Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My "Lightbulb" Moment with Personalized Learning

Over the past couple of years I’ve heard the word personalization more and more. It has come up in educator forums, books, conversations, and now, personalization is even in Vermont state law. I could understand the basics--that is, I could understand that if education was more specific to a given student’s interests and abilities, the student would be better served. But it wasn’t until I took my 20 month old son to a pirate themed party at a local library that I really felt an urgency for and understood the profound potential in personalizing public education.

Over spring break this past year, a local Vermont library offered a pirate themed morning for toddlers. Perfect! We’re there! Dressed in welcoming pirate clothing, the wonderful and friendly library faculty greeted us at the door with a hearty, “Welcome aboard”. The library was set up with some pirate coloring sheets, a few bags of goldfish, and a treasure map game through the library. A handful of toddlers stumbled in, and a few minutes later the librarian asked for all the “pirates” to gather around for a “pirate tale”. I did do diligence and herded my son over to reading area. The implied expectation was sitting quietly, listening to the story, interacting when called upon to do so. My son lasted about 45 seconds. He quickly stood up and was eager to wander around. Most of the toddlers were tuned out, so the librarian read faster. Then she began explaining that good pirates always listened to their captain. I thought, “Wait, is my son a bad pirate?” It was my first taste of the standard education model as a parent.

As I listened to the story through his ears, I heard what he heard--which was pretty much nothing he had ever heard before. For one, our house is a 50/50 French and English home. Secondly, we have no pirate books at home, so when the librarian was saying “Arrr” and “Let’s hear your pirate voice” he had absolutely no prior knowledge to build from. Now if the book had been about a French pirate playing basketball (his favorite activity), he would have been all ears, sitting up front, hanging on every word! If she had started the circle time with “Bonjour” his head would have snapped around. His lack of prior knowledge on the topic, and in his case, a language barrier, turned him into a “student” who “lacked focus” and “couldn’t stay on task”.

Thankfully, because he was only 20 months old, we were only at a themed toddler hour, and he was with his Dad...we were able to get up and explore. He certainly was capable and interested in learning that day, so off we went. We found a few pictures of people playing donkey-basketball. This was worth a close inspection! Why was there a horse by a basketball hoop? We had lots of books on basketballs and horses at home, but never in combination. He quizzed me, thought about it, then repeated what he had learned. He went for a drink of water, then back to the pictures. He wanted to make sure he had learned everything there was to learn about donkey-basketball. Although he was not ready to sit and listen to a story about pirates, he was very willing to engage in learning.

When we loaded into the car, I was feeling bad about what school might be like for him. I had seen genuine irritation from the librarian as she worked to keep order in the reading. I sensed a feeling of judgement against the parents (that’s me) for not demanding more compliance from our toddlers. I didn’t fault her. She seemed sweet and hopeful to connect with the little ones. It wasn’t her fault that my son knew more French than English and had never heard of pirates. I thought about what it might have been like if I hadn’t been there. Would he have been considered naughty? Or maybe he would have been considered slow and behind his peers? How would they know everything he already knew about without some kind of exploration into who he was and what he was interested in, capable of, and skilled with? I thought about how lucky it was that I was there with him, that I knew him well, and could help him have a learning experience that he could be fully engaged with. The light-bulb went off. I thought, “This is what personalization is all about.” I learned firsthand that day how much potential there is in providing students a personalized learning experience which is connected not only to their interests, but to their prior knowledge. I thought about how important it is that they are engaged in learning opportunities that are unique to their own zones of proximal development. I began putting my mind to the challenging task of personalization, and I look forward to working through this puzzle in public education together.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Social Emotional Learning: Colletion of Useful Video Clips

The links in this post are to some of the video clips I have collected to help explain, promote, and teach social emotional learning over the past year. They make great supplements to writing prompts, discussions, and direct instructional activities. The categories listed below are a bit arbitrary, so keep that in mind as you look through the list. I believe video clips are a powerful way to reach both students and adults alike. Thank you to everyone who is making this useful and important content available.


Growth Mindset

Growth vs Fixed Mindset Short Video by Matthew Metoyer

You Can Learn Anything: Khan Academy Video

The Effect of Praise on Mindsets (Carol Dweck)

Critique & Feedback: The Story of Austin's Butterfly, Ron Berger

Famous Failures Video

Famous Failures (Shorter Version)

Longer Mindset Video Montage (Motivational)

Mr. Roger's Break-dancing 

Sesame Street: The Power of Yet!

Big Bird Teaches Captain Vegetables about Mistakes (in 1976!)


