Poem in Your Pocket Day

National Poem in Your Pocket Day is new to me, but it’s a thing! A day to celebrate and share poems. So here are some for you. Shel Silverstein is a favorite in our house, and these are some favorites of mine. Of course they all have to do with parenting, teaching, and growing up.

Silverstein

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What I learned on the way to 1,000 followers

A year ago, in December 2014, I realized I had around 500 Twitter followers. At that point, I made an arbitrary goal to amass 1,000 followers by December of 2015. This goal wasn’t motivated by vanity, but rather a desire to be more connected to members of the #edtech community. So over the past year, I sought out connections. I participated in chats. I shared my thoughts and my resources and I asked questions. Then, last week, I got this notification on my phone:

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I did it. I got to 1,000 followers. But the biggest thing I learned along the way was that my number of followers didn’t matter at all. What matters instead is the number of accounts I am following. That’s my learning community. Those are the people who are sharing their thoughts and resources with me. Those are the people that I count on every day to teach me something new. While I’m humbled that 1,000 people consider my thoughts worthy of learning from, that number isn’t nearly as important as I thought it was a year ago.

Now to set some goals for 2016…

Big Ideas at NCGS: From STEM to STEAM

ncgs-2015-logo-vertical-227This week I was attended the National Coalition of Girls Schools conference in Richmond, VA. Richmond in the summer is like New Orleans in the spring: warm (but not hot!) with low humidity. So beautiful. St. Catherine’s 125 year old campus, where the conference was held, is gorgeous.  It is historical and modern at the same time and is one of those spaces that makes you want to sit outside and discuss great literature (or in this case, girls’ education) with some friends. In other words, it’s one of those places that makes you want to learn.

The theme of this year’s conference was “From STEM to STEAM: Girls’ Schools Leading the Way” and there were some big ideas being thrown around.  I’m going to share some ideas from the sessions that I attended, but I think my favorite part was traveling with colleagues and hearing about the sessions they attended.  We were able to bounce ideas off of one another and really deepen our understanding of each these concepts.

One of the keynote speakers was Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. I helped lead a cohort of the GWC club this year at school, so I was familiar with Saujani and her work, but I had no idea she was such an engaging speaker. Supported by staggering statistics about women and girls in STEM fields, she was able to both alarm and encourage attendees about the dismal rates of girls entering STEM fields. “It’s not that girls need math and science, it’s that math and science needs girls” was a popular line from her presentation.

Another speaker that resonated with me was Ana Homayoun, Founder of Green Ivy Educational Consulting and Author of The Myth of the Perfect Girl.  She began her career as a learning specialist, helping adolescents learn to organize and manage their time. What she quickly learned was that their biggest struggles came from social media. She began researching adolescent use of social media and found some interesting trends, which she now shares with schools and parent groups. Her message was not fear-based, which I appreciate. Instead, she encourages girls to make positive choices about their lives and their time. Does this app or activity add to your enjoyment of life? Does it make you happy? If not, then what are some other choices that might? This is an important conversation to have with adolescents and with adults.

Another of my favorite sessions was given by Anne Rubin and Donna Daigle from Miss Hall’s School in Massachusetts. Annie and I have become Twitter friends over the last year and I was excited to finally meet her. Not surprisingly, her session topic was as thoughtful engaging as she is. She and Donna had won a grant from the E. E. Ford Foundation to develop a new professional learning community at their school that would impact the culture of the school and ultimately contribute to developing leadership in students. They paired teachers together from different departments to support one another on a learning project. Over the course of two years, they began to break down the walls between departments in a way that was visible to students. Rather than “English teachers” or “Science teachers,” they were learners, just like the students. The teachers present said that going through the process had transformed, not just their professional relationships, but their teaching as well.

In her keynote, Reshma Sujani mentioned that girls and women are often less likely to speak up or to promote themselves. She said that, while boys may be happy to quickly jot down a series of half-formed ideas, girls tend to agonize over details, striving for perfection that may never come. (I know that is a struggle for me with this blog!)  But perhaps pushing our amazing girls to promote themselves and connect with one another, just as so many teachers and administrators did this week, would be the first step in creating the supportive community of peers that they need. There is power in numbers, but if our we don’t connect and help our students to connect, they may not realize those numbers are out there.

Kithub: A Review

A magical moment! Opening the Kithub box! (Image used with permission.)

A magical moment! Opening the Kithub box!
(Image used with permission.)

