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Why Joy Matters

Professional development does not have to be work. Same with the classroom. I hear teachers talk about their work that day or the workshop that made their brain hurt. Where’s the joy? When you teach to the test and focus on increasing scores, just watch the faces of the students. Are they engaged or motivated?

Look back at preschool and what Kindergarten used to be like. The room was set up with learning centers and students were talking and laughing together. There was learning going on. You could hear it and see it. I used to put on professional development sessions that were more like this type of Kindergarten room. I taught claymation to teachers where they worked in teams, created a storyboard together, assigned each other characters or objects to create with the clay, and so on. The giggles and laughter that ensued was pervasive. The whole room was laughing during the session. Then they would video and lay music over the video. When we were all done, we had a show… with popcorn.

Real learning by doing… and FUN!!! I miss that. There seems to be a whole generation of teachers that missed this type of professional development. For the past 8-9 years, all professional development seems to be focused on data, improving scores, and accountability. I know we need that, but here’s my take on it. The scores are based on standardized tests and our kids are not standardized. They are all different. Teachers are all different. So we use the scores to determine our improvement on AYP and the gaps. We use that data to help us design and drive the curriuclum. But what about supplementing these tests by following a student’s progress by collecting evidence of learning along with reflections in an ePortfolio? Authentic assessment where the student analyzes what they learned and now understands. Teachers could then correlate the test scores with actual evidence and share their own reflections to help the student improve.

I taught a project on advertising for multiple grade levels where I remember the kids saying to me “I didn’t know learning could be this much fun.” I loved that. Think back when you were learning something where you walked away feeling really good and it was fun. Remember that? I do. I remember making a paper maché map of the world with others students and then doing a presentation. That was hard but fun. I remember walking home feeling a joy in my heart that I did it. I know it now.  I had struggled with the concepts, but that project made it real.

We need to make the concepts real to our students and bring the joy back to learning.

What are your priorities in learning?

What do you see as the priority for learning?

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Sabotaging Projects

We know better. You tell yourself you are going to exercise so many minutes a day, but something else takes priority. You do 15 minutes one day, nothing the next, and then feel bad again. You may be doing the same thing about your diet or some other behavior you want to change and you still keep going back to sabotaging yourself. Then you beat yourself up and continue this behavior over and over again.

The same thing happens to teachers with project-based learning. When a school decides to transform their traditional teaching to student-centered learning environments, it is best if the whole school buys in if it is to work. But… do the teachers say Yes and really mean Maybe?

“Maybe I’ll do the project when I have time.”

A teacher may be really excited as they design a project with other teachers, then they go back to their day-to-day grueling schedule and may never really jump head first into the projects. Excuses and questions like how do we fit a project in our schedule and meet the standards? Maybe a principal rallies behind the teachers to change teaching practice, but cannot find ways to squeeze in collaborative planning time. If everything depends on raising test scores, then the administration may prioritize direct instruction that focuses on teaching to the test. It’s very complicated. We all have good intentions but it’s all about data. Review your scores and other student information and disaggregate the data to identify which students are having problems and where there are gaps in learning. Projects don’t work if you don’t take the time to plan, review the data to determine your learning targets, and collaborate with other teachers to design a good project that will improve student achievement.

People sabotage themselves when they don’t believe they can change. It is easier to give up and go back to what they are used to. People don’t know what they don’t know. Change is not easy and for many scary. It takes initiative, time, practice, being okay about failing and trying again. A good project doesn’t always work. Teachers can learn and reflect on what works and what didn’t work and then use what they learned with the next project. Think why you might sabotage yourself or a project. Is it because you don’t believe projects will work for your students or that you are concerned about how you will develop and manage the project? Projects not only engage and motivate learners to want to learn, teachers find them rewarding. Change is tough, so take small steps and start with one project.

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Transforming an Elementary School

Lucky me! I am working with Garfield Elementary school in San Leandro Unified School District. I started my career, my love of technology, in San Leandro a long time ago, so this is like coming home again. Jan Nuno, the principal, designed a creative program with her SIG (School Improvement Grant) money that involves laptops, SmartBoards, Elmos, professional development, using My eCoach for grade level websites and projects, and support on-site and online. The goal is one step at a time, and the teachers are excited about taking these steps. Garfield teachers have grown so much in a very short time: last year the worked on developing PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and CRT (Culturally Responsive Teaching). Now they want to infuse technology to not only motivate stuGarfield Elementary teachersdents to want to learn but to change the learning environment.

The tech leads are Neema McCockran and Jason Huls with a teacher leader at each grade level who we spent a whole day reviewing the technology and developing grade level websites that includes grade appropriate resources and places to collaborate with the other teachers in their grade. We made one website and then asked each teacher leader to clone and adapt it for their team. Then we returned a week later with the whole staff (30 teachers) and asked the teacher leaders to invite the other teachers in their grade level to co-author. Then Jason and Neema set up three 15 minute break out sessions  where teachers rotated to learn how to use the Elmo, set up their laptops, and how to edit in My eCoach. (whew!) It was pretty cool! I was really proud of Neema and Jason and all the work they did. Coaching is fun when you see people take the next step on their own. I felt like a proud mama.

