Friday, December 21, 2012

Time Management

                                          cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by lett -/=
The past few weeks I have felt really pinched on time.  It's a challenge, as many of you know, to balance family, professional, and personal needs such as exercise. While I have neglected the last item during this time span, I am thankful for for a wonderful, healthy, supporting family; and I am thankful for getting to pursue a career that I love.

In working with students, it is important to keep this idea of teaching time management.  Students have family, school, friends, activities (sometimes numerous), and a myriad of other things that seek their time.  As educators, it feels as if we are responsible for helping students learn a variety of things.  How does one fit in one more thing such as time management?  It shouldn't be any one teacher's or class responsibility; it is a school responsibility.  It needs to be purposeful, planned for, and seamless.  At every level, habit development looks a little different, but it comes down to instilling some good habits and continuing to build on, talk and refine those habits as students progress through their schooling.  Plus, well developed habits pay huge dividends down the road such as students that are more likely to be prepared, organized, motivated, and engaged.

During this holiday season, focus on habits that will help you and your student balance their time.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,


Thursday, December 20, 2012

5 Components to a Quality Education

Will Richardson asks the question Why School? in his new book and Seth Godin also asks in this video what is school for?  School fills a myriad of roles in our society.  However, it is quite simple: Schools are here to educate, yet the process is complex.  Here are five components that we have to focus on and use transformatively to educate in the current society:

1. Rigor
2. Relevance
3. Creativity
4. Individualization
5. Grit

First, rigor is essential to education and preparing students for what lies ahead.  Rigor is nothing new and it certainly gets a lot of lip service.  Step back and reflect on how often we ask students what something is or how often we let students give us short and/or opinionated answers with no evidence. Instead, let's design questions that get students to analyze data, and/or compile information from a variety of sources to create an original/alternative solution, and/or evaluate a document(s) to present a claim and defend with evidence.  In other words, students need to speak articulately, write at a high level, or create an original idea in their own voice; not just regurgitate.  Barbara Blackburn, in Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, discusses the different ways to up rigor:
  1. Raise the Level of Content
  2. Increase Complexity
  3. Open-Ended Questions, Instruction, and Projects
Yes, students will push back, but we have to expect them to learn at high levels and they will rise to our expectations; provided that we give support and guidance along the way.  

Second, a lesson can be rigorous, but it also needs to be engaging and relevant.  There has been a big push for project based learning (PBL), but it goes beyond PBL.  Students need to be able to connect their learning.  Technology provides a great tool whether it is blogging, tweeting, or live chatting with a class in another part of the country or world.  George Couros has spoken effusively about the benefits of blogging such as sharing, providing feedback, speaking to an authentic audience, etc. Further, to be engaging, we need to stay on top of what is going on in the world by being an active participant in a personal learning network, reading books, and watching the news which are wonderful avenues for finding these connections.

Third, creativity is a key ingredient to both the teacher and the learner.  Sir Ken Robinson has delivered the most popular TED talk and written two books on the importance of creativity and developing it in school.  Creativity could be as simple as allowing students to make the choice of how they want to demonstrate their learning whether it be a paper, website, test, or presentation.  In the end, teachers and students need to be encouraged to take creative risk.  Standardized tests should be the floor, not the ceiling.  Students that are regularly being asked to creatively solve problems, reason, and design original ideas will meet the benchmark of the test. 

Individualizing student learning is the fourth component to creating a transformative education for students.  Students often ask why do I need to know this or at the upper grades begin to check out because they don't see how school will help them.  Allowing students the intellectual freedom to learn about a unique idea or demonstrate their learning in a particular way is important to fostering an interest in learning.  Technology is a critical piece to enabling individualization because it can help with items such as intervention and enrichment.  We need students to leave high school with the same love for learning as when they entered kindergarten. 

The fifth component is grit.  Paul tough in How Children Succeed writes eloquently about grit which is basically developing student focus, perseverance, and resilience.  Stephen and Sean Covey have similar ideas on the importance of good habits.  Making time to teach and have students practice these traits can be overwhelming, but it doesn't need to be one more thing.  One just needs to find avenues to seamlessly weave these habits into teaching practice. 

