Climate Change: Teach Students How to Think, Not What to Think

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is Taking Climate Change seriously in our schools, what are your best tips for teaching about climate change.”

April 22, 2018, is recognized as Earth Day, a global event which began in 1970. Today, close to 1 billion people in 192 countries take part in the largest “civic-focused day of action in the world.” (Earthday.org) From endangered species to climate change, Earth Day campaigns are vast and span a wide-range of political, religious, and debatable topics. Students across the world will likely learn and partake in activities around these campaigns in celebration of Earth Day, like planting trees and taking care of gardens. Cleaning local parks, walking to school instead of driving, or raising money for the White Rhino; on April 22, many students will be helping to make a difference in the world.

BUT…

I challenge educators around the globe to think differently this Earth Day. Whether it be endangered species or climate change, our job as educators should not be planning activities for students to participate in or bestowing information upon them about the destruction of the planet; instead, on this civic-focused day, educators around the globe should focus on creating advocates. Our world needs young people who have the skills and resources to objectively look at an issue, evaluate and analyze multiple viewpoints, and articulate their own opinion.

We need to teach students how to think, not what to think.

The depletion of natural resources and climate change impact every human being on this planet, but it is also a political and religious topic which has multiple viewpoints. Doing a quick search on the internet provides users with hundreds of articles, videos, and advertisements aligned to both sides of the issue. There are as many “experts” claiming global warming is real as there are “experts” claiming that it is a hoax. Where does this leave educators and students?

First, I believe that technology has not only changed the way we communicate but also the access to information individuals have at their fingertips.

Second, because of this, it is imperative for educators to equip students with skills to swim in this digital sea of information with a degree of healthy skepticism.

Third, so that we help to create an empathetic global generation that can advocate for themselves and others.

So instead of having students walk to school instead of drive on Earth Day, teach them how to evaluate and analyze the information they find on the web about climate change (both sides of the issue). Answer questions such as: Is this a reliable source? What is the author’s bias? What evidence is used to back their claim? Can I find this information multiple places? What do I think?

Flood their environments with examples of advocacy campaigns, multiple modes of communication, and experts to get advice from. Answer questions such as: Now that I have my opinion and the evidence to back it up, what are my next steps? How do people take an idea and create a movement? Which forms and modes of my message will be best to use? How can one person be an advocate for themselves and others?
And support action designed by students. Earth Day, activism, movements that transform the way our young people think rarely are a direct result of an event that the teacher planned. To empower student advocates, efforts must stem internally and be supported by the adults they are surrounded by. Student action that will carry over into their adulthood must be a process that they experience from the start, what do I think? and why does it matter? to the very end. To have students participate in events on Earth Day on a deep and transferable level, we must teach them how to think, not what to think and empower them to create the movement.

Embrace Your Vulnerability; Write In Front of Your Students

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “How do we better instill an idea of risk-taking and struggle in students? How do we do a better job of encouraging their failures rather than punishing them? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?”

Teaching writing is tough. When I speak to colleagues, other educators, or reflect on my own training, how to explicitly teach students to write was something that was missed for many of us in the education world. In fact, I don’t remember learning how to teach writing until I started my graduate work. With the lack of training, what typically happens is one of three things: teaching writing is in the form of grammar, usage, and mechanics rules and memorization; or teaching writing is having the students write a holiday essay or a 10 page research paper; or finally, teaching writing is not done at all, rather it is assigned.

Now you may be wondering how this addresses the question posed above… The most important thing educators can do to teach their students how to write is to write in front of them. I can think of nothing more powerful, or more vulnerable, than when a teacher writes in front of their students.

  • Writing in front of students does more to move a young writer forward than any grammar worksheet assigned.
  • Writing in front of students promotes risk-taking by the class as they become a community of writers.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates the struggles all writers face on how best to articulate their thoughts, ideas, and messages.
  • Writing in front of students helps to demystify the magical aura that surrounds a perfectly polished piece of text.
  • Writing in front of students invites the community to know you and your story which propels them to share their own.
  • Writing in front of students provides a window into your mind as you work through the process of writing.
  • Writing in front of students demonstrates that hardly any piece of writing is perfect the first time, even the teacher’s piece.
  • Writing in front of students illustrates writing success is found through practice, lots and lots of practice.
  • Writing in front of students releases the protection of the process and struggle to the students.
  • Writing in front of students provides a model of real writing by an important person in their life.
  • Writing in front of students builds relationships and fosters empathy.

If we want students to be risk-takers, persevere through the struggle, and find success in the process then we must model that as the adult in the classroom. If we, ourselves, are embarrassed or nervous to write in front of and share our writing with students then how can we expect the same from them. The best writing is personal. It moves the readers to have an emotional connection to the story and to get the student’s best writing we must be a model of this vulnerability. The first step in the teaching of writing is to be a writer yourself!

