Saturday, August 8, 2015

Developing Minds: Tools for the Digital Native

As educators, we have primary and secondary purposes with our students. The primary, and most obvious purpose, is to teach our students content: reading, writing, math, science, social sciences, music and other core and extra curriculum. The secondary, and I would argue equally if not more important purpose, is to grow students into responsible members of society. At the top of this curriculum would be to help students grow and develop their respectful and ethical minds. These are two critical skills that students must have in order to find success at almost any career they might pursue, and to interact well in the world in general.

In identifying the five minds for the future, Howard Gardner defines the respectful mind as, “Responding sympathetically and constructively to differences among individuals and among groups; seeking to understand and work with those who are different, extending beyond mere tolerance and political correctness” (Gardner, 2008).  Additionally, he “call(s) on human beings to accept the differences, learn to live with them, and value those who belong to other cohorts (groups)” (Gardner, 2008). Gardner is describing how humans should act with and about each other, regardless of background, values, culture or ethnicity. The training for respect begins at a very young age as children watch the interactions of adults around them and take their cues for expected behavior from them. Also, children are directly taught about respect in school, by learning and practicing expected respectful behavior with teachers and other adults in school, peers, and other adults involved in school activities. Many schools have prepared lessons solely on what respect looks like, how to be respectful, and how to handle disrespectful interactions. Still, educators also use less direct methods to teach respect as well. These may be even more important than direct instruction because it infuses respect into the “work” environment of school so that it flows more naturally, as it would in a work setting.

Two tools that can be used to help students develop their respectful minds in the classroom are Board Builder on Discovery Education and Glogster. Both of these web tools allow teachers and students to create interactive digital boards that can be used to either support instruction, or to create content. Teachers can use these tools to create boards that students then use as resources or to complete independently (as in a center or for a flipped classroom). One way this tool could be used by teachers to teach respect is to create a board that directly instructs on another culture, a social issue, an environmental issue, or another part of society that the students may not be familiar with. These lessons can foster understanding and students can begin to learn about and respect the differences between themselves and a unique group of people. Activities that develop respect and understanding can be included. Students could also use these tools to create projects that evidence their learning about groups that are different from themselves, problems that society must find solutions for, respect for other organisms on Earth, or unique solutions to social issues of the day. Students can create these independently, or in a group, which requires collaborative work, another situation in which students must practice respect to successfully complete the work.

Gardner’s final of the fifth minds is the ethical mind. Gardner defines the ethical mind as “abstracting crucial features of one’s role at work and one’s role as a citizen and acting consistently with those conceptualizations; striving toward good work and good citizenship” (Gardner, 2008). He goes on to describe the three ways in which work can be good; “work can be good in the sense of being excellent in quality”, “work may be good in the sense of being responsible – taking into account implications for the wider community”, “work may be good in the sense of feeling good – it is engaging and meaningful” (Gardner, 2008). As educators, the ethical mind can seem more difficult to address as getting students to see the value of work can sometimes be difficult. Gardner offers a prescription for this in saying, “Educators can smooth the road to the ethical mind by drawing attention to the other connotations of goodness. Students need to understand why they are learning what they are learning and how this knowledge can be put to constructive uses” (Gardner, 2008). It would seem to be imperative to help students understand how what they are learning in school will not only prepare them for their life after school, but also how it will benefit them in attaining a career that they can consider “good work”. The age old question “Why do I need to know this?” would seem to have more value than educators traditionally consider!

We can again look to the tools of Board Builder and Glogster to not only support instruction that helps develop the ethical mind, but also supports student “work” to practice using the ethical mind. Teachers again can use these tools to provide content and practice for students in the content. These tools provide new and innovative strategies for instruction, which can lead to increased student engagement and participation, demonstrating the need to actively participate in their own education. If they are truly engaged, not passive observers, they can practice the skill of being responsible. Being responsible for your own requirements is a part of ethical behavior, rather than passively letting someone else do what is rightly your job. Students can also create content to demonstrate their learning or report on research or understanding of issues as they relate to ethical or “good” work. Students can see the importance of being active participants in a society and contributing to the overall good. These are lessons that will help them see the part they play in a healthy society and the harm that can be caused when members of a society do not contribute, but only draw on the work of others.