While none of these five components (Rigor, Relevance, Creativity, Individual, and Grit) are new, they need to all be a focus of creating a transformative learning environment.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Election and 21st Century Literacies

NCTE defines 21st Century Literacies as:
Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to
  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology 
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally 
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes 
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information 
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts 
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments
On my Twitter feed, I have seen a couple of educators post about having their students or wanting to teach a lesson with their students on watching the different news feeds (including digital and social media) to compare perspectives.  No matter your politics, I think it would be a great assignment.  And it would address the following literacies: develop proficiency with the tools of technology; manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts.

The question now is what should the assignment be for students to demonstrate their learning?  Should it be a class discussion, a project such as creating a website to deliver the news of the presidential election, or a piece of writing such as a blog, or some combination of all three, or something altogether different?  

I know this post is a little late in prompting a creative lesson around the election. However, there are plenty of other events that occur throughout the year that could prompt this type of lesson design addressing 21st century literacies.  The bottom line is that whether you are an English teacher, Government teacher or a teacher of another subject, I encourage you to think about how to get students to think critically (Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking)  about who is saying what, who do you believe and why, and what is the evidence.  The final piece to this type of assignment is deciding, or allowing students to decide, in what medium will the students present their learning.

What are your thoughts?  Did anybody do a lesson addressing 21st century literacies around the election, or have an ongoing assignment about Hurricane Sandy, or another current issue?  How is it going?



Friday, November 2, 2012

Technology Overload 

After being geeked up on technology and attending ITSCO almost a month ago, I took some time away to disconnect from blogging and tweeting.  When I returned, Google reader was filled up and of course I had missed many tweets and a handful of RT's. I have read a few blogs about balancing technology in education ranging from Will Richardson's debate on twitter with another educator to a blog post from the mindful classroom to watching our library director run PD on technology for our faculty.  It is easy to get overwhelmed with all that is out there.  

(Image courtesy of Yash Bhatia @

I am a person that likes technology, but I am also not the first to jump in either.  I watch, read, listen, and probably many other things before I leap.  It is great that many teachers are trying to figure out avenues to utilize technology, but it needs to be transformative.  In other words, how do we leverage technology to create a rigorous and relevant curriculum that promotes collaboration and creativity?

I do not believe that technology is a panacea for education, but there is a lot of value and it is certainly re-shaping the conversation in education. Take a moment to watch Seth Godin's recent TED talk:

I found parts of his talk to be very interesting and poignant.  We do need to examine our teaching practices.  Students do have information at their fingertips.  I do disagree with his statement that there is no need to memorize anything.  For instance, I would prefer that my doctor has a certain medical procedure memorized inside and out before operating.  Or an example more at the educational level, is the idea that there is some foundational information for learning in order to work at higher levels in a discipline.  In essence though, Seth Godin is asking for a rigorous and relevant curriculum that promotes collaboration and creativity.  Technology can no longer be planned for as nice to have in a lesson design, but it needs to be planned for intently.  To get beyond the time issue, educational leaders need to continue to share with each other so that educators are not overwhelmed.  Additionally, focus on two or three tech tools that are being utilized in better and more transformative ways.  The K.I.S.S. philosophy,  Keep It Simple Stupid, is an important phrase to remember.  



Friday, October 19, 2012

Three Take-Aways from ITSCO Symposium

I attended and presented at the ITSCO Leadership Symposium on October 15 in Worthington, OH. The theme was, “Today’s student relies on mobile technology to access information in real time, in any environment, without situational constraints. How do educators harness this new Education Everywhere environment to build critical thinkers ready for the demands of a new and constantly shifting job market?”

I would like to share a few key things that I took away from the conference.  First, students need to be literate and not just in the simple sense of being able to read and write. Will Richardson’s Huffington post article (
mo_b_750177.html) says it far better than I could.  Second, technology can not just be looked at as nice to have in the classroom; it has to be engrained in lessons and leveraged to push rigor, creativity, collaboration, personalization, and intervention.  Lastly, in the information age (information is at the tip of everyone’s finger), education has to be more than just learning and comprehending facts/information.

