I posted this on Facebook tonight, with a comment of, “#familyresemblance, my dad’s oldest brother and my youngest son.” Within seconds I had a bunch of “likes” and “loves” (and a “wow”), many of them from people whom I rarely interact with on Facebook. What caught people’s attention? Not how handsome these young men are, but the #story. Images of two young men frozen in time at similar ages, separated by nearly 80 years, yet genetically entangled enough to closely resemble each other. One who obviously spent time in the military. The other, we have no idea (yet) of he present or future, but we would like to know more. Our stories are what bind us together as humankind.
A few days ago, I was checking out at the grocery store. The clerk made a silence-filling comment we have all heard many times, about yearning for the end of her shift so she could go home. Oftentimes, I would have smiled and nodded or similarly acknowledged her comment without engaging. Instead, I responded, asked her more about her work day, and by the time we finished conversing, I knew a ton, not only about her work day but her family life, her dog, and where she lived. Why was she so open? Maybe I was the first person in the day who had actually tried to create a connection? Who showed an interest in her beyond being the person scanning items and telling me the total?
My #oneword for 2022 is #truthful, and one way I can be more truthful is by being present, being curious, actively engaging with others, reinforcing the importance of their stories.
It was one of those bedazzled days that needs to be pulled up from the archives periodically. In a single day, my #Meliora students:
Asked to take on more responsibility for their learning. Not their project work, where they already have a lot of #voice and #choice, but in learning the more basic, some would call drudgery, content related to the US Constitution and Government.
Offered thoughtful, practical ideas to make our Google Classroom environment function better. Not only does this demonstrate the maturity of their thinking, it shows they trust me to listen and to respect their ideas.
Asked to present a “surprise” at the end of class, which was a compilation of (200ish!) photos from a variety of project deep dives and outings over the span of several years. This helped all of us acknowledge our sense of isolation. By reliving some shared experiences, the students are trying to strengthen those weakened human bonds. Additionally, the new students in the class were given a glimpse into the exhilaration that comes with working together on a #project.
One of the great things about my #PBL practice is that many of my students return year-over-year. Not only does that allow me to continue to help them deepen their #criticalthinking skills, they move into a #mentorship role with new students and further develop #leadership skills. I recognize the sharing of memories among returning students may have made the new students feel left out, not part of the club. I welcome ideas of how to bridge that gap, to ensure new students feel included.
I was touched by the reaction my #clmooc friend Sheri had to this post and to my poem of anguish, a plea for a change in our society’s approach to the events taking place. Sheri remixed my poem into this beautiful piece of art, both visual and poetic, which offers hope. My friend Kevin picked up the threads and wove them into yet another poem, furthering the tenor of hope.
My response to them and others in this conversation. Let’s continue this poem-versation!
Harvest is upon us, hues saturate. Rest is coming, a time to reflect.
Anger, discontent soften to conversation, fertilize new thinking. We hum, then sing songs together.
We dream of renewed life, envision new growth, dare to share.
This fresh view ignites, bursts into new song, blending our voices of all colors.
Together, we plan for a new spring, scattering seeds of peace, renewing our promise of vibrant life for all.
My Christian faith compels me to process events through the eyes of Jesus. As I am blasted by the neverending news reporting of the civil unrest taking place in the United States, I am crushed with sadness. Everyone has a position, and many positions are hostile and confrontational; “Kill the pigs!,” “He was a criminal,” “we need Law and Order!”
As I think of what is recorded in the Bible about Jesus’ life, I am reminded that he taught love, gentleness, grace and mercy. He regularly spent time with the outcasts of society, those crippled, maimed, adulterers. The only times he showed anger were in his judgment of the religious leaders who were using the Law of Moses as an excuse to be harsh, dispassionate and as a money grab.
What if we applied Jesus’ teachings to our everyday life? What if we spoke with kindness rather than condemnation? What if we truly tried to see people’s lives through a filter of grace? What if we learned to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?”
As rage, distrust and violence has swirled around me, Ephesians 4:26 has come to my mind often, “Be angry and sin not.” We should be angry when injustice happens. Instead of responding in kind, we need to respond with love and compassion, and seek justice and peace.