Developing the respectful and ethical mind in students is as important of a job as teaching them traditional curriculum. Whether this instruction is directly through lessons and activities, or indirectly through modeling and experiences, they are critical skills that must be addressed in education. Using web tools such as Board Builder or Glogster can reach our students as the digital natives they are, supporting the development of these minds to help them achieve success in the world beyond school.


Gardner, Howard. (2008). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA. Harvard Buisiness School Publishing.

Newlearninguk's channel. (2009). Glogster in 90 seconds. Retrieved on August 8, 2015 from

Moore, Sam. (2014). Discovery Education board builder. Retrieved on August 8, 2015 from . 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Developing Minds: Growing into Me

Howard Garder describes the Five Minds for the Future in his book by the same name. Here is my reflection on how I can grow and develop those five minds in myself as an educator.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: How to Bring it to Students in Meaningful Instruction

If you walk into any school or any classroom, one of the expectations you will probably notice with have something to do with respect. Respect is incorporated into school and classroom rules, expectations, outcomes and possibly even mission statements. Respect is taught and valued in our education system. It is desired and acknowledged in daily routines. Many people; educators, parents, community members lament that “the problems today exist because students don’t have enough respect.” So the question becomes, how exactly do we instill respect in our students to help them become successful, productive citizens of our society?

Many classrooms and schools attempt to teach respect through implicit instruction, modeling, examples, scenarios and role play. While this is most likely an important part of teaching students what respect is, it certainly isn’t enough by itself. Instead, we should be teaching students what it means to have a “respectful mind”, (Gardner, 2008) by incorporating it into classroom work, activities, and projects. After all, in the work world, we are expected to be able to interact respectfully with our colleagues and fellow employees, so it only makes sense to teach our students to do the same through practice. But how might this actually look in a classroom?

One of the ultimate goals I have this year to help my students gain a better understanding of the respectful mind through collaboration and connections outside of the classroom walls. I use a lot of projects with my students that require them to work collaboratively in groups. This type of work helps them understand that in order to successfully finish a project and develop a high quality product, group members must be respectful of each other and of the process they have to use in working together. I want to extend this experience so that students are working collaboratively with students in other classrooms as well as outside of our school building. Our team, which consists of two literacy teachers, one math teacher, one science, and one social studies teacher, has been working to develop an interdisciplinary unit that will incorporate aspects from all subject areas. Two aspects of the project that will have students working with students beyond their own classroom groups include asynchronous work with partners in a literacy and social studies class to develop an informational flyer about the region they will be studying (encompassing ecosystems and culture of a region of the world) and connecting with a student from that region through blogging.

This project will see students working together with students outside the classroom walls to develop content that fosters a better understanding of another student’s culture. Students will ask questions to get information about the environment and culture of other parts of the world. Students will then engage in virtual discussions through blogging and responses using a site such as Kidblog. Students will be responsible for different pieces of collaborative projects to help develop and understanding of the importance of their role in completion of a group project. Through these activities, we can provide authentic experiences for our students.

Additionally, we would like to use a culminating activity where students apply what they have learned by doing an activity such as Mystery Skype. Through this activity, students can use clues from what they have learned and the work of other groups to determine where in the world the person they are Skyping with is located.

Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay describe a seven step plan for the process of “flattening the classroom” in their interview on  In the taxonomy of global connection, they describe the 5 levels of global connection: Level 1: Intra-connection; within the classroom, level 2: Inter-connection; within the school or district, level 3: Managed global connection, level 4: student to student with teacher management, and level 5: student to student with student management (Future of Education, 2014). So far, I have achieved level 1, within my classroom. With this interdisciplinary unit, we will be able to move to level 2 and level 3 by developing connections with classrooms outside of our school environment, possibly across the world.  By having students make connections with students from other environments and cultures, we will create opportunities for our students to develop understandings about the lives of people around the world. This will foster respect for other cultures through real-world experiences. It will also provide opportunities for students to understand their importance when working with a group who rely on them to complete their portion of a project. Giving students opportunities to see how their choices and actions affect the “good of the group” helps them develop a better understanding of the importance of respect. These activities can also help develop their “ethical mind” through interactions with people from other cultures and being responsible for their part of a group project.
By using projects and activities to provide opportunities for students to practice respect and ethical behavior, we are giving our students real-world experiences for when they leave the world of education and join the world of work. These practice opportunities are more effective than just instructing students in the importance of these skills. If we are to truly equip our students to be successful members of society, our classrooms need to move beyond the classroom walls into the world. With the technologies available today, we have the perfect opportunity to enhance the educational experiences of our students to be more authentic to prepare them as valuable members of the society they live in.


