What have schools done to learning?

What have schools done to learning? Learning was fun once, for all of us. When you see a toddler learn something new for the first time, there is so much joy. The youngster will repeat the action over and over with such glee. A smile will come across their face, saying “Look at me, Look at what I can do!” Children yearn to learn. As school starts, the yearning slowly appears to disappear.

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What do schools do to learning to make the smiles go away? Where does this joy go? How can schools regain it?  Our education system is hung up on measuring students learning that it seems to forget how to ignite students passion for learning.

Education and learning is about passion and engagement. Our current system is about strict learning standards to be measured and compliance. The system doesn’t line up with its goals. Standards are good to keep learning focused, but when standards are adopted without ever considering the students in audience? Teaching some standards can be like taking the basketball team (all suited up and ready for a game) to the ballet. Other times feels like taking the church group all dressed in Sunday’s best out to feed the pigs on the farm. The educational process needs to be more flexible to re-engage students in their passions for learning. It is time to end this one size fits all systematic approach. The Common Core State Standards are a vast improvement over where we have been. Students should be given options as to which ones they feel they want to master while exploring all of them.

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso
The time schools take to measure learning, the more students seem to lose pleasure in the process. Learning needs to be more about taking risks and failing than getting A’s and B’s. Schools need to be the places where passions are born, not where the go to die. It is time to reinvent schools! Nobody should ever loose their passion for learning!

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#MSchat and @AMLE Twitter event 8-14-14 8 pm ET

#MSchat and AMLE are partnering up to bring another splendid Flipped Twitter event to the Twitter-verse, and I would love to have you all to join the conversation.  Much appreciation to Dru Tomlin from AMLE for providing great material for us to chat about and moderating the chat!

 

Here are the details:

  • What is it? Twitter Event at #mschat about Motivating Students in the Middle Level
  • What else?  Our conversation will be motivated by the “Motivating Students with Teachable Moments” article in the August edition of AMLE Magazine: http://www.amle.org/Portals/0/pdf/amle_magazine/fi/AMLEMag_Aug2014.pdf. In fact, as you can see, the entire AMLE magazine is available for AMLE Associate (FREE!) members. 
  • When?  Thursday, August 14th from 8-9pmET
  • Where? #mschat

Value of Educational Conferences

I recently read a post by Tom Whitby, titled “Are Educational Conferences Relevant?” His post made me think about the true value of educational conferences. As a teachers there are really 3-types of conferences we can attend. First the Un-conference: more commonly referred to as an Edcamp, Second: a state conference (Examples MRA, MAMSE or MACUL) and Third: The National Conference (Example: ISTE, NSTA or AMLE). All 3 types of conferences have benefits and drawbacks. The attendee really determines the ultimate value of any conference.

Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of attending all three types. (AMLE, MCTE, and EdcampOU) Here are the Pros and Cons I see.

Un-Conferences/Edcamps: These conferences rarely have predetermined schedule. Attendees vote with their feet by walking out of sessions that give them little value into other sessions. All of the sessions are lead by educators in the field working with students and building their craft. Conferences are manly free or low cost, on weekends. The value of un-conferences is in the attendees. A well attended Edcamp with eager presenters means the day will be enlightening. Poor attendance or reluctant presenters can lead to a long day (or early departures). Since the conference is “Free”, no vendors come to sell products. The sessions (if you call them sessions more like conversations) are intimate. 10-25 teachers in a room talking about a topic with passion. Everyone has a voice and feels empowered by the face to face meeting. In this day an age of slashed budgets, I feel the un-conferences will continue to rise in popularity.

State Conferences: Sessions are scheduled. Speakers are brought in from the “educational consulting” and “Edu-Author” realms. Most attendees planed to hear one or more of the “name” presenters. Often many of the teacher lead sessions are over looked due to the popularity of the Keynote/ out of state presenters. State level conferences often have a higher cost, therefore vendors are brought in to help cover the costs. To create a program of scheduled presenters, proposals are submitted 4-9 months ahead of the conference. School leaders and teachers attend to sit and get information. Some conferences have been adding hands-on and quick sessions to liven the conferences up. Some educators get lost in the size of the state level conferences, I find the connections invigorating. Focusing on the small conversations and not the large presentations.

National Conferences: Mirror the state conferences but on a grander scale. Proposals for sessions come 6-12 months before the conference. Every author and Ed-consultant in the field will be presenting to sell their services/books. The main difference at national conferences is the demographics of attendees. More administrators attend and less teachers, mainly due to the cost of travel to the conference. Vendors are present to subsidize costs.Some don’t like vendors at educational conferences, but where else will teachers get to know about their products?  At AMLE this year, the clear passion about Middle Level Education was evident everywhere. Sessions are larger than the other types of conferences. The conversations and connections with other attendees were wonderful, since they were from all over the world.