When I heard about Kithub, a monthly electronics subscription service for maker-type families, I knew I had to try it.  We have now been subscribers for 4 months, so I feel that I can write a pretty informed review at this point.

First, my favorite thing about Kithub’s kits is the open-ended nature of them.  I’m wary of kits that are basically supplies and directions for one predefined project.  Kithub’s boxes are instead packed with ideas. They also happen to contain the supplies you might need to make those ideas happen. Second, I love that the supplies themselves are not proprietary.  If I need more of a particular item (LEDs, battery, copper tape, DC motor, etc.), I can easily pick them up at my nearest Radio Shack (we still have two nearby!) or through Amazon (I’m spoiled by Prime).

The Kithub website has instruction videos to give subscribers an idea of how to do the projects that each kit describes. Also, Kithub sends occasional emails to subscribers with further project ideas.  These emails are along the lines of: “Hey, do you have any of that copper wire leftover? Here’s another project idea for it!” I definitely feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth.*

Now, I mentioned that the supplies themselves are not proprietary.  So, could I save some money by getting similar supplies each month and coming up with my own ideas for projects to work on with my kids?  Maybe.  But I could not duplicate the excitement of the box arriving on our porch.  “Mom, a new Kithub is here!  When can we do it?”  That is magical.  Plus, projects that I might come up with could never be as cool, because I’m just mom.

The biggest benefit of doing projects like these with your kids is that you help them build a Growth Mindset. Even if your natural inclination when given an electronics challenge is to say “I’m not good at this; This is too hard; I can’t figure it out,” you can try instead “I don’t know how to do this, but let’s figure it out together.” Trust me, your kids can hear the difference and they will follow your lead. Which message do you want them replaying in their minds?

*Of note: I am an actual paid subscriber. I did not receive a free product in exchange for this review.

Growing a Growth Mindset

Throughout my education, I remember getting tests and papers back with a letter (or number) grade on them and that grade being pretty final. I don’t know that I was ever offered a chance to make a test or paper better until graduate school. In a class with a particularly challenging professor, I wrote a paper that I thought was ok. The professor handed it back with an F on it. I was devastated. I felt sure I was going to fail the class and I didn’t know what to do. Then I read the professor’s comments, which offered me a chance to learn more about the subject by rewriting the paper. Rewrite a paper? This was new to me and I told him so. Well, he said, that’s how you learn. Sure enough, the second time I wrote the paper, I learned much more about the subject and about myself. I grew and I’ll never forget that lesson.

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to inspire growth both as an educator and a parent. I’m sure we all hear a lot of “I can’t do this” or “I’m just not good at that.” And there’s the opposite: “She’s so smart, she always gets the right answer.” The trouble with these, as well as with test grades, is that there’s no room for growth. You are what you are and your recent work reflects that. That’s not what I want at all, for me or for my kids.

So how to we turn that around? I think we can start with the words we use.  I love this infographic by the talented @sylviaduckworth comparing phrases one might hear in a challenging situation. In fact, I love it so much I have it hanging on my wall. At first, using phrases on the left might seem forced, but if they can be internalized, a whole new mindset can be developed. In this new mindset, anything is possible. The best part is that the growth mindset is a lot more fun! Have you heard (or said!) any of the phrases on the right recently?

Image by @sylviaduckworth via Twitter

 

Book Review: Digital Leadership

“Digital leadership is a mindset and a call to transform a school’s culture into one that unleashes the creativity of students so they can create artifacts of learning that demonstrate conceptual mastery”

51qfa2pjytl-_sx373_bo1204203200_Eric Sheninger’s 2014 book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times (2014), is both an explanation of and a guide to effective digital leadership in today’s schools. I read this book a year ago (when it first came out) and it has really stuck with me. The book is easy to read and provides many real-life examples of effective school leaders in action. Sheninger himself didn’t begin his administrative career as a connected leader, nor was his school particularly innovative with technology or learning.  Once he began to connect with other school leaders and see the possibilities, he was able to establish a vision for how technology should be used in the school in order to support education.  The connection he found with other leaders and the transparency with which he communicates are the keys to the success he has had.

The main argument in this book is around the seven pillars of Digital Leadership, which he seamlessly dovetails with ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators.

