Play Driven

Another Nor’easter is dumping over 15 inches of glorious snow on my little corner of Maine. Even though it is March, I am still giddy. I love winter.

I have learned through the years that when the snow falls fast and furious it is a good idea to head out and shovel a few times. Many trips make for light work. Yes, I am still a shoveler. I probably have another fifteen years before I succumb to the noise and stink of a snowblower.

I was joined by my two children during this last round of snow removal. As I pushed and propelled snow onto the growing banks they played. They slid down the snowbanks, tossed snowballs, and made merry. More snow was falling back into the driveway than was being removed. They were playing.

Two options popped into my snowcapped head. I could choose the task oriented path: “Go play in the yard and let me clean the driveway. I’m almost done.” Or I could choose the playful path: “Can you hit me with three snowballs in a row while I shovel?” I really wanted to finish this round of shoveling and I was getting tired (though I won’t admit that out loud). The task oriented path was tempting. However, it was a snow day. I would be out again in another 90 minutes. And, they were kids. Have at it, can you hit me? My shoveling session lasted about 15 minutes longer than it could have but it was filled with more laughter.

How many times, when we are in the classroom, do we become so fixated on the task at hand that we lose sight of the bigger picture? Playful exploration is the language of learning. A teacher’s role is to masterfully blend academic rigor with the playful exploration while building relationships. This is what I am thinking about as I eat my freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Another benefit of a shoveling on a snow day.


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Essential Elements of Technology Instruction for Learners

Technology has provided educators with tools that redefine the ways in which students learn and interact with their world. My fourth- and fifth-graders, for example, explore maps, historical documents, and first-hand accounts of workers from the Industrial Revolution. They can also digitally create their own manufacturing towns and share them with classes around the world.

Technology is everywhere and is the reality of our students’ lives. That reality brings about concerns. Teachers and parents may be worried that schools are getting students hooked on technology. We all worry about screen time, what kids are watching outside of class, and whether they’re losing the capacity to experience the real world around them. Teachers need to prepare children for their future, and technology is going to be a big part of it but we want to be make sure we strike the right balance.

Here are five essential elements of a technology program that I feel works for young learners.

1. Why teach technology?

While there are many desktop and mobile applications that can help students learn, not all of them inspire higher-order thinking or creative problem solving. I don’t believe that “technology for technology’s sake” should be the driving force in classrooms. In fact, we don’t have dedicated technology classes for our preschool through Grade 5 students. Instead, students learn new technology skills in the context of their classrooms and when needed to extend learning.

Technology can be used to personalize a student’s educational experience, to deepen and extend their understanding, and to empower them to share what they have learned. Students can do more than simply write the story of a recent immigrant or refugee, for example. My students use digital tools to post details of their interviews on the class blog for others to read and respond to and have developed prototypes of ideas to make transitions into the United States easier. In science, students capture images of neighborhood plants they are studying and share them with real scientists who are investigating the spread of invasive species in Maine.

2. How can technology help students become the creators—not just the consumers—of knowledge?

We don’t want students to rely on others to get them engaged in learning. We want them to be increasingly self-directed, to ask provocative questions, and to investigate things on their own. We use technology to help kids identify reliable online sources and share and debate their findings on podcasts and blogs. We use screen casts to help students share their understanding with a wider community. By using this technology, the students—not the teachers—are creating content.

3. Can technology be used to make sure that no one is left out?

Every student has different interests and a unique learning profile. Technology and class structure allows educators to better provide for their students by personalizing learning and differentiating instruction. As a result, students are empowered and motivated to learn. They have an opportunity to make choices and to share their voice within the classroom, the school, the community—and even the world.

Once a class has learned the essential elements of a concept, technology enables teachers to create mini-lessons that are directed at the individual needs of students (these needs are identified after reviewing student work). While educators work with small groups of students, individual learners can access these personalized mini-lessons, receiving video-based feedback and direct instruction that have been prepared in advance by their teachers. Students can pause and rewind as needed, providing the learner with control over their own learning. Once small-group instruction has ended, the teacher can meet with each student individually to follow up on the content of the video and the progress of the student. This “flipped approach” has worked well with our writing workshops.

