Category: Project Based Learning

Hey, What’s Your Problem (And How Will You Solve It)?

This past week I was charged with putting together a presentation on Cognitive Learning Theory to deliver with a partner who would be doing the same, only on Constructivism.  In the end, we worked to draw parallels in a combined effort at outlining learning theory in practical ways.  Our intention in doing so was to inform best instructional practices from an educational leadership perspective, both for adults and children as learners.  We delivered our presentations on Wednesday evening.  I know what you’re thinking…my invitation must have been lost in the mail.  Please don’t feel left out.  While you were walking your dog, eating a lovely dinner with your family, or catching up on some pre-recorded episodic television, seven lucky educators were excitedly engaged in our riveting presentation.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Regardless of the visceral enthusiasm that you may or may not feel upon hearing about the event, there was some content that might be useful to you, whether you’re in educational leadership…directly responsible for the ongoing learning and growth of various adult stakeholders in your school community, or a classroom teacher…responsible for the same with regard to your students.  Below are some summative thoughts from our take on how Cognitive Learning Theory and Constructivism might inform instructional design (for my reflection and your consideration).

How are you delivering information?  Learners come with some degree of knowledge, some individualized skill bases, and unique levels of readiness.  To varied extents, with care not to pigeonhole or limit, children at any age should be viewed as developmentally ready or not for processing further information and attaining certain skills.  Adults, in part because they have complex lives, filled with distractions, frustrations, interests, and aversions, can similarly be thought of as developmentally ready or not.

For adult learners, it could be argued that the intake of particular information, and the development of particular skills, is sometimes preempted by frame of mind.  For example, considerations like emotional availability, political culture, and relationship structures can be viewed as motivators or deterrents, and should not be overlooked when designing professional learning structures in school communities.  Also, even in ideal, collaborative school climates, knowledge of assorted learning styles is essential.  Some adult learners receive information well through lectures and presentations, others are better served to read articles and process on their own, while a third group might benefit from experiential, hands-on activities.

Are you offering tools and time to process?  Do you include structures in your lesion planning (classroom or PD) that give learners the opportunity to reiterate or clarify information that is being delivered.  Children and adults tend to come into learning situations with a framework that is in many ways unique.  Whether individually, with partners, in small groups, or through the facilitation of whole group discussions, it can be beneficial for learners to reflect on the intake of information, and to consider the reflection of others.  In what ways do you work to solidify the consumption of information, for individuals…and for the group?

In what ways do you perpetuate the making of connections?  When content isn’t relevant to the learner, the learner tends to be less engaged…or not engaged at all.  What is the meaning of any given learning or developmental scenario?  In what ways will the learner be able to incorporate new knowledge and skills into his/her paradigm, and make them useful in his/her daily life?  This is where the problem comes in.  “What’s your problem?” is an essential educational question.  We learn in the name of progress.  Educators are charge with the development, implementation, and maintenance of programs, systems, and structures that help stakeholders move along pathways of next steps aimed at achievement (students first and foremost, but all stakeholders to that end).

Problem solving is a key ingredient in forward progress along those pathways…and, in order to solve problems, we need to have problems to solve.  One approach to critical processing with regard to relevant problem solving is the incorporation of problem finding into the learning process.  What structures can you put in place that will allow your learners to think of and explore problems that are relevant to them and their individual and collective developmental pathways?  How can you help them put the learning into play, in real time, and in meaningful ways?  What can you do to provide experiences that parallel, or even resemble the experiences for which the learning is intended to inform and enhance?  Again, what’s your problem?  What’s their problem?  By what processes can it…and will it be solved?

What’s the bottom line?  Through a relatively basic lens, when combined, Cognitive learning Theory and Constructivism contend that our brains are hard wired to make sense of the world in which we live.  We are always in the process of construction new knowledge and developing new skills.  Our brains take in information, process it, make sense of it, store it, and access it when needed.  Additionally, there is a social component of learning and development that, when incorporated into instruction can add depth to development and enhance the process/outcomes for everyone involved.  The social component, when accessed effectively, can build comprehension by adding multiple perspectives to an otherwise individual experience.

