Every once in a while I get fired up. Like, you borrowed my Sharpies and broke the tips… THAT fired up. On the drive home today it was one of those moments. Why? Because this week has been AWESOME. I mean, like, learning on fire awesome. It’s left me thinking, why doesn’t this happen at all schools? How can we get everyone back to authentic learning?
Science and social studies are far too often tossed aside to squeeze in time spent reading boring stories from basal texts. Why? Science and social studies ARE great reading content. Why can’t that reading be “reading class” if you must label your subjects? Writing could tie into the Science topic or the Social Studies through writing diaries, journals, lab reports. Writing letters? Write to Congressman about causes you care about, write to family to ask about where they live. Blog. Share writing with the world… what more authentic way to check your grammar is their than hitting “Publish.”
While the world debates things like “Is it STEM or STEAM?” or “Where do I post the list of standards I’m teaching?” we’re missing precious moments. Moments kids will never get back. Moments where they could be dreaming, growing, being curious, creating, and most of all? Learning.
School should be a place where kids are running to get in and not wanting to leave when it’s over.
Kids should leave school with more ideas than they bring with them in the morning.
Kids need to experience that feeling of making something… whether it’s a book, a poem, a cardboard castle. That exhilaration of DOING and BUILDING something you worked on? It inspires more learning.
I don’t even think this probably makes sense. But today, at the end of a long day, when a kid was thrilled with his amazing historical artifact he was building, his eyes were all lit up and he said, “I’m so beyond excited about how this is turning out,” I thought, “Me, too.”
And then I drove home. Thinking about all the kids in schools across America that need the opportunity for their eyes to light up, and instead get handed a test booklet or a laptop to take more tests. And that’s really even more wrong than broken-tipped Sharpies.
Yesterday I came across a screenshot from Willy Wonka, the original, and I thought of how the movie both inspired me and creeps me out at the same time. So many bizarre moments, yet so much imagination. From zooming through that creepy tunnel to the scary orange makeup on the Oompa Loompas, I still want to run through that edible room and eat whipped cream from a mushroom cap. And as a kid who did not enjoy reading (sorry folks, it’s true, I despised reading) I loved Roald Dahl books. So what does all of this have to do with making in the classroom? It gave me an epiphany.
Source: Stanford D School
Design thinking! Yes, the process: Empathy. Define. Ideate. Prototype. Test. It lends itself to real-world problem solving, but little kids love imagination. Why not combine the two? What if kids were asked to meld together their favorite books with big problems, and solve them… Design a new candy machine for Wonka. Invent a contraption that keeps Charlie from bumping his head on the fan in the Fizzy Lifting Drinks room. Ask students to find a problem in the story and solve it with their own invention.
While I think the beauty of design thinking is in the real-world application of it, I also think there is beauty in getting kids to interact authentically with fiction. You’re opening the door to creativity, imagination, a new level of comprehension. And I have to admit, the non-reading kid stuck inside me would have loved the chance to do this.
I love thinking about how we can inject more chances for kids to practice empathy in the classroom and what better way than to use these larger than life characters to help them understand someone else’s point of view.
These character cards I created for my own school, you are welcome to print and use with your own students, could help kids (and you!) get started with the process. But in the long run, have them develop the character profiles, think about the problems the character has, and you’ve just created a more authentic way for kids to build character trait profiles about favorite books. It’s not just about listing a few things about the character, but really understanding WHO they are. Because, when you are designing for someone else, you really have to dig into WHO they are.
And even IF they are an imaginary character, it can lead to a really powerful learning experience for students. Filled with problem solving, building, collaboration, sharing, presenting, and most of all? Fun.
And a little fun now and then… well, Wonka himself said it best…
This past week our learning space transformation was revealed and The Launch Pad is open for business. My fingers are still stinging from the glue gun burns and fingernails stained with enamel spray paint, but the ribbon was cut and the door was open for our teachers and students. As kids were coming in, seeing the room for the first time after months of anticipation, I got to watch their eyes light up, again and again. And that? It’s what learning should be. Shouldn’t we blow kids minds sometimes (or as Kevin Jarrett said… often?), and then give them opportunities to blow our minds, too? Of course we should.