Next steps are coaching and knocking occasionally on the teachers’ virtual door to check in and see how they’re doing.

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Are we growing less creative?

Creative childrenCare2′s article Are American children growing less creative? shared Tests since 1990 show a steady decline in the creativity levels of American children, despite the fact that IQ tests indicate they are getting smarter.

The focus for the last 9 years has been on increasing student achievement based on standardized tests. Maybe our children are learning how to memorize facts and increasingly doing better on spelling tests and Jeopardy games. Even the TV show “Are you smarter than a 5th grader?” encourages students to recall facts. There is no problem-solving, critical thinking or creativity involved in these activities. The 5th graders on this show are stoked when they get the answer right but there is only one right answer.

Life doesn’t always work that way. What we need are students who come up with the questions and are able to take some risks, find multiple ways to answer any of the questions or solve problems. They need to be able to think on their feet and jump in with new innovative ideas. Who knew even five years ago that people would be listening to mp3 files with an iPod or that cell phones could access the Internet. Email is old school. Now people text, use Facebook and Twitter to communicate. Traditional schools are closing because of so many reasons and, in my opinion, we need to rethink what a school is and redesign our learning environments if we want our students to be productive 21st century citizens.

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Rethinking that Decision

You are a change agent and go to a school to discuss with the administrator how the teachers are going to change the way they teach. You think you and the administrator are talking the same language and design the professional development program. In reality, the change that the administrator has in mind might be completely different than what you had in mind. That administrator might have already made a decision on what they expected for their teachers — no matter what you and the administrator agreed upon. Same with the teachers. Let’s say you are a coach and set up a coaching agreement with a teacher. That teacher comes to the table with their own expectations on what they want to learn. However, they don’t express those expectations and just agree on what you decided on together.

I read Seth Godin’s blog The Decision before the Decision where he states “The decision before the decision is the box. When you think outside the box, what you’re actually doing is questioning the decision before the decision.”

Being a change agent means that you are questioning the decisions you believe have already been decided on and bring to the table strategies on why you and the administrator or teacher need to rethink those decisions.

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The Power of We Think

The old business model where we own what we create is out of date and does not work anymore. That’s why social media like Facebook and Twitter are growing exponentially. Sharing ideas is powerful. You cannot own an idea. I was asked yesterday by a university if they could pay me for an article I wrote to include in a new book for principals. I thought “how cool” but then realized that the little money I would get for an article I wrote is not where I want to make any money. I want to get my ideas out there. Change is tough, takes time, and is very challenging. If we all hold on to the old paradigm of “no – you can’t have it. It’s mine” then we will never innovate and grow. As soon as I changed my mindset, things started happening for me. I encourage you to rethink your We Think possibilities.

I came across this video by Charles Leadbetter that is very interesting and talks about the importance of sharing and creativity.

We are in the middle of a revolution and many of us don’t know it. Everything is changing. Creativity will win because that is the only way we will succeed in the 21st century.

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The Opposite of Creative

Being creative doesn’t seem to fit with school and business today. As I was thinking what I was going to write about being anti-creative, Bonnie Bracey- Sutton just shared this video on Facebook about the Anti-Creative Checklist.

My Anti-Creativity Checklist from Youngme Moon on Vimeo.

If you are the creative type, you will get this. If not, you may be scratching your head wondering what’s all the fuss about. Probably will seem very normal for you. Kids today are wired different and their brains work creatively. They grew up with technology that encourages this type of thinking.

Being ant-creative is how my generation was raised. (I’m a grandma so that gives you an idea that I’m older than you think). People of my generation were told to keep our hands on the desk, only raise our hand when we knew the one right answer, and be quiet. Actually, this sounds like lots of classrooms today. Ugh!

A creative classroom is like controlled chaos — there’s alot of noise or buzz happening. Watching a classroom where students are finding problems, trying to figure out some solutions, and sharing, brainstorming, and getting excited about learning is mind blowing. After you teach in an environment where students are engaged and motivated to learn, it is too difficult to go back to traditional lecture mode. Same with people like myself who are entrepreneurs and designed their own product or service. It’s hard to work for someone else who doesn’t think like you. So here I am writing about creativity and anti-creativity. I vote for being curious, creative and innovate. How about you?

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Creativity, Change, Culture

“Schools in their present state are anti-creative.” [source] There are more than 120 different definitions of creativity but, in the case of creative thinking in schools, it is not just about bringing arts into the curriculum; it is about changing how we teach and learn. It is about creating a new type of school culture where learners are innovating, being curious, taking risks, and are okay about failing and learning from mistakes. Read Creativity at School: is it even possible?

