Creativity, Inspiration, Kindness, Organization

Start With Kindness…And Then LEGOs

We just had our first elementary school faculty meeting to kick off the new school year. We did the usual housekeeping, updates, and messages but that came second. To begin, we started with a message rooted in kindness.

We were reminded by our Head of Primary, Marina Gijzen, that first and foremost:

  • You are an advocate for students.
  • People are the first priority.
  • Assume the best in everyone.
  • Be willing to generously dole out grace and be gracious.
  • Take care of each other and yourself
  • Be willing to ask for and accept help

Finally, we were reminded to Be KIND. To “throw kindness around like confetti.” And we were challenged to remember that we will never regret choosing kindness.

Our job is to treat our students with love, with hope, with empathy and compassion, to challenge them, and to inspire and be inspired by them.

This message this morning was powerful. It could have started with a joke or a cartoon or a game about holidays but instead it started with a genuine message of kindness. It was authentic – I have been on the receiving end of so much kindness here already – and it really set the tone for what I hope will be an amazing year ahead. I am grateful.

As I begin preparing for the year ahead and for our students to arrive on Thursday, I want to ensure they leave their first class with me with that same feeling I had when I left the faculty meeting: that they are an important part of something special. To that end, I have designed the following Lego Challenge for all my students. I know they are going to want to touch and look and explore on day one (two students have just walked in while I am writing this and they are touching EVERYTHING) but I don’t want the first class to be about everything they can’t do. I also want to get across the ideas of iteration, collaboration, and communication.  Here is the challenge:

Photo by Philippe_Charpentier on Flickr
  1. Take legos from the tables and build something that represents you. It could be a model of something or something abstract. It could be in your favorite color or many colors. It is a symbol of you.
  2. Put finished models on the table. Gallery walk and talk. What do you see? What do you think?  What are you wondering?
  3. Partner up with another student. Using ONLY the lego pieces from your two models, create a new model that represents the two of you.
  4. Put finished models on the table. Gallery walk and talk. What do you see? What do you think?  What are you wondering?
  5. Repeat in groups of 4, 8, 16 until we have one model that represents us as a group. All of the models from all of the classes will be on display in the Pit Window as they are created.


My friend and former colleague tried this out with her new leadership team. She tweaked the idea to suit the leadership scenario but reported back that by all accounts it was really successful. She didn’t do as many iterations as I will have to do (although we have small classes of around 16 so it shouldn’t be too bad). If you have done this kind of challenge before and can offer any suggestions, I would love to hear them! If you would like to do this challenge with your kids, please do! I would love to see your creations. Stay tuned for pictures of our models!


How are you starting the new school year?



Change, Innovation, iPad, Organization, Tech, Technology

Think Like A Startup

Last week I was fortunate to go to Amsterdam with four fabulous colleagues to attend the European Conference on iPads in the Classroom hosted by the International School of Amsterdam.

Our trip started like this:

And then on to the ‘real business’ – two days of guest speakers, breakout groups, classroom observations, speed geeking, and great conversations about the use of technology in the classroom. The tech team at ISA offered some great tips and ideas about getting started with iPads including appointing iPad Point People to support learning across the school and they had some practical ideas for making the day-to-day use of iPads easier for everyone (students and teachers). Sue Worsnup, the Grade 3-5 IT Facilitator at ISA shared the following:


The Keynote speaker for the conference was Warren Apel – the former Tech Director at ISA who currently is operating his own startup, Scholastico, before moving to Tokyo in the fall as Director of Technology at the American School in Japan.

As a sidenote, Warren’s company offers a way for schools to set up Parent-Teacher Conferences that is so quick and easy. If you or your school are interested, it really is worth your while to read the brochure linked above or to watch this 2 minute video on how it all works. It really looks awesome!


With his recent experience in building his own startup business, Warren’s keynote “How Schools, Teachers, and Administrators Can Learn To Think Like A Startup” was a great combination of his experience as a teacher and tech director, and his past year of starting a company. He presented his 12 lessons that he learned over the past year that could be applied to the work we do in schools when looking to innovate or start a new project:


  1. Be curious
  2. Focus on what could be – not what is
  3. Be disruptive
  4. Learn from failure
  5. Move with speed
  6. Embrace a playful attitude
  7. Get the team right
  8. Communicate!
  9. Be transparent
  10. Learn together with the customers (or in this case, students/parents/teachers)
  11. Dream big – go for your Moonshot!
  12. Start with “why?”