This post is filled with questions rather than answers, in large part because I’m much better at asking questions than I am at giving answers.  It’s how I learn.  My hope is that considering these questions will assist me (and anyone else who cares to consider them) better design learning opportunities to meet the relevant and connected needs of my school community (and theirs), and effectively address the many meaningful ways in which we each contribute to the progress of the world at large.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

A Fun *Way to Celebrate The Incredible Work Our Teachers Do

One Way

One of my favorite things about being a school administrator is that I get to spend lots of time with a whole bunch of phenominal teachers and a ton of incredible students.  It’s been an amazing growth expirence for me as an educator.  From a leadership perspective, I belive that support, encouragement, and celebration are three key ingredients for perpetuating healthy learning communities in classrooms, in school buildings, throughout districts, across entire states, around the country, and globally.  It’s one of my core values.  Twitter has been helping me transtate that value into action in my school community and beyond.

You may have already known that it’s quite easy to email a tweet.  If you didn’t, now you do.  Check it out.  Below is a tweet I sent from our 6th grade band concert.  A rocking musical event!  Focus on the three dots next to the word “more.”  Clicking on those dots provides a drop down menu that offers a couple of options.  The “Share via email” option is your Huckleberry in this case.  Click it, and you’re off to the races.  My admin team and I have been taking pictures of some of the great instrcution happening in our builidng.  We’ve been tweeting them, displaying them on our website, and sharing them through our facebook page.

Via Email

One of the practices that’s brought us a lot of joy and helped to further connect us with our community of rockstar teachers is following up with an e-mail of acknowledgment/apprecitation.  I highly recommend it.  It helps to perpetuate an ongoing diologue, it invites collaboration, and it reminds everyone involved that the great work happening in the classrooms and the hallways of our school is what it’s all about!

If you want to take it a step further, use a hashtag to archive as you go.  We’re using #rcshms (Rochester Community Schools – Hart Middle School).  In doing so, we can backtrack, share at any given moment, revisit with individuals and groups, or even scrapbook if we want!  It’s an easy way to chart your course.

Some Awesome Ways

Make It Fun, Make It Relatable, Make It Interesting

Bike Math

This teacher brought his bike tredmill into school to deal with ratios.  He gave the students some information about the size of the tire, then asked them to do some computations.  They were able to visualize the concept as they worked.  It was engaging.  It brought fun and energy into what might have otherwise been a stessful and even intimidating learning expireince for some.  The shared enthusiasm for learning and application was palpable!

Get Creative, Connect To Application

Creative Math Tools

With some rulers, some tape, and some string, this teachers was able to help his group connect the curriculum to natural environment application.  He introduced the lesson with a story about how he actuatlly used the same set-up in a building project that he did at home over the summer.  His students had an opportunity to use the makeshift tool outside of the classroom.  They got a taste of how math applies to everyday life, and how deeply connceted innovation and imagination are.  It was good stuff!

Give Options, Tap Interests And Abilities

Childrens Book


These pictures represent some of what this incredible Language Arts teacher uses to promote her students’ achievement…their interestes and abilities.  We’ve got art, we’ve got music, we’ve got passion and engagement!  Allowing students to deisgn their pathways to achivement in the creative writing process fosters a sense of autonomy, and a allows for feelings of competence as their work unfolds.  Also, it’s fun for them to share their talents with one another.

Put Them In Other Peoples Shoes

MapLenssound room

Facilitating a process by which students are encouraged to view the world from multiple perpectives is a great way to help them expand their own.  Above you see three examples of activites in which students had opportunities to think/work from a lens other than their own.  Writing about potentially adopting the metric system from the perpective of a chef, being hired to design a sound-efficient living room, or deciding where to live based on actual historical events, each perpetuates authentic learning and growth.

*This post represents the first in a new series I’m calling “ways.”  When I see, read about, or otherwise come across great ways to engage learners in development and growth, I’m going to consider adressing them under this category.  I anticipate that the focused reflection will enhance my learning process as it relates to application, and I hope that readers will benefit from the updated organization.  As always, input is welcome and appreciated!


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.


I’ll be the Giant Robot and you be the Caterpillar Radio

The Point:

Everyone has interests and curiosities.  Educators enhance their ability to tap individual and collective potential by seeking to understand the interests and curiosities of their students, then weaving them into the learning process.  Tools and information may not be as important as understanding, encouragement, and empowerment are in growth and development.

