Friday, September 27, 2013

Five great Pinterest boards from five Hamilton educators

Since its inception, Fridays on Twitter have been full of tweets encouraging the following of others. Today, we'll take #FollowFriday over to Pinterest as I share five great pinners who I get to work with each week here in Hamilton, Michigan.

Jill Sloothaak, Kindergarten - Literature Extensions Sloothaak

On this board Jill is collecting all kinds of activities to use with the books she and her kids are reading in her class. Some of my favorites are for the books featuring Pete the Cat.

Brooke Vruggink, First Grade - Math

VrugginkBrooke has close to 100 great ideas for making math come alive for her first graders. I love spending time in her and teaching partner Megan Reilly's classrooms. The creativity they bring to teaching and the accountable talk they teach their students to use really build dynamic environments.

Kristi Zoerhof, First Grade - School Treasures

ZoerhofThis board really lives up to its name as it pushes nearer and nearer to 2100 pins. Kristi is a pretty amazing educator and was my partner on the Sony Xperia Case study I featured last Spring. Her stuff on Pinterest is great and so are the resources she shares via @KristiZoerhof. She also tweets with her kids at @MrsZFabFirsties.

Teisha Struik-Kothe, K-5 Principal - School Ideas


Here is one for the administrators, especially the elementary ones. Teisha brings a special flair to Blue Star and always has resources at her fingertips to share with the staff. If you are interested in developing academic vocabulary Teisha has lots of knowledge and her board features great activities.

Jodi Hansen, Fourth Grade - School

If you are an upper elementary teacher and need new ideas for language arts, this board has you covered with all kinds great techniques. Some of the neatest things I have found  that Jodi has pinned involves communicating with parents. She does a great job building that school-to-home connection.

I am a pretty lucky educator to work with these five people 2 1/2 days a week at two different schools. There are a lot of other great educators in Hamilton. These are just a handful.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Michigan district halts groundbreaking 1:1 childhood obesity initiative

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200"]Saucony Grid Youth Michigan district puts the skids on sneaker initiative.[/caption]

What was initially hailed as a groundbreaking effort by the Rivermont Public School district (Mich.) to fight childhood obesity is now being re-examined and possibly moth-balled by school administrators over concerns of student mis-use. When students arrived at the district's three schools twenty-five minutes north of Grand Rapids this September, each was issued a new pair of Saucony running shoes in the nation's first ever 1:1 sneaker initiative. The district received a special mention on Good Morning America and a framed, hand-written letter of congratulations from First Lady Michelle Obama hangs in the foyer of each building.

Less than a month into the new school year, the district has slammed on the brakes and each teacher is being asked to collect the athletic shoes and store them in a closet until further notice. The holdup you ask?  Apparently the kids are having too much fun in them.

"Our grand vision was that students would use the sneakers for a school-wide fitness program that is guided by a rigorous curriculum of lap running and agility training throughout the day," stated superintendent Eli Tanis. "Our teachers are coming to us and telling us that the kids have no interest in these activities and instead are using the shoes for their own personal activities."

"Never before have we seen so much spontaneous running, noise, or such large groups of roaming mobs playing tag at recess. It can get terribly stressful," said first grade teacher Susan Vanderslice who has been at the same position for 31 years. "Before the shoes were just given to the children without any formal teacher training the playground was much calmer. Children simply milled around. It was very easy to maintain control."

After talking with a few students whose families asked that their identity be concealed to avoid any problems with staff at school, most kids don't see what they are doing wrong.

"They gave us these sweet shoes," says Fifth Grader (we'll call) Jake. "I couldn't wait to get on the court at recess and work on the cross-over dribble I have been perfecting this summer. Our teacher won't even let us wear the shoes outside though because he is afraid they will get dirty or something. He only lets us carry them to the track, put them on to run laps, take them off, and then carry them back inside. Running laps feels like doing penmanship."

Jake's parents echo their son's sentiments. "It seems like they are really missing the forest for the trees. They seem so focused on limiting what the kids do in the shoes. Shouldn't they just encourage any activity and movement at all? Take the time to teach the kids new games and give them time to just enjoy being active, whether that is outside when the weather is nice or inside once winter comes. We think that should be the ultimate goal, building healthy habits."

Rivermont curriculum director Shirley Wolverton defends the district's approach. "We have to insure growth. If we simply let the students play whatever they want in the shoes then there is no way to guarantee teachers will meet the benchmarks we have prescribed. If our lap numbers don't increase, our staff will have failed. The only way to increase a student's ability to run laps is to run more laps. "

A meeting is scheduled for Monday night at the school's board room where a sub-committee has been formed to investigate what modifications might be made to the program.

"We hope to have some answers quickly," Superintendent Tanis explains. "My biggest fear is that we will wait too long and the students will have all outgrown the shoes by the time we return them. We are also missing valuable lap-time on the track. Students need to know though that there is a difference between serious school work and the taxpayers of this community aren't financing just play."

Thankfully the above account is fictitious. There is no Rivermont, Michigan but unfortunately  this kind of thinking is far too prevalent in education. This silly post was the mental fruit cultivated by my hearing that Los Angeles Unified School District is temporarily moth-balling its one billion dollar 1:1 iPad efforts because students have easily hacked the devices' security controls.

Certain school districts seem so worried that students or in many cases staff will use a device for something other than "school work". We are not talking about accessing adult content here, but doing things like connecting with the rest of  the world through social media or making a multimedia project of vacation photos. To me, any time on the device that is not malicious or obviously inappropriate is learning. It is learning to use a tool to communicate and create. It is building comfort and efficiency within the operating system. The more you use it, the better you become. Allowing kids to create content they are passionate about makes it all the more motivating for them to create a similar type of project on something being studied in the classroom. The same is true with giving every kid a pair of sneakers. Running laps isn't the only way to increase the ability to run laps.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Spend a little time on design...and gain a lot

[caption id="attachment_273" align="alignleft" width="300"]logos designed by 4th and 5th graders logos designed by 4th and 5th graders[/caption]

For too long we have pushed creativity and artistic design in school off to the Friday afternoon back burner or for when the important "core" work was complete. There is a lot though in fostering creative projects that feeds directly into enhancing mathematical and literary pursuits.

This year our fourth and fifth graders are working in groups of four or five on a very lofty goal. Each team will cover a number of different school events from classroom activities to field trips to the Fun Night carnival. The groups will produce multimedia news segments that ultimately will be compiled into one long video yearbook.

In order to insure that we meet our "Real artists ship" mantra the students and I have flipped our mindset from treating our time together like school and instead treating it as if we are all working at video production companies. The first task was to form a production company name, complete with a logo.

The students' learning target was "I can create a company name and logo that convey intended feelings." We began by looking at a number of existing artistic companies' names and logos like those from Pixar, Dreamworks, Orion, Warner Brothers, and Bad Robot. Next as a class we discussed what feelings these names and trademarks elicit. The outcomes of inference as well as an understanding of "visual grammar" were immediate. As teams got to brainstorming, these concepts were front and center as each group paid close attention to what type of feelings would be associated with their potential names and designs.

From a teaching standpoint, I made several rounds to check on each group's progress and constantly challenged each team with questions like "If I had $3,000,000 to invest in a serious film about slavery ending in the 1860's would I choose a company called the 'Flaming Fireballs'?" There were some groups that started waaaaaay out past the left field bleachers but I eventually reeled them into at least short left field. As more and more teams honed in on a name we switched gears to designing logos. Each team had to create an old-fashion crayon and pencil concept that was our digital starting point as I conferenced intensely with each group.  I consistently helped teams simplify and asked, "What if?" seemingly over and over again. This was my chance to teach in small groups advanced Keynote techniques. I didn't want to override their creativity with my own but offered a suggestion here and there that most students really didn't know was possible. On many occasions I would add something as a demo and then delete it after showing it. Next,  I would leave the group to check on others. This allowed the group I had just left time to decide whether that was something to recreate themselves or stick with an original idea. The completion of each design was an electric moment for the kids and me.

In purely random order, here are some of the concepts and skills students developed and benefits experienced during this process.

  • Collaboration

  • Accountable Talk

  • Showing rather than telling

  • The way different fonts and colors affect a message

  • Math concepts like proportions and scale

  • An appreciation for the work

  • An escape from the way school is always "done"

  • Creative expression

  • Compromise

  • Motivation to tackle a big task

  • Fun

The concepts of design and creativity may not show up explicitly written in any curriculum manual but spending a little bit of time on it will prepare students to tackle any part of the Common Core with the mindset of someone working on projects at Apple, Google, or Herman Miller. They will bring a keen eye and will expect to create with excellence.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Crash Course in Keynote for Elementary Kids

I am super excited that our school district has replaced Microsoft Office with iWork '09 on our student laptops. As a teacher, the more simplified interface in Pages and Keynote makes teaching so much easier compared to trying to navigate the many toolbars in Office.

Here are some of my favorite techniques that make Keynote such a valuable tool. It is fabulous as a presentation maker, but the true magic comes out when we explore the layout and design capabilities as well as Keynote's potential as a video editing application.

Here are 21 minutes of how-to instructions. Have fun with Keynote. Your only limitation is your own creativity.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Being a Connected Educator is my teaching life support system

I can hardly remember what teaching was like before social media. Twitter runs on my laptop all day long through Tweetdeck. My contacts are organized by education, local, friends, news, and sports. It is a constant stream of ideas, reflections, and life experiences.

Every day I get a list of links and new apps to try. I have instant answers to teaching's seemingly un-answerable questions. All I have to do is ask. I try to give back as much as possible by sharing techniques and resources I find helpful and offering up the occasional "don't bother" on websites that seemd promising but bombed with the kids. Bob Sprankle was one of the first educator I followed as I got connected. He talked way back in the day about "Professional Learning Network currency", essentially the idea that the more you contribute the more you will benefit.

Take a look at this video featuring many edtech all-stars as they better explain how impactful being connected can be. Get connected this month at

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How I spent my summer vacation, 1 Second Everyday

Without a doubt, the single greatest tool I took away from Steve Dembo's 2013 MACUL Conference closing keynote was the 1 Second Everyday app for both iOS and Android devices. The app basically provides you a calendar where you select one second snippets of video shot on specific days. The interface lets you then compile all of the snippets into one video.

Here is my modern answer to the "What I did on my Summer Vacation" writing prompt. The 1 Second Everyday app allowed me to capture  and create a fabulous compilation of memories. It is amazing how just one second can allow you to relive so many other associated memories.

Dean Shareski challenged us at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute to "be mindful" and this app really allowed me to focus on making each day special and to record and share the most special moments. is my summer. Thanks to all who shared a little of their summers with us.