Shifting Focus From Ideas To The Effects Of Those Ideas

by Terry Heick

It’s not the thinking behind an idea that should bother us, but rather the effect of the idea.

#edtech. Content-based academic standards. PLCs. Video streaming. Use of data. Mandates to be research-based in our behavior. Remote teaching. Differentiation. Social media in the classroom.

None of these ideas are good or bad in and of themselves. They’re just ideas. They’re value-neutral–inert in isolation. We only charge them when we internalize them–think of them using our unique schema, imagine them in circumstances familiar to us, or otherwise contextualize them comfortably to avoid cognitive dissonance.

By internalizing them, we smooth their rough edges for easier consumption. Who wants to feel like they have an incomplete understanding of something? At this point, though, the idea has lost its original shape. It’s misshapen–the same difference between a real dog and one a clown twists up in brown and white balloons.

Moving from a concept or idea to something we understand in our own terms is no small shift. And comes with a loss. By internalizing an idea, we also attach emotions to them–hopeful optimism, head-shaking skepticism. Or indifference.

For example, I love the idea of personalized learning, so I attach positive feelings to it that can lead me to cognitive distortions downstream, where I oversimplify its function or catastrophize our continued misunderstanding of its potential in education. I champion it, but the ‘it’ (personalized learning, in this case) is merely an idea. The it + context is different. This is chemistry.

Think of it as pattern: Idea–>Integration–>Effect.

The idea alone is useful only as a matter of vision or artistry. As an academic or intellectual exercise. As a matter of playful dialogue or good old-fashioned bench racing.

The integration is a matter of design and engineering (designer and engineer being two minds of a teacher).

Ideas, integrations, and effects all matter, of course, but it’s all also recursive: One affects the other, the idea impacting the integration, the integration affecting the effect, the effect shining new light on the idea. Maybe then, instead of a linear Idea->Integration–>Effect, we might think instead of something more like a triangle:


Integration                             Effect

Changing Our Thinking

And instead of “Is this a good idea?”, we might ask other questions:

What is ‘it’? What are its parts? What does it look like whole?

What’s it doing?

How is it working?

What does it ‘cost’? Effect? Change?

How does it support teachers–make teaching a creative and intellectual and human act instead of a matter of policy, procedure, and survival?

What are its effects–and not narrow effects in pursuit of a single goal, but rather macro effects on a thing in its native place?

In education, these might be redressed as:

What has standardizing content into a narrow range of content areas done to learning?

How has a gamified system of education worked for children as they seek to become whole human beings capable of good work, compassion for the people around them, and nuanced digital and physical citizenship?

See also What Should A School Do?

How has education retreated into a tangle of policy and jargon impacted the capacity of families and communities to be served by their own learning?

How do teachers respond when called to be ‘research-based’? Does that encourage them to pour over peer-reviewed journals of emerging pedagogies to only bring in “proven” methodology into their classroom? Or does it send them to Google to search for ‘research-based instructional strategies‘ where they find the same 6-8 examples that are tossed limp and lifeless into their next lesson plan because that’s what they were told to?

Let’s broaden our view. Let’s pretend for a moment that we will eventually be able to design a system of teaching and learning where every single student will be able to master every single academic standard their local government has set out for them. What is the effect of this system? Of this mastery? What are we assuming about the standards and their mastery? That they’ll create a nation of critical thinkers that do amazing things?

And this system–what are we assuming about it and its effects? What does it ‘do’ to children? When they graduate from this hypothetical machine, will they have a strong sense of self-knowledge, wisdom, place, and familial legacy? Of critical thinking, work, and love? If not, is that okay?

Is that even the intended effect we’re looking for? If not, what is? We should know, right?

Ideas As Effects

A flipped classroom is good, yes? 1:1? Maker education? The 3D printer in the library? Yes, as ideas. So what are they doing? What are their effects? The idea is always neutral.

A ‘good idea’ is marketing based on emotion and appearance. How is it been implemented, and more critically, what are its effects? Technology. Workshop-based PD. Snark on twitter. That grouping strategy you were planning on using tomorrow.

And be careful of the metrics or evidence you’re looking for. That new questioning strategy may have 65% more engagement from students but may have stymied the students from wrestling with the question on their own. Same with teacher self-directed PD, 3-minute hallway switches, or labeling a school as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Saying something is a ‘good idea’ can only be accepted if we move directly into a conversation about integration, and then on effect.

“What are its effects?” is a complex question that deserves our thinking and most careful genius. But one even more worthy of our collective affection might be, “What is it doing to our children as they seek to become more human–to grow intellectually, creatively, and in wisdom and love?”

We might then crane our necks further downstream than we are accustomed to so that we might see what we–and they–are moving towards together.

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Teacher Well-Being: 30 Reflection Prompts

by Terry Heick

Reflection prompts are usually for students so reflection prompts for teachers aren’t something you see every day.

The big idea is simple enough: Reflection leads to growth–well, accurate, well-framed, and intentional reflection can lead to growth. Thus these prompts.

Just as metacognitive prompts help students reflect on the process of learning, the following prompts can help teachers reflect on the full picture of being an educator–many through the lens of hope and gratitude. 

5 Ways of Using Reflection Prompts to Discuss Teacher Well-being

1. Group discussion

2. Personal journaling

3. Social media conversations

4. Formal or informal professional development sessions

5. Simple ‘thinking prompts’ for the drive to school or the way home

Here are 30 reflection prompts for teachers to use as reflective tools for growth.

