MAKE Reading More

article-2345458-187B8C72000005DC-425_634x624Yesterday I came across a screenshot from Willy Wonka, the original, and I thought of how the movie both inspired me and creeps me out at the same time. So many bizarre moments, yet so much imagination.  From zooming through that creepy tunnel to the scary orange makeup on the Oompa Loompas, I still want to run through that edible room and eat whipped cream from a mushroom cap. And as a kid who did not enjoy reading (sorry folks, it’s true, I despised reading) I loved Roald Dahl books.  So what does all of this have to do with making in the classroom?  It gave me an epiphany.

Source: Stanford D School
Source: Stanford D School


Design thinking! Yes, the process:  Empathy. Define. Ideate. Prototype. Test.   It lends itself to real-world problem solving, but little kids love imagination.  Why not combine the two?  What if kids were asked to meld together their favorite books with big problems, and solve them…  Design a new candy machine for Wonka.  Invent a contraption that keeps Charlie from bumping his head on the fan in the Fizzy Lifting Drinks room.   Ask students to find a problem in the story and solve it with their own invention.

While I think the beauty of design thinking is in the real-world application of it, I also think there is beauty in getting kids to interact authentically with fiction.  You’re opening the door to creativity, imagination, a new level of comprehension.  And I have to admit, the non-reading kid stuck inside me would have loved the chance to do this.
I love thinking about how we can inject more chances for kids to practice empathy in the classroom and what better way than to use these larger than life characters to help them understand someone else’s point of view.

These character cards I created for my own school, you are welcome to print and use with your own students, could help kids (and you!) get started with the process.  But in the long run, have them develop the character profiles, think about the problems the character has, and you’ve just created a more authentic way for kids to build character trait profiles about favorite books.   It’s not just about listing a few things about the character, but really understanding WHO they are. Because, when you are designing for someone else, you really have to dig into WHO they are.

And even IF they are an imaginary character, it can lead to a really powerful learning experience for students.  Filled with problem solving, building, collaboration, sharing, presenting, and most of all? Fun.

And a little fun now and then… well, Wonka himself said it best…nonesene

I’ll Never Resign

riseI can’t read one more viral, “I resign from teaching..” blog post.  I get it. I really do. I understand we work in a broken system and need to raise awareness.  I understand that the over-testing of America’s kids is beyond madness.  I understand that society vilifies teachers and places the blame on schools for just about every issue that arises.   I’ve worked in urban, rural suburban, and private school environments.  And in every single one of these environments, I’ve seen things that need to go viral.

What needs to go viral?

The stories of kids filled with joy when they figure something out and it was hard and they worked at it.

The photos of students helping carry cans they collected for the local food pantry and the teacher who helped organize it.

The positive note you wrote to a colleague about what you saw them do for a child yesterday when no one else was watching.

The tale of love when you secretly paid a kids lunch bill so he could have a hot meal for lunch, because you might just the be only person who knows that it’s his only hot meal of the day.

The picture of the teacher who runs out on her 20 minutes of a lunch break to pick up extra supplies for a hands on science experience that she’s funding from her own pocket and the happiness on those kids’ faces when they use those materials.

The principal going down the slide on the playground, noticing a child without a coat, and secretly buying him one.

The art teacher hanging 500 paintings, with four pieces of rolled tape on each, because every kid needs to see that their work is valued.

The music teacher staying all weekend to paint the set for the school musical because he knows students’ grandparents will be there.

The reading teacher who lets kids whose minds work differently know that just because they think different, they are not less.

The Saturday mornings spent researching ideas online to make that science unit more fun.

The stories of teachers who do more with so much less, every single year because of their creativity, courage, and perseverance to make it work.

The comments written on each report card, with love in her heart, to make sure every single kid knows that she was happy to have him in her classroom.

Every teacher’s very best idea.  Shared. Openly.  Because together?  We are all better.

As I read one more viral, “I resign from teaching,” post today, I get it.  I really do.  But it’s time for the voice of teachers to be louder than the broken system.  There are moments of good that seep through the cracks in our schools and flood the halls with that soul-wrenching love that made us all love learning in the first place.