4. Technology cannot replace time-honored essential skills.

We know that there are critical skills that can’t be taught through technology. Some skills require small classes that give teachers the opportunity to work with children in groups and or in a one-on-one setting to help students master reading, writing, math, and speaking skills.

Written language is a critical tool for teaching children how to think. That’s why I encourage students to write across the curriculum. It’s common to see our elementary students mapping out an argument on the wall or the floor using old-school sticky notes and index cards. Skills like critical thinking and learning how to listen to other points of view require, modeling, face-to-face discussion and conversations, and plenty of practice.

I believe that positive relationships are the foundation of a successful school environment. Students need to understand that they are known. They also need to know they are cared for and the their teachers have big hopes and dreams for them. Individualized instruction targeted to their specific needs provides a sense of belonging and makes learning easier.  An emphasis on personal decision making, rigor, and playful exploration are central to our daily work.

5. How can we make digital technology safe for kids?

We all know that mobile devices can provide amazing learning opportunities and connections. But we also know that they have destructive potential, particularly for kids. That’s why technology must be part of a school’s social curriculum. Technology in the classroom provides teachable moments about everything from how to politely respond to an email to understanding how quickly a hurtful comment about a friend can go viral—even when you didn’t mean it.

We ask these essential questions: How do we want to be treated? How should we treat others? These questions are embedded in all our impact areas and since technology is integrated in purposeful ways students transfer these conversations to the digital realm. Specifically, we also take the time to inform students about safe passwords, digital footprints, and what to avoid on the internet.

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Carefully integrated technology has been proven to increase students’ academic performance. By providing a flexible approach to learning—and instilling a sense of balance on the use of technology—young learners will be prepared to skillfully harness the abundance of resources available to them.

Developing A Professional Growth Model

For the past 12 months I have been entrenched in what what I hope will become a radical re-envisioning of our faculty professional growth model. It is a work in progress, spending all of last year ideating with my colleagues and co-Dean of Professional Growth and implementing the plan this year. At times, it feels like we are building the plane while we are in the air. However, after three months, we’re starting to realize the benefits as we growth as educators.

What it was: What it is and can become:
  • Teachers teaching in isolation
  • Personal professional goals kept secret and maybe shared with administrators
  • Administrators visiting classrooms once a year to provide general feedback, observing safe demonstration lessons
  • Educators attending conferences and implementing new strategies independently
  • In-service learning were one-size-fits-all
  • Team and department meetings focused on agenda items and not teaching and learning
  • Professional dialogue limited to content area and grade level and entertained outside of faculty meetings
  • Experts in the field were perceived to exist outside of the faculty
  • Teachers opening doors for observation and collaboration
  • PLCs, called Families, formed around common goals
  • Personal professional goals shared with Families
  • Peers observe lessons, through invitation and provide purposeful, focused feedback
  • Observations takes many forms and are defined by the teacher being observed
  • New strategies, lesson development, research, and dilemmas shared during designated Family time
  • Professional growth goals determined by each individual faculty member
  • Expertise is found within the faculty as well as outside the faculty
  • A small budget provided to each family to support professional growth through speakers and readings

In the past, professional development was a scheduled, one-size-fits-all model assigned to the faculty three times a year. These learning opportunities may or may not have addressed the needs of individual educators, and the content was theoretical. As a result, impact on teaching and learning was minimal at best. This reinforced a culture where teaching was an independent practice and happened in isolation. Team and department meetings focused on agenda items and scheduling rather than on teaching and learning.

As a school, we committed ourselves to ushering in a cultural shift. We set out to:

  • Make our teaching public
  • Foster critical conversations around teaching
  • Move theory into practice
  • Honor the expertise of our faculty

What resulted was an intensive EC-12 support model focused on individual professional goals. These self identified goals were used to create small Families (think PLCs) ranging in size from 5 to 12 educators from across all content areas and grade levels. Meeting time (once every 5 weeks) and a budget (small but enough to invite a speaker or purchase books) were provided as well as a commitment to bring in Guest Teachers to support peer observations. We believe that peer feedback is an opportunity for growth not evaluation. In fact, teachers are better positioned to give critical pedagogical feedback than administrators. To that end, we worked to make peer observations as safe as possible by providing a framework for the roles and language. This document became an invitation for shifting our practice.

