Monday, April 25, 2011

Positive Thinking is as Important as the Curriculum

I was able to enjoy a very good special on the late Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo during a rain delay on Friday. Santo was a great 3rd baseman in Chicago for 15 years and then was a Cubs broadcaster on the radio for over 20 years. Santo is highly respected as a player for having great success while playing his whole career with diabetes. In this TV special, Santo talked about how he has dealt with the adversity in his life such as a double leg amputation as a result of his diabetes. He made the following comment, “positive thinking is as important as the medicine.”

Are you a positive thinking principal? I have been fortunate that my entire career has been spent in a school that has an atmosphere of positive thinking as soon as you walk through the doors. Is positive thinking promoted with your teachers and students as soon as they walk into the building? I have not done any research about positive thinking and I have no data to back any theories up, but I am confident that positive thinking is going to help our schools, our teachers, and our students. In regards to education, I think Santo would say, “positive thinking is as important as the curriculum.”

APPLICATIONS FOR ADMINISTRATORS: Commit to promoting a climate of positive thinking. Encourage teachers to think positively by modeling positive thinking yourself. Positive thinking can include optimism that all students can learn, celebrating student and teacher success, having fun, and encouraging creativity.

Image: Ron Santo, TR Roberts, Uploaded via Flickr March 1, 2007, Creative Commons License

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Focus on Improvement

Discus, Magnus Akselvoll, uploaded via Flickr February 25, 2011, Creative Commons LIcense

At a 5th and 6th grade track meet last weekend, my school was responsible for coordinating the discus event. Saturday was a cold, cloudy, and windy day. It was one of those days where the temperature is 50 degrees, so you are expecting a reasonably cool spring day. However, when you step outside, the 30 MPH wind just cuts through your body and sends chills from your head to your feet. So I give all of the athletes who were competing and all of the parents who were cheering a lot of credit for participating in the meet.

5th and 6th grade boys and girls cannot throw the discus very far. There were even a few competitors who were stepping into the ring for the first time, having never thrown a discus before. One girl stepped in the ring, received some quick instruction on how to throw the discus, took her one practice throw, and then attempted her three “real” throws. The throws did not go far, maybe about 15-20 feet each. However, each throw was slightly better than the previous throw. When she stepped out of the ring I heard her father say, “Great job! You improved with each throw!”

I appreciate the focus of that parent. He did not compare his daughter to anyone else. Instead he encouraged her to compete against herself. I recently heard a speaker talk about how we need to encourage our students to compete against themselves and not against other students rather than assessing by comparing to other students. By doing this, we are placing more of a focus on improvement for the individual student. Improvement is a goal that any student can reach. The same goes for our teachers. Improving instruction and relationships is goal that I would encourage each of my staff members to reach. Teachers that are improving mean that those teachers are learning, which is a great example for our students.

APPLICATION FOR ADMINISTRATORS: Encourage your staff to be constantly improving. Help them to realize that they all have different talents, abilities, and teaching styles. Help promote that one of their goals should be to improve their own teaching and instruction before they begin comparing themselves to other teachers.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

HOTTS (Higher Order Thinking/Technology Skills)

We all probably remember studying Bloom’s Taxonomy in college and how it can be incorporated into our lesson plans. Benjamin Bloom created his taxonomy in the 1950s and we have been using his structure ever since to understand the learning process. In 2001, Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl revised the taxonomy and published Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.

Andrew Churches, an educator in New Zealand, has done a great deal of writing about incorporating technology into Bloom's Revised Technology. The blog Open Education explains, “Thanks to some great work by Andrew Churches, educators have a basis by which to compare digital techniques to the more traditional standard that Bloom created.”

For a much more in depth look at integrating technology into Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, visit Churches’ wiki Educational Origami. It is filled with resources for educators interested in Bloom’s Reivsed Taxonomy and 21st Century Learning.

Educational Origami

I think if we understand Churches’ update on Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and how technology can be used to bring students to higher order thinking skills then we can provide many of our teachers with effective ways to incorporate technology into their instruction. Here are some of the ways we have been using free technology in our school to help students reach each level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.

REMEMBERING: Recalling information or knowledge.
UNDERSTANDING: Constructing Meaning

One of the best tools we have put in our students’ hands to help them reach the remembering and understanding level is Diigo. With the Diigo educator account you can create student accounts for you entire class, without the need for email addresses for the registration. Social bookmarking is a valuable tool to help students in recalling the vast amounts of information that is available to them. Bookmarking websites and resources to Diigo will allow students to retrieve information both quickly and effectively.