Outside of these three-take aways, I was able to attend four breakout sessions after the keynote by George Couros.  The round-table sessions promoted a dialogue and interaction of colleagues, instead of sit-and-get.  Kudos to ITSCO for planning a great day of collaborative learning.  The first session was by Dwight Carter on the Connected Leader.  This discussion focused on the importance of connecting and communicating with peers and stakeholders using Twitter and blogging.  It was interesting to hear how various administrators sitting around the table were using these sites and where they were at with implementation.  The second session was a discussion with George Couros, which focused on questions we had such as implementation, connection to standards, rigor, etc. The third session I attended was Blended Learning with Marcy Raymond.  She shared a lot of great things about her district and the direction they are going with STEM and Blended learning. The fourth session I attended was Creativity in the Cloud with Tracy Cindric.  She provided a bunch of web 2.0 tools (with time to play) that we could immediately start using and take back to our schools/district.

Overall, a great day of professional development.  It was great to connect with a lot of fellow educators and to actually meet and discuss with some of the people from my PLN.  However, I am left thinking about the following:

  • What should the role of the teacher be?  
  • How do we effectively implement these tools?
  • What should teaching, learning and overall education look like?  
  • How do we facilitate and make change happen?
Would love to hear your thoughts.



Sunday, October 14, 2012

Design Thinking: Technology and Space

I will be co-leading with Stan McDonald a roundtable session tomorrow at the Ohio ITSCO Leadership Symposium.  Below is the framework for the Table Session Discussion . . . 

Design Thinking: Technology & Space
So what is Design Thinking: Technology & Space?  It is your team’s creative vision for the educational environment in regards to technology. It should shape your Personal Learning Network and your leadership decisions.  Discussion points will focus on the following:
•Technology and Instructional Practice
•Faculty Meetings

Guiding Questions for the Table Session*:
What is the vision and/or design drivers for your school?
How do you utilize school space and technology to shape teaching and learning?
*We are looking to have a discussion where everybody shares what they are doing in regards to the guiding questions and talking points.

Vision/Design Drivers
What is your vision for your school/district?  Is it clear where your school/district wants to be in a year, three years, five years, ten years? What are your design drivers or big rocks (i.e. collaboration, project-based learning, interdisciplinary curriculum, etc)?

What we have been doing: We have focused on being a great high school that strikes a balance between implementing the best of traditional educational practices with the best of progressive practices. Part of that focus has been how to we leverage technology and create inspiring learning spaces that promote a rigorous and relevant curriculum that allow students to collaborate and harness their

“And you walk up and down and you see that relatively few people are using our books. Right? Which raises an interesting question. Why are they here? Well, partly they’re here for computers and Wi-Fi, but mostly they’re here because it’s an unbelievably inspiring space. And because people actually want to work in inspiring spaces together, not at home alone. And that’s not going to change.” -- From the NY Times article, The Education of Tony Marx
How are you designing instructional space around your school?  Is the focus on classroom space or commons space or something entirely different?  How has it effected teaching and learning?  What have been the goals related to the changes?

What we have been doing: We continue to look at ways to maximize and creatively use our space.  This summer we created a student lounge, a PBL classroom, and are re-inventing our Library Space.  Moving forward, we are looking at more of our classrooms, Academic Center (Credit Recovery, On-line Learning, Tutoring), hallway areas, commons, and under-utilized space in the building.
The child starting kindergarten this fall will graduate in the third decade of the 21st century.  All we can know abut the world she will step into is that it will have challenges and opportunities beyond what we can imagine today, problems and possibilities that will demand creativity and ingenuity, responsibility and compassion.  Whether this year's kindergarten student will merely survive or positively thrive in the decades to come depends in large measure on the experiences she has in school.  Those experiences will be shaped by adults, by peers, and ultimately by places, by the physical environments where she does her learning.  United in the conviction that environment is our children's third teacher, we can begin anew a vital mission: designing today's schools for tomorrow's world. --The Third Teacher
Technology & Instructional Practice/Curricular Decisions
What are your thoughts when it comes to Textbooks, e-Books, Learning Management Systems, blended learning, on-line learning, traditional classroom learning?  What about purchasing pre-packaged products vs. self-designed?  What about day to day, unit to unit lesson design when it comes to technology? 