Teaching Through An Attitude Of Gratitude:  30 Prompts For Reflection

1. In your mind, what are the best parts of being a teacher?

2. What is one small delight in the day that you look forward to?

3. What are you most proud of to date in your teaching career?

4. What part of teaching is better than you thought it would be?

5. How have you grown as a person since becoming a teacher?

6. What was the nicest thing a student or colleague has ever done for you?

7. What are your strengths as a teacher? Which are you most grateful for?

8. Share a quote about teaching or quote about learning that has inspired you.

9. What new learning has inspired you in your teaching?

10. Write about a memorable moment in the classroom. What stood out the most and why?

11 What was your mindset when you became a teacher? What is it now? How has it changed and why?

12. What have you found to be vital to make teaching both sustainable and enjoyable for you?

13. If nothing else, what is one thing you want your students to take from their time with you?

14. What does your support system look like (both in the school building and beyond)?

15. What natural personality traits of yours are most useful for you as an educator?

16. What tech tools do you find the most useful? Why? How have they changed what you do?

17. What is the most powerful aspect of being a connected educator? What are you grateful for?

18. One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for is…

19. In your content area, what’s most important that students know for the next 40 days? 40 months? 40 years?

20. What do you appreciate about your colleagues? How do you support one another?

21. Tell someone you know how grateful you are for the work they do. How did that conversation go?

22. What advice would you give would-be teachers? First-year teachers? To yourself as a first-year teacher?

23. What’s the best part of teaching? What ‘part’ do you dislike that maybe isn’t as bad as you see it as?

24. What traditions exist in your school or local community that you are most grateful for?

25. What are your dreams for education in the future? What role do you hope to play in that future?

26. What pedagogical practice (or ‘part’ of teaching) would you like to let go of? That no longer serves you or could be better done in other ways?

27. What’s the most important ‘thing’ you’ve ever done as a teacher? What makes it the most important thing?

28. If you could bottle up the perfect day as a teacher, what would it look like?

29. Talk about one thing you used to ‘want’ as a teacher that you now see as less important?

30. Within your teaching, what can you automate? Delegate? Priortize? De-prioritize? Rethink? Improve?


Name a book about teaching that you are thankful to have read and how it has inspired you to be better at what you do.

Talk about one opportunity as an education professional that you are grateful in hindsight for having passed you by.

We all know someone who inspires us to be better. Share that person and explain how they inspire you and why you feel so strongly about them.

Practice an act of kindness this week and blog about your experience.

Teacher well-being

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On Incrementalism As The Primary Method For Change In Education –

I. Incrementalism–the process of gradual change in small degrees over time–is a common approach to both intentional (and formal) change as well as less intentional (and sometimes less formal) change. As an example of the latter, look to nature: erosion is a kind of incrementalism–gradualism that itself stands in contrast to rapid change.

II. Just as erosion can be both gradual or urgent, so can other forms of change, from losing and gaining weight to saving money, to changing habits of behaviors, and so on.

What is incrementalism?

What is incrementalism? Incrementalism is the process of change by small degrees. A synonym for incrementalism is gradualism.

III. In evolutionary biology, the opposite of gradualism is referred to as, ‘punctuated equilibrium’ so, for our intents and purposes, we will use it as a metaphor to represent the opposite of gradual change in education.

IV. Gradualism has been, more or less the approach taken by formal education to improve itself. Put another way, change in public education has been, at best, gradual.

V. This in and of itself isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but rather an input that has an output–a cause that has an effect. In Shifting From Ideas To The Effects Of Those Ideas, I applied this thinking to education:

“Let’s pretend for a moment that we will eventually be able to design a system of teaching and learning where every single student will be able to master every single academic standard their local government has set out for them. What is the effect of this system? Of this mastery? What are we assuming about the standards and their mastery? That they’ll create a nation of critical thinkers that do amazing things?

And this system–what are we assuming about it and its effects? What does it ‘do’ to children? When they graduate from this hypothetical machine, will they have a strong sense of self-knowledge, wisdom, place, and familial legacy? Of critical thinking, work, and love? If not, is that okay?

Is that even the intended effect we’re looking for? If not, what is? We should know, right?”

Terry Heick

VI. In terms of those effects, let’s allow that incrementalism limits ‘solutions’ to the things that allow for or create the slow pace of these effects.

VII. Incrementalism tends to move in one dimension–longitudinally along a line called ‘time.’ This is opposed to moving in two or three (or even four) dimensions. That is to say, this approach tends to emphasize the chronology and pace rather than the quality or effect of any change.

VIII. A secondary effect is, due to the gradual and longitudinal nature of the change, it discourages rethinking/reimagining original goals–pivots, turnabouts, or splintering of single goals into a dozen.

IX. This skews the scale of progress (movement through increments implies increments as a measure of quality rather than chronology, for example).

X. Further, it can over-emphasize the wrong data (measuring the wrong things in the wrong ways) and obscure our evaluation of data and data quality and sources in favor of centering singular goals and simplified metrics for the ‘success’ of ‘progress’ toward those goals.

XI. This can increases the chance (due to time needed) that by the time goals have been met, you/we could be solving a problem that at best may no longer deserve prioritizing, and at worst, may no longer exist.

XII. This can, over time, create a ‘culture of increment’–terminology, definitions, expectations, goals, thinking, hopes, etc.–rather than one of quality, affection, or innovation.

XIII. This is in contrast to a culture of rapid change and innovation–which itself isn’t necessarily good or bad but rather causes changes that, in the short and long run, can be thought to be ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ (See also How Disruptive Innovation Changes Education.)

