Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Some More Book Reviews

I haven’t had much time or inclination to read lately–been WAY too busy–but I don’t want to forget thee ones I have read, so am trying to keep up with sharing at least something about the books I preview for my kids.

First, You’ll Like It Here (Everybody Does)  seems like it’s the first book in what could easily turn into a series.  The characters are okay, but everything that happens is just too predictable and beyond that, a bit too to-be-expected.  It was okay, kids might like it, but if I hadn’t already spent my money to buy it, I wouldn’t.

Secondly, I think  Hound Dog True is a book about introverts. Many of the characters are people who prefer their own company or to be in a small group rather than a large one.  Mattie Breen tells the story, through her words, and her stories.  Again, the ending is pretty predictable, but the process of getting there is interesting, full of quirky characters, and roundabout enough to keep one involved. I laughed, I felt sad and I was curious and intrigued as I read it–that’s a good book in my opinion.

Thirdly,  Hope Was Here is a book about old timey towns–or an old timey town– where corruption has taken over–until teenagers, a man dying of leukemia and a transplanted lady cop take back over the town. Hope came to life for me as a character in this book, and I’d like to read more about her. I was sad when this book came to an end.

And, lastly for now, The Summer I Learned to Fly is a book about family, about growing up and about taking ownership of your behaviors and decisions. It’s about first “like” and trust and being in a household with a single parent. It’s about small towns and understanding the difference between a want and a need because you live with having to make those decisions to have your needs met. It’s a great story, that allows one to easily talk about empathy.

I’m finding my book taste runs to family stories…and especially intergenerational ones as I read. I guess recognizing that is crucial to deciding which books to read and which to share.  More books at a later date….




Just Because Someone Says It…

doesn’t make it true. Not everything on the Internet is true.  Not everything people say about a tool is true.  We all come to things with our own lens, our own biases, and sometimes limited knowledge.

And, as we evaluate resources we use in our classrooms, we need to be thinkers about them–looking carefully at how it’s used, who uses it, and often we have to think about unintended uses as well.

I recently wrote about Minecraft.  I’ve been struggling with letting kids play it in my room for a while now, and I readily admit it’s because I don’t know it well enough. I’ve read and heard enough to know there’s no doubt it can be beneficial, but I really don’t want kids in my room just killing zombies on the devices I have.  Too many other kids want a turn at the other apps I have carefully selected for them.

So today I followed a link about 4 reasons kids should play Minecraft. I was interested in why this Mom changed her mind about her kids playing Minecraft–but as I read, I became more concerned with the title (Minecraft: The Video Game That Makes Kids Good) and some assumptions that were being made.

The writer quotes some experts on Minecraft, but I think she also makes some pretty big leaps.For example, the first reason kids should play Minecraft is because it teaches morality. Yet the expert’s quote is “It’s like ‘Lord of the Flies’, but hopefully with happier outcomes.” Well, that means it could be horrible… and jumping from that to it teaching morality is a huge leap. Maybe it can teach morality when kids get into it deeper than my elementary kids are, or maybe when they have a kid mentor that teaches them how to play, or maybe when they talk about it with someone, but just playing it?  I doubt it. I don’t care who says so.

And, as for it being Facebook with training wheels?  Well, again, that’s only if there’s guidance to go with it. The person quoted teaches gaming, for goodness sake.  Of course he’s going to have conversations about good uses and how to play it ethically.  If he doesn’t, he’s not a good gaming teacher. But I venture to say that in many places Minecraft is being played, there is no one there having those conversations.

As for #3 and #4, there is no doubt the game CAN support those things, with a knowledgeable adult to guide children… but the game itself does NOT teach impulse control or foster collaboration.  What a silly statement. It’s not about the game itself…but what folks do with the game. Even the person quoted in #4 says the kid “MIGHT” think about Minecraft and use what he learned there.

It’s NOT about the tool.  It’s about how the tool (in this case, Minecraft) is used and exploited and guided and yes, maybe even ignored. What causes learning is  the context in which the game is played–it’s the conversations and interactions that come from playing the game.

And that’s really how it is with any resource we choose to use–it’s not all about the tool , but how we choose to use it.  When people claim any game–or resource– can do things, we should look long and hard at how that happens–and whether it’s a true statement, or there are other conditions that impact whether the tool or resource is worthwhile.

Just because someone (even an expert) says it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

When and Where?

Several days ago, I found this (what I’d consider to be fairly old now)  YouTube video called “What Does It Mean To Teach In The 21st Century?” In it, the authors listed the following skills and asked, “Where do we expect them to learn the skills they need to be successful on the Internet?”

The skills were: paraphrasing, attributing, subscribing, editing, tagging, tweeting, linking, experimenting, reflecting, commenting, searching, posting, locating, linking, integrating, networking, bookmarking, mashing, uploading

The list made sense to me.

They further added these as work kids need to be engaged in as part of their learning:

gather and use data, talk about reliable sources, publish and evaluate work, collaborate, store work and reflect on their progress

Yep, again, made sense to me–although I could add a few.

This morning on Twitter while participating in a tweetchat, #rechat, @ehvickery, as a connected teacher getting her kids to be connected learners, listed these as some of her expectations for learners: Curation – Verify/Trust Info – Various Perspectives – Determine Value to Meet Need – Share & Filter

And my first thought, looking at these lists, was the question from that video…where do we expect students to learn these skills?

