Monthly Archives: August 2012

Play and Primary Sources

As I have been thinking about changes that I want to make in the new school year, I decided that I want to make a section of the room that is devoted to play, simply fun and engaging investigations and challenges. I have a wonderful but very large desk that I am going to repurpose it in order to create more space. I have taken out all of the supplies and papers and put them into a filing cabinet in my closet. I turned it to face the wall, so it is now a table, rather than a desk, so that it can become the heart of my new Play Space. I want to start with primary sources as the tools for the space. I won’t limit it to them, but I want to use them to trigger the imaginations of my students.

First I am going to print and laminate a collection of photographs. There is so much to think about with a good photograph. I want this space to be a place where there is no direct connection to grades and “work.” I want it to truly be for the kind of fun that can come from investigation and exploration, from trying and testing. I recently saw a really effective use of photographs by Stuart Chandler on the Olympics through time.  I want to create prompts, like the ones that he uses: What appears to stay the same over time? What appears to change? Can you find any connections? What is similar? What is different? I am going to put them on the bulletin board above the table/desk. I don’t want them to be seen as tasks but to serve as unconscious prompts. My current plan is to change the photographs and prompts throughout the year. There are lots in the photographs to trigger the imagination and curiosity from the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs collection. The Primary Source sets on the Teachers Page at the Library of Congress also are a wonderful resource. Some of them will be connected to work that we are doing in the classroom, but most of them won’t be.

I also am going to take some of the photographs and create puzzles out of them by cutting them into pieces. I will have some that are simply cut into quarters, but I also want to have some that will require some careful observation to put together correctly.

Another part of the Play area is going to be a big box of Lego – the leftovers of having three sons. I want to have pictures of historic buildings and challenge the students to recreate the buildings in Lego. I am currently thinking that I might tie this activity more directly to the time periods we are studying – an amphitheater for the Roman Empire study; a log cabin or tepee for early US. I will definitely take out some books on architecture from the library to have as part of the area, so if they want to choose a different building or time period, that will be possible.

I also want to have some resources on new technology through time. I am going to talk to our Science and Engineering teachers to see if I could get some gears and pulleys to have with the Lego. It would be such fun if someone decided to make a printing press or a water wheel.

I have some card games and history flash cards that I have collected through the years that I will put out as other resources or inspirations.

The two main challenges that I can see right now are time and effort! Where will I carve out time for the students to play? If I don’t give it time, then it won’t happen or be seen as having value. I already have games on my class website that they can play when they finish an assignment. They love those, especially when I let the whole class stop whatever we are doing and just play together. Then they share ideas and solutions. It is a definite favorite! I will need to make some time like that for the Play Corner. Perhaps when we are rotating through activity centers, I will make a stop at the Play Corner, one of the tasks.

The other challenge is for me to maintain my energy in finding new photographs and activities to make the corner interesting. If I don’t change what is there, then it will become commonplace and not a place of interest. When school is in session, there are so many demands on time, I know that I will have to really keep this as a priority. Perhaps though, if it generates interest, the students will participate in keeping it interesting, looking for new pictures and games to include.

Any thoughts, ideas or suggestions are welcome! I am looking forward to the energy and excitement that I imagine this can bring to the classroom!

Part of a Wagon Train

Ever since I wrote my last post about the endless horizon for educators and the constant need for us to be moving forward with our own learning and thinking, I have had this image from my childhood of a wagon train moving across the Great Plains.  I was allowed to watch a half hour of television a day, and I always chose the Westerns. I would sit in front of our black and white television and imagine the world of the Wild West. So, for this blog post, my apologies to the historians! This is not based on the actual history of the period, but simply the world of a child’s imagination, that turned black and white into color.

The journey on a wagon train was one of adventure. A group of people made a radical decision to leave behind the world that they knew and head into the unknown together, hoping for a better life. While they might not have known each other well when the journey started, they were forced to work together and support each other in order to survive the challenges with which they were confronted.

As teachers, many of us are on a similar journey. This is so much the way that I feel about my life as a teacher now. Together with other passionate educators, we are moving away from what is know and taking on whatever challenges appear in our path. We don’t know where the journey will end, or even if there is an end at all. We only know that we want to move forward, away from a place of established answers and towards what we hope will be better.

We have packed our wagons with the best of what we know, our best practices for reaching our students and for connecting with other passionate educators. We have evaluated what we must take with us and what we can leave behind. The ideas and strategies that once seemed so significant that we now know we can live without. Letting go of some of them is hard and we often look back and reconsider. What is the role of memorization in the classroom? Should I still teach reading the way I did before? Is this skill necessary or not? Luckily for us, we do not actually leave it all behind. If we need to reach back, we can grab our old lessons and apply it to future needs.