After three months, we have seen some wonderful developments. Our faculty has embraced the collaborative cultural shift. Not only do teachers look forward to Family time, they schedule meetings to discuss pedagogy during lunch and planning periods. Family groupings share resources and make their materials public for other faculty members to access. The training we all received regarding the ladder of inference and providing critical feedback has bolstered our relationships with colleagues as well as our practice in classrooms. We have also opened our classroom doors, making our teaching public, and modeling a growth mindset of our students.

I look forward to our continued growth and progress.


An earlier reflection from 8 months ago can be found here

Does The Inside Look Like The Outside?

Outside our classroom windows is a socially connected, dynamic, fast-paced, world. The work being done in school needs to be relevant and connected to what our students see happening in their world. We cannot expect students to solve problems and think critically if we lead them through every step in order to avoid failure and frustration. Learning opportunities should welcome open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This simply cannot be done when kids are sitting all day.

Making Memories

Recently, my 7 year old son unearthed my old baseball card collection. I had not seen these cards in over 35 years and was happy to share with him. He’s interested in playing baseball and finding his favorite players on trading cards. I was never a fan of baseball cards but was given many as gifts when I was a child and enjoy the time that my son and I sit and look through the old cards.

Last week were in the backyard looking at cards from the early 1980’s. After giggling at the uniforms, hairstyles, and eyeglasses we looked at the statistics (there is a lot of great math on a baseball card) and categorized them. It was amazing how quickly I remembered the cards. I picked up my Sparky Anderson card and was quickly transported back to my 9 year old self’s kitchen. I remembered where I was when I first acquired my Oil Can Boyd card. (Yes, I am a Boston Red Sox fan.) I was shocked because after age 10 the cards went deep into hiding. Yet, 30-plus years later the memories quickly flooded back.

As I thumbed through the cards thinking about my childhood and how the memory of the cards stayed with me I began to wonder about memory in the classroom. How could I create experiences that invite those moments? How might I create a learning moment that is remembered well into the future? I am not a drill and kill teacher, preferring my students learn through hands-on exploration and collaborative inquiry, but there are still ideas and facts that need to be memorized. By handling the cards I had memorized the names and teams of the players when I was 9 and remembered them 32 years later. What allowed this to happen?

  • Was it the fact that I chose to buy the cards using my allowance?
  • Was it that I poured over them when the time was right for me? Usually during my mother’s midnight shift when she would take me to work.
  • Was it the time spent recording card numbers, names, and teams into a notebook
  • Was it the conversations I had with friends about them
  • Was it fascination, interest in the players themselves, and me spending time imagining life as a big leaguer?
  • Was it some combination of all of those?

I feel it all begins with a personal touch. Nothing great will happen in classrooms if students do not feel a personal connection. Relationships matter and I think it is the relationships that provide the fertile ground for memories to take root.

There are ways we can create a classroom environment where student choice and voice are of utmost importance.

Make Time – The classroom is a shared space with learners, both young and old. Real conversations are the foundation for strong relationships. Morning meetings, individual conferences, and correspondence through journaling provide platforms for dialogue. Conversations can also continue during lunch. I am fortunate to eat lunch with my students everyday. During this time happily learn about my students likes, dislikes, frustrations, hopes, and dreams. These conversations occasionally spill into recess and while we are outdoors we walk the playground to continue our chat. These moments also allow me to share a bit of myself. I share stories of my childhood, what I hope to learn, or what my favorite movie is. These conversations make me more human to my students and by making myself available I am able to build meaningful relationships with my students.