I have been thinking about creativity while working with 1:1 laptop programs and schools that are integrating technology into the classroom. Just giving students a laptop or using technology in a lesson is not changing the culture of the school and how students learn. Learners need critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Teachers become more of a facilitator guiding the buzz happening in their classroom and online. We hear the why we need to change over and over at conferences, in speeches, on YouTube. We get it. We have to change our learning environments to prepare our students to be 21st century citizens. Read Ben Johnson’s post on “How to Ignite Intellectual Curiosity in Students” on Edutopia.

Changing schools like this is not something that happens right away. In fact, changing schools and school culture takes years. The reason is that the adults who work in the system, the teachers, administrators,  parents — all were taught in systems where creativity was not allowed. It was about memorizing facts. I still hear from some parents “if it was good for me, then it is good for my children.” The problem that we need to get across to these parents is that yesterday’s schools won’t work today and are harmful for our children’s future. The jobs you prepared for in the past are no longer available today. The world has changed and is changing faster than we can keep up. Our kids cannot compete now. How will they compete as a global citizen?  I said it once before — this is a moral issue.

Most innovative programs are with soft money (grants). When the grant ends, the program ends unless they find other money. Some grants are for one year. Some lucky grants are three to five years, but that still is not enough time to change the culture of the school. I’ve been throwing around in my head how much time is enough time for change. Every school, every teacher, every student is different and unique. There is no clear cut formula on change. How you deal with change is personal.

When you think about changing the culture in a school, you need to be creative and innovative. Actually, those are the skills you need to teach. How do you teach something you may not know about? We ask our teachers to integrate technology but, in many cases, we don’t provide enough technology or training, current technology, or technology that works all the time. In fact, it’s not really the technology that makes change. We continue using the same school schedule and assessment strategies. In other cases, we assume if we teach teachers how to use a technology, then they will automatically know how to include it in their lessons. Teachers will use an interactive whiteboard just like they used a whiteboard; in front of the classroom. They will use PowerPoint to present their lessons. Animating bullets may be all a teacher feels comfortable learning and doing. Teaching teachers to let go and let students become more responsible for their learning just doesn’t seem right for many teachers. Being a facilitator instead of a lecturer is not an easy move for teachers especially if teachers are told to teach to the test and follow a pacing guide.

Bringing creativity to the classroom is so big and scary for schools that it IS going to take time before we see full scale change. There are pockets of excellence here and there. There are programs like New Tech High and the Buck Institute where schools are changing to project-based learning. This takes a big effort from everyone and a commitment to invest time and money into people and appropriate resources.

Next post will be about a change process I’m working on with several schools. I thought I’d share how it works while it is being implemented. Going to take a few risks myself so all of us can learn together.

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Why we need PBL

Collecting Data

students collecting data

Project-based learning (PBL) is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges. With this type of active and engaged learning, students are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they are studying. [Edutopia] PBL is an approach to learning focusing on developing a product or creation. The project may or may not be student-centered, problem-based, or inquiry-based. The main focus is engagement and being motivated to learn something they are interested in learning about.

Think about your own education and what made a difference in your life. We need to get back to how we learned in preschool – it used to be how we learned in Kindergarten, but now these beautiful young children are learning how to fill in a bubble on a test.

Enough! We are draining the creativity and curiosity out of our children. Children love to learn when they are young. They are so curious and want to learn their letters and numbers. We need to let our children ask “why is the sky blue” and “why do we need oil for our cars?” We want our children to ask questions why a certain problem is happening and if they can figure out the solution. Why children can figure out things probably better than adults is that their brains are not clogged with all the thousands of tasks, daily problems, and more that we have as adults. They are born with inquisitive minds and want to use them. However, they need guidance on how to develop critical thinking skills so they can effectively problem solve. Watch project-based learning in action:

For more videos on PBL, check out this library online.

Here’s a few sites on project-based and problem-based learning:

Explore the following websites as needed for more information:

Looking for lots of examples to share and schools that want the best type of education for their children. This is a moral issue now. Our children are not prepared for their future and are in need of high level critical thinking skills. They need to learn how to work collaboratively and use technology effectively. We are not preparing them for their future. Look at our college graduates who are not getting jobs. Maybe we should we be teaching entrepreneurship and innovation. It is time to look at what engages children in the learning process and to provide an education that they will need for their future NOW!

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What schools can look like...

Chris Lehman is principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. The Science Leadership Academy is a partnership high school between the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. SLA is an inquiry-driven, project-based high school focused on 21st century learning that opened its doors on September 7, 2006. SLA provides a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Yes – I said entrepreneurship. Students set up their own businesses and develop products and services.

ISTE 2011 is in Philadelphia next year. If you are looking at changing your school or changing you, I suggest you finding a way of going to ISTE and immersing yourself in this new learning environment where technology is transparent and ubiquitous, where students can create, collaborate, and change their world. There will be activities at his school. If you cannot attend ISTE, the school hosts Educon each year where students and attendees participate. If you are looking at strategies to move to your school of the future, I suggest you follow Chris. This presentation below is over a year old but still timely:

Chris used the Pechu Kucha model of 20 slides in less than 5 minutes. Whew! Great ideas with great visuals. Here’s the presentation: