Friday, July 29, 2011

Reform Symposium Session - Let's Talk About Kids That Come To Us From Poverty

I'm honored to be a part of the Reform Symposium this year and am excited to lead a conversation that I feel has fallen by the wayside too often in education conferences, for whatever reason. The conversation will be about how we can build empathy instead of pity in teachers who work in high-poverty areas and then what specific actions we can start taking to have a larger and longer impact on these types of students. This will be a conversation, so if you plan on coming PLEASE also plan on thinking and contributing some ideas. I'm selfishly hoping to get great strategies from folks who attend and I know we'll all benefit from learning together.

What: Let's Talk About Kids That Come To Us From Poverty
When: Saturday, July 30th at 21:00 (9:00 PM) EST
Where: Elluminate Room: Direct Link
Who: Anyone that wants to talk more about this issue and walk away with more ideas of how to have a greater impact on the kids that need it most

Here's the survey I'm asking folks to submit prior to the session

Here's the presentation/questions I'm using to drive the conversation:

Here's a video of me describing what I hope we can do in the 30 minutes we have:

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

In defense of conference sessions

"What sessions did you hit today?"




I feel like I had this conversation a bunch at ISTE 2011 in Philly this year. It seems like more than ever, a lot of the excellent folks I like to hang with online and off are abstaining from going to sessions and instead hitting the lounges to have informal conversations. This is great and a real source of connections and learning in a conference atmosphere, but I wonder if the trend has swung too far the social way. I'm not here to disparage anyone's personal way of learning at a conference, but rather explain how it works for me and maybe push others to think about the full conference experience.

The 1st question I ask myself at any conference is- why am I here? Why did I come? First and foremost, I go to conferences to be able to bring fresh ideas and strategies back to my fellow teachers, admin, and students. I don't go looking for fads or trends. In short, I go to help students. When I'm looking over my potential daily schedule, I focus on what my school needs most right now. This year, the answer is easy- we're converting to a STEM and International Studies magnet school next year. So I had a clear idea of the types of learning I was hoping to do- anything that would help support these programs.

Others might have socializing and meeting up with people as their primary purpose. Others still might have the informal ed conversations as their primary purpose. There may even be a couple folks out there who are keynote freaks and wouldn't miss a single one. All of that is fine, but it's not me. (Don't get me wrong....when the night rolls around I'm all about a Google/Gaggle/Edutopia party or three...)

I'm an intrapersonal kind've dude. I really enjoy going to sessions I know will help my school, jotting down notes, and then reflecting on how this new info can impact students in the coming year. I have to take information in, roll it around in my brain, make sense of it, then relax and let the ideas for student use flow. That's just how I operate.

And at a national conference such as ISTE, there are SO MANY amazing, intelligent people presenting sessions about things they are GREAT at. It's such an opportunity to see folks that are really passionate about what they do and are given a platform to share their ideas in a focused manner. In an informal conversation or social setting, someone putting their ideas forward in such a manner can often come off as arrogant or self-promoting, which I tune out immediately.

I also think that going to sessions is a great conversation starter for the deeper conversations we all want to have at conferences. Being able to share what a great session was all about is a great springboard toward making sense of everything you're immersed in.

With all that being said, here are the best sessions I went to at ISTE this year:
  • Becoming a catalyst for change, with Erin Gruwell, the teacher who put together the book "The Freedom Writers Diary". This was an AWESOME experience, getting to hear the stories of a middle class, white, young teacher and the powerful impact she had on a group of 150 inner-city youths, many of which were utterly without hope when she first met them. The power given to students, having them published, having a movie made about them....all from a powerful and inspiring teacher. I felt very lucky to have been able to hear her speak.
  • Beyond Robotics: Project-Based Design and Engineering. This was a cool session where a student team of robotics/engineering students got to show how they built their award-winning robots. I enjoyed seeing how the competitions worked and especially liked seeing the kids as experts, doing real projects and solving real problems. We're getting robotics equipment in the fall and I'm stoked to help.
  • Infographics as a creative assessment - Kathy Shrock. I'm always looking for better ways of assessing students and I thought this was a neat way to go about it. There were some great ideas that I'll definitely be able to bring to my teacher's this year, as we're moving toward much more authentic assessments. Site:
  • Students as content creators. This was a session done via Skype with two teachers from Pittsburgh and Ireland, describing how they had their students connect and share information about their area and culture. It opened my eyes to some of the possibilities of creating connections with our IB kids to other areas of the world and how to structure these types of projects. Site:
  • ITSI-SU – Science Inquiry stuff. The first thing I thought of once we got started in this BYOL session was "Man oh man, our STEM teachers are going to EAT. THIS. UP." This is a free site that has a ton of great inquiry-based lessons that teachers and students can use in conjunction with probes such as Vernier. The great thing about this is that all the data collecting is embedded right into the site- no need to open a separate program to record data then drag it into another spot to analyze. Everything is right there and it's all web-based. Very cool stuff and will lead to a lot of thinking and discovery next year!

I think the bottom line of all this for me is that it's not about my learning or my experience, it's about how I can be a better conduit for others. And along the way, I learn a ton.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Some Photoshop practice

It's my anniversary (8 years- woohoo!!! I married waaaay up) and I was looking through some photos from our wedding. I found the picture below with my sister's ex-husband in it and decided to photoshop him out. I figured I'd share, even though it's not my best work it's still fun to tinker around with this kind've stuff!



If you've never tried photoshop (or other image editors) before, here are some quick tips as to how to do this stuff.
  • First remove the objects you want out. Do this by using the lasso tool to select the objects. I used the magnetic lasso tool in photoshop, which kind've "sticks" to the sides/pixels of the object to get a more accurate selection. Once you've selected what you want to get rid of, delete the selection.
  • Next, take a good look at the walls and items in the rest of the picture and figure out what belongs where. For this one, the molding was there as well as a pillar. I also had to recreate a pew on the left side where the dude's arm came down. Try to use the same picture to pull what you need from- if you try to match with another picture the odds are pretty high that the lighting will be slightly different, which stands out when you try to match it up.
  • The next tool in photoshop that works this magic is the stamp tool. Basically you give a destination spot (alt-click on where you want to pull from), then go to the area you need to fill in and click/fill in. You might have to zoom in to get tight around the other objects in the picture (in the case above, the hair of my beautiful wifey, the hair of my sister, the molding). Stamp as much as you can get away with.
  • Next, there might be some areas that you simply have to create. In the pic above, I had to create the lefthand side of the pillar on the left. To do this, I selected the pillar on the right, copied it, then flipped it to the left. It turned out OK. It's a little wider than it's supposed to be, but I'm probably the only one who would ever notice.
  • Next, clean up- zoom back out to the full picture and look carefully for things you've missed or need to fix. In this one, I had chopped off some of my wife's hair so I had to go back to the original picture, select the left side, copy it, then paste it over top the new pic. That worked well.
So there you have it- how to get rid of doofuses or ex's out of your pictures. Can't wait to send this to my Mom...she's gonna love it. ha!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dweck's "Mindset"- Review and what it means for schools

A couple months back I read Carol Dweck's "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success." I was interested in it from both an educator and parent point of view. I had read some articles summarizing what it was all about and they intrigued me. Here's a quick summary, review, and some pieces I pulled out for thinking about how this info can help schools:


The book hinges on the idea that it is our mindset, not just our abilities and talent, that leads to our success. The basic idea is that there are two types of mindsets you can adopt- fixed or growth. The fixed mindset, she explains, is when you view your talents, abilities, or intelligence as something that is innate and cannot be improved upon. Either you're smart or not. You can either do art or you can't. And all the practice in the world would not help the situation.

The growth mindset, on the other hand, views ability, talent, and intelligence as highly malleable things. Folks who have the growth mindset see that through hard work and perseverance, you can improve in just about any area you choose to improve in. If you can't do something correctly, it's not that you don't have the ability, it's that you need to work at it more to improve. Mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities instead of failures. The growth mindset leads to a more fulfilling view of life and learning.

In short- fixed BAD. Growth GOOD.


I enjoyed this book and wholeheartedly agree with it's central premise. I've seen in myself, others, and my students that those that employ the fixed mindset are much more likely to give up, not try harder problems, and to view themselves through labels. The research Dweck outlines to show the power of these different mindsets is very compelling and jives with what I've seen with my own eyes. This book helped me make sense of my world and my students' worlds, and will help me push my students and children more towards a growth mindset.

The only negative I have about this book would be it's repetitiveness. The message is clear and cogent from the very beginning but then is just hammered home over...and over...and over... I would have liked more strategies of how to move from fixed mindset to growth, rather than simply rehashing "Fixed BAD, Growth GOOD" throughout each chapter.

Takeaways for school

  • The first overall takeaway is that schools need to be places where students aren't labeled one way or another, where mistakes are truly viewed as learning opportunities, and where growth is pushed for students in many different areas, rather than a heavy focus on "the basics".
  • The wave of differentiation as practiced in many schools may have some harmful side affects. On p. 64, Dweck writes "Most often when kids are behind- say, when they're repeating a grade - they're given dumbed-down material on the assumption they can't handle more....the results are depressing." This really makes me think about how we differentiate for students by dumbing down assignments, tests, and class work. Are we really doing them any favors by letting them have 2 choices instead of 4 on a multiple choice test? By simply having less spelling words? By lowering the bar? In my opinion, instead of viewing differentiation as an opportunity to dumb down the work, true differentiation should be aimed at giving different approaches to content (instead of limiting it). We should be enriching instead of dumbing down. We should be giving choices to students of different paths to mastery.
  • More unintended negative effects of standardized testing. On p. 66, Dweck tells of research done of German teachers to see how their mindsets affected their view of their students. Teachers with a fixed mindset took a careful look at their students scores from the previous year and automatically made judgments and predictions for their success in their class the coming year. As I thought about this, this could be an extremely damaging side effect from all the testing we're subjected to in the U.S. The more we test students, the more they become numbers and growth charts instead of children. Teachers are pushed to be "data driven", which I'm sure has made more and more teachers look at their students in fixed ways- "This student came in scoring here and we can predict that they will end up HERE." In my state of North Carolina, this is common practice. Teachers are told at the beginning of the year how much growth each child is expected to make. I can't help but wonder how subconsciously damaging that way of viewing kids is.
  • On pages 71-76, Dweck talks about labeling and it's powerful negative impact. Students that identify with a label that they are not smart will inherently affix it to themselves in whatever tasks they do at school. Labels lead to fixed-mindset behaviors such as seeing themselves as failures/not smart, etc. It makes me wonder how much damage we do by pulling students out for resource classes. It makes me wonder how much damage we do by pulling EC students out to separate rooms to test them. Before they even begin the test, they've already been fully given the impression that they're not as smart as the rest of the kids. I also wonder if the reverse angle is true- when we identify students as gifted are we damaging them as well in the long run? If they come to see themselves as intellectually gifted, might that lead to a fixed mindset as well? When they finally encounter difficulty in their studies, will they have the perseverance to push through as another child who was not labeled as "smart"?

My main takeaway from this book is that schools need to be environments that are free of labels of all kinds, where mistakes are cherished as learning opportunities, and where effort is seen as the cornerstone of success.

Learn, push, grow!