The Story:

I remember the first time I saw one of those huge cell phones in a bag.  I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  You could literally talk on the phone without having to be connected to a chord in the wall!  A mobile phone, imagine that!  My family had a top-loading Betamax machine – you probably don’t even know what that is.  It’s how we watched videos until the innovation of the VCR.  Fancy!  My brother saved his pennies for years to buy a camcorder when he was about fourteen.  We lived with that thing in our hands.  We must have made hundreds of videos.  Now we can’t even watch them – the technology doesn’t exist anymore (of course we converted to digital, but that’s beside the point).  I remember figuring out that we could make each other disappear and reappear by stopping the recording and leaving the room.  We spent many hours saying “abracadabra,” and feeling super cool when we showed the ‘Hollywood magic’ to our friends.  It was pretty awesome!

Technology continues to change at a dizzying pace.  However, passion, imagination, vision, possibility, and enthusiasm are arguably very much the same as they have always been.  They still have the capacity to excite and energize their host.  Furthermore, when coupled with persistence and belief, they tend to catalyze amazing outcomes.

As educators, we are responsible for facilitating highly engaging learning experiences for our students.  I think it’s important that we tap our own learning and developmental history as tools in achieving this charge.  In doing so, put aside the fact that technology is evolving at the speed of light.  Forget, for a moment, that the world’s gadgets and tools come in and out of fashion more quickly than we can figure out how to use them.  Boil it all back down to the human components of learning for a moment.



My four year old recently approached me with the following instructions, “I’ll be the giant robot and you be the caterpillar radio.”  Now, that may seem a bit enigmatic on the surface, but in fact, he was offering me an invitation to engage in some imaginative play.  Actually, it was more than an invitation.  He was telling me that it was time to play!  It didn’t really matter what the giant robot or the caterpillar radio would be doing, just that they were doing it together, and that they were taken seriously.  There’s no faking imaginative play with a four year old.  It’s not enough to hold an action figure (or a caterpillar radio) and make a silly voice…you have to seriously get into it!  You have to become what your collective imaginations create.

When I play with my buddy in this way, I remember how real movie making with that old camcorder was for my siblings and me.  Again, we spent hours fully engaged in a creative process.  We were excited to explore and create.  We worked through meals and bedtimes (when we were allowed to).  We were thrilled, we were learning, we were making connections, and we owned all of it.  It was based on our curiosities and our interests.

I don’t imagine it would have been very different if our camcorder was a smart phone, or if our Stretch Armstrong was a giant robot.  The key was that our imaginations were accessed through our interests, and that we had support, encouragement, and a license to explore what we were driven to explore in the ways we were driven to do so.  They say that childhood is a time of magic and wonder.  Take a look at a child when he/she is totally engaged in a creative process that’s based on his/her interests and curiosities.  It’s easy to realize that “magic” and “wonder” may very well be understatements!

Some Connected Thoughts:

Exhaust any amount of time necessary to get to know your learners.  Trust the data you gather through efforts to understand, and use them for scaffolding in goal development and instructional design.  As interests and curiosities unfold, incorporate them into the individual and collective learning structures of your classroom.  Adapt instruction based in part on the prompts your students give as they become increasingly comfortable revealing what commands their attention and enthusiasm.  Facilitate a process by which students are able to own their learning, connect the curricular content to their daily lives (past, present, and future) in meaningful and authentic ways, and dig deep into creative exploration because they’re super excited about it.  If you’re asked to be a caterpillar radio that likes to play with giant robots, do it.  Then, when you can’t stop your student’s workflow or get them to leave the classroom, you know you’re on the right track.  When you do get to that place, let me know how you did it – I need some pointers:)!


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Interest: Fostering Authentic Learning

The Point:

We are each unique and amazing.  When we feel comfortable exploring our world through the lens of our unique amazingness, we reap incredible developmental benefits.  Perpetuating interest and inquiry in the classroom and school community can be a highly effective engagement strategy.

The Story:

For those who love to mow but feel restricted to lawns, take a lesson from my two-year-old son.  The kid is a mowing fanatic.  I teeter between confused and concerned when he insists that one of his two, state of the art, bubble blowing, noise making, colorful plastic lawn mowers goes with us – everywhere.  Is this normal?  Is this all right?  I’ve consulted “Baby 911” to no avail.  Alas, nothing about mower toting toddlers.  We drag these things to the park, the mall, the zoo, birthday parties, doctors’ offices, etc.  Today we had a late breakfast together at one of our favorite pancake joints (their Mickey Mouse is to die for.  It actually has two tiny pancakes for eyes…awesome!).   It was wonderful bonding time between the little guy, his lawn mower, and me.


