Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Liberating Genius: A Day with Angela Maiers

I spent yesterday at the e3Tech Conference at Warsaw High School.  In reality, due to the keynote and sessions that I chose to attend, I got to spend my day with Angela Maiers.  It was a great way to re-invigorate myself and get fired up for the coming school year, which I was really needing.  In a weird twist, after having a great year last year and being excited about our senior mentor program, freshman homeroom program, and STAT revisions that we have been working on this summer, I was very down about my job.

When I took the job at PHS the greatest disappointment was that they changed my title from Assistant Principal to Dean of Students.  It may not feel like a major change, but mentally this made me feel pigeon holed into being merely the discipline guy.  I believe that I did this job well, but I longed for more outside of the area of discipline and attendance.  This year, with the creation of our freshman homeroom program, senior mentor programs, and re-calibration of our STAT program, but in many ways I still feel that restriction as being "the discipline guy".  In fact, when most people hear what my job is they instantly say, "oh so your the guy that deals with all the bad kids", or something to that extent.  In my mind, I think they are picturing this guy:

Mrs. Maiers opened the day by asking me what my genius was as I was standing in the hallway waiting for her to get done talking to a friend of mine.  In my typical, "I suck" manner I told her that I really had none, for which I was gently scolded by her.  Great start to the day...

During her keynote presentation she asked everyone in the audience to be courageous and take a selfie, then tweet it out by stating what our genius was.  Being the lemming that I am at heart, I turned, and snapped a selfie:

As the day went on and into the night when I was at home, I though of more to add.  Thus, this is my genius (for the moment):

  • Sharing my passion for learning
  • Thinking creatively
  • Connecting with at risk students
  • Caring for others
  • Using technology

Hopefully this list will as I continue to grow as an educator.  Ideally, at the end of this year it will include an entry that says "Helping others to Liberate their Own Genius" so that I can do for the students I interact with what Angela Maiers did to me; make me see and believe that I am more than just the Dean of Students, help them to see that they too are geniuses and that they need to share their genius with the world.

Please comment below, so I can learn what your genius may be.

Reflections on a Growth Mindset Part III-The Music of Growth

This summer I attempted to go back to running.  I set a goal of running at least 1 mile per day from the day after graduation until school resumed in August.  I made it 32 days in a row, but have not run now in nearly 3 weeks.  The idea that we form habits by doing something for at least 28 days is true, and my running had become a habit, but the habit of not doing something is also very powerful and often hard to overcome because it is soooo much easier than doing something.  For example, last night I had intended to start running again, get a new streak going, but it was too cold to run.  Yep, it was 70 degrees in Indiana in July and I was too cold to run, I wonder what will happen when it is -10 in February and I have to get into my street parked car to drive to work?  I am not sure if this inertia is the result of a fixed or growth mindset, but what I do know is that this inertia keeps me from experiencing my daily dose of growth mindset via Miley Cyrus, Eminem, Kristin Chenoweth, and Idina Menzel.

As I ran more, I started creating playlists of music, searching for songs to keep me going.  The three best songs in those runs became The Climb by Miley Cyrus, Lose Yourself by Eminem, and Defying Gravity sung by Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel in Wicked.

I tried to time the songs to my runs, so they would come out at the times when I most needed to be inspired to dig deep and keep going.  Inevitably they always would, because each song speaks to that biological desire we all have to learn, grow, and become better versions of ourselves.

Ultimately this matters because the more we can expose our students to a growth mindset, in ways that they can connect to and internalize, the sooner they will begin to embed that mindset into their own lives.  And that is when we will be able to see their growth begin to take off.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blended and Online Learning Class-Module 3 Reflection

This week's reflection is centered around the Florida Center for Instructional Technology's Technology Integration Matrix and I focused my study of the available resources on my former area of teaching, Social Studies.

The matrix is a very valuable took, in that it allows teachers to explore lessons that integrate technology at a variety of levels.  These levels are:  Entry-the teacher begins to use technology tools to deliver curriculum to students, Adoption-the teacher directs students in the conventional and procedural use of technology tools, Adaptation-the teacher facilitates students in exploring and independently using technology tools, Infusion-the teacher provides the learning context and the students choose the technology tools to achieve the outcome, Transformation-the teacher encourages the innovative use of technology tools, technology tools are used to facilitate higher order learning activities that may have not been possible without the use of technology.

In addition to describing levels of technology integration, the matrix is also segmented on the vertical access by different types of learning environments.  The environments are:  Active, Collaborative, Constructive, Authentic, and Goal Directed.  This segmentation furthers the usefulness of the tool so that teachers can tailor the ideas from the tool to the learning environment that the students will be working in.

Based on my teaching practice from when I was in the classroom I believe that I would be at the collaborative adaptation or collaborative infusion level depending on the lesson.  I was a fairly early adopter of technology in my school district and worked hard to integrate it into the classroom in unique ways, but I do not believe I ever reached the transformative stage where students were driving the use of technology, except for maybe in the creation of a class blog and podcasts maintained by the students, which never really worked the way I envisioned.

If I were still in the classroom, I believe that I could get to the transformative level by the end of the 1st grading period this coming year, however, I would  want my learning environment to change from being a collaborative one to being an collaborative/authentic one as I would want to implement PBL within my classroom the majority of the time.

