Educator Actions to Last a Lifetime

I currently teach graduate level educational technology courses. I like to acknowledge exemplary work by tweeting out the best of the best to my 21,000+ followers.  A past student of mine was asked by one of her current teachers to describe a major positive learning experience in her education and she replied it was my course due to:

A major moment in this course was some validation of my work that I was not used to. A few of my assignments were used as examples, and some were even tweeted out, and retweeted! The fact that a professional in this field (the professor) and others thought my project had real value and took the time to share it thrilled me. That has been one of the best moments in my education, because for the first time I felt my work extended beyond the gradebook. I also felt like my work gave me some validation and confidence that I just might be able to put some things on a resume that might land me a sought after position someday.

. . . and then there was Payton, a gifted 5th graders who spent one day a week with me when I taught in a gifted program. Payton was a quiet and somewhat shy kid. He didn’t make trouble in his regular ed class the other four days per week but he also didn’t excel.  I had a number of robotics kits in the classroom that the kids could select from during our last hour of the day for choice time. Payton, after some weeks of experimenting, ended up creating a solar powered Ferris wheel. His subtle non-verbals indicated to me the pride in his work.  I suggested that he take it outside while the other students were walking to the lunch cafeteria. As they went by, he would demonstrate his creation to them. I hope that this is a memory he takes with him . . . forever.

IMG_0132 2

. . . and then there was Jose, a tough 6th grader who I had in a gang prevention group. The group of kids were doing a difficult group problem-solving task called Island Hop.  He figured out this task that even adults have had difficulty solving. Upon doing so, he looked up at me. I gave him a big head nod, a smile, and thumbs up. To this day, I remember the look of pride in his face. It was one of those looks that still brings tears to my eyes – seeing the look of self-esteem growth.  I had a hunch this kid didn’t get a lot of positive feedback for pro-social behaviors or for being the smartest in the room, so I hope this moment stayed with him.

I am using these as examples to show the variety of ways to acknowledge exemplary actions and work of learners.  Isn’t this a big part of our responsibilities as an educator to acknowledge learner work that has gone past the normal expectations? I once heard an expression that our actions, even the smallest ones, can change the life and the world of another forever.

I am definitely an advocate of intrinsic motivation – providing students with choices and options so they naturally want to engage in the learning tasks, get joy out of the learning process itself. But I do believe that learners should be acknowledged for exemplary work – especially if it is exemplary for them – providing them with feedback and opportunities to shine for a job well done.  This matches real life where good works are or should be given credit. On the other hand, I don’t go into any learning activity offering learners any type of extrinsic rewards nor with the intention of finding the best work and using it as an example what other learners should be doing. I believe learners are on their learning journeys and should be acknowledged for actions and work that moved them beyond what they personally perceived possible.

Some ways to acknowledge and highlight exemplary learner work include:

  • Intentionally look for those big moments in learners’ lives.
  • Tweet or Blog about exemplary learner work.
  • Write learners personal notes about why you admire their work.
  • Ask learners to show others what they’ve done.
  • Ask learners to present at a virtual or face-to-face conference.
  • Don’t hold exemplary work up as an example of what you expect from other learners.
  • Remember that each learner is on his/her own journey.

teacheractions

Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners

This piece was actually sparked by an interview of Lady Gaga by Soledad O’ Brien at the Born This Way Emotion Revolution Summit where Gaga stated, “It’s time to stop telling learners what to do and start listening for we can do for them.”

One of those accepted practices, sadly, in most educational settings is that the teacher is the authority to be respected and listened to without question. Listening to students is not a practice that is often taught in teacher education programs.

There is a current movement, in some circles, to promote and honor student voice.  But, and this is a huge but, if educators are serious about honoring student voice, they need to first learn how to listen, really listen to their students.

Students who are given a voice in setting goals gain ownership in what they’re learning. Teachers who listen to what students tell them they need to learn gain more than just a better understanding of the children they teach — they gain clarity on their roadmap to better teaching. And when conversations about teaching and learning are allowed to happen, teachers and students develop mutual trust and high expectations. (Want to Improve Teaching? Listen to Students)

Sadly, upon doing a Google search about why’s and how’s on educators listening to students, I found very little on the topic. It really gives the message – reinforces that teachers listening to students is not seen as part of best classroom practices. So my goal of this post is to offer some suggestions on how to listen to learners.

Listening Skills for Educators

  • Attend to the speaking learner with an open mind; without any agenda except to just listen.
  • Use body language and nonverbal cues that demonstrate a focus on the speaking learner.
  • Practice empathy skills with both verbal and nonverbal responses.
  • Engage in informal conversations encouraging learners to talk about non-school related topics.
  • Summarize what you heard the learner saying.
  • Reflect back to the learner what you believe to be the thoughts and feelings behind the stated message.
  • Ask open-ended questions if and when you don’t understand what the learner is saying and/or if you need further information.
  • Inquire about how learners connect to their learning; about their metacognitive strategies.

listeningtostudents

Benefits of Listening to Learners

The benefits of encouraging and listening to student voices, and then acting upon what they say include:

  • Positive classroom culture which can lead to a positive school culture,
  • Improved teaching and learning,
  • Better teacher-student relationships,
  • Learners see themselves as active partners in their own education; they become more invested in their learning,
  • Learners feeling that they are in a safe environment where they are willing and able to express concerns, ask questions, ask for help, take risks.

