Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Philosophy Of Education: Energy, Inspiration, And Understanding

Source: ASIDE 2015

This week we were asked to share our philosophies of education. It was a worthy question and a worthwhile endeavor. Even though like most teachers we’ve gone through many versions of these philosophies over the years, it was thought-provoking to reframe our tenets as both learning and we have evolved. We thought we might publish our current thoughts, to see what other educators think and to invite feedback about other philosophies of teaching in today’s learning climate:


If students were given a choice about which classes to attend each day, would they choose our classes? Is there something about the tone, the environment, the practice, or the design of information that makes our time seem worthwhile to learners?

One of our mantras with learners has been to “Look at more stuff; think about it harder.” We seek to inspire learners to use creative thinking to come up with innovative ideas; likewise, we hope to do the same with our approach to teaching. In their schooling, students hope to experience moments of wonder. An instance of surprise or curiosity, even if brief, can make all the different in motivating learners to explore and delve deeply. Insight leads to ownership, which makes meaningful the internalization of skills or concepts. One "ah ha" moment is worth one hundred perfect test scores.

To inspire others is, after all, why we teach. We rely on inspiration as the fuel for engagement. We want to encourage an environment that fosters creativity, inquiry, ownership, and independence. Learners need a stimulating environment that fuels inspiration and a hunger for knowledge. This atmosphere refers to both the physical space and the personality of the teacher. Is the room stimulating and engaging? Is the layout flexible and complementary to the learning? Furthermore, is the temperament of the teacher encouraging, with an authentic sense of optimism about the journey the learner and the educator are about to take together?

It is not about efficiency and compliance; instead, it is about things like mindset, mood, mechanisms, measurement, and momentum that push the critical thinking process in order to extract new ideas. What is the tone of the instructor's language? What is the tenor of the student-teacher relationship? A bit of humor, for example, can be key to keeping the mood light and productive. A sincere repartee can make the minutes tick by with less tedium and maybe even some anticipation.

Source: ASIDE 2015

The more interdisciplinary, collaborative, and challenging approaches we use, the greater the chance to develop individuals that are confident to take risks. In this vein, teaching and learning is a partnership. A conversational style or technological savvy can help validate students’ daily experiences and show an effort to connect to their worlds – to what is important to them. This connection stems from mutual trust. Students want to trust that their teachers are laying out clear expectations, that their grades are based on fair assessments, that their learning is in the hands of an expert. If students don't trust that we as teachers are going to keep our word, treat them with decency, and give them the benefit of the doubt, then they will tune out everything else we try to communicate.

Today, learning is no longer limited to the teacher as keeper of the knowledge, nor to the moment with little connection to the future. It has to be deeper; it is about understanding. We want students to be more like hunter-gatherers, who constantly search for anything that interests them and who share it with the world. Life-long learning is far more like the migrating hunter-gatherer, and technology has opened that door. 

We hope to harness that energy, that inspiration, and that understanding of the power of connections to explore ideas. Our hope is to tap a learner’s inspiration and creativity so that they develop as innovative thinkers and knowledge seekers.

As teachers, we want to engage students:
  • To think like designers to transform the way they learn and look at the world
  • To develop flexibility in their thinking about ways to learn, and to tap their curiosity
  • To grow to be open-minded individuals who are knowledgeable about historical events
  • To gain confidence about what they know to share their understanding and enthusiasm for history and geography with others
  • To help them develop a curiosity for learning through the creation of their own work
  • To provide a range of choices for them to visually map their ideas to realize there is more than one way of seeing
  • To design curriculum to meet the information, technology and new media literacies needs of today's learners through current best practices that incorporate digital learning, technology integration, and social media
  • To develop flexibility in their thinking about ways to learn, and to help them feel comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • To promote honest discussions about disparities in society such as race and class to promote empathy for our differences
  • To recognize, value, and assess the many diverse ways children learn and how to meet them there

Saturday, September 26, 2015

When Grammar Is Animated, Usage Sticks

Source: TED Ed
We are huge fans of TED Ed: Lessons Worthing Sharing. The short, animated videos on a variety of topics deliver the perfect dose of information to help students with content areas. Because educators write the scripts for these animations, they hit that sweet spot of just enough to make the point while engaging the eye as well. We also routinely publish some of these videos that don't necessarily fit into our curriculum on our Humanities Enrichment Tumblr. As a result, our students have become big fans as well.