In order to make that growth happen I would need to restructure my lessons so that they are PBL based, provide learner development in the PBL process for students early on, and utilize BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to create a 1:1 technology environment in the classroom so that students can easily and fully integrate tech into the daily flow of class.  Along with this, my class would go 100% digital through the use of the Canvas learning management system..  Additionally, as tools are rolled out with projects via Canvas I would need to provide learner development lessons in the use of that technology.  For these I would want to create student lead lessons given by students who had already mastered that technology and allow for students to suggest tools to use for each upcoming project.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflections on a Growth Mindset, Part II-Growth is Hard Work

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”-Thomas A. Edison

As always, I am a little behind in setting my thoughts to computer screen, and thus what should have been my culminating post for the week becomes the second of what will now be a four part reflection on a growth mindset and grit.  The first piece in the series focused on Pursuing a Growth Mindset, and was more a response to an article by Alfie Kohn from the New York Times on May 24, 2014 entitled Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easily.  This time I am reflecting on David Brooks New York Times piece from June 16, 2014 entitled Learning Is No Easy Task and is based on a blog post by Scott H Young in a on growth.

In his article, Brooks describes a series of growth paradigms.  He begins by noting that growth is not linear, as we often think it is, but rather comes in a variety of forms that rately proceed from point A to B in a structured consistent manner.  One of the challenges in education, for eternity, has been balancing this non-linear growth with the linear outline of courses...Today we are going to study the Civil War, next week will be Westward Expansion, and in two weeks we will be looking at the Second Industrial Period in US History...even if Johnny and Suzie are still stuck with why the North couldn't just let the South leave and avoid all the blood shed after the unit ends.  Our linear path, does not often leave us with a model that embraces the different structures that Brooks describes in his article.

The first structure that Brooks describes is that of logarithmic learning, and this is the type that I want to focus on the most.  This is the learning that takes place when we take up a new sport or activity, like running.  Brooks, citing Young, notes that in the initial stages you make a lot of progress quickly, but then as you grow in the activity, your growth slows down and the breakthroughs become fewer and further between each other.  Those initial runs, while hard, lead very quickly to improvements in endurance and technique and to large drops in time when you race.

This spring when I began running again, my first 5K I was only able to run 2 miles of it, and that by running the first mile, walking the second mile, and then running to the finish where there were spectators again (yes vanity is a motivating factor), and it took over 45 minutes.  My next run, less than a month later and after I had only been running for 10 days and had yet to go over 1.5 miles at a time, I was able to run 2.5 miles of the race by running the first 1.5 miles, then walking .5, and running the final mile again.  My time also dropped to just below 40 minutes.  That is very strong growth in a short period of time.  As I progress, and keep adding distance each week, I feel myself getting stronger, but my ability to drop time is likely to be a lot less pronounced and eventually I will plateau somewhere around a 27-30 minute 5K.  Still, great growth from where I started, but in order to drop further below, I will need to change my training more, vary my run distances and focus on technique much more than I do now, and then to only get small amounts of growth.

Much like when I coached swimming and our new swimmers would drop time nearly every meet, and drop a lot of it, while our experienced swimmers would need to focus for weeks on end on very tiny adjustments to drop a few tenths of a second, the discipline to keep at it when the task becomes harder requires a different mind set from those first weeks when results come easier.

Brooks then goes on to describe exponential growth, where you need to put in Malcoom Gladwell's 10,000 hours before you can truly master the skill.  Learning paths that resemble a staircase where you grow a little and then have a period of stagnation followed by another period of growth.  Learning that acts like waves lapping at the beach, they come in and leave a little residue of knowledge, then recede, then return, to leave more and solidify what came before.  Finally, he describes the valley shaped learning curve, where you have to go down before you can rise up.  He likens this to the immigrant experience in America, but for many of our students, immigrant or not, this is the path that they often take when coming to school, and it is in the depths of those valleys, when support is not offered that we often lose them for good.

Brooks concludes by noting that "Thinking about growth structures reminds you that really successful people often have the ability to completely flip their mental dispositions" and that "the crucial thing is not what traits you intrinsically possess.  The crucial questions are: What is the structure of your domain?  Where are you now on the progress curve?  How are you interacting with the structures of the field?"

In describing these differing growth structures and asking these final questions, Brooks speaks of the nature of having a growth mindset, of being able to recognize that in our students growth occurs in different ways, at different times, and along different paths.  As educators, we need to not only recognize that this occurs in our learners not merely from the start of their school lives, but within each year and within each course.  We also need to plan for the varying types of growth and shape the path of learning to best support our learners where ever they may be on that path.  For logarithmic growth we need to make sure that they have the discipline to continue to work hard in those initial euphoric stages when the learning comes easy, and then the growth mindset to continue to persevere when the learning becomes slower as the skills needed to improve become harder to master.  In many ways, it is through this shaping of the path that we might best help our students.  By giving them confidence in their ability to learn early in the process we will be able to give them encouragement to continue on.  By creating a growth mindset in them, and supporting their efforts, when the tasks become daunting we can supply them with the fortitude to master deeper levels of learning and make those minor adjustments in their learning process to find significant breakthroughs.  The ability of us as educators to cultivate in our students the type of grit and mindset that allows for not 10,000 failures, but rather 10,000 insights into what might work, may be the most important innovation we can make as a profession.