Future of Education. (2014). Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis on “flattening classrooms”. Retrieved from .

Gardner, Howard. (2008). Five minds of the future. Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard Business School Publishing.

Mosca, T. (2015). Mystery skype; Connecting classrooms around the world. Retrieved from .

Sunday, July 26, 2015

S.O.S. for the Classroom

S.O.S: Spotlight on Strategies

Let's take a look at a simple strategy that can be easily implemented across any curricular area to increase student engagement in the classroom; Fan-N-Pick. One of the great things about this strategy, like many of the other Kagan Structures (strategies), is that all students must have an active role during the use of the strategy. Unlike traditional instruction where the teacher asks a question which is answered by only one or two students while the rest of the class sits passively, this strategy engages all learners. Students do not have the chance to “hide” in the crowd because each student has a role in the activity.

Retrieved from YouTube: What is Kagan?

This strategy also supports collaboration between students as they have to work in a group and each student must complete their role in the group. Additionally, the roles rotate so that all students have an opportunity to complete each part. Collaboration (team work) is an important soft skill for students to master in school as it is an essential skill they will need upon entering the working world. Students must learn how to work together to achieve an end goal through collaboration. They must also work together to problem solve and resolve group conflict or disagreements. As students work through the Fan-N-Pick activity, they are able to practice these skills.

Fan-N-Pick also involves a component of paraphrasing, restating, checking and offering praise in the final role. These are also skills that students often struggle with. Paraphrasing and restating are important skills because if someone is able to restate or put someone else’s ideas in their own words, it demonstrates they truly understand what was stated. This role also asks the student to “check” or make sure the student answered the question correctly. This gives another opportunity for students to not only demonstrate their own understanding, but also provide effective feedback and constructive criticism to their peers. This is a skill that should be implicitly taught, modeled and practiced in the classroom. Many students do not know how to correct others in a respectful and constructive way. This strategy allows students to practice this skill. It also helps students move beyond “Good job” or “nice work” to give valuable feedback.

Additional Kagan Strategies

Naccio, J. (2007). Structures at a glance. Retrieved on July 25, 2015 from 

Integrating digital media can make the use of this strategy even more valuable in the classroom. Following the Fan-N-Pick activity the students could create a blog post or discussion thread about a particular question or the activity as a whole to which other students could respond. This would give students a way to use the content again in a new method which will help them develop deeper understanding of the concepts. Students could also make a movie of the Fan-N-Pick process as documentation of their participation, or as a training video for other students that will be doing the activity. They could create a video demonstrating effective and ineffective feedback and constructive criticism for other students. Students could also create an online discussion board so they could see how other groups answered the questions or what discussions developed with other groups.

Using digital media and web tools to support this strategy will help students develop deeper understanding of the topic for the activity. Integrating digital media also gives the students the opportunity to be creative in how they demonstrate their understanding. Providing students with activities that foster creativity is an important role for the classroom teacher to transform our classrooms into places where students become active, engaged learners that assume responsibility for their own knowledge and understanding, rather than memorize and repeat random information from the teacher. By transforming our classrooms into spaces that truly foster learning, creativity and active student participation, we will be well on the road to helping our students prepare for success beyond their school careers.


Kagan, S. & Kagan, M. (2009) Kagan sooperative learning. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing.

Kagan, S. (2009). Description of strategies [PDF document}.  Retrieved from

Naccio, J. (2007). Structures at a glance [Power Point slides}. Retrieved from

Oberpeul, Hillary. The "soft skills" that will land you your dream job. Retrieved from

What is Kagan. (2014). Retrieved July, 25, 2015 from

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Speak Out, Students!