Will Smith on Treadmills and Work Ethic

The Great Movement at Which Andrew Wiles Solved Fermat's Last Theorem

The Key to Success: Grit

Ira Glass on Hard Work in Being Creative

Teaching Grit Cultivates Resilience & Perseverance

Keep Moving Forward: Clip from Meet the Robinsons

Sesame Street: Bruno Mars, Don't Give Up

Authentic Perseverance: Little Boy Climbs Ramp  

Michael Jordan: Work Before Glory 

Caine's Arcade (Great team building activity and connection to Next Generation Science Standards)



Self Control: Teaching Students About Their Greatest Inner Strength

Angela Duckworth The Pyschology of Achievment: KIPP Houston

The Marshmallow Test: Updated Video Version

The Hungry Heart Movie Trailer

Sesame Street Cookie Monster: Me Want It, But Me Wait

Sesame Street Cookie Monster: The Biscotti Kid

Sesame Street Elmo: Belly Breathe


General Social Emotional Learning

Google: What we Searched for in 2014 (Optimism)

The Science of Character

How to Start a Movement: Derek Sivers

KIPP Character and Academics: David Levin 

A Pep Talk from Kid President

Kid President 20 Things we all Should Say More Often:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Book Trailer

Kevin Durant MVP Speech, Gratitude Section

Everything is Awesome: Lego Movie Theme Song (Great Song to Start a Project)

Sesame Street: will i am, what i am (affirmation)

Happy by Pharrell Williams  (Great Video to Play to start an Assembly)


School Transformation

Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson

Born to Learn

Project Based Learning: High Tech High San Diego

The Immovable Mountain: By Chuck Scranton

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Response to Edutopia's "Grit Happens in PBL"

Click here to view John Larmer's Edutopia Article titled, "Grit Happens in PBL"

Here is my response posted on Edutopia as well-

The folks that criticize grit do so from a primarily economic point of view. The critiques that I have read do not like the idea of telling economically disadvantaged students to "just be gritty". Its viewed as another version of "pull yourself up by the boot-straps". I believe these critics feel that there are societal structures that require serious change, and they are concerned that the "grit movement" will distract leaders from the real structural changes necessary to build a more equitable society. And in relation to those critiques, I have heard criticism of teaching students self-control (often associated with the grit research and researchers) as being more about compliance than learning.

I have spent a lot of time working with grit and the related research this year. I feel like there are two versions of grit in the education world. The first version is the pop version. Its the version I see on this particular post, and the version I see Alfie Kohn and Ira Socol criticizing. It seems to me that people hear the word "grit" and they assume that the research behind it simply says, "try harder", and you will "do better". I think people jump to that conclusion because many educators are attracted to that idea. Most of us see students who lack motivation. Many of us just wish they would try harder! So we hear grit, and we assume we know what that research and what all the fuss is about. But after really digging into the topic, I assure you, there is much more to it.

In summary, I think the second version of grit, the one that digs much deeper, is about executive functioning. I believe the research is discovering a particular trait associated with achievement (note I didn't say success), that is a function of a healthy developing brain. In that view, providing students from chronic stress scenarios (often students from violence and poverty, but not always) with the opportunity to grow a part of their brain (executive functioning) that is often stunted in chronic stress (see the work of Eric Jensen or Laurence Steinberg) is really about equality not compliance. The research shows that those with self-control and related executive functioning skills (i.e. grit) achieve well by all sorts of measures from all sorts of demographics. By ignoring schools' opportunities to develop these skills (particularly good opportunities in early ed, transitions, and early adolescence due to increased brain plasticity), schools would be perpetuating inequality. Does teaching grit replace the need for structural change and increased equity in our society? Absolutely not. But I don't know any researcher claiming that it will. In fact, since writing his book, Paul Tough has coined a phrase in response to this critique, he calls it the adversity gap. In this he explains that he is not suggesting that students from chronic stress need more adversity (!), but he is saying that students on the other end of the gap might need some in order to practice the executive functioning skill of grit more often.

And in regards to PBL or student-driven learning. PBL often engages students more than traditional schooling. Which is why I am big proponent of it. It often leads to more real work than the compliance content cramming most of us grew up with. It often gives students the opportunity to practice grit, which is great as well. But I would argue that if you are working with students from chronic stress, PBL will not address their executive functioning needs. In those cases PBL is just another mode of learning that students can't access deeply. When students develop executive functioning skills such as self-control and yes, grit, then they can access any type of learning...and hopefully that type of learning is meaningful...as PBL often is.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer 2014

As you can see, I haven't had a post in a few months. After returning from sabbatical into full-time middle school principal, I lost the habit of posting on the blog. A mistake for sure because there has been a lot happening!

EFMS: Our middle school is in the midst of developing and trying out our ideas for implementation. We saw a very good response from our celebration of achievement skills. Students took it seriously and we honored two students and two adults in our community as All-Stars. We also had success in reading the book WONDER as a school. Enosburg was featured on VPR in Mike Martin's commentary. I also filled in for our guidance counselor on maternity leave this spring in our guidance elective class. It was a joy to see about fifteen 7th and and 8th graders wrestle with the ideas of growth-mindset and self-control. Direct instruction seemed to land well. We also did a blog where students chose something to practice self-control with. Some students chose swearing less, not eating salt, going to bed earlier and so forth. They did a great job! Here is our blog: http://efmschallenge.blogspot.com/

Talks for Teachers: If you follow the blog, you know that I was one of the early participants in Angela Duckworth's series: Talks for Teachers. We concluded our last session in April. The last speaker was Grant Wiggins, who gave a very interesting presentation about measuring character. Look for some exciting work coming from him in the coming year out of Harvard. Overall, the series was fantastic. Each speaker was filled, so look for a condensed movie version somewhere down the road. I learned a lot and I had a culminating idea that has become a culminating document. I believe my idea will help explain what I learned in a clear and easy to access way for educators of all kinds. Its called, The Hierarchy of Achievement. I've posted some PDF versions in my twitter account and will dedicate a full blog post to the work this summer.

