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Professional Development for Innovative Schools

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An Empathy-Driven Design Process

The engineering design process (see video) is about creating that which does not yet exist. You formulate a problem, explore content related to it, ideate to brainstorm possible solutions, sift through those to select the most effective and feasible, simulate the solution through a prototype you can test, and then, advocate for that solution.

 

Voila! You’ve solved a problem. Or have you?

If you haven’t addressed the needs of those affected by the problem, you haven’t solved it. In order to address those needs, you must be able to comprehensively understand how others are affected by the problem. The Cambridge Dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.”

In IDE Corp’s design process, the first step is to “formulate” the problem. What is the ideal situation? What is the reality? What are the consequences of not solving the problem? Answering the latter two questions requires you to understand deeply how others are affected by the problem, that is, to demonstrate empathy.

Empathy is complex. Consider the nuances of three kinds of empathy, described in a blog post by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence. All are important to develop.

  • Cognitive empathy is the ability to take a perspective and understand what another person is feeling or thinking. This is an important skill but, absent of other types of empathy, it can have a dark side: those who possess it can use it to manipulate and torture others.

 

  • Emotional empathy is the ability to feel along with the person, often experiencing the same physical effects. Scientists are linking this ability to the existence of mirror neurons in the brain. This, too, is important, however, it could leave the empathizer emotionally drained if unable to manage these emotions.

 

  • Compassionate empathy involves both understanding and a compelling need to help. While this kind of empathy is that which leads to success in the design process, cognitive and emotional empathy are critical companions in truly understanding how a problem affects others.

 

Empathy is also comprehensive, depicted in the graphic below as having four elements:

 

As you engage students in the design process, teach them How to Develop an Empathic Approach in Design Thinking.

A Classroom is Like a Swimming Pool

How do you create a culture of creativity and problem-solving while addressing all of the curriculum standards? As you may know about IDE Corp., we love using metaphors and similes to rethink “school” (e.g., “teacher as ferry; teacher as bridge”). So let’s consider the infinity pool: a swimming pool that gives the impression of endlessness and offers exploration while providing supportive boundaries.

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is all about Students Taking Charge, that is, having choice and voice within safe boundaries. Let’s break down some of the structures and strategies:

 

  • Teachers consider the curricular standards and design a problem-based task students could accomplish if they mastered those standards. They design a rubric to provide students with clearly articulated expectations. Teachers present the task and rubric to students at the start of the unit, driving the learning! The task and rubric provide a certain set of boundaries, like a pool, to keep students safe within the realm of the curriculum (because, that is what’s expected in schools these days, unless you’re going rogue!).

 

  • An activity list offers a variety of differentiated learning and practice activities to support students in mastering the curricular goals; however, students decide which to use, when to work on them, and with whom they will work. Students have a lot of choice and voice as they “swim” around the learning environment.

 

  • Teachers facilitate learning, helping students make decisions about their learning paths, providing direct instruction, and probing thinking to move students to higher levels of understanding.

 

  • Every Authentic Learning Unit (ALU) that begins with a task and rubric results in students’ demonstration of knowledge through the creation of some sort of product or performance. If the product or performance itself is not a part of the curricular goals, teachers should allow students to present in a variety of ways. For example, if you’re teaching poetry writing, students may be limited to writing a poem; but if you’re asking students to present a solution to designing a zoo habitat for an animal, you can allow them to present that through a written proposal, video, multimedia presentation, scale model, or any other means, because your curriculum is about habitats, not presentations.

 

The structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom are what enable the freedom. Within those structures, students are empowered to explore, make decisions, be creative, and invent. Make your classroom a swimming pool, metaphorically speaking, that is. Change the world!

#LATICInsights: Teach Consensus-Building!

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students have many opportunities to make decisions that affect groups, including when to meet, the roles different group members will take, which solution is best for a problem, how to present the solution, and so forth. It’s a perfect opportunity to teach young people how to build consensus rather than relying on the easier, but more dangerous, majority-rule voting.

The problem with majority-rule voting is best summarized in a quote generally attributed to Ben Franklin, “two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” In classrooms, and society, the losing side is often angry and subsequently focuses time on how to get others to take sides.