XIV. This overview can’t be reduced to simply favoring one approach or another. The gears of education have extraordinary inertia, never mind the (visible and less visible) complexity of any kind of social or social infrastructural change.

XV. This, then, isn’t a set of statements in favor of slow or rapid change in education but rather a hope that we might be intentional in our approach.

XVI. This implies we have at least some control–some agency and choice in the process–and thus responsibility for our action (or inaction).

XVII. Ultimately, then, we are left with the question: In our collective systems for educating children, where have we been, where are we going, and how should we–with our thoughts, beliefs, affections, and behaviors–respond to honest evaluations and criticism and appraisals therein?

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The World Is Changing; Let Schools Change, Too

The World Is Changing; Let Schools Change, Too

by Terry Heick

Schools, as we know them, are dying.

Shopping, as we know it, is dying.

While both are obvious, one loss seems to breed opportunity while the other makes us hold on for dear life.


First, some context.

Nestled between the perceived ‘old way’ (learning in person) and ‘new way’ (learning through computer) is Blended Learning.

Blended Learning can be thought of as the bridge between eLearning and brick-and-mortar learning. It is a kind of compromise and a strategy—a way to use existing infrastructure (teachers, buildings, curriculum, etc.) as we create new learning experiences, models, spaces, and outcomes.

See also What Is The Definition Of Blended Learning?

While ‘eLearning’ has a kind of stink to it for many educators, we could all be reminded that early cars were terrible and the vision for what they would become was unclear.

It is only in hindsight do we fully understand what a car ‘is.’ Before there was Honda and Ford and Tesla and gas stations and expressways, there were just noisy and unreliable ‘horse-replacements’ that left many preferring their horse.

Before the automobile—auto (self) mobile (move)—could become a product, it had to be a solution.

During this unsettled and awkward time of transition, every new idea was an idea that could change everything forever; every company was scrambling (often awkwardly) to be the one that solved the problem of moving people around.

We’re in a similar situation in 2022 education, where the pursuit of innovation exceeds the pursuit of quality and many ideas are bad, but it could all turn on a dime with the right idea.

Changing Movements

A few years ago, Apple announced that they were renaming Apple Stores to Apple ‘Town Squares’—places where consumers can gather and ‘experience Appleness.’

Citylab explained the significance.

“Retailers are, very consciously, promoting these in-store ‘experiences’…” It’s a reaction to the fact that buying is now something that can be done anywhere, and that reaction can be detected in a linguistic shift.”

The shift they’re referring to is from ‘store’ to ‘town square’—and ‘town square’ is meant to deliver an ‘experience’ instead of a product or service.

While education and commerce are tonally distinct, they function—more or less—in similar ways. Grocery stores, farmer’s markets, Wal-Mart, Apple and everyone else seeking to participate in a ‘free market’ of Capitalism all exist to fill the perceived need of an individual (who themselves merely represent a ‘demographic’).

The language here is cold because the purpose is, too. These are inherently dehumanizing processes, from the process of industrialization that produces ‘goods’ to the advertising used to promote them which seeks to create a ‘persona’ that a potential buyer recognizes and chooses to ‘participate in’ by handing over their money.

See also 12 Things Schools Could Be Instead Of Schools?

This sense of identity is why celebrity spokespersons are paid so well.

(For example, one can only imagine how much money LeBron James made simply tweeting that he drives a Kia. Kia is an automotive brand that represents the bottom of the US market and whose previous marketing efforts included ‘buy one, get one free’ promotions for cars, so a multi-millionaire claiming to drive one is a bit absurd—which of course is the whole point. Now consumers increasingly associate Kia with LeBron James.)

As consumers, we are trained to feel like we are becoming more ‘individualized’ by accessorizing our existence with the very things that only exist because millions of other people want them, too.

The Language Of Innovation

Profit is the currency of commerce, and visibility and identity and community are powerful strategies to reap that profit.

It could be argued that in education, the highest currency is commonness—everyone working together to identify the same ways to navigate the same curriculum to do well on the same test so we can use the same language to communicate to the same confused parents that their children are going to be just fine.

And standardization, ‘staff buy-in,’ and whole-school and demographic-based data are ways to achieve or demonstrate that commonness. There is safety in numbers, apparently. If we all are struggling, no one is struggling.

“Schlesinger (a professor of history at the University of Minnesota) thinks companies with physical stores will have trouble if they don’t adjust to the fact that the internet has taken away many consumers’ reasons for visiting physical locations in the first place.”

As commercial behemoths seek to rethink spaces in light of their interdependence—that is, shift the use of one space because of the change in another—it’s almost a kind of flipped classroom approach.

But in seeking to merely flip the classroom, we are also retaining the classroom. In a ‘flipped’ setting, only the function of the space is changed—and not changed fluidly in an ongoing way authentic for each situation, but rather simply turned the other way. This is like moving the kitchen to the living room and the living room to the kitchen in hopes of innovating the home.

Changing Consumer Habits

Consider the following scenarios corporate CEOs must consider in this ‘flipped economy.’

Scenario A: Consumers buy both online and in brick-and-mortar stores in a volume sufficient to ensure profit and growth in both online and brick-and-mortar/‘offline’ spaces

Scenario B: Consumers prefer to explore products online but buy via brick-and-mortar

Scenario C: Consumers prefer to buy online and explore (or ‘experience’) products/services via brick-and-mortar (though in a mobile world, even the idea of a single brick-and-mortar space that represents one company may be dated)

Scenario D: Consumers see on and offline spaces as ‘equal’ and equally preferable, with the ability to use both interchangeably without restriction or ‘penalty’ (e.g., paying higher prices to shop in a store, or sacrificing the security of bank cards by shopping online).