Spreading the Word: I have presented a number of times recently. I have a slideshow and some handouts that can walk the participants through some of the key ideas and research. The slideshow usually features 3 or 4 videos as well. Its a condensed version of this blog! I have presented for my supervisory union's guidance counselors, principals and superintendent's office, as well as for a group of folks from a neighboring school district. In each case, it seemed to be very well received. I also will present on Oct. 30th for the Rowland Annual Conference which will feature the keynote speech of Angela Duckworth. Angela has been amazing in her willingness to work with me and the Rowland foundation to bring this knowledge to Vermont. We are looking forward to Oct. 30th! I also am teaching an online class through Castleton State College's Continuing Education, titled, Increasing Student Achievement through Social-Emotional Learning. Gabrielle Marquette and I are co-teaching the course. We have 13 educators participating and it is going very well. It is exciting to see the strong interest in the topic.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Growth Mindset, Social Belonging, Purpose, and The Teaching Gap

UPENN Talks for Teachers:
April, 6th: 2014

Take Away: Changing our learning culture to embrace struggle as our opportunity to learn rather than something to be avoided will unlock our best learning potential. 

During this week’s session, we heard from four different researchers: Greg Walton (Social Belonging), David Yeager (Growth-Mindset), Bill Damon (The Path to Purpose) and James Stigler (The Teaching Gap). All four speakers were excellent so it was a wealth of information for a Sunday afternoon.

Here is a very quick summary from each of the speakers:

Greg Walton:
(Social Belonging)
Students in transition are very vulnerable. They are quick to doubt whether or not they belong. They are making many decisions about what they are capable of and where they fit in. There is a land-grab for both social and academic territory. Help students frame positive views of themselves and any struggles they face using modeling of older students who explain difficulties will get better in time. Greg used the powerful quote from Michelle Obama’s time at Princeton to illustrate what the feeling on not belonging can be like even for a high achiever like Michelle:

“My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before. I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second.”

David Yeager:
We live in a culture of frequent praise and very little feedback. This feeds our tendency towards fixed-mindsets. We must work hard to overcome the long established fixed-mindsets that suggest some students are smart and talented, and others are not. Learning must be about constant growth and growth comes from welcoming challenges and welcoming feedback. To help students develop a growth mindset He recommended utilizing what has been coined the “magic phrase” in education: “I’m giving you these comments [critical feedback] because I have high standards and I know you can meet them.” Versus a more typical explanation of red marks on a paper “I’m giving you this feedback so that you can improve your writing [math, art, etc.].” Additionally, avoid describing achievement by students as smart or talented. That label becomes a burden that makes students defensive when they don’t know. The smart label is something they will lie for, avoid reflection on mistakes for, and ignore growth opportunities because of the risk they might pose to their “smartness”. Another reason that fixed mindsets may persist is because they can provide social power. For example, “I’m a math person, and you are not, therefore I have an added value you can’t attain.”

Bill Damon:
In his research he explores the power of purpose in motivation. He talks about 4 different types of students.

Highly active students without purpose. You can think of straight A students who don’t really know why they work so hard other than that’s what they were told they were supposed to do.

Highly active students with purpose. These are the most avid learners. When students are connecting their daily work to some bigger, longterm goal, or purpose in life, they are unstoppable learners.

Low active students with purpose. These students have many issues that they care about but have no practical plans on how to act upon these issues. You could think of any idealist student or adult you know that always dreams of world peace or environmental harmony without taking any steps to actualize what they value.

Low active students without purpose. These students welcome apathy as their general disposition in life. I know we can all think of students like that! Mr. Damon told us a story about a meeting he once had with the Dalai Lama. In that meeting, Mr. Damon presented his research and then was allowed to ask the Dalai Lama one question. Mr. Damon asked how he can reach this comfortably-apathetic fourth group. The Dalai Lama’s response was to provide the apathetic student with long and detailed narrative about what life would be like throughout their life without purpose and then give them examples of the joy and meaning people can experience when they dedicate their lives to their particular purpose. Worth a shot! 

James Stigler
Mr. Stigler’s work explores the teaching strategies utilized throughout the countries that frequently score well on international tests. He found that teaching is largely cultural. In other words, we have an idea about what teaching is in America, and we often default to that typical version of teaching that we expect in American classrooms. One particularly interesting point that James Stigler made was about what teaching strategies have proved to be the most effective throughout the world. While I expected him to say project based-learning, flipped classroom, guide on the side, or something along those lines, he instead said that his UCLA based research suggests that it does not matter what strategies teachers use.

