATULATIONS! Unlike so many others who listen to that tiny voice, that ‘lizard brain’ in the back of their head telling them to sit down, maintain order, follow along, make it through ’till Friday and dutifully maintain the status quo, you have heard the voice, the lizard brain, and have acted in spite of it. Truth be told, that voice might even have spurred you on to making a bigger ruckus, a bolder move, a more passionate statement!


If you felt the resistance and went for it anyway (whatever “it” might be) then most likely, you are leader.  It is not a comfortable, safe, cushioned place to be.  In fact, it should feel more like you are on the front line, blazing a path, running the gauntlet and dodging enemy fire. If  your new ideas are not insisting on change, making people a little uncomfortable because for a while they may look incompetent and arousing thought and debate, are they really “new”?

Think of all the ideas that have made people get up and do something – protest, occupy, picket – these are the result of ideas worth getting excited about!  Does your leader inspire you in this way?  Do you inspire others in this way?


When encouraging you to make a ruckus, I must point out the difference between doing so fearlessly and recklessly.

To be fearless…

is to act with the best intentions at the time in order to make a change that you believe is needed, of benefit and will ultimately result in a forward momentum.  To be fearless is to be informed of the consequences of your actions and to act anyway.  To be fearless is to embrace the probability that you may fail or be wrong and to press ahead anyway.  To be fearless is to act in good faith, with good intentions.

To be reckless…

is to take action without information.  To make rash decisions with little forethought.  To be reckless is to endanger, to risk without care for the impact and to pretend that you can not or will not fail.  To be reckless is to make decisions based on your own personal needs and wants rather than considering what is best for the group or the company.  To be reckless is to think of the immediate results and have little care for the long-term consequences.


  • resist your lizard brain

  • make a ruckus

  • be fearless

Think about your role as a leader or the people who lead in your school or organization.

Do they make a ruckus?

Do they do so fearlessly, inspiring others to follow them?  Do they do so recklessly, leaving behind them a wake of distrust and chaos? Does the work they do mean enough that people would miss them if they were gone? This was something Seth said at the event in NYC.  I think I recall correctly that it was a response to a question about “should I blog?” to which he replied, “Yes, but then ask yourself if people would miss your posts if they were gone”. My thinking is that he was giving us reminder to make sure that while we all will probably hear the lizard brain that tells us that it is too much, too new, too big, too bold, too ‘out there’ of an idea to work, we shouldn’t let that voice overpower our own, stronger voice that says, “I hear you and fearlessly, I proceed.”

Who are the ‘ruckus makers’ in your school?

How do they perfect their artistry?

Creativity, Design, Inspiration, Internet

Become an Enabler….of Creativity!

I have read a couple of articles recently which advocate for the development of creativity in children.

Tinkerers Unite! How Parents Enable Kids’ Creativity

This WSJ article is in favor of kids making and creating without the use of directions.  Trial and error are favored over “getting it right” and parents who support their child developing their tinkering skills, are doing them a huge favor.  One parent interviewed describes mistakes as “part of the learning process”.  Awesome. Tinkering is encouraged as it develops spatial and mental rotation abilities which are integral to geometry and engineering.  One particularly interesting piece of information:

Jim Danielson, of Arlington Heights, Ill., fell into tinkering after his mother said he couldn’t have a TV set in his bedroom. “If I build my own TV, can I have it in my room?” he asked. “They probably didn’t think I could do it, so they said yes,” he recalls.

He built a projector system for his room during his high school sophomore year, and he and his friends used it to play Nintendo 64 games. His mother didn’t let him take the creation to college, though, concerned it might be dangerous in a small dorm room.

No matter. Mr. Danielson, now 21, dropped out of college last year to accept a Thiel Fellowship—an unusual program started by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal—which pays young innovators $100,000 to stay out of college and spend two years tinkering instead.

Our first unit next year is about Solar Energy.  Based on this information, I want to make sure I have lots of tools and materials that will lend themselves to tinkering with less emphasis on ‘package’ solar energy kits and more on guided discoveries through tinkering. This made me think back to developmental time in New Zealand schools where children are given the option to tinker to their hearts content.  In light of the recent visit of Sal Khan to Boise, I would like to see our school move toward science/math oriented guided tinkering sessions that cross grade levels.  This could also be extended into Family Math and Science nights where teachers, parents, kids all gather together to tinker.  Sound fun to me!

Encouraging passionate learners … even when it’s not your thing

This post was written by Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute.  The premise of the article is that passion and creativity should be encouraged and supported even when the same passion is not matched by the parent or teacher.  Kids who love worms, toads, dirt….whatever, should be encouraged in the following ways in order to promote self-directed, engaged learning – the opposite of which may be educational apathy:

  • give attention: listen to your child or find someone (aunty, grandpa, friend) who will
  • give supplies: buckets, magnifying glasses, collection containers, art supplies…anything that supports their passion
  • give space: an area for writing, collections, wiggly ‘friends’ or art works

When I think back to our recent Exhibition unit, and I think about how engaged our students were when they were paired with mentors or found community members that shared their passion, I know this to be true.  Seeing first-hand how kids respond when they have someone who really is genuinely interested in what they are passionate about is integral to the learning process.

