Never Underestimate A Motivated Learner ~ You Gotta Have Faith

Who has faith in you?  In whom do you demonstrate faith? On November 20, 2011, AS announced that she wanted to learn to knit. She is seven. I’m embarrassed to say that I thought:

Is she really going to learn to knit? I’ve tried to teach my adult friends and have about a 50% success rate. I am busy; I have a list of things that need to be accomplished today.

But, she was determined to knit, so she sat in my lap while I coached her through 4 rows of 10 stitches – about a 20 minute exercise.  You can see the results of that one “lesson” on my Posterous mother-daugher-based-learning blog post.  On Dec. 20, 2011, her blue scarf was approximate 3.5 feet long, and she started a new purple scarf.

What if I had put my list of “desired outcomes” ahead of her interests and determination to learn?

What if I told her that she was not ready?

What if I indicated that she did not have enough maturity, experience, prerequisite skills?

How often do I become focused on “getting through the list of learning targets in the curriculum” without stopping to listen to their interests and questions? Meet Thomas Suarez – an iPhone app developer and a 6th grader:

Meet Birke Baehr – an 11-year-old concerned with industrialized food systems and the alternatives:

What do our learners care about?  What do they want to learn, study, think deeply about, and investigate?  How can we use our curriculum to serve and support their learning and interests? We regularly check-in with our learners by reading and commenting on their blogs.  Here are a few quotes from our Synergy 8 learners about their interests and concerns:

One thing that each member and I realized after we were talked to about poor quality housing and affordable housing, was that there are many children that do not have a safe place to call “home.”  ~ TY Did you know that from 1980 to now obesity rates have doubled among adults and tripled among adolescents (, Facts n. pag.)? Also, did you know in 2010 according to the CDC 29.6% of people in Georgia were obese (, Overweight n. pag.)? Before starting this project, I knew that obesity was a problem and I was very passionate about this issue. Although, I had no idea that obesity affected that many people, especially in Georgia. ~ SE Using this data, we discovered that most people get less sleep than they should. Lack of sleep can affect your mood, attention span, and ability to retain knowledge. Most teens think that they can do their homework and mess around until 12 am and then go to sleep.~ RV I am a person that doesn’t like to work in groups in fear that people won’t do their work and I will have to make up for the work that hasn’t been done. Being in this Synergy class and working in groups has helped me to trust other people to do their work.~ HD

What are the active steps we take to help our learners find tangible evidence of success and learning?  How does our feedback indicate that we have faith in their ability to learn, to work collaboratively, to problem find and problem solve?  How do we actively demonstrate faith (and trust) in our learners’ quest develop thinking and understanding? (And, what does it convey if we won’t let them try because we are afraid that they are too young, too immature, too inexperienced, or that they are just “not ready” because they haven’t mastered the prerequisites? Just meet the amazing speakers at TedxKids@BC from September 17, 2011 and then think about these questions again…) Who has faith in you?  In whom do you demonstrate faith? We gotta have faith.

Participating in Each Others Stories: Global Connections & Microlending

Our Learning for Life vision statement calls for us to seize the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century by promoting global citizenship by integrating content and relationships that connect us to the larger world and the world to us.


If shown a world map, could I find Uganda or Ecuador?  Do I have any idea how to connect with someone or something in a country that I can’t even find on a map?  How will I find content to promote global citizenship while teaching content that falls under my responsibility?

An email from a blog that I follow arrived on Dec. 2.

From: SimpleK12 Blog <>
Date: Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 4:47 AM
Subject: How You Can Empower Your Students to Make a Global Difference

So I joined Bill Ferriter, Dan Sudlow, and three of their students, E, C, and J, for a webinar discussing their Kiva Club and how they use microlending to help people in developing countries throughout the world.

E and C are 6th graders and J is an 8th grader. With expert and supportive facilitation from Bill and Dan, these young learners taught us about microlending through their experiences and stories. Worth emphasizing…I learned about microlending and integrating content and relationships that connect us to the larger world and the world to us from these three young learners.

The connections to math and geography are obvious to me, but I still have questions.  You can read more about microlending on Bill’s blog The Tempered Radical.  In High Tech High’s video What Project Based Learning Is, Jeff Robin strongly suggests to be successful with PBL you need to “do the project yourself.”  While the math and geography seem obvious to me, what will be learned from a microlending project?  So, I have taken the challenge to learn by doing.  I am participating in funding two loans.

I have a better idea of where Uganda and Ecuador are when I look at a map, and I have the opportunity to connect to these women’s stories.  I also know more about Kiva.  Listen to and watch this beautiful story from Jessica Jackley about poverty, money, and love:

In her talk, Jackley says

The way we that we participate in each others stories is of deep importance.