Emily’s list was very similar to the ones on the video, and ones I value. But I don’t see kids in my school using these skills much in contexts that matter to them…and I think all schools, including mine, should have conversations around where and when these skills should be taught and learned–by both adults and students.

As I look at those lists, I can’t imagine how some teachers can teach those things to kids–they don’t do them themselves online, so how can they teach them? Heck, I’m not even comfortable teaching all of them and I am considered to be a pretty connected educator, tech-savvy and experienced online.

Too often we rely on others to teach these skills–the library teacher, a computer teacher, a technology integrator–and we assume the kids have them.

But, let’s look at them in the context of our educational past, and think about going to workshops I’m sure many of us have attended–‘Writing Across The Curriculum,’ ‘Integrated Units,’ ‘Reading to Learn in Science‘ (or SS), ‘Writing in Math Class,’ etc. We haven’t done a good job of integrating those topics–Math teachers still teach math. English teachers still teach reading and writing.  Our 3 R’s are still, in most places, isolated skills, taught as distinctly separate subjects, despite the habits of mind that go across the disciplines.

And so, how can we expect these skills–“the ones kids will need to be successful on the Internet”–to be integrated into various lessons?  Don’t we need a separate place and time for them to be taught (by a separate person trained to teach all of them), so we can hold kids accountable for using them?

Well, I don’t think so.  Thursday in our 5th grade math class, Betsy (@bagee1) and I had kids share their various ways of solving an elapsed time problem and then we held a discussion about which ones worked, which were efficient, which took more time, which were clearer to understand, etc.

In doing so, weren’t we “determining value to meet needs” and looking at “various perspectives,” as Emily was quoted above? And, weren’t we, when we finished and asked kids to decide which was best for them, asking them to “filter” out the less effective ways?

The point here, is that these skills aren’t necessarily limited to technology or the Internet. They go across disciplines in many ways and are  ones we need in math, or writing, or reading, or science, or….the list could go on and on. But do we? Do we teach them in ways that allow kids to see them across disciplines–or think about and use them in context of the Internet and what they do there?

Do we teach in ways that allow kids to learn about themselves as learners and become better at learning?  Have we become so attuned to teaching our subjects for the test score that we don’t teach learning any more? Isn’t school where kids come to learn?

So should our conversations as teachers, our faculty discussions, be about these trans-discipline skills? Shouldn’t we talk about how we can teach paraphrasing, attributing, subscribing, editing, tagging, tweeting, linking, experimenting, reflecting, commenting, searching, posting, locating, linking, integrating, networking, bookmarking, mashing, uploading not just in the subject they fit most logically and traditionally, or only in the context of the Internet, but across disciplines?  And shouldn’t we be explicit in naming them when we use them in various subjects, especially if our subjects remain silos?

Aren’t those the conversations we should be having as we think about when and where these “skills we need to be successful on the Internet” should be taught? Shouldn’t we be talking about how to get out of our silo-ed classrooms, and how to use and recognize and talk about skills and habits of mind across disciplines? Shouldn’t we be teaching compliance less and thinking more? Shouldn’t we do less teaching kids how to play school and please the teacher and give them more opportunities to learn like real learners learn?

After all, we can’t teach what we don’t think about and we can’t collaboratively think about what we don’t talk about. So when and where do those conversations occur?

Why Do We Read?

A transcript from my 4th and 5th graders answering that question on Today’s Meet.

Please take as many boxes as you need to describe why you read. Use a -> if you are continuing on another text box.

i read because it trains my brain by Gannon

You read because if you don’t get better, reading is one of the most important life skills by Matthew

I like to read because it is a great way to learn many new things. A great way to entertain yourself and it is my favorite subject. by Katie

I like reading because it helps your brain learn new words and it’s fun by Amber

I read because I can get knowledge and entertainment by Luke E.

I like to read because you can go anywhere you want if you can find the right book. by Eve

I love to read to make time go by. I also like to read because i use my imagination. by Emma W

I read because reading can educate you and also give you something fun to read. by sophia

Why do we read? There are a few reasons why i LOVE to read. First of all it is my favorite subject and i just like to learn new things -> by Luke M.

its also really fun when your on long trips or anything like that by Gannon

I read because I can go to another world and forget everything around. by maya

it helps you in so many ways, and you always need to be ready by Matthew

I read books so that I can learn about new things and learn more facts about things I already know. It is also my favorite subject. -> by Simrat

I read because I enjoy the excitment. by emilie

I read because I think its fun and if there is a word I do not know I get to learn it better by josie

Me to Emilie. by Eve

simrat i agree with you i like learning new things by Gabby

I agree Gannon by Emma W

I love to read becuase It take me to another world. What ever I read thats where I go! by Kailie R

I read for facts and fiction and to just sometimes get away from the real world and takes you into a world that is perfect for you. by Katie

the reason why i read is for fun and school but i like learning and i want to get in a good college so i can have a good life-> by Gibbs

and I just LOVE to read! by Amber

For one example National Geographic blows my mind from what I learn from it. Also reading just is a fun and good way for you to learn. by Luke M.

You need to be ready for tests, problems, books, and just real life by Matthew

I like to read because it’s fun to follow the action and adventure of the book. by Harrison

reading is also just plain fun and exciting in many diffrent ways by Gannon

I agree amber by josie

I like to read because there are at least a million different that I could read. by Keaton G.