And if we share THAT with each other, we can make a difference for every single child. And we all know that would be worth it.


Un-standardize Your Classroom

What if you wanted to turn your classroom into a makerspace tomorrow?  What if you are thinking, that’s not in the budget? That’s not possible.  But what if you could start small, make some little changes, and start turning kids loose?  Unstandardize your space and watch them soar….

Here are few ideas:

Turn your desk into a conferencing center.  You know how those ginormous teacher desks take up so much space and you rarely get a moment to sit at yours?  Move it, put stools around it, make it a spot to meet with groups.

Put up blank bulletin board paper on the walls, let kids draw all over it and write questions.  Cover the wall with their thoughts and ideas.

Whether you have desks or tables, change their heights.  Make some low, some high.  High enough to stand at? Low enough to sit on the floor.  Take the legs off.  Add some rugs or pillows on the floor to sit on.

IMG_6899Add some art supplies….  Start with cardboard, masking tape, fabric scraps, ribbon, buttons, needles, thread, batteries, LED lights, a variety of paper, or pipe cleaners.  Send a letter to ask for “leftover craft materials’ from people in your community.

Don’t assume you need a 3d printer or a set of robots to create a makerspace.  All you need for a makerspace is a place to provide kids the opportunity to make their own learning. It might be a pile of cardboard on a spare table, or it could be some paper, LED lights, and batteries to tinker with light up pop-up cards.

Put away half the devices.  If you have one device for every student, try some learning with collaboration and set up projects in an authentic way where the device becomes a shared tool.  Sometimes less really is more.

Tear down the pre-written rules and ask kids to write norms as a team. Build community.  Set up situations where kids can rely on each other instead of just you.

There is so much in the world of education that is a “standard” right now.  Don’t let your classroom fall into the trap.  Your students will thank you for it… every single one of them.



It’s Not About the Space… All Learning.

If I could sing a parody, which trust me, you DO NOT want to hear, I’d rewrite Megan Trainor’s famous song “All About that Bass,”  with the lyrics, “It’s not about the space… all learning.”    It’s almost comical for me to say it’s not about the space, because truthfully, I’ve loved putting together every single learning space I’ve ever created.  From watching the evolution of my classrooms when I taught fourth grade, until this year’s space, my goals have always been the same.  Use the materials you have around you, buy as little standardized stuff as possible, create the space, and remix, redo, and revise to make the space work for learners.



1.) It’s about the collaboration.  Does the space support it? Are there places to gather, to meet, to lean over tables together working to build, create, design, and discuss?

2.) It’s about choice for comfort.  Are there 30 identical seats?  Or are there choices?  Are there big tables, small tables, carpet squares, high stools, low stools, places to stand? Are there choices in where, how, and even if to sit?

3.) It’s about the meaning in the mess.  Your room is going to be a mess.  Let that go, now.  There’s going to be stuff everywhere, because learning is so far from the linear process we’ve tried to make it in education, that we’ve got to get back to the materials, hands on experiences, and mess where the beauty of it all hides.

4.) It’s about the joyful calm of kids in control of their learning.  This one is hard to explain.  But when you find it, you’ll know.  It’s that moment when, as a teacher, you’re not telling anyone what to do or how to do it.  You look around and you realize that full-on engagement is taking place and you could leave the room and the kids wouldn’t even notice.  Of course, you don’t leave the room, you roam and stoke the fires.

5.) It’s about the creativity.  Space inspires creativity.  Look at Google’s offices.  Kids need to reminders that school is ABOUT creativity.  School is about developing your passions, your style, your learning, your way, with support.  Moving away from standardized walls, doors, halls, and spaces means moving toward different.  Unique finds a place in spaces like this.

Sure, the space is fun to put together, but it’s about so much more.  Beyond the splashes of color, deeper than the bins of materials. past the matching lamps is a place where happy chaos meets busy minds.  A place where the joy of finding your own passion makes your heart beat louder than the sound of all-day direct instruction.  It’s a place called learning, and it’s the most important space there is.   The space supports it, ignites it, and gives it the oxygen to burn.  But the flame? It comes from the space between the ears of the learners who walk through the door and the hearts that beat within them all.