Social bookmarking tools such as Diigo can fall under the remembering level and the understanding level. Teaching students to comment and tag their resources helps them to construct meaning of the resource and will bring them to an understanding level. They are no longer just saving a website, but they are summarizing and classifying the resource for later use. It is important for our students to be able to understand, summarize, and classify the massive amounts of information they have access to.

APPLYING: Carrying out, running, or executing procedures.

The third step in the taxonomy is Applying which Andrew Churches would say is the level where students implement, use information, and execute tasks. A big aspect of this would be “Doing.” The great thing about the applying taxonomy level is the amount of options that we have available for our students. All six taxonomy levels have been significantly affected by Web 2.0 applications, but it is in this level that they really start to investigate how each tool can be used.

Examples of tools that students can use include Prezi, Glogster, Powerpoint, Skype, Google Apps, iPhoto, iMovie, Flickr, etc. There are a numerous amount of applications available to us, too numerous to list here. (Just browse through Richard’s blog,, and you will find more tools than you could ever use in your classroom).

ANALYSING – Make connections, compare, organize, and present information that is collected.

Online applications such as Google Forms and Wordle provide our students with opportunities to analyze information instantly and in a uniquely visual way. Our 8th grade algebra class has used Google Forms to collect data related to homework performance and group project performances. Using the “Show summary of responses” feature provides an instant visual of the information that has been collected. In January, our junior high social studies compared President Obama’s State of the Union address to past presidents’ addresses by using Wordles of each president’s speech.

The final two steps of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy are very important because they give students an audience. It is an important part of developing the higher order thinking skills and providing the students with a more authentic learning experience.

EVALUATION - Making judgments, validate, reflect
CREATING - The student, remembers, understands & applies knowledge, analysis and evaluates outcomes, results, successes and failures as well as processes to produce a final product

The most common way that I see our teachers reaching the evaluating level with our students is through blogging and Voicethread. Our teachers use Edublogs with their classes and each student has their own blog. They have the ability to publish posts as well as receive feedback on their writing in the form of comments. Publishing their writing to their student blog provides an authentic audience for the students. Blog commenting allows other students from around the world to make judgments, validate, and reflect on other students' writing.

Voicethread has also been used for students to evaluate, all the way from @alhelmy's preschool students up to our junior high students in @gilmorekendra's music class. The examples are below from the preschool and junior high classes.

Finally, one of the best examples of the creating level that I have seen is students producing videos. Here is a video from @rlimback's full-day Kindergarten class using a flip camera, iMovie, and uploaded to youtube:

Examining the verbs and activities in Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy can help our classrooms become student-centered, 21st century learning environments. My encouragement is to not look at which level will be most effective for students, but to look at the entire taxonomy and decide how this will be beneficial to you as the teacher. How can this taxonomy assist you with your instruction?

Friday, April 15, 2011

What's Most Important?

Old Classroom, Shan Ran, uploaded via Flickr July 16, 2007, Creative Commons License

As I was speaking to a teacher today, we came to a point in the conversation where I asked, “What is your most important job as a teacher?” I believe that I knew the “direction” that I wanted the answer to go, but I do not think that I knew what the exact answer was that I wanted to hear. What is the most important job of a teacher? Is there a correct answer?

I’ve written a couple posts that I think would fit under this topic (Let Every Child Know They Are Loved, Plant a Seed, Plant a Seed Part 2), and I think they all describe the “direction” that I thought the answer should go. Is the most important role for a teacher to make sure children know they are loved? Is student learning most important? Is it most important to make sure your students are ready for the next grade?

I am curious to know what other educators think. Is it fair to ask a teacher to determine what their most important job is as a teacher? Is there one right answer to this question?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Have You Done Today?

I am big on lists. I keep close track of an overall to-do list on my computer as well as create a daily to-do list for myself. I have done this for a few years now, but this year, there were days where I would leave school and feel like I was not accomplishing enough. I started tracking a second list, a “finished tasks” list. Although this helped me track what I was accomplishing during the day, the feeling of not doing enough was still creeping into my mind. Recently, I took my “finished tasks” list and put it in a wordle. You can see the wordle below.

This visual of my completed tasks helped me to analyze what I was spending much of my day on. The results were not pretty, and helped to explain why I was feeling the way I was. When words like “meeting” and “email” are the first words you see, I realized I was prioritizing the wrong things during the day. What I hope to see the next time I make a wordle like this are words that show more interactions with students and teachers like “observation”, “classrooms”, “walk-throughs”, and “conversations.” I want to strive to be more intentional about making an impact.

APPLICATION FOR ADMINISTRATORS: Track your completed tasks each day for a month in a Word document or a Google Doc. After one month, copy the entire document and throw it into a wordle. Think about what words you want to appear larger in the wordle.