What we are doing: Truly trying to find that right balance.  We have faculty experimenting with Blended courses using Moodle and we have a credit recovery and on-line learning center.  We also have faculty using Schoolology and Edmodo as an LMS.  Next year, due to growing enrollment, we are looking at how to increase our blended and online options while still providing a
rigorous and relevant curriculum.

Faculty Meetings
How are they structured? Traditional, Flipped, Departmentalized, Cross-Disciplinary. 
What is the focus?  CCSS, Rigor, Technology, Project-Based Learning, Creativity, Collaboration, etc.

What we are doing: We have flipped faculty meetings this year to provide staff with professional  development time.  The planning for this time is designed with the department chairs and our library director. For example, on a teacher work day this week, department chairs are leading work on curriculum design and assessment with the new standards for part of the time, our Library director is going to be running studio sessions on technology that can be leveraged in the classroom to enhance the creativity, relevance and rigor of lesson design, and the principals are reviewing information with groups of teachers on value-added, and wrapping up with a whole class faculty meeting.

In the end, we make a lot of decisions ranging from the above topics (space, technology, instructional practices, and faculty meetings) to professional development to hiring to master scheduling, etc.  In creating a design thinking environment, all of these items should support your vision which in turn supports The Connected Learner.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Design Thinking: Environment

From the Stanford, Our Point of View . . . 

The is a hub for innovators at Stanford. Students and faculty in engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education find their way here to take on the world’s messy problems together. Human values are at the heart of our collaborative approach. We focus on creating spectacularly transformative learning experiences, and inevitably the innovations follow. Along the way, our students develop a process for reliably producing creative solutions to nearly any challenge. This is the core of what we do.
In a time when there is hunger for innovation everywhere, we think our primary responsibility is to help prepare a generation of students to rise with the challenges of our times. We define what it means to be a student broadly, and we support “students” of design thinking who range from kindergarteners to senior executives. Our deliberate mash-up of industry, academia and the big world beyond campus is a key to our continuing evolution.
Education in and of itself is a messy problem.  There are not nice, easy solutions on how to change education in the broad sense or how to engage students at a rigorous level or how to bridge the poverty gap or how to prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist.  As a result, we need to have a design thinking mentality when it comes to education.  Everything we do and the decisions that are made in the classroom/school/district needs to come back to one's vision and goals, or design drivers as Christian Long would state.  As a teacher, everything you do from lesson design to technology integration to creating collaborative opportunities to assessment should get at those vision and goals.  As a building leader, it comes down to designing faculty meetings to focusing professional development opportunities to aligning the budget to master scheduling should all come back and support the design drivers.

A critical piece to having a design thinking mentality as an educator and to create a culture where students crave challenging problems that require creativity and ingenuity is designing an environment that promotes these experiences.  It could be something little such as do you set up (design) your classroom space.  It could be something a little more robust such as painting your walls with dry erase paint to encourage spontaneous thinking and collaboration.  It could be something larger such as designing and repurposing a classroom or library.  Check out the Lovett School and The Story Studio Project.

In closing, think about this quote from The Third Teacher:
The child starting kindergarten this fall will graduate in the third decade of the 21st century.  All we can know abut the world she will step into is that it will have challenges and opportunities beyond what we can imagine today, problems and possibilities that will demand creativity and ingenuity, responsibility and compassion.  Whether this year's kindergarten student will merely survive or positively thrive in the decades to come depends in large measure on the experiences she has in school.  Those experiences will be shaped by adults, by peers, and ultimately by places, by the physical environments where she does her learning.  United in the conviction that environment is our children's third teacher, we can begin anew a vital mission: designing today's schools for tomorrow's world. 

I'm curious to hear how you as an educator are creating the school environment that promotes design thinking.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Digital Footprints

Are students aware of the power of their digital footprints?

Looking at this pictograph from Connected Learning (, students are on-line using a variety of networking tools to create, share, explore, play, learn, and publish. Their online presence is creating an indelible mark about who they are as a potential employee, college student, or member of the military.  Too often, I see the negative side of how students use technology and social networks.  How do we help our students be their best?