If enough of us apply Jesus’ teachings, we will be able to attain what is said in Isaiah 2:4, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” That is my deepest wish.
Be angry and sin not
Say his name sketch his likeness tell all the world how much you miss him.
Not everyone accepts acts of destruction as cries of anguish craving to be heard.
I seek to understand, to enter in to your pain, to offer a safe place for you to lament.
I am bruised from all the anger. Voices of all colors loudly talking and not listening.
I implore you! Let us beat swords into plowshares, together sow fields of peace, and rejoice in the harvest.
Recently, a team of five #Meliora students uploaded a newly refined version of their history fair project. Next week, they will be competing at Illinois History Day, the last step in their quest to qualify as national contestants.
National History Day (#NHD) provides a good example of the Project-Based Learning (#PBL) #process and #lifecycle. Students are first challenged at a local/school level to create a project, within a specified #framework. As pointed out in the High Quality Project Based Learning Framework, and by John Spencer, high-quality PBL is not a free-for-all, but rather #learnercentered work conducted within the boundaries of a defined structure.
The NHD project framework consists of the following specific criteria:
Must strongly incorporate the annual #theme (the 2018-2019 theme is “Triumph & Tragedy in History”).
A choice of five categories: paper; exhibit; performance; documentary; or website. This variety offers students abundant #voice and #choice in the product they create. Ultimately, the product serves as their primary #evidence of #learning.
Constraints for each project category. For example, documentaries cannot exceed ten minutes in length. Conversely, they should not be much less than ten minutes long, (an unspoken rule) because if students cannot find ten minutes of evidence to support their argument, it suggests they have not looked into their topic deeply enough.
Supplementary documentation, including an annotated bibliography and a process (#reflection) paper.
#Public #presentation (#communication) before a panel of judges at each level of competition. The judges use identical evaluation criteria for each category of project, focusing on the clarity and strength of the argument the students develop in defense of their thesis statement.
Nearly every discipline uses a framework or blueprint for their creative work, it’s a writer’s workshop structure, an engineering process, the scientific method, or a design thinking framework. ~ John Spencer
Students have complete voice and choice in the topic they explore, as long as their thesis and argument fit within the framework. In past years, Meliora students have explored topics as diverse as “The Tucker Torpedo,” Women’s Suffrage, Michael Jordan (national contender) and Soul Train (national contender). The topics chosen reflect the students’ interests, while at the same time requiring them to conduct thorough research.
In many cases, the students started their journey with superficial knowledge. As they dug deeper, their knowledge and critical analysis expanded. Not only did they learn more about their chosen topic, but more importantly (shhhhh, don’t tell them), they developed a much deeper understanding of the historical context, content, and relevance.
In my role as #facilitator, I did not “teach” them about their topic. Rather, I asked them many open-ended questions: “Why did [event] happen?” “What else was happening in the [country, world] at the time?” “What was life like at that time?” “How do you know?” I also helped them locate resources, and persistently asked them to use proper research methods.
This year, the most significant #mindset growth this team made was arguably related to an interview they conducted. That one 20-minute activity (plus the preparation work) exponentially boosted their confidence and their belief that they have significance, not only in the teen world, but also the adult world.
As I also write here, students who participate in National History Day create multiple #iterations of their product, refining their work between each level of competition. Since the project framework remains constant, they invariably are faced with making tough decisions as to which evidence is most relevant to their thesis argument. There is frequent anguish as they remove a favorite quote or an image they love, even as they recognize that a particular element is less important than others they need to include.
This refinement process is an excellent tool for helping the students develop #criticalthinking skills. When they are struggling to make decisions and ask my advice, my standard response is, “In what way does it support your thesis?” Often accompanied by sighs and groans, they make the correct decision.
This is the documentary going to competition next week:
For the truly dedicated, here is the team’s first version:
My friend Kim recently wrote about how she and her students were writing poems using inspiration from three words provided by the students. She describes how in the first iteration, the poems were very literal in their interpretation. Kim then worked with the students to brainstorm imagery related to the words. Finally, she challenged them (and herself) to write a poem using the three words without the poem being about any of the words. As she understates, “[t]his was much more difficult!”
Kim’s observations parallel the learning process of improv, a new-ish endeavor of mine. At the beginning of a set, the performers typically ask the audience to provide one or more words that are then used as inspiration for creating scenes and story lines. Just as Kim describes, emerging players often create scenes that stick close to the literal words, whereas more experienced players use them truly as inspiration and wander much further afield in associations and connections. As a result, their scenes are richer and more satisfying, to both the performers and the audience.
Developing any new competence takes time, practice, encouragement and constructive feedback. I’m fortunate to be learning to perform improv at a studio which swarms with supportive, encouraging instructors and fellow performers. This nurturing environment is part of the culture, fostered by the owner and artistic director.
In our schools, we have the same opportunity, and responsibility, to develop and sustain a culture which encourages students to grow into their full potential.
Earlier this week, a group of five #Meliora students finished revising their National History Day (NHD) documentary project in preparation for the next level of competition. NHD projects essentially consist of developing and defending a thesis, a difficult cognitive task for the middle- and high-school students who enter this contest each year. At each level of competition, the students present their project before a panel of judges, who evaluate and provide feedback on the solidity of their thesis argument. Those projects with the most persuasive defense are the ones which advance to the next level.
In the recent competition, my students received feedback that their selection of secondary sources was narrow and limited. The judges knew this because as part of the NHD framework students are required to create an annotated bibliography of their sources.
As I supported them in learning how to more effectively dig through (online) newspaper and other archives, one of the students commented, “we don’t need this article, because we already have this information.” Which prompted me to loop back to earlier in the year, when we discussed reliability of evidence, how we must find multiple sources that support facts or a certain interpretation in order to consider it reliable. We work on #digitalliteracy as we talk about the kinds of digital sources that are generally more reliable, with the understanding that even those must be substantiated.
During the revision process, the students also made some claims I was skeptical of as they developed their historical context. So, I did a little research of my own and presented my evidence, which clashed with their claims. Then I asked them to sort out what they thought the most valid interpretation was.
This experience coincided with my reading of a recent MindShift article on how students are unable to evaluate the credibility of what they read online. The percentages are staggering; 82% of middle schoolers in a 2016 study were unable to tell the difference between an online ad and a news article. Even more frightening is that 59% of adults in a 2014 study couldn’t tell the difference either.
As Sam Wineburg, Stanford University professor states, “rather than teaching them [history lessons] as rules or things fixed in time or set in amber, these are precisely the kinds of things that are worthy of debate.” In Meliora history classes, every topic is open to discussion. I impress upon my students that I am not the “expert,” that they are welcome to challenge any claim I make… as long as they have evidence. As we ask our students “why?” and “how do you know?” during these kinds of discussions, we are helping them develop their #criticalthinking skills.
For the curious, the Meliora documentary project currently in competition can be viewed here.
I have an admission to make. I am living vicariously through my #Meliora students. A group of five teens has been crafting a documentary project for Chicago History Fair, with the goal of advancing the several steps that will take them to National History Day. This competition asks students in grades 6-12 to convincingly argue a thesis, a skill many students develop only in college.
The Meliora team’s self-chosen topic (a central #PBL tenet is to give students #voice and #choice in deciding what topics they #deepdive into) shines a spotlight on Colleen Moore, a larger-than-life, yet nearly-forgotten woman who was a top salary-earner in silent films; a significant influence on the evolution of American society’s views of women through her “safe” flapper lifestyle; and an investor maven, unheard of in her time.
Through a fortuitous series of events, the students located Moore’s grandson. I urged them to ask him for an interview, the goal being to have him provide them with additional evidence to include in their project. His initial reply to their email request was pretty abrupt, with edges of ice. He pointed them to a variety of existing sources that detail her life and influence, and said he would need to understand their “line of questioning” before granting an interview.
Fortunately, the students had already found and analyzed the sources he cited. I encouraged them to continue to pursue the interview, and suggested maybe his coldness was due to uncertainty around what questions they wanted to ask. I suggested they send him their interview questions, so that he would understand their “line of questioning.”