If we really took the time to ask students what they would change about school, every kid would have something to say. At the elementary level I am sure you would get a lot of responses about more recess time, better lunches, and more time to play. At the middle school level, kids want more freedom to choose classes and activities, more time with friends, and probably “recess”. High school students again want freedom of choice in classes that are available and when they are held, later start times, and opportunities to make decisions that will positively affect their futures and prepare them for “life”.

Here are some actual responses when teens were asked what they would change about high school from The Huffington Post Teens:

20 Teens Share What They Would Change About High School: The Huffington Post

However, when we ask students about their opinions on classroom instruction, specifically the role of creativity in the classroom, this is a much harder question for them to answer. Students have become so ingrained in traditional educational practices, especially by the time they are older (middle and high school) they have difficulty envisioning how education might look different, even in small ways. Kelly Christopherson presented this problem to his 12th grade Social class asking them how they might change the model of school. Their answers were surprising in that they offered ideas more for the environment of school rather than the structure. See the article here: Do Students Want to Transform School?

So what do students currently value about creativity in the classroom?  What would students change about how technology is used to support creativity in the classroom? I asked this question of a former student who is now in high school. She too, had difficulty answering this question. She feels that using digital tools to support creativity is helpful to students because when they can create something it is more interesting and therefore students put more effort into the activity. She also feels like she gets more out of those activities that just listening to the teacher talk while the class takes notes. As for what she would change, this posed a difficult question for her to answer because it was hard for her to see the possibilities of what could be different.
After some ideas, she thought that increasing the number of projects and activities that involve creating some type of product would be one suggestion she would make. She also thought becoming more familiar with available web tools that allowed students to complete assignments in new ways, rather than having traditional worksheets and writing papers would be helpful. She also suggested having more exploration learning (my term for her description) where students are given the resources to gather information but are responsible for the actual learning, rather than traditional “lecture-take notes” instruction. Finally, she advocated for the use of groups and partners in classroom instruction and activities so the students could work together and learn to build off of each other, rather than learn in isolation.

The suggestions made by this student are not radical or earth shattering. In fact, I would call them good teaching practices. However, many of these practices are still foreign to the teachers in charge of our classrooms today. I believe that things are slowly changing. As more and more of our teachers come into the classroom with the understanding of the role creativity plays in effective instruction and how digital media and technology can support creativity, we are seeing changes in the classroom. It is a slow change, to be sure. In fact, in her article “Why Kids Need Schools to Change” Tina Barseghian cites Madeline Levine who describes this change. “I’m astounded at the glacial pace of change in education. Like many academic areas, there’s a huge disconnect between what’s known and what’s in practice. It’s very slow moving” (Levine, 2012). We know the changes that need to be made, and so do our students. The issue seems to be getting the changes to happen. Our educational system needs to realize that we don’t need to explore what the changes need to be, but rather how to actually get these changes in the classroom.

Most teachers know our traditional methods of instruction are no longer sufficient for the students in our classrooms. There are some teachers that are resistant to the implementation of student-directed classrooms in favor of the traditional “sit and get” method, but I believe these teachers are in the minority. However, those teachers that want to change how they teach are limited by availability of resources, access to technology, understanding of how to use digital tools, or pressure to get students to perform on standardized tests. It is these barriers that must be addressed and overcome to truly change classroom instruction for the benefit of our students. Still, if we are to truly give our students the tools they need to be prepared beyond their school career, this is a job at which we must succeed.

Barseghian, Tina. (2012). Why kids need schools to change. Retrieved July 25, 2015 from .

Huffington Post. (2014) 20 Teens share what they would change about high school. Retrieved July 25, 2012 from .

Levine, Madeline. (2012). Teach your children well. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Monsters Beware! We have you in our sights!

There is an evil monster lurking inside small children. Although you may never catch a glimpse of the beast, you will surely see signs of its presence. All you have to do to see the effects of this terror is watch a small group of children playing together for a short period of time. Blocks become an impenetrable castle. A swimming pool in the yard is suddenly filled with man eating sharks that can only be vanquished with nerf guns. The toy industry makes millions of dollars each year creating tools to help this monster infect our children. Even crayons contribute to this epidemic in allowing children to make visual representations of the world in skewed colors and inaccurate drawings. This monster’s name? Creativity.

