A Review: Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers and Play

 

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As computers and all things digital become increasingly more prevalent in our lives one might think that words like “play”, “tinker” and “creativity” would be less important in developing the learners needed to continue to advance and support the complex world of algorithms, coding, computers and robots. Author, Mitchel Resnick (@mres), Professor of Learning Research at MIT and leader of the Scratch Programming team, argues that as computers and digital tools become more complex, we actually need more creative thinkers to meet this technological demand.

We need to decide what is important:

If we truly care about preparing today’s children to thrive in tomorrow’s society…[we need] to focus on what’s most important for children to learn, not what is easiest to measure.” (Lifelong Kindergarten, 153).

In today’s education system we know how to develop the “A” students who can master school and master the content and respond to questions that they most likely already know the answer to.  What Resnick argues, is that the world already has these learners, but it also has new, unique,  local and global opportunities and challenges that require thinkers that are creative, collaborative, risk-takers who can use a variety of skill sets to approach solutions from a non-standard, non-textbook approach.   We need “X” students who are “…are willing to take risks and try new things”(p.2).

Resnick believes that the approach to nurturing these “X” students is found in our littlest learners and the environment they learn in. In Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers and Play,  Resnick believes that the approach to learning through play, to letting students re-create their world through their eyes, and allowing kids to be creative, collaborative and passionate  “tinkerers” is the approach needed throughout our learners educational and post-education lives.

In Ontario, Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten aligns with Ontario’s  primary curriculum  and its goals of creating curious, lifelong learners: 

“… in the Kindergarten program, inquiry is not a set of processes and skills but a pervasive approach or “stance”, a habit of mind that permeates all thinking and learning throughout the day. It is not limited to a subject area or topic, a project, or a particular time of day. It is not an occasional classroom event, and it is not an approach appropriate for only some children.” (The Kindergarten Program, Ontario 1.2)

In fact, it is this inquiry stance that Resnick advocates for that is embedded throughout the Ontario K-12 curriculum inquiry. Resnick believes that the approach to learning found in our kindergarten classrooms is the model for all learners. Resnick’s Creative Learning Spiral, allows students to direct their learning by identifying problems and seeking out its solution.

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The learning is not one size fits all and it is not designed to have on standard, correct answer.  By providing these learning opportunities and trusted learning relationships our students can and will be the learners we wish for them to become:

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MIT is putting its belief in supporting “X” thinkers into action by changing the way that learners access and participate in education. Students can study at MIT with its Poverty Action Lab .     Candidates participate in 5 online courses that do not require any previous academic pre-requisites. Upon successful completion of these courses, students can then apply to MIT to complete a Master’s Degree. The game is changing. What we value in our learners and leaders is changing. Are we preparing them for their future or for our present?

 


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(Tom Goodwin)

Lifelong Kindergarten is an excellent read that helps educators rethink how the creative learning process can have a profound impact on the lifelong, critical thinking skills our students need. We owe this to our students.

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A Review: Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

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 Leadership of any capacity is a gift, but with such a gift comes great responsibility and accountability. In Simon Sinek’s (@simonsinek) book, “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t”, he outlines the responsibilities that leaders have to support the growth and sense of safety and security the people they serve

This book had me at the introduction:

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Do you recognize a leader in the above passage? Are you fortunate enough to work with someone like that? These leaders support what Sinek calls “the circle of safety” for all people within the organization. Their organization pulls together, supports one another, and builds a culture that defends itself against the external and internal forces that threaten the very security of the organization. The author provides many examples of what happens to organizations that value their people and what happens to those that do not. From the United States Marines, national corporations and global corporations, he provides many examples of how their long-term success is directly related to the culture created by its leadership.

Interestingly, Sinek makes the connection that humans are driven by chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin and it is these very chemicals that drive the leaders and the decisions that they make. Endorphins and dopamine in a leadership capacity can drive growth and progress, but easily work against the organization if the leader becomes driven by the “next” in an attempt to release more of these chemicals at the expense of the organization. In the pursuit of the next dopamine or endorphin hit, leaders lose sight of the factor that supports, growth: ALL people in the organization. Serotonin and Oxytocin are the leadership and feel-good chemicals which make coming together and building relationships possible.

Sinek points out that approximately 80% of workers are dissatisfied with their current job (P. 18), thus it is imperative that leaders within all organizations take note and reflect on how they are contributing to such a staggering number and the impact that this is having on their organization. Sinek makes a valid and strong case as to why providing a safe, secure work environment, reduces the factors that undermine the ability of an organization to thrive.