What matters the most is that teachers create learning opportunities that challenge, confuse (yes confuse), and get students to work through the struggle of learning something new. Of course, the confusion and struggle must be in context so that students do not simply give up in total frustration. Each country gets to that end by different means, but the one thing in common was pushing students to work through struggle. This work reminded me a lot of the work our own FNESU has done in moving towards understanding math conceptually versus just procedurally. Mr. Stigler also spoke about how much of learning may be ritualized learning rather than informative learning. 

Mr. Stigler showed a clip from this video about Andrew Wiles, mathmatician who worked on one math problem for over thirty years. He used this as an extreme example of struggling in learning rather than looking for a procedural answer:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Update from EFMS Achievement Skill Program

Location: Enosburg Falls Middle School
March, 27th (2014)

This week we launched another part of our achievement skill program at Enosburg Falls Middle School. During our once per month community meeting with the entire school, 8th grade leaders from each of our advisories helped to organize the present for the entire school. We enjoyed the sounds of Pharrell William's Happy while we were taking our seats in the auditorium and also viewed clips from The Science of Character.


-8th grade TA council prepared a presentation to explain each out achievement skills (Perseverance, Integrity, Kindness, Optimism, and Self-Control). The students used definitions, memes, celebrity icons, and examples of the skill in action here at school in their presentation.

-We ordered a banner to be posted in the hallway. The banner will hold "star moments". Star moments are marked with smaller stars to celebrate good work. Star moments can be submitted to be displayed by students for other students, adults for students, or students for adults. Here is our first round of star moments:

-In addition to "Star Moments" we will honor an achievement "ALL-STAR" each month. An all-star can be a student or adult from our school community or beyond. An all-star is someone that embodies one of the achievement skills and can serve as a standout example for others. Our core teachers will review nominations on monthly basis and choose one or two "all-stars" per month. All-Stars are honored during our community meeting, and we will ask that they give a little speech as well. All-Stars will be given a black hooded Enosburg sweatshirt as visual indicator of their honor. Nominations are accepted online by clicking here:


Our first ever All-Star was Mr. Chris Brigham. Mr. Brigham serves as EFMHS's athletic director. In a survey of area education leaders, Mr. Brigham was nominated more than anyone else. He was chosen as an all-star of optimism! He gave a fantastic speech to the students and is a great first all-star. Mr. Brigham was introduced by JROTC instructor, Colonel Peter O'Connell who described all the extra work Mr. Brigham does to improve our school community. He also mentioned his perpetual smile, and Mr. Brigham's well deserved nickname, "Yoda". Thanks to both of our guests for getting us off to such a great start!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Collection of Online Resources: Grit, Self-Control, Social Emotional Learning, Growth Mindset, & More

Why Social Emotional Learning:

  • "The Role of Moral and Performance Character Strengths in Predicting Achievement and Conduct Among Middle School Urban Students” http://bit.ly/17uZa2i  (2013 research study)

Angela Duckworth & Grit

Growth Mindset:

Self Control:

The Role of Kindness/Empathy:


Related Resource Lists/Sources For Teachers:

Other Videos:

Related Book List Recommendations:

Berger, R. (2003). An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing.

Coyle, D. (2009). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential. New York, NY: Random House.

Jensen, Eric (2013). Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Maiers, A. (2012). Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits and Attitudes for 21st Century Learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Mischel, W. (2014). The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control. Little, Brown and Company.

Palacio. R.J. (2012). Wonder. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.

Pink. D. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Seligman, M. (2007) The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin. 

Tough, P. (2012). How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and The Hidden Power of Character. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

We Didn’t Eat the Marshmallow, The Marshmallow Ate Us 
(NY Times Article from January 10th)

4 Types of Responses to Positive Events

The Big Study that Connects Self-Control to Health, Wealth, & Public Safety

Teaching Adolescents to become Learners: University of Chicago: June 2012

2003 Research on Counting Blessings

Friday, February 28, 2014

Visiting YES PREP and KIPP in Houston

YES Prep and KIPP Houston
Houston, Texas
January 22nd-25th

One Sentence Take Away:"There will be no free rides, no excuses, all of us will work and all of us will learn."

 While attending the November Talks for Teachers session hosted by UPENN's Angela Duckworth, Donald Kamentz, Managing Director of College and Career Initiatives at YES Prep public schools invited me to visit the YES schools in Houston. Because of their close working relationship with the KIPP charter school network in Houston, Donald was also able to arrange visits for me with KIPP Houston as well. Angela Duckworth was scheduled to visit the schools and give a few different presentations in late January, so we scheduled my visit at the same time. This created an opportunity for me to sit in a few meetings between Angela and the schools, and attend one of her keynote speeches on the evening of January 23rd, 2014. Her Keynote speech was her presentation entitled, "The Psychology of Achievement". I have previously seen that presentation and blogged about its details, click here to view that previous blog entry. So, I left the cold and snowy weather of Vermont and headed down to Houston. Ironically, Houston had an ice-storm while I was there! From Houston, I flew to Philadelphia to attend the January 26th session of Talks for Teachers at UPENN featuring Seth Andrews of US Department of Education and Democracy Prep.