Seating– When I am not working in the classroom or at my dining room table I am usually at a coffee shop. My favorites are ones with plenty of natural light and seating options. Sometimes I enjoy working at a table so I can spread out. Somedays I am at the counter so I can catch the energy of all the hustle and bustle. Sometimes I am on the couch, happily balancing my cup and laptop on my knees. If a choice of seating options enhances my work I am sure the same would be true for my students. My classroom has a choice of table seating at four round tables of various sizes, large and small cubes, crazy creeks, couches, and stools. My room also has three sections for three different types of work. The couch, located next to the classroom library and coffee tables, provides a quiet social atmosphere. The round tables, near the largest white board, feels more structured and is the quietest work area while the large open space next to the classroom entrance holds the stools and is perfect for green screen performances and large building projects.

Throughout the day students make the choice as to where they will work and what tools they will use. Since they have control of their workspace they feel more empowered and that generates a stronger connection to the work we do.

Academic Choice – Outside our classroom windows is a socially connected, dynamic, fast-paced, world. The work being done in school needs to be relevant and connected to what our students see happening in their world. We cannot expect students to be dynamic, flexible, and responsible learners if we lead them, lock-step, in order to avoid failure and frustration. Learning opportunities should welcome open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

In my classroom I try to open up the schedule up as much as possible. Instead of having a writing block, history block, reading block to accomplish specific work I chunk the time together and call it Academic Choice. Students decide what they would like to work on during during that time based on where they are with each aspect of our thematic study. Perhaps a student begins with their multi genre writing project deciding to spend 45 minutes crafting and 15 minutes holding a peer conference while another begins with reading their self-designed literature assignment and shifts to creating a book presentation for their year-long independent reading project. While this is happening I might be meeting with two students who are working on designing a canal system for a mill city that will be built in Minecraft. It all begins with the student reflecting on their work and making decisions that are best for them. As a result they are practicing making responsible decisions, collaborating, and being self directed learners while I am available to provide in the moment support.

By handing over control of what students will do when I show that I trust them to make good decisions for their learning. By connecting with their learning on their terms students become more engaged and develop more ownership of their work leading to deeper understanding.

Centers – Centers are powerful strategy for any classroom where students work independently or with teacher guidance in small groups on a series of connected experiences. In recent years I have begun to flip my center work by recording myself presenting a mini-lesson or challenge for students. Students access the lesson at the center using a QR code and their iPad. With earbuds in place they review the video. I find that students enjoy working at their own pace. They frequently scrub to rewind or pause to think through a portion of the video. The repeated interaction with learning helps deepen their experience. I usually plan for four centers with three set up as flipped experience and the last center being a focused lesson led by me in real time. This allows me time to build relationships with my student and to provide precise feedback for each of my individual students.

There are many more ways to build choice, voice, and relationships in classrooms. Share your strategies and ideas. 


Integrating EdTech & Literature

We are entering our seventh year with a 1:1 iPad program and have learned a great deal about integrating technology in the classroom. Simply adding a trending app or having students take pictures of notes does not effectively integrate technology or prepare students to use technology in meaningful ways. To reach that standard technology needs to be integrated into the everyday and not treated as a standalone, once-in-a-while side show or special treat if students get their work done. There needs to be intention behind the use of the tool and that intention needs to be transparent to students, parents and colleagues. From that intention comes the creativity and critical thinking that makes educational technology powerful. I feel that effective technology integration occurs when we:

  • Plan with intention
  • Provide choice
  • Make student thinking visible
  • Empower and amplify student voice
  • Actively share student work so they can learn from each other

One example of seamless technology integration can be seen in our work with literacy, mixing literature circles and edtech. If you are not familiar with literature circles, imagine a group of friends discussing a book in a cafe while sitting on couches, pillows, and stools. Our classroom has the friends, books, couches, pillows, and stools but we leave out the barista.

Literature circles enhance literacy skills and provide a venue for students to practice cooperative learning, communication, and responsibility. Discussions are lively and engaging. Students create new connections and deeper understandings through active participation with the text and their classmates.