Amber I love to read too by Katie

I read because it is like music you are i a different world!!! I love mystery’s, novels, and much, much more William. by Bella J

reading makes you have ideas by josie i read because its fun and it makes time go by and it can be really exciting by isabella

The reason we read is to learn new things or to entertain our selves. by David

I also love to read it is my favorite thing to do I mostly read when I have the time to by Kailie R

I like reading a lot so I can learn new words. by spencer

I enjoy reading because you can learn about different things if its non-fiction. If its fiction I like to read to enjoy it and usually I -> by Emily S.

The reason why I read is because it can take you into an other world its magic by Kendra O.

I also read books because there are all kinds of books, and not just one. There are comic books, fact books, chapter books, picture books -> by Simrat

Me to amber by Matthew

There are many reasons why I read The first one is because it is fun. The second reason is you get knowledge every time you read. The third> by Wyatt

reason is that if you do know how to read you could not drive and other things like that. by Wyatt

ya i agree with amber and katie because is so fun by Gabby

because they want to have fun! by Gannon

And everybody reads because why? by Gannon

Reading is one of the ways that i find cool. When i get into a book its like a movie that i’m watching in my head. by Luke M.

me 2 Amber by Kendra O.

I like reading because you can go into the world of your book. And forget everything around you. by maya

Reading is fun cause there are all kinds of types of books. by Emma W

I also like to read because there are so many books you can choose from. by Eve

ya eve by josie

yep Eve, and a bunch of genres and stuff like that by Gannon

the reason I love to read is is because I love to imagine what it is unlike in a movie were you just the see the people. by Laurel C.

I like to read also because if you don’t like one choice you can read another. by emilie

I agree with Emma W. by David

still learn something even though that’s not what it is specifically for by Emily S.

Emilie, i also love to read because you have so much information. I especially like books when they are discriptive by Bella J

Emilie I agree with you about reading because you enjoy the exciting things that can happen in a book. by sophia

I agree Eve by Emma W

Reading is my favorite subject because it helps you learn and there are so many things to read. by Keaton G.

I like to read because you can learn and use your imagination by Reagan S.

I like to read because it gives you ideas and it just plain fun and it is one of my favorite things to do by Ella

Reading is also my Favorite subject!!! by Eve

One of the reasons you need to read is because if you don’t know how to read, you are going to get NOWHERE in life by Matthew

i agree with emma W. by isabella

what i like about books is that if you find a book you really really love than you want to read it all day long by Gabby

Reading is a great way to spend time instead of watching tv pick up a good book and just learn more. About fairies or someone elses life or by Katie

true mthew true by josie i like reading because you learn new words. books will help you with life.books like: textbooks, a dictionary, a book for school, or for fun by Abby p.

i bet everybody has read at least one book in life because of what matthew siad by Gannon

I read for entertainment and for fun. I also read when I am tiered and board. by William R.

Learning about things you didn’t know by Katie

I would read 80 mins if I get the chance. by spencer

it can help you in life if you know how to read by Ella

i mean mathew by josie Reading can sometimes be boring but usually its fun by Emily S.

I like to read because it also helps me think of writing ideas. by maya

I love to read also Amber and reading is something that I think everybody should enjoy! by sophia

Also you need to read because that’s something you need to know in life by Reagan S.

Stories are Amazing I love them my Favorite type of books are fiction, folk, and fairy tales by Kailie R

yes thats true Reagan s by Gabby

<-and i like the words there sometimes easy somtimes hard thats what i like. to train my brain also by Gibbs

I agree with Mathew by Eve

i agree reagan. by maya

Same here William by spencer

I read because 1. the ability is needed to pass school 2. it’s very enjoyable 3. you can’t live without it. If you can’t read you wont -> by Brayden

get a job to pay for your house and food. by Brayden

and other types of books. I also read because you can enjoy whatever the book is about. Also, you can make your own book, and sometimes -> by Scimitar

thats true maya by josie

books are knowledge fun and so much more by Gannon

thats very true Gannon by Gabby

I like read because I get to learn things that sound fun, it is entertaining and it is endless because there is so much to read. by Jade

My favorite is writing books not only reading them. by emilie

Books also help you learn and I just love reading! by Katie

i agree with matthew reading does get you no were by Gibbs

true Katie by Gannon

I agree Jade by Reagan S.

I’m agreeing with alot of people by Kailie R

Brayden i like the way you worded that out by Gabby

i agree with jade by isabella

A summery to my last post is you would get nowhere if you could not read. by Wyatt

Wyatt I totally agree by Emily S.

If it’s a good story, I don’t get tired of reading it. by Harrison ->

I love to read because its so fun I do not even no what to say its just so fun by Laurel C.

Fiction is my favorite type of book is fiction by Luke M.

In some cases reading can be a challenge and takes-> your imagination far far away. by Emma W

I agree Harrison by Reagan S.

I LOVE to read. Its fun and it helps you learn things. by Matthew

I agree with Harrison. by David

Harry Potter is a great book. by spencer

and i agree spencer by Matthew

i like to read cause it makes you feel like your in another demension by josie

reading is an exiting journey from page to page of excitement and entertainment by Luke E.

I like to read fiction books. What kinds of books do you like to read? by Eve

reading is the way you learn if you can’t read it is really hard to learn. reading is all around you. by maya

i agree Luke E by Gabby

I agree mtthew by Luke M.

i agree Luke E. by isabella

real books can give you ideas. Another reason is that it is fun to read and kills time in a good way, instead of sitting on a couch. -> by Simrat

if its good i read it for about 2 hours or more its good why stop reading by Gibbs

i agree matthew by josie

There’s so many books out there and countless hours in your life why not use one of those hours to read? by Katie

i agree josie by Gabby

I agree Luke .E. by Bella

I KNOW that i have read more than a hundred books in my life because i love going to different worlds in story’ Bella J

maya that is really true and i really like how you worded it by Gabby

and everybody here has read at least 5 books am i right? and we should have a goal to do that if we haven’t! by Gannon

you can solve a crime play quitage travel to Narnia or be a pasenger on the titanic with reading there are no limmets by Kendra O.

I like to read because if you have to do a project for school then you could go read and then you could have an idea. by Keaton G.

i like to read fiction to eve by josie

Sorry Matthew miss type by Luke M.

i love to read it is fun because if it is a fiction books it is like a brain but on paper so you never forget your knowledge by Ella

Eve i like to read adventurous books. by maya

Me to Josie. by Eve

I like writing books because it is the same amount of exitment. by emilie

whenever i read a book that i really like i can imagine what it would look and sound like by Abby p.

My favorite type of books are fantasies because they usually have the most adventure. by Harrison

I agree with Matthew it is really fun. by Brayden

Life is important. Reading is one of the steps to getting older by Matthew

In books you can learn about the past or about what you want to do in life by Katie

i agree with mattew by Gibbs katie how many books have you read this year you think? by Gabby

i agree abby p by Ella

Kendra you are so right. by Bella J

It is also good entertainment if you are bored. That is why I like to read. by Simrat

I think that reading can also inspire you to learn things maybe in the past you did not want to learn, but if you learn it without -> by Emily S.

i think reading is a very inportant thing by Ella

It’s a good way to help you on picturing things in your head! And it’s a good thing to do if your just board by Amber

Reading is my second favorite subject. My first favorite subject is math. by William R.

my favorite book is diary of a wimpy kid by Luke E.

I agree Katie. by Brayden

I like action books. by spencer Fairy tales make me think that ‘m in the storie too! Does anybody else do that too? by Kailie R

i agree amber by Ella

my mom always has to tell me to turn off the light at 11 o’clock. by maya

I agree Matthew by Reagan S.

i like to read realistic fiction. by Emma W

me to ella by Amber

sorry i spelld it wrong Matthew by Gibbs

That is one of my favorite books, Luke E. by Simrat

I like fantasy and historical fiction by Matthew

i like the book diary of a wimpy too luke e by Gabby

In the book Claws you never know what type of magical creature may poop out next. by sophia

What is your guys favorite type of book. by Luke M.

I like books also about the future!!! by Bella J

Gabby: Plenty books and I am going to read many more! by Katie what is your fav book. by maya

me 2 kielie by Kendra O.

whenever i start reading a book i can’t stop reading! by isabella

everybody has a diffrent favorite genre .you could like fiction, non-fiction, biographes, Historical fiction and so much more! by Gannon

i love to read like a lot of people by josie

my favorite book is keeper. by emilie

I’m reading early thunder for ms. white by Luke E.

I like harry potter books by Amber My favorite type of book is fantasy kind of book by Laurel C.

ha good respond katie by Gabby

I like the kane cronicles. by gavin

Well maya i just cant choose by Katie

My Mom has to make me stop reading almost every night. by David

Thank you Gabby by Katie

I agree harrison that fiction has lots of good adventures by Jade ya what is your favorite book katie? by Gabby

Also why i read is because some times books are better then movies because books you get to imagine the story in your head by Wyatt

same here, david. by gavin

knowing it it can be a whole lot more fun by Emily S

. My favorite book is the fighting ground by Avi right now, from MS. White by Simrat

I like the Kane chronicles to Gavin. by David

Same with me David and then during the day my Mom says read read read! by Katie

my favorite series is magic treehouse by Luke E.

d by Wyatt

I like harry potter, the bone series, and the percy jackson by Matthew

katie whats your favorite book by Gabby

Gavin I LOVE the kane chronicals by Emily S.

And mostly, i like books because they help us learn. you could learn math,science,Spelling, etc. by Gannon

oops by Wyatt

Reading is a great way to learn by Katie

i agree with katie by Gibbs

When I’m on the computer my parents always say read! by Luke M.

I don’t know Gabby by Katie

ya it really is katie like the way you think by Gabby

Me to katie by Matthew

There are some books that you just never want to end. Have you ever read a book like that? What is it? by PW

me to luke m by Gibbs

Yes by Katie

i like the K C to by Wyatt

What’s your favorite genre of books? by Simrat

whats everyones favorite book by Emma W

there are many different kinds of books: fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, adventure, relistic fiction, historical fiction and others by Abby p.

i prefer reading in my head than out aloud by Luke E.

I love the Harry Potter series. by David

Fiction Simrat by Luke M.

OH YEAH!! by gavin

Reading is an amazing way to exercise your brain by Katie

i like war of the worlds so far emma by Gibbs

I like fiction the most. by David

i agree luke E. by isabella

Simrat, my favorite type of book is mystery and informational books by Emily S.

my favorite book is the book, Hidden by Abby p

. i really like the book wonder that i’m reading. by Emma W

whoops. by gavin

i like all the 3 Rick Riordan seiries and i have read them all including Kane chronicles, The last olimpian and the other ones by Gannon

katie do you like non fictional books like biographys and learning books? by Gabby

Emma Wonder Is a GREAT book by Luke M.

Ooh, good comment, Luke E–I wonder how many of us would prefer to read silently rather than out loud? by beginningquestion

That is why Reading is amazing by Katie Luke M whats your fav series by Matthew

i like nonfiction war books ps like reading alone by Gibbs

i love the book wonder. to emma by maya

Would you rather read by yourself, or with a buddy, or reading to a group by Simrat

I like the hunger games series does anybody else by Wyatt

i read silentley by Gannon

I like to read in my head. by David

I rather read outloud when I am alone by Katie i like reading at my own pace by Gabby

Thats interesting, Katie by Matthew \

I like reding by myself by Wyatt i like to by me self simrat by isabella

I would have to agree on Luke E. I am a better reader when i read in my head. by Luke M.

I think reading is amazing because it exercises your brain and is a fun way to do so by Katie

same why do you like reading in your head david by Gibbs

im putting another question out, who reads books that have a series and people who dont read books that have a series by Gannon

percy jackson is a great series! by gavin

My favorite series is the Gregor books but now i cant read them anymore because there is no more reading time in our class. by Brayden

wich do you like better: reading with a buddy, silently, out loud, or with group by Abby p.

Wyatt–I really liked the stories, the characters and how they interacted, but I didn’t like the violence. Did you see the movie? by MsWhite

I read fast or slow depends how good the book is’ by Matthew

what kinds of books do you like to read. by maya

I also liked the Underland Chronicles, Brayden by Simrat

When ever i read out loud i make mistakes that i dont notice in my head. by David

i read at home. by maya I like fiction by Wyatt war books maya by Gibbs

i prefer reading silently because if are thinking you can stop but when you read out loud you have to keep going by Emma W

Ms. White- Reading is my favorite subject by Katie

Same hear Matthew by David

has anyone read wonder-struck? by gavin


My favorite genre is adventure by Simrat

fiction historical fiction by Matthew The Gregor series is awesome. by David

I feel more concentrated when there is no noise and when i have no home work by Luke E.

Fiction Wyatt by Luke M.

And it dosn’t disturb other people by Emma W

fiction is gonna have the most comments by Gannon

i like fantasy Wyatt by maya

i like marvel comic books so much action and good stoires by Gibbs

who likes to read when it is silent. And who likes to read when there is some noise by Abby p.

i like wonder struck if anyone hasnt read it i would suggest that by Gabby

I have Gavin and I think is an amazing book and I love how it uses pictures. by Katie

Magical adventures I like or just weird mysterious fiction. by Luke M.

Gavin, Wonder struck is a great book. by David

wierd mysteery lucas by Gibbs

Has anyone ever read Out Of My Mind? by Katie

another question, who reads books for fun and who reads books because there suppose to? by Gannon

I like reading when it is silent abby by Simrat

What is everyones favorite authors? mine is Rick Riodran, he is the author of the Kane chronicles, The Hero’s Of Olympus, Jackson series. by Emily S.

yes i love him by Matthew

me to Luke E by Gannon

I hate reading when it is noisy by Luke E.

so do i luke.e by Gibbs

i like rick riordan to emily. by maya

I like both Gannon by Emma W

i have read out of my mind,its awesome katie by isabella

Has any body read a book called ship breakers by Wyatt

I love Rick Riordan. by David

me too luke E by Emma W

I think that mine would probably be Jeff Kinney, Emily. by Simrat

rick rordian is the best writer EVER! by gavin

honestly i dont put my self to one catogory by Gabby

I like rick rio by Matthew

Me too Luke E. because I cant think straight and I have to go back! ( When I read when it is noisy) by Katie

I like R R by Wyatt Also the Septimus Heap books were really cool! by Brayden

what series or books do you recommend by Abby p.

i like susan collins cause shes very descriptive by Emma W

harry potter by Matthew

What is your favorite seiries by Simrat

I prefer to read in quiet spaces and I like to read out loud quietly sometimes. by Emily S.

Who agrees with me that everybody in here overpowers all other genres because they like fiction by Gannon

i like harry potter time to time its take a long time somtimes and its fun by Gibbs

i’m reading that series brayden by Abby p.

has anyone here read redwall? by gavin

Bye by Wyatt

i rocomend the percy jackson series abby. by maya

Septimus heap sireis is awesome. by David Percy Jackson rocks. by David

wonderstruck has amazing works of art in it by gavin

Minecraft? or Crafting Minds?

Several days ago, I found this (what I’d consider to be fairly old now)  YouTube video called “What Does It Mean To Teach In The 21st Century?”  While I plan to critique part of it in this blog, I like some parts of it and plan to use it with our teachers on Monday’s workday to spark conversation. Take 9 minutes to watch it, or this blog post won’t make as much sense as I intend, I don’t think.

First, let me say that my definition of engagement is based on Phil Schlechty’s work and that of our adaptations through our learning walks.  Our administrators, as they do learning walks in our classrooms, look for what we’ve defined (with John Antonetti) as the 8 engaging qualities.  These include:

personal response

clear and modeled expectations

emotional/intellectual safety

learning with others

sense of audience


novelty and variety


These are derived from Schlechty’s work by John Antonetti, who has worked extensively with our district in the past. So, as we design classroom work, or look at what we’re doing, we look for those qualities.

And, as a mathematical thinker, as a logical person, as someone who appreciates comparing and contrasting, I generally like dichotomies–but pairing entertainment and engagement doesn’t work in this video.

I don’t know about you, but the work I do–as an adult–is pretty enjoyable to me if it encompasses those traits. And, so I have to disagree with some of the dichotomies set up in that video.

First, entertainment is passive and engagement is active. What?  Some of the things I do for entertainment include reading, solving a puzzle, playing a game, playing jeopardy, hanging out with my grandkids (and that is NOT passive, believe me!), camping, storytelling and I’ve spent years waterskiing! I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.

Secondly, entertainment is enjoyment and engagement is learning???? When I’m learning I’m not entertained, and I can’t enjoy learning?  That’s simply crazy!

And look at the other dichotomies set up–

entertainment=short lived, engagement =long term

entertainment=not relevant, engagement =meaningful, applicable

entertainment=allowing escape from reality, engagement =solving problems

entertainment=using creativity of others, engagement =using your own creativity, fun, exciting

Again, it’s not an either/or situation in any of those cases in my mind…

But let’s look at some of the movements abroad in schools today…Minecraft for education, the maker movement, coding of all kinds, problem/project/passion-based learning, connected educators and kids, flipped classrooms, etc., etc., etc. Are those things either entertainment or engagement?  Doesn’t engagement entertain us? And doesn’t entertainment engage us?

And what does that have to do with Minecraft? Is school all about entertainment and engagement?  Do our kids have to be entertained to be engaged?  Do they have to always be engaged? And why am I concerned so much with these two words?

Well, my room is where kids come to play Minecraft. My room is where they explain it to one another , set up mods, visit each others’ worlds, and can chase and kill zombies (or be killed by them.)  They tell me they’re building and making, and honestly, I don’t know if they’re just feeding me a line of bull. So I wonder about their engagement. I wonder about their learning, and I wonder about their time.  I wonder about their interactions with others (both online and off) and I wonder about wasted opportunities to do other stuff.

So I think about engagement and entertainment and wonder if Minecraft is really worth my kids’ time. They used to interact with one another face to face, playing strategy games. They used to cooperatively build structures and towns and communities with our digital fabrication tools.  They used to be into exploring our 3-D printer. And, I know they’re doing all of those skills (sort of) when they get into Minecraft.  But is it what they should be spending their time doing in school while they are face to face?

It’s an “and,” not an “or”–but kids have to find the balance for themselves. The “and” begs for balance–I play a handheld Othello game each morning…and play Qwirkle with my friends in the evening.  Those entertain me–as does the soap opera I have watched since I was in middle school.  But those things are important to my refreshing who I am–they engage me, in various ways, but they also invigorate me, as they allow me to reflect, rejuvenate myself and energize myself through down time. Finding the balance for myself between the down time I need and the time I use for growing and learning is MY choice–it’s MY decision to spend time online interacting with new acquaintances and friends (some of whom have become real f2f friends) or with my nearby friends that I live around every day.

So how do we, as teachers, help our students find their personal balance?  How do we encourage them to explore online avenues of growth, but also realize the importance of face to face interactions?  How do we allow them to make their own choices, and not judge them as they make different choices from what we might make?  This is their youth–and while it is different from ours, the values I value are still the values I can teach–and I believe, values that matter.  While technology enhances and enables our students of today to learn in ways I never imagined as a youth, the choices I make as a teacher need to enhance and enable them to make good decisions as they become adults–because they are MY future as well.  We need to help students, as always, learn balance between being responsible and having fun; we need to help them learn from life experiences while demonstrating good sense; and we, as teachers need to help themselves craft their minds.  We need to make sure, as they use the technologies available to them, that they are not simply using games like Minecraft and other online diversions to avoid growing and learning, but instead learning through them and with them and finding the balance they need to become the best they can be.

Kids Champion Each Other

You know there are always kids in a school every other child knows–you know, the leaders, the clowns, the misbehavers, the in crowd, the whatevers…but darn near every kid knows their name and recognizes them where ever they are.

And, new kids often don’t know those kids or at least, they may not know initially which are the clowns, or the misbehavers. So it’s nice when someone can give them the inside scoop.

I’m often in a unique position to talk to kids because of being a resource teacher. I sometimes am testing a kid so get some private time, and sometimes do small groups, so kids are more likely to bring things up, and I let kids have lunch in my room–which means I sometimes overhear casual conversations that allow me to get into something we teachers may not otherwise know about.

But one of the funniest times I championed a kid was when one of our kids tried to pull a prank on the new kid. The new kid was in my room, and left to go to the bathroom, fairly close to my room. He came back a few minutes later, with a somewhat uneasy look on his face , saying “John was hiding behind the bathroom door when I went in.” I said “What?” and he repeated what he said.  I couldn’t help it–I was absolutely fighting to hide my chuckling.  I then asked, ‘You mean John was hiding behind the door to scare the next kid who came in?”  New Kid:  “I guess so.”  I burst out laughing at that point, and said something to the effect of “Oh, my gosh, I wonder how long he was in the bathroom waiting for someone.”  At that point, the new kid laughed (as did other kids who were listening) and we all began wondering how long one would have to stand in the bathroom before someone else came in. The new kid’s fear was diffused, he recognized that the “hider” had no ill intent other than to be funny, and it became no big deal.

In fact, a week or so later, the new kid was in my room, and the hider walked in to say something to me. (He was avoiding going to where he was supposed to be, so I reminded him he needed to be in Science.)  As he left, the new kid laughingly said, “And, don’t go hiding in the bathroom, either!” The “hider” turned around, made eye contact with the new kid, smiled, and immediately headed to the bathroom.  We all laughed.

Within a few minutes, the new kid asked if he could go to the bathroom.  I asked what he had planned and he said he was going to let the other one scare him so he wouldn’t have to hide in the bathroom long.  I knew then that I didn’t need to champion the “hider” anymore with the new kid–he had the “hider” figured out–and was trying to help him!

Ya gotta love how kids figure out how to support and champion each other.  And, yeah, I know this isn;t an academic thing, but the social often outweighs the learning if it’s not good.

Championing Kids’ Acceptance

Part of what we do as teachers is help kids accept other kids.  If our attitude towards certain kids is less than accepting, or worse, sarcastic, then kids see that as permission to discard that student as well.  And, let’s face it –we all have kids that are hard for us, for whatever reason.

I found a long time ago that if I find myself not liking a kid, the best thing to do is spend MORE time with that kid. I find something fun to do and invite the kid…and once I have spent some time one on one, that often negates the feelings I had ben having. The bottom line, though, is that we cannot allow ourselves OR OTHERS to kick kids out of a group.

Championing Kids means to accept  them and help others accept their quirkiness as well.   YEARS ago, I was teaching K and had a kid who was a hitter–had no social skills to speak of, so I was trying like crazy to help him acclimate himself to being in a group, follow school rules and stop hitting. But, boy, was he smart…I had taught an older sibling and knew the family, and this child had pretty much grown up without boundaries, but with much love. I also knew the family valued the kids behaving in school, but were just too busy to deal with conforming at home–and the older siblings were 10+ years older.

So, one day after having watched some usually nice kids in my classroom attempt to get together to isolate this child, I decided to have a class meeting.  Sitting this kid on my lap, I decided to bring his behavior up to the group. I basically held this kid in a hug while I explained to the other 5 and 6 year olds that he was not deliberately trying to be mean when he grabbed stuff or hit, but that he just didn’t know YET how to be considerate (see my K rules post) and that I thought they could help him. I then asked him if wanted our help to be more able to play nicely with other kids, and he nodded.  That led into a discussion about how the rest of us could react when he hit or grabbed a toy. We spoke to language we could use, we practiced it and we gave him the words he needed to use as well.

championed him my letting the others know it was NOT okay to kick him out and make him feel ostracized.  I championed him  by sharing how smart he was and explaining we needed to help him learn because he just didn’t have it YET. I championed him by empowering him to acknowledge he would take help, and then we gave him the words and phrases he needed to learn how to share.  And I championed him by NOT putting him down but letting him know we accepted him and cared for him and would help him be the best he could be.

The important things here were that I asked his permission for him to get help from others, I was clearly saying by holding him that I accepted him and cared for him, and I took away the other kid’s feelings about HIM being a bad kid and put it on his actions, NOT who he was. It took a while to eradicate the hitting, but his behavior markedly improved right away and soon he was no longer hitting or grabbing toys as his first strategy. I’ve always remembered that because I basically talked with a group about one child’s specific issue…and I had some qualms then about doing it and have pondered if there was a better way many times.

BUT, the most important part of this story is what happened 10 or 11 or 12 years later. I had organized a group of alternative HS kids to come over and connect with my kids. You see, they were working on programming legos (making an amusement park, complete with a carousel, ferris wheel and other rides) and my kids had been working with Duplos. Our Superintendent, @pammoran, connected the teachers and we decided to share our activities across the kids.

So who walks in, but this kid I have shared with you.  And, as I gave him a big ‘ole hug, the first words out of his mouth were, “This is still my favorite class of all the ones I have been in!”  He then sat on the floor and began talking to my kids with respect, with kindness and with laughter and joy.  I caught him looking around and as the big kids were leaving, he pointed out (to his friends) things he remembered playing with as a K kid. Going out the door, he turned, caught my eye and smiled.

That’s championing kids!

Rules for Life

I believe the most important thing we can do in school is help kids navigate their own lives. That includes helping them be smart enough to do so, and that includes learning facts and how to maneuver in this world, but most of all it involves understanding oneself and others. Teachers have an amazing amount of power over how a child thinks, especially when they are young, and we absolutely can impact how a child approaches learning and life to at least some extent.

There’s been a lot of buzz in social media recently about Matt B. Gomez’ rule for his Kindergarten class, making his one classroom rule, “Be Brave!”  I like that and would definitely add it to the three I used with Kindergarten. In fact, as Betsy (my collab teacher) and I were talking to our fifth graders the other day, I cited those three from my K class to them.

My first rule–Be Safe.  When you come to school, you should be safe–no one wants anyone to get hurt–so as you work and play, do it in a way that you won’t get hurt. (This negates me having to constantly say the “Don’ts”…don’t run in the hall, don’t hang off the slide, don’t run with scissors, etc.) Instead of saying, “Don’t” all the time, and fussing at kids for being careless, when they do something that is not safe, I help them become conscious of their actions through questioning and helping them think through the options.  “Were you just being safe?  What could happen if you continue?  What can you do instead?  What are other options you have?” AND, if the behavior happens multiple times, then I add, “What can you do to help you  remember what you’re saying right now and act on it? Do you need my help?  If so, what can I do to help you remember?”