Perhaps the most important message comes at the very end of the book. Sinek states that leadership does not belong to the “…bastion of those who sit at the top. It is the responsibility of anyone who belongs to the group”. (216).

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True leadership isn’t and shouldn’t be placed on one person or the senior management team. This puts too much responsibility on the few and negates the talents of others who are not assigned a formal leadership role. True leaders don’t hide behind their titles. True leaders don’t covet their title in such a way that they feel threatened by recognizing and supporting leadership in people from all aspects of the organization. In fact, the more leaders acknowledge leadership from various people and encourage and support their team, the stronger the leader and the organization becomes.

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Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t is another excellent leadership resource for anyone wishing to expand their understanding of what it means to be an authentic leader. Sinke’s message is simple, care for your people and your people will care for you. It really is that simple.

Click here to view Simon’s inspirational leadership videos on his YouTube channel.

 

A Review: Code in Every Class

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#CodeInEveryClass had me at the dedication:

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Code in Every Class written by Kevin Brookhouser and Ria Megnin will not make you a coder. It will not walk you through step by step block coding so that you can be a proficient coder. It will not have you writing and decoding javascipt.

If it doesn’t teach you to code…then what is it about? How will make you a “coder”? Code in Every Class gives you the inspiration, encouragement, professional imperative and permission to be true co-learners with our students on the coding journey. It’s about empowering our learners with the opportunities to learn the 21st century skills that will provide them leverage in the post-education world. It’s about teaching our learners to demonstrate innovation, creativity, logical thinking and, most importantly, grit in all aspects of their lives. It’s about giving them the power to shift from being  consumers of technology to creators of technology.

Still not convinced? Code in Every Class will  provide you with the inspiration to take that leap and incorporate coding into a small part of your classroom. Yes, Megnin and Brookhouser provide many reasons why providing equitable access to coding opportunities for all our students is vital to our students’ futures as well as ours and yes, they do provide resources to get you started with this new learning, but what they do best is make the case for educators to take the leap and get “coding”.  The authors humanize the coding experience in such a way that it makes the idea of coding attainable. It makes the impossible possible for all. it will inspire and encourage you and that is why I recommend that all educators across the systems we work within read this book.

As an Ontario  educator, one of the most compelling reasons to “get coding” is to model the lifelong learning that we want to see in our students. The Standards of Practice of the Ontario College of Teachers support lifelong learning as a standard of  professionalism:

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Ontario College of Teachers, Standards for the Teaching Profession

Continue to be curious. Continue to be a learner. Continue to challenge yourself.

Coding is scary. I get that. Trust me. I mean, if the Chief Product Office for Amplified It doesn’t consider himself a “coder”, what hope is there for me?

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I will never consider myself a coder, but I am a learner, and in today’s classroom that is what matters! Not only do we it owe it to ourselves to push our comfort zone, but we owe it to our students and in the end, that is all that matters…

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To view my visible learning on Twitter click here.

To join the Teach Ontario  #CodeInEveryClass Book club, click here.

 

 

 

A Review: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being

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Flourish set out quite the spectacular goal in just the first sentence; “This book will help you flourish”…..

That’s quite the statement. Taking into my particular mindset when I began the book, I honestly felt put off by such a grand statement and, I must admit, this mindset remained  for most of the book.

Based on the foundation of positive psychology, the author, Martin E.P. Seligman, outlines how positive psychology is not based on the subjective study of  happiness but on well-being and how we flourish as individuals. Our well-being is based on the 5 pillars, he calls PERMA:

(P): positive emotions

(E): Engagement ( a state we are unaware of until reflection as we are so engaged at the time)

(R) ; Positive Relationships

(M): Meaning (belonging to or being part of something bigger than yourself)

(A):Accomplishment

Although Seligman starts off by identifying his goal (to have us flourish) and provides us with a background to his well-being theory, he tends to veer of course and provide more background on the organizations  (education, United States Military) that have adopted his well-being program than on the strategies to help readers accomplish the intended goal.

One aspect of the book that resonated with me was the Losado ratio. The Losado principal identifies the ratio of positive to negative comments that you make as you communicate. Obviously a more positive Losado number will lend itself to supporting positive relationships, which as Seligman explains, is key to well-being. Reflect on how you speak with those closest to you. Aim to increase the positive comments, and decrease the criticism. Obviously this a worthwhile goal for all of us to strive for.