The most important part of any conference is what you take away. All conferences have value to educators. Find conferences you enjoy attending, where you make meaningful connections, and learn new ideas. Go where you feel comfortable and can afford to attend. Everyone will have different opinions about conferences, find ones that make you grow as an educator and add value to your classroom practice.

Reflections on 3 days of learning at #AMLE2013

Students performing at #AMLE2013 

I had the pleasure of attending The Association of Middle Level Education Conference in Minneapolis, MN this past week. It was my first time attending a “national” level conference. The conference had an incredible feel of energy an passion. Walking into the convention hall I should have know the energy would be high since the line for the only coffee stand around went out of sight. All the attendees had to get their share of caffeine to match the energy of the conference and its presenters.

The session program was littered with who is who of educational Authors/ experts: Ruth Culham, Laura Robb, Jeff Wilhelm, Ruby Payne, Rick Stiggins, Jack Berckemeyer, Monte Selby, Kim Campbell and Rick Wormeli to name a few. As an attendee it was hard for me to choose what sessions to attend, not only high caliber sessions from authors, but 100’s of sessions from teachers about what works in their classrooms. Every session I walked into demonstrated a passion for teaching every student that walks into a middle school classroom. What ever topic you needed to fulfill  your professional development needs you could find it.

The General Session on Thursday remarkable. The Special Olympics, Project Unify put on a stage show demonstrating the needs to spread the word to end the word. If you every get a chance to see their performances DO!! Inspiring and meaningful. Every middle school student should be exposed to this program. Danielle Liebl and Jamie Behymer shared their personal stories about student advocacy and how SPecial Olympics had impacted their lives. The session ended with everyone dancing to Katy Perry’s Roar!

Friday kicked off early with a 7:30 general session by Brad Meltzer about Heroes. I am a huge fan of his Decoded series on the History Channel, but did not know why he would be speaking at  a middle level conference. He opened sharing his story about how he became a writer. Stories about his teachers filled the auditorium. He talked about the power of Thank You, and listening to the unheard stories for those are the ones with meaning. I was inspired by the end, Brad Meltzer is an engaging story teller.

For me the greatest experience of the conference was connecting with other like minded educators. As a classroom teacher, I have little time to connect and share ideas with others. Due to my activity on Twitter, I meet up with members of my Professional Learning Network. We talked in the halls, in session, on twitter and enjoyed meals together. These personal connections matter. I also had the privilege to attend the AMLE leadership lunch on Friday. The discussion there were rich with focus on students learning. The time was engaging and meaningful. Lead by Dru Tomlin, the lunch is a must for leaders that want to engage in answering the critical questions facing educators.

The conference wasn’t all roses: WiFi connections were spotty at times and the web app for the conference had issues. It was not light on the pocket book: I was out over $800 for travel and accommodations (Note to self find a sponsor for next year: anyone??) The money was worth it, the conference is not about the TECH so those were minor drawbacks. The conference was about connections, passion, energy all to make student’s learning improve in the classrooms.

All attendees have to remember to maintain the feelings from the conference, share the passion with your building and maintain connections with presenters via twitter. One member of my PLN shared that the energy felt at conferences can be continued by participating in Twitter chats. I hope I can live up to the energy and passion presented at the conference. If you have the time it is so worth attending. I hope to return next year when it will be in Nashville, TN,

Thank you to all I connected with! Dru Tomlin, Mark Clements and Rick Wormeli: Thank you for making me feel your equal. You inspire me to work harder and be better everyday.

Vacation School Lessons #vsl

When you hear the word “vacation” many imagines come to mind: beaches, fine dining, airplanes, boats, etc. Is learning something that comes to mind when vacation is mentioned? Learning happens all the time, but vacations offer unique learning opportunities. Children are in a new environment, interacting with different people everyday. Vacations are the perfect place for learning.

Depending on how you travel on your vacations, geography and modes of transportation are good themes on vacation. We usually travel by car, my son, loves to read all the licences plates looking for different states he always wonders how far people are traveling. He also asks about all the cities and landmarks we pass. Great learning opportunities if you have the time to talk about them in detail along the way. When we have traveled by plane we have discussed more United States geography and spend time talking about time zones and distances.

I feel better learning happens at your destination. Weather and Climate are natural topics to discuss with children on vacation, especially if you are traveling to a different climate region. Cultures can be a topic on vacation if you are traveling to a region with different cultural climate than where you live. Last year we traveled from Michigan to San Diego and our children loved learning about the region so different from their own. For those of us that are daring, we can also expose our children to awesome new culinary choices. Most vacationers dine out, make bold choices that are different than ones you would make at home.