Obviously, companies would prefer Scenario A above. When that doesn’t happen, companies have to rethink ‘spaces.’ Spaces are just means of reaching consumers, requiring different strategies based on the respective strength of each. These shifts are opportunities, and exactly how slow-to-adapt companies die off.

(Take a walk through a Sears department store—if there are any left around you—and tell me you can’t smell the unique sadness of a once-proud, dying company.)

Disruption As Cause

The internet sent companies scrambling.

Mobile adoption sent companies scrambling.

Social media and social-media-as-customer-service sent companies scrambling.

Voice search is sending companies scrambling.

In consumer markets, if Amazon threatens to create brick-and-mortar grocery stores with frictionless checkout, the rest of the industry seeks out the brightest minds to respond with the smartest strategies.

In education, there is very little that sends anyone scrambling beyond test scores. Imagine if the only thing that spurred innovation at Apple was profit margin, or if the only thing that caused Google to rethink its business model was decreasing ad sales. Sales and profit are effects, and by the time financial trends become clear, it can be too late.

The brick-and-mortar department store as we know it is dead, and keeping it alive, as it is, is only keeping it from what it can become—keeping it from changing shape into something that parallels the look and form of the world changing around it.

So let it change shape.

Change Or Forever Lose The Ability To Change

If we return to the Citylab article, there is a sentence that should stand out for teachers.

“Retailers are, very consciously, promoting these in-store “experiences”…” It’s a reaction to the fact that buying is now something that can be done anywhere, and that reaction can be detected in a linguistic shift.”

Now, replace the word ‘buying’ with ‘learning’ and you’ll start to see why this is worth understanding.

“It’s a reaction to the fact that learning is now something that can be done anywhere…”

Learning can be done ‘from anywhere.’ Though equity in education keeps this from translating to all students with cutting-edge devices devouring Google-delivered data over broadband WiFi, mobile learning doesn’t necessitate mobile technology. Learning can be done with anything.

Learning can be used anywhere, qualified anywhere, and authenticated anywhere, too. But there’s a catch.

As public education exists today, learning…

…doesn’t begin with love or racism or the loss of watersheds or topsoil or forests, nor does it end with people or familial legacies or needs unique to that student.

…doesn’t begin with a brilliant or crazy or fun or crucial idea.

…doesn’t begin or end with a useful skill suited to a student well-suited to that skill.

…begins and ends, rather, in a school—a school guided by the hope of increasingly efficient ‘mastery’ of a more or less universal (national) curriculum.

Instead, let it begin and end in the genius of a child’s imagination.

Let it begin and end in the crushing poverty that has hung on the neck of their family for generations.

Let it begin with a global crisis or local opportunity or in an app that uses deeply personalized algorithms to deliver the right content at the right time to that student.

Let the systems and rules and buildings and funding and roles that make it all happen be disruptable by market forces similar to those that force companies to innovate or die. Shielding schools from these forces ensures that school, as an idea, never changes shape.

K-12 has been positioned as something to provide ‘college readiness.’ The purpose of school is not, and has never been, to ‘get kids ready for college.’

So let schools become something else.

Let them become something that works for children—something that visibly improves the arc of their lives and the health of the communities they participate in and depend on for affection, opportunity, and a reason to consistently summon the unique genius that makes them who they are.

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How To Fake A 21st Century Classroom

by Terry Heick

Ed note: This post has been updated from a 2013 post

21st-century learning isn’t a trend as much as a reality. 

We are decades into the 21st century so whatever you’re doing in your classroom right now is technically 21st century learning. Semantics aside, we all can improve, and many of us are being held accountable for improvement by administrators, blogs, and the local PLC to “bring the next generation into the 21st century.”

With that kind of pressure—and constant district walk-throughs—it may be necessary for you to fake a 21st century thinking and learning environment to make the right kind of impression with the right people, and give the appearance of forward-thinking.

10 Ways To Fake A 21st Century Classroom

1. ‘Do Projects’

Projects are what students do in the 21st century. (This is distinctly different than project-based learning, mind you.)

One of the most powerful ways to employ a 21st-century learning tone and process is to start big–with broad, sweeping projects that change the world, and give students constant opportunity to revise thinking, innovate, design, publish, and curate because this is what modern students do, right? They publish and connect! So get connecting! Through projects!

2. Create a class twitter, TikTok, or Instagram account

Then use it to announce trivial things like due dates of 20th-century work. (No one will notice—you’re on twitter, and that’s all that matters.) And when you bring up a new idea in a data team meeting, tell them you heard it on twitter. #streetcred #nofilter #nomakeup #Iwokeuplikethis

3. Force awkward and unnecessary collaboration

And when students have trouble collaborating, tell them collaboration is a 21st-century skill, throw a calendar at them (or maybe just toss it on their desks casually) and tell them to get with the program. If that doesn’t work, find the closest map and pound your index finger on China and tell them everything’s about to get real in the next fifty years if they don’t wake up.

4. Video conference with strangers!

Video conferencing with classrooms in India—or even in surrounding counties—is a sure-fire example of a 21st-century classroom if there has even been one. Fire up the ol’ Mac, exchange awkward questions, smile a lot, and it’ll be over before you know it. No in-depth planning or technology integration necessary! Just conference! Bring on George Jetson!