Luckily, we have a powerful tool to defend our children against this nightmare. From a very young age, we send our children off to school, which works diligently to squash this creature, creativity. Children are taught to follow rules and fall in line with the group. They are taught to sit quietly, answer when asked, follow prompts with anticipated responses, and regurgitate information. Through time and the valiant efforts of dedicated professionals, slowly the creativity monster is contained and controlled.

It is important to note that this is neither a quick, nor easy process. Education professionals must proceed cautiously in order not to anger the beast who in turn may cause irreparable damage to the child. This is why when you walk into an early elementary classroom you will still see children drawing, coloring, even using their imagination during a discussion or during free-play. These classrooms many times have centers or stations that may even seem to promote creativity, although more and more classrooms are eliminating these centers in favor of the more sensible, structured instructional time with rote activities and mind-numbing worksheets. Fortunately, by upper elementary, most of the activities that provide shelter and nurturing for this creative monster have all but disappeared and by middle and high school, the beast has shrunk to barely more than a tiny speck buried deep inside an individual. Indeed, ask any high school student to use their imagination or create something and not only will they look at you with utter mis-understanding and confusion, they will likely have great difficulty in even recalling how to create something on their own. 
In order to assure the beast is under control, schools are mandated to administer standardized tests to measure how effectively students have “learned” material to overpower the creativity monster.

Still, we must be vigilant. There are some that would have us believe that creativity is a vital skill necessary to be successful and happy in life. Daniel Pink identifies creativity as one of
 his six essential aptitudes. He claims that in order to stay successful in our global world, people will need creativity in order to offer something that cannot be provided by a computer or cheaper by workers in another country (Pink, 2005). Howard Gardner identifies creativity as one of the five minds for the future in his book titled the same (Gardner, 2008). 

Still, Sir Ken Robinson may be one of the most renowned and outspoken supporters of the creativity beast. In his TED talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” he states “We are educating people out of their creative capacities” (Robinson, 2006) as if this is not an essential outcome of our schools. He also asserts “Kid will take a chance. They are not frightened of being wrong. If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They are afraid to be wrong” (Robinson, 2006). 

Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Luckily, most educational professionals know the worst thing someone can be, is wrong, and therefore work tirelessly to make sure students are armed with all the knowledge necessary to NEVER be wrong. Schools then test, practice, and test again to make sure their students are not wrong. If students are consistently wrong, we label them accordingly and give them extra help, spending massive amounts of money on programs and supplemental instruction, until they can rise to the level of all the other students, graduate, or drop out; whichever comes first. Sir Ken delivers his final blow to the traditional education system in a last ditch effort to save the creativity monster when he says “Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think that they are not; because the thing they were good at in school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized” (Robinson, 2006). 
Robinson seems to believe that by crushing the destructive creativity monster, we have stifled the talent and brilliance that naturally occurs in individuals. How fortunate that our educational policy makers know better and continue to develop requirements of our educational systems to counter these radical ideas.

So how do you know when you walk into your child’s classroom if their teacher subscribes to the dangerous doctrines of such so-called “experts” as Gardner, Pink and Robinson? You look for signs that the teacher may be allowing, or even encouraging the students to practice and develop creativity. Some questions you might want to ask yourself as you observe the class: Are the children engaged in activities that make them think and come up with solutions to problems on their own? Are they working in groups with other children to develop original ideas and/or share thoughts? Are open discussions taking place? Are the students creating authentic representations of their learning? Are they using technology to represent their understandings? If so, you are probably looking at a teacher that is working to nurture and grow the creativity monster inside your child.

Free Technology for Teachers

One of the biggest allies of the creativity beast is technology. There are a multitude of websites, programs and apps that encourage students to create products that demonstrate their learning, rather than regurgitate information.