I then found this website that would support the sharing of the creative process:

DIY – A Website to Share Your Creative Tinkering! 

DIY is an online community for kids. We give kids tools to collect everything they make as they grow up and a place to share it.

We’ve all seen how kids can be like little MacGyvers. They’re able to take anything apart, recycle what you’ve thrown away — or if they’re Caine, build their own cardboard arcade. This is play, but it’s also creativity and it’s a valuable skill.

Our idea is to encourage it by giving kids a place online to show it off, so family, friends and grandparents can see it and easily respond. Recognition makes a kid feel great, and motivates them to keep going. We want them to keep making, and by doing so learn new skills, use technology constructively, begin a lifelong adventure of curiosity, and hopefully spend time offline, too.

– DIY Blog

This looks like a very cool place for kids to share ideas with kids and be inspired by each other. Again, despite the somewhat ‘childish’ looking forum, I would really like to use this as a forum for my little solar tinkerers to share their work, get feedback and be inspired to create more.  What do you think? Take a look at the user interface and the feedback the site has already received:

21st Century, Leadership

Effective Leadership

I am currently reading a really great article.  Pamela Mendels ( is senior writer at The Wallace Foundation in New York City. Her foundation colleagues Lucas Held, Edward Pauly, Jessica Schwartz, and Jody Spiro contributed to this article on the five pivotal practices that shape instructional leadership.

Interestingly, the article begins by explaining that the word ‘principal‘ originally was used as a verb in front of the word ‘teacher‘ and the ‘principal teacher‘ was:

a kind of first among equals, an instructor who assumed some administrative tasks as schools began to grow beyond the one-room buildings of yore.The original principal was, like the other teachers in the school, concerned with instruction above all.

The article goes on to outline the five pivotal practices:

Shaping a Vision

Deciding what you stand for and standing for it.  Sounds simple, right?  Research shows that when leaders are clear in their vision, when they set a standard and expect others to raise their game to meet that expectation of a shared vision, growth and success will follow.  Without a clear vision for why you are there, people tend to become distant rather than united as a group.

Correlation to the Classroom: Set clear standards and adhere to them.

Creating a Climate Hospitable to Education

In addition to a roof that isn’t about to crumble around you, effective leaders ensure an atmosphere in which students and teachers feel supported and responded to.  Teachers who are given the opportunity to collaborate and work with other teachers to create common goals and improve instructional practice. Making sure you have non-toxic working environment is key to success.

Correlation to the Classroom: Support your students, allow for collaboration and regularly meet to avoid ‘issues’ to decay your class bonds.

Cultivating Leadership in Others

Schools in which leadership is shared are proven to be more effective.  Bringing teachers in to leadership roles, involving parents and other members of the community to share their areas of expertise all go toward raising the standards of education within a school. What I really like here is the finding that leadership is not a zero sum game.  Research found that “principals do not lose influence as others gain influence”.

Correlation to the Classroom: Empower your students with leadership opportunities.

Improving Instruction

Effective leaders know that improved instruction will come when research-based techniques are employed, frequent periods of focused observation are coupled with timely feedback, changes are made to schedules and ‘how things are done’ to accomodate new initiatives and ideas about learning and teaching.  This goes for everyone – especially those teachers who would rather be left to do it ‘how it always has been done’.

Correlation to the Classroom: Give your kids timely and effective feedback, initiating new ways of ‘doing’ based on solid principals of learning, giving students options for discovery and reflection as learners. 

Managing People, Data and Processes

Knowing how to support teachers in a way that allows them to thrive is a key component of an effective leader.  The support of the administration is the number one reason teachers give when making the decision to stay or leave a position in a school.  Being able to effectively manage the key responsibilities of a principal: planning, implementing, supporting, advocating, communicating and monitoring, will determine not only your success as a principal but also the success of your school. (Based on the VAL-ED method of analyzing Principal effectiveness developed by Vanderbilt University and endorsed by The Elementary School Journal)

Correlation to the Classroom: 

  • Plan thoroughly
  • Implement with initiative and innovation
  • Support all levels of learning
  • Advocate in the best interests of your students
  • Communicate clearly with all stakeholders
  • Monitor your own and your students’ growth and progress.
I really like the points raised above – both the five building blocks of effective leadership and the six points via the VAL-ED survey.  I would like to implement these ideas into my own teaching practice as a teacher, both for my own benefit and the benefit of the students in my class. What professional goals do you set yourself?  How do you monitor your effectiveness as a leader in your classroom?
My friend, Marina, who teaches in Nanjing recently posted on how she gathered feedback from her students. Marina used the following tool to gather her data and was really surprised by the feedback she got.  She went on to add a newer post about how things have only gone
from great to even greater since she gathered the feedback from her students.  One of the things Seth Godin talked about in NYC last week was seeking feedback from your tribe – the people you connect to and resonate with.  It would stand to reason that we do this with our kids  in our classrooms, no?
How do you define ‘leadership’?
Innovation, Inspiration, Internet, Leadership

Follow Your Passion – If Tony can, so can you!

