I was watching the Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll speak at a recent press conference, and it made me wonder what the similarities between a football team and a classroom might be. Here's what I found out:
Carroll spoke about Marshawn Lynch, and how his unique flair and style fit into the team mentality and program. In the classroom, there are so many unique individuals with interesting personalities and character traits, and it's about creating an environment where all of them can fit in, find a role, and be able to connect, learn and grow together. Will it be the perfect, happy community? Of course not. Even in a loving family with parents and siblings, you still have arguments, disagreements and even fights. The important matter is how you deal with this conflict, and bond even closer as a result.
He talked about the health of Jimmy Graham and others. Players missing a few days or even months. In the classroom, it's difficult to actually "field" a full squad of students. Some are sick, away for personal reasons, on vacation, or actually injured. The important part is trying to stay healthy on a consistent basis, which is probably why safety and health issues are so important. Catching up on missed time and lost work is a challenging process.
Carroll talked about how in-depth the evaluation of a player is before they are drafted. They have a long checklist of criteria. He said that Russell Wilson fit all of the check boxes, except probably the height issue. Of course, as they develop, the evaluation continues. Much in the same way, students are evaluated on a regular if not daily basis (formative, summative, metacognitive). Do they seem happy? Are they asking questions in class? What type of questions do they ask? Are they on task? Who are they playing with during DPAs? What activity are they doing? In small groups, how much are they contributing? In writing, do they express their ideas well? How creative are they during Wonder + IDEAS? How well do they do on their spelling and math quizzes? During formative assessment, do they have their thumbs up, sideways or down?
Every year the Seahawks believes they will win the Super Bowl. Of course, it helps when you've actually won it already. I believe it's the notion of having the end in mind from the start. Where do we see our students by the end of year? Do we have a curricular program in play that will guide them to achieve the learning goals they need to meet this year? Also, we need to remember that learning is a process: nothing happens overnight or in a vacuum. However, as teachers we need to have that hope that tomorrow will be a better day for both us and our students--especially on those really tough days!
Carroll talked about how he loved his group of receivers--Baldwin, Lockett, and Kearse--and how well they worked together, but still mentioned that there might be some competition from other players coming into the team. In the classroom, we generally try to make work cooperative and collaborative; nevertheless, at times, healthy, fun competition does bring out a certain fiery spirit in most of our students. In our class, we have Spelling, Math and Brain Question Battles whenever we have a few minutes to spare. It's never about points or winning, but there's still enough head-to-head battling that makes "winning" a certain accomplishment.
Carroll said that the team wants a balance offense, with both a running and passing game, and probably special teams and kicking, as well. He said that Wilson can throw 40 passes in a game when needed, but only if that's the best way to win that particular game. In the classroom, it's much the same: we want a balanced day that includes literacy and numeracy, DPA for physical activity, as well as content subjects like science, socials or art. Also, teacher talk vs. student talk balance is important, although the ratio should be much more for students. Speaking, listening, reading and writing should also be balanced.
Coaching in football requires a head coach, but there are many assistant coaches and other staff members. Just like in school, the teacher is the head coach, but there are other staff involved in the entire learning community (parents, LST, music, library, French, band, administration, custodial). Without them, it would be impossible to succeed in the classroom. Also, as much as the coach can teach, train and demonstrate, ultimately the players need to play the game and perform at their highest level in order to win the game. As the teacher, I try to prepare my students to achieve success, whether it's on a paragraph, reading, test, project, or presentation, it's still up to the students to prepare, study, learn, focus, work hard and then demonstrate their learning. When everyone is doing their part, everyone eventually wins.
Our grade 4 class has volunteered to spearhead an area of technology at Surrey Centre Elementary. Already a number of our students have taken the initiative to create projects for the 3-D Printing Club, as well as during our Wonder + IDEAS (Genius Hour).
But now it's time to move even further, and get everyone up to speed. Personally, I think I was a little worried that I might not know how to do it, so I've been procrastinating a bit. But the best thing to do when you're worried? Just jump in--and tinker. The best thing about virtual platforms is that if you make a mistake, you can simply press UNDO and try it again...and again...and again.
I've been following the basic lessons from Tinkercad, and it's really quite easy and fun. (I think I just designed my own keychain!) I also think that any kids that have played Minecraft will find this to be just another day in the park, since they've designed and played in a 3-D world. Even playing with Lego and other building blocks will make the transition relatively seamless.
What I find fascinating is that while virtual reality, video games and TV/movies are trying to pull people into the digital, virtual realities, 3-D printing is doing just the opposite: using virtual technology to build and create objects for our physical reality. (I'll save this discussion for another day.)
Cross-curricularly, I can see connections to art in terms of many of the elements involved: shape, form, colour, line, space, perspective. As well, there is so much accurate measurement involved, so students are using math constantly.
Finally, I can see 3-D printing being not only a great design and prototyping endeavor, but for the Entrepreneurs Fair for grade 5s, it can actually be a cost-effective manufacturing process of smaller items, such as key chains or rings.
I'm even more excited now that I've personally spent more time playing around with 3-D printing. And isn't that what education and learning should be about? Tinkering, playing and learning--all at the same time.
In 2010, IBM's survey of 1500 CEO's found that the creativity was most sought after management skill, ahead of operations or marketing. This is what our students need (and probably already have) in schools today. It's the matter of fostering, nurturing and allowing this creativity to flourish, because in these increasingly complex and troublesome times, unique, creative and original thinkers will be critical. So how can and do we allow creativity to become a natural part of everyday life in the classroom?
(Source: Creative Intelligence, Nussbaum)
Graham Wallas, cofounder of the London School of Economics and author of The Art of Thought in 1926, came up with a formula, if you will, on how to come up with insights. He called these mental steps "stages of control."
The first step is preparation: you spend hours, if not days, struggling, battling, banging your head against a way, trying to solve or figure out a problem. (Remember: if you give up too early, the second step may not be effective.)
The second step is incubation: you put the problem out of your mind; you literally walk away from it. Wallas figured that during this time, some "internal mental process" was taking place, reorganizing old and new information on a subconscious level.
The third step is called illumination. This is when that lightbulb turns on above your head, and the answer is imminently apparent.
The final step is verification, checking to make sure the answer or results actually work.
Ultimately, it is the second step, incubation, that is the key to solving problems or discovering insights. So anytime you're really stuck on a problem, then it's time for incubation. What do you do for this time?
(Source: How We Learn, Carey)
I've made an acronym to help show the stages of Genius Hour (my version is called Wonder + IDEAS). It goes as follows:
1) PONDER: Students brainstorm big ideas, questions, musings, things they wonder about, anything that is interesting or passionate to them.
2) PLAN: They then choose a specific topic/idea and plan some of the basic details. What are they creating? Alone or with partners? What materials are required? What are the basic steps involved? How long will it take?
3) PRODUCE: Now comes the fun part--at least in the kids' minds. They break off into different sections of the classroom or school, grab their supplies and tools, and start producing their idea. My acronym, IDEAS, gives them ideas on what they can do: invent, design, experiment, or act. Of course, they can and do much more, but it's a great starting point. (It's quite amazing what kids can accomplish in an hour or so.)
4) PRESENT: The (almost) final step is one that all students love. They want to show their creation to their peers and others in front of the class. Using the LCD projector, they can show their wonderful product for all to see with the document camera, iPod or iPad. Other times, they will stand in front of the class and present, followed by answering questions from fellow students.
5) PONDER: Wait a minute, you might be wondering. Didn't we do this already? True, but this is the "small" ponder on the individual project just completed, not the "big" brainstorming session. The conclusion to their project is another chance to think, ponder and reflect on what they've accomplished. What did they like? Were there any challenges? Did they have to make changes? What did they learn?
These are my 5 stages that my students go through for our Genius Hour. Good luck!
Most large companies and organizations, such as schools, often have a mission statement, a concise but focused framework and purpose, which constantly reminds them which direction they are heading in. This is really no different from our own "personal" mission statements as teachers, as well as ones that our students possess. Most of us don't have it written down on a kitchen fridge or a bulletin board, but it's there, usually internally, and it shows up in our actions and behaviors.
Ideally, we want our collective mission statements (society, school, administration, teacher(s), students, parents) to align as closely as possible in the core areas, which will ultimately lead to success as an overall community. Of course, there are times when individual mission statements will be in conflict each other. A classic (but stereotypical) example would be that a child wants to sleep in, eat junk food and play video games all day. This would obviously conflict with a parent's, who wants the child to wake up early, eat fruit and veggies and study/exercise/play with friends instead.
As a classroom example, if our mission statement includes giving students a voice, figure out how much teacher talk vs. student talk is happening. Depending on the results, either your behavior needs to change or your mission statement needs to change.
Nonetheless, a good starting point is find out what's important to you as a teacher, create a relevant and attainable mission statement, and continue to convey that message and create an environment where that mission becomes not only possible, but achievable on a daily basis.
Constructionism is a learning theory using computers, developed by Seymour Papert, a mathematician and AI expert, in the late 1970s. Nowadays, the term has been generalized to include any type of learning where students are in charge of their own learning: creating new products, working on their own projects, finding solutions to problems; they are playing, exploring and discovering.
Obviously, this is the force behind the Genius Hour movement, what I personally like to call Wonder + IDEAS. When students are given the task of following their own passions and interests, they do a pretty good job with it.
How can we use this notion of constructionism in all areas of teaching in the classroom?
The park (or a school playground) is a better space for developing competencies than a mall. A park is a large space where children can partake in various activities. There are slides, swings, climbing apparatus, as well as basketball courts, soccer fields and more. They can choose what they want at that particular time, as well as switch seamlessly if desired. More often than not, they also will interact and play with others. In this space, children can also create novel activities and games if they wish. Contrary to the park, the mall is more restrictive in its purpose of primarily buying items or walking around and browsing.
Mitchel Resnick, from MIT Media Laboratory, notes the differences between pianos and stereos. Stereos are easy to play and provide immediate gratification. Pianos, on the other hand, require more time and effort to enjoy, but ultimately give a much richer experience as a means of creating music.
I would argue that in many cases though, unless they are actually composing their own music, pianists are essentially playing back a musical piece created by someone else, although I'm sure the physical interaction with the keys does provide a deeper connection with the music.
Erik Erikson, in his lifespan model of development, discusses the period from age 5 to 12, where children learn how to master new skills: academic, physical and social. When children master new skills, there are feelings of industry or competence. However, if children feel they are deficient relative to their peers, then feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem may develop.
Therefore, we teachers must create opportunities and an environment or culture where all students can succeed on a daily basis in any or all of the three realms.
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.