The alternative is to work toward consensus and ensuring that all group members can, in the least, “live with” the decision. The ability to reach consensus will help children during their school years and well beyond throughout their lives. You can use a variety of classroom tools to teach consensus. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “Love it, hate it, live with it” – As students make group decisions, rather than voting, they state one by one if they love the decision, hate it, or can live with it. If even one person hates it, the discussion continues to find a decision for which everyone can say they love it or can live with it.
  • DeBono’s PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting ideas or questions) – As students ponder a decision, they stop and take 3-6 minutes to independently jot down two aspects they like about it, two they don’t like about it, and two questions or ideas related to it. They then discuss their entries for each of the three columns. Often, the final decision lies in the third column.

  • Placemat Activity – Students sit around the “placemat” and enter their decision and supporting ideas in an outer area of the paper. They then discuss and, when they arrive at consensus, they put the decision in the middle of the paper. All students then initial it to confirm that they agree with the decision.

  • De Bono’s Six Hats – This is a great tool for looking a decision from a variety of angles. When a group is stuck, they individually jot down ideas for all six hats.

The time spent helping students learn consensus building will pay off through a more productive classroom climate and have lasting effects for society at large. Change the world!

 

Facilitation: It’s Not Data Gathering; It’s Teaching

What does the term “teacher as facilitator” really mean? Facilitating learning is what adults do naturally with young children. The parent observes the child and starts asking questions and making connections. When a child grabs a blue block, the parent says, “blue” perhaps followed by “what else is blue?” pointing to multiple items that are blue. Then the parent moves on to another color. Meanwhile the child is grappling with what makes those blue items different from these red items, and learning follows. If the sky grows dark with clouds, the parent may ask what that means and then follow with the idea that it means rain may be coming. The next time dark clouds appear, the parent prompts the child with a question as to what that means. Teachers need to mirror this process while facilitating learning at all levels.

While teachers will gather formative assessment data during facilitation and ensure that students are on task, the most important role in the facilitation process is helping students to learn. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, much of the facilitation process involves teaching! When you enter the room, it should be difficult to find the teacher, who is invariably sitting among the students teaching through facilitation.

The “learning hourglass” (introduced in It’s Not What You Teach But How) depicts three stages of learning that should be addressed during facilitation.

Creating a “Felt Need” to learn: The first step is to ensure the student is motivated to learn the content. We learn best when we feel a need for a skill or concept. When you sit next to a student to facilitate learning, determine if s/he is ready to learn the next skill or concept. If so, you might ask a “what if?” question to trigger awareness on the part of students. For example, if a student is adding up pennies, you might ask what would happen if you took ten pennies and gave him a dime? He wants to make sure he’s not being cheated, so he has a “felt need” to figure out if it will be the same or not. If a student has determined that photosynthesis is the process through which plants produce energy, you could ask, “So how do you think the process is affected when you have a pine needle versus an oak leaf?” The key to teaching is to trigger a felt need so that the student’s brain is more likely to engage in learning.

Acquisition: The brain learns by making connections to existing knowledge. If I know how to add, then successive addition of the same number of items leads me to the concept of multiplication. In order to construct meaning, students need to “grapple” with content, exploring in terms of what they already know, identifying gaps in what they know, and figuring out what they don’t know. For example, if you understand the economic concepts of supply and demand, you might engage in a simulation where you realize that some product sales remain steady in spite of price changes (such as food and gas) while for other products, a price increase causes a drop in demand, because people view these products as a luxury. Thus you begin to understand the concept of elasticity. It’s important to lead students to grapple with content by asking them questions, for example: “Even though the price of milk went up by fifty cents a gallon, the store is selling just as much. Why do you think that is?” If a student is struggling with a skill or concept, you might suggest other learning resources such as a video, a learning center, or attending a small-group lesson. IDE Corp.’s Five Levels of Facilitation Questions can offer suggestions for asking questions that move toward higher academic rigor. The key is to help lead the student to learning.

Retention: Once the student “gets” a skill or concept, it’s important to ensure s/he engages in practice and application in order to increase retention. Ask questions that prompt applying content to a different situation. Look for opportunities to refer back to previously learned content. For example, as students learn about literary devices and find out that metaphors and similes are examples, ask to what other category they belong, to reinforce the concept of figurative language. The key is to help ensure that the learning is retained.

Print out a copy of this Guide to Facilitating Lasting Learning to use as a reminder during facilitation. The Facilitation Roadmap is also a helpful tool for identifying how to help a student learn.

So, sit down with a student, facilitate learning, and change the world!

 

Standardized Testing Super Bowl Style

Yesterday’s historic Super Bowl win by the Patriots was an amazing example of grit and the can-do attitude that students need to take the state standardized tests. The Falcons were poised to win: with 17 minutes to go, they were leading 28 to 3; no team had ever come back from that far down to win; they had the game in the bag. What happened?

The Patriots had grit; the Falcons’ confidence shook. The Falcons were highly capable, with great players who know how to play the game well; but they lacked the can-do, fail-forward, grit that the Patriots had. It’s a good time of year to reflect on this and make sure your students walk into standardized testing with great grit!

About that test! Please answer the following question:

Ciò che è due più tre?

The answer to “what is two plus three” is five. Chances are, you know that content, but you might have been thrown by the question being written in another language. If you know the romance languages, you might have worked somewhat to figure it out and arrived at the answer of five, but it took you more time than if it were written in your native language, assuming you don’t speak Italian.

I believe many students know far more than their standardized test scores indicate, but the act of test-taking is not natural for most students. It is, therefore, important to spend some time before standardized testing helping students build familiarity and grit, so that what they know in their heads actually translates to the paper or computerized test situation. Here are some ideas:

1- Build test-taking familiarity. Throughout the year, provide students with tests similar to the format and test-taking conditions they will encounter on the state tests. I was once struggling with an earth science course (I admit I didn’t pay attention in class). I bought the state’s practice book, took the first test and scored a 20%. Without looking up the incorrect answers, I took all of the tests in the practice book. I then went on to take the actual test and scored in the high 80s. Familiarity with the test helped me greatly. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students are used to working collaboratively, talking, moving around, putting their names on a help board. None of this resembles the test-taking formality of standardized tests. Teachers must simulate test-taking conditions prior to state tests to ensure students are not overwhelmed by the situation so much that they can’t put what’s in their brains on the answer sheet.

2 – Build a “can do” attitude about strategic test-taking: looking for clues and insights to reading the questions and answering them; knowing where to place an emphasis. Use a superhero approach that fits for the age level, like _____ School’s Mutant Ninja TestTakers. Imagine if students considered the characters and their strengths, and related that level of grit to test-taking success! Imagine if they went into the test with superhero powers on their mind.

3 – Inspire your students with positivity! The worst thing you can do to a losing team is tell them they’re losers; that just demoralizes them. Coach Belichick didn’t go into the locker room at half time and tear down his team; he told them to “keep doing what we’re doing; play like we know how to play and not to think about what happened.” He inspired them to achieve the greatness he knew was inside them. Pump up your students to let the world know how much they know. You may have heard of the teacher who wrote inspirational #growthmindsetmessages on students’ desks. On test day some schools are known to have their teachers line up at the entrance and high-five students as they’re walking in.

4 – Get students learning from students! Students in Jessica Lutzke Heck’s class at Chester W. Taylor Elementary School take their roles as peer experts very seriously. They must first be vetted by Jessica to ensure that they know the content well enough to teach it. (Create a vetting quiz of questions like those on standardized tests.) Then they must submit a lesson plan consisting of four items:

  • The example they will use to instruct the group in the skill and the points they will make
  • The example they will use for guided practice
  • The example they will use for independent practice
  • How they will assess their group’s mastery of the skill

Identify key content and set up your students to teach one another through a week or two of small-group, mini-lessons using a student sign-up process. Imagine just lots of small group sessions run by students. Students learn well from one another; and they learn by teaching others. Ensure all students have the opportunity to conduct a small-group, mini-lesson.

5 – Prepare for greatness! Share with your students how great athletes prepare for competition: get a good night’s sleep; eat a good (non sugary) breakfast; and drink water (all good for the brain.) Inspire them to be as great as they are. In preparation for the test, try this activity. First, cover your desks/tables with butcher paper on which to write. Then put students into groups of 3-4 and ask them to recall everything they’ve learned this year about the subject, discuss it as a group, and write it on the paper. Challenge them to see how much they can fill in within 15 minutes. Then ask one student at each table to stay while everyone else moves to new tables. Let the remaining student answer any questions about what is on the paper for the others, then have them all continue to add content. After three rounds, bring the group together and comment on your observations: how much they remembered, key insights they may have had, and talk about any content that was glaringly missing. Let students know that they know what’s on the test: they just have to let it out!