5. Be dramatic

Play Ken Robinson and Shift Happens videos every 6-8 weeks to keep students on their toes and increase the sense of urgency in your classroom. When parents ask what students learned at school, they’ll definitely remember the video, play it on their iPhone, and create an instant certainty in the mind of the parents that good stuff is happening in your classroom.

6. Buy iPads

iPads support mobile learning, allow access to hundreds of incredible apps, and make children grin. If it’s a 21st century learning environment you’re looking for, a classroom full of students pinching and zooming on little glass rectangles will give it to you in spades.

And lots of them. Download more than you use, to the point that your iPad can’t even update the ones you actually use because there’s no room left. Try for at least a 10:1 ratio here of download-to-use rate.

7. Make students blog

The blog is the new novel. (I read that on a blog.) It gives students an instant audience with millions of potential readers, allows for constantly fluid text to be revisited and revised, and can be even be seen from outer space. Do it yesterday.

8. Go 1:1

That just sounds all techy. I feel like I might melt into the matrix just typing it. The colon–that means one student per device. There’s no chance that the curriculum constraints, bandwidth problems, or backward-thinking about learning models and instructional design in your state will mute the impact of 1:1. And even if it does, you might make the local newspaper because reporters don’t understand the difference anyway.

9. Blend, blend, blend!

Go all Kitchen Aid on your curriculum and blend it until it’s unrecognizable from what you taught 3 years ago.

Create short YouTube videos, prime students with questions, and watch them all show up to class chomping at the bit to make magic happen. Ignore that many of the students who need the ‘flip’ lack either the access or the thinking habits to make use of it all.

10. Add a column for ‘Creativity’ on every rubric

Creativity is a 21st-century currency and the best way to make sure it happens is to give points for it. They’ll get with the program stat. Rubrics change lives–and administrators love them.

And administrators love 21st-century learning, too.

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3 Questions To Help Make ‘Deeper Learning’ Work –

3 Questions To Help Make ‘Deeper Learning’ Work

by Drew PerkinsDirector of TeachThought PD

As our home state of Kentucky embarks on a major initiative to provide more and better ‘deeper learning’ experiences for students we’re excited about the possibilities. The ways in which schools and teachers operate are as important a driver of success in the modern world as ever. Deeper learning work in schools can bring joy and excitement to classrooms and the teachers and students in them with the promise of increased opportunity.

Kentucky, of course, is not the only place to embark on this kind of work, and the idea of deeper learning is not new in education. In fact, an argument can (and will) be made that education has tried to implement ‘deeper learning’ for many years and it’s been detrimental to students. While I don’t find that argument compelling, I do think it is important to critically evaluate such efforts and be clear about what can go wrong and what needs to happen to help ensure success.

Explore Current TeachThought Professional Development Workshops!

There are certainly many ways to define deeper learning and Kentucky is defining it as:

“The acquisition and development of content, skills, and dispositions, that ALL learners need to thrive in life. Deeper Learning competencies promote the ability to transfer learning and apply it to new and complex situations in an ever-changing global environment.”

credit: KY Deeper Learning Initiative

That’s as good a definition as any, and unpacking the first part through the lens of three questions is helpful in thinking about how we do it well.

Acquiring and Developing Content, Skills, and Dispositions that ALL Learners Need to Thrive in Life.

1. What do you want students learn and think about?

One criticism of this kind of pedagogical approach is that it emphasizes a student-centered classroom in ways that lead to a lack of clarity of what students should be learning and thinking about. While there are a few instances where a discovery learning (students dictating what and how they learn) kind of approach might be appropriate, nearly all of our k-12 classrooms should feature teachers as instructional designers and leaders of learning.

This means that teachers, prior to students engaging with lessons or units, have set an academic and cognitive road map of what they want students to think and learn about. This would be the “content, skills, and dispositions.” We don’t want teachers building the plane as they’re flying it, nor do we want them wandering about the curriculum and learning landscape haphazardly based solely on student interests.

Explore Current TeachThought Professional Development Workshops!

2. How will you teach students to learn those things? 

Once we have clarity of the ‘what’ students will learn we need to consider the ‘how’ they’ll acquire those things. Here again, deeper learning kinds of educational approaches can lean so heavily into experiential learning that they might neglect effective scaffolding and assessment practices.

Effective deeper learning practices often include direct or explicit instruction and certainly shouldn’t dismiss those things in the name of student engagement. Instead, we should consider how that instruction is in service of and supporting what students need to know and learn and the ways in which that teaching can be cognitively, and perhaps even behaviorally engaging. It is also important to note that the direct instruction I’m referring to here is not the same as scripted lessons or drill and kill lecture.

Direct instructional guidance is defined as providing information that fully explains the concepts and procedures that students are required to learn as well as learning strategy support that is compatible with human cognitive architecture. –Paul Kirschner

3. How will you know what they learned, and what they didn’t? 

A third, vital feature of effective deeper learning is assessment. Varied in form and style based on what we’re trying to determine, assessment should not be left to the end of a project, lesson, or unit. Instead, we need to be sure we’re assessing early and often and checking for knowledge, understanding, and skills of individual students and perhaps an evaluation of process and progress by groups when appropriate.

Parsing the desired content, skills, and dispositions out and using a variety of forms from traditional quizzes and tests to non-traditional forms that make thinking visible (see a podcast on this topic here) and lean into critical thinking like single-point rubrics, are essential in helping students and other stakeholders learn more deeply, identify where they have not, and determine how to differentiate in project-based learning so that they do.

how to create a rubric that works

Transferring and Applying Learning

Deeper learning work helps better prepare students for the modern world because it presents opportunities for them to wrestle with concepts, ideas, and knowledge in a culture of inquiry. When students are asked to cognitively engage with the content through critical thinking concepts like analysis, synthesis, and evaluation they form multiple connections that help with retrieval in other settings.

Add authenticity, relevance, and purpose in the form of project-based learning or other real-world opportunities often associated with ‘deeper learning’ and you’ve not only increased the possibilities of multiple connections but you’ve also increased the likelihood students are more committed to the work in ways that will pay off, not only in short term engagement but also in long-term benefits.

The appeal of deeper learning for schools and teachers is understandable and justified. After all who wants shallow learning? Even so, let’s not let the seduction of interesting and often ‘fun’ activities and exercises leave students with a less than deep experience because we’ve neglected structure, clarity, and best practices from start to finish.

Paul A. Kirschner , John Sweller & Richard E. Clark (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, Educational Psychologist, 41:2, 75-86, DOI: 10.1207/s15326985ep4102_1

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In a growth mindset, there are larger factors than the outcome.

How Games Naturally Promote A Growth Mindset

contributed by Mary Wissinger

Let’s face it: our students are playing games. Lots of them.

It’s easy to vilify games and say they are the cause of shorter attention spans and behavior issues, but for better or worse, games are not going anywhere. As educators, we have the chance to tap into a movement that has captivated our students’ attention. By incorporating games and using the language of games in the classroom, we can shift students’ thinking so the resilient behavior demonstrated while playing a game transfers to the process of learning.

In a growth mindset, there are larger factors than the outcome. Progress and growth are acknowledged as valuable in the learning process. This is directly in line with our students’ relationship to games. They generally play games to win, of course, but mostly the point of playing a game is to play. They enjoy the experience of the game, and then there is an outcome. With this in mind, it’s not such a leap from a sandbox game (like Minecraft) to the sandbox that is art class. Yes, the final product is important, but how we get there is also of great importance. In any class, educators hope that students value the content, but also the very process of learning and thinking. We can spark excitement about learning by adopting a game mentality.

See also 50 Of The Best Games For Learning

With a game, kids already expect a learning curve. They know they have to learn the rules in order to play. Whether in kickball on the playground or in a video game, there are rules about what you can and cannot do. This transfers directly to any educational concept where requisite knowledge is required. Once they understand the rules of bonding, they can draw a molecule. Once they understand a pentatonic scale, they can use it to improvise a song.

We can bridge this gap by incorporating games that allow the practice of educational concepts, such as word games or logic puzzles. Students can literally play with the concept, and enjoy themselves. In this low-stakes, supportive environment, students can feel free to take intellectual risks because it’s just a game. This takes the intimidation out of learning and gets them excited about what’s coming next. Another possibility is to acknowledge accomplishments as if students have just won a game or completed a level. Get creative about how to mark when they’ve mastered the songs for the concert, or successfully completed the complex experiment.

The Challenges Of A Fixed Mindset

To a student locked in a fixed mindset, every school task either keeps them on track or derails their dreams. A fixed mindset says, “If I score a ____ on this test, then I am _____.” This is limiting but can be avoided with one word – yet. It’s an important word in the vocabulary of someone with a growth mindset. The word implies that eventually, with effort, the person will complete the task or have the knowledge required by the situation.

See also 25 Ways To Help Students Develop A Growth Mindset

Games give students a chance to practice saying yet. I haven’t found the treasure yet. I haven’t won a round yet. They are playing and learning, and a setback is natural and is not ‘failing.’ Another game could start soon. What’s so wonderful about games is that they teach life lessons. When playing any game, kids learn that they will win some and lose some. Even if they do everything right, it might not work out. They might have to try again. That is merely part of playing the game, and (spoiler alert!) part of living as a human being on the earth.

It’s tough, though, for students to persist when they get a low grade or see themselves repeatedly not meeting the objectives of a unit. This presents a unique opportunity for educators to tap into the mentality of games. A seasoned gamer never quits after losing the first level. They take what they’ve learned, and try that same level again. Once a player plays enough, they become proficient, complete their tasks, and they are ready for the next level. We can use this language of games to talk about meeting benchmarks, or any objective. If a student is not ready to ‘level up’ with a concept, they know they can try again with more information or a different strategy. Whatever language is used, a game mentality can help students move forward in the face of adversity.

See also How Gamification Uncovers The Nuance Of Learning

The true beauty of a game is that, like a growth mindset, the outcome is never fixed. Somebody different could win every time. A strategy might not always work. But, each turn presents an opportunity to move closer to the end goal. In this relaxed environment, students can learn how to laugh off a bad turn and later cheer on their peers. When the time comes, they will know how to shake off a low grade, re-focus on their learning, and help others do the same.

Game on!

Mary Wissinger is a writer, educator and Creativity Coach found at Chin Up Heat Open. She is currently is on the team at Genius Games, a company designing science-themed tabletop games that are kid tested and educator approved; image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks and sharonmollerus

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12 Of The Best Math Apps For Kids

12 Of The Best Math Apps For Kids

by TeachThought Staff

Introducing students to new ideas is a matter of both art and science.

How do you frame the content? How do you stimulate curiosity, or establish a need to know? Which student is ready for what content, and how do you know?

This is all true whether you’re introducing students to concepts (e.g., the concept of Pi), or skills (e.g., dividing fractions). One powerful way to introduce students to new ideas is to let them ‘play’ with these ideas. If a coach wanted a baseball player to understand how to swing a bat, he wouldn’t make him watch a PowerPoint. Instead, he’d hand him a bat, watch him swing, and provide him with feedback.

See also 15 Apps And Websites For Teaching Math Online

Of course, it’s not that simple with everything (may not make sense to hand a student $1000 to let them ‘make sense of’ financial literacy), but the idea of letting students interact–on their own, as they will–with new ideas make sense. Technology is adept at providing this kind of opportunity. Tablets like the iPad (as well as those from Microsoft and Android) host countless apps (of varying quality) to support this.

In pursuit, we created a collection of 12 of the best math apps for kids–specifically, elementary school students. We focused on the kinds of apps that introduce students to concepts, as well as those that let students practice and progress. Better yet, many are adaptive learning apps, adjusting in difficulty to meet an individual student at their level. Some (e.g., ProdigyGame) also feature dashboards as well for both teachers and students track progress over time.

12 Of The Best Math Apps For Kids

BrainPOP Jr.

Developer Description: The K-3 math movies teach educational topics like time, money, number sense, geometry, measurement, addition, subtraction, and fractions.

Photo Math

Photo Math is one of several apps that allow students to solve math problems–or have math problems solved for them, depending on the integrity and intention of the user.

See also Microsoft Math Solver or Mathway.

Socratic by Google


Prodigy is a game-based math app, it takes kids through an adventure while teaching basic math skills.


IXL provides personalized learning, along with a real-time math diagnostic test. The diagnostic designs a recommendations list based around areas you struggle.

Splash Math

Splash Math is a game-based math app that offers over 350 math skills with an adaptive learning path for each child.

Khan Academy For Kids

Khan Academy Kids is a free-to-use app designed to teach beginner academics to children ages two to eight.


CK-12 provides a library of free online textbooks, videos, exercises, flashcards, and real-world applications for over 5000 concepts.

ABC Mouse

ABC Mouse is subscription-based app that teaches basic academic skills through fun activities.


Dragonbox is a game-based app that teaches basic algebra to children five and up.


12 Of The Best Math Apps For Kids

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12 Examples Of Blended Learning –

Examples Of Blended Learning

12 Examples Of Blended Learning

by TeachThought Staff

Blended learning is a type of online education where students are taught in both traditional (face-to-face) and online or ‘virtual’ formats.

This approach can be used in a variety of settings, from universities to businesses. While not ideal for every circumstance, blended learning has several advantages over traditional education: it can be more flexible, more affordable, more personalized, and more efficient.

Examples Of Blended Learning In Education

What are some examples of blended learning?

In the Definition Of Blended Learning, we offered that “blended learning is an approach to learning that combines face-to-face and online learning experiences. Ideally, each (both online and off) will complement the other by using its particular strength.”

In Types Of Blended Learning, we also included actual blended learning models like Station Rotation Blended Learning, Remote Blended Learning, and Project-Based Blended Learning. As for actual working examples of blended learning you might see in a school or classroom? Let’s take a look.

An 8th-grade math ‘flipped classroom’ where students learn what the Pythagorean theorem is and see basic examples of it in use, then practice it the next day in the classroom with the support of peers and/or the teacher

Students do face-to-face group work in a classroom, then go home to analyze that work and turn in a video as an assessment form

A student taking a course online, then receiving face-to-face tutoring between online lessons

A school that uses part-time remote learning and part-time face-to-face, in-person learning would also be an example of blended learning.

See also 8 Things Every Student Needs On The First Day Of School?

In a project-based learning unit on local waterways, students learn about waterways from a national expert through video conferencing, then take a field trip to a local river to take samples and perform other experiments

A teacher creates a digital playlist of videos for students to work through to complete a unit on alternative energy sources, then take an exam on the material in class

Students write a research paper by taking an online course (a MOOC, for example) on their own, then during in-person instruction, work in small groups to offer feedback during the writing process would be participating in blended learning.

Students in a woodworking class build chessboards after being ‘taught’ by observing experts doing the same using virtual reality

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50 Things For ‘Digital Kids’ To Do


How To Play Outside: 50 Things For ‘Digital Kids’ To Do

by Terry Heick

So you’ve been told to go outside, and you’re not sure what to do.

Of course, you’re not happy about it. There’s no electricity outside, no Wi-Fi, and the sun’s glare on your iPad screen is just plain awful.

You remember going outside before, but can’t recall much beyond moving from the house to the car to the store back to the car and in the house again—a familiar pattern.

Either way, you are quite sure that being outside sucks. After all, your parents get to stay inside—why should you have to go outside? There’s nothing to do, and you’ll be bored. Note that your failures at playing outside are our failures as parents and teachers, so we’re going to address this together.

Have a seat.

Getting Ready

Before you open the door, shield your eyes with your forearm; the sun (that large, hot ball of fire in the sky) is bright. But more on the sun later—just shield your eyes and walk outside. You may notice everything is quite different—more spacious, different sounds, no touchscreen.

You interact with ‘outside’ different than a computer or tablet—multitasking here is a matter of walking and talking, or throwing a baseball and laughing. There are no download times, no notifications bars, and when people want you, they yell your name and make eye contact with you. (This can be unsettling at first, but you’ll get used to it). Be prepared for the jarring change from a structured and me-centered indoors, to an outdoors that isn’t ‘user-centered.’

(Seriously, don’t make me lock the door; I will and the courts will be on my side.)

See also Shifting The Focus From Ideas To The Effects Of Those Ideas

Observe Nature

Now that you’re outside and your eyes have adjusted to the light, note how the closer you get to the trees and flowers, the more they rival the retina display of your iPad.

This is not by accident–your iPad is designed to replicate real-life–stuff like tree bark, sunsets, and human faces. Resist the urge to take a TikTok video—just keep walking, and paying careful attention to the world around you that’s been here for 4 billion years longer than your smartphone. Don’t worry about ‘what to do.’ Just observe.

If you’re feeling crazy, rebellious, and simply out of control, take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass. Feels weird doesn’t it? Kind of tickles your feet? Feels good between your toes? Terrific. Just walk around a little in it–maybe lay down on your back and look up at the clouds. Spot something you’ve never seen before–imagine the sky as one giant wallpaper for your iPad, pinch and zoom clouds and everything.

(No, seriously–if you do this last part and admit it, I’m locking you outside and you’re not coming back in.)

Beginning to Interact

Your next step is to find other humans and see what they’re doing. Note that you won’t see any colorful avatars or duck faces outside (well, other than an actual duck’s face). Everything here is real, enduring, and sage. The bright yellow star in the sky? That’s the sun. Keep track of it. It can burn you in the summer, and it gets dark when it starts to set. It may also make you feel joy if you close your eyes and turn your face in its direction.


And when it starts to set and spills light paint over the edge of the world without an instagram filter, just know this happens almost every night. Maybe a reminder on your phone to check it out from time to time?

Knocking on doors.

You may want to interact with others, and to do so without a text or DM and might require you to knock on a door and ask if so-and-so can come out to play. (Yes, teenagers can knock on doors, too.)

Knocking etiquette is simple—knock your fist on the door at a moderately loud but not obnoxious level 3 or 4 times, then wait. If no one comes to the door within 30 seconds, try one more time—or a doorbell, and wait again. It could be that no one is home, but without a GPS chip in their neck, it’s hard to know for sure. You may be on your own for a bit.

If they do answer? Ask if they want to play. That’s it.

As for what you should do, we’ll get to those ideas in a bit. For now, just notice that houses and hills and trees aren’t shaped like blocks as they are in Minecraft. You don’t get XP and level up for completing tasks, and there is no constant stream of news to make you feel connected. These are not glitches.

What are you ‘supposed to do’ without clear goals, targets, and objectives? This is your life’s work, child.

Other Factors

As you play, note that exertion can cause you to sweat on warmer days. These little wet spots on your forehead are perfectly normal, and will go away when you wipe them or reduce the exertion. Don’t be alarmed.

And note that without Google, you may have to survive without knowing something the second you want to know it. You’ll (probably) live.

Stopping Play

Knowing when to stop your play is a very personal thing.

If you have to use the restroom, stop playing and go use it.

If you’re hungry, you can grab a sandwich and go back outside to play.

Eventually, your friend may have to go home, or it may begin to get dark. This means your time outside is drawing to a close, but note that you don’t necessarily have to go inside just because it’s dark. Just stick a bit closer to home—maybe tag in the front yard, or collect lightning bugs in a jar (though they make your hands stink—wash your hands before you touch your phone).

Still stumped? Here are 50 ideas.


How To Play Outside: 50 Things For ‘Digital Kids’ To Do

  1. Fly a kite.
  2. Build a stick fort.
  3. Dig a hole. Bury something. Make a time capsule.
  4. See what’s under rocks.
  5. Identify tree types.
  6. Play tag, hide and go seek, or spotlight (tag at night with flashlights).
  7. Go on a scavenger hunt.
  8. Make an entry in a nature journal.
  9. Take a walk or go on a hike.
  10. Climb a tree.
  11. Tell stories.
  12. Learn to tie 10 different kinds of knots.
  13. Ride your bike, skateboard, or scooter.
  14. Jump rope.
  15. Design a container to drop an egg from 10 feet (and survive) using only organic materials.
  16. Throw a baseball or football.
  17. Race.
  18. Identify, catalogue, and describe the patterns of all local wildlife.
  19. Identify and collect edible berries, grasses, and other foods. (Only eat after an adult okays.)
  20. Camp in the backyard.
  21. Skip rocks.
  22. Use a stick and the sun to determine the cardinal directions.
  23. Build a soapbox car.
  24. Learn to make a campfire with an adult.
  25. Burn leaves with a magnifying glass.
  26. Sand wood to an attractive polish by hand.
  27. Meditate.
  28. Make a lemonade stand.
  29. Plant a tree, bush, or garden.
  30. Use a compass.
  31. Spot shapes in clouds.
  32. Whittle (safely).
  33. Study creek water with a microscope.
  34. Write about what you see—and what you don’t see.
  35. Play hopscotch.
  36. Close your eyes and don’t open them until you identify at least 10 sounds.
  37. Play charades.
  38. Play I-Spy (“I spy something red that’s taller than a house.”)
  39. Have a water balloon fight.
  40. Play a team sport.
  41. Be a historical detective (infer what happened when, and why).
  42. Draw.
  43. Look at stars with a telescope.
  44. Identify animal footprints in the mud.
  45. Find fossils.
  46. Draw with sidewalk chalk.
  47. Play city planner and redesign (via sketch) a local area—a park, shopping center, etc.
  48. Fish.
  49. Clean something—a car, a park, a neighbor’s yard, etc.
  50. Sit and do nothing at all.

Image attribution flickr users johntrainor, roxijc, markiverson, and pennuja

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