I’ve Always Loved the Promise of New School Supplies

There are two – and only two – things I enjoy shopping for: groceries and school supplies.

I love the promise of a new notebook, different color pens, and a new organizer. Maybe a super-sweet new lesson plan organizer. Like a New Year’s fresh start without the hangover, school supplies come interwoven with new plans for better <whatever you’re working on this year>.

It’s not unlike this blog.

I’ve started and abandoned so many blogs in the last five years it’s comical. I struggled mightily with what to call my blog: how do I represent all of the things I want to talk about? I’m a teacher, an ed tech coach, a geek who loves to figure out a piece of code or make an onerous task a little less onerous with technology, and with 30+ years in public education, I’m finding that I’ve got a lot to say about education in general.

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Alignment: Walking the Talk

Earlier in my career as an educator, I coached my high school’s fastpitch softball team. Then, as now, I believed the best way to make my team successful was to coach them in the skills and knowledge they needed to excel and then I let them go out and play. I was often asked (by parents, never the players) why I didn’t call pitches for my catchers. The answer was simple: It wouldn’t be in alignment with what I believed made my players the most successful. 

What Does This Have to Do With Education?

Fast forward a couple of decades: I was invited to attend the SXSWEdu in Austin, TX and am lucky enough to see Will Richardson speak. What he said really stuck with me – so much so that I had to get it all out in a mind map to feel like I was truly understanding.

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Less Talk, More Action

Across my Facebook feed yet again came the discussion about taking notes by hand versus on a laptop. Like clockwork, every couple of months, one of my facebook friends shares an article that champions note-taking on paper over note-taking on an electronic device. This time, it was from the Washington Post: Why Smart Kids Shouldn’t Use Laptops in Class. This is not news. We’ve known this for a while and the research is really clear: If you are going to sit passively for 50 minutes and listen to a lecture, your best bet for retaining information is writing out notes on paper by hand.

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Giving Every Student a Voice in Your Socratic Circle by Leveraging Digital Tools

Socratic Circles are a great way to engage students in a provocative question. Students are engaged with the topic, encouraged to think about complex topics with a critical eye, and inspired to explore big ideas.

However, Socratic Circles can be a challenge in a classroom with 30 or more students. In a large class, it can be a challenge to ensure all students have a voice. There are time, space, and personality constraints that sometimes mean the conversation is dominated by just a few voices.

A Simple Tool That Can Help

By leveraging digital tools, you can mitigate these constraints and give all of your students a voice. Google Classroom features tools that will ensure all students have the opportunity to explore their own thinking as well as their classmate’s.

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The Case Against Personalized Learning

I’m taking a page out of current political discourse in this country and naming this post the exact opposite of what it actually is.

It would be much, much more accurate to say that the “case against personalized learning” is actually “the case against algorithms making learning decisions for students” but that’s not very catchy, is it?  

Here’s the article that has me a bit riled up: The Case(s) Against Personalized Learning.

High Point #1: 

There seems to be the assumption that “personalized” must mean an adaptive software program. Along with that assumption is the idea that it is the tech industry trying to make a profit. Now, I think y’all know me well enough to know that I’m always going to “follow the money” when talking about choices schools make for curriculum. In that sense, I agree whole-heartedly with the secondary premise of tech industries trying to make a profit. However, it’s the first premise – that personalized means software – that I find so discouraging.

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How do we Scaffold Self-Management Skills for Students?

As an ed tech coach, I am often asked questions about limiting internet access to students. “Can we block youtube?” “Can we block this game site?” “We need to block facebook.” My district has a progressive view on website availability: we recognize that there can be excellent academic and relationship building reasons to leave social media sites accessible by all and we also know that shutting off one game site just means another game site is discovered the next week.

BUT…I can empathize with the questions. It’s understandable that teachers and principals might want limits on availability. Students finding ways to spend their entire class time on youtube searching for music videos instead of researching the Civil War is frustrating – and the least scary thing about open access. Cyber-bullying, violent or sexually graphic images and videos, and child predators on internet sites aimed at children are infinitely more concerning.

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Living Life Like a Border Collie

Several years ago, I went through turbulence in my personal life unlike any I had ever faced. The details aren’t important but the lessons learned are something I cherish. Truly, I am grateful for the experience. One of these lessons has been rolling around in my consciousness as a blog post for a while now and as the school year draws to a close and the snow (yes, snow on May 18 in Denver) continues to fall, it seems today is the day to turn the rumblings in my thoughts to words on a screen.

A little background: I absolutely adore border collies. My facebook page is often littered with border collie videos, border collie cartoons, and pictures of my own border collie, Darwin. I’m a little weird about it and I’m okay with that.

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