KIPP Houston
Founded in 1994 by David Levin and Mike Feinberg, Houston is the original location for KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program). Their KIPP Academy middle school now shares Houston with 23 other KIPP schools and a total of 141 KIPP schools nationwide. I had the chance to visit KIPP 3D Middle School and KIPP Generations High School. My guide for the morning was Executive Director of KIPP through College, Bryan Contreras. I had a great visit with Bryan. He was very generous with his time and answered any question I could think to ask. Bryan was an especially useful tour-guide as he had grown up in that very Houston neighborhood himself. The visit echoed much of what I have written about the KIPP network in earlier blogs, with dedicated adults, high expectations, and innovative use of character education. Although the school is completely modular (due to a Texas law that restricts charter schools from borrowing the money needed for major building costs) and fenced in with a large gate, the walls and outdoor walkways were filled with the familiar encouraging mantras found in other KIPP locations (See pictures below). Students were polite, energetic and diligent in their work. A number of teachers practiced the classroom atmosphere strategy of silence as you enter, entry tasks, exit tasks, and other prescribed classroom protocol throughout the school. A couple quotes from the teachers I observed, "Let's practice silence since we are having a hard time with it while others are speaking," and "What questions do you have that would be good for the group?" Other ideas that I liked were:

*All staff members splitting up and going to the incoming students homes and meeting with the family to get a commitment to excellence signed. 

*Using a timer on the smart-board (or any projection) right over the top of whatever lesson may be displayed.

*Having teachers post where they went to college outside of their door and ask them to speak about going to college frequently.

*Using the phrase "Glow and Grows" as a way of giving feedback.

*Have a doctor come to campus to see students who are having a hard time getting to the doctor.

*Having parents come in to sit with their student while they are in detention. (Can you imagine that?)

*Asking parents and helping them to become organized to take action within local politics, and neighborhood initiatives that affect their schools and children.

*And of course, the amazing use of inspirational quotes around every corner. I asked a number of students if they felt like those quotes made a difference. Almost all replied that they thought the quotes did help them. 

YES Prep Houston:
Founded in 1998, Yes Prep currently serves 8,000 Houston area students in 13 different schools. In 2015, Yes Prep will be expanding into Memphis, eventually serving around 6,000 students there. I had the pleasure of visiting YES Prep's Southwest campus. The Southwest campus serves about 850 students in grades 6 through 12. The free and reduced lunch rate is 90%. 

I was warmly welcomed by the caring staff at the southwest campus. Special thanks to Tony Castillo and Eric Espinoza. The atmosphere was academic and positive. Much of what I witnessed in terms of instruction and school culture was similar to that of what I have previously blogged about KIPP. And like KIPP, YES works directly with Angela Duckworth in gathering data on character education and grit interventions. The administration has a fairly detailed behavior rubric and system for setting goals related to the same nine achievement characteristics that KIPP and Riverdale schools feature. Many of the students I spoke to were excited about the new gym that was being built. YES is also very focused on the new challenge of not just getting students into college, but
 getting them through college. With concentrated effort and innovative strategies, their numbers for getting students through college has been steadily increasing. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Youtube Version of My UPENN Presentation on Perseverance

Presentation Date: 1-26-14
On January 26th, I will return to UPENN as part of the ongoing workshops with Angela Duckworth, entitled "Talks for Teachers" and the Character Lab. This month members of the group will be presenting about their own schools and their own work. The presentations are all meant to be about 8 minutes long. I finished my presentation and decided to do a voice-over version to put onto youtube. Here it is: (link to youtube version)

Friday, January 17, 2014

David Levin Offers a Free Online Course: Teaching Character & Positive Classrooms

David Levin co-founder of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools is offering a free online course for anyone who wishes to join. The course is dedicated to the strategies of teaching character. As the course description states:

The course will explore questions like:
  1. How can positive psychology help us maximize student engagement and accomplishment?
  2. What does it look like to implement a growth mindset in your classroom?
  3. Can you teach grit in the classroom? If so, how?
  4. Should an educator measure character? If so, how? 
Click here to view the website and for access to signing up.
The first offering of the class begins on February 9th. David explains the course in this short video (Video Link)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Edutopia Posts Grit & Resilience Resources

Edutopia Resilience-Grit-Resources
January, 15th 2014

Figure jumping over hurdle
Image from http://www.edutopia.org/resilience-grit-resources
Today, the education resource network, Edutopia, posted a "resource roundup" for grit and resilience. It covers everything from responding to trauma and tragedy to nurturing resilience. The site provides an explanation of this work from the ground up. It provides articles, book suggestions, videos, rubrics, and all things social and emotional learning. I think they just summarized everything I have been uncovering over the past six months in one post! Its a rich resource which I look forward to delving more deeply into over the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Notes From High Tech High Visit

High Tech High Schools: San Diego, CA
January 2014
One Sentence Takeaway: "Failure is the first attempt at learning" -Mr. Ortiguerra

This is a LONG BLOG ENTRY. You could opt to watch this 2009, 15 minute youtube clip with the Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High instead.

15 whole minutes! (I can hear you screaming from here). That's an eternity on the internet! I know, I know...but if you are interested in education in the 21st century...it will be worth your time. The video captures both the wisdom and feeling at HTH quite well and reading my whole blog entry will probably be even longer than 15 minutes!

Move into full screen mode, relax and enjoy! (Project Based Learning at High Tech High)

High Tech High Blog Entry Intro: This week I managed to get out of the cold weather and into sunny San Diego to visit the High Tech High campus at Point Loma. First things first, High Tech High's name is a bit misleading. Although they do have some standout science programs and standout technology showcases, they are not uniquely focused on technology. Additionally, the original school, founded in 2000, was a high school, thus the the High Tech High portion of the name. The HTH network now expands beyond that first school to include three elementary schools, four middle schools, and five high schools. I visited the original site, in Point Loma (10 minutes to downtown San Diego) which includes High Tech High, High Tech International HS, High Tech Media Arts HS, High Tech Middle, High Tech Middle Media Arts, and Explorer Elementary. The schools are all located within the same city block and are retrofitted military buildings.

High Tech High has about 3,000 visitors per year. President Obama has been known to mention HTH in his education speeches, as it is a bit of a darling amongst the education world. Thus many education pilgrims like myself make the trek to see the schools in person. They had so much interest in their success (99% college bound, 87% college retention rate) and processes that they created a position that responds to and plans for visitors. And they also now have their own HTH graduate program. In additional to the graduate program, they are partners in offering two open source courses. The first is New School Creation in partnership with UC-Berkeley and the second is Deeper Learning sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation Deeper Learning Community of Practice and Raikes Foundation with support from MIT. Sign up here to apart of these MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course). I'm signed up and so should you!

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about the hype, but the schools, staff, and students far exceeded what I thought I would find. In my days there, I found HTH to be a great place of learning, and I struggled to take notes fast enough to keep up with my own learning. One element that came up often were the works of Expeditionary Learning schools (i.e. Maine's King Middle School and Odyssey School in Denver) and particularly the work of Ron Berger. It was clear that Ron has had a big influence on the staff and shape of the school. Its true that Expeditionary Learning has come up in many of my visits.

Character Development: I had the most direct interaction in regards to building perseverance and other non-cognitive skills during my time at High Tech Middle Media Arts. In conversation with their teachers and their director Steven Elizondo, I was able to get sense of their vision for character education. Steve and I had a nice conversation about growth mindset and the work of Carol Dweck. Steve was utilizing some of the work from mindsetworks.com, during their advisory time. Their middle school advisory (just as the high schools) meets with mixed grades 6-8 and 9-12 respectively. HTMMA meets with their advisory in the mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays for about 1/2 hour. I joined Steven as he shared breakfast (students rotate bringing a little something in for the group) with his 16 or so students on Thursday morning. The group reviewed their own self-assessment scores of a mindsetworks handout and then brainstormed things that students could say to one another to encourage growth mindset, things that teachers could say, and things that they could say to themselves to encourage growth mindset. Simple and relaxed, but I thought it was a powerful advisory session. The advisory work with growth mindset falls within a larger framework for social and emotional growth at HTMMA. You can read more here: Social and Emotional Learning at HTMMA.

Social Integration: One aspect that I was impressed with is the fact that it is public school. San Diego school district is one of the biggest in the country, and each family around the district has an opportunity to attend a school in the HTH system. Not surprisingly, the demand exceeds the supply. Estimates indicate that for every 1 student that is chosen through the zip code lottery system, another 4 names are miss out. Its a pure chance, based on zip code, but all zip codes in San Diego are represented. About 40% of the network's students qualify for free or reduced lunch. In speaking with a number of founding teachers (many of them now working as administrators) they indicated that social integration remains a central goal of the school. I was impressed that I could not distinguish groups of friends based on race or social class. When I shared this observation with leaders at the school they quickly attributed that fact to project based learning.

Project Based Learning (PBL): PBL is the primary teaching method emphasized throughout the HTH system of schools. For a great resource about what PBL is and why its so useful in the modern learning environment visit HTH art-teacher-Jeff Robin's website. I've also included one of my favorite PBL explanation videos here:

I was familiar with the advantages of project based learning, but I had never heard of social integration as one of them. Folks like John Santos and Laura McBain (both founding teachers and both currently working as administrators) explained that by constantly grouping different students together to work on authentic learning projects, superficial barriers between students came down and typical teenage social stratification was reduced. Amazing!

Display of Teacher Project Plans at HTMMA
High Tech schools had some impressive projects going on while I was there. I'm certain that I only scratched the surface, but one of my favorites was a middle school class working on developing a nutrition bar. In Azul Terronez's 8th grade humanities class, students were in the beginning stages of learning about nutrition (watching clips from Hungry for Change) to design a healthy and environmentally responsible bar. They were tasked with the challenge of making it something that a middle schooler might actually want to buy and eat! Students are to develop the bars in teams and then pitch their bar not only to their classmates but real professionals in the business. Once the winning bar is selected they class will form into a company. Some students will be accounting, others with be marketing, and so on. The bar will go into actual production...and to top things off...proceeds will go to a charity to educate Thai farmers about the value of organic farming! WOW! Other projects I came across were an Angry Birds Catapult 8th grade science project from the students of Lawrence Ortiguerra, a documentary about stopping gun violence, Beyond the Crossfire (on kickstarter and has already raised over $30,000) by the students of Matthew Simon and many many more!

Beautiful Work: I was struck by the beauty of the hallways and the excellent student work displayed in the hallways. When I started complimenting the adults for the beautiful hallways it became evident to me that it was no accident. As Laura McBain explained, a school's culture is on its walls. She said, "I want the hallways to be museums of student work and student thinking." And that's just what the hallways looked like. Teachers get professional development for exhibiting and displaying.student work. It was clear that many of the teachers and students took displaying high quality beautiful work very seriously. And what a joy to be around all that color and expression/exploration of identity and thinking. Here are a few of my favorites: 

Judomath: One of the challenges with truly inclusive classrooms and truly student-driven-work is staying on top of individual students' math levels. High Tech Middle Math & Science Teacher, Mr. Dan Thoene has found a unique way that is popular with the students and staff alike. His method is called Judo Math. I had middle school tour guides excited to tell me that they were on blue belt, while some kids in the class were on orange belt and others were already at black belt! Basically it levels students and helps create student motivation and goal setting in order to master one level and move onto the next "belt". Its a fairly new system, but it already claims 50 active teachers using the system and I suspect will grow quickly!

Intercession: Many of the High Tech schools participate in something they call intercession. The time of year varies, but the high schools and some of the middle schools take a break from routine schedules and classes to study special offerings. Basically, each teacher (and other participating school staff members) offer a course of their choosing based on a passion of theirs. For example, Director of High Tech Middle Media Arts, Steven Elizondo loves to surf, so he is offering a week long session on surfing. Yes, students will surf, but they also will study meteorology, oceanography, and the physics and construction of a surf board. Students choose from the offerings and hopefully are able to get their 1st or 2nd choice. Closer to home, Burlington high school offered a similar time in what they called their YES session. It was reported to be very successful and popular and is back for a 2014 run. Read more about Burlington's program here: Burlington's Intercession, YES.

Closing Thoughts: In my time there, I was awash with educational gems. For example in a short conversation with their graduate school directors Kelly Wilson and Stacey Caillier, I left with a handy little phrase for the risk administrators face which Kelly called, "reactionary compliance". And their coffee mugs touted the phrase, "cultivating creative noncompliance." Educational wisdom and care for students was palpable. I am very grateful to have had the chance to visit. Special thanks to Zoe Randall who set my agenda and did the lion's share of hosting, Steven Elizondo, Lawrence Ortiguerra, John Santos, Chris Wakefield, Azul Terronez, Will Hasse, Randy Scherer, Laura McBain and many others for a friendly and useful visit!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Self-Control: Cookie Monster Uses Self-Talk and Meta-Cognition to Practice Delayed Gratification

As previously blogged, Sesame Street is focusing on executive functioning skills this season. Who better to use as model of improving self-control than the Cookie Monster? This latest video is a detailed 5 minute dialogue between Cookie Monster and himself as he tries to improve his ability to delay gratification and improve his self-control. I think the video could be used as a good conversation starter for students at any level!

Visiting High Tech Middle & High Schools

Location: San Diego, CA
Dates: Week of January 6th-10th

This week I will be visiting High Tech Middle and High School. Their website is: http://www.hightechhigh.org/ & a video explanation of the high school: 

These schools are well known for their science and technology programs since the mid-nineties. San Diego has a lot of science and research companies and those companies needed more students who could think deeply about complicated science questions. Critical thinking and problem solving skills are emphasized. Their students are often connected to businesses in the area through internships. Project based learning is a key component of their philosophy. I will share more after my visits this week. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

UPENN Grit Workshop Visit #2 Laurence Steinberg

UPENN: Philadelphia
November 24th, 2013
Take Away Point: Building perseverance and grit for students requires building self-control. Building self-control takes practice and strategies and is not simply a matter of willpower. How can we practice? What are the strategies?

Last weekend I returned to UPENN to participate in the Grit Workshops hosted by Angela Ducksworth. The November workshop participants welcomed Dr. Laurence Steinberg from Temple University. Laurence Steinberg is a highly respected professor of psychology at Temple University. He is the author of more than 250 articles on growth and development during the teenage years, and the author or editor of 13 books. For all intents in purposes, Dr. Steinberg is one of the foremost researchers on adolescent development in the world. For some excellent clips of Dr. Steinberg click here to view his big-think series: http://bigthink.com/users/laurencesteinberg

Dr. Steinberg spent about an hour explaining his upcoming book and latest research. We then spent a second hour in a question and answer session. Because his upcoming book is not published yet, I won't give away too many details, but I will say that I found his lecture very helpful. His major themes are the growing length of adolescence for our youth, more explanation of the adolescent brain which goes beyond just an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex, and the opportunity that increased brain plasticity provides during adolescence. He also provided the participants a sneak-preview at one of his chapters that explores how we might change the status quo in our high schools. Dr. Steinberg is increasingly interested in building self-control in adolescence as a primary intervention. Amongst other strategies he is exploring mind-body connections such as deliberate practice with a physical activity, controlled risk taking opportunities for students, mindfulness, and more. I am looking forward to the book's release and recommend looking through his big think videos

Quote: “The most important scientific discovery about self control is that it can be taught.”
-Walter Mischel (Original Researcher of the Marshmallow Test).