In the blogosphere, educators are constantly discussing the need for teachers and administrators to have a PLN and August has been Connected Educator month with lots of free professional development to help educators network and grow as a professional including their digital footprint. Should we be discussing and creating a connected student month that focuses on helping students network "academically?"  By academically, I mean that students start to think about how their on-line presence is going to help them for college and career readiness.  Or should this type of learning just be a part of students' daily/weekly learning?

In the end, students need to have a balanced education that includes learning to create a positive digital footprint for themselves.  What are your thoughts?

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Start of School

104 days of summer vacation and school comes along just to end it.  -- Phineas and Ferb, Disney

It is crazy to think that this first day was my 28th (as student and educator) and will be my dad's 55th (I think, you can scold me if I am wrong).  I am very excited to get the year started; faculty had their first official days back last week; Freshmen Orientation was Friday; and our whole high school was  filled today.  I hope that I can continue to have the same passion, drive, and excitement that my father has continued to exhibit in his 30 plus years in education. 

I am excited about about the future of education and I am constantly thinking about the possibilities.  Eric Sheninger shared a video called the Voice of the Active Learner on his blog: (check it out).  This video really captured one of the things that has been weighing heavily on my mind this summer; and that one thing is providing a world class education to a generation of students that "pack a smart phone" and has choices on how/when to learn.  How do we take the best of what we do in education and leverage technology to individualize education, as well as providing the opportunity for national and global collaboration, while upping the level of rigor and promoting creativity?  I shared the video with our faculty to promote a discussion and to get all of us thinking, developing and implementing new strategies and ideas into lesson plans. As always, I believe a balanced approach is critical to what we do.  

Whether you have had your first day or you will shortly, have a great start to the school year! As Phineas states, "We've got fun to make." 



Friday, August 10, 2012

Back to School PLN

It's funny how as an educator my year revolves around the "school year."  I was talking with my wife and I said something to the effect of "this upcoming year . . .", and she asked, "are you talking about 2013?".  Any way, another year (2012-2013 school year) is getting ready to begin and I can't wait for all of the students and faculty to be back in our building.  I'm excited about where we have been and the direction we are going.  Yesterday, we had our annual back to school department chair meeting and I attended our marching band preview.  Things are definitely picking up steam and as they do, my mind is beginning to swirl with a myriad of "to do" items/ideas and also thinking about finding that right balance of time with work and home.  While, I do not want to go into all of my professional and personal goals for the year.  I am wrestling with what I want to get out of my on-line PLN (Professional Learning Network).  I have read some great blogs and tweets with informative links this past summer, but I also want to be a contributor as well, which I have tried with my limited number of tweets and blog entries.  I often times come back to the question of why am I taking the time to do this on-line PLN thing?  What am I adding to the equation (my inner math geek is showing)?

First, this past winter I actively joined Twitter and started following educators after attending a conference and seeing the ability to have a conversation during a keynote as well as recognizing the amazing amount of information and PD that various educational leaders are sharing.  Second, I started a blog because I wanted to learn another valuable, educational web 2.0 tool and hopefully contribute to the blogosphere conversation.  After about six months, I am averaging about 10 tweets a month and 1 blog post a month, hardly significant.  I want to produce original content or at least add a new/different perspective to an idea or article, which brings me back to my two questions above.  So, I plan on writing a blog entry a week and doubling my tweets to 20 a month.  Will spending more time actively engaging in producing content help me see why I am doing this and what I am adding to the equation?  Time will tell.  For those blogger and twitter sages out there, what advice/encouragement do you have for me to meet my goal and answer my questions.

In the meantime, I wish all of you educators out there a great start to your school year.



Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Leadership and Building an Enduring Great Institution
I have been reading Jim Collins' Good to Great along with Good to Great and the Social Sectors as part of a book study with fellow educators.  I also recently read a faculty address by Dr. Gordon E. Gee, president of The Ohio State University, on A Blueprint for the 21st Century University (see the link at the bottom of the page for the full address).  So where is the connection?  It's two-fold: Leadership and Building an Enduring Great Institution.

