Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Along Came TED

The Beginnings:

It all started with TED and TED started in 1984 as a conference on Technology, Entertainment and Design. TED made its way into my life with various talks I watched. Then three years ago, I had a great idea. Why not incorporate them into my classroom? So, I did and we watched a few. Then I thought why not have the students write and practice and speak their own? So, for the past two years, that is what they have done.

Here they are below.

2014-2015 The theme was Everything Is Awesome & What To Do When It Is Not. I had a group of fifth graders.

The TED Days

2015-2016 The theme was The Change Begins With Me In Grade Three. I had a group of third graders.

On the first go around,  I incorporated all that I had learned from models in the field of Geniushour such as Joy Kirr  and Angela Maiers and I had picked a theme from the beginning of the year that was based off of the LEGO Movie song, Everything Is Awesome. It is a catchy song, but it is not true. Sometimes, things are NOT awesome and life will get you down and the lessons are learned in those moments.

The trick to implementation is starting on the first day of school. You know, you get in the end magnificent results if you do all the hard work in the beginning. Though you can't hear the TED Talks from this 2014-2015, ones that stand out to me are: Divorce and Me, Sports Leadership, Attitude Is Everything, Obstacles Can Make You Awesome and All Things Are Possible, School Is Hard--But I Am Amazing.  I recall many tears shed by myself. I was trying to Instagram it all, and I was pulled into each speech with my heart.

By the time 2015-2016 started, I had prepared all summer for what would be the foundation of the school year. I wraped everything around a theme. I settled on The Change Begins With Me In Grade Three and I looked for connections to that all year long. What went well was the incorporation of valuable lessons written out by Angela Maiers in Liberating Genius. If you don't know where to start, start there. It helped to read Paul Solarz' book over the summer as well to continue to create a student owned classroom.

What is magnificent is the growth in the students throughout the year that I can document by something that is not a test. It is a growth of character. See, by the time each year that we got to the TED Talk time, the students had already done two other Geniushour speeches and had been in the process of practicing how to give a public speech.  I had gone in both years from students who could barely stand in front of classmates, to students who couldn't wait to share their passion and hearts with the world.

That is why I teach.

The How

Preparing students for TED talk speeches is NOT easy.


There are many ways that people are doing Geniushour and not a single one of them is the right way, instead, you have to figure out what is the right fit for you and for your students for that year only. There are great resources to help you and that you might want to consider reading. Then set it up from the beginning of the school year, and give many opportunities for public speaking, invite the general public and families and celebrate wildly.








Genius Hour Guidebook: Fostering Passion, Wonder and Inquiry In the Classroom

Pure Genius

Teach Like A Pirate

Learn Like A Pirate

Passion Driven Classroom

Public Speaking Skills:

It was from my friend Sandy Otto that I learned first about PVLEGS and let me tell you, that works! She introduced me to Eric Palmer's speaking and listening which helped me to frame better the lessons behind Geniushour which are public speaking empowerment so that your story, your heart can be heard!





Well Spoken

Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking

The Importantance of Mattering:

As Angela Maiers says, Mattering Is the Agenda! It all comes down to that and I believe it to the core. So much beauty comes out of the moments when we take the time to listen to each other's hearts.



Angela Maiers TED Talk


Liberating Genius

Classroom Habitudes

The Why

It is so simple to find the why for me. It is simply centered around genius and passion. We are all born with gifts and talents that the process of "doing school" had not in the past cared much about in its educational high academic quest, but matters of the heart do indeed matter.  I want to be caught up, I want to be found in the middle of helping students on their path of self discovery and along the way, grow into strong leaders with excellent speaking skills! That my friends, is 21st Century learning to me.

As I transition to a new post next year at a new school, I hope to bring this core element of learning with me and continue on with our TED Talks, because it helps the students put their DOT on the world in a tremendous way and to realize that they can color with all the crayons in the box! !

Along Came Steve

My friend Steve drove up from Iowa just for the kiddlets in my room for one day of presentations. Here is his reflection. 

TED Talks For Kids: Also it is a good thing to study PVLEGS while watching these people give their TED talk.

Thomas Suarez: A 12-year-old app developer

My Philosophy For A Happy Life

Overcoming Hopelessness

Caine's Arcade

How Do You Define Yourself

My Invention That Made Peace With Lions

Inside the Mind of A Maker

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Activate Learning Through Making Connections

We all are a walking file drawer of  information and we gathered that information and will keep gathering it as we continue in this life. It is that information, those experiences that we as teachers need to tap into.

The picture to your left is a representation of the students in your classroom and the background information that they have stored away before they even got to you. Information that has gotten them this far in life. Some of it is good, perhaps great in fact, and other information which is painful to leveled degrees.

If you open up the file drawer and peer into the lives of each of student, you will get a glimpse of what they know already and what they bring to your classroom to add to the discussion. Doing this creates a link between what they already know and what you are trying to teach. Their drawer might not be as organized as this picture. Depending on experiences that mostly deal with family history, it could be quite messy and they will come to us unsorted. Some will come sorted, and look pretty on the outside but really quite messy on the inside.

However, here's the secret..if you don't care what is in their file drawer, they will not attach themselves to what you are teaching them. That is why this step is a vital, do not miss part of teaching pedagogy. If you want to reach the mind of the child, you need to go through the heart of the child.

It is our job as we teach these students to build on this information. It is an acquired skill, it takes time and often we want to rush through this step, but it is this step that connects old learning with new learning.

Asking questions about what they already know about the people you are studying, or the place, perhaps the experience or whatsoever content shows to them that they matter to you, you have validated them. It is important to create a safe and respectful learning community so that the students will be able to share, especially when the background knowledge is painful.

The most straightforward way to enhance students' academic background knowledge is to provide academically enriching experiences, particularly for students whose home environments do not do so naturally. I refer to such efforts as “direct approaches” to enhancing academic background knowledge.

Here is the blessing to you as a teacher, you will be able to look for gaps in understanding. You can make a fly by assessment of their background knowledge to look for even misunderstandings and you get a peek inside the minds of the students which is a sacred honor.

The following are some ways to build background knowledge, but the most important part is to be creative and vary your approach. Doing the same thing over and over will bore them as much as you! 

  • Prediction questions
  • Using poll everywhere
  • Post signs around the classroom about key facts, dates, people and have them write down what they know and then you have collected data you can go back and review
  • Browse through the text book
  • Use mentor texts 
  • Take them on a virtual field trip 
  • Show pictures and discuss 
  • Video clips
  • Discuss past experiences or studies
  • Hot potato one word association
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Post on Linoit.me and have them add to the post
  • Create a Google Doc and have them add to the doc
  • KWL chart. When I have done this , I put the K W L in different parts of the room. I actually move the W (what we want to learn) to the L (What we have learned) as we go about learning! 
  • Look for links to native languages (Greek, Latin)
  • Draw or build by using pencils, markers, crayons, Legos or play dough
  • Look for links to cultural experiences
  • Look for links to all kinds of food and festivities/celebrations
  • Play music
  • Word walls
  • Graphic organizers
The point is to make connections. Connect what you are wanting the students to learn to the student themselves, to other text, to other media and to the world around them.


The students do not come to us as a blank slate or as an empty file drawer. They come filled with so much background information, often to the point of overflowing. Discovering this and allowing the time it takes to look at each student and really SEE them, will be the key that unlocks their heart and mind. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Everyone Needs A Fishing Buddy

I love to fish. I don't mind going alone, I also love going with people. I use a pole, but my favorite teacher (Jesus) and the one I learned the best from used a net. Not only did he use a net, he recommended that everyone had a buddy.  Who's your buddy? Who is your accountability partner? Who's got your back? Developing an accountability group and a buddy system with your coworkers (a small select group) will make your work day much more enjoyable and much more effective. 

I have been able to co-teach throughout my career as well as do great deal of MAG (multi-age grouping). I am thankful for the chance to use those opportunities as an accountability partnership, as a buddy in my profession. Accountability is very important.   In order to work closely I have to be very candid and flexible.  

I want to make sure that I am understanding the great commission as it relates to my profession. In scripture Jesus said, "Go into the world. Go everywhere and announce the Message of God’s good news to one and all." Mark 16:15.  In my profession as a public school teacher I can't just GO and well, preach.  Here is what I can do and here are the areas in which I need accountability.

  • I can work hard to develop school-parent and student partnerships. 
  • I can create a culture with the students (and co-workers) where all are accepted just as they are with their unique talents and passions that they bring to the table.
  • I can believe that hope and acceptance of each student will lead to great learning and believe that our school is tailored fit just for them. 

Why just three? Well, because as the going gets tough (and it will), when the soft gentle winds that start out the school year turn into hurricanes throughout the year, I want to have these three things be what I go back to. When you have a fishing buddy, you will find encouragement when you can't tell the head from the tail. A fishing buddy will keep you sharp. 

It fits in with my mission statement just fine as well. 

If I wanted to just focus in on one student, I could use a fishing pole, but we believe that each of these students belong to the collective group of "US" and therefore, I need a net. I can't hold the big net by myself. That is why I need a buddy. We will work together and "catch fish." 

So make sure you find a fishing buddy! You can't do it alone and you were not meant to.