I am collaborating with 18 others across the world to help Carlina improve her business and family income.  Her dream is to have a well-constructed house; her current home is made of reeds.

Each of the green pins in the map represents the location of a lender.  The map and pins tell part of the story, but while informative, it is not very personal.

Don’t you think there is a big difference in seeing the pins in the map and seeing the faces of the lenders?  The faces show humanity; the faces share more of the story.

If integrating “content and relationships that connect us to the larger world and the world to us” is an essential action, then what do we do? What actions do we take? How do we “do the project” ourselves?  How will we practice? What will we learn?

Still wondering how social media can be used for learning, leading, and serving?  Read One Tweet CAN Change the World from The Tempered Radical.  I cannot physically take my young learners on a field trip to Uganda, Ecuador, or another part of the world.  Social media (blogs, Twitter, YouTube, iChat, Skype, etc.) affords us  opportunities to “connect us to the larger world and the world to us.”

Let’s experiment.

Let’s learn by doing.

Integrated Studies: Gardening, Obesity, Open Source Learning

In Synergy we have six groups working on community issues: obesity, cafeteria design and cleanliness, Nancy Creek, designing a fair to raise awareness for Habitat for Humanity, sleep, and graffiti.

How do we create a movement to raise awareness?  How do we connect people to work for a common cause?  How do we learn from one another?  (All good questions critical to Synergy success.)

Listen to Roger Doiron, the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International:

Could you pick out the essential learnings from many areas of school?  Economics, persuasive writing, biology, arithmetic, algebra, geometry,  environmental science, and more, right?  Did you catch how he used social media to promote his agenda?

How much space does the White House vegetable garden require on the lawn?  How much would it cost to buy the plants to grown in this garden?

Suppose you don’t have that much space to dedicate to a garden?  How much space do you have?  How much would the plants you need for your garden cost?  What plants should you grow?  How will you determine the nutrients needed to amend your soil?  Will you eat more vegetables if you grow them yourself?  Will you save money by growing some of your food?

Live in an apartment?  Don’t like dirt?  Interested in having a garden in your classroom? Got a window? Want to see “Learn and Share” open-source collaboration in action? Listen to Britta Riley talk about Windowfarms, vertical hydroponic platforms for growing food in city windows:

What could we learn if we built the latest windowfarm design, the V3.0, the Modular Airlift Multicolumn Array?

Increasing intake of healthy food is one way to fight obesity.  I wonder if our teams can find threads to connect their projects – could they choose to work in their interest for a common cause?  Could the Nancy Creek team raise awareness of how to care for Nancy Creek and advocate for a healthier lifestyle at the same time? Would they consider creating exercise information stations along the trail that follows Nancy Creek? Is there a link between the appropriate and necessary amount of sleep, exercise, and health?  How could the spring fair team plan to advocate for all Habitat Houses to have a garden in the backyard?  Could one team build a “getting started gardening” resource guide?  Could the graffiti team create a movement using art to motivate making healthier choices?

Zooming out, what can we learn about integrated studies, student choice, and interdependence?  Could we choose to work in our field of interest for a common cause?  How do we harness the power of social media to create opportunities for open-source collaboration to improve, learn, create, innovate, reflect, and revise?

FAAR – Connecting Peer Observations to Learning for Life

As part of our formative Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan, we engage in a process of peer observations. We also have a new Learning for Life vision statement.  With his permission, I am publishing my peer observation of my friend and colleague, BC.  As I reviewed my notes taken during his class, I realized that he, in this one lesson,  seized the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century by promoting all six essential actions called for in our Learning for Life vision statement.


Focus of the observation (if any) and class context:

Algebra I team’s lesson study on Phases of the Moon.

Teaching methods and practices observed (strength-based)/Indicators of student learning.

  •   Integrated Studies
  •   Project-based Learning
  •   Learning Spaces
  •   Teachers working in teams
  •   Assessment and feedback
  •   Content that connects us to the larger world and the world to us.

Assessment and feedback, Teachers working in team, Project-based learning
BC uses inquiry to engage our learners in the context of the lesson.  He solicits prior knowledge to have learners take an active role in driving the lesson.

Integrated studies, Teachers working in teams, Content that connects us
CB used multi-media, a video from the History Channel (, to confirm the students’ prior knowledge and introduce necessary vocabulary not discussed by the students.

Teachers working in teams
In the face of no network access, BC calmly transitioned to the team’s Plan B.  Rather than using  the resources for Phases of the Moon on our Google Site, he used a Keynote presentation.  This modeled for our learners that we continue to learn; we do not stop because “we have no Internet.”