LED Projects for Kids

IMG_1811

I have been offered an opportunity to teach maker education again at a local summer enrichment program during summer, 2016. Last summer was my first time around so I experimented with lots of different maker education activities to see what worked and didn’t work with the 5 to 10 year old kids. I now have this foundation and can build upon this foundation. I love creating new learning activities and will be thinking of new ways to use the materials so my returning students will have new activities. I plan to blog about those activities as I formulate them so (1) I don’t forget about them, (2) others will have access to them, and (3) folks will realize that maker education can be implemented with accessible, fairly cheap materials; that a makerspace is not required to do maker education.

LED Nametags

Materials:

IMG_2333

LED Throwies Meet the Magnetic Board

Materials

  • LEDs (see http://lighthouseleds.com/)
  • Coin Batteries (I get mine in bulk from ebay)
  • Magnets (I also get these in bulk from ebay)
  • Electric tape
  • Individual Magnetic white boards
  • Dry erase markers

Procedures

  • Each learner is given the task to make 4-6 LED throwies (with the intent that they aren’t going to be thrown.

kfIFytROk6WrIwmA

http://makezine.com/projects/extreme-led-throwies/

  • Directions from Make Magazine:
    • Pinch the LED’s leads to the sides of the battery, with the longer lead (the anode) touching the battery’s positive (+) terminal, and the shorter lead (cathods) touching negative (–). It should light up.
    • Cut a 7″ length of strapping tape or electrical tape, and wrap the leads tightly to the battery so the LED does not flicker. Wrap once around both sides of the battery.
    • The battery’s positive contact surface extends around the edges of the battery, so don’t let the short lead (cathode) touch it or you’ll short the circuit.
  • More about LED throwies can be found at http://www.makereducation.com/led-throwies.html

DSC02159

  • Each learner is then given a magnetic dry erase board and the task to create a design using both their LED throwies and dry erase makers (like the opening photograph).
  • Since it is a dry erase board, learners can be encouraged to create multiple iterations of their LED-based art pieces. Photos can be taken so the learners feel comfortable with erasing and creating new art works.
  • Learners can work with partners and switch around their LED throwies creating new and unique designs.
  • Group Version:
    • Small groups form a design on a larger classroom whiteboard. They all put their LED throwies on the larger magnetic, dry erase board. They all then use the dry erase markers to create a group mural.

DSC02158

This is a whole group example prior to me realizing they could have decorated their LED group creation with the dry erase makers.

LED Craft Foam Bracelets, Bookmarks, and Pictures

Bubble Casing with LEDs

An LED-Lit City

Painters Cap Hacked with LEDs

Materials:

  • White Painters’ Caps
  • Fabric Markers or Paint
  • LEDs
  • Cooper Tape or Lilypads (depending on age)

The Future Belongs to the Curious: How Are We Bringing Curiosity Into School?

What is curiosity? The word is associated with the irregular form of the Latin verb cura, which can mean worry or care about or cure. The word closest in meaning is inquisitive, which also has a Latin root: quaere, to search into, to seek. (How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?)

Curiosity is the quest for new ideas and information. Folks who are curious aren’t satisfied with what they already know or have figured out. They go after what they don’t know or can’t understand—and that missing information can become a driving need to find out. “Curiosity’s most distinguishing characteristic is its open willingness to explore….” (Cultivating Curiosity in Our Students as a Catalyst for Learning)

The future belongs to the curious . . .

20140207-1500

[embedded content]

A recent research study found a connection between curiosity and deep learning:

The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about. Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it. Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward.  Third, when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit. (How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning)

So what are we doing (or not doing) in our educational institutions to encourage and spark the curiosity of learners?

Curiosity is inherently dynamic and propulsive, not sedentary and passive. Most traditional instruction depends on the latter state and seeks to control the former. This is true especially of the interrupting student or precocious child who wanders about, ignoring the lesson while remaining intent on some mission of his or her own.

The only rational answer to the conundrum of curiosity is to disengage our educational system from standardized testing and common curricula. Curiosity does not hold up well under intense expectation. Give agency to teachers, with the explicit message to slow down and provide students time to wonder and be curious. Counter-intuitively, our role as teachers is not to provide answers. Our role is to give time and free rein to inherent curiosity and questions, and let our students exist in the heightened state of hungering for knowledge. (How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?)