As I watched him walk the streets of the downtown area, mowing concrete with every step, grinning from ear to ear, I began to see this phenomenon thorough a different lens.  Maybe there’s nothing to be concerned or confused about at all.  Here’s a tiny little person feeling free to explore his world in any way he wants.  In fact, that freedom may be just the thing he needs.  Could it be that his design will perpetuate maximum developmental benefits, along with the most individualized and holistic outcomes?  Every passer-by smiled, winked, called out, “What a cutie…vroom-vroom,” or “Hey buddy, you missed a spot!”  In no time at all, the spirit of the everywhere-mower came over me as well.  One lady insisted, “But there’s no grass here.”  In solidarity with, and defense of my unique son, I smiled and replied, “Now there isn’t.”  The kid and I looked at one another, hi-fived, and proceeded with our important, albeit imaginary, task.

I see amazing teachers masterfully build classroom cultures in which students feel comfortable expressing the tenets of their unique paradigms as scaffolding for individual and collective learning.  They perpetuate attitudes of acceptance, they celebrate collaboration, they revel in diversity of thought, and they tie instruction to learning through interest and inquiry.  They guide, they support, they inform, they challenge, and they facilitate; all the while helping students make connected meaning of their school experiences through authentic and comfortable lenses.

Today, my little lawn mower man reminded me of how important it is to let kids be kids.  While I had many great experiences as a young student, I was often remanded to the hallway for talking too much (and I may have occasionally been slightly silly at the wrong times).  What if I was taught how to talk as it relates to literacy learning?  What if I was given topics to debate?  What if I was shown how to translate oral language into written language, then given practice and publication opportunities?  What if, instead of a distraction, my deep and enduring love of my own voice was viewed as a pathway to learning for my peers and me?

Educators have difficult jobs that require intense amounts of preparation along with exhaustive time commitments.  It seems pretty hard-core to suggest that we could be individualizing instructions to the point that each of our students would be guiding his/her own learning.  The fact is, I’ve seen it done.  Actually, I see it done all the time, and when I do, I see it work.

Tools and Strategies:

As an administrator I am constantly seeking pathways to shared learning for the faculty I serve.  This year I will continue trying to find/implement strategies that recognize individual and collective interest and inquiry as important factors in the professional learning process.  I know that a lot of the teachers I work with are already designing unique learning opportunities for themselves through social media and live professional networks, which they independently construct and nurture.  I wonder if action research, Edcamp style PD sessions, and project based initiatives can help perpetuate the kind of culture that allows for folks to drag their analogous lawn mowers around as they learn and grow.

We also ate jelly with a fork…don’t tell my wife.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Informal Interventions for Struggling Readers

Developing Reading Skills During Each Instructional Moment

I’m working my way through an interesting article in this quarter’s Reading Research Quarterly called Effects of a Response-Based, Tiered Framework for Intervening With Struggling Readers in Middle School by Greg Roberts, Sharon Vaughn, Jack Fletcher, Karla Stuebing, and Amy Barth.  The article refers to research suggesting that targeted and data driven interventions at the middle school level can be effective in helping struggling readers develop their skills.  I am particularly energized by the assertion that, “adolescents with reading difficulties benefit from explicit and systematic interventions organized around their instructional needs,” the mention of oral reading fluency as an indicator of student automaticity but not comprehension, and the listing of strategy instruction models including monitoring, summarizing, and question generation.  There are formal ways of examining and working to effect student’s development at the middle school level including the Response to Intervention (RTI) process and Adolescent Accelerated Reading Initiative (AARI) implementation.  These processes and programs are effective, important, and even essential to student achievement.  However, as I read this article I continue to think about what’s happening in the classroom on a moment-to-moment basis.  If we remove the statistics, the databases, and the acronyms we’re left with the people.  Thinking critically about why it’s important to put energy into these larger and more formal efforts gives me cause to think about some small and informal things that might be done to keep students reading fluency and comprehension moving in the right direction between interventions and across content areas.  Again, I appreciate and support formal interventions, but I think we can complement them by working to understand student needs as they evolve during each lesson we teach.  Here are some thoughts:

Keep a conferring journal.  Make time for daily, weekly, biweekly, or even monthly individual conferences with each student.  For the purpose of intervention, teachers would have to decide on frequency based on need.  In doing so they would also have to manage the process, being sensitive to the academic, social, and emotional needs of each learner.  Notes would have to be simple and straightforward so that they could be effective in information ongoing instruction.

Collaborate across content areas.  Grade level teachers looking to effect enhanced development in struggling readers might consider teaming up.  Given the shift toward increased exposure to informational text with the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, language arts teachers are equipped to be great partners to their colleagues in math, science, social studies, and the unified arts.

Promote engagement by allowing interest driven self-selection.  By using an inquiry/differentiated model of Project Based Learning (PBL) teachers can give thier students ownership over the text they choose.  In doing so, they can make sure that students are invested in the reading and able to make real meaning from it.

Explicit and systematic does not have to mean complicated and formal.  What are you doing to understand and address the needs of struggling readers in your classroom?

Energy Collaboration: Working Together Separately

Learning 365:  An Interesting Collaborative Structure That Worked!

Today I had the privilege of attending the Hickey Leadership Planning Summit with my new administrative team (follow the amazing Dan Hickey on Twitter @hickeygroup).  I’ve recently been hired as an Assistant Principal at Hart Middle School along side the incredible Wendy Darga (@wdarga), and our awesome Principal Rachel Guinn (@RachelGuinn3).  The summit provided some space and time for us to get the ball rolling.  Dan Hickey is famous for helping educational leaders “get to work,” and that’s just what we did!  It was a day of planning structured around three brief “blasts” from colleagues who were asked to share some of how they think and what they do to work through the daily challenges that we all face.  This was a great way to start the year as a team!  It was energizing to be working in a room with so many passionate administrators from around the state.

For the most part, Rachel, Wendy, and I sat together thinking through a list of critical questions.  We were not engaged with the other groups, but the room was brimming with enthusiasm.  A palpable drive to get things done permeated the space from wall to wall.  What an interesting and effective way to collaborate.  I started thinking of it as “energy collaboration.”  While we weren’t interacting with the other groups, we were feeding off of each other’s energy.  I thought about how this might work in the classroom.  There were dozens of small groups, each one intensely focused on our unique and individual goals, working in different ways through independently designed and implemented activities, within one structure, intended to perpetuate productivity.  I wondered about this model for project-based learning.  How about professional development?  As leaders and learners, supported, but left to our own devices, we met and exceeded our expectations for efficiency.  Our interests and specific needs guided our individual progress, while the common need for space and team-time connected every person in that room, and in my opinion…gave us enhanced motivation to stay on task and get things done.

Each work session lasted for about an hour, which seemed like a good amount of time.  Not enough time to dilly-dally or get burnt out, but certainly enough to cover several critical discussion points.  The “blasts” were five-minute presentations that separated the work sessions.  Each one outlined an authentic passion, practice, or challenge, and was conceived of by the presenter.  They were great, they cut the work time into manageable segments, and they fired us up to get back to work.  The first was from Principal Jessica Carrier (@jcarrierms) about 1:1 tech in the classroom and how it’s essential for staff to be growing alongside students.  As administrators, we need to be modeling, providing support, and deigning opportunities for teachers to develop skills and understandings of tools that we expect them to integrate into their classrooms; a great message!  Next we heard from Jim Lalik (@jimlalik) who reminded us that people can be stifled by a fear of criticism, and that as leaders we need to focus on positive interactions to build trusting, productive relationships.  Jim is a student of Positive Psychology.  He shared some though provoking data related to the philosophy.  Finally, our superstar Rachel Guinn spoke to the group about Administrative Learning Teams and how we “are all in this together!”  She made the great point that when an outside facilitator comes in to lead a group of administrators on a learning path it releases the administrators from their typical design/facilitation responsibilities, allowing them each to focus on individual and collaborative learning; a powerful way to connect and develop as a team.  We heard three great messages, from three experienced administrators, separating three intense work sessions.  I’ll look forward to using/adapting this structure with my new team for implementation where it fits the needs of our learning community!

It might be cool to try:

Asking various staff members to inject 5 minute “blasts” into long meetings to separate segments and energize/inspire others.

Designing professional learning opportunities in which different groups are working on unique content driven by individual needs and supported in creating distinct learning pathways to suit those needs.

Promoting a tech club for staff, like a book club but with iPads and apps instead of literature.

Keeping tabs of the positive interactions I have during the day and setting goals from the data I collect.