Warren has written up his keynote as a blog post (linked above) and it is a really worthwhile read for those looking to lead change within your school. I was most grateful that there were five of us from my school hearing this message together. There is such a lot of power and added value to sending a small group to the same workshop or conference that I think some schools overlook. As the conference went on and conversations bubbled up, it was great to see the ideas and suggestions forming within our group and the enthusiasm for what could be regarding our iPad program at MIS.

This group of go-getters, early adopters, innovators, were motivated by what they saw and heard and inspired to bring these ideas back to their own classrooms and teams. For me, this was the most rewarding part of the two day event. The other thing I loved was that the conference was held during the week which allowed us the opportunity to observe classes in action.  The opportunity to walk through a school when the kids are there was fantastic and in itself, was a great PD session full of ideas and tips for cultivating a mindful learning environment.  Here are a few shots from around the school:

As the two days progressed, I made notes that I later turned into an iBook titled “iPad Integration Guide”. It focuses on technology in the PYP classroom, a core set of apps for learning and sharing, coding apps, students as authors with a focus on Book Creator, and a ‘nuts and bolts’ section which gives a few tips and tricks for rolling out iPads into the classroom. Click on the link below to download for free from iTunes.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.47.29.png
Download from iTunes – click here

We have had a less than ideal (!) start to the year with our iPads as we transitioned to the VPP program and a new MDM system so this conference was just what was needed to help us recalibrate and set ourselves up for the rest of the year and the year ahead. I am looking forward to seeing the authentic, purposeful, and innovative advances in teaching and learning that will come from all of this!


Internet, Organization

Google Apps for Education: MindMeister


The second app I found through Google Apps is MindMeister – which was also referenced in this post. I signed up for a free account and created the following (click to enlarge):

Sample Mind Map 2

MindMeister allows for a collaborative approach to brainstorming or planning. You can add icons/images from the built-in library or source your own images. Links to websites can also be added. Files can be uploaded and attached but not with the free version. For the most part, this is fairly easy to use.  I didn’t use any tutorial to get started and didn’t have too many issues as it is fairly intuitive. When you are finished, you have a number of options for sharing (similar to sharing a google Doc) or exporting in a number of formats including PDF or an image file.

As we begin the Exhibition, I am looking for tools that will help with the planning and organizing for my students. I have previously used MindNode Lite, but this doesn’t seem to have the same range of features (sharing, exporting options) and MindMeister just seems a little more useful perhaps?

What online tools do you use for mind-mapping?

Leadership, Organization

Survey Your Audience

Part 2 in a series inspired by Seth Godin’s NYC Pick Yourself event. (Part 1 here)

This photo was posted by @willrich45, a parent, author, speaker and blogger about social web tools and their effect on school, education and learning, whom I follow on Twitter.  Here is the text of the article:

Public school students as young as 5 are being asked to consider their classroom experiences in surveys that will soon become one of the high-stakes measures used to evaluate teachers.  The surveys – part of a pilot program – were administered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade for the first time in March in 18 schools and will be given to 82 schools next year, potentially multiple times.  The Department of Education declined to release results from the March surveys, saying the data are still being analyzed.  While some educators worry the surveys will reflect poorly on teachers who are strict or tough, the surveys’ developers say the questionnaires are research-based and have been found to be highly linked to teacher effectiveness. “We’re asking students about what they’re experiencing in the classroom.  They’re not popularity questions,” said Rob Ramsdell, director of the Tripod Project which creates the surveys for dozens of school districts.  “We have a lot of reason to believe that kids take it seriously and that the information we are getting is valuable.” he said.

I googled “Tripod Project” and found that the Tripod survey assessments are an integral part of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Through this site, I was able to view a copy of a questionnaire that would be given to an elementary student.  Ignoring that fact that it is four pages long, I actually think it has some interesting statements on it:


If you don’t understand something, my teacher explains it another way.

In class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

In our class, mistakes are ok if you tried your best.

Students get to decide how activities are done in this class.

My teacher wants me to explain my answers – why I think what I think.

