Category Archives: Opinion

So, What DO they Remember After All of That?



Nearing the end of the fast paced, often crazed, multi-layers of multitasking…planning and grading, teaching and re-teaching…what is it that kids remember of their school year with you? What do they find meaningful and lasting from your time together?

It’s worth stopping to see, because it’s the glue that holds all the rest together.

I had that opportunity when Mrs. Patterson, a retired teacher, took over my 5th grade class when I went to a meeting. She had my students write me a thank you/memory letter. And just what is it that really made an impact after our nine months together? The hours spent putting together that cool project? Those math lessons taught three different ways until they all got it? No…my black boots with the blue zippers!

Here is one comment pulled from each letter.

  • I like when you freak out when something good happens.
  • You are not grumpy, like if someone says a word to you, you won’t shout “GET BACK TO YOUR SEAT!!!”
  • I still remember the bunch of times you said, “I can’t follow you around your whole life.”
  • You played a huge role in teaching us how to be good human beings and the ways that we can do that.
  • I truly didn’t even know what a web 2.0 tool was before this year.
  • You aren’t so quiet and boring. You are kind of loud actually.
  • I think that you are funny, and I love that about you.
  • I let my brain run free and have a say!
  • You know how to keep people going, and you don’t give up on yourself. I never gave up because of you.
  • You always make it seem like we are a team
  • I loved watching Carl on CNN Student News.
  • You always like to swing at recess.
  • I love being able to do stuff that my sister, brother, dad, and mom can’t do on the computer!
  • You are very funny, but in a good way. Thanks for making us laugh.
  • Our classroom feels like home to me.
  • I love blogging, can we still do it over the summer too?
  • You have great taste of style! I love your black boots with the blue zippers.
  • I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of some of the places in the world that we worked with or skyped.
  • Even though you won’t be there personally, you will always be with me.
  • Well, I only have a minute to gather my life and get to the bus so…THANK YOU!
  • Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Does knowing this help me with all of the work ahead for next year? No…but it sure puts things in perspective. You may want to give it a try before they’re gone for the year.

A re-post from last year.

What’s the Most Valuable Trait in Learning?

If I was to choose one single quality that helps people the most, not only with success in school but also with happiness throughout life, it would be internal motivation.

Internal motivation is what drives passion. It drives the quest for knowledge, it drives interest and it drives repeat exposure to something…which in turn creates expertise. Some adults never possess that in their lifetime, and I think it has a lot to do with how we structure our teaching…therefore our learning.

I have a niece who is brilliant by all standard and practical measurements. When she was about 16, I asked her if she had any thoughts about college. She told me that maybe she’d like to major in guitar. Now don’t get me wrong, I deeply value music…both of my kids are musicians, and although my niece plays guitar, it isn’t her biggest strength by a long shot…it isn’t even something she loves to do or is particularly good at. Of all of the many interests she has ranging from science, medicine, social justice, engineering, economics, literature and the like…why guitar?

The question really is: why is it when we think passion we think extra-curricular? I think it’s because those are the times that we can be internally directed. It feels like playing, and when we become so engaged in what we’re doing, we do more of it, and become more skilled.  It’s like a powerful ongoing circle of interest, learning, practice and skill.

Many of the great inventors, scientists, writers, artists, whatever… the greats in any industry…many of them approach their craft like play. The motivation comes from within. They follow their interests and curiosities as they weave in and out…they follow the winding path as it leads to new understandings and possibilities. They are often the people we call geniuses after the fact. If our goal in education includes helping produce successful, accomplished, empowered, productive human beings…we need the cultivation of internal motivation as part of our learning culture.

If we want to create a system that supports internal motivation…and invites passion in science, math, literature, global issues, as well as music, athletics, art, theater and anything else….we have to start creating and supporting a system that includes 21st century learning such as innovation, choice, relevance and  self-direction.  Maybe you don’t think it’s possible to do that while teaching content. Many teachers, schools, and districts already do. A quick internet search with terms such as Project based learning, Problem based learning,  21st Century Learning, STEM, Genius Hour, or 20% Time will start to point you in that direction. 

Here is a related TedXTalk by Scott McLeod, author of Dangerously Irrelevant.


21st Century Learning. What exactly is it?


The buzz about 21st Century Learning is everywhere, but what exactly does it mean? It’s often linked to technology, but that is only a small part.  In fact, much of 21st Century Learning can happen without the use of technology. If technology is available and used in the right way, it can provide powerful tools for authentic learning and integration of 21st Century skills, but unfortunately, that is not always what we see in our classrooms. Purchasing equipment does not automatically create better learning.  We watch our classrooms fill up with technology, but we often see no plan in place to use it to benefit student learning. This requires a change in teaching.  With no change in teaching and learning, computers are often used for mainly word processing and Google searching. As an educator, this concerns me.

