Sunday, September 25, 2016

Genuine, Child-Like Curiosity

I had the privilege this past week of spending some uninterrupted time with my little (although rapidly growing) Owen. We chased Domino (our almost 10 year old black lab) around the living room, read some books, and had a few crawling races on the kitchen floor. It was on our third race that Owen took an unexpected turn left toward Domino's food bowls. Oh boy! I had rapid visions of an overturned water bowl all over the floor and an angry lab hovering over my 9 month old because someone was by her food dish without filling it up, and blah blah blah. I pulled myself off the floor as quickly as I could get up and moved towards Owen with every intent to pick him up and move him away from the bowl. But I was too late. I saw him as he slowly reached his hand into the water dish and just let his hand sit there in the water. And then, this happened (I'll spare you the 2 min video of this and just share 34sec. with you):

Empty bowl... ting ting ting... Full bowl... splash splash splash.... 

I don't know if was the "empty/full" or the "dry/wet" or maybe even the "noisy/quiet" concept that Owen was discovering but I couldn't take my eyes off of him! I was so proud in that moment. He was discovering something new. Unsolicited exploration. Genuine curiosity. Ongoing investigation. Noticeable results. It was all happening right there with a 9month old and two dog dishes. I've always been a secondary education teacher so watching someone so little learn new things has blown my mind multiple times, but this one really got to me. 

In that moment, I couldn't help but think about all the times as educators we have a plan in mind and lead students down our plan for learning (crawling races dog dish played). I realized how many times, in my own classroom, I was afraid to let students choose their own path for learning standards and skills for fear of them learning incorrectly or not exploring all of the information I thought they needed to learn (i.e. I didn't want them to make a mess of water on the floor or put them at risk of getting hurt by the dog). And in this moment of the dog dish discovery, I was wondering what learning opportunities I had robbed my students of for not letting them explore the standards and skills in a way that felt meaningful to them. 

As you enter into your week with students, I beg you... look at your agenda for the week. (No, seriously...go look at them. I'll wait.....)

As a student in your classroom who will be looking at those agendas, will I see a well laid-out plan that allows you (the teacher) to feel confident I am completing the tasks you want me to complete? or will I see some focused questions (aka "need to knows") identified to guide the week of learning with options for exploration to figure out my own responses/learning to those questions? 

From the viewpoint of a parent, I want my child...your student... to learn the necessary standards and skills in your class, but I hope you find the confidence and mental strength to continue to keep that child-like, genuine love of learning & curiosity alive by supporting my child in having voice and choice in HOW they learn about these standards and skills.

Peace, love, and hands-on-learning,

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Stop! Collaborate and Listen....

As I listened to 5th - 8th grade students at Winton Woods Intermediate and Middle Schools this past week, I couldn't help but focus on the ways in which they were learning the art of collaboration. IT'S IS an art! Many of us, as adults, are still trying to figure out how to truly collaborate (and not just cooperative) with our peers... can you imagine trying to figure that out in your formative years at ages 10 - 13!?!??

Some students were attempting to make decisions on the direction of their project alongside their teammates, others were just trying to hold teammates accountable for the work they were doing, and still others were making an attempt to share thoughts about how they might conduct a lab experiment. None of these feats seemed to come naturally to those students, but I couldn't help but smile with pride as I watched them take a risk (...exhibit their personal agency...) for the sake of enhancing their group collaboration.

I then thought back to my first experiences collaborating with a team-teacher and how we did everything in our power to NOT be hypocritical and talk the talk of collaborative skills without walking the walk ourselves. It's hard, my friends! Attempting to resolve conflict through personal discussion, completing tasks on time while offering constructive feedback to one another, supporting the roles and responsibilities of self and team members... those are just a few of the skills which are indicators of an effective collaborator. My team teacher and I quickly realized that these skills weren't coming naturally to us and they certainly weren't going to for students, either. So we needed support. We needed to be intentional about learning how to collaborate and consistently reflecting on our collaborative efforts. SO, I wanted to share some collaborative strategies with you also in case you're finding yourself at the beginning of the year longing for some structures you might add to your class which support student's growth on this essential life skill as well!

  • Originally designed as math collaborative strategies, these can be easily adapted for use in any content area as structures for group workshops. (I have also seen many of these on Mandy Neal's "Teaching with Simplicity" blog where she breaks down how you might use them in other content areas as well!) 
  • Okay! fine!!! You want more! I get it... here are some Collaborative Group Work protocols you might find useful as well!
  • I have seen this in multiple ES - MS classrooms as a reminder to students of the indicators of a good collaborator (without hanging up a more text-heavy rubric). Keep in mind... if it hangs on the wall without intent, reference, or as a support, it's just background noise. If you use a strategy like this.... MAKE IT USEFUL! 