I also liked the “active, constructive responding” strategy that he provided about how to respond to someone’s comments about their experiences.When someone is recounting something about their life, they benefit from the emotions that come along with retelling  their story. As Seligman pointed out, “how we respond can either build the relationship or undermine it”. By asking questions that prompt that memory (positive) or validate their feelings (negative) rather than providing a superficial response, we once again create opportunities for supporting positive relationships in our lives. I am going to make a greater effort in responding with this “active, constructive responding” strategy in mind.
Flourish is not an easy read. The author started off with grand intentions, but in the end, I  am no closer to flourishing than I was before I read this book. For those truly looking to flourish and looking for strategies to support this goal, this is not the resource to read.

 

A Review: SocialLEADIA: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership

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The use of technology and social media in our classrooms is a topic of constant debate and motivated by many different, passionate views. At the heart of the debate is our students.

Written with passion, insight, student voice and from the heart of the author, Jennifer Casa-Todd (@JCasaTodd), SocialLEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership, not only deftly navigates the topic, but it makes a solid case for moving beyond acceptance of social media but to embracing it to ensure equitable access to the skills necessary to provide the well-rounded education necessary to thrive in our world today and tomorrow.

As an advocate for the use of social media to support, engage and connect learners, I fully expected to be in agreement throughout the entire book. I anticipated that the book would be “preaching to the choir”, but every now and then the choir needs to be preached at! We need to be reminded that we are not alone in our  beliefs. SocialLEADia had many insightful “ah-ha” moments that made me stop and reflect on my current practice and beliefs. Many a night I found myself scribbling ideas onto post-it notes or tweeting ideas from the book to share with my PLN. As a result of reading this book, I have a lot of ideas to share with our student leadership team and the Technology Champions that will hopefully impact those in my sphere of influence and ultimately directly impact our students in a positive way.

The sign of a good educational read is the ability to not only see yourself in it, but to see your students in it and to be able to envision something bigger and better than is currently in place. Jennifer Casa-Todd has written a practical, reflective book that honours student voice. She advocates not only for the need to for us to provide the opportunities that truly empower our students to be the learners and leaders we envision for them, but also for the equitable access to the skills and opportunities to equip all of our students with the skills and opportunities to be digital leaders. In fact, her suggestion that not modeling and supporting digital leadership opportunities for all learners may further contribute to the digital divide that is a reality for many of our students. If all student voice is not honoured in a way that allows them to connect with others, advocate for their passions, support their strengths and connect with a wider audience, we are simply doing a disservice as educators.

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This  book resonated with me because at the heart of the book are the students that Jennifer has had the opportunity to connect with face to face or virtually. The student’s stories and experiences throughout the book not only show us the potential for digital leadership and student empowerment, but leave little argument as to why we should  equip our student with the necessary skills to be able to successfully leverage the power of social media to drive their passion and change the world.

SocialLEADia is a must read for any educator, at any level in the organization who are at various spots along the digital leadership continuum. SocialLEADia is much more that a debate about the use of social media and technology in our schools. At its heart is our students and the moral imperative that we have to provide them with the positive opportunities to flourish:regardless of our comfort with social media.As technology and social media becomes more prevalent in the lives of all learners in our building, we must embrace it and empower our students and honour their voice in order to prepare them for the increasingly digitally challenging world. It is not about us-it’s about our students. And, in the end, as Jennifer Casa-Todd writes, that’s what really matters:

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Collection of Visible Thinking on Twitter

A Review: Creating Thinking Classrooms: Leading Educational Change for a 21st Century World

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Creating Thinking Classrooms:Leading Educational Change for a 21st Century World has got me well, thinking about thinking. We all want to enable our learners to be critical thinkers and we can all agree that this is essential to providing our students with an authentic education that will prepare them for a rapidly shifting, increasingly digitally challenging world. We want the public to have confidence that we are providing our students with the skills necessary to be active, well-prepared citizens who can flourish in the post-secondary world, but what we can’t seem to agree on is how to go about doing all of this.

The questions remain: What does a 21st century classroom look like? How do we teach critical thinking?

Creating thinking Classrooms, written by Garfield Gini-Newman, and Roland Case provides the reader with a sound understanding of what a thinking classroom is and how to support the entire system in embracing the change needed to create these environments.

