The most important thing that you can be as an educator? Yourself. Kids can feel authenticity from a mile away. Your joy is their joy. Your curiosity is their wonder. Your ability to be who you are? It’s their courage to be themselves. It sounds easy. It sounds like something that’s a given. The best compliment a kid ever gave me was, “Thanks for showing me it’s okay to be weird.” I remember smiling, thinking, did she just call me weird? Yep. She did. And I realized, that might just be the best thing I can be… because it’s genuine.
Maybe learning is about seeing something ordinary from a new perspective. Whether it’s a sunrise at 40,000 feet, or a problem you’ve been trying to solve. A new view brings new ideas. Sometimes the view is brought to you through the power of collaboration. The pilot that takes you up to a new height, or the people who push your thinking into seeing an old situation in a new way. Maybe it’s all just ordinary. Until it’s not.
There are five conversations I feel like I’m having, over and over again. In my learning space, through Twitter, at conferences. I even read about them on blogs, in educational magazines… the five questions that haunt me because I feel like they are roadblocks. Things to discuss instead of taking action.
1.) Shouldn’t there be an “A” in STEM?
There’s a national trend right now to add the “A” in STEM, so that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math will also include Art. But, the way I see it, STEM is already so much about creativity, innovation, and ingenuity that Art is already in that. Look at a rocket when it effortlessly glides into the atmosphere. If that’s not a work of art, I don’t know what is. Talking about the acronym takes too much focus off the actions we need to happen to get STEM at the forefront in our learning environments.
2.) Isn’t gifted education elitist?
If I had a nickel for everytime I had to explain this, I’d be able to pay back the National Debt. Being gifted is about being wired differently. Saying it’s “elitist” to meet a child’s needs is the same as saying helping a student with dyslexia in their reading is giving them too many privileges. The argument just gets the focus off of doing something. And doing something is what is best for kids.
3.) Won’t changing teacher evaluation systems make teachers work harder?
Oh gosh. Really. Do you know any teachers? Teachers are already working beyond what most can imagine to be hard work. Every single day. Trying to meet kids needs in the face of increasing demands. Believing that you can “force” teachers to work even harder by changing the way they are evaluated is like thinking you can get a Pro Football Player to score more touchdowns by giving him more things to carry when he’s running down the field.
4.) How can I become a connected educator if I don’t have time?
It’s not about having time. It’s about making time. None of us have endless amounts of time, but we all have to determine what our priorities are. The time you take to connect will enrich your teaching in ways you can’t even begin to understand, until you connect.
5.) How will ________[insert name of a device] change the learning environment?
Turns out, devices aren’t magic wands. No device, no matter how big or how small, is going to change the learning environment without a strong, collaborative educator at the helm of the class, leading the way, and guiding learning. If you give a class a brand new box of pencils, will that be a game changer? Nope. Unless what the teacher encourages and embraces students to use those pencils for. It works just the same for devices.
What conversations are YOU hoping to never have again?
This week is Thanksgiving. When I think about this past year, the good, the bad, and the downright hard times, I know that I have so much to be thankful for. Sometimes I know I don’t take note enough. It’s easy to focus on what we don’t have, what we’re missing out out on. But, to see what we do have? It’s what life is about.
I never realized that this little blog would turn into my little corner of the universe, where I could share, connect, learn, and grow.
I didn’t know when my daughter was born that her journey would be a struggle and that learning through her what the autistic spectrum is and that her view of the world would show me a perspective I had never imagined before. I didn’t realize how much I would learn from her. I never imagined how she would make me a better educator and person.
I had no idea that I’d get to take a ride on the Zero G plane with NASA and spend time with incredible friends in the process. I didn’t think about how the experience would stretch my thinking and push me further than I thought I could go. I also didn’t know that when NASA took my photo, I’d be in the process of taking a selfie. :)
I never dreamed that the little school I’ve dreamed of actually existed and that one day I’d be working there. I didn’t realize that I’d find the same connection with kids that I’d had at my other school, and in the process realize just how important that connection is when it comes to learning. I also never thought I’d have the courage to walk out of a place where I felt love, acceptance, and growth on a daily basis. I also never realized what I’d gain by taking that chance.
What gave me that courage? The support of my husband. I’m grateful for for the way he always jumps in to support our daughter, my travels, our adventures, and my never-ending passion for learning. Amazing friends that I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve. Friends who are there to send a text or a DM, or share dinner to remind me of what matters most.
I had never considered that there might be a day when I’d realize that the hard parts of life are there to humble you, redefine you, and create new paths to growth that you can only see because of their difficulties. The days that try you, hurt you, cause your head to spin… those days have a purpose.
I never thought that a simple Instagram might be the last photo I get to take of someone. Until this summer, when this became the last photo of my grandma. A simple moment, captured on my phone, that turned out to mean far more than I realized. A moment I’m grateful to carry in my pocket and my heart.
I simply set out to share. I connect because those I connect with make me want to become a better version of myself every single day. I never realized just how much I have to be thankful for.
This might all sound random. But life is random. We have hard days, we have great days. We have days when our confidence is stripped away and we wonder what to do. We have days when we are so focused, nothing can stop us. We have so much to be thankful for. When we choose to see it.
Today I do.
I’ve done a few projects with students, and notice I say “with,” not “to” or “for”. The projects, they are theirs. Ever since students planned and hosted an election for kids around the country, I’ve known that involving kids in learning that travels outside the classroom walls? That’s what school is about. Learning isn’t in a book or in a desk. Learning is in the world.
So, I’ve watched as kids in my school have loved learning about plants, seeds, and growing. I’ve watched them dig into the dirt and garden, pluck oranges from the tree on our campus, and tell me the difference between a dicot and monocot. I wondered… how could this interest in plants translate into learning about the world. What sprouted? The Global Garden Project.
We’re inviting learners from around the world to join us in growing a global garden. Select seeds, start growing them in January, and then each week, we’ll all report our plant’s growth via a Google Doc. We’re also opening up our blog to share posts so students can show what’s growing where they live. The project won’t really have an end.
I’ve already had questions, “We’re in the middle of Winter, how can we join?” Grow your plant inside and let us know– and you’ve just helped us learn about seasons. Our friends in New Zealand participating will show us their garden growing in January and their warm temperatures. What better way to understand that the world has various seasons, climates, temperatures, and weather patterns than to work around them in growing a global garden?
I know what you might be thinking… plants aren’t in your curriculum. But, what IS in your curriculum.
Measurement. What units of measure will you use? How will you measure the plant growth? How will you record it? Inches using fractions? Centimeters using decimals?
Patterns. What do you notice about the data being reported? Whose plant is growing the most? Whose plant is growing the least? Do any of the plants show a certain week where their typical growth pattern was different? Why?
Data. How do find an average? How can I add all of these growth rates up using Excel? What is a mode? What do I do to figure out the median? What if some of us use inches and others centimeters, what would that look like for our data and results?
Charting & Graphing. How can you record your plant growth? What type of table could best organize your data? Which type of graph is best? How can you make a graph to show your plant’s growth? How might a graph show all of the plants’ growth over time? Can you create a graph of temperatures to show how the weather in Texas compares to the weather in New Zealand right now?
Public Speaking. Can you present to another class in the project, via Skype, about how the plant is growing? How can you summarize the data so your presentation will be concise, and engaging? What skills are important in a live presentation? What questions do we have for a botanist that we might have a Google Hangout with?
Writing. How might we write a friendly letter to another group in the project to learn about where they live and tell them about where we live? How do scientists use writing to summarize their data? Can you write a paragraph based on the data in your graph? How might we write a newspaper article for our local news about our project? What does a great blog post look like?
Area and Perimeter. When we transplant our seedlings into the garden, how much space should we allow between the plants? How big of a garden space do we have outside? How much fencing do we need to protect our plants from rabbits?
Internet Research. How do you perform a good search about plants? About other countries? What is a key word? How can you search faster and get more relevant information back?
Comparing and Contrasting. Why is the temperature so different in all parts of the world? Why are some plants growing faster than others? Does the rate of growth compare to the expected full size growth of the plant? Why do native plants here differ from native plants in another location?
Soil Composition. Is the soil in our ares of the state the same as the soil in another part of the world? How is different? What is in the soil that plants need?
Geography. What continent is this plant growing on? Is that a state or a country? Do plants in some parts of the world grow faster? We’ve even got a map of the world so we can zoom out and see how things are growing all around the world. We hope participants will add a pin and snapshot for us.
Okay.. that might have been overboard, but the best part? That’s not even ALL of the learning that this project could entail. Hook your kids. Set them free. Let them guide. See what happens! I know, plants might not be in ‘your curriculum’ this coming semester… but learning is, right? We hope you’ll join us. So kids can see what happens when a little seed is planted… and something really awesome grows. Something called learning.
This project is being planned with the help of some wonderful learners at Rainard School in Houston, Texas. We hope you’ll visit the project blog to learn all about it and sign up. We look forward to learning together.
Education isn’t something we sit around and wait to happen. It’s something we make happen. We can’t force it, but we have to put in the effort to plan, guide, sculpt, and lay out the conditions for learning to be optimized. Stuff happens. Testing. Policies. Out of our control things. But learning? It’s always there. We need to dig it out, make it the forefront. Authentic experiences. Important interactions. Opportunities for engagement. Even disagreement, debate, and feedback. Reflection. Make it happen. Not because it’s a job or because that’s what our degree says we can do. Because life is about learning.
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