Saturday, October 25, 2014

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Logan, a former College Comp student of mine, stopped by to talk since he was home from Scholastica for an internship.

As we caught up, he talked about seeing a TED Talk that reminded him of my class.  Logan was nice enough to look it right up for me on my computer.

Here it is.

I think what Logan was thinking about was this mantra that I share with all of my classes -

Normal is merely average - Shawn Achor

   Average is officially over - Thomas Friedman

      Average is for losers - Seth Godin.


Just saw this one posted on Twitter today.  Next to finding one's passion, this is probably my favorite topic: stepping outside of our comfort zones.

One of my favorite lines that I just heard via the entreleadership podcast is "curiosity is the cure for autopilot."  This talk reminds me of that phrase.  Too often we accept our limits because he get used to the status quo.

In that same entreleadership podcast Dave Ramsey talked about how circuses train elephants.  They take a baby elephant and chain it to a huge stake that is driven deep into the ground.

That baby elephant goes nuts trying to get away.  But it's impossible.

25 years later, you can take that elephant as an adult and keep it from going anywhere by taking a small rope and tying it to a stick driven into the ground.  That elephant could rip it up and go wherever it wants, but it's been conditioned to believe it cannot.

That is a great metaphor for how we accept our limitations.  That's why we get so comfortable inside our comfort zones.


Speaking of getting outside of comfort zones, I love this blog post about applying that to our physical classrooms

I have a lot to work on here.  I have no problem with letting students use their own devices.  I can get better at tweeting their leaning with another class.  That doesn't scare me at all.

The one where I have to improve, though, is allowing for physical movement. I need to get my students up and moving and sharing ideas far more than what I do now.

Finally, the one I'm really thinking about working on next quarter is redesigning the physical space of my room.  As I looked around my College Comp 2 class the other day, it hit me that I have some students who have sat not only in the same spot but also next to the same people for an entire year. 

I need to change that.

So taking a cue from a colleague who changes up her room every few weeks, I'm going to do the same, including moving my desk.  There really is no reason for me to have my desk where it is now.  So I think it'd be interesting to come in on a Sunday and totally change up the layout of my room.  I may push all the tables into the middle of the room.  I may have them in the corners while I put my desk in the middle of the room.  Maybe I'll move all the tables out and just have the chairs in the room.

But it doesn't have to stop there.  When we have discussions, I can take my class to the business room where there is a large table and great chairs.  I can take the class down to our training center where you can really change the tables around into various configurations.

Then when I've tried all the combinations with the tables in my room, I can always do what our administration does to change things up: I'll have cards on a table for the students to draw.  Each card is then assigned to a specific table, so students sit in random groups.

I can't wait to see how this pushes us all out of our comfort zones.


And speaking of how curiosity is the cure for autopilot, I just read this article via Twitter this morning: Humans' Inherent Curiosity Stems From a Long, Protracted Childhood.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I am (unabashedly) an overgrown child.  I'm like a Toys R Us kid, I don't want to grow up.  Now that I have two little ones of my own, I really don't want to grow up. I'm having too much fun playing with them.

I have to credit my parents here, though.  I had an amazing childhood.  My grandmother was a retired elementary school teacher, so whenever I visited her at her apartment, we played and painted and told stories and read magazines and played games and told more stories and created art projects.  My mother was a voracious reader, so not only was I encouraged to read but I was also always visiting our local library where I would just get lost in books.  My dad never let me get a part time job. He constantly told me, "Kurt, you'll have the rest of your life to work."  So I had more than enough free time to read and write and create.  At the time, I suppose, all of that seemed pretty foolish.  However, as a teacher now, I use those same skills every single day.

The article above is really about a book, Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It.

I like this passage from the book:

Our extended infancy has a hidden upside—it bequeaths the mature human a child's capacity to love, learn, and wonder why. Childhood means not having to commit to particular courses of action, because adults are taking care of our survival. We can hang back, watch, question, and learn what works best for us before deciding which paths to take. Ultimately, it's this that makes Homo sapiens so adaptable and inventive (no wonder we find the fable of the tortoise and the hare so appealing). Without the necessity to fend for ourselves in those first ten or twenty years, we can focus on learning about the niche into which we have been born and form our own ideas about it.

This reminds me of a clip from last week's episode from Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now series on PBS.  The episode focused on the invention of glass.

I never thought about it, but there really hasn't been a more impactful invention on the human species that glass.

Don't believe me?  Think about this - glass impacts our health (microscopes, eye glasses, and mirrors).  It impacts how we see the world and ourselves (again, microscopes, eye glasses, mirrors, and now telescopes).

Glass is tied to another profound invention: the printing press.  Prior to Gutenberg, no one knew they were farsighted.  But once medieval monks realized they couldn't read their transcribed texts, they began using large glass ovals to magnify the writing.  With the printing press making books available to the masses, suddenly thousands of people realized their world was blurry.  This allowed the elderly to work longer.  Soon a glass maker realized if he held two lenses together, it increased its power.  Thus, the microscope was born.  From that we realized an entire universe of minute details (parasites, bacteria, viruses, cells, and even atoms).  Soon a glass maker realized this could be applied to the outside world and the telescope was born.