Literature Circles:

  • Empowers students by having choice, voice, and decision making opportunities
  • Allows students to practice managing their time
  • Fosters enjoyment of reading and discussing texts
  • Helps students read with purpose and independence
  • Expects that students generate and clearly communicate ideas and questions
  • Records student thinking over time

In our classroom students choose from a set of books connected by a common theme. Past themes have included perseverance, friendship, and honesty. Books may also connect with a thematic study. For example, when studying immigration students chose from Esperanza Rising, Inside Out & Back Again, Maggie’s Door, Honeysuckle House, or Drita, My Homegirl.

Once groups have formed, their first order of business is to decide the group’s norms and expectations. They then decide their weekly assignments and how they will share their record their thinking while reading. This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce students to powerful edtech tools such as Padlet and Today’s Meet. It would be foolish of me to believe that my students only think critically about their reading when they are in school. Many enjoy reading at home and while they read they are practicing the skills to become critical thinkers and strong readers. Good readers use a variety of strategies to construct meaning including predicting, inferring, connecting, questioning, summarizing, and picturing. Literature discussion groups help readers develop and practice these skills and the technology allows them to express and document their thinking anytime, anywhere.

I am lucky to be a 4th and 5th grade multi-age school teacher. I know that my 9 and 10 year olds will complete their self-assigned homework and will generate wonderful questions, identify important passages, and make powerful connections with the text. The challenge for them is holding onto these ideas until they come to school. This is where the edtech tools come in. Each group decides for themselves if they would like to use a digital or analog (post-its) tool to record their thinking. Before they choose we hold a class discussion modeling the available tools, testing them out, and sharing the pros and cons of each possibility. At this point I know that all families have access to the internet at home. If not, our school provides support to make sure every family can access the web. In the end, the student groups are drawn to the tools that allows for continued communication after school and keeps notes from getting lost.

This past year my various literature circle groups chose to use Padlet and Today’s Meet. Both platforms allow for students to record their thinking in the moment and to respond to questions posed by their peers. I feel that the use of these two digital platforms enhances the conversations we have in class. Those who are reluctant to speak in the larger group have a voice and those who have difficulty processing spoken language can engage their classmates. Furthermore, all my students are able to record their thinking and view the comments of their classmates before literature circle begins. The review of posts helps prepare students for an active and reflective conversation. Responses to student questions helps clarify confusion as soon as possible rather than a student waiting for the next day in school to seek assistance.

An excerpt from Padlet from the Dear, Austin group:


An excerpt of posts from Today’s Meet for the Inside Out & Back Again group:


By incorporating these tools into our literacy work I am also able to guide conversation towards digital literacy, citizenship, and privacy. Before students post we discuss what makes up a positive statement. We set the expectation that if you should not say it out loud in class you should not type it. We practice re-reading posts before submitting. We also discuss privacy and the idea that the internet is a public space. Though I have set the chat spaces with specific urls they are not private. Because of that, I ask students to use their initials when posting comments. These are important conversation I am happy to weave into our literature class as they are pertinent and relevant to students’ work at hand.

I have been impressed with my students’ use of these digital platforms to house their thinking of their reading. In the moment reflection, support from peers, and making our learning transparent are all benefits of using tools such as Padlet and Today’s Meet. Families enjoying following along and the stream becomes an often used piece of evidence during student-led parent teacher conferences.

I look forward to continuing the use of these platforms and would welcome any feedback or suggestions as I look to improve the experience for my students.


Adapting to a new routine can be tricky. Currently, my routines are being revamped. For the next six weeks I am confined to crutches. Every regular action now requires a new set of steps. Showers are an ordeal of logistics and positioning and making small lunches requires many more action steps. Before starting anything I need to think it through to make sure all my parts are ready to move in a coordinated way. All of this is mentally exhausting.

I am sure this is what it is like for students during their first week of school. The old and familiar have given way to a new classroom, new classmates, and a new set of expectations. First day jitters are normal and building a community of learners takes time and will experience bumps in the road but there are some strategies that might help make the transition towards new routines easier.

  • Collaborate with colleagues for common language

Schools can become a collection of independent nations forcing students to “naturalize” every year. Some of the challenges of facing a new year can be lessened if educators can agree on common language and expectations. These basic tenants can be applied to all aspects of the school day. Instead of a long list of what not to do try to frame what should be done. Perhaps, take care of yourself, take care of others, and take care of the environment? I appreciate the resources and trainings provided by the Responsive Classroom to help educators foster a cohesive learning community.

  • Write to future students during the summer

Everyone loves to get personal mail. Your first contact with your students should come well before the obligatory school supply wish list. Write your students during the summer to help build relationships with them and their families. Students may not choose to write back but they will enjoy the letter and will begin to learn a little bit about their new teacher. Consider sharing an Instagram or Twitter feed that houses your summer adventures and the work being done to prepare for the school year.

  • Host an Open House

Before giving a presentation or playing in a sporting event I like to visualize what I will be doing. The mental preview helps calm my nerves and allows me to see alternatives in case things go topsy turvy. Consider opening your classroom to students before the first full day of school. In doing so they can begin to visualize their new workspace. They can get a lay of the land, identify important areas of the room, and see where they will be spending the next 175 school days. In doing so they may begin to get a feel for their new room and new teacher.

During my Open Houses I like to share slide shows of my summer reading mixed with pictures of summer adventures. I provide a scavenger hunt for random objects such as a plastic camel and garden gnome. I also identify the major work areas of our classroom and ask students to start thinking about how we should arrange the furniture. I want my students to know that we will be working together and that our room and our community will grow with our collective hard work.

Create Rather Than Consume: Summer Edition

Thanks to Kim Simmons (@KmSmmns) for responding to my plea for questions and ideas to consider while on the mend from ankle surgery. I have been confined to a reclined position, toes above the nose, for nine days now. I have read many books, accomplished many tasks, and have enjoyed the birds in the apple tree outside the window.

Kim asked a number of great questions which sparked my thinking and I hope my responses help in some way. Feel free to add your own thoughts and resources in the comment box so we may take advantage of this great PLN!


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Most of us (adults, teens and children) consume rather than produce digital media. Most of us are products of a factory-based school system where we sat, received data points, and regurgitated to “show” understanding. We have been trained to be consumers. Additionally, music, YouTube videos, television shows, and social media memes are very easy to digest. Our mobile technology allows us instant access anywhere. It is brain candy and we are happy to consume.

Producing media is harder, more time consuming, and takes planning. It also puts you in the spotlight. Producing and sharing work makes you vulnerable and many people are uncomfortable receiving feedback. Producing demonstrates persistence, patience, and creativity. In the end, stretching our creative chops makes us happy, always has. Creating ushers in our childlike excitement for discovery and adventure.

We can all agree that future success will depend on flexibility, problem solving, communication, and collaboration. Creative adventures will help develop those skills. So how do we leverage technology to help students, and specifically in response to Kim’s question teens, become creators of knowledge rather than simple consumers? For me it is simple, start with the student. A student-centered approach will guide us to a more personalized experience. The more personalized the learning the more personal the understanding becomes. Once there, students will have a unique and passionate message to share with others.

As Dan Ryder and Amy Burvall state in Intention: Critical creativity in the classroom, “Intention sits at the heart of critical creativity.” Any creative product should act as a window to understanding. Every decision and step is an opportunity to share knowledge.

Since it is summer, I am framing my suggestions with vacation in mind. What better time to experiment with creative endeavors than the lazy days of summer? Just telling someone to go and be creative is silly. It is funny to say but creativity needs boundaries. Just doing for doing sake is also pointless. Focusing on the passions, interests, and curiosities of the student and encouraging to share in meaningful ways adds intention to the creative work.


Take advantage of social connections

I think being creative is a social endeavor. It requires that we go out for a walk, listen to others, see contraptions, and simply hangout. Here is an idea: As friends, agree to create a DIY video for crafting a family monument in the yard. Each will do their own research, create a plan, gather the resources, and record their own DIY video. The recordings can be posted to a shared YouTube playlist. Next, each member of the group records themselves attempting to follow their friends’ DIY videos or they use the inspiration from a friend’s video to move in a new direction thus remixing the original idea.  


Share a message

One great thing I have come to appreciate is that children and teen agers have a lot to say. They have great concerns and fierce wonderings about their world but they don’t always have a sounding board to share their thoughts. Technology has allowed people to amplify their voice and young people should take advantage. Is there a cause or concern that needs to be shared with others? Health care, violence, stereotypes, immigration, multicultural communities, state and local budgets, and mental health have all had their fair share of the news cycle and young people have an opinion. Maybe they seek out local experts and interview community members and hear their stories. In doing so, children develop their ability to empathize and understand other’s point of view.

As an example, A 4th grade student was deeply concerned about global warming. He did some research and gathered some powerful facts. Using Minecraft, he created his vision of what the world would look like if global warming trends go unchanged. Lastly, he created a screencast video of his world, narrating a tour of his creation and sharing his understanding with classmates, family, and friends.


Share a discovery

Create movie trailer for a favorite book. Start with a basic summary or a storyboard and plan a digital representation of that summary through acting, media, or art. Perhaps the final product is supported by music and the movie trailer can then be posted on Facebook or Twitter using hashtags to guide interaction. Friends can support one another by being cast members and they can share on social media and tag with their own personal hashtag.


Create art

It inspires and provides a creative outlet. Poetry read aloud in a setting that connects with the poem in some way, images of sidewalk illustrations set to music, stop motion animation, and musical performances are all opportunities to create.


Swap shop fun

Our small community has a swap shop nestled inside the recycling center. Others’ unwanted goods can become a maker’s treasure. Use reclaimed objects to unmake and recreate. Play with recycled materials to create a new design for a fidget spinner or whirligig. Unmake a discarded keyboard and reorder the keys to create phrases. Gather supplies and design a rocket powered by simple kitchen chemistry. All of the creations can become part of a larger project that can be shared with others.

Almost anything will work to get the creative juices flowing. The trick is to focus on the intent of the creative task. With the proper intention, the process of creating and the product itself will expresses personal understanding and interest and that will captivate an audience. Sharing the work responsibly, through social media, requires partnering with an adult. Begin with social networks already in place on a parent or teacher’s Facebook and Twitter account. Friends can also set up a G+ community to curate and share work. However, it is important to model sharing with your children.

After a summer of creating, young people will have stretched their creativity, learned a thing or two, and developed a positive digital presence (your creation of how you want to be seen on the Internet).

If any part of this post interested you I highly encourage you to explore Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom by Dan Ryder (@WickedDecent) and Amy Burvall (@amyburvall).

A Summer & Growth Mindset

There continues to be a great deal of healthy conversation around growth mindset and rightly so. Though we all probably understood the concept early in our careers it was brought into the spotlight by psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Now, many educators are aware of the research and Dr. Dweck’s theories inform some of the work being done in schools today.

In education, the conversation of mindsets focuses on the differences between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets and how we as educators can instill a growth mindset in our learners. According to Dweck, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.” In other words, those with fixed mindsets believe they are what they are and nothing will change. As a result, when students with fixed mindsets fail at something they tell themselves they can’t or won’t be able to do it or they make excuses for the shortcoming. They also tend to resist challenging work, fearing it will expose their inability.

On the other hand, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.” In my opinion, this view is healthier and inspires a love of learning and a certain level of resilience. Students who embrace growth mindsets believe that new learning is hard work and perseverance is required to slog through the challenges of new learning. They also understand that the hard work is essential to success and they view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve.

I have been lucky to spend all of my summers with my two children, now 7 & 9. I see, their creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance on a daily basis as they invent new games, review math, and explore the natural world. I see the natural curiosity of childhood lead them to wonderful questions and discoveries. I also see them challenged by their questions and projects but am happy that the do not give up so easily.

