Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where to Start? A Shift In Thinking...

I have been incredibly jazzed over the past few days as I've started the initial process of brainstorming what The New Classroom may look like, specifically mine! As wish lists, goals, and objectives start to pile up in my head, I am also realistic enough to know that there will be roadblocks, and there will be people who say - rightfully so - "how can this plan improve students' learning?"

Here's why it's very fair and valid for people to ask this: It is the whole point (or should be) of everything we do in education! This should be one of the central questions behind any decision-making process..."how can this improve students' learning."

So as I thought about all this today, I read something very encouraging here, highlighting the importance of using  technology not for "edutainment," but rather "edugagement."

I want this to be the force behind my New Classroom. Better yet, I want my New Classroom to be the embodiment of this philosophy. When students walk into my classroom, my goals are simple yet paramount:

  • Engagement
  • Collaboration
  • Creation
  • Inquiry
  • High-Order Thought
I look forward to the process of research & grant writing for the vision to take shape. Some of the very right people - in my mind - are in my corner on this, and I couldn't be happier. The marriage of design, technology, content, support, and mindset can make the New Classroom a place for 21st-Century and beyond learning to happen on a daily basis.

More updates as they come...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The New Classroom

So I've been thinking a lot lately about my classroom, and how it may (or should/could) look as we continue into the 21st Century. For the past few years, there has been plenty of talk about 21st-Century learning, digital natives, using technology for learning, etc. These conversations and all the learning & reflection that go with them has been great...but I'm not talking about that stuff.

I'm talking about my actual, physical classroom: 4 walls, floor, desks, chairs.

And when I do this thinking, I keep coming back to this question: Does my classroom of the near future need to look & function like the city of the near future? More and more, I read about the importance, vitality, and potential for cities. Soon enough, roughly 70-80% of the population will reside in urban areas. Just as the ways of teaching from the 1800s are gone, so is the agrarian life of the 1800s. If a city is the center for creativity, ingenuity, discovery, communication, culture and learning...shouldn't the same be true for my classroom? I think the answer is a resounding yes. I recently watched this video, and have also read plenty of articles regarding the subject in publications like The Atlantic, The Economist, and others. While the video is a bit long, and all of it doesn't necessarily apply here, you could get a sense of what I'm talking about:

I feel like the visionary teacher needs to be like the visionary "mayor" for their own classroom. And while I don't (and can't) speak for administrators, it seems as though they need to be the visionary "mayors" for their schools. Where all of this starts, I'm not sure. My wish is to begin with the physical make-up of my room, and I have some ideas it that area...next I suppose is the money, and that's always the largest obstacle. What I can control is my approach/philosophy. I can create an environment centered on collaboration, open communication, creativity, discovery and trust. We're still working on the next steps to maximize technology, but many things are in place: BYOD for students, Wi-Fi in the building (hopefully stronger/denser down the road), on-line learning and digital communication. The lines separating schools and learning from business, culture & government have blurred; this is a good thing that should be taken advantage of so my classroom 'citizens' leave more and more ready to be global citizens down the road.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kids Are Funny

Can't believe it's been over a week. Time flies. I hope to have more time tomorrow to write about a few different things. For now, here's a great quote from yesterday:

-Sixth grade boy, overheard while making a winter outdoor survival shelter with a group: "We don't need leaves, we're men!"


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Advertising & Writing Update

Today I'm not blessed with a lot of time; too many other things to accomplish. However, I did find a great writing/discussion question from the NY Times Learning blog, and it fits right in with the writing and discussion we are having about Super Bowl ads.

At the end of this week we will be back in the computer lab doing Part 2 of our commercial study: Ads from this year's Super Bowl. This new discovery from today will help segue into the next part of this discussion: the overall power of advertising, media, and developing media awareness/literacy.

Have a good day :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

True Goals

We are going to spend a lot of time this month in our Advisory classes helping students prepare for Spring Conferences. Specifically, the conference format will be 'student-led.' I understand their are many different ways to execute a student-led conference, and we have yet to determine/be told what format we will follow. Clearly, it's important we decide on a format, and work towards being as seamless as we can be across the board as teachers within a building. What won't matter, however, is the importance of the preparation students will undergo to get ready for these conferences.

Why is this so important? Students should need to take ownership of their own learning; to set clear goals for themselves; to realize just how powerful they can & should be in their own learning journey. That's the goal for this next month in Advisory: help students become Educational Stewards for themselves. In fact, this is probably one of a few main, essential goals I have every year for my students.

1. Learn to love learning & see it as lifelong
2. Control/Own their own learning
3. Become Better Thinkers

I enjoy these goals because a.) I think they are important goals & essential learning traits, and b.) Any student can do this, no matter their intellectual/emotional/maturity level. This second point is key, because 6th graders can be all over the map! Additionally, these 3 goals are universal & can be applied/practiced in any subject area.

The past few years, I've added a 4th goal: 4. Collaborate & Utilize 21st-century tools to enhance learning...this is key too, and is becoming more fun every year (as well as important!).

Recently, we've been working on some social commentary writing, focusing on Super Bowl commercials. Students have needed to discuss why they think the ads are effective, both personal and on a larger, cultural level. I need students who are actively thinking about what they are doing, reflecting on their own experience as a media consumer, and analyzing the construction of these advertisements. Suddenly, something that seems easy (watching commercials via YouTube) becomes a little more involved! Hopefully, when students are being better, more engaged thinkers, they learn a little about themselves, their society, and the power of media...not just the awesomeness of vampires being obliterated by car headlights!

Friday, February 3, 2012


My classroom door is regularly swinging open, with former students stopping by to say hello, catch up, and say hi to my current class. Without fail, the current class is always annoying by this behavior, but then they begin doing the exact same this the next school year. It can be boys, who want to swing by and talk sports (the upcoming Pats-Giants Super Bowl is a huge topic of interest), or girls, who stop to chat/complain about older grades/ask how my kids are/etc.

As my current class of students expresses their annoyance and dismay at these 'visits,' they always ask me why I'm not more bothered. Typically, I simply answer with something along the lines of it's nice to have visitors and catch up. Every year, by about January or so, students in my current class start to ask if they can stop by "all the time next year too?" Yes, of course, I tell them; then my class next year can be annoyed!

I know this happens with many teachers; especially in my building, as there are a multitude of fantastic teachers at my school.

And I don't write about this today as a means of bragging...

Simply put, I feel very blessed. Blessed and honored that kids - teenagers - take a moment to say hello, share a laugh, tell me a story, etc. It's a hidden, unpaid perk of this job career. Another bonus is teaching 6th grade in a school that goes through 9th. I really get to know some students over the course of four year. Even some former students babysit my own children!

While some times aren't great for visits - tests, deep lectures, speeches, etc. - I will never frown upon a former student's shadow darkening my doorway; it's a blessing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Meetings & Time

We had a grade-level meeting this morning. Bright and early - 7am. It was a fairly productive meeting; a few key things were discussed, analyzed, and generally mulled over. Quickly approaching is a winter activity field trip, and ironing out some issues was important to do, as well as starting conversation for some events happening in May & June. So it's not to say this was a waste of time, because it wasn't.

However, I left the meeting wondering if it all couldn't have happened a little faster. You know, those 30 minutes turned into 15. I don't know, I'm sure that's a lot easier said than done. Sometimes the nature of these things is that they last longer than they naturally should, and I suppose that's why the word 'meetings' tends to have a negative connotation. This is a great TED Talk video about the lack of work happening at Work. Meetings come up at the 8:40 mark or so:

My guess is there are many different possible solutions to the always-present conundrum of meetings. So much depends on where a person works, they type of work they do, who they work with, and who their superiors are at the time. Furthermore, depending on the purpose, a meeting could be quite essential - problem solving, idea generation, task assigning, etc. For every 2-3 meetings that seem meaningless and time-killing, there's always 1 that ends up being beneficial. (Some would argue this ratio should be much higher, like 5:1 or so, but the point is made)

So it was great to find this interesting Wall Street Journal article a mere two hours after this morning's meeting. Maybe there's something to this? Maybe this type of meeting structure would encourage quicker, more decisive discussion and action? I don't know these answers, and like I said, many of our meetings like today's aren't bad, but maybe there are better ways out there...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


It's amazing how news can completely shift a way of thinking; how what seems important suddenly becomes marginal; how perspective can change so suddenly. When I heard of a colleague's child passing away, I immediately thought of my own children. It can be so easy to get caught up in daily grinds and monotonous expectations; now I can't wait to meet them at the bus stop and give them a hug. My drive for my students is the same - work hard, take care of your business, push yourself, and be responsible. Those are good things - things they'll need in life. But I also need to make sure they feel safe here, that they're enjoying the learning process, and - believe it or not - even have some fun every once in a while. I hope my colleague finds peace, closure, friendship & support from everyone they know. I hope they are able to celebrate life, rejoice in the time shared together, and find the courage to move ahead. I hope Perspective stays around for a while...