I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this classroom. It’s a cross between the classroom I dreamed of having when I was an 8 year old buried in a pile of worksheets, and the classroom based on awesome planning and learning from the team of innovative colleagues I’m surrounded by daily. People who push me, inspire me, support me, and who remind me what matters.
The days, weeks, and months ahead will be filled with challenges, rethinking, integrating, transforming, making, creating, and most of all…. learning. It’s exciting to think about all that lies ahead.
On the giant Apple Watch hanging on the wall is a quote by Steve Jobs that reads, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” The kind of work that drives you to reach into your soul, wakes you up in the middle of the night with ideas you have to write down, and pushes your thinking until your brain hurts in the best way possible. Work where creativity is not only invited, but innovation is expected. Work that will be messy, and difficult, and hard. And it’s that very thing that makes it awesome and totally worth it.
I used to have a wall in my classroom where I had the game “Castleopoly” hanging on the wall. I won’t go into what I used the game for, so how wrong I now feel I was for focusing so very much on bribing my students to “do the right thing,” that’s another post for another day. I woke up yesterday morning thinking about that game and I wondered, what if there were a maker version of Monopoly. So I made one… Makeropoly.
And now I’m trying to figure out how it could be used for some creative fun. A regular ol’ game of Monopoly is fun, but should this one be a traditional style Monopoly where players collect cards? McDonald’s style Monopoly game where you try to complete your gameboard by trying out the items on the cards? Instead of collecting properties, players try out the things they land on? Should the items on the cards be actual things that are available for players to use in the space?
Maybe to get of “Jail” aka “Makerspace” you have to draw a “Makerspace” card and create something.
I’m creating “Creative Challenge Cards” and 8 “Tool Box” Cards. Those will be fun, quick challenges to build, create, and use Design Thinking in a fun way.
So why am I sharing this when it’s not even a fully developed idea? Because I was hoping you would help. I’ve created a Google Doc where we can crowdsource our ideas for this game. In return? I’ll finish it up and package it as a printer friendly PDF and post it here for free use in your own school, home, or space…
I hated math when I was a kid. Not just disliked it, I couldn’t stand it. Why? Because I hated doing 800 problems of the same thing. The repetition and practice was so boring and the unimaginative word problems about apples and cats were even worse. I honestly think it’s why I still despise textbooks. I see them as soul-draining devices that suck the fun and joy from learning.
Today I learned more about using Turtle Art. I realized one thing, I totally shouldn’t have hated math when I was a kid. Math is all about creativity and problem solving. Math is art, patterns, shapes, designs, and so much more. So why was I only exposed to 800 problems on a page? Because we standardize everything and run kids through the motions. And we bore them.
I’m not a math teacher, and I won’t pretend to be a math expert. I’m a learner and today when I was learning about coding in Turtle Art, I was amazed at the math skills involved in creating art using this program.
Angles. Distance. Greater or Less. Range. Geometry. Addition. Subtraction. Directions. Problem solving. Patterns. Fractions. Symmetry. Rotational Symmetry. Reflection.
I could go on. All of these skills, practiced in an authentic way, would have made me fall in love with math. And you know what? It would have made those 800 problems bearable. Sure there are skills we need, but if I never get the chance to use those skills in an authentic way? I really don’t care about them. Except I wanted my gold star.
Today? I wanted to know what numbers to put in to make a colorful flower. I wanted to try things and figure it out. I needed help, but not too much, because I wanted to figure it out on my own. Because the way my brain was stretching? It felt good. Real thinking, the kind that ends with satisfaction and pride. The kind that is so much better than an A or a gold star. The kind that’s real.
I like to share. I love to learn. Creating stuff is one of my basic needs in life. Sharpie hoarder. Pen collector. Wife. Mom. Innovator. Educator. Dog lover. Dreamer. Blogging just so my head doesn't explode.
The Launch Pad Virtual Tour
Currently an Innovation Coordinator at The Kinkaid School. I get to play, innovate, and support teachers and kids in learning. Know that saying, "Do what you love"? Yep.