In his address, President Gee espouses a blueprint for the 21st century university that includes thinking outside of the box when it comes to funding, achievement, learning environments, research, and developing programs to ensure student academic success. I believe much of this blueprint requires a Good to Great mentality or as Dr. Gee states in his address Excellence to Eminence.

Jim Collins speaks of level five leadership, which embodies a mix of professional will and personal humility.  Additionally, he speaks of building greatness to last.  These type of leaders are driven to do whatever it takes to create great companies/institutions that are lasting and they are quick to take the blame when things are not working but quickly give credit to others when things are working. As Dr. Gee states,  "It is about something larger than any individual in this room or any group of individuals on campus. Frankly, we will all come and go. It is about a University with 140 years of history."  Based upon these quotes and others in the address, Dr. Gee is definitely interested in OSU being a great and lasting institution of higher education.  Further throughout his address, there are numerous snippets praising specific people for their roles in OSU's continued march toward eminence and pointed nods on continuing to cultivate leaders amongst the faculty, staff and administration.

As I think about the future of K-12 public education, there are many parallels to Dr. Gee's blueprint; you could easily substitute out university/higher education with the blueprint for K-12 public education.  There are many forces such as student learning styles, economics, technology, public expectations, and politics to name a few that are colliding to reshape the landscape of education.  As a result, we must, as Dr. Gordon E. Gee states, "re-think, re-imagine, and reinvigorate how and what you teach."  In the end we must, honor our best traditions and practices, while continuing to pursue the necessary changes when it comes to student learning, achievement, learning environments, funding, research, and developing programs to ensure student academic success in the 21st century.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mathematical Practices

I have been reading articles, blog, tweets, and other mediums on math education.  They all don’t necessarily align, but there are some common themes.  Essentially there are two camps of advocates in the field of math education.  The first believes the mastery of skills, often referred to as a “back to the basics” curriculum, should be the focus.  The second believes that the conceptual understanding of mathematics should be the focus of a strong math curriculum.  When one reads these statements independently, it is hard to disagree with either one.  Both of these ideals need to be addressed.  One can not have a strong conceptual understanding without having mastered some skills. Thus, one should consider Dr. Keith Devlin’s perspective on a focus of producing innovative mathematical thinkers.  The last four paragraphs of one of his blog entries really speaks to what all educators who are responsible for teaching students mathematics should think about. 

Traditionally, a mathematician had to acquire mastery of a wide range of mathematical techniques, and be able to work alone for long periods, deeply focused on a specific mathematical problem. Doubtless there will continue to be native-born Americans who are attracted to that activity, and our education system should support them. We definitely need such individuals. But our future lies elsewhere, in producing people who fall into my second category: what I propose to call the innovative mathematical thinkers.
This new breed of individuals (actually, it's not new, it's just that no one has shone a spotlight on them before) will need to have, above all else, a good conceptual understanding of mathematics, its power and scope -- when and how it can be applied -- and its limitations. They will also have to have a solid mastery of a few very basic mathematical skills, but they do not have to be stellar. A far more important requirement is that they can work well in teams, often cross-disciplinary teams, they can see things in new ways, they can quickly come up to speed on a new technique that seems to be required, and they are very good at adapting old methods to new situations.
Arguably the worst way to educate such individuals is to force them through a traditional mathematics curriculum, with students working alone through a linear sequence of discrete mathematical topics. To produce the twenty-first century, innovative mathematical thinker, you need project-based, group learning in which teams of students are presented with realistic problems that require mathematical and other kinds of thinking for their solution.
Of course, you still need a curriculum, in the sense of a list of topics that students need to master at some point or other. But it should be a short list, and should not be used as a list to proceed through topic by topic, as is current practice in the US. There needs to be a shift in STEM education from (topic-based) instruction (hashtags #traditional and #back-to-basics) to guided-discovery and project-based learning (#reform, #inquiry-based-learning). The primary focus needs to be not on what people know, but on how they think.
In the end, I think there needs to be a balance in the classroom.  Think about the essentials skills and knowledge students need to have and how does one seamlessly integrate that with conceptual understanding.  At the heart of the matter are the eight Mathematical Practices from the Common Core State Standards for mathematics: 

1. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
2. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
3. Model with mathematics.
4. Use appropriate tools strategically.
5. Attend to precision.
6. Look for and make use of structure.
7. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
By considering these practices, what skills are essential, and rich mathematical problems grounded in real-world application when lesson planning, our future students will be innovative mathematical thinkers. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Learning and School Design 
I started drafting this blog a week ago and I have since visited Gahanna Lincoln High School.  Mr. Dwight Carter was a great host and gracious enough to give a couple hours of his time to myself and my colleagues.  When most of us think of classrooms or school buildings, we think of the traditional teacher dispensing knowledge to students in desks situated in rows.  If you walked into Gahanna Lincoln High School's Clark Hall with no prior knowledge, you probably wouldn't think you were in a high school.  Bright colors, modern furniture, open airy design, some students were working collaboratively on sofas, other students were working independently at countertops sitting on bar stools, and they had their cell phones, tablets and laptops out in the open with a teacher circulating the room providing assistance or feedback.  

In the 21st Century, schools should consider a variety of spaces or learning environments in school, both traditional and non-tradition (this blog is going to focus on the non-traditional).  Flexible space within classrooms and throughout the building   provide opportunities for lecture, collaboration, independent thinking, projects and labs, and other methods not yet considered for teachers to instruct/facilitate and for students to learn and create.  While there might not be a lot of quantitative research about the effects of design and space inside schools, there is mounting discussion and momentum from the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Christian Long, and Ewan McIntosh, to name a few education professionals.

In the current economic climate as Christian Long mentioned at a conference, schools should not wait for the next big bond issue to build a new school or a "Clark Hall."  However, districts can use current resources to begin restructuring/renovating existing schools and spaces that lie within the old brick and mortar.  

First, paint is an affordable thing that can be done to liven schools up that also allows a school to ease into change.  Most schools have white or vanilla walls throughout the building, elementary buildings might be the exception to this stereotype. Three to five bright colors that are hip and modern that work together can go a long way to sprucing a place up. 

Next, finding "flexible space" outside of the classroom to renovate.  At Clark Hall, each academic floor had a large "flexible space" for students to collaborate or work independently during class time.  For example, a teacher might introduce, review or provide some direct instruction in regards to the learning objectives for the day in the first 15-20 minutes of class, then students break out to work on the work and a teacher can circulate providing feedback or provide intervention to students who are struggling back in the classroom. Then students are brought back in the final five to ten minutes to wrap up the lesson.  In existing buildings, classrooms could be combined and opened up.  There might not be an option to create large "flexible spaces" in various parts of a building.  So look for high traffic areas or nooks where students naturally congregate to renovate that space

Which leads to the role of furniture in renovating space, schools could think about the possibilities of a variety of furniture such as cafe tables, counter tops, coffee tables, end tables, traditional tables, lounge chairs, bean bags, and just a variety of modern chairs.  That is not so that traditional school furniture of desks, chairs, podiums does not continue to have importance to meet the balance of needs.

Next to last, scheduling is critically important.  Just as school space needs to be flexible so does the master schedule.  School leaders should consider how the schedule can be creatively designed to allow for such items as:
  • collaboration between two classes such as science and math,
  • longer and shorter classes based upon curricular needs and student learning styles, not all classes need to be 45 minutes or 100 minutes,
  • common planning time for teachers based upon classes taught,
  • advisory time for students based upon interests. 
Lastly, expectations are critical.  As Spiderman said, "With great power, comes great responsibility."  Giving students a variety of freedoms from technology to working outside of the classroom to demonstrating their learning in a variety of ways will allow students to learn responsibility and flexibility, which will prepare them for the "real world." 

In closing, I have just begun reading Sir Ken Robinson's Element, which is about where one finds what they are good at and what they love to do comes together.  If we are to help students find their "element," then we need the environment to facilitate learning that leads them in that direction. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Technology and Education: An Example
I was able to witness a great lesson a little over a week ago (a little late in posting).  300+ freshmen were in an auditorium on a warm, sunny afternoon and they were raptly engaged with learning.  I wish I had video to share.  It was amazing!

A little background . . . our students were testing that week, but the freshmen were not on this particular day, which provided us with time to engage them in learning.  During this time, Mr. Adam Haynes led a lesson on bias.  He introduced the lesson with a variety of slides that included time for students to think/pair/share, formative assessment, humor, and discussion which included a twitter back channel (facilitated by another teacher Mr. Scott Morrison) for students to discuss, ask questions, and respond to Mr. Haynes during the lesson.  In the middle of the lesson, Mr. Haynes used the viral Kony 2012 video (check YouTube if you haven't seen it) to give the students a current issue to think about.  Bringing the bias lesson full circle, Mr. Haynes engaged the students in discussion on the finances of Invisible Children Inc (Kony 2012), an NPR report, and a perspective from a Ugandan reporter.  Back in the classroom with smaller groups, students had some "exit ticket" questions to work upon.  Ultimately, I hope that students learned about bias and how to critically analyze whether or not to support and/or lend their voice to an issue.  In other words, can they think with a filter or mine for gold, instead of just being a sponge?

This example demonstrates that a well planned lesson can engage students in any situation.  In this case, it was a fast paced, interactive lesson that incorporated technology use and a current issue that struck a chord with students.  Additionally, their was an expectation for students to think.  It will be interesting to see their responses to the "exit ticket" questions.

Once again, thank you Mr. Haynes and Mr. Morrison for your time and planning of this lesson.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Math and CCSS
A little over a week ago, I met with a group of teachers to continue working on developing our district's new math curriculum that aligns to the national Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  It has been a great learning process and the team has a strong understanding of the new standards, including increased rigor, utilizing mathematical practices, and thinking about how we are going to teach math both differently and more effectively.  It has been great seeing how the conversations and work has evolved.  It was reassuring that PARCC's recently released Model Content Frameworks outlined the Content Emphases by Cluster, which aligned closely to our group's focus on outlining the Essential Knowledge for each grade level.  Basically these two phrases stand for the foundational knowledge that teachers should go into great depth with and spend time on because of the importance that these standards have on future mathematics, along with college and career readiness in the higher grade levels.  

A couple days after this meeting, I read a blog entry on NASSP about the challenges that lie ahead in implementing this new curriculum (NASSP PRINCIPAL DIFFERENCE).  It began with a quote from Tim Sass, "You have to know math in order to teach math.", which essentially sums up the gist of the blog entry.

It is critical that districts and colleges spend time and resources on training our teachers and future educators in mathematics.  It is time to balance the literacy and mathematics equation.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Technology and Education: Part 1 
Over the past couple of days, I have had or been a part of conversations about the role of technology in education with our department chair team, our district's Common Core State Standards math team, and with individual colleagues.  It really has been a great dialogue. 

Rewind to December 8, I attended 21st Century Skills Ohio – Summit 2.5,  Karl Fish, Daniel Pink, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, Ewan McIntosh, and Christian Long provided some moving conversations about the future of education and what our schools should embody.  Karl Fisch and other speakers discussed the importance of students being global citizens who can produce, consume, and be literate in multiple mediums.  Further, Mr. Fisch stated that social media should be seamlessly intertwined into student learning.  One could have easily walked away from this conference assuming it was all about integrating technology into the curriculum.  On the contrary, it was about how do we, as educators, design and facilitate learning that prepares students to be college and career ready, technology is just a piece of the puzzle. 

Returning to the great dialogue, it's exciting to see colleagues taking or preparing to take some creative, yet calculated risks to engage students with technology in new ways.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The explanation . . .

Education is a craft.  It is finding the right mixture of rigor, humor, discussion, lecture, technology, collaborative work, etc to truly engage students and allow them to learn.  The education field at times easily becomes enamored with a trend, but it shouldn't.  Our greatest teachers and educators that have come before us, that are with us now, and in the future find this perfect balancing point. Thus, the apt named title of my blog, COOKbook.  Teaching is a lot like being a great cook: there are recipes and templates out there, but the great cooks infuse their own mixture of creativity, ingredients, and presentation.  It is my hope that this blog provides some insight into the changing culture of education and brings a balanced perspective to the table. 

Cheers to all the educators out there,

Aaron Cook