Teachers working in teams, Content that connects us, Learning spaces
While the students did not leave the classroom, they definitely utilized spaces.  The students used their MacBooks to find answers and questions concerning the moon.  CB addressed visual and kinesthetic learning styles by having the learners graph the illumination of the moon over the days of a month.

[Note:  Video evidence inserted here.¹  ]

Some questions to consider:

Did you like teaching graph interpretation this way?
How can we have more classes like this?
Where do we turn for more resources to find integrate lessons that engage our students and connect their learning to many disciplines?

What did I observe that I would like to incorporate into my own teaching/Other notes:

This is an awkward question since we built the lesson together.  We observed each other; we all went to DD’s class as a team.  DD and I went to BC’s class while WB was teaching Algebra II.  It is difficult to say what I would like to incorporate since we observed, learned, and tweaked the lesson as it was delivered to all Algebra I learners.


Our new technology made this observation a richer experience from my team.  I used my iPhone (forgot my Flip camera) to collect video snippets of examples so that we could review and analyze what happened during class.  I used my MacBook with Pages to import the video into my notes in class during the observation.  My team and I had my raw notes from the observation right after class.  (See my raw notes from the observation at the end of this post.)

If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is video worth?

  • How does technology help us learn?
  • Is it “good enough” to do things the way we’ve always done them?
  • Do our learners need different than what we need?
  • How are we practicing?
  • What one thing could you explore, experiment with, and practice that would blend learning?

Our challenge as learners is to learn by doing, to practice new techniques, to use technology do things better, and to make connections.  The video artifacts in this observation allowed us to “view” parts of the lesson over and over.  The video doesn’t just make the observation different; it makes it better.  We have the opportunity to see what we might otherwise have missed.  We have “replay” to continue to question and observe.

As a learner, I had the opportunity to blend my learning.  I observed a colleague deliver a common lesson designed by our team.  I practiced with technology by integrating the use of video into my note taking.  While I don’t have as many written notes, the video tells the story is a way that my written notes could never tell.  As a team, we have evidence that we are taking steps to transform our traditional classes in order to align learning with our vision.  We had the opportunity to learn together as we revised and refined the lesson between “shows.”


¹  School policy prevents me from showing you the video of the learning that occurred during this lesson. [Awaiting permission.]

Guiding Learners to Develop and Practice Citizenship

Our children operate in a connected society  (Gough n.pag.) where they share pictures, ideas, music, etc. with a couple of keystrokes.

We help our young learners prepare for college and for life when we guide them as they learn to navigate through any community.  Just as we review and practice CPR procedures at the beginning of each school year, we should review and refresh our understanding of the rules and regulations of online rights, privacy, and protection for our young learners.  Tom Whitby and Lisa Nielsen co-wrote and cross-posted the World’s simplest online safety policy.  While perhaps too simple as we grow our 1:1 program and more connected learning, it is worth a read and some consideration.

Students can access websites that do not contain or that filter mature content. They can use their real names, pictures, and work (as long it doesn’t have a grade/score from a school) with the notification and/or permission of the student and their parent or guardian”  (Nielsen n. pag.).

If you want to know more, please read their post.  They have good commentary and thoughtful information for teachers about FERPA, CIPA, and COPPA.

  • Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)
    “The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. CIPA imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program – a program that makes certain communications technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries” (F.C.C. n. pag.).
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
    “The primary goal of COPPA and the Rule is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children online. The Rule was designed to protect children under age 13 while accounting for the dynamic nature of the Internet. The Rule applies to operators of commercial websites and online services directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, and operators of general audience websites or online services with actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13” (F.T.C. n. pag.).

When considering appropriate privacy, I think about my child.  I want her to learn under the guidance and tutelage of her family and teachers. At 7, she already asks to publish on her blog, and I want her to publish what she values.  I want her to learn to publish appropriately and responsibly.  She wants to learn and share.  I want her to learn, and when she makes mistakes, I don’t want her to hide what she is doing.  I hope she will have a network of caring, concerned friends, family, and teachers to help her self-correct.

A study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released early this year found that 73 percent of Americans ages 12 to 17 now use social-networking websites, up from 55 percent in 2006.  (Davis n. pag.)

As learners, coaches, facilitators, and teachers, how should we communicate and collaborate to connect us to the world and the world to us?  How do we continue to learn and grow?  How will we serve and lead in a changing world?

How will we “open the classroom of the world for our students while helping them grow into wise, safe, and responsible digital citizens?”


Apple.  “Apple-iPod touch-TVad- Share The Fun.”  You Tube. Web. 09 Dec. 2011.

Davis, Michelle.  “Social Networking Goes to School.” Education Week. Web.  06 Jun. 2010

Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  “Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).”  Web.  11 Dec. 2011.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  “Frequently Asked Questions about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA).” Web.  09 Dec. 2011.