My motto, even though I never really said it, is “Follow Your Passion”.

-Tony Hawk

Even though our “Passions” unit has just come to an end, I am still eagerly gathering examples for next fall of what it means to follow your passion.  In this short video clip, Tony Hawk describes what it means to him to follow his passion.  He encourages us to embrace every part of our passion – even the parts we might not have thought were our passion when we began.  He cites the example of learning about the cut and sew clothing industry which is integral to his branding and merchandising, and nothing he ever thought he would be found spending his time on but it is something that has really helped him gain a fuller understanding of what he does, how best to do it and how it all works together.

I sent a survey out to our fifth grade parents to get their feedback on our Exhibition unit.  The final question asked:

Would you be interested in being part of a parent exhibition group that will start in the Fall? We will be meeting as a group to share our passions, check in and support each other, set goals, keep each other accountable and share in the journey together?

So far, of the six replies, four people are interested in more information about this group.  I love that!  My goal is to use this group of parents as a mentor group to the fifth graders when they begin their Exhibition in the Spring next year.  We will be using Seth Godin’s “Ship It” as our guide OR Zig Ziglar’s Pick Four.  I want the parents to try out one or both of these tools to see which one works best for them and so I can offer my students the same degree of choice next year.  I also hope that the parents will gain an appreciation for the inquiry process and a better understanding of what their child goes through on a daily basis as a student of an inquiry based curriculum.

I am excited to see parents interested in taking this leap.  I am excited to take the leap along with them.  Most of all, I am excited that together, we just might make school different.

  • What do you do in your school to build parent/teacher/student relationships?
  • How do you involve your parents as partners?
  • How often do you allow kids to see parents as teachers?
  • How often do you as a teacher, learn alongside your kids?

For more information and a download of Ship It in PDF format:

The ShipIt Journal, now in free PDF format

Free to print, free to share. Don’t sell or modify.Here’s the thing: If all you do is read this on the screen, IT WON’T WORK.I use all caps with care here. IT WILL NOT WORK.You need to print it and write in it.  Good luck. Go ship. Make something happen.

Download TheShipItJournal

If you do not live in Boise, but would be interested in being part of our Passion Group via long distance learning,we would love to have you join us!  Please contact me for more information or leave a comment below! 

Brain Research, Innovation, Leadership

Blooming Orange and the Magical Number Seven

I love the color orange so of course, anything with “orange” in the title is going to catch my eye.  The people at Smart Tutor have been busy creating a new way of looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy with the creation of the Blooming Orange.  Now, Blooms’ Taxonomy is not new but this is a fresh way of looking at it.  Here is what makes it different:

  • the stages of the taxonomy are typically presented as steps or as a hierarchy.  In this diagram, they all take a spot on the outer circle to signal that most of the time, these skills do not occur in isolation but simultaneously alongside other skills
  •  careful thought has gone into choosing the verbs that fill each segment of the orange. The list is by no means definitive but serves the purpose of clearly articulating what you would see someone doing if they were “understanding”  or “applying” in their learning.

You may have noticed that there are seven verbs in each segment.  This number was decided upon purposefully as a result of research into how many discrete pieces of information the human brain can contend with at one time.  Newer research would say that the number seven is too high – that it is more like 3 or 4 – but the Smart Tutor folks felt that seven was a good number and would ensure all could be recalled.

Download the pdf’s here:

I think it is a good idea to share these types of things with students.  I also think they are good tools to use as a self-assessment of what you are asking of your kids as a teacher. What segments get the most of your attention?  What do your kids spend the most of their time doing?

Today I got some great advice from Simon Sinek in my mailbox that in the light of our Exhibition, I not only endorse and believe in, but I know to be true.

And isn’t that what school is for?  I asked that question during our Fifth Grade moving up (to Middle School) ceremony.  What is school for?  In my opinion, and to quote myself from my book “Imagine a School…” our goal should be to nurture

“passionate, persistent citizens, who are fearless and strong”.

Nothing there are being compliant, checking of boxes, waiting to be asked.

We need people who will take initiative, look for responsibility, lead without regard for title or power and care more than is necessary.  With that being said, how do you assign responsibility in your classroom? How would you answer the question,

“What is school for?”