In this era of overly scripted, overly tested, overly controlled students AND teachers, there seems to be little or no room for curiosity at school. So what is the cost of curiosity-void schools?  The result , way too often, is a school culture of malaise rather than a culture of curiosity, engagement, excitement and joy for learning. Educators along with their administrators need to be agents of their own teaching and bring curiosity into their classrooms especially if they have the slightest belief that the future belongs to the curious.

What follows are some strategies for allowing curiosity to flourish in the learning environment:

  • Acknowledge and model your own curiosity as an educator.
  • Bring lots of “What ifs” into the learning environment.
  • Find out what learners wonder about.
  • Have learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions.
  • Embrace and provide the time and setting for unstructured play, exploration, tinkering (for all ages).
  • Do curiosity projects.

curiosity

Acknowledge and model your own curiosity as an educator.

The first and possibly the most significant action that educators can take is tapping into the curiosity of their students is to find, embrace and use their own curiosity as an integral part of their teaching strategies.

The power of modeling and social learning cannot be overstated.

When researchers invite children into a room containing a novel object, they find that children are very attuned to the feedback of adults. When the experimenter makes encouraging faces or comments, children are more likely to explore the interesting object. Experiments I’ve done show that children show much more interest in materials when an adult visibly shows how curious he or she is about the materials. In other words, children’s curiosity can be fostered or squelched by the people they spend time with. (The Case for Curiosity)

Bring lots of “What ifs” into the learning environment.

“What ifs” are defined, in this case, as what could be, what is possible. It is about possibility thinking. “What ifs” open doors to curiosity, imagination, and divergent thinking. A classroom filed with “what ifs,” generated by both the educator and the learners, is open to all kinds of possibilities. It is not constrained by what it but is becomes a place where thinking centers on what could be.

Find out what learners wonder about.

Micheal Wesch, the acclaimed digital ethnography professor from Kansas State University, had this to say about wonder:

What is needed more than ever is to inspire our students to wonder, to nurture their appetite for curiosity, exploration, and contemplation, to help them attain an insatiable appetite to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions, so that they can harness and leverage the bounty of possibility all around us and rediscover the “end” or purpose of wonder, and stave off the historical end of wonder.

I’ve developed and implemented a What Do I Wonder About? activity that I’ve done both 1st graders, 5th graders, and even college students.  I observed 100% engagement by all aged learners. Other wonder activities can be found at 4 Ways to Cultivate a Sense of Wonder (And Why it’s Important).

Not only do activities like these assist the educator in discovering what their learners wonder about, they give learners the message that what they wonder about it important and valued.

Have learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions.

Wesch believes that a sense of wonder and curiosity is nourished by learning to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions. The great educational philosopher Paulo Freire agrees with the power of the question and its direct relationship to curiosity:

I believe in the pedagogy of curiosity. That’s why I defend the pedagogy of the question and not of the answer. The pedagogy of the question is the one that is based on curiosity. Without that pedagogy there would not be a pedagogy that augments that curiosity. (The Future of School)

There seems to be lots of educational writings about how educators can use effective questioning techniques in the classroom. But these are the questions that are of interest to the teacher; that are composed and asked by the teacher.  These questions may tap into the interests and curiosities of their learners, but they are may not. If educators really have a desire to open up the channels of curiosity in their learning environment, they will facilitate helping learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions. As I discussed in Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions:

If the true goal of education is inspiring students with a lifelong capacity and passion for learning, it is at least as important that students be able to ask the right question as it is to know the right answer. (Learning To Ask The Right Question)

Embrace and provide the time and setting for unstructured play, exploration, tinkering (for all ages).

As formal educational settings have evolved (seems a bit like a misnomer), there has also been less time blocked off for unstructured play, exploration, and tinkering. It seems that most Kindergarten through graduate school education have added more and more instructional time during each day leaving less time to just play.

Everywhere we turn these days we find pundits and politicians arguing for more restrictive schooling. Of course they don’t use the word “restrictive,” but that’s what it amounts to. They want more standardized tests, more homework, more supervision, longer school days, longer school year. (Learning Requires Freedom)

If learners of all ages had more time to just play, then their natural curiosities would emerge:

Whatever happened to the idea that children [and the rest of us] learn through their own free play and exploration? Every serious psychological theory of learning, from Piaget’s on, posits that learning is an active process controlled by the learner, motivated by curiosity.

If we stop to think about it, that the most valuable lessons we have learned are not what we “learned in kindergarten,” nor what we learned in courses later on. They are, instead, the lessons that we learned when we allowed ourselves the luxury of following through on our own interests and our own drives to play, fully and deeply. (Learning Requires Freedom)

Do curiosity projects.

Educators can even do a guided curiosity project with their learners. If educators want more detailed directions or a template for bring a curiosity project into their classrooms, see https://goo.gl/8HgZ7s written and implemented by Scot Hoffman.

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. — Albert Einstein

Let’s change this! Let’s bring curiosity based learning into more formal education to help learners belong in the future of curiosity.