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Posted by on in Education Leadership

I found myself mixed with humility and joy listening to my sixteen-year old son, Keegan, as well as just observing his passionate explanation of how I don't know how to use my own camera to take pictures.  Having mastered the art of lecturing to me complete with eyes rolls and exhausted breath, he walked me through all the various settings, buttons, and dials on the camera. When did my son learn all of this?  

While I tried to act interested in all of his tips, tricks, and strategies, I waited patiently for him to finish, so I could school him a very important fact that would keep me at the top of the food chain of knowledge in the family; the fact that I bought an expensive camera with something called "Auto-Focus".  When he finished, I paused for dramatic effect before announcing my profound statement.  Getting ready to drop the mic, he quickly brought me down to Earth with his response: "Then, why would the company still keep all these features?  Sometimes, it is necessary to focus manually."

Even a year later, that experience and his response had me reflecting on its truth in settings outside of the photography world.  We tend to think about the word “Focus”, and think it should be automatic in what we do with it.  We tell ourselves we need to focus more as a New Year's Resolution, and say it when we are asked what changes we intend to make in improvement settings.  It has become such a much-needed area of work that it often gets nods of approval and the occasional "Amen" when we say it aloud.  We treat the ability to focus as something automatic, when it is something that is meant to be set manually.

In an effort to ensure you are focused, here are "Four Strategies To Manually Set Your Focus": 

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Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning

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I became an educator because I wanted to impact the lives of students in the same ways that my teachers did for me. See, I owe so much to the educators who invested their time, care, and love in me. They saw something in me and never gave up, no matter how many reasons I gave them to do so (believe me, they had PLENTY of reasons).

What I never expected was the impact that my students would have on me as a person. Not one day has passed where I have not been in awe of at least one of my students. I have seen high levels of excellence in academics, athletics, arts, and other areas. I have witnessed students overcoming the highest odds stacked against them to overcome and be successful. I have worked with so many kids who deal with things that would make the average person crumble into pieces.

To say that my students inspire me on a daily basis is an understatement. They reinforce my why for being an educator every single day. They challenge me to be the absolute best that I can. They are the reason I decided to move into the realm of politics. They have unknowingly become my motivation and are the inspiration behind the Our Future First movement.

Over the years, we have been through a lot. I remember an 8th grade class being very upset about remarks that their building principal made during an awards assembly. When they came back to our room, they suggested writing a letter and having the entire 8th grade sign it. They dictated the letter to me as I typed it for them. They distributed it to their peers and explained the cause. They presented it to the their principal. This was all them, with some positive encouragement from me to do what they thought was right and just.

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Posted by on in What If?

teacher and children

Those of us with children have all been there: standing in a queue as long as the river Nile at the supermarket with a slowly unraveling toddler in the cart. You could hand her your iPhone with a colorful app that bings and boings to forestall that tantrum. Or, you could talk to her – where are those apples in the cart? Can she find the picture of the little girl on the cereal box, or find the letter “G” that her name starts with on the big sign over head?

In fact, researcher Julia Ma and her colleagues suggest that you just might want to have that conversation. At a recent Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, they reported their findings from a study of over 1000 children under the age of 2. They had asked parents to report how often their children used handheld digital devices in an average day. These same parents then responded to a questionnaire about their children’s language abilities. What did they find? Children with more screen time were more likely to be delayed in their language expression! Moreover, these researchers were careful and took many other factors into account when they did their analyses: maternal education, family income, infant temperament, and parent - child overall screen time on other than handheld devices. These precautions suggest that their finding was really about children’s handheld screen time.

Handheld devices are pervasive – found in every crevice of our lives. We check them before we go to bed and they are the first point of contact with the world when we awaken in the morning. Recent data shows high uptake by even the youngest children. Reports suggest that the 2-4 crowd goes digital for almost 2 hours a day. But the widespread use of these devices is a relatively new phenomenon. We just sang "Happy Birthday" to the 10-year-old iPhone and the tablet is just 7 years of age. Not surprisingly, research has lagged behind the rapidly changing technology. But that means that we are putting devices into the hands of our toddlers when we know very little about their possible effects.

But we do know what helps our children learn language. Decades of research tell us that language learning depends on human interaction and on what researchers call ‘contingency’ – responding to our children soon after they speak and building on what they say. Digital devices can interrupt the conversation that is so vital to language success. Research from our labs shows that children will not learn new words when their conversation with a parent is interrupted by a cell phone call.

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Posted by on in Project-Based Learning

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When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way. — Wayne Dyer

I think we got it all wrong in education.

Consider this. We always talk about connecting the classroom (the instruction, the subject area, the concepts etc.) to the real world. But, doesn't it make more sense to take what's happening in the real world and just teach that? The whole idea of having to connect school to the real world came from the fact that most subjects are taught in isolation from it.

Why can't we change that?

Take Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). You can use this very relevant and controversial issue and teach about it from multiple perspectives.

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Posted by on in Studentcentricity

fidget spinner

As educators, we have all encountered colleagues bemoaning the rise of fidget spinners, whether in-person, on blogs, or on social media.

For some perspective, consider how people outside education view fidget spinners. Watch The Young Turks enjoy playing with them. Forbes magazine calls them the "must-have office toy for 2017." The sheer delight of staffers playing with fidget spinners at AJ+ bears this out. Most poignantly, YouTuber Bunny Meyer says, "I find...I've been struggling with depression and anxiety...and these things [fidget spinners] calm me down." Quick aside: How awesome would it be if we cultivated creativity in our students that resulted in them having eight million YouTube subscribers like Bunny Meyer does?

These positive takes are not surprising when you consider Nerdist's piece about how physics explains why fidget spinners are so fun. Non-educators think of fidget spinners as fun and comforting, so...

What does our discomfort with Fidget Spinners say about education?

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