Let’s start with what 21st Century Learning means. It is the marriage of content and skill. Teaching content is what we are familiar with in our education systems: learning states and capitals, mathematical equations, historical events, scientific discoveries, and countless others.  21st Century Learning takes that content and makes it relevant. It not only shows learners how that content can be used to solve problems, construct new ideas, and through collaboration, expand that understanding, but it allows them to actually experience that as they learn.

How many school districts have mission statements that refer to educating problem solvers, critical thinkers, and creative minds? How many of them go farther than words and actually do something meaningful to provide that in their classrooms?

Equipping teachers to lead our students’ way in this takes a lot more than buying computers for schools. Before continuing, let’s figure out how to use what we have to further what many of us believe to be true: the world needs empowered critical thinking problem solvers that have the ability to learn collaboratively and create the solutions to problems that we have no way of knowing exist right now. It isn’t as difficult as it seems.

It starts with a unified vision, the development of a plan to create the teaching and learning environment, and the implementation of that plan. Many have led the way. It isn’t a mystery any more. Schools around the country have embraced this and have left their footsteps to follow. It’s just a quick Google search away!

Here’s a related article by George Couros.

One interpretation of 21st century skills.

One interpretation of 21st century skills.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook on Collaboration

Such a great view of collaboration! People that realize that “it takes more than themselves to make magic”. Calling at 2am with an idea…not being able to wait to keep talking about the possibilities. I know the energy and power of that kind of collaboration. Why is it this is so difficult to manifest in most work places?  True collaboration is mutual.  The kind of collaboration he describes is a two way street…it’s a give and take. 

That takes risk, and it takes trust.

How to Change Education-From the Ground Up.

Great words by Sir Ken Robinson yet again.  He describes what most teachers know: effective change happens from the inside-out…or in his words “from the ground up.” The more we try to control education from the top down, the less we understand that education is about people and individuals. If we don’t fully embrace that, the farther we get from what we all want for our kids. We all have the same goal.

From Helplessness to Power


Taking the step from shock and sadness toward helping can prevent a disaster from inadvertently becoming entertainment. There’s no power in freaking out…the power here lies in action….whatever that looks like to any given person. Involving students in helping can be a powerful way to help them deal with a disaster.   There are many ways to help…letters, praying, fundraising, and donating are a few. Our student council is running a last-minute fundraiser before school ends. It’s tricky with only a few busy days left of school, but the message is worth it.  Click the link below to find organizations that are involved in the effort to help.

Click here to find ways to help.


Creating Innovators

Creating Innovators

“What you study is not that important. Knowing how to find those things you are interested in is way, way more important. . . . I’ve got this momentum, and the idea is to figure out what interesting opportunities there are around you and use them to get to the next point.” A quote by Kirk Phelps, Product Manager for Apple’s first iPhone, from Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, written by Tony Wagner .

As educators we have to wonder, are we so focused on what we are teaching, that we miss the boat on the things that make a human being resilient and successful in a world that calls forth different skills than it demanded in the factory-driven, company loyalty mindset of the past?  Shouldn’t every person going through our education systems need to develop the capacities to solve problems creatively…in other words to innovate.

The quote above goes on to describe that kind of inquiry as similar to navigating a satellite though space…being interested in one area and going there for a while and then moving on to the next….all in a process of personal integration. This has been my way to learn, so I can say that this type of inquiry cannot be forced by super specific curricular objectives. I see attempts to take the old style of curriculum planning that starts with the standard objectives, and then almost as an after-thought, tries to force in creative problem solving. Can’t happen. What can happen, and what frequently does is my classroom and classrooms all over…is that the structure of the planning is focused on the thinking…the thinking…not the objectives. Then the objectives are put into that structure. The Common Core State Standards are getting some well deserved criticism, but they lend themselves much better to this kind of learning than our previous attempts.

To learn to be innovative, and all the things that go along with that: inquisitive, creative, logical, critical thinking, persistent, resilient… requires some specific conditions. First, it requires freedom to explore and play with the topic. In a school setting, this naturally reflects curriculum, but there are so many possibilities for doing this.  I use Project-based Learning to wed these innovator skills with curriculum. Second, it requires a balance of collaboration and solitude.

Co-founder and teacher of the Phoenix School in Salem, Mass, Betsye Sargent asked me this question about teaching for today’s world, “How does this fit with the current direction education seems to be going? How do we get it to change tracks? If 65% of grade school kids today may be doing work not yet invented (MacArthur Foundation), then the future really isn’t a multiple choice standardized test.”

As the push and pull between testing, curriculum standards, and an ever evolving planet continues…we as educators must become the student the world needs…the innovator. It is in becoming that ourselves that allows us to lead our educational systems, classrooms and students in that direction.