Of course many vacations are educational by nature, whether you are traveling to Mackinaw Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes or Tahquanmenon Falls (All great spots in Michigan) the purpose is to learn about the location. My children know that trips like these are fun and for learning. They have loved our trips to all of them. Learning about the history of Mackinaw Island or how the falls and dunes formed.

Often on vacation learning can be unintentional. Children learn about SPF for sunscreen and the value of good Aloe Vera lotion if they stay out in the sun to long. Just today by children learned the value of a bowline knot for tubing and how to be a “Good Samaritan” as we helped out a distressed sailboat. Earlier in the week they learned how to bait a hook and catch a fish. This of course lead to me teaching a hands-on lesson on gutting and skinning the fish and later cooking it.

Just remember that the learning happens everywhere. The best learning is hands-on and vacations lead to great new learning experiences, not just for relaxing. (Although that is a good use for vacations too!!)

Give yourself permission to do nothing!

As I sit here up at my family’s lakeside cottage I ask myself, Is doing nothing, something? When my 3 children woke up this morning I asked them what they wanted to do today? My wife response was quicker than the kids, “Nothing!!” Since we spent yesterday cleaning up our property, chipping wood, this was an appropriate answer.

But can you really ever do nothing? If you are sitting on the couch you are still doing something! In fact as I am writing this post, my wife and kids are enjoying the lake. As I reflect back to the school year, my students often responded to the question, What did you do over the weekend? “Nothing”  Is nothing just the quick response by someone who doesn’t want to be held down by plans or just the quick response that requires no thinking?

For me nothing is reflection, unplanned learning and freedom. Nothing allows us to fill our minds and use imagination to do what ever we want! If we set out to do something: say build a dog house or read a book. Well then we have to complete that task or we feel we did not accomplish our “goal” for the day. Nothing gives us permission to do anything or not. No feeling of missing out or lack of accomplishment.

Just remember that when you are done doing “nothing!” to reflect on what you actually did accomplish doing IT!

Why I Teach!

I was born the son of a teacher and doctor. My mother, the teacher, was always fostering learning for her 3 sons. She would constantly find activities to engage us. Frequent trips to the  zoo, museum, park and library were a large part of growing up. Dad, when around, also helped us develop a passion for learning. He would make sure to explain every step when fixing items around the house. He mandated our attendance when he worked on the car or boat, “So you know how to do it!” He always exclaimed when we issued complains.

As I grew older, all three of us developed a passion for figuring things out. This passion often end us up in trouble. I vividly remember, taking apart the lawn mower with my little brother one day because it wasn’t working. We thought we found the problem and put it back together. Then realized we hadn’t used all of the parts. When dad got home, we heard about the need for patience and value of questions. Surprisingly dad, took the time with us to make sure the lawnmower was fixed correctly. Not that we enjoyed the time taking it back apart, going to the store to get a schematic diagram to know where all the parts really belonged. Eventually dad even taught me to fly an airplane, since his grandfather taught him, when he was a teenager.

Unfortunately, my parents pasted away due to a tragic plan accident when I was 17 years old. Lucky for me, I was old enough to remember their teaching and modeling of learning. I remember my mother belong to a literary guild, attending monthly meetings and writing research papers. My father constantly learning new procedures for his medical practice. Turn the VCR on in our house growing up it was either a historic documentary or a medical training film.

My parents placed kindling on my educational career. After their passing, It took a few sparks to light the fire. First it was my grandmother. Seeing that I was not self-motivated. She force me to take an aptitude test. The results of which said I should go into a helping profession. Naturally, I resisted, like any teenager lost in life would do. In college, I ventured into classes that were easy, fun or I found interesting. I fell into a communications major with emphasis in video production. I graduated with not prospects of a job. I floundered around in sales and customer service positions. Finding no passion or satisfaction. About ten years after the aptitude testing, my grandmother brought it up again. This time the kindling started to glow.

As I returned to college, tackling another major, I felt the passion winds begin to blow. School this time had meaning. I did not care about fun, socializing or frat parties. I want to learn and fast. Each class my passion for becoming an educator grew. I remembered how my parents fostered my learning. I began to recall, how they also helped everyone around them learn. Mom would help anyone, at church, at home or at school. Dad stopped to answer every patients questions (party of why he was not home often).  I felt pleasure and joy in help others learn. Sure felt better than selling a person an item or fielding a complaint.

I teach to honor my parents. To share our collective love of learning with others. Teaching is about creating passionate learners. It is about help others find their passion. Making students become the teachers. Creating meaningful relationships between teacher, student and knowledge. I teach to pass along my love of learning and spark others fires.