Sometimes it’s not a matter of students not knowing content; it’s a matter of familiarity with the situation, and grit! OK, as the state tests approach, go change the world!

Rigor Through Convergence: Next Gen Science, ELA, and Math Standards

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offer an opportunity to build academic rigor in ELA and math. Schools tend to address content by subject, with separate programs and texts for each subject. The brain thrives on making connections. “To learn new knowledge, a person must build on information that is already stored in the brain” (Erica Cerino). If students make connections to prior knowledge and to knowledge gained across subject areas, they will solidify learning at deeper levels.

The NGSS include a set of Crosscutting Concepts that focus on important learning that transcends the disciplines. For example, patterns are an important part of understanding science in the world around you. They are also an integral part of understanding ELA and math. Consider these related primary standards:

Another key concept is that of cause-and-effect relationships. Here are some examples from grades 3-5 ELA and math standards:

And another is stability and change, with examples from middle school:

You can leverage the convergence of these standards in your instruction, pointing out the crosscutting themes in all of the subjects students are studying. Ask students questions about each subject area based on these concepts. To get started, use this planning sheet (if you are not an IDEportal subscriber, just click demo at the bottom of the screen) to review the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts and consider the connections to your ELA and math standards.

Make learning more meaningful; connect ELA and math to science; and change the world!

 

Technology Mindset Shift: From Means to End

If you’ve read my book, It’s Not What You Teach But How, you’ll know I promote focusing on the ends over the means of standards. It’s easy to focus on the means, or the effort, without focusing on the end, or the results. Let’s not make this mistake with educational technology.

My systems analyst days

People in the business world use technology to accomplish their goals. Few, if any, tout how many computers they have; rather, they use them seamlessly and purposefully toward a greater goal. In 1981, I made a side-trip from teaching to work as a systems analyst. Day one I was handed my terminal (precursor to today’s Chromebook; a gateway to a bigger computer.) I don’t think any of us bragged over our 1:1 environment; we didn’t focus on it at all. Instead, we focused on the software we were designing with it; the interoffice communication it allowed, and analyzing data.

Yet in the educational world, we tend to lead with “we’re 1:1,”  “we’re BYOD,” “we’re a GAFE district,” “we have a Mac graphic design lab,” and so forth. In reality, all of this means little unless you’re using it to develop students who can think at high levels, communicate well, collaborate, problem solve, and exhibit the skills and attitudes needed for their future. Don’t get me wrong, schools should have a lot of technology available for students and educators — a lot! The possibilities for the advancement of achievement are unparalleled. Just don’t stop at the inventory.

The greatest gift given to me by my stint in the design and coding world was that I returned to teaching with a mindset of ends-based computing: what are we doing with it? Over the years, I’ve categorized computer use in a variety of ways, including my Tech Hierarchy and Ten Characteristics of a ‘NetCentric Society. One, the Categories of Tech Infusion, offers seven ways in which students interact with computer technology in the learning process. (Note: this is not about the creation and design process; that’s another topic!) Let’s look at these categories through the lens of results.

As schools work to build skills in executive function, the information management aspect of technology can be extremely powerful. Teach students naming conventions for files so they can easily find them later, how to manage their documents, how to bookmark web pages, how to use an online calendar, and more. … What? You struggle with these skills too? See how important they are?

If you want students to master the ELA skills of the standards, they need to be immersed in an environment of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. A silent blog (students all discuss an issue at the same time, online, in silence) allows everyone to engage in the conversation (as opposed to just those whose hands are up.) Students need to read and respond to others: it’s real time, it’s engaging, it builds communication skills, and it gets them ready for Twitter chats! 😉

Sometimes, two heads are better than one, but only when they truly collaborate rather than trying to convince one another to switch sides. Collaboration skills are complex but so worthy of being taught. Cloud-based Apps that allow students and teachers to offers suggestions and comments, and to co-create, build a “felt need” for collaborative skills. With technology, students can not only collaborate with students in the classroom, but with those in other classrooms, schools, cities, countries, solar systems. . . (Ok, maybe not solar systems … yet!)

There are many experiences that are not available to students in schools, such as traveling in space or to the bottom of the ocean, engaging in a revolution, managing a city, building an amusement park, blood typing on a crime scene, and more. But these are all available through simulations. Simulations are powerful for building understanding of content, cause-and-effect relationships, and unintended consequences. I’m thinking many of us should use auto simulators before heading out on the road!