They seem to have very healthy, evolving growth mindsets now, but it makes me wonder when and if this will change. I have seen the research and listened to the TED Talks which indicates that students lose the love of learning as they progress through school. Will their current mindsets be challenged and overcome? What are the signs, and how can we make sure school experiences don’t squash the growth mindsets that are innate in our curious kids.

Perhaps the key is combining academic rigor with playful exploration. Why can’t our classrooms inspire children much like summer vacation inspires? Open project time where students follow an interest? Gardens in the playground, physics on the play structures, paper airplanes off the stairs, and books in piles on the floor to pour over. As a practice, student choice does not absolve students from learning. In fact, it enhances it.

Teachers, as facilitators, guide students in forming questions, scaffolding learning, and demonstrating documentation. They stress that the brain is malleable and challenges created from new learning are healthy. Teachers highlight the process of learning rather than the product, pointing out the actions that lead to success. Teachers provide time for and reinforce the iterative process where we learn from our mistakes by creating prototypes and drafts. Lastly, teachers enhance growth mindset but adding the phrase “not yet” to the classroom culture. “I can’t multiply” is transformed to “I can’t multiply yet.” This is a wonderful promise to make.

Do you have suggestions that will transform a classroom to enhance growth mindsets? If so, please share in the comment section.

Reverse Engines

We need to change our narrative. Turn on any news program and the lead is war, sadness, and conflict.

In school we work to develop hope, passion, and a growth mindset. In my class we start each day with a Morning Meeting and begin each meeting with a greeting. We celebrate our company and start our day from a place of excitement sharing the news of the day, what we will look forward to, and the challenges we want to address.

What if the lead news story was positive? What id the headline above the fold highlighted the change we want to see in our communities?

Collective Professional Learning

We are about to launch an experiment in professional learning. For the past year, we have been planning how best to improve how teachers choose to grow and develop their skills, mindsets, and pedagogies and it all starts this week.

Up to this point dialogue about personal professional learning was isolated to one or two conversations between supervisor and teacher. Observations were scarce and rich discussions constrained by time and the administrator’s work load. It was also a challenge for some teachers to be observed by their supervisor, an individual who is also responsible for evaluations. It would not be a stretch to imagine some teachers “playing it safe” with lessons when being observed by their supervisor. With that is mind we wanted to change the dynamic of the professional growth model. The challenge is in making our professional learning public and a focal point of conversations. 

To that end, my co-Dean and I have developed a new support system for professional learning. Central to the new system is the creation of families based on self-defined goals. Here’s how it works:

-Each educator highlights a handful of goals to focus on during the next school year (a tradition at our school)

-From these goals, we’ll form families

-Families will ask an essential question connected to their shared personal goals that they will then explore and work on throughout the school year. Training will be provided on goal setting, reflection, experimentation, data collection, and giving actionable feedback to colleagues.

-Families will meet regularly to reflect, and provide support and critical feedback through lesson study and observations. Administrators will continue to observe and provide feedback as they have done in the past.

-They will curate resources and document their progress to share with the faculty. A small budget will let each family purchase resource or contract with an appropriate facilitator from outside the community.

-Each year our professional learning will be celebrated, EdCamp-style, with families presenting their questions and experiences with the entire faculty 

We predict this multifaceted endeavor will raise awareness, confidence, communication, and the capacity of our teaching community to give and receive feedback and ultimately benefit teaching and learning school wide.


This experimental plan has been a year in the making. I look forward to sharing what happens.

Flipboard Magazines

We have access to a wealth of information. Curating resources helps me stay organized and connects me with other educators. By making my learning transparent I am documenting my growth as a learner and sparking dialogue. Along with this blog, Twitter, and Diigo (for sharing resources with my teaching team) I use Flipboard. I feel the tool has improved over the years, learning from Zite, which it acquired and sadly terminated, to be personal and informative. I have a few magazines that I keep private since many people could care less about my exercise regimen (thin) or my cooking habits (butter, chocolate, cheese). However, the articles that I have collected about edtech integration and professional learning might be of interest. I invite you to flip through my flipboards.

EdTech Provocations: View my Flipboard Magazine.

Professional Learning:  View my Flipboard Magazine.