Now glass is used in constructing sky scrapers, cars, computers, our smart phones, and most importantly fiber optics, which allows for our world to suddenly be rendered into a village thanks to their amazing ability to transfer calls, messages, and photos into streams of light and send them across cables at the speed of light.

What made all of this possible? The amazing human trait of curiosity.  Fiber optics, in particular, were invented when a scientist began use experiments with heated glass and a crossbow.  He discovered when he shot an arrow with heated class attached to it, he got a long wire of thin, flexible, but sturdy glass.  That is still basically what fiber optics are today.


Here is another interesting post I found via Twitter

Teachers, make classroom learning an experience

This article is about a moment in the teacher's classroom where she takes a chapter from Animal Farm and has students re-write a scene to illustrate Orwell's tone.  Then she uses re-enactments to make it come alive.

I couldn't agree more with her when she concludes: Students want to learn; this is a fact. The challenge comes when we force students to passively take their learning in like bad medicine. With a few small tweaks, we can be providing students with amazing learning experiences where they are walking away from class awestruck and excited to return. 

The traditional classroom where we read a text together and then have a teacher-led or 2-3 student-led discussion doesn't make memories. Give students opportunities to commit their learning to nostalgic impactful moments that they will carry with them throughout their lives. 


My year can roughly be divided into three parts.

First, August-December, where I feel like I'm trying new things and stepping outside of my comfort zone.  As a result, I feel like I am having an impact and making a difference.  In other words I'm #livingthedream.

Then bleak winter sets in and for Jan-March I wonder if I am even in the right profession (honestly).  I feel like I'm a fraud and don't know if I'm doing anything right in class.

Third, hope springs eternal and right around April-May, I feel restored and start believing I can make an impact in the lives of my students.

You'd think after 17 years, things would be different.  But they really aren't.

This article, especially the first half, reminds me of the feeling I get at the start of every year, where I feel like I'm doing something new and important -This year, I threw it all away. 

The grade book. The tradition. The way I've always done things. 

Fear, worry and excuses, ran scared as I barreled toward the water without pause. 

At full speed, I jumped in. Head first, eyes open, without even dipping a toe in the water first to test the temperature.  

Because I knew if I tested it first, I'd surely lose my confidence and succumb to comfort; it would be too easy not to. 

Perhaps the last 12 years have been my wading process; climbing down the steps at a painfully slow pace, getting used to the water one year at a time. Each step a further dabbling into different philosophies, questioning past beliefs and feeling my way into what felt right for the kids. 

After many steps, a lot of reading and consideration, I was ready to take the plunge. 

But no one else came with me at my school. They are watching and waiting for the feedback, for my reaction. 

I like that idea of a 'wading in process.'  In fact, I don't know if I ever really get a sense of accomplishment from teaching.  Instead, I get the feeling that, well, that was pretty good, but I know next time I'll want to do this and this and this differently . . . 

Maybe I wouldn't have it any other way.


This title, "Visibility Creates Accountability,"  alone has me hook, line, and sinker.  The fact that it comes from one of my favorite bloggers is even better.  

Here is my favorite part 

The more we start showing what is happening in classrooms, and the more visible it becomes, the more I hope it sparks that feeling of both pressure and curiosity in educators to keep pushing themselves to embrace improving their practice.

I couldn't agree more.  Think about this - if you want to buy a house, you can tour it, compare the price, dicker over the price, have it inspected . . .  If you want to buy a car, you can research it on line, dicker, test drive it, talk to others with it the same model . . . But if you want to learn more about the school your kids will be attending?  Well, you're out of luck.  

But by having a visible brand for your classroom via social media, you can at least put it out there for parents so they can see the learning that occurs in your classroom.

What's not to love about that?


Finally, to illustrate Steven Johnson's theory about multiple narrative threads in popular films are actually making mass audiences smarter, we applied his theory to Inception.

The film perfectly illustrates his point, for he actually argues that audiences today have far more sophisticated cognitive skills than generations past.  First, we can handle complex narratives like Inception (or Pulp Fiction, Gone Girl, and Crash, to just name a few).  Second, we can handle the lack of "flashing arrows" to cue us in on characters and events (such as the sinister music that plays when a villain first appears, as in Star Wars or Indiana Jones).  Third, we now can develop social media connections that allow us to analyze films in a far deeper way than ever before.

Here are some of my favorite examples when it comes to Inception.

Why can't all websites be this interactive and engaging?

Here are some of my favorite info graphics - all done by diehard fans - trying to illustrate, explain, and analyze the film's complexities.

The next time I do this assignment, I'm going to charge students with creating an info graphic instead of writing an essay.


How awesome is this?!  

A tireless 100 year old teacher?  Amazing.  And she is still passionate and curious? I'd love to have Kenzie and Cash learn from her.

No comments: