Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Last Saturday we had a thunderstorm move through Seattle…we don’t get them very often around here so a storm with over 2200 lightning strikes is pretty crazy and awesome….but more than that…it was Mother Natures way of calling in Fall. Since then the temp as barley hit 70 degrees if we’re lucky and the low slow clouds with off and on rain tell us that Fall is here. That and the squirrels…there are squirrels everywhere all of a sudden…oye.

Anyway, this week I want to thank Katy McKee for sharing an article with me titled What is engagement in a learning experience?

It was put out by GoGuardian a software company that helps filter and monitor student devices. I know school districts that use it and it is a product I have recommended in the past to schools that I’m supporting. 

However, in this case, I’m interested in this article and research these authors did. I’ve linked the article in the show notes and it’s well worth 10 minutes of your time. Especially if you are a coach like Katy or in an administrative position. 

I love how they try and define “engagement” and what it really comes down to is we know it when we see it and we hear it from our students. 

In trainings we continue talking about student engagement in school with technology. Of course, technology isn’t going to do it but it is a huge part of the recipe for this generation. What we know about this generation and engagement. 

1:  It MUST be meaningful to my life today. 

Question to ask yourself: Can I frame today’s lesson/learning in a way that students can relate to it in their own lives? 

2.  It MUST be purposeful. 

Question to ask yourself: How do I frame today’s lesson/learning to be purposeful to students?

3.  It MUST be engaging (fun). 

Question to ask yourself: Do I think this activity is fun?

I find that if teachers can answer those three questions about any lesson then the lesson will be engaging. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to teachers and asked them “Do you think doing this worksheet is fun?” and they say “No, but…….” and then comes the “I have to do it” or “they must learn it” or …….

I love that the research they did shows this as well….if you the teacher know this is not an engaging activity, if it doesn’t really have purpose in their lives and it’s not fun….then it’s not engaging and YES…this means you the teacher are going to have to rework, rethink, and recreate learning activities that meet these three questions. 

It all starts with the questions we are asking students. Are we asking big essential questions that allow them to dig in? Questions we maybe could never ask before because we didn’t have access to the information to find an answer…and now we do. 

Here’s something you can do to start gathering data yourself. As you are talking with students through the day ask them these three questions. 

– What did you learn today that you can see applies to life outside of school?

– Why do you think you need to learn this?

– What was the best/most fun part of your day? 

You’ll get a feel for engagement by asking students and reflecting on our own teaching. I truly believe we don’t ask students enough at the end of every lesson “How was this today for you?” because more times then not…we know what the answer is going to be. 

Thanks again to Katy for bringing this article to my attention.  

What are your thoughts on engagement? How do you know if your students are actively engaged in learning? I’d love to hear from you and for you to share your thoughts on student engagement in the comments below.

Sometimes we need a little nudge to do the things we know are good for us. Like blogging…I know it’s good for me, I always mean to do it, but doing it…that’s the hard part. I think that’s in part why at Eduro Learning we decided to do a 21-day challenge to start the school year off with. Not only to challenge others, but ourselves to be more reflective as this new school year gets under way here in America. So now that this is my job it means I’ll actually make time for it. You can join us for the challenge on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram by using the hashtag #edurochallenge.

Teachers from Marysville School District pitching their unit ideas

It is actually the day before school starts for most students here in the Seattle area. My wife, a school counselor, is back today preparing for her 15th year as a School Counselor. This first #EduroChallenge is about our students and as the school year gets under way I think of my students as well. My students are a bit older, then the K-5 students my wife will have. She’ll be the counselor for roughly 520 students, while I’ll in some way get to impact the lives of 800 educators with our work in Marysville and Everett School Districts and that doesn’t count the number of educators who will join me for a workshop in Chelan, Washington or those that I will have the pleasure to learn with during our 1:1 Micro-Credential this year. Then there are the teachers in Auburn’s ATLA program (roughly 90) and Enumclaw’s Connected Classroom Cohorts (roughly 30). You get the picture….there are a lot of students to think about this school year.

As my wife talks about all the things she hopes to accomplish this year with her students I can’t help but think of all the things we have been working hard to put in place to help our students as well. Students come in all ages…and it just so happens that I have chosen to work with those that work with kids. So my #edurochallenge is to remind myself that when we use the word “students” we mean all of those we teach, regardless of age.

What’s your reflection on students as the school year begins?

On Monday the MLB (Baseball) draft started and one of the Mariner Bloggers that I follow Jeff Sullivan had this to say about the draft:

This afternoon or evening, the names of several future disappointments will be announced. Zero or one or two or three of the players will develop fully. Many more will develop partially, and the rest will develop not at all. It sounds so grim and makes it all seem like a complete waste of time, but the math isn’t really different in other professional fields. Most of us are destined to disappoint. High baseball draft picks just get more publicity than most of us do.

That sounds down right depressing but it is so accurate and I think you could apply it to hiring anyone for any company, organization or school. You hire on potential, hopes and dreams. Much like companies baseball teams take risks on young potential players hoping they will work out. Some do, others don’t, while still some who are drafted at the very end of the day make the biggest impact for a team or company. 

I think about education and students. We don’t get to hand pick our students, we’re given a class list in August/September and we’re told to develop them and help them reach their full potential. We’re not allowed half way through the season to say “Look kid you’re not cutting it here, we’re going to send you back down for more work in the minors.” We’re told to help the student reach their full potential no matter what. 

I think of coaches who know they don’t have the best team, but they do the best with what they have. Helping everyone develop, staying positive, and providing support where needed. They dream of days when they’ll have that ultimate state winning team. But until then they battle through the hard years doing what they can to develop players. 

Baseball General Managers get paid a lot of money to pick potential players……and fail most of the time. 

Educators get paid much less are given a bunch of players and are successful most of the time. 

 

Not sure if any of this makes sense…but that paragraph has been running through my head since I read it a couple days ago and I needed to write some of these random thoughts down.

dan pink drive book
 

I’ve been reflecting a lot on Dan Pink’s new book Drive and thinking about how this applies to education and the work we ask students to do. My wife recently took 10 Middle School students on an Operation Smile trip into the mountains of Thailand near the Burma boarder. The Middle Schoolers spent their time playing the kids who came there to get surgery done. It’s a moving experience…the kind that shapes you as a person. When the students get back they are given one assignment…..reflect on your experience.

Autonomy: Take as long as you need, and use the media that you want. Purpose: Share your experience with others. MasteryYou can reflect anyway you want: Essay, blog post, video, presentation, etc.

One student decided to write an essay that I hope she decides to publish on her blog….it will bring a tear to any eye. And then there is Brian. The lone 8th grader on the trip who decided to express his emotions and reflection using video. I get asked by teachers how do you have students use media and make it a reflection not just a retelling of what happened? The answer, I believe, is in giving students a purpose. A meaningful purpose to reflect that is bigger than a grade, or an individual assignment. Yes…I’m going to make you go to Brian’s Blog to view the video in hopes that you too will be so moved by his creativity and message that you leave him a comment or pass along the message of Operation Smile to others.  

The last couple of working days and the rest of this week I’ve been talking with high school students about why we (ISB) have given them a blog to start building their ‘Professional You‘.

When I put it in terms of Facebook is the ‘Social You’…the you with your friends, and the you while hanging out. Then your blog is and should become the ‘Professional You’. The place you mold who you are, what you are interested in, and where you want to go. The you you want colleges and universities to know about, that you want your employers to know about. The you that is preparing for life after school.

I get a lot of head nods when I explain it this way. They also appreciate that the blog is theirs. They have full admin rights, they control it, design it, layout it out, organize it. They are building their professional self…..and they get it. They get how important it is, they get that it’s something they need to be doing, and they’re excited to get started.

Of course the Professional You can and sometimes overlaps with the Social You, and that’s OK. Your goodreads.com account can post both to your blog and to your Facebook account. You can create a Facebook Fan Page to show a more professional you to colleges and universities. I also hope that some of the things you learn in social groups transfers to your professional reflections. There’s a blurry middle where content overlaps and on the extreme left and right you have your Facebook profile and your professional profile.

But that blurry part…that’s the tough part. That’s where decisions have to be made. Where students at the age of 13 need to start making decisions that we never had to make. We never had a professional side at 13….we didn’t need one. But if you are going to have a social side on the Internet then you better also start building your professional side.

We’re starting in 4th grade with student blogging, starting to build their professional you. What we’re hoping is we’ll get ahead of the curve of the Social You. That students understand that when they start a Social You that there’s this other part that people see, read, and respect and that side is just as important, if not more, than the Social You. Making decisions in that blurry area we hope become a bit easier.

Do you have a Social You and a Professional You on the Internet? Where do you draw the line? How are you teaching students to manage both?

(Scribefire, my blogging platform finally updated to work with Firefox Beta 4 so now I’m back!)

I had the most incredible experience today. First of all I’m loving working with the high school kids. They just ‘get it’. I don’t have to explain things at a very deep level and we can just fly through the technology stuff and get down to business.

And when I mean fly….I mean…..at the speed of a click.

Today in a 45 minute session with eighteen 9th graders we:

  • Logged into or created a new blog
  • Had a refresher on how to blog and all the blog options
  • Logged into Google Docs for the first time
  • Searched for a Google Doc, made our copy, shared it with the classroom teacher, and linked it to our blog as a page
  • Created an account at goodreads.com, talked quickly about how the site works (Facebook for books) and then connected our goodreads.com account to our blog so that when we write a review of a book on goodreads.com it automatically posts that to our blog as a blog post.
  • Discussed why we want every high school student to have a blog and talked about the “Social You” of Facebook and the “Professional You” of the blog/efolio they are creating here.

Now….even for me that’s a lot of stuff to do, and a lot of clicks to get it all done in. I did two classes of 18 students each in 45 minutes. In fact, I could not have talked or clicked any faster. Not one kid could not keep up, in fact I had two students who followed along, completed everything while still reading a book. Are you kidding me? Follow all those directions, and read a book? Yes…this generation has just grown up clicking!

INSANE!

The best part was in 45 minutes we got the students ready to start tracking their independent reading using all the above mentioned tools (see next post for the layout). Now that they are all set up, we can get down to business of reading, reflecting, and tracking what and how much reading we’re doing.

I believe that part of my role, or any role of a teacher with a Personal Learning Network, is to use that network to spread the word when good things happen with your students. The Operation Smile group here at ISB continues to find ways to spread their message about their trip, about what they learned, and what you can do if you want to take part. Last weekend Ciel, a student on the trip sat down and decided to create a video. But as she said on the Women of the Web 2.0 podcast “I put it on YouTube because I wanted to spread the message.”

This is the now third video created by the group. The other two can be found here and here.

Because of my PLN and helping them to spread their message, they were invited to do a live podcast with th Women of the Web 2.0 crew yesterday. It was a great experience for the students and as students do so often they truly raised to the occasion. If you get a chance to listen to the podcast it’s funny to hear how at the beginning nobody wanted to talk and I was forcing the mic onto some of them, but about 5 minutes in, it changed and I was grabbing at the mic to get them to take turns. They did a great job of watching the chat room, grabbing questions and talking about their experience here at ISB and on Operation Smile. If you want to know what our school is like from a student prospective you’ll enjoy the first half of the podcast.

This is the power of the teacher (in this case me….married to the school counselor who went on the trip) having a PLN to help spread a message. A message that I, as the teacher felt was worth spreading. This is the power of a PLN not only for my own learning but to spread the messages of our students.

You can listen to the students (and my wife) on the podcast here or via iTunes here.

I have to share this story with you if for no other reason….I’ve shared it with anyone that would listen to me at school today. I believe this story shows the power of:

1. What can happen when we allow students to be “out there”.
2. What happens when our teachers become networked and can bring that network to their students.
3. That through connections educational possibilities are endless!

This couldn’t have come at a better time with Clint H leaving a comment on my last post about a conversation he had with his IT Director:

He has some very persuasive arguments for his ‘walled garden’ approach (including “nobody ever reads public blogs anyway so what’s the difference?”)

Really….nobody reads public blogs anymore……..please read on!

So here’s how the story of connections played out last night.

1. I do a lesson in one of our 5th grade classrooms where we have a great discussion around what it means to blog, what good blogging looks like, and the difference between leaving a comment and a compliment. We also learn how to add an image to our post and how to add a link. Following the teachers lead based on this blog post, the students homework is to write a reflective blog post about the science experiment they did and what they learned. I leave the room with this challenge:

I will read all your blog posts tonight and the best ones I’ll send out for the world to read.

Of course they no nothing of the 4700+ Twitter followers I have or the 400+ Facebook friends. Nor should they care…what is important here is that their teacher is connected into a wider community to help foster a global audience.

2. Late last night I visited the classes netvibes page and started going through the student’s blog posts leaving comments on everyone of them. I was proud to see that most everyone’s blogging had improved from before our lesson and some students had really taken the time to sit down and write out their thoughts.

img_33671One such student was Haley who wrote out the experiment that the students had done in class. A great little bit of procedural writing (writing connection). I decided that this was one of the top 5 posts in the class and sent a link to her blog post out on Twitter and to my Facebook Friends asking them to please visit the blog if for no other reason to put a mark on her map that there really are people out there who will read you if you have good writing (Hey, I’m not above a little fake audience to start a conversation with kids that will lead to deeper writing and understanding!).

3. It just so happens that Allanah K (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year) was on Twitter last night and reads my tweet about the students writing. Intrigued by Haley’s blog post Allanah takes the idea to school with her today in New Zealand and asks the students if they would like to try Haley’s experiment. By the time I get to school today Allanah and her class have finished their experiment and have blogged about it on their class blog….of course giving full credit to Haley.

Where to go from here:
Of course at this point my mind is racing. This experiment has to do with teaching variables and just think of all the variables we can now ask as we collect data.

  • What if we share our data with the class in New Zealand?
  • I wonder if longitude and latitude is a variable we need to consider (Social Studies)
  • I wonder if we’ll get the same results? (Science)
  • How can we best represent our data for someone else to read? (Math, Science)
  • Why is writing clear instructions important? (Writing)

Of course there are hundreds of possibilities now that can happen now that these two classes are connected. With a time difference of only 5 hours a Skype call even with students talking about their data and experiments to each other…or more blog posts with more explanations.

Yes this all came about because I am connected…but it’s not about me….it’s about the connections. Miss B is a friend of mine on Facebook and seeing me post the students blogs there….copied and pasted the addresses and sent them out to her Facebook friends. She too is a connected teacher, but up until this point had never thought of using her network of friends and other educators in this way.

There is great power when we put students out there and allow them to share their thinking. These students have had a blog for two weeks now and this is their first major connection as a class. As we continue to learn about blogging, as our writing improves and more importantly our thinking improves, I know we’ll see more connections like this….it’s just to powerful of a learning platform not to.

So to the IT Directors out there that say “It’s to scary.”, “We can’t do it.”, “What’s the point?” I give you this.

That making deep connections only happen when you put yourself out there….sure we can play it safe…but playing it safe has never lead to deeper understanding!

Image Credit: id-iom

Dough Johnson and Ann Krembs are here at ISB this week consulting with our school and the Library Review Committee on creating/restructuring our library learning space.

Doug wrote a great post titled: The essential question

I would highly recommend reading it and all of the comments.

The Ed Tech team and the Librarians (total 8 people) met with Doug and Ann on Thursday to get our take on the new space. At one point Doug brought up the thought about having a space for socialization versus social learning.

Just how fine is the line between socialization and social learning?

When we talk about spaces and what students’ needs are and what a school’s needs are can we blur the line between being social and social learning?

I started thinking of my experience at the local Barnes & Nobles in my home town of Spokane, Washington and just how many times I end up there in the summer time. Sometimes I stop for a coffee at the Starbucks located inside and end up browsing books. Other times I meet friends there and just socialize, and yet other times I go there looking for books and end up drinking a coffee.

B&N and Starbucks have blurred the lines between books, work, and social hour. You throw in a little WiFi connection and you’re set for the day.

Could we create spaces in our schools that were both used for socializing and at the same time a library and a place were kids go to work and get work done?

In other words…can we create the modern school?

Could a modern school library be the hangout? Do we want students to be social in a place were social learning should/could take place?

Personally I think we need to not only blur the line but start erasing it. B&N and Starbucks do a really good job of being open in one large area but using features such as a change from tile to carpet and a little railing between the Starbucks portion and the B&N portion of the store to let people know when you have moved from one to the other. Physically they share space, but as you enter the store you can easily see where Starbucks ends and the bookstore begins.

What if we could replicate this in our libraries? What if we could create spaces that allowed students to work and be social by giving them visual ques of what is expected.

Tables and chairs that can be pushed and pulled to create group work areas.

Soft chairs among the books for casual reading.

A small area where students can buy food, drinks, snacks and just be social.

Could a library become the socialization and social learning hub of a school?

When building a space that is focused on students I would include as much as possible the students help in designing the space. What do they want? What do they need? How do they want it to flow?

Design Matters!

One thing we know with this generation is that design matters. You can have a great product, a great space, but if it isn’t designed to be “cool” kids won’t use it. Apple, Starbucks, and B&N, understand this and create products and spaces that are where students want to be. What can we learn from these companies that we can start to incorporate into our own learning/social spaces?

Space Matters!

I love walking into any Starbucks (and I’ve been in my fair share around the world) and just looking at how they use the space. Space for a person to work by themselves on a laptop with a plugin within easy reach. A place with two or three comfy chairs and a small table for people to sit at and be social. Couches for those who need to sit next to each other. The interior is calm and soothing, the perfect volume of music playing in the background, the space that allows those to quickily come and go and not interfer with the student writing a term paper. They do such a great job with space and with traffic flow. Some day I want to design a classroom like Starbucks designs coffee shops….with the clients needs in mind!

Friends and Food

Let’s get real…being a kid is all about friends and food. Students come to school because they want to be with friends not because they want to come to your class…as great as it is. At my last three schools the #1 complaint from students was always the food. They eat a lot and want good food.

What if we can build a space that meets the needs of kids today and just so happens to be embedded into a teaching and learning atmosphere where they can get work done, learn something new, and be a student, a friend, and a partner all in one space.

What if a school could embrace the social nature of students rather than fight it? Could we create a school for today’s student?