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An inquiry into sharing the planet: embodied energy awesomeness

Posted by admin | Posted in Analyze, Anastasis Academy, Apply, Character Education, Create, Evaluate, Geography, Government, Inquiry, inspiration, Interactive book, Knowledge (remember), Language Arts, Math, Middle/High School, Science, Teacher Resources, Technology, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 18-03-2013

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You may think that when I’m not posting here regularly, it is because I’ve run out of cool new technology to share…or maybe I’m just being lazy…or tired of blogging.  While I’ve had moments of the latter two, it really boils down to the 24 hours I have in a day.  Sometimes I choose sleep!

This week, I’ve been pulling together our last inquiry block of the year at Anastasis.  I can’t believe that we are down to counting weeks before we say goodbye for the summer.

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Our last inquiry block is an inquiry into sharing the planet.  For our 6th through 8th graders the focus is: “People can choose to take specific actions to help conserve Earth’s resources.”  Each time I put together an inquiry guide for teachers, I am sure to offer plenty of more detailed questions that they can use to help guide the inquiry.  Below are some of the questions I included.

  • What can people do to help conserve Earth’s resources?
  • What are other countries doing to help/hurt conservation?
  • How does United States demand impact Earth’s resources?
  • What country has the most impact on Earth’s resources/the least? Why do you think this is?
  • Is conservation a political issue?
  • What is ecological overshoot?
  • What is embodied energy?

I love helping teachers craft the opportunities for students to be curious, to dig into learning.  During this planning, I found the following resources that are too good not to share!

What it is: Embodied Energy free ebook download.  Created by a design firm, this ebook does a nice job explaining embodied energy.

How to use the Embodied Energy ebook in the classroom:  This ebook is a well designed book that will introduce students to the energy that we don’t see in the objects around us.  This pdf can be projected for a whole class, downloaded on individual student devices or, if you must, printed out.  Use this ebook along with the Sustainability by Design TED talk playlist to spark student interest into embodied energy and how it can impact the decisions we make every day.

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These introductory activities led me to the Energy Trumps project.  This is a design project by the Agency of Design that looked at using design to help people better understand, and take-in-to-account, the way that we build, design and consume.  I absolutely love the idea of students working together as a class to study a variety of materials.  Each student could create one (or several) of their own embodied energy trading  cards to help others understand the environmental impacts of materials.  Students can research key environmental properties of materials including embodied energy, embodied carbon, embodied water, recycled content, extraction intensity and years of reserves.  These can be used to compare materials at a glance.  (If you purchase the cards created by Agency of Design, you get the added bonus of an augmented reality feature that brings the material properties to life to explore in 3D.  Students can test out the different amounts of material they can get for one megajoule of energy.)

Take this a step further and ask students how they can use that information to help design a more sustainable future.  How can they hack every day objects?  How can they change the way that society builds, consumes, etc.?

How can the idea of embodied energy be communicated to a larger audience so that more of the picture is taken into account by the average consumer?

Any time I create a new inquiry block, I work to remember that we are in the business of apprenticing change makers.  These students matter and WILL change the world.  I love reminding students that age does not have to act as a restriction for world change.

Felix Finkbeiner is a student in Germany (similar in age to these Anastasis students) who is changing the world in HUGE ways.  Felix’s Plant for the Planet initiative has started a movement of planting trees…millions of them!  Read the an article about Felix here.

Felix has also addressed the United Nations with a speech to open the International Year of Forests which can be viewed here. 

Students can use this embodied energy calculator to explore their own curiosities.

The Happy Planet Index is a fantastic way to discover the extent to which 151 countries across the globe live happy and sustainable lives based on their efficiency, how many long and happy lives each produces per unit of environmental input.  Data can be viewed in map or table format.

 

I love the potential that a new inquiry block holds.  We offer guidance and some starting places to spark interest, but where students find passion is always exciting to watch unfold.  We truly are in the midst of genius in our students!

The other reason to love inquiry? The brilliant way that it allows room for transdisciplinary exploration, and touches each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I mean really, how can you beat learning that looks like life?

TED Talk Tuesday: Games and Fun

Posted by admin | Posted in education reform, Fun & Games, inspiration, Middle/High School, professional development, Teacher Resources, TED Talk Tuesdays | Posted on 13-07-2010

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In today’s TED Talk Tuesday, Jane McGonigal offers the premise that games (video games) can change the world in meaningful and positive ways.

She builds her case convincingly.  I am currently reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive.  There are some similar ties between the two ideas.  Blissful productivity, we are more productive when we do things that we have to work at, and think about. When we have some direction and there is meaning behind it.