This summer, TED published a host of videos about grammar that we thought were extremely helpful with our learners. Two deal with punctuation, and the others talk about word usage. Emma Bryce is the author of three of the four, and she has a real knack for simplifying tricky grammatical problems.

When To Use Apostrophes 

In the first video, entitled "When To Use Apostrophes," educator Laura McClure reviews the sometimes complicated usage. The visuals make it easy for learners to understand.

How To Use A Semicolon

Emma Bryce's's video called "How To Use A Semicolon" explains the correct way to use the semi-colon, and the animator, Mark Storer, creates a playful character that knocks out periods as if in an arcade game. She "clarifies best practices for the semi-confusing semicolon."

When To Use Me, Myself, and I

In Bryce's second video, she addresses "When To Use Me, Myself, and I." Once again, she skillfully clarifies the different role each one plays in a sentence, even though all three refer to the same thing.

How Misused Modifiers Can Hurt Your Writing

The last Bryce video, called "How Misused Modifiers Can Hurt Your Writing," follows in the same vein as the others. She uses her expertise to explain how misplaced modifiers create ambiguity. The animation makes it easy to see how words, phrases, and clauses in the wrong places create problems instead of adding helpful information.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Talk About Peace For Just One Day, Or More!

Source: Postcards For Peace
This Monday, September 21, marks the thirty-third anniversary of the United Nations International Day of Peace that invites all nations and people to cease hostilities by commemorating the day through awareness on issues related to peace. In our effort this year to bring mindfulness into our curricula, we see this day as an ideal place to connect our year-long endeavor to develop kind, empathetic, young citizens of the world.

We see taking the time to make room to recognize the importance of peaceful, non-violent solutions as imperative to learning. It’s worth every minute to talk about it, particularly in today’s world. The resource materials listed in this post provide a multitude of options for educators to integrate the International Day of Peace into classroom instruction.

Source: Peace On Day

Peace On Day, founded by Jeremy Gilley in 1999, is a good place to start for free, educational resources and curriculum guides. Check out its “Peace Projects” page for curriculum ideas that connect to subject areas with links to Postcards For Peace, Face To Faith, or Pinwheels For Peace.

Postcards For Peace’s mission is to improve the well-being of those people around the world whose lives are affected by violence or prejudice by promoting change and offering hope, support, and compassion through sending postcards of goodwill.

Its short, introductory video is just right for introducing the project to young learners, in addition to promoting writing and creativity. Download the postcard template, or make your own. Either way, it’s a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness with students through acts of kindness.

Postcards For Peace - An Introduction from Postcards For Peace on Vimeo.

Source: Kids For Peace
The last resource we’d like to bring attention to is the website called Kids For Peace. Its mission is to promote peace through youth leadership, community service, global friendships, and thoughtful acts of kindness. The Peace Pledge in this post can be easily downloaded from its website.

If you can do nothing else this Monday, try to have the students take the pledge. We are hoping to have everyone at our school take part in this. Kids For Peace also has a simple “Peace Day Challenge” to promote acts of peace. It’s perfect for any age level.

Source: Kids For Peace

Sometimes we feel crunched for time to cover course material, but sometimes the right thing to do should force us to stop for something so important as PEACE!

For other resources, please see:

Thursday, August 13, 2015

“The Understudent” — Notice The Kids Waiting In The Wings And Turn Every Child Into A Star

Source: ASIDE 2015

Every teacher knows the high-achieving students in his or her classroom. These are the trusted “high verbal” pupils who raise their hands, who answer each question, who quote the night’s reading, and who ferry the conversation. It’s a tacit trust between educator and child — the rewards are mutual. The lesson can proceed according to the teacher’s design, and the extroverts can succeed according to the traditional model.

But what about the introverts?

What about the “low verbals”?

What about the children who read the homework, who complete the worksheets, who memorize the vocabulary words, who post their projects, and who code their webpages — but who don’t speak up?

Most of a typical class is a chorus. Most of the kids who fill the seats and laugh at the jokes and fulfill their studies do not win awards. They do not give speeches at graduation. They do not take a bow with an audience on its feet.

Source: ASIDE 2015

The majority of learners will not play the leads. They will fill the background and be part of the cast. They will not see their names on the marquee, and they won’t even think to deserve it.