After receiving their list of questions, he agreed to a telephone interview, which was conducted by three of the five team members. When they actually got on the phone with him, he was friendly and forthcoming with information, and provided very intimate views of Colleen Moore from his viewpoint as her grandson.
It was apparent during the interview that the three student interviewers were feeling nervous. Notwithstanding, they did a stellar job, and obtained the information they were seeking. After they concluded the call, their relief was palpable, followed by laughter, and “That was great!’ They felt exhilaration related to the fact that this hard task they had never tried before had been a success.
This success led to increased confidence in reaching into the adult world. During a recent class session, the team made a series of phone calls to other potential sources in an effort to deepen their understanding and analysis of their topic. Some of the calls led nowhere, others bore fruit. As one of the students remarked, “This is fun, talking to all these people.”
This. Is. What. We. Want: Students. To. Learn. #RealWorld. #Skills.
The students’ project has advanced to the next level of competition), and they are currently in the process of improving it, based on judge feedback, readying themselves for the next level of competition. This iterative approach is integrated into #RealWorld design processes, another way #PBL helps prepare students for the adult world.
My friend Terry recently wrote about using his mind as a “fulcrum” and physical writing instruments as “levers” for analyzing and annotating (physical) texts. This led to a whole flurry of responses, with many wistfully recalling the “old days” of writing in books, doodling, scrapbooking, etc. There was a unanimous yearning to return to some of those old habits.
This discussion led me to explore (again) the evidence that haptic feedback is a vital, integral part of being human. I first thought of the sensory and motor homunculi, grotesque-looking representations first created by Dr Wilder Penfield in 1937 that illustrate the quantity of grey matter devoted to various body parts. The hands take up a highly disproportionate amount of space, suggesting we are meant to use our hands often and well.
Smashing Design, an online magazine for web designers and developers, argues in Designing for the Tactile Experience that new and evolving technologies must be mindful of incorporating tactile and motor interactions. Several times, the author emphasizes that meaning is found in our experience of the world, not only in how we act in it, but how it acts upon us. If we are not physically interacting with the world, our experience is being very limited.
In 2016, NPR reported on a 2014 study that showed college students taking lecture notes by hand did better on “concept-application” tests, wherein they were required to apply the lecture information to an open-ended question.The difference in results held true even when the students were given time to review their notes between the time of the lecture and the test.
The need for a tactile relationship to #deeperlearning applies even (more?) at young ages. A 2012 study of preliterate five-year-olds tested the recall of children who were assigned to one of typing, tracing, or printing letters and shapes. fMRI scans showed that a letter recall task recruited the “reading circuit” area of the brain only in the children who had handwritten the letter.
There is a growing recognition within K-12 education that “making” is not only fun, it also aids learning. In addition to the general trend toward “makerspaces” in schools and communities, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education has a Project Zero initiative underway called Agency by Design, which is “investigating the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning experiences.”
I say a hearty amen to Terry’s “Theoria (thinking), Poiesis (making), & Praxis (Doing).”
I’ve been reflecting on my most recent post and the one before, which discuss work spaces, including classrooms. As I write this, I am in the midst of preparing our home to be sold. To make it more appealing, we have recently updated bathrooms and the laundry room. We are painting the walls to neutral colors. Not my preference, but what buyers want to see.
As I have made decisions on various elements, I have been apathetic. “Is the granite beige enough? It will do.” “Is it a faucet? Does water run through it? Sold.” The updated rooms look fresh and current, so are a success. At the same time, I have no particular attachment to them, as I expect to be vacating this home in a few months. And, since I didn’t improve the spaces for my own enjoyment, the changes don’t reflect “me.”
In contrast, my experience when we remodeled our kitchen several years was joyous. It was thrilling to choose countertops, cabinets, appliances, paint colors… I still love my kitchen.
My colleague Sheri Edwards zoomed out further on this discussion. As she puts it, we need a “thoughtful pedagogy” that focuses on learner-centered design. Classroom design is just one part of the picture.