Dear World…

Grade Five Video

Inspired by the beautiful work of ‘Dear World’, fifth grade students created a message to the world to encapsulate their PYP Exhibition journey, the culmination of their Elementary School experience and their progression into Middle School.  They are remarkable messages of hope, inspiration, courage and passion from a class of very remarkable students.

What would your message be to the world?

Leave your message in the comment box below:

21st Century, Innovation

Talk Less!

Part 1 in a series inspired by Seth Godin’s NYC Pick Yourself event.

When I “Imagine a School…” I imagine there to be less teacher talk.  Or more specifically, less teacher lecturing.  What I would hope to see include some of the following points to eliminate unnecessary teacher talk, empower students, change the classroom environment and MAKE SCHOOL DIFFERENT:

  • My first point my be obvious to some, but new to others.  Using the Khan Academy to deliver content at student’s own pace at home has proven (for me) to be a more effective use of class time.  Having access to Sal Khan and Vi Hart and being able to listen to math concepts being explained clearly (and with the option of being paused, restarted, rewound) has meant class time can be utilized for more engaging, problem-solving and interactive tasks that require the application of a variety of math skills
  • Simple instructions for students such as for the beginning of a writing assignment, a group task or a new project can be pre-recorded and delivered via your own avatar  on Voki.  You can speak in your own voice and then play with the special effects or have a different persona read the instructions you say or type.  I think this would be an awesome way to deliver the same message to groups of students and makes me think of Mission Impossible – adding a sense of mystery and adventure to the instructions.  Voki is free and easy to navigate and would be a fun tool for you and for your students.
  • In a similar vein, a simple pressing of keys on the keyboard will ignite a voice from within who will read aloud the text you have preselected.  One of my tech guru’s posted about this on his Technology Tips blog (check him out!) and many kids use it for both the novelty factor but also to hear their written work read back to them.  So often, students come up to share their written work and the minute I read it aloud they are able to identify the errors in their work where prior to coming to me there were ‘none’.  For many, hearing what they have written is what leads them to correct their work and this is a great tool to allow them to do that without you needing to read aloud for them.
  • In our fifth grade class, we shared the concept of the Socratic Seminar with our students.  This free-flowing, building-block, interactive forum for discussion is a great way to ensure everyone gets a voice as ‘chips’ are thrown in when you add your voice to the conversation and once your chips are gone, you may only continue to observe the conversation in silence.  This is a technique that takes some practice and modeling but is well worth you persevering with in order to bring group and class discussions to a higher level. Initially, you may be the person who leads or ‘chairs’ the seminar but in time, this too can be a role that is handed over to the students.
  • Write your key points.  When I was an art teacher, I took a course on assessment and one of the tools I investigated was the use of ‘Success Criteria’.  This is a very, very simple concept.  When you have defined the outcome of the lesson or time period, simply write that on the board in the following way:  You will be successful when your group has come to an agreement about the design of your art piece AND the design represents input from and the ideas of each member in the group.  The great thing about Success Criteria is that it makes it clear what ‘finished’ for this part of the lesson looks like.  As the teacher, you can direct student attention back to the criteria and have them decide when they are truly ‘finished’ and therefore ‘successful’. There are a couple of SlideShare presentations that give a few more details about this here and here.
  • When you are talking to the group, nominate student teams to be record keepers.  Better yet, have them document the lesson preamble and post on your classroom blog.  The post should focus on the What, Why, When, How and Who – in particular, the Why.  Why are we doing this?  What are we hoping to learn?  Who will be doing what?  When is the task needed to be completed by?  What are our choices and options?  Giving student groups (pairs) the responsibility for this frees up other students to really focus on listening rather than listening and note-taking.  It gives an authentic forum for writing and reinforces the idea that in learning communities, we learn and work together to achieve common goals.

I titled this post ‘Talk Less!” but I think it important to mention that what you say and how you say it are just as important factors as how much  you are saying.  This is clearly evident when you take a look at the work of Peter H. Johnston and two of his books, Choice Words and Opening Minds: Using Language To Change Lives – both books going to show that sometimes a single word can change everything. The two books are succinctly summarized on Amazon as follows:

“In his groundbreaking book Choice Words, Peter Johnston demonstrated how the things teachers say (and don’t say) have surprising consequences for the literate lives of students. Now, in Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives, Peter shows how the words teachers choose affect the worlds students inhabit in the classroom, and ultimately their futures. He explains how to engage children with more productive talk and to create classrooms that support not only students’ intellectual development, but their development as human beings.”  

I know there have been times when I regret the way in which my message was delivered but also have experienced times when the choice of the right words has moved students towards deeper understandings or greater confidence in their abilities.

What do you do in your classroom to ensure you are ‘talking less’?  What active steps are you taking to ensure the right kinds of talk are coming from your classroom?