Summer Slide – A reality or media construct?

I just read Alfie Kohn’s take on the Summer Slide.  He puts forward an interesting argument and correlates the ‘fear’ of loss of progress over the summer with the same fear of what will happen if teachers don’t assign homework (hint: Mayhem! Chaos! Kids Gone Wild!).

He summarizes his argument:

By the time September rolls around, kids may indeed be unable to recall what they were told in April: the distance between the earth and the moon, or the definition of a predicate, or the approved steps for doing long division. But they’re much less likely to forget how to set up an experiment to test their own hypothesis (if they had the chance to do science last spring), or how to write sentences that elicit a strong reaction from a reader (if they were invited to play with prose with that goal in mind), or what it means to divide one number into another (if they were allowed to burrow into the heart of mathematical principles rather than being turned into carbon-based calculators).

Summer learning loss? It’s just a subset of life learning loss—when the learning was dubious to begin with.

His summary is really a blueprint for what parents can do (and teachers can support) in order to use the summer break as an opportunity for growth rather than loss: Do experiments, swing in a hammock and write a story from the perspective of something around you, bake something or make something that has you using your math skills, for real. Most importantly, focus on the process of having a summer vacation and all that entails: rest, experiences, creation, re-creation, and play.

As Kohn points out, the ‘summer slide’ is evident when standardized test scores are compared. But what about the skills that can not be measured on such a test?

My take on combatting the slide? Here are some Summer Learning slides I shared with the parents at my school:

With the exception of the ‘knowing’ slide, which gives details of websites in which students can practice traditional academic skills, the tools suggested focus on the idea of creating and documenting based on experiences. The more children see, do, touch, feel, experience, and try, the more they will have to speak, write, and create about.

In addition to technology, get outside, and read (read outside or just read and then go outside or vice versa). If you are needing help with summer reading, look no further than my favorite book blog: One Page To The Next.  Last summer she posted on Summer Reading for Book Enthusiasts. This summer, her Summer Reading post is another great spread of excitement for readers.

If you are still looking for ideas, my other favorite blog Engage Their Minds has a wealth of resources under the category “Summer Slide

Finally, I love this list of ideas for experiences for kids from Ranger Rick.  Take a look and download from here – and then make a digital book, i-movie, podcast, artwork, poem, rap song, comic book, or ??? about your experience!



What’s up, Dr. Tony Wagner?


I have been a long-time fan of Dr. Tony Wagner. His quote, “it is not what you know, but what you do with what you know” is one that I repeat regularly – to myself and to colleagues in order to switch our focus from collecting knowledge to connecting ideas and concepts, to creating and sharing with others.

In November of 2014, Dr. Wagner wrote a blog post for P21.org that led with the driving question:  What is really needed to prepare students as citizens and workers in the 21st Century? In this post he said:

…as long as we insist on testing every student every year, instead of testing only a sample of students every few years, we will be unable to afford the kinds of assessments, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, that measure the skills that matter most.

…I believe that this “reform” will only serve to accelerate the trend of teaching to the tests and to ensure that whatever good qualities that may exist in the Common Core will be lost in an increasingly test-prep-centered curriculum.

…no corporations make important hiring or promotion decisions on the basis of a standardized test score…

I continue to worry about the impact of a test-prep curriculum on student motivation, as well as on teacher morale.

Dr. Wagner describes the current situation as one in which there is an “overzealous focus on standardized testing”. So, can you imagine my surprise when I open an email from NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) and find that at their Fusion Central conference in July, none other than Dr. Wagner is the keynote speaker.  NWEA is the author of MAP tests (Measures of Academic Progress).  A standardized test.


This seems like such a disconnect to me in light of everything I know about Dr. Wagner and his high regard for experiential learning and a holistic education. Has he sold out?  Gone over to the dark side? I can’t believe that this is possible, so why is he there?

Part of the potential reason is hinted at in his blog post:

To scale innovation, we need broader agreement on the education outcomes that matter most, as well as an accountability system aligned with those outcomes. The key to accomplishing these two tasks, I believe, is for educators to more actively engage with business and community leaders and to work together to develop a more 21st Century appropriate accountability system.

My hope is that Dr. Wagner is seeking to become part of the solution. That he wants to have a hand in how the tests are created in order to help develop tests that are broader in scope and take into account things beyond the limitations of current standardized tests.

Or, perhaps his goal is to show educators who are required by schools or districts to administer these tests how they can use the results of these tests to ‘create innovators’ and build upon student strengths. I would like to think that there is a way of making valuable something that takes so much of a student’s time and removes them from the classroom.

And yet another part of me hopes that he will just stand up there and declare “NO MORE STANDARDIZED TESTING!” And the audience will go wild!  Whichever way it plays out, I will definitely be following closely to see what comes of this.


Visual Note-taking or Sketchnotes

I have been working with one of our Learning Support teachers and EAL teachers to give guidance to students in fourth grade on taking sketchnotes. I am a huge fan of this and try and practice it myself at conferences and when listening to TED talks. I am always on the lookout for ‘how to’ guides….and then I found this: The work of Sylvia Duckworth in one amazing presentation.  It is seriously all you could ever hope to want to know about visual notetaking.

Packed with links, images, suggestions, more examples, and just so, so good, this is a brilliant place to start if you are a novice or experienced sketch noter.

What are your best tips and tricks for visual notetaking?


Flip, Game, Play

These three forms of instruction are interesting to me. I like things that try and disrupt the status quo and I am inspired by educators who want to adapt and change “the way we do things” in line with new thinking and new technology, and with the needs of the students in mind.

Reverse (Flipped) Instruction


I think this is a no-brainer and yet I still think it gets a bad reputation from teachers and parents who really don’t understand how to use it. I am a massive fan of the Khan Academy and while it didn’t start the flipped learning idea, it certainly has provided educators with an enormous supply of quality videos to support learning. I really don’t enjoy being lectured at. So I try not to do it to my students. What I do instead is either make or find videos that explain the things we will be working on. An example would be blogging with my fourth graders.  When it came to adding media, there were so many options and some with many steps and I knew I was dealing with a huge range in terms of experience and ‘comfortableness’ with technology.  Some kids are super happy to plug at it until they figure it out themselves, others want step-by-step instructions. So I tried to cater to both: I began the lesson by outlining the goals (to embed photos and videos into a blog post) and immediately gave kids the option of giving it a go themselves – to ‘sandbox’ the task on their own or with others. The other options were to use my blog as a tutorial service and stop, pause, rewind the videos whilst giving it a go.  The other option was to sit with me and follow along while I walked through a ‘real life’ tutorial.The videos were posted prior to the lesson which meant students had the option of viewing them prior to the lesson as well (hence the large number who chose to go it alone).

I think it is a MUCH more productive use of time for the lecture portion of the lesson to be delivered via video. It doesn’t take long to flip open PhotoBooth and take a video or open QuickTime and make a screen recording. Yes, there are concerns that students won’t watch the videos at home but they can still watch them in class and then make a choice about how to proceed.

One of the claims made by critics of the Khan Academy is that Sal Khan wants to replace all teachers with computers. This is absolutely not true. What Sal wants to do is elevate the role of the teacher. He believes that teachers should do more than lecture – they should plan learning experiences that allow students to delve deeper in their understanding of concepts. I love this idea. Is it more work to plan engaging learning provocations and opportunities for collaborative and individual projects? Yes! But is it worth it? Absolutely.

Game Based Learning


The Khan Academy is the platform with which I have the most experience in terms of Game Based Learning. I have used it since 2007 with 3rd graders in Japan. It has evolved a lot since then and it is (to me) a no-brainer inclusion in anyone’s math education.


I work through it with my kids: I have an account, an avatar (which is pretty bad-ass because I have so many points) and a trophy case with my finest achievements in it. I have had “million point parties” with my students when we have collectively racked up 5, 10, 15 million points.  I have watched kids furiously completing math problems in order to boost our collective score and individually striving to achieve mastery in different areas. It’s individualised, targeted instruction, rewards, and tracking make it a classic game and a brilliant tool for learning. Here is my class last year, competing to hit 1 million points:

Learning Through Play


I learned a lot about “the sandbox” and play based learning from Jocelyn Sutherland at the ECIS Technology Conference.


I haven’t explored the connection very deeply between learning through play and IT integration – but I have started. Instead of a stand-alone lesson with the EC students at our school, I now am a part of their Learning Through Play ‘stations’ with a primary focus on the process of using technology (rather than a push to produce a product). I have enrolled myself and created a cohort of interested teachers to participate in a course on Childhood In The Digital Age which starts online on June 8 (free and still time to sign up if interested!). I am hoping it will give me more insight into how to best integrate childhood with technology.  I also was introduced to the work of Dr. Richard Freed (who happens to be the brother of my principal) the author of Wired Child.  I haven’t read the book yet but I am very intrigued by what he has to say:

In Wired Child, you will find a common-sense guide rooted in the science of behavior and brain function to build the strong families kids need, promote their success in school, limit kids’ risk of developing a video game/Internet addiction, and encourage their productive use of technology.

For me, since having a child and thus my own little observation piece of how children learn through play, I can definitely see the value in things such as perseverance, trial and error, and adaptation. Our daughter plays with Duplo, blocks, trucks, puzzles, dolls, coins, paper and markers, water, sand, paint, books, and (her favorite) our paper recycling box of egg cartons, boxes, and newspapers. She can also grab a phone off the table and without needing the passcode, swipe up the camera app and take a few (thousand) photos and a couple of videos too. She knows how to select another episode on Netflix and will do almost anything for a video with dogs, babies, or MacGyver in it.  And she just turned 2 on Saturday. We do (I think) a pretty good job of balancing her digital life. As I am upstairs working, my husband and daughter are spinning in the egg chair and building a fort in the playroom. She fell asleep in her dad’s arms this morning while he was watching TopGear. We sat down and flicked through photos of my new nephew on Facebook. We snuggled in bed this morning (and last night) and read book after book.

My point: I think there is a place for technology in a child’s play-based world.  I think the introduction and use of technology can be woven in with the introduction and use of low-tech tools as well.  And I think that as parents and teachers, we need to be open to ensuring a balance of both in our children’s lives.

Totally unrelated but incredibly gorgeous shot of my sweet girl, determined to blow those two candles OUT!
Totally unrelated but incredibly gorgeous shot of my sweet girl, determined to blow those two candles OUT!