Before examining the pillars of Digital Leadership, Sheninger makes a case for change in education.  Rather than focusing on memorizing facts, students today need to learn to collaborate and solve new problems.  In order to serve our students and prepare them for a new society, we must reinvent the way in which they are taught.  Sheninger makes the case that this can only be done by visionary leaders who take the time to communicate and model innovative learning.  In Sheninger’s words, “Leaders today must establish a vision and implement a strategic process that creates a teaching and learning culture that provides students with essential skill sets – creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, technological proficiency, and global awareness.”  Only after this vision is established can the leader embark on the seven pillars of Digital Leadership. These are outlined below.

Communication, Public Relations, and Branding

The first three of Sheninger’s pillars of Digital Leadership are closely linked in my mind. Communication, Public Relations, and Branding are all themes that come up repeatedly in ISTE’s NETS-A.  Sheninger make a clear case that leaders who are able to articulate their vision will have greater success than those who cannot.  Although he puts great value on blogging and social media for communicating with the greater world, he also makes a case for holding face-to-face workshops with parents. Along with the idea of communicating a vision comes Public Relations (building a story about the school) and Branding (building a story about the leader).  It is up to the school leader to communicate the story that he or she most wants the world to know.  If this isn’t done, then the world may tell a story that is less favorable and even untrue.  If the school leader can demonstrate positive Communication, Public Relations, and Branding for the faculty and students, they can follow the example and have more rewarding digital experiences themselves.

Professional Growth and Development

School leaders who can model modern professional growth and development will be more effective to themselves and their schools.  Particularly, Sheninger gives the example of several leaders who model learning through a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Rather than passively receiving information, as in a traditional school setting, leaders are making choices and constantly evaluating information.  School leaders who can effectively demonstrate personal learning are invaluable models to the faculty and students around them.

Increasing Student Engagement, Rethinking Learning Environments, and Discovering Opportunity

A school’s primary mission is to serve the students and to prepare them for their future. However, rather than start with this goal in his pillars of Digital Leadership, Sheninger finishes with it.  He feels student goals cannot be met until the school leader is able to communicate and model this way of learning.  For example, if technology integration happens before a shift in learning culture, we end up with teachers who use iPads as worksheets and SMARTboards as overhead projectors (Alan November’s $1,000 pencil comes to mind). Once school leaders and faculty embrace the ideas of connected learning, student environments can be transformed and made relevant to today’s learners. Students, like leaders and faculty, will learn to approach learning as an intrinsic, personal activity.  In locating, evaluating, and synthesizing the information around them, they will learn to be the resourceful, creative problem solvers the world needs them to become.  When leaders and teachers model connectivity, students will themselves learn more responsible ways to use social media in their education. Through connecting with others around the world in order to find and share resources, students can create a positive digital footprint that will begin to serve as their personal brand.

Throughout this book, Sheninger repeats that effective leaders have to model the innovative and collaborative behaviors that they want to see in their faculty and students.  To underscore this idea, he gives multiple engaging examples of school leaders who have followed the pillars of digital leadership with success.  These detailed, real work examples make clear to the reader the rewards of following the pillars of Digital Leadership.  Only leaders who can connect with others, communicate ideas, demonstrate lifelong learning, and create school environments that match this thinking will be be able to effectively lead their schools into the next century.

Our Home Makerspace

Our Home Makerspace

I am a big fan of the Maker Movement and its effects on education both at school and at home. I love that making is hands-on (and screen free), that it encourages the exploration of new materials and their properties, and that it encourages kids (or adults!) to create something new rather than buying something off the shelf. With that in mind, I spent the past weekend setting up a makerspace for my kids in their playroom and so far, it’s been a big hit. I’ll be curiously watching to see where it goes in the future.

In case you’re interested in setting up a something space in your own home, this is how I set it up. First, I hung a pegboard on the wall with lots of tools and a few supplies, and set up some bins under a low table to hold some other supplies. Finally, I added a chalkboard for sketching out ideas.

The supplies we’re starting out with are:

  • Simple hand tools: hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, scissors, ruler
  • Leatherman multi-tool
  • Helping hand magnifying glass
  • Extra light source (we used an LED lantern that we already had)
  • String and lots of different colors of tape
  • Craft supplies: popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes (special request).
  • Low-temp hot glue gun (this is a must)
  • Conductive wire, LEDs, and batteries

These are all things that I’m comfortable with them using unsupervised.  I also have a high-temp glue gun, soldering iron, and various power tools that are available with adult supervision.

What do you think?  Did I leave anything out?  I can’t wait to report on the evolution of the space!