If school is a stage, then few actors will sing the solos or shine in soliloquies.

Most kids will be understudies — or “understudents.”

They will know their lines, they will be at every practice, they will work like heck — and yet they will receive little recognition. Because that’s how life is. And when they do step away from the ensemble and raise their hands to give a correct answer, it will be a surprise, an anomaly. 

The greatest challenge, therefore, for classroom teachers is to identify the talent waiting in the wings. Who is lurking behind the scenes? Who is quieting her voice within the chorus? Who is restraining herself within the dance?

Somewhere, a student just needs a break, some encouragement, and a teacher who believes in him to break out and become a star.

Think about the Tom Bradys and the Kurt Warners who needed a first string player to falter just so they could have a chance.

Source: ASIDE 2015

Too many times the demands of high stakes testing and rigid teacher evaluations throw educators into survival mode, where they can barely keep their own heads above water, much less look out for a glimmer of light among their docile classrooms.

But that’s the job. That’s the key. Getting to know each child on a personal level is more important than drilling rote facts into their heads. All of us can think back to the mentor who believed in us, who pulled us out of our comfort zones.

As the new school year gets underway, one of our resolutions is to seek out the understudents. We also strive to recognize the kids with underparents. They don’t make a fuss, they don't complain, and too often, therefore, we attend to the squeaky wheels.

But the modest geniuses in our midst need us more than ever. If we don’t pluck them from obscurity, then they may end up seeing themselves as members of the throng — humble nodders in the choir, content not to speak up, not to dare, not to lead, and not to share all of the insights within their quick and boisterous minds.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Uber Generation Of Learning — Fast, Efficient, And Driven By Tech

Source: ASIDE 2015

It’s no surprise that the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission is lobbying for limits to Uber’s expansion. In fact, municipalities across the country are fretting over Uber’s intrusion.

Uber’s appeal — and its rapid, unmitigated ascent — is exactly like the edtech groundswell in contemporary learning.

Uber is a private car service currently taking the country by storm. It allows anyone with an app to instantly summon a professional ride. It takes away the guessing about street corners and hand-waving. It offers customized choices, such as a car seat or SUV. Uber provides real time, visual tracking of how far away the car is and how much the trip will cost. 

Uber takes the frustrating tasks of flagging a phantom taxi or confronting a gruff phone operator and replaces them with immediate, digital satisfaction.

This is exactly what today’s students expect from their lessons and teachers.

For better or for worse, children enter our classes with a ready affinity toward online tools and an understandable assumption of digital learning. They are used to texting in realtime, chatting in realtime, Googling in realtime, and creating in realtime. When anachronistic teachers give them paper worksheets and bubble tests, it’s no wonder they roll their eyes and feel like they’re being intentionally stranded on the side of a high-tech boulevard, while the wired world seems to be passing them by.

Kids (and adults) live on their smartphones. They demand instantaneous answers via Siri or Wikipedia to any question that might pique their curiosity. In this way, they are uber-researchers. They seek information more actively and more frequently than any prior generation. The gift of the Internet offers them answers, but they still need to know their end destination. They still need to have a conclusion in mind, to drive their scholarship in the right direction.

Source: ASIDE 2015

The greatest gift from laptops, iPads, SMARTboards, and phones is efficiency. What used to take a middle schooler an entire Saturday now takes a split second. Kids can diagram the locks of the Erie Canal or study the bricks of the Giza pyramids in the same time it takes to tie one’s shoelaces. The “Internet of things” is a powerful encyclopedia. Any school district that blocks access to YouTube or Twitter, therefore, is closing the doors to Alexandria, erecting antiquated barriers in the face of authentic learning.

We expect our Uber driver to know our name, know our route, and know our credit card number. We expect service with a smile and quiet satisfaction in skipping the crowded van to the airport or the late-night carpool quest.

This is modern education — personalized, differentiated, and affordable.

This is technological learning — satisfying, searchable, and immediate.

As a point of reference, check out this current ad for Microsoft Windows 10:

Many educators still fight against this disruption, against these invading technological hordes. They demand professional development and budget studies to delay the inevitable. Many administrators side with city districts, viewing apps as interlopers seeking to upset the status quo.

Many still resist the arrival of a learning alternative, because it’s not “the way we’ve always done it.”

But the rabid popularity of Uber speaks to a communal need. The instinctive embrace of real-time learning by students means that if educators don’t change, kids will be chauffeured off into the sunset without them.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Real Republican Debate - Students Rate The Candidates' Logos To Learn Visual Civics

Source: Official Campaign Websites

The first official debate of the 2016 presidential primary season kicks off today. The Fox News Channel has invited 10 of the 17 declared Republicans candidates to a highly anticipated primetime wrangle (relegating the other seven prospects to a second-tier warm-up act). The 9:00 p.m. (EST) showcase is sure to draw an outsized number of eyeballs, due to the impressive roster of accomplished candidates and the say-anything bullhorn of a certain golden-haired tycoon.

As teachers, to introduce students to the primary process, we like to begin with each candidate's logo. These symbols are the forward-facing emblems that emblazon every t-shirt and bumper sticker and that encapsulate the character of the next leader of the free world.

Many media outlets have submitted their verdicts on various designs, but students (and everyday Americans) often have different reactions from professional graphic artists. For example, kids often accurately pick the winners based solely on the appeal of their candidate crests:
Fortunately, many presidential hopefuls did announce their campaigns before the end of the school year. With each new entrant, therefore, we first showed his or her official logo to the students, with no context or explanation, to gauge their reaction to the icon's visual appeal and brand message. The results were unexpected.

In order of Fox News ranking (based on a selective use of national polls), but not in order of winning insignia, here are the best and worst of tonight's field:

Source: Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump's poster is certainly plain. In fact, there is little logo or design to speak of. Instead, his banner features clearly spaced, sans serif white lettering across a royal blue backdrop, with a thin border of lines and stars. Even without any graphic appeal, the placard is still ideal for Trump's mission. Arguably the best known candidate in the GOP, Trump and his moniker are already plastered across an array of airplanes, hotels, buses, and TV shows. To mess with a well-established brand would be foolish. Even the overly simplistic, exclamatory subtitle, "Make America Great Again!", is perfect Trumpian bombast and vaguery.

Source: Jeb 2016, Inc.

As the establishment favorite, former Florida Governor John Ellis "Jeb" Bush has charted a safe middle course toward the nomination. His unadorned, uninspiring logo is a testament to this risk-adverse strategy. The cherry red "Jeb!" does ring clearly across a range of posters and t-shirts. The use of only his first name also speaks to his national identity and his desire to separate himself from the potential negativity of his last name, just like Hillary, Newt, and others before him. The cartoonish, ridiculously emphatic exclamation point, however, detracts from any serious branding opportunity. With no genuine icon or subtitle, the only element that draws the viewer's attention is the election year, which might seem unnecessary, save for the fact that Bush is recycling the exact design from his prior gubernatorial runs.

Source: Scott Walker Inc

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is well known in the Midwest for his conservative stance against labor unions. He is just beginning, though, to introduce himself to a national audience. Walker often trumpets his everyman appeal, such as in shopping at Kohl's and not graduating from college. His campaign logo echoes this simplicity (even though his typeface is a dark Yale blue). The nicely registered kerning and leading give clarity to the banner (which is often paired with a "For America" subtitle). The attempt at symbolism, however, with the American flag "E" fails on multiple levels. The oversized blue corner and the randomly chosen three red bars warp the iconic Stars and Stripes to a distracting degree. Also, as the media immediately noticed, his device seems plagiarized directly from the trademark of America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses

Source: Huckabee for President

Former Arkansas Governor Mick Huckabee's current logo is an improvement on his 2008 design. Huckabee's team obviously spent time crafting this upgraded image. The soft Tufts blue background allows his snow white last name to stand out above a red and white vector of lines that invoke Amtrak or the Bank of America. The viewer's eye, however, is drawn to the minor eruption of gold stars in the middle. This is an unnecessary distraction for such an insignificant embellishment. Also, the surtitle refers smartly to Huckabee's hometown of Hope, Arkansas, but it generates confusion about the precise meaning of the quasi-religious "higher ground" reference.