Creating Thinking Classrooms  is based on 5 key principles that will support the change necessary to foster rich, thinking classrooms:

  • Engage students
  • Sustain Inquiry
  • Nurture self-regulated learners
  • Create assessment-rich learning
  • Enhance learning through digital technology

Worried that this book is yet another item to be added onto all the other “musts” we have to do in our classrooms and in our spheres of influences? Refreshingly, what is made clear throughout the book is that the principles, and strategies are not the new “next” in Ontario education. This is not a new, shiny initiative that teachers are expected to learn and implement in their classrooms. The strategies discussed in the book are based on the same pedagogies that are currently in use as best practices in our classrooms today. The authors don’t advocate for scrapping everything we know about teaching, but rather they provide support to enhance current practice to align with current system goals. By honouring teachers’ professional voice, creating thinking classrooms has the potential for scalability across systems. 

To achieve their goals, the authors stress the importance of relationships and conversations not only among educators at all levels who are involved in creating a shift in thinking and professional culture, but also with students in the classroom as well. When our students are at the forefront of these conversations we are always headed in the right direction.

The moral imperative is clear, and now the work begins on providing the opportunities and environments for thinking about thinking to happen.

Click here for my visible learning on Creating Thinking Classrooms

A Review: Indelible Leadership: Always Leave them Learning

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I have stated before, in a blog post that 

“In the end, being in a position of leadership is both a gift and a responsibility. Leaders need to surround themselves with the resources that will support them in their role because change starts with us.” (swallwin.wordpress.com)

Michael Fullan’s, Indelible Leadership:Always Leave Them Learning, is another excellent resource for this who are want to continue to push their leadership learning and add a resource to their leadership toolbox. The goal of the book is to strengthen leaders so that they can unleash the spirit, passion, commitment and focus for the deep learning required by all to upset the status quo in education and prepare students to make an indelible impact of their own.

The book is organized around the six tensions that Fullan believes will support the deep learning:

  • Moral Imperative and Uplifting Leadership
  • Master Content and Process
  • Lead and Learn in Equal Measure
  • See Students as Change Agents and Proteges
  • Feed and Be Fed by the System
  • Be Essential and Dispensable

All 6 tensions work in unison and are not independent of each other, but the one chapter that really resonated with me is the one in which an effective  leader should be both essential and dispensable. Empowering others should be the ultimate goal of all leaders. Strong leadership does not involve ego. It is not about you, but the people you serve and that priority should direct you in all you do.

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I have the privilege of working with #sgdsbtc Technology Champions who are dedicated and passionate life-long learners who work hard to  provide rich, authentic 21st century learning opportunities for all the learners in their sphere of influence. These 15 individuals challenge my thinking, leadership and learning every day. They make me want to be the best leader I can be so that they in turn can go out and conquer their worlds.  I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to learn with and from them and to witness the deep impact they have created in my Board. They have changed the thinking and learning of many more people than I alone could do and our students are more fully prepared for our increasingly changing world as a result of these individuals. They are truly indelible leaders:

“Finally, and paradoxically, the way to sustain the work into the future is for leaders, as essential as they are in the early stages, to deliberately become dispensable over time.” (introduction xx)

Looking to lead change? Surround yourself with the resources such as Indelible Leadership: Always Leave Them Learning and amazing people who are committed to meeting the needs of learners and ask yourselves:

                                                                  What will your legacy be?

 

 

A Review: School Culture Recharged

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Leadership comes in many forms. Leaders can be in positions of both formal and informal leadership. Leadership can be something that you take on or it is thrust upon you. For some, leadership is a struggle and for others it comes naturally. In the end, being in a position of leadership is both a gift and a responsibility. Leaders need to surround themselves with the resources that will support them in their role because change starts with us.

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The author’s, Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker) and Steve Gruenert (@stevegruenert) define culture as:

“…the personality of the building. It is the professional religion of the group.” (4)

Culture steers the ship and it is up to the leader to use the culture to promote the well-being and success of all the learners in the building. The authors provide leadership advice and strategies to identify the current culture, the different roles staff have in maintaining that culture, and the staff that can shift the culture. Once the key players have been identified, you can begin to support those risk-takers who are willing to go outside the cultural norms. The process in shifting the direction of the culture depends on the capacity of the positive outliers to withstand the pressure of the group because the job of culture is to ensure that nothing changes!

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Whitaker and Gruenert provide strategies to support leaders in undertaking the challenges that surround evaluating and undertaking the challenge of recharging a culture so that everyone’s potential is reached.

I recommend this book for anyone who wishes to make the culture they envision a reality. Although titled “School Culture Rewired” and directed at school leaders, I think that this resource pertains to any organization that wants to shift its culture and harness the power of it to grow the organization in a positive way. As Gruenert and Whitaker state,

“Organizational culture is not a problem that needs to be solved; it is the way people solve problems” (163) and this book is an excellent read for all leaders who wish to make the changes necessary for all our students because in the end, it is about our students.

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A Review: Mindstorms:Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas

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For several years I have been hearing about the powerful connections between math and coding.  These two subjects are essential to providing a strong mathematical and 21st century education to our students.  I needed to get learning! Through my invaluable #PLN, I frequently heard about Seymour Papert and his Book: Mindstorms: Children Computers and Powerful Ideas and so despite my personal learning issues with math, and lack of coding experience, I began to read.

Throughout parts of  the book I had to practice a growth mindset. There were parts of the book that resonated with me as a learner and there were parts of the book that contributed to my sense of inability to ever grasp math, which was frustrating.

Although the main theme of the book is about how children learn, and there were many examples about coding and math, there were many concepts that resonated with me as a non-math learner:

  • using a computer can help make the math learning process more natural than formal math structures used in schools
  • learning with computers may impact the way we learn about other things
  • mathematics and math are not the same thing and if we teach our students in “Mathland” they will be fluent in math
  • early negative experiences with math can limit a student’s definition of themselves and their abilities and have lifelong consequences for the student
  • coding provides opportunities for students to practice grit, determination and resiliency
  • debugging skills in coding transfer to all aspects of problem solving
  • coding is much more than algorithms; it is a languagescreenshot-twitter.com-2017-04-22-22-46-10

For someone like me, math has a wrong and a right answer. After many “wrong” answers, we begin to believe that we ‘can’t do math’ and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Papert believed  these fixed ‘right and wrong’ experiences contribute to “mathphobia” (42) which create self-fulfilling, negative situations for many students.  Mathphobia creates the idea that there are things that cannot be learned which has a profound impact on the a student’s sense of his/her ability to learn throughout life Teaching our students to code provides students with authentic, student centred learning that allows them to relate to the learning.

Papert makes the connection between providing authentic learning for students, especially in math, so that they can incorporate new learning with life experiences. Creating meaningful connections between math and personal life experiences makes

“The difference between what he ‘could’ and ‘could not’ learn did not depend on the content of the knowledge but on his relationship to it” (65)

I will admit that there were times when Papert and his research made this read challenging, but I am glad that I persevered.  Learning to code, and learning about math is not about me, my obstacles or you. It is about our students. Mindstorms  presents a thorough foundation between learning,  mathematics, and coding and we owe it to our students to understand these connections to ensure that we are providing the best learning opportunities for our students.

A Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

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This book has been on my reading pile for two summers. This Christmas I simply grabbed it off the pile and had no expectations of the book itself. I could not put the book down.

How hard can it be to kill oneself?  Ove asks himself that question every day as he longs to be reunited with his wife. A thorough, sensible, practical and conscientious person, he makes the necessary plans and arrangements to kill himself while leaving behind the least amount of mess and fuss as possible. This is Ove. If nothing else he is thorough and “un-fussy”.

Ove is lonely. He loved his wife and is lost without her.

 “He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.”  (A Man Called Ove).

He had no life before he met his wife and he most certainly had no life with her gone. In loving her, her absence caused even greater  loneliness:

We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.” ( A Man Called Ove)

A thoughtful man, he simply planned out how he would take fate into his own hands so that he could once again be with the one person who brought colour into his black and white world. However, the best laid plans don’t always work out and with the timely intervention of a chaotic, group of “idiots”  meaning is brought back into Ove’s life- whether he wants it or not.

We know that you cannot judge a book by its cover and in this book we learn this lesson applies to people as well because in the end, despite Ove’s best intentions to prove otherwise,  it turns out that Ove’s heart is truly too big for his body.

This book spoke to me on so many levels and I will admit that I cried when reading this book.

And I think that there is a little bit of Ove in me.

So I reminded when reading about a character such as Ove, that maybe just maybe, when we least expect it, we can be the colour in someone else’s life.

This is a must read!

“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.” (A Man Called Ove)