Close Encounters with an Online Predator

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The above conversation took place a month ago and shook me to the core.

This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question focused on Digital Citizenship. This is the story of my daughter, Grace.

Grace Ann, my 11-year-old daughter begged for an Instagram account. Her older brother had one, some of her friends had one, and I also had one. I explained to her that she was not old enough to have her own account, but could have a joint account with me. (It would be private, I would approve and post the content and who she followed and followers, and she could only access it from my device so as to be monitored.) As a parent, I felt this was a perfect opportunity to educate my child on how to use social media and be safe online.

One evening, Grace Ann was on Instagram looking and “liking” photos from the feed of JoJo Siwa, teen sensation from the hit show Dance Moms, when all of a sudden she received a private message (yes, you can still send and receive messages from strangers on a private account). The notification appeared on both my phone and the iPad she was using and I paused to see what she would do. Grace immediately brought it to my attention and I took it from there.

A fleeting example of punitive damages or an unwise misjudgment can mean the difference between life and death when you’re in control of a vehicle. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how dangerous the act of driving is until you are involved in an accident.

This predator, this sick individual, told my daughter that her profile picture was “hot” (see above, she is a child, she is not hot). My blood boiled. I realized this pervert targeted young girls who were “liking” pictures on JoJo’s feed.

I played along…

I posed as my daughter and replied to his comment, asking him if we knew each other and how old he was.

When he responded that he was 24 (and probably even older than that) I finished the conversation and told him I was, in fact, her mother and would be reporting him (plus, some other choice words).

Following this incident, Grace and I had many conversations as to what happened and how she could protect herself online. I told her how proud I was of her actions and how she came immediately to me when she got a message from someone she didn’t know.

Keeping our kids safe online is a priority for me as a parent-educator. When I speak to others about the positives, as well as negatives, online I urge parents to consider 3 things:

  1. Talk to your children about the internet and social media. How to stay safe online, protect their identity, and how to Use Social Media, not be Used by it.

  2. Be aware of all accounts, follow them and have access to them (this is not an invasion of privacy, but a necessity if anything were to ever happen).

  3. Take time to unplug. I purchased the device, I supply the internet, I will limit time spent and access as I feel fit. This is my right as a parent. Do not be afraid to set boundaries so that our children are safe and healthy.

While this is only one aspect of Digital CItizenship, I had never experienced anything hit so close to home and felt compelled to share with a larger audience. I love my children, just like I loved all of my students, and when something like this happens, my “Moma Bear” kicks in and I go into protection mode. The police were contacted, I had former students reach out who are now adults and are in law enforcement and government security. I also notified Instagram. Unfortunately, because he did not “cross the line” nothing could be done and his account was not suspended.

I share this, not to scare anyone, but rather as a reminder that we can never be too careful when it comes to children and the vastness of people connecting to them through the internet. It is never too early to start online safety conversations with kids. In the classroom, online safety or digital citizenship should not be discussed during a designated month, instead, students should hear it from all teachers and the components should be woven across the curriculum all year long.

Please, share your stories with me. Share resources you use in your classrooms or at home. Together, we can protect our children!

 

(Feel free to share this in your school and with parents, it is the reason that I blog)

Contemporary Literacy Curriculum, #MakeLitREAL

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “Do you believe curriculum needs to be more relevant for a 21st-century world? If you had the power to change the school curriculum, what would you change?

As society and technology change, so does the definition of a literate person. Teaching students to read and write through traditional means, paper and text, is no longer the only skill set needed to be considered literate. Literacy is a foundational curriculum component to every discipline. More than that, literacy is “inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups.” (NCTE)

The literacy demands of contemporary society require students to be dynamic, multimodal, skeptical, and global.  Few, if any, curriculums address these needs in full. It is up to the knowledgeable educator to provide a curriculum that ‘Makes Lit. REAL”. (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lifetime, prove you’re the big kahuna) #MakeLitREAL

When planning units, creating tasks, evaluating curriculum, working with other educators, or coaching PLCs, I continually return to the acronym REAL. This helps to center the conversation, keep students at the forefront of decisions, focuses on the verbs (communicate), not the nouns (tech tool), and provide literacy opportunities that will not only strengthen their skills now but forever more. When you Make Lit REAL, educators see the absurdity of assigning a 7 page, single-spaced, book report and reimagine curriculum and tasks that prepare our students to hone skills needed today, not 20 years ago.

 

Traditional Contemporary
Consume 2 Dimensional Readers

Unimodal, one way, text on paper. Limited access based on demographics and teacher knowledge/experience

3 Dimensional Readers

Multimodal, multiple ways, interactive text, media literacy, dynamic infographics, and visuals, etc. Ubiquitous access to information, people, and experts. Healthy skeptics and discerners of information

Create Multiple types and purposes but typically done with paper/pencil or word processor Dynamic, interactive, unique, multiple types and purposes but additional modes (posts, video, audio, visual) that provide student choice and voice
Communicate Contained to classroom or school Global, allowing students to cross the geographical divide digitally
Connect Contained, local, never talk to strangers Connecting and building relationships cross-culturally and globally
Curiosity ? Inquiry, design thinking, PBL; developing problem seekers not just problem solvers
Contribute Community-based, volunteering Developing empathy and ethical responsibilities. Pose and solve problems at a global level. Strengthening collaboration and independent thought.

 

Literacy is not only a foundational part of every curriculum it is a cornerstone to us as humans. The traditional curriculum is falling short in providing contemporary students the skills they need in life. When you Make Literacy REAL (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lifetime) and apply this lens to the current curriculum,  a clear picture of our past and where we need to head as educators emerge.

 

6 Keys to Planning and Delivering Effective Professional Learning

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is If you were calling the shots how would you change ongoing professional development for teachers in your community?”

Five years ago I made the leap from the classroom to a consultant role and went from teaching kids to teaching adults. Currently, I support educators in the areas of literacy, technology, AIW, and project-based learning. Working with adult learners is both challenging and rewarding. At first, I was unsure if I was cut out for this new role but over the years I have come to embrace the challenges and celebrate the victories that transfer into wins for kids!

I will be the first to admit I still have room for growth and improvement as a staff developer, but I quickly learned there are major differences between pedagogy and andragogy (the art and science of adult learning). When working with adults I keep in mind 6 Keys to Effective Professional Learning when planning and delivering professional learning. Some of these ideas were introduced to me by Nancy Lockett, as well as through personal studies on my own.

6 Keys to Planning and Delivering Effective Professional Learning:

1. Respect – Establish and recognize the importance of verbal territory. With adult learners, it is essential to get them talking within the first 5 minutes so all voices are heard. It is also a great time to identify the vast knowledge and experience they bring to the learning by having them create a “Group Resume” with their combined years, areas of expertise, certificates, and passions. This could be done as a table and shared out as a large group. Taking time at the beginning of the day to do these activities sets a tone of I value You and, together, We have vast experience and knowledge.

2. Start with the why- Just as students in the classroom find relevance when they understand the Why, so too do adult learners. Right from the start, professional learning should include the Why with an answer to the question – What problem are we solving? Starting with the What, Why, and How satisfies the adult learners Need to Know. If you are unclear with the learning target and the Why, the educators will be too.

3. Opener vs IceBreaker – Openers, YES, IceBreakers, NO. A common mistake that facilitators of professional learning make is starting off the day with an irrelevant IceBreaker. Instead, try an Opener. An Opener should do three things. First, it needs to breaks preoccupation with all of the things that are weighing them down. Second, an opener should allow for networking. Third, an opener needs to have a training point. While there are many icebreakers out there to use, be sure to make sure you start with an opener instead. Get them talking about what you want them to be thinking about.

4. Inquiry-Based Professional Learning (ADA format) – When planning the bulk of the learning, I like to follow the ADA format, Activity, Discussion, Application. This format recognizes the importance of collegial collaboration and feedback. Through inquiry, adult learners construct their own knowledge; they Learn by Doing. Inquiry-Based Learning using the ADA format allows educators to Do, Talk, and Apply. It is through the conversations with colleagues and the personal reflection and application that the Why of the day is reinforced, as well as the personal application. It makes it relevant to them and their students!  

5. Progression of Learning – Before, during, and at the end of the professional learning it is essential to recognize and identify where individuals are in terms of the progressions of learning:

  • US – Unconsciously Skilled
  • CS – Consciously Skilled
  • CU – Consciously Unskilled
  • UU – Unconsciously Unskilled

This identification is important for both the staff developer and educator. The knowledge not only helps with differentiating the learning, but also provides the adult learner insight into their own beliefs, attitudes, and needs. Consciously Unskilled is the place where you lose most adult-learners when they realize that they have been doing it wrong.  

6. Closers – Finally, it is important to never shorten time at end of the day, always have a proper closing activity. The strategy that I like to use is Connect, Reflect, Direct.  Allow educators time to Connect to what they had learned throughout the day, Reflect on how it is applicable to them, their students, their instruction; and Direct on what their next steps are to achieve the goals they set forth from the reflection(either as a staff or individual).
Planning and delivering professional learning is both challenging and rewarding. It’s a chance to work with staff members on a common focus while differentiating to meet needs of all and personalizing to support individual growth. I am continually learning from others how best to develop my skills and hoped that I offered you things to consider. Please comment below with some of your favorite strategies or frameworks and check out this post Steven Anderson and I wrote about ways Connected Educators can continue to develop professionally. Enjoy the rest of your summer, August is just around the corner.