Source: Carson America, Inc.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson began his campaign with the logo above, but it's no wonder he's recently drifted toward a newer banner (which does have its own unique problems). The "Carson America" slogan is clumsy and perplexing in its smooshing together of two unrelated nouns. Unless his team was aiming for a Captain America reference, or trying to remind viewers about where they live, this jarring phrasing is off-putting in its agrammatical asynchrony. Additionally, the gold color has only successfully been employed by John McCain in 2008 with his military background. Finally, the action of the capital "A," with its miniature eagle head, its diagonal of tiny stars, and its curlycue of flag ribbons, offers too much business within too compact a space.

Source: Cruz For President

Texas Senator Ted Cruz opts for a muted tone in stenciling his name and year (and sometimes the prolix tagline, “Courageous Conservatives - Reigniting the Promise of America”). This unconventional yet dull choice of gray puts all of the lopsided emphasis on the red, white, and blue flame on the left. Cruz walks a road previously trod by Herman Cain, who similarly relied on an ill-chosen torch icon. Instead of invoking the light of liberty, fire imagery tends to kindle medieval or destructive, rather than uplifting, feelings.

Source: Marco Rubio For President

Florida Senator Marco Rubio aims to create a contrast between his youthful, next-generational appeal and his more senior Republican (and possibly Democratic) opponents. To this end, Rubio's logo is superb. The casual, novel lowercase of his first and last name partners nicely with the contemporary ITC Avant Garde DemiBold typeface. The all-caps etching of his slogan, "A New American Century," is crisp in its reminder of his age (44) and outlook. The only misstep (albeit nice attempt) is the diminutive map of the United States perched daintily over the "i" in his last name. It seems like his team felt obliged to include some sort of Americana in the design. But the wee nature of this teeny nation comes across as reductive rather than celebratory.

Source: Rand Paul For President

Much like Bush, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul includes only on his first name in his mock up, presumably to distinguish himself from his father, Ron, who ran for president in 1988, 2008, and 2012. The problem is that the younger Paul does not enjoy the name recognition of Jeb or Hillary, so this graphic might as well be linked to the Rand Corporation. Also, the nearly-black, bold italics and the alarming red blaze on the top are more alarming than patriotic, more disconcerting than inspiring.

Source: Chris Christie for President, Inc.

In his logo, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie mimics Huckabee's pairing of a bold last name with a thin electoral year. Without the other uniting elements, however, such as a background shade or a fluid shape, this rendition feels off-kilter. Christie's banner puts all of its emphasis on the stretched subtitle, "Telling It Like It Is." While this slogan effectively evokes Christie's predilection for direct talk (or rudeness), it also reinforces Christie's reputation for self-centeredness. A better design would have crafted a message about America or its people, along with an inventive icon to adorn buttons.

Source: Kasich For America

Ohio Governor John Kasich is one of the most recent entrants into the Republican race, so perhaps we can charitably excuse the rushed misfortune of his logo. The absence of any message or slogan or election year puts all of the attention on the rose red kite flying over his last name. Surely the redundant "K" (much like Clinton's "H") could have been incorporated creatively into the flow of his name, without the overlong wavy lines that imitate Zener cards. Instead, Kasich's initial comes across like Jon Huntsman's "H," a floating letter in search of meaning.

Stay tuned for a logo analysis of the other seven Republican campaigns, as well as the Democratic challengers not named Hillary.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Blue Heart Campaign To End Human Trafficking

Source: UN
While we know many schools are not in session, we felt it important to write about the United Nations’ Blue Heart Campaign on the second World Day Against Trafficking of Humans. The first was on July 30, 2014.

Source: UN

With the growing problem of human trafficking, particularly of women and children, this day hopes to raise awareness of the plight of these victims and to protect their rights.

The Blue Heart Campaign seeks to educate others about the impact of this crime on society by inspiring others to take action through a show of solidarity. We spend a significant amount of time talking with our students about human rights abuses that all too often seem a regular feature on the nightly news. Since the issue of human trafficking can be a sensitive topic, we are always in search of resources that we can use with our learners. The infographics in this post provide visual tools to help.
Source: UN

Last year, we did our own push to make students aware of the International Declaration of Human Rights and what they mean for them. We used the website Youth for Human Rights and watched each of the 30 videos. Our students were surprised by the information and statistics, and in their innocence, they could not fathom these violations happening today. This made a huge difference in their understanding of historical and current issues.

Source: UN
As we get ready to start the school year, we plan to continue to integrate human rights into the conversation, and we hope others do as well.

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