The principles learned through gaming can be used to solve real world problems. I can’t help but wonder what implications this line of thought has for education. How can we change the daily school “game” so that students don’t just sit on the sidelines, but experience “epic wins”.  We all want to know that what we do matters and matters deeply.  Games give us this feeling that what we are doing is having an important effect.

Learning should be an act of play.  It seems to me that if we can tell a difference between learning and play we aren’t doing one of the right.  Consider babies in any species, how do they learn to do life?  Through play.

I’m not sure that I can envision what this looks like in the practical sense in the school setting. But I think that McGonigal has something here. What do you think, what could games and fun do for education?  How can we use from what we know about games to change education and, in doing so, change the world?

TED Talk Tuesday: Tim Brown urges designers to think big

Posted by admin | Posted in Character Education, collaboration, education reform, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, TED Talk Tuesdays, video | Posted on 15-06-2010

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Today’s #edchat discussion on Twitter was all about training kids as critical thinkers.  I believe that we are losing students as critical thinkers because in our current model of education, where we are standardizing education with tests, we teach kids that there is one correct answer to every question.  We limit their thinking to what we have already determined is an acceptable answer to the question.  This is extremely limiting.  Critical thinking means that we aren’t satisfied with the easy answer, we think about multiple solutions to the problem and even think of additional questions.  We approach a problem differently, more creatively.

In today’s TED Talk, Tim Brown talks about his journey in design and his tendency to think about problems on a small scale, limiting himself to the obvious answers and a single solution.  Design wasn’t always this way, design used to be big. Design thinking solves problems and works to create world changing innovations. It seems to me that there is a strong correlation with what Tim refers to as Design Thinking and what we call critical thinking.  Roger Martin calls this integrative thinking, the ability to exploit opposing ideas and opposing constraints to create new solutions. Isn’t this what we are asking our students to do when we are looking for critical thinking?  What we really want students to do is think as designers.   When I watch children who haven’t yet entered the classroom, I notice a strong correlation between the way a child thinks and the way a designer thinks.  They are questioners, tinkerers, and are never satisfied with one solution.

Design thinking could be our model for critical thinking in the classroom, but beyond that design thinking could be our solution to reform in education.  Exploiting opposing ideas and opposing constraints to create new solutions.

Design is human centered, it starts with what humans need or might need. It means understanding culture and context.   From destination to active participation that is meaningful and productive. Value is added through collaborative experiences and not through monetary gains alone (think Twitter). In times of change we need new thinking and new ideas.  We are in the midst of massive change and we need to rethink what we accept as basic fundamentals. We need new choices because our current options are becoming obsolete.  We need to take a divergent approach and come up with something that hasn’t been done before.  What is the question we are trying to answer? What is the design brief for education.

The first step is to start asking the right questions. (I think #edchat does an honorable job of this!)  What are the right questions?

TED Talk Tuesday: Bring on the Learning Revolution

Posted by admin | Posted in Character Education, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 08-06-2010

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Since I won’t be with the CHC staff hosting Webspiration Wednesday lunches, I thought I would institute TED Talk Tuesday and share an inspiring TED Talk each Tuesday with all of you.  TED has a great tag line “ideas worth spreading”.  This non-profit brings together people from Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  (The scope of the talks is actually much, much wider.)  TED.com is a free collection of the very best talks with new talks are being added all the time.  TED believes “passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.”

Todays TED Talk Tuesday is dedicated to Sir Ken Robinson.  You may remember this Webspiration Wednesday sharing of Sir Ken’s Schools Kill Creativity.  This is Sir Ken Robinson’s newest TED Talk, Bring on the Learning Revolution.

Sir Ken Robinson has such a way with words, the message he shares is profound.  I agree with the summation that reform is of no use, the evolution of a broken model isn’t going to get us where we need to go.   We need a revolution where education is transformed into something else entirely.  I have watched this video several times since its release, about a month ago, and each time I am struck by something new.  This time what stood out most for me was the talk about innovation.   Innovation is hard because it means doing something that is challenging, it isn’t the easy or obvious solution.  It challenges what we take for granted, things that seem obvious.  Just before beginning this post, I read an excellent article by Blogging Alliance member Chris at EdTechSwami.  He writes: What Educators Can Learn From Steve Jobs.  I think Chris makes some excellent points in his post, it all comes back to innovation.  Apple doesn’t usually do the expected, in fact sometimes they purposefully step away from what is expected and what seems logical.  The reason is that they are finding new solutions and even creating new problems.  They are looking to the future and anticipating what is coming next.  Sir Ken helps us to see that innovation is difficult because there are so many things in this life that we take for granted.  We don’t even think about them any more because they are the way that we expect them to be.  It is only when someone comes along and points out a new way of doing something that we realize we have been taking it for granted.  In schools we take for granted that there is a linearity to education.  We start in kindergarten and move through until we reach the 12th grade, at which point we are encouraged to attend college.  What else do we take for granted in education?  Classrooms, grades, tests, desks, handwriting, curriculum, blackboards (IWB’s), policy makers, NCLB…