  •  And collaborative prompts that could be taped to the inside of team folders and kept on your own adult collaborative working space(s) looks like this:

I can't wait to hear about the strategies you try in your own classroom, which ones seem effective, and how student abilities grow as a result of your own commitment to improving collaborative abilities for yourself and your students!

Peace, love, and Ice-Ice-Baby,


Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 years...

15 years ago on 9/11/2001, our country experienced a major event which changed the context for which we live today. In Cincinnati (yes, I live in South East Indiana, but Cincinnati is “home”) , there is a major Labor Day celebration each year called Riverfest. People line the banks of the Ohio River on both the OH and the KY side, crowding in for a day of celebration with friends, family, and fireworks to say “goodbye to summer.” As I listened to news broadcasts about the 40th anniversary for the firework display this year, I couldn’t help but think “Gosh… 40 years ago, they didn’t have to number the lamp posts in the city so you could tell family members where you were in case the unthinkable happened. And the event organizers didn’t even consider security checkpoints to a public event like this.”  My how time has changed.

This year, your students born in 2001 are now in the 8th and 9th grades. They were born into the country formed by the events of that tragic day 15 years ago. They have grown up knowing “safety” to look very different for our country than we did growing up as kids. They “have never forgotten” because they have never known anything differently.

Our NTN schools promote a culture of trust, respect, and responsibility, and on days like today, I can’t help but think about the importance of that culture for students  in our schools today and how I long for the day they feel that same collaborative culture as a country. If you have not had a moment, or not take a cultural temperature check with your student since school started (perhaps since your 1st School Project), I encourage you to do so. Not only is reinforcing that positive culture beneficial to your classroom, but also to your school, across your district, within your local community, and will empower your students to create that environment in our world.

Peace, love, and never forget,


Monday, September 5, 2016


You know that moment at the grocery store when you've spent FAR too long staring at the stacks of toilet paper, trying to find the best deal for the best brand of paper? You're activating all of your prior knowledge in that quick moment, "Which ones cause TP dust on the roll? Was it this brand or that brand which felt like sand paper? Can I recall the one that started an argument at home last time, because I certainly need to avoid that one..." only to choose the package that "looks right" and as soon as you get home and load up a roll, you realize the TP feels different. "Why is it so thin? and course?"  A slight moment of panic overcomes you as you grasp for the newly purchased package with a roll now missing. Scanning...scanning...scanning.... yep. There it is....

... "One-Ply."  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? You just spent all that time refreshing your memory on the "best brand for your buck" and you come home with ONE-PLY!? Why is that still a thing!? Regardless, it certainly reinforces the need to "read for clarity" and "challenge assumptions" as well as "pay attention to detail." 

I was fortunate enough to visit Towles MS in Fort Wayne, IN last week and the staff is currently engaged in conversation around identifying ways to ensure all students are reading at grade level. (Boy, did I need to enact these strategies myself, or what!?) As we talked initially about strategies to support student's ability to read, we eventually began to discuss that there's a need to start with supporting students ability to "think out loud." Once students would be able to articulate what they were thinking, we could then implement strategy x, y, or z that seemed to best meet their needs.  I quickly realized....THAT'S WHAT I DO AT THE GROCERY STORE!!! I need to process what I'm thinking about prices, quality, double vs single rolls and what will fit on my dispenser, etc. before I begin to touch a package for purchase! Students do this too. They process, often to themselves, for fear of taking a risk and failing or "sounding stupid" in front of their peers, and they don't even DARE reach for a package to purchase. Could you imagine if a student said, "Mr. Smith, I'm not sure that I understand what this paragraph is saying?" *gasp* Yes...we would be THRILLED!!! But rarely do we get that celebratory moment. If we can FIRST teach students to articulate what they are thinking, feeling, understanding, then perhaps we can support them in diving deeper on the content we desire for them to understand. 

These "Say Something" prompts are great to keep on student work tables, but only if you, as the teacher, remember to allow the time for students to pause and figure out what they are going to say based on the discussion, reading, video, etc. they are investigating. Or what about these Visible Thinking Routines? Are you willing to offer up 10-15min. for a routine like this NOW to support your student's ability to think, process, and comprehend rather than 2-3 weeks remediating their ability to read at the end of the grading period?! Perhaps you want to up your game beyond figuring out what students "Know" and "Need to Know" about information presented and what they might do to support their next steps. In that case, give this KWHLAQ structure a try! 

It's scary to take a risk when you're learning something for the first time, or you don't know what you need to know, or you do know what you need but you're nervous to take the first step. Now that we've identified this challenge, choose 2-3 routines, prompts or activities that you can implement alongside your lessons this week and know that you're dedicating that time to be PROACTIVE about student thinking now so you don't have to be REACTIVE about their comprehension later. After all... there's nothing worse than starting your learning adventure only to reach for the toilet paper and be filled with instant panic and regret.

Peace, love, and two-ply for life,