As a teacher, I would hope that I do these things.  I would like to think that I explain things through different lenses and help my kids learn from their mistakes and learn that making mistakes IS learning.  I like the use of the word ‘activities’ in the fourth statement.  Once you have decided what your big idea and guiding questions are, the children should have input into the things they do (activities) that will help them best develop their understanding.  When I read the last statement I laughed aloud at the thought of my kids answering that question as I feel like I constantly torture them with wanting to know why, why, WHY?!

Less Interesting.

This class is neat – everything has a place and is easy to find.

My teacher takes the time to summarize what we have learned each day.

My teacher tells us what we are learning and why.

My teacher makes me want to go to college.

Most of these points make me feel that the kids are at the mercy of their teacher.  Why can’t the kids summarize their learning each day?  Why not ask the kids what they are learning and why they think they are learning it? I can see value in a teacher modeling this kind of thinking/dialogue, but I would expect it to come more from the children.  A group of children who have been empowered by their teacher might score the teacher poorly on these factors when in actual fact, they should probably be scored off the scale.  I love a neat room but learning is messy! And after listening to Mike Rowe speak about the need for a skilled workforce and the importance of vocational training at the Ed Sessions here in Boise,  I wonder what message we are sending with a question that focuses solely on college?

Why I would never want to score highly on ‘This class is neat’.

You might be reading these statements and my take on them and have a completely different perspective.  I wouldn’t be surprised and that is kind of my point.  People are going to read these questions and their perceptions (especially the insightful perceptions of children) may be vastly different to what is actually happening.  A friend of mine, who is a fantastic teacher, recently surveyed her third graders.  Two overwhelming trends were evident in her results:

  1. They felt that they were not learning much
  2. They felt that the teacher didn’t show she really cared about them

If you know Marina, you will know that both of these findings are absurd.  So, what did she do? She sat with her class, shared the results and asked them to clarify.  The kids who were very capable and independent were the ones who thought she didn’t show she cared because she was “always” working with the other kids.  The kids who viewed “learning” as sitting at your desk, working independently or with pen and paper, didn’t think they were learning as the classroom environment is more hands-on and inquiry driven.  If you read her full post you will see that with this feedback, Marina was able to make a few tweaks to the way she interacted with her kids and all was well again.

  • I wonder if teachers would be given the chance to investigate the ‘why’ behind a poor score?

  • I wonder if kids would read (interpret) the question correctly?

I like the idea of gathering student feedback, be it by way of the  MET_Project_Elementary_Student_Survey or the less formal tool that Marina used. I know when I get feedback – especially the stuff I don’t like to hear – it makes me take a look at why people may have said that.  Sure, some of it comes down to personality, but what else? Is there something I am doing or not doing? What works? What doesn’t?

Seth talked a lot about the importance of getting feedback.  Look at Trip Advisor.  The whole purpose of that site is for travelers to provide feedback on their experience.  Travelers can gain valuable insights from their fellow explorers. Service providers can hear the good, the bad and the ugly from those who choose to use their services and amenities. Rankings are established over a period of time to give honest feedback and reputations are built or battered down as a result.  Those who offer feedback are rewarded with status titles for taking the time to share their thoughts more regularly than others.  Your commenting history is visible so people can see the breadth of your opinion – are you always negative? overly positive? fair?  Imagine if Trip Advisor was only open for comments on one day a year.  Or even four days a year.  Would you be happy to form an opinion about a hotel or attraction based solely on how people were feeling on that one day?

What if, instead of these surveys, we opened ourselves up to constant feedback, Trip Advisor style?  I think it would be pretty easy to do.  And incredibly hard.

Easy: to find a tech solution for creating and sharing survey data

Hard: being open to constant feedback on your teaching performance


What do you think?

Creativity, Innovation, Organization

You Are Allowed…..So Get Started!

At the beginning of my Spring Break, I found this from Simon Sinek (the Golden Circle guy).  These are the rules of conduct he has for his company.  Pretty awesome!  I wonder if these should not be the words to encourage us through our PYP Exhibition journey?  What do you think?  I am going to post these outside our classroom – beside our ‘we can do hard things’ poster.  I might also put one in my permanent view – I want to make sure that I am continually practicing what I preach and not being a source of contradiction within my own classroom.

Innovation, Organization, Uncategorized

Reasons You Haven’t “Made It”, How To Keep Going, and Why You Are Enough

I am quickly falling in love with

Simple.  To the point. Witty.