Today I was able to join in on the midday Twitter #edchat discussion.  The topic was reform in education and how teachers could be a louder voice.  The discussion was a great one with a number of good ideas.  I wonder if we are approaching the topic in an innovative enough way?  We tend to frame our answers with what we think might be possible. We frame our answers so as to play nice in the policy makers game.  What if we didn’t do things their way? What if we came up with a new way?  What if we taught kids how to be advocates for their education and learning and gave them a voice?  I threw this out there during the #edchat and @bliarteach reminded me of the big push there was for learning about recycling in school.  Kids became passionate about recycling and saving the earth, they took it home with them.  Soon families were recycling and changing their garbage habits.  This worked.  I was one of those kids who made my mom wash every piece of aluminum foil so that I could bring it to school and add it to our big ball of recycled foil.  I was the kid who was adamant about separating plastic, glass, and paper.  I became the adult who still does this.  Involving kids in advocating for their own education and learning has the added benefit of helping them to realize the importance of their education.  Suddenly they aren’t learning because we tell them to, they are learning because they believe in learning.  They have a pride and ownership in their own education.   The great thing about involving kids in the discussion is that they don’t take so much for granted.  They ask questions and challenge the way that we think.

So, lets figure out all the things we take for granted in education.  When we have a clear picture of those things, lets work together to find new solutions. Lets revolutionize education together, lets make the revolution viral.  If you can think of something that we take for granted, leave it in the comments below.

(Raise of hands, how many of you are wearing a wrist watch?) :)  Yeah, me too.

Webspiration Wednesday: Stuart Brown says play is more fun

Posted by admin | Posted in inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 24-03-2010

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A few weeks ago, I instituted Webspiration Wednesday at CHC.  To find out what exactly Webspiration Wednesday is, check out my original post here.

Continuing the play theme from last week’s Webspiration Wednesday, this is Stuart Brown’s take on the importance of play.

TED Talk “Stuart Brown says play is more fun”

Stuart Brown suggests that play is much more than just being a fun and joyful experience, it is intricately connected with intelligence.  So, why then, do we feel the need to strip it from education?  If play is such an important piece of learning and intelligence, then we should be taking every opportunity to connect learning with play.  Students should enter our classrooms every day, not with a sense of dread, but with a sense of adventure and excitement at what acts of play will happen there.  Play doesn’t have to stop in the early childhood classroom, play can, and should, continue into adulthood.  As Stuart rightly points out, play is necessary at every point in our lives.  It offers opportunities to experiment, and grow, and find new solutions.  Companies like Google and Pixar are keying into the necessity of play and if the work that comes out of those companies is any indication, play works.

How do you introduce opportunities for play into your classroom?  If you have a great story of play, I would love to post it on my other blog, Stories of Learning.

Webspiration Wednesday

Posted by admin | Posted in Character Education, collaboration, inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, Secondary Elementary, video | Posted on 17-03-2010

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Last week, I instituted Webspiration Wednesday at CHC.  To find out what exactly Webspiration Wednesday is, check out my original post here.

Today we gathered over a TED Talk by Tim Brown on Creativity and Play.

Tim reminded me of something very important, there comes a point in schooling where we begin discouraging play.  We ask students to sit in their seats, to fill in the circles completely with a number two pencil, and to stay on task.  There is very little time in schools for play.  I think that by making schools void of play, we harm our students.  There is a lot of important learning that happens during play and discovery.