The idea is important, however, because we need to open up space in our thinking, so that we will investigate and take on new ways of working with our students. If we try to carry all that we have into the future, we will be trapped under the burden of doing it All! There simply are not enough hours in a day to teach the way we did before and the way we might when we grow and learn more. Something must be left behind.

Thankfully, there are scouts who travel with this wagon train, people who are already taking the risks and reporting on their successes and their failures. They are showing us the paths to take and the ones to avoid. We need to make sure that we connected with people who are taking chances and who are pushing their own thinking. Who are you listening to? From whom are you learning? Have you built a challenging PLN that is forcing you to move or are you sitting comfortably where you were last year and the year before? When you look at your Twitter feed, are you reading articles that make you think or simply nod in agreement? If we are going to grow, we must find the people who open our eyes to new ways of thinking. We don’t have to agree with them, but we need to be listening and assessing.

We also must make sure that we serve as scouts for the teachers around us. We can’t be part of the wagon train of old that left the East and never returned. We have to continually combine moving forward ourselves with encouraging the next group join the movement. It can not be about some elite, exclusive group who makes it to some Promised Land, leaving the less fortunate behind. For the sake of the children, we must help each and every teacher to learn and grow. It is our imperative! When we discover a new way of supporting our students or a new means of connecting with other educators, it is our duty to share it. We need to point to an easier path or a more fruitful valley. We can no longer exist in isolation; we must walk together. In this wagon train, there are many scouts for each stage of the journey. We must find the ones who will lead us and challenge us to move forward, and we must in turn share what we knew to guide others forward as well. We must ask ourselves if we are moving forward and if we have invited others along on our journey or are we heading out alone?

That is how we will build a community that travels together and survives the hurdles that we constantly have before us. We must surround ourselves with people who will help clear away the branches or ford the streams. Life, especially one that is spent pushing the boundaries and moving into the unknown, is never going to be a straight and clear highway. It is one that we must travel together!

No Graduation Factor

Last week, I had the privilege to present at the #140edu conference in New York City on a panel with Mary Beth Hertz, @mbteach, and Mike Ritzius, @mritzius, on “A New Species of Educator.” (Thanks to Jeff Pulver, @jeffpulver) for organizing these wonderful times of learning and sharing!) We were talking about what makes connected educators different and whether or not we are so different that we are in fact a new species. One aspect of the shift in connected educators that I spoke about was the fact that they accepted that there were no longer clear goal posts that marked graduation and an end of the learning process. The achievement of a new degree or certificate simply marks movement on the journey, rather than any final accomplishment.

When most of us decided to become teachers, it was after completing 12-16 or more years in a system that they had come to understand. We had started in elementary and proceeded through college, learning the rules and effectively playing the game of school. When we graduated, we headed back into what we thought was that same system, one of encouraging and supporting the learning of the next generation. Many times, as was the case with me, it was even in the same building from which I had graduated.

The system was one based on a model from the 19th and 20th centuries that created a standardized work force to run the factories of the country. Literate and capable workers to keep an effective economy running! From the McGuffey Readers to No Child Left Behind, the goal has been clear with identifiable benchmarks through which each child needed pass in order to successfully graduate. When it came time for graduation, from high school and even more so from college, the assumption was that the major skills of life had been acquired, and each young adult was ready for Life. The system was based on a world where the attributes of being a knowledgeable person were identifiable and quantifiable.

Then the 21st century hit! The speed of change and innovation shattered the goal posts that had marked the end of the time of learning for everyone. Educators can no longer assume that their degrees, for which they worked so hard, are all that is necessary, because they no longer are. The clear, established system no longer exists. While there are aspects of the system that are still critical for students to learn: reading and writing, math and research, there are many, many more that were not being taught when most teachers got their training.

So the first goal posts that have to move are the teachers’. We need to look up and see that what is before us is a limitless horizon for our own learning. We have to put ourselves on a learning journey that happens every day. It doesn’t need to take hours of each day, but it must happen with a regularity that supports ongoing growth in our practice.

The most important aspect of growing our practice in this ever-changing world is to become part of Connected Educator world. There are lots of ways to do that, but it is only through building that network of other committed educators that teachers can dive into the quickly moving stream that is the world of education today. By learning and growing with other educators, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. You don’t have to read all the articles and attend all of the conferences. You just have to share and talk with your partners on the journey.

Then we have to teach our students that learning will not end with graduation, that it truly is about lifelong growth. We need to be modeling how we are tackling new challenges and asking new questions, so that they will see that that is the norm. They need to watch the adults around them develop and change, moving beyond what we first thought and becoming better at what we do. And, most importantly, we need to include them in the journey, walking with us into the future, sharing their strengths and enhancing all that we do together. We need to all get off of the sidelines and move forward!