Second rule–Be considerate. The main thing little kids (and honestly, some big ones, too) need to understand is that they are part of a group and with that comes a different mindset than when you are alone. I say to kids–you are NOT the only person in this room and we all have to help one another for it to be a great place to be. With my K kids, we talked about how when you are by yourself at home or in your own space (bedroom, playhouse, outside, etc.) you can do things you can’t necessarily do in a group. For example, if you are watching a movie at home, you might get your cars or dolls or legos and play with them as you are watching the movie. But if you try to do that at school, you’ll be distracting other people and keeping them from learning, because people will be watching you. If you’re sharing scissors at the table, you can’t keep the scissors by your seat all the time, because others need to use them–use them when you need them and then put them back in the center of the table.  If you’re at home, sometimes you can leave your toys out and come back to them later–but when in a classroom of 20 kids, you need to clean up after yourself so others don’t have to walk around or over whatever you take out.  The more explicit the examples are, the better kids understand what being considerate means. Again, when a child does something that is more egocentric, you can simply ask about the rule: “Are you being considerate?  Does that show you are thinking of other people in here? How does that support everyone else in here?  What can you do differently?”

Third rule:  Be a Thinker. School is a place you come to learn, so be a thinker. Think about what you know, what you have learned, what you already know and questions you have.  We do a lot of  talking about “smart kids.”  Smart kids ask questions.  Smart kids listen carefully to instructions, and ask clarifying questions if they don’t understand.  Smart kids pick out a variety of books from the library–ones that will be fun, ones that will challenge them, ones that will help them learn,. etc. Smart kids keep trying , even when something is hard, but when they get frustrated , they may take a break or ask for help, or walk away from the problem for a bit, etc. The idea is to help kids develop strategies for being a thinker all the time. We especially talk about play as thinking. Even during play, you are thinking–you are making choices and decisions, using your imagination and exercising your brain as you relax and/or increase the blood flowing to it.

These are reinforced over and over as we live our year together…not spouted as rules all at once the first days of school. These are rules that if everyone followed for their lives, we could all live very differently, don’t you think?

What Does it Mean?

Championing Kids–What DOES it mean?

In the past few years, we’ve had a fairly large turnover at my school, for a variety of reasons…growth, retirements, people moving…but that means we’ve also had a fairly large number of new teachers join us, and that’s been good. The ones I’ve had the pleasure of working with are extremely conscientious, hard working and most of all, care deeply about kids.

And that’s the first step to “championing kids.” You absolutely have to give a hoot about the kids–all kids, not just the teacher pleasers, or the ones who play school well. We’ve got kids in our classes who don’t play school well–or who have learned to play a version of it that doesn’t get them ahead–in either gaining privileges through showing responsibility OR the learning arena. So, teachers who champion kids work on those skills explicitly (as well as implicitly) while teaching and scaffolding learning.

For example, in a collab fifth grade class last week, my collab teacher, Betsy (@bagee1), and I spoke to the kids directly about body language and what it says when you’re in a group listening. We talked about the fact that you could be paying all the attention in the world to the speaker with your ears, but if your back is turned, the speaker may think you are not interested. I spoke a bit about body language and listening and how to code switch and how to know when to code switch, then Betsy added some comments about personal behaviors and how to manage them.  She addressed the fiddlers, the wigglers, the kids who simply learn better if they are moving a bit or not concentrating all of their energy on sitting still.

But she didn’t tell them they had to stop–the message was be aware of how your behavior is impacting others. Betsy never put anyone down for tapping a pencil or squirming around, or clicking a pen (one of my habits) or fiddling with their belongings or doodling, or any of the other thousands of  things kids can find to entertain themselves (and drive otehers around them nuts). Instead, she was clearly saying we accept you, and let’s figure out a way for you to be yourself, but be considerate of others at the same time. Her message was definitely to be yourself, but consider how your behavior is impacting others and change something if you are distracting others.  Then we gave explicit strategies.  Put the pencil down, move away from the person you’re distracting, move to the back of the group, etc.

That’s one of the reasons I really enjoy collaborating with teachers, but especially Betsy.  She champions kids all the time.  She doesn’t raise her voice, she never appears perturbed, but she is constantly pushing kids to excel, to work together, to accept others, to recognize strengths and to honor and respect the community in the classroom.

Championing kids means setting up a classroom community to accept differences and honor what we all bring to the table. It means recognizing that people will use different tools, work in a variety of different ways and have varying preferences for where to work, which tools and methodologies to use and that individuals even care about when to work and with whom they work. It’s about providing meaningful choice and acceptance and challenge to constantly grow and learn and work cooperatively with and around others.

My next post will be on rules that support championing individuals.

Championing Learners

I have always loved the quirky kids–the ones who are what I call “odd ducks.” It’s one reason I hate the phrase “instructional tolerance.” I just don’t believe anyone should be “tolerated” for being who they are.

So I blogged about that about a month ago, as our county has initiated a series of “pathways” teachers are supposed to explore and one is “instructional  tolerance.” The definition of that pathway is

 Supports a learning environment where active, engaged learners routinely choose from a variety of learning spaces, collaborative and individual activities, and technology tools, including their own personal devices; values students having opportunities to learn best practices essential to entering contemporary learning and work environments and enables students to sustain an open mindset and skillset in the use of evolving technology tools.

I’m not sure why that is tolerance at all. Sounds simply like good education to me. But I did find out I’m not the only one who has an issue with “tolerance” as part of that pathway.

However, I don’t want to revisit that post.

I want to propose another word.  And I found the word (I think).

How about championing learners”?

Supports a learning environment with active, engaged learners”….”values students”….”enables students”…”learners choose”….

I think all of those are ways to champion learning, don’t you?

For me, it’s not about the instruction, but about the learning….and what we do to NOT get in the way, but instead support and scaffold and sustain and encourage and promote and find value in and have compassion for and show passion about and share opportunities to… learn.

I’ll be exploring what I mean by that phrase in the next post and maybe more after that…Join me on that journey if you want.

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