Students spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to wear, what backpack they want to carry, what language they want to use, and more. Why? Because they are appealing to an audience: in these cases, an audience of their peers. Nothing says “pay attention to detail” better than an audience. When students produce for an audience beyond the teacher, they tend to focus more on the quality of their work; and, they experience the power of one’s voice being heard. There are many websites where students can publish their writing and ideas anonymously (anonymity is a must!)

Building an understanding of concepts and skills requires grappling: struggling and wrestling with content. Teachers’ wonderful explanations just don’t do it. If you’re going to learn to swim, you have to get in the water! Provide students with ample time to explore content, solutions, and ideas. I recently saw a fifth grade teacher trigger students’ awareness by asking how the students’ plants (science experiment) were going to survive over winter break without anyone to water them. I asked a student if he ever heard of the term aqua globe? He immediately looked it up on computer and was excited to find the term, which led him to read more about the concept. He returned from lunch with a plastic soda bottle, armed with the grit to make one himself. He watched YouTube videos; he thought through different ideas, researching more and more. He presented his teacher and classmates with his idea for feedback. This powerful learning experience was made possible by the availability of technology to explore concepts and skills.

Gaining popularity are 3-D Virtual Environments, which are related to simulations. The two differences are that they are three-dimensional, in that you feel like you are actually in the environment, walking around, driving, etc.; and that you often interact with other live human beings as opposed to just a computer. There are virtual environments that are just simulations with better graphics; but there are also those through which you engage with others who are online at the same time as avatars, for maximum engagement! It’s not mainstream in schools yet, but just wait!

I hope these categories will help you to think through the opportunities you offer students to build higher levels of content understanding and application. You can access a blank grid for brainstorming on the IDEportal — our online instructional resource for student-driven learning.

If you’re headed to FETC 2017 in Orlando, find us at booth 2440. If you’re headed to Techspo 2017 in Atlantic City, find us at booth 104. For a look at our presentations at both, visit the news section of our website.

Three Levels of #LATIC Implementation

I have great respect and appreciation for teachers who work hard to shift their paradigms and practices to design Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms. The multi-year process requires that they move through three levels of innovation implementation:

Level I) The Framework

As a foundation, the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is a combination of Authentic Learning Units (ALUs) and a collection of structures. The first step in design is to create a compelling problem-based task for the unit, followed by a rubric to provide clearly-articulated expectations. Creating activity lists of required, choice, and optional activities builds student responsibility for learning, as do structures, such as: the Help Board, Peer Expert Board, and Resource Area. All of this becomes the first level of design in shifting to a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

However, students may not show the desired achievement gains without . . .

Level II) Purposeful Learning Activities

As students encounter an unknown skill or concept on the rubric, they should be able to look at the activity list and find a variety of ways to learn, such as through: videos, how-to sheets, learning centers, and more. The challenge is that conventionally, a teacher presents the content to the whole class and then assigns activities to practice what they’ve learned. In Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms, teachers minimize the amount of whole-class instruction; however, they must still provide direct instruction through a variety of venues, Therefore, once teachers have the foundation, they turn to creating and improving upon their library of learning activities. This improves student achievement, however, to raise the level of academic rigor so that students build deep understanding of content and can apply it to new situations, you need . . .

Level III) Masterful Teacher Facilitation

The role of teachers in Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms shifts to engaging with students “in-the-moment” as they pursue learning goals. Teachers help students learn to self-assess, set goals, manage time, and select appropriate learning resources. They work from the Help Board to assist those in need of help. Most importantly, they probe students’ thinking through “what if?” questions and content-rich conversations. They observe and listen to students, synthesize the data, determine the natural next step for a student, and then provide guidance. It’s difficult to locate teachers because they’re sitting down with students.

 

It’s important to move through to include all three levels of implementation. Take the worthy journey to design classrooms that are the embodiment of Students Taking Charge, and change the world!

#LATICinsights: Form Follows Function

The term “form follows function” derives from an article by American architect Louis Sullivan entitled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. To summarize the meaning:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

The influence of the factory-model of efficiency had a profound impact on schooling, in spite of the fact that churning out products has little to do with nurturing thinking. Classrooms today still resemble the factory approach of individual seats set in rows, though in recent decades schools have worked to modify that by clustering desks or placing them in a circle. What must happen, however, is that schools need to rethink the function of schooling and outfit classrooms accordingly.

In a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students engage in learning in a social environment, as collaborators as well as individual content masters. Students are actively engaged in a variety of activities throughout the day; and while short, whole-group lessons are a part of the day, they are nowhere near the bulk of the day. Therefore, the form of the classroom should address the various functions related to student work. Students can then move seats and sit in a variety of areas for the whole-group lesson. Here are a few considerations for furniture purchases:

1. To create a culture of collaboration, ensure an unbroken surface among collaborators. Round tables ensure that equals sit around a table with an unbroken surface, thus not designating any area as belong to any member, and not having any member at the head of a table. I recommend 42″ tables for most four-person collaborations as it allows for discussion with lower voices than the more common 48″ tables. A clover table is a great “hybrid” — students sit at the indent, 42″ apart, while surrounded by a little more table space with a 48″ diameter at the longest side.

2. For pairs discussions, and for speaking activities in a world language classroom, use smaller, 32″ café tables. A smaller table allows two students to converse with one another without adding to the overall noise level of the classroom. It provides a form that follows the function of a one-on-one conversation.

3. Consider high-top tables, particularly in middle schools. Students who are experiencing growth spurts and hormonal changes often need to move around and shift position during the class period. A high-top table allows students to continue to engage in learning whether they choose to stand or sit. While working, you’ll see students stand, sit, and stand again without interrupting the conversation.

4. For individual work, consider using some individual desks, perhaps placed in an area of the room away from the collaborative areas. Standing desks can be useful as well; a recent Forbes article pointed out the value of standing desks for energizing the brain.

5. For small-group discussions of, for example, the current problem students are trying to solve, consider soft-seating such as couches and comfy chairs so students are engaging in what feels more like a living room. Students can sign up to reserve the discourse center for their group work.

6. Teacher facilitation is an important part of the learning experience, and, while students are working, teachers should be moving around from table to table, area to area, to partner with them in the learning process. While facilitating, teachers should sit with students (or stand alongside them) rather than hover over them. To accommodate this activity, a stool makes a great seating option for the teacher. Teachers can carry around a lightweight stool or have several set up around the room.

7. For conferences; small-group, mini-lessons; and book discussions, you might want to use a rectangular table, allowing for a more formal environment with, perhaps, a group leader.

These are a few ideas for furniture that fits within the generally accepted ideas for classroom furniture. However, more and more school furniture companies today are developing unique options for various activities. Just consider the function, and find the appropriate form to match that function!

Here are some “tweeted” options from our client Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms (click on the image for the full tweet):

 

 

 

Desks with writeable surfaces

 

A variety of areas in third grade

Student-created areas

And more . . .

 

Meditation is to Teaching . . .

Happy New Year! The January return to school is always accompanied by resolutions and energized educators looking to continue to make that difference in the lives of their students. It’s also a time when people are determined to take time to take care of themselves: going to the gym, daily meditation, reading more novels, etc.

My last blog post of 2016 focused on the quest for innovation. For my first of 2017, I thought I’d use meditation as a metaphor for teaching. The purpose of meditation is to achieve deeper levels of consciousness, positioning one for greater success and happiness. The purpose of teaching is to achieve deeper levels of learning and understanding, positioning one’s students for greater success and happiness.

When meditating, you sit up very straight, elongating your spine, which takes deliberate effort. However, you then begin to relax most of your muscles, from your head down to your toes. The infrastructure of your spine supports you; the part of your body that expends energy to work and move relaxes into a calm state. I like to think this describes a well-run Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

The “spine” of the classroom is the infrastructure you put in place: the problem-based tasks, rubrics to guide students, activity lists, how-to sheets and videos, resource area, help board, peer expert board, and more. Setting up your infrastructure takes deliberate effort. However, the “muscles” that you have used to ensure everyone is working, gather students, give directives, handle behavioral issues, hand out papers, etc. can now relax, knowing that the students’ actions are supported by the infrastructure. That leaves you to now relax into the classroom environment and use your mind to help move students to deeper levels of understanding through your facilitation.

You can observe students in action; ask clarifying questions to assess their level of understanding; ask higher-order, probing questions to push their thinking; offer suggestions for their work plans; offer instruction when they’re stuck; and more. If the spine is strong, the muscles can relax. So to enjoy the mental stimulation and conversations between teacher and student in the classroom, take steps to strengthen your infrastructure.


Wishing you all the best for 2017!