The second half of the session was led by Angela Duckworth. She spent an hour or so discussing her latest work with self-control. Angela began the conversation by saying she understands that the idea of self-control being important is an obvious one. What she emphasized as different about her research is just HOW important self-control is in determining success. She also expressed her generalized concern that young people were not being challenged enough, that expectations were too low, and that more young people could show grit if given the chance to understand confusion, boredom and frustration are important aspects of learning. Then she highlighted the importance of teaching strategies to students over simply advising them to avoid self defeating behaviors. She used the "Just Say No" campaign as an example of why simply telling adolescents what to do is not an effective method. Instead she recommended teaching students strategies to utilize when they are faced with situations of needed self-control. A few of the strategies she recommended were:


1) Pre-Commit: Think of Odysseus and his strategies to face the temptation of the Sirens. He planned ahead to modify his situation by tying himself to the mast, plugging his ears, and covering his eyes. For students this could mean making the decision to sit at the front of the class everyday, before ever walking into class. It could mean a plan to commit to healthy peers or productive school groups before transitioning from middle school to high school. She also cautioned that forcing students to modify their situation is unlikely to prove useful. Instead, the students must have the strategy explained and then make the choice to pre-commit on their own.

2) Situation Selection: Much as it sounds, this intervention suggests that we should not put ourselves in tempting situations. For example, alcoholics shouldn't go to bars, students shouldn't sit in front of the TV to do their homework. It might require physically moving your cell phone out of sight, or rearranging your workspace to be more conducive to accomplishment. It is a simply intervention, but perhaps often overlooked because of its simplicity.

Angela Explains Some Related Strategies on The Today Show:

COGNITIVE STRATEGIES (Require self-control in the moment)

3) Selective Attention: Kids in the marshmallow test provide a perfect example of selective attention. When faced with the tempting marshmallow, some students cover their eyes, or turn around completely. These are examples of in the moment selective attention strategies. In the classroom it means where students look matters. Which makes a strong case for student/teacher techniques such as SLANT (Sit up, Lean forward, Ask Questions, Nod your Head, Track the Speaker with your Eyes).

Cookie Monster Learns The Look Away Strategy:

4) Cognitive Reappraisal: This strategy refers to thinking of the moment in the third person. "What is happening for me in this moment?" This is a difficult strategy to invoke, and thus it is 4th on the list.

5) Response Modulation: This is the strategy we most often teach. In the moment we want to turn on the TV, turn in an unfinished paper, punch back, eat another piece of cake, lash out, or any of the things that cause us to make decisions that provide quick satisfaction but long-term harm, we have long suggested strategies such as, take a deep breath, just calm down, control yourself. This is good advice in calming down one's fight or flight or impulsive responses to conflict or temptation, but it often requires too much willpower in moments when willpower is scarce. Thus, the most often taught practices should really only serve as a last resort.

Professor Duckworth said that willpower isn't as much about strength as it is about being clever. Using your own versions of the above strategies to bolster your willpower can improve your self-control habits, and those improved habits will increase your chances for success in whatever you might wish to accomplish. She concluded with the following quote:

“Our virtues are habits as much as or vices…our nervous systems have grown to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat, once creased or folder, tends to fall forever afterward into the same identical folds."
William James 1899

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Photo Slideshow from KIPP High School Visit NYC

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KIPP Prep Academy High School: Bronx
Grades 9-12
One Sentence Take Away: In a modern, effective, responsive high school, strong investment in counselors and deans is money well spent.

KIPP Prep Academy High School is KIPP’s was started five years ago as KIPP’s first high school. It was created in response to requests from KIPP middle school parents who wished their students could continue within the KIPP experience through high school. 2013 marks the first year the High School is in its new location in its brand new  building in the Bronx. The building is beautiful! You can read more about the history of getting this state of the art high school built by clicking this link to robin hood foundation. Many of the lessons I learned while visiting this high school are within the photo slideshow, but I would add that the KIPP high school has two things I was very interested in. 

1) The administrative structure was very supportive of students and teachers. Aside from the principal, there is one vice principal that concentrates on instructional leadership and another that leads the dean team. Each grade has two deans! Plus each grade has two guidance counselors! That's ratio of about 100 students per counselor. In addition to these counselors there are two more college counselors and a crisis counselor that works with students with more extreme problems. What a dream!

2) The KIPP Academy High School has multiple different levels of diplomas that it awards. Based on Regent scores, graduates earn different variations of diplomas. This seems like it could create a lot of freedom for student choice as well as more reflective diplomas based on the given student's interest and effort.