Being a part of an Administrative Learning Team!  Deciding on a focus, enlisting a facilitator, making the commitment, and putting it into action.




Great Ideas Are All Around – Keep Your Eyes Open!

The Point: 

Collaboration is one essential key to growth and achievement.  Great ideas are all around us.  When we engage in thinking about (and working on) those great ideas with others, we enhance connected growth opportunities for ourselves, and everyone else involved.

The Story:

The wonderful Arin Kress has initiated a great collaborative learning project through her blog, and complimented the effort by engaging the Twitter-sphere with #videoblogchallenge (follow Arin of Twitter @KressClass & do yourself a favor…read her amazing blog)!  I’m extremely excited to be participating in this first challenge.  The challenge is simple:  Go to Arin’s blog, watch the video, create a blog post based on the video, and attach a link to your blog in the comment section of the #videoblogchallenge post that you’re working on.   I love this idea for several reasons.  To begin with, it’s a wonderfully creative idea for engaging multiple learners!  I happen to be a huge fan of wonderfully creative ideas, and I’m an equally huge fan of video use/production in the classroom.  Specifically, I really appreciate how effectively using and/or creating videos can engage learners in the writing process.  Through the #videoblogchallenge Arin is grabbing my attention, making participation fun, and giving me something to think about as I work to conceive of, create, revise, edit, and polish a blog post.  I’ve thought critically about blog purpose and design for some time now, spent hundreds of hours in development, and written several dozen blog posts, and I’m still a novice.  Blogs are phenomenal learning tools, however, it takes a lot of focus and motivation to create and maintain one.  Imagine how the #videoblogchallenge could work to enhance that process for you and your students.  Might you show a video to introduce the concept of blogging to a group of fifth graders this fall?  How about having rotating groups of third graders create videos each week for an ongoing digital conversation about geometry?  Where does Arin’s awesome idea take you?

Next, I believe that it’s attitudes and initiatives like Arin’s that perpetuate the most effective professional development opportunities available.  We all know that education can be a very isolating business.  There is so much to think about and do on a daily basis.  It’s easy to get stuck in a classroom or an office.  By offering the #videoblogchallenge up to her Twitter PLN Arin is rallying a community of like-minded educators around critical reflection and active learning.  What a great model to take back to each of our school communities!  When done well (and with intention), both blogging and Tweeting can bring people together and move common goals forward.  Here I am, on my own time, processing an idea that came to me through my Twitter PLN, wondering how it can positively affect growth and achievement in the community that I serve, engaging in a really fun learning activity, writing a blog post, making connections, and having an ongoing dialogue with Arin and others.  This is great PD (not to mention extremely cost effective)!  How might this model transform some of the PD in your community?  In my experience most educators would agree that interest, collaboration, fun, self-pacing, individualization, and convenience are some worthwhile components of quality learning.  Also, digital environments can be great platforms for otherwise hesitant communicators to feel comfortable expressing themselves.  This project has so many rich and effective pedagogical components.  I hope that it inspires you in the way that it’s inspired me!


So, here’s the video followed by my #videoblogchallenge post (you don’t need to watch the last 30 seconds):

It’s amazing how quickly life changes.  In one moment I’m comfortable moving along my path with every bit of confidence that things are looking up, when all of the sudden…the escalator just stops.  It’s that shift into an unexpected challenge that can throw me off.  If I took a moment to relax and think, I might realize that I could simply walk up the rest of the way to get where I’m going.  However, it’s hard to relax when things don’t go according to plan.  I have to be somewhere, do something, meet someone, finish some project, etc.  Who has time to relax and think?  So often the answers are staring me directly in the face.  An escalator is literally a moving staircase, which means that when it’s not moving…it’s literally a staircase.  If I had approached a staircase I would have simply walked up the stairs, but I didn’t, I approached an escalator – and I expected it to escalate me!  This video reminds me that life is unpredictable.  Thankfully, I’ve been alive long enough to understand that adaptability is essential.  I know that plans are frameworks we use to achieve desired outcomes.  As necessary as it is to make those plans, it’s necessary to be ready to change them.  My wife and I are constantly talking about our belief that we’re surrounded by opportunities, and that being prepared to take the ones that fit us is the best way to achieve our goals.  As a husband, a father of three, and an educational leader, adaptability is an extremely important component of that preparedness.  I love the excitement that the two stranded escalator riders expressed when the repairman came to their rescue, and the disappointment they expressed when his escