Thursday, June 27, 2013

What Will You Learn Today?

I saw this yesterday at the entry to the Idea Factory at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago while visiting with my children.  It was a simple invitation for the children to come explore and learn.  Underneath, staff members wrote questions that rotated throughout the day to guide the exploration and assist parents in helping connect the activities to broader learning.  It made me wonder why we don't begin class this way every day?

Students begin school with a desire to learn, but often by the time they reach the secondary grades the joy of learning has gone out from them, replaced by a resignation that this is what they must do because the state, their parents, and the school have mandated it.  The joy that I saw as I watched my own children (ages 9 and 13) as they explored the museum's various exhibits and thought about what they were doing, trying new things, learning as they experienced new sights and sounds was a joy for me to watch.  It also got me thinking about how we may return this joy of learning to schools and in particular about two recent reading events.

The first reading event came when our trip to Chicago began, as I believe all family vacations should begin, with a trip to the local library to pick out books to read while we were gone.  I chose Bill O'Reilly and Matt Dugard's follow up to their best seller Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy which was good but not as good as Killing Lincoln.  It was my daughter's choices that intrigued me.  My youngest chose books that were stories about gymnastics, not surprising since she longs to be the next Gabby Douglass.  Additionally, she is my child that already knows what she wants to do when she grows up-go to Purdue and become a veterinarian.

It was the choices of my oldest daughter that intrigued me.  She did not choose novels, a book from a series, or books geared towards teens.  Rather she chose three books on photography.  For the past 6 months or so she has been saving up her money to purchase a new digital camera with removable lenses.  She has posted over 1100 pictures in the 4 months she has been allowed to have an instagram account and has even set up a secondary instagram account for her more artsy pictures.  She loves photography and it was very cool to see her choose to read and learn more about it.  Will this lead to a future job?  I am not sure, but for a student who when I ask what she wants to do says, "I don't know" it was a joy to see her follow her passion.

The second reading event occurred the morning of our museum trip when I read following article on 20% Time by AJ Juliani in Edutopia and this blog post on 10 Reasons to Try 20% Time also from AJ.  The article highlighted how schools could utilize this concept from Google to help inspire their learners to engage more in the learning process.  In short, it would allow students to daily ask of themselves "What do I Want to Learn Today?" and then pursue that learning.  Moving to a system would require a radical change by schools, teachers, and administrators-most because it would require the system to allow students to be in more charge of their learning and require us to trust that they were doing so-which might be the greatest challenge.

We regularly speak about learning about our students so that we can tap in to their interests to help connect learning to something they enjoy when they don't see the connection to what they are learning.  But what do we do, when what they are passionate about doesn't fit in to one of our curricular areas or can be measured by a state mandated test at the end of the year?  One way to start this process though may be through giving students a limited amount of time to define what they want to learn, and then supporting that pursuit at the same level we support their learning of state mandated items.

Special thanks to my colleague Reid Gault (@reidgault) the principal of Lincoln Junior High School in Plymouth, IN.  In the past 6 months, since he finished the book Inevitable,  he has been pushing my thinking about how we educate students.  He has continued to innovate at his school, bringing in student choices that allow them to choose their educational path.  In the past year Lincoln has begun a school within a school via the New Tech Network  focusing on project based learning and this year will add a SOLE program in which students in the SOLE study hall will have the opportunity to choose their own learning path to explore a passion of their own.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review-Patrick Lencioni's Death by Meeting

Every once in a while during my reading I come across a book that is easy to read, completely relate-able to my life, and as I read it something I begin to wish I had read 6 months or even 6 years earlier.  Patrick Lencioni's Death by Meeting is just such a book.  In a simple fable, Lencioni accurately describes the feelings of loathing that most people experience when thinking about or attending meetings.  He then, continues to build through his thoroughly enjoyable tale of Yip Software a method to improve meetings along with the rationale as to why his method will work.  The book is a quick read at 258 pages and includes an executive summary of 35 pages for those who do not have the time to enjoy the full fable-although I recommend that you take the time to do so as it truly is a compelling argument for his methods.

In short, Lencioni identifies two main problems with meetings.  The first being a lack of drama or conflict during the meetings and a lack of context for the meetings.  Utilizing easily identifiable analysis that compares meetings to types of television shows he guides the reader to four styles of meetings and ways to use them to improve communication, effiency, and most importantly engagement in meetings.  It is a book that has helped me reflect deeply on the meetings I have been in charge of in the past, recognize many of the problems with those meetings, and caused me to think deeply about changes that I am looking forward to implementing for the next school year.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Time Management Post

Yesterday at our school corporation retreat, Justin Maust of Leader Legacy spoke to us about how to develop a winning team.  In the course of his entertaining and enlightening seminar, he discussed his approach to time management, a binder in which he plans out each day to the minute on the left hand side of the page, and then on the right hand side notes what actually happens. The world keeps spinning at what seems to be a more rapid pace as our lives become more connected, information becomces accessible at all times, and the distractions that keep us from work more prevalent.  Due to this, many applications have sprung up in the past few years to help us digitally remain on task.  Two of my favorites have become Wunderlist and 30/30.

Wunderlist is a digital planning tool that harkens back to the old Franklin/Covey Day Planner, which by the way I often wonder way I have not seen a digital version of those books that were so prevalent in the 90s and early 2000s.  It allows you to input tasks into a list tasks, break long term projects in to smaller tasks, set due dates with email reminders, and have the satisfactory feeling of crossing items off your list.  It does not, at this time, allow you to schedule events or schedule to plan your day-as the Day Planner did.  It does however have the major plus of moving across digital access providers.  The app will sync between your mobile device, tablet, and computer, so no matter what device you are using to look at it, the information is up to date and accurate.  I have found Wunderlist to be a great way to organize the daily tasks that I need to complete, keep me on track with long range planning-although I wish the reminder system was more seemless and thus effective.  It often seems as if the reminders never come, even when set.  The greatest joy though comes from being able to digitally cross items off the list.

30/30 is an entirely different productivity app.  It combines a task timer with your task list and operates under the principal that you need to switch up your tasks throughout the day to keep your mind fresh and focused.  With this in mind, the creators initially suggested that you utilize 30 minute increments as the max time, and switch between tasks on that conitnuum, allowing yourself to go back to a task multiple times a day, until completed.  New versions of the software have removed the language about splitting tasks into 30 minute increments, and instead use a 50 minutes of work with a 10 minute break as to how to divide up the hour.

This is the tool that I have come to rely on when I want to be my most focuses and productive.  The basic idea works and gets you into a rhythm of work.   We too often allow the minor distractions of life, and they are many, to knock us off our pace and this can help you to stay focused on the task(s) at hand.  The biggest key is staying focused on that task, knowing that later in the day you will have time for those distractions that creep in.  So in my use of 30/30 I schedule in those distractions-though not at a 30 minute block.  I have time for email, eating, reading for fun, checking twitter, etc... Knowing that I will have time to do those activities in a reasonable amount of time helps me focus on what needs to be done in the moment.  It even will block sounds from outside the app, so email and other alerts don't sound to distract you from the task at hand while you wait for the timer to buzz.  The only negative, from an operations point, is that it will not sync across devices.

Additionally, I believe that an app like 30/30 can be a great tool for educators to introduce students to, tell them how they are using it to manage distractions and tasks they are working on, and then allow them to utilize it for that purpose in class.  In many ways it gamifys being focused and it is my hope that this would help students to be less distracted.

The only negative to 30/30 is being slightly OCD I get locked in to switching when the timer goes off, and it sometimes delays finishing a thought while I write.  It can also keep me from good distractions while reading-like connecting multiple articles and thoughts and then writing about them which happened to me this past Sunday and lead to me writing this review instead of my thoughts on two books I was reading and how they connected to a news article I read.  In my focus to stay on my reading tasks, I lost the thoughts that would have begun that post for me.  Sometimes even in focusing, being too rigid can cause loss as well.