Gough, Jill.  “Social Media and my family.”  Experiments in Learning by Doing.  Web.  18 Nov. 2011.

Nielsen, Lisa, and Tom Whitby.  “World’s simplest online safety policy.”  The Innovative Educator.  Web.  3 April 2011.

U. S. Department of Education.  “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”  Web.  09 Dec. 2011.

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: inspiring non-graded formative assessment

On Monday, December 5, Jeff McCalla (St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis, TN) and I co-facilitated a 2-hour session at Learning Forward.  The conference description said:

Learn to model practical classroom formative assessments. Hear stories and gain artifacts from National T3 instructors as they share their struggles and successes as well as the struggles and successes of their students in middle school and high school math. Develop processes and tools for creating formative assessments that integrate technology to motivate student collaboration.

While we planned our lesson, we also committed to modeling the techniques that we were promoting.  Our handout shows a linear path that we intended to take.

We started with a basic review of the traditional 4-point rubric.

Level 1 – Beginning
Level 2 – Progressing
Level 3 – Proficient
Level 4 – Exceptional

What do these descriptors “tell” a learner about their understanding?  Do these descriptors help a learner know where they are and how to get to the target level? So we reframed these ideas in different terms.

Level 1:  I’m getting my feet wet.
Level 2:  I’m comfortable with support.
Level 3:  I’m confident with the process.
Level 4:  I’m ready for the deep end.

Using the TI-Nspire Navigator system, we polled our participants to assess their disposition on formative assessment which caused us to change our plan on the fly.

We dropped all planned discussion of the theory of formative assessment and began to model and discuss how to create opportunities for collaboration.

We moved quickly to discuss how to develop formative assessments that offer opportunities to lead learners by following their progress and to help learners level up.

We feel that formative assessment should give all involved a different level of awareness.  How many times have we said “how can they not know this” when we are grading papers?  How many times have we heard our students proclaim “I thought I knew this, but what I studied was not on the test?”

“It is easy to miss something you’re not looking for.”

It is easy for a learner to feel and believe that they understand what is being learned.  But, do we offer them opportunities to calibrate their understanding with ours?  Leveled, non-graded formative assessment that offers learners the ability to calibrate their understanding with the teacher’s expectation and, at the same time, shows the path to the next level will improve learning and teaching.

Working from an identified area of strength and success offers learners the opportunity to stretch and grow.  Have students stop, collaborate, and listen to assess and report progress, to diagnose strengths and needs, and to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Stop, collaborate, and listen to your team.  Design leveled assessments to lead learners to the target level.  Intervene and enrich in one swoop with opportunities for all learners to self-assess, learn and grow.

“This is so next level!” Video Team-Teaching in #Synergy

Twenty-four, eighth-grade synergists are working in six discreet groups – their projects originated from the data-mining of over 300 observation-journal blog posts that they collected. The projects are:

  1. Graffiti (is it art, vandalism, both? how can we use it for good?)
  2. Nancy Creek (what can we know and understand about the creek that runs through our campus?)
  3. Crusade for Cleanliness (how could organizational-flow changes enhance the stewardship in our dining hall?)
  4. Obesity (how can we improve the alarming issue of obesity in American youth?)
  5. Sleep (what impact on school do our sleep habits create?)
  6. Habitat for Humanity Spring Fling (how could a school fair raise money and awareness for homelessness?)

Because Jill Gough, one of the two Synergy facilitator-coaches, was presenting at the Learning Forward Annual Conference on Monday, Dec. 5, she was in Anaheim, CA. The other facilitator-coach, Bo Adams, was in Atlanta, GA. Having grown accustomed to and convinced of the viability of team-teaching in such a project-based course, Bo and Jill felt some anxiety about having only one facilitator present to serve best the six groups during this critical phase of their project development.

[In your mind’s ear, cue that quintessential cartoon superhero intro theme.] Never fear…video conferencing is here!

As we think about preparing students for a work world that will most likely include significant use of such tools as iChat, Facetime, Skype, and other video “conferencers,” then it seems natural to practice such work processes. Perhaps students already use such tools socially, but school could help coach the use of such tools for more formal, business-like purposes. Additionally, we should all be thinking more about how we can invite various co-teachers into our classrooms – to break down the walls that seem to preserve the arcane model of one adult per group of classroom students. Practice leads to enhanced proficiency. On Monday, Dec. 5, Synergy engaged in some additional practice of tearing down those 20th century classroom walls. Who knows who else we might next invite to teach with us…from the exterior of our learning space’s four physical walls.

As one student-learner can be heard exclaiming in the video: “This is so next level!”

[This post is cross-published at It’s About Learning.]