Many teachers, falsely believing experts like Gardner and Robinson, are using digital tools for innovative activities and projects such as digital storytelling, movie making programs and apps, gaming in the classroom (Minecraft! Ugh!), computer programming, (Scratch,, Alice), blogging (, Blogger, Weebly) and vlogging (Voice Thread, Podcasts), and mind mapping (Mindomo, Spicy Nodes, Lucid Chart) just to name a few. 
Students are beginning to create not only artifacts within their classrooms, but many of these are digital artifacts on the web, for all to see. Students are creating videos that demonstrate a synthesis of knowledge about a topic and putting them out there for the world to see. Teachers create online “boards” using tools like Padlet or Edmodo where the students can interact in the virtual world, as well as in the classroom, defeating one of the major goals of traditional education to squash independent thought and foster uniformity and conformity. Where will the madness end???

Education policy makers must be strong. The simple answer to this problem is placing more value and importance on standardized tests. Teachers must be made to answer for poor test scores. Schools must be punished if they fail to perform. Only by placing increased pressure on schools will these naysayers be forced to stop inspiring students through creative activities, projects, learning explorations and the implementation of digital tools and get back to the traditional and proven instructional styles that have served our students well for so long. We must stand firm. After all, it was good enough for us 10, 20, 50 years ago, why isn't it good enough for them?

Gardner, Howard. (2008). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School      Press.

Pink, D. (2005). A Whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, New  York: Riverhead Books.

Robinson, Ken. (2007).  Do schools kill creativity? - YouTube. Retrieved July 15, 2015,  from

Sunday, July 12, 2015

It's Your Job: A self-guided learning station

Media-infused presentations or activities are an untapped resource for classroom teachers today. This type of tool provides content and activities using resources that our students are familiar and comfortable with. By using technology to create this type of presentation, we are providing content that meet the instructional needs of our students, while also providing motivation by using something they are familiar and interested in. Students in our classrooms today are digital natives and have grown up never knowing a time without technology. When teachers are able to use technology, they are essentially “speaking the language” of their students. Students are more highly engaged and actively participate in these activities or presentations as it is a delivery they are familiar with.
      Media-infused presentations and activities can also help the development of what Gardner defines as the “disciplined” mind by allowing students to experience content differently than in the traditional “sit and get” delivery. Gardner clearly lays out a four-step plan for developing a disciplined mind. Media-infused presentations meet all four of these steps. Gardner’s first step is to “identify important topics or concepts” (Gardner, 2008) which is done in a multi-media presentation or activity both directly and indirectly. First, the topic is identified by the statement of purpose at the beginning of the activity, then, identified again in each component. This helps the learner clearly define what the content is, as well as the important supporting information. Gardner’s second step, “spend a significant amount of time on the topic” and his third step, “approach the topic in a number of ways” (Gardner, 2008) are both clearly supported in a multi-media presentation or project as the content is presented repeatedly using a variety of methods such as video, podcast, image or activity. This allows the student to experience the content in a variety of different ways as well as providing multiple opportunities to interact and experience the content. Additionally, these activities will take more time than in the traditional “lecture” or presentation style of instruction. Gardner’s final step, which he identifies as the most important “set up “performances of understanding” and give students ample opportunities to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions” (Gardner, 2008). These opportunities for “performances of understanding” can be set up as a part of the presentation or activity through interactive activities, polling, or projects utilizing digital tools that the students complete. Developing a disciplined mind can be clearly supported using this type of presentation or activity when they are well designed and implemented.
      The synthesizing mind can also be fostered through media-infused presentations and activities by providing opportunities and guidance in ordering, connecting and making sense of information from various sources and in a variety of methods. Students take this information and make sense of it, connect it to prior knowledge and other related concepts. They can be given the chance to synthesize the information from different sources and develop new understandings and knowledge. As the students move through the different components of the presentation or activity, they have the opportunity to put all of the pieces together into a complete picture. They can then share this picture with others through interactive activities or collaboration to further cement their understanding.
     Using multi-media infused presentations or activities can not only support our students in their learning style and preferred modalities, it can also help them develop their disciplined and synthesizing minds, as defined by Harold Gardener. This will help our learners develop deep understandings of the content in our classrooms, as well as help them become better thinkers and leaders in their futures.
Gardner, Howard. (2008). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.