In the video, Tim shows some pictures inside some major design firms (Pixar and Google).  At the beginning of the year, I asked students to describe what their dream school would look like.  I was very sad to learn that most of them couldn’t conceive of a school that looked different.  In our first brainstorming session, most of them talked about having more recess or a longer lunch and that was the extent of their wishes.  I really tried to impress on them that their school could look and be structured any way they wanted.  I was met with blank stares and confused looks.  The problem in the first brainstorming session was that students were doing what they do all day long in school.  They were trying to guess what I was thinking.  They wanted to give me the right answer.  But in this instance, there wasn’t a right answer, every answer was right.  I showed my students pictures of Googleplex and Pixar and explained that there was a lot of work and creativity that came out of both companies.  What they saw was a playland.  Nearly all of my students declared that they would work at Google or Pixar when they got out of school.  One of my students asked if I would help her write a resume so that Google would have it on file when she was ready to work there (she is 9).  We brainstormed a dream school again.  This time the students understood that there wasn’t a right answer, that the sky was the limit.  Few of them included desks in their dream school, nearly all of them included animals of some kind, and most of them wanted slides and piano stairs to get from one floor to another.  We collaborated on Wallwisher and dreamed together.  At the beginning of the project, I told the kids the school could look like, and operate, any way that they wanted, but there were two restrictions: 1. it had to be a place of learning, and 2. they had to justify why they included everything in their school.  Most of them cited an increase in creativity and innovation (we learned that word as we looked at pictures of Googleplex).   One of my students wanted  a huge cylinder tropical fish tank in the lobby with clear pipes branching out and winding around the school and through the classroom.  She thought the fish would be interesting to study and an inspiration for learning.  Another student wished for swing chairs hanging from the ceiling so that they could move while they learned.  Several kids wanted dogs in the school that they could read to because, “dogs won’t make fun of you when you make a mistake reading out loud.”  Once the students felt comfortable with not having one right answer, they let their imaginations run wild and came up with excellent ideas and suggestions.

We need to help kids understand that there usually isn’t only one right answer.  They have been so primed to believe that every problem has one correct answer because we overload them with tests and worksheets that tell them that it is so.  We squash creativity.  Pretty soon they become adults who don’t know how to play and as a result, aren’t creative.  How do you encourage creativity and outside the box thinking in your classroom?

Webspiration Wednesday

Posted by admin | Posted in inspiration, Middle/High School, Primary Elementary, professional development, Secondary Elementary, Teacher Resources, video | Posted on 10-03-2010

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Today I instituted Webspiration Wednesday at my school.  I have noticed over the years that second semester seems to be lacking motivation and morale January through March.  Maybe it is because winter is STILL dragging on, maybe it is because it feels like a long stretch before spring break, or maybe it is because the complaints of the year are really settling in.  I have noticed this phenomenon in all the schools I have been in.  During last weeks #edchat on Twitter, I learned that low morale is a common problem that most schools face.  As we talked about ways to boost morale, I thought about the ways that my amazing PLN boosts my morale every day.  They encourage me, give me new ideas, and reignite my passion with the great links they share.  I wanted to bring some of that to my school.  I wanted teachers to have a chance to laugh together, and enjoy each others company, and get away from the teachers lounge which can end up being a place to gripe about everything that has gone wrong that morning.

Last night, in a moment of divine inspiration, I decided that it was high time for Webspiration Wednesday.  So, this morning I sent out invitations to the entire staff to join me for Webspiration Wednesday lunch in the library.   Teachers trickled into the library, lunches in toe, and we sat down and watched a TED Talk together.  I chose “Sir Ken Robinson Says That Schools Kill Creativity”.  It was a great Ted Talk to start Webspiration Wednesday with, not only is Sir Ken Robinson inspiring, he also has a great sense of humor.  He had us laughing together (which as it turns out is a great stress reliever) and thinking about school and our students in new ways.  After the video had ended a spontaneous and lively discussion ensued about those kids that we have in our classrooms that we are stifling.  We offered each other ideas for giving them room to be creative.  It was fantastic.  We all left are short 25 min. lunch feeling refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day.  I wonder if the students noticed a difference in teacher attitudes after lunch?  I plan to hold Webspiration Wednesday every week and have asked my PLN on Twitter to join in using the hash tag #webspirationwednesday if they come across inspiring articles, videos, lessons, stories, etc.

Now a disclaimer, I did not ask permission to start Webspiration Wednesday.  I just did it.   Sometimes I think it is better to ask forgiveness (if need be) than to ask permission.  In our #edchat discussion, we talked about who should have the responsibility to boost morale in a school.  My answer was everyone has that responsibility.  I decided to take my own challenge and be the one who tried something new, something different.  Will you be that person at your school?  What boosts your morale? What have you seen work well in the school setting?

Below is the TED Talk that we watched together, I believe you will find it inspiring.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter has been a great source of joy, encouragement, and friendship.  I have never met 98% of my PLN in person, and yet they are always there for me, cheering me on and offering suggestions when  I fail.  If you haven’t made the leap into the world of Twitter, I highly recommend it.  If you are looking for a top notch group of educators to follow, may I suggest the Edublogger Alliance group?  Once you are on Twitter, be sure to join in on #edchat.  There are two #edchat conversations that take place every Tuesday.  I can feel myself getting smarter as I learn from the BEST educators in the world every Tuesday.  Just follow the hash tag #edchat and be sure to add it to the end of your Twitter messages to participate.  I can promise that you won’t be disappointed.

If I am speaking Greek to you, take a look at @shellterrell’s posts about #edchat and PLN’s.  She will have you joining in the conversation and fun in no time!