What’s not to love?

I plan on sharing these with my kids tomorrow.  I am intrigued to see what they will think of the use of graphic images to tell such a story.  I think some will LOVE it.  I have fresh index cards and new fine point black sharpies ready too 🙂

We have them thinking about how they are going to eventually share their learning at the end of the process and before they head towards my worst nightmare (reading me a powerpoint) I thought it wise to throw this one up for good measure:

In addition, I would like to share with them 12 Truths to Tell Yourself After A Failure or A Mistake as we conclude the first week of our PYP Exhibition.  I have listed the 12 but for more detail read the full post and remember:

Failure is a prerequisite for great success. If you want to succeed faster, double your rate of failure.

Here are the 12:

  • It’s okay.  You will be okay.
  • There is no success without failure.
  • Positive thinking creates positive results.
  • Success is always closer than it seems.
  • You are not your mistakes.
  • Life’s best lessons are learned at unexpected times.
  • Mistakes are rarely as bad as they seem.
  • Not getting what you want can be a blessing.
  • You have the capacity to create your own happiness.
  • Mistakes are simply a form of practice.
  • You are making progress.
  • Life goes on.

If you have ever been part of the PYP Exhibition, you will know what a huge and sometimes daunting task it can be – especially when you are 10 or 11 years old!  In light of this – and in addition to everything we have done thus far to prepare and support our kids – I was just thinking that tomorrow I will also read them a book from one of my favorite author/illustrators, Peter H. Reynolds.  The book is called “So Few Of Me” and if you are a Reynolds fan (and even if you are not!) you will not be disappointed.  Here is what Peter had to say about his book:

If The Dot is about getting started, and Ish is about keeping going once you get rolling, So Few of Me is about making sure you save enough time in the rush- rush world we live in to actually BE creative. Dedicated to my twin brother, Paul Reynolds, So Few of Me is a tale of an over-scheduled, multi- list-making, over-worked boy on a journey to get it all done. Of course, that’s not just a tall order, it’s a tall tale. Life’s list never really ends, but we have the power to be ruled by the list… Or to put it down — and dream. You might know a few people in your life that might need a gentle reminder to slow it down a notch. I know I will have to re-read my book once a week to keep myself journeying at a safe speed!

Organization, PYP

Learn How to ShipIt


Today I was given a thin book – or, as described on the front cover “a little pamphlet for people who can”. The book/pamphlet is by Seth Godin as a follow-on for those inspired by his book, “Linchpin”. The parent who gave it to me, knows we are in the process of beginning our PYP Exhibition – the culminating project in fifth grade in which the students showcase their understandings from their elementary school career.

What does it mean to ‘ship it’ and what is this all about? Here is what Seth says:

When you ship…things change. Your project interacts with the world and the market changes. You change. Your relationship with your team changes. There is a mark in the calendar–there were days before you shipped and then there are the days afteryou shipped. Drawing a line like this is frightening, because it’s not always obvious what happens after you draw the line and after you cross the line. This line is empowering. It demonstrates your ability to make things happen. This booklet gives you the power to draw that line, step by step, day by day – and then cross it. Write in the book. Draw the line. Commit. The project will ship.

I like the pithy, seqential layout of the book and the astute way it guides you over those hurdles that may typically prevent you from ‘shipping it’. I liked it so much, that as soon as I finished, I tried to buy 30 copies for my kids. Sadly, it is out of print. Not one to give up, I have since been given permission to copy it for my kids so they can experience recording their project in preparation for ‘shipping it’. I am excited to share this with them tomorrow.

Here are a few of my favorite pages:




We often talk about telling kids that it is ok to fail but that must sound like suddenly turning around and saying “It’s ok to run with scissors” or “It’s ok to skip your homework”. We keep repeating it though and we are starting to see that truth sink in. What I like about ShipIt is that it acknowledges failure, it acknowledges fear, shame, road blockers and people who will try and stop you. And then it says, ‘but you can do it anyway’ in a really beautiful way.

The last word on the back cover sums it all up:

You have brilliance in you, your contribution is valuable, and the art you preate is precious. Only you can do it, and you must. I’m hoping you’ll stand up and choose to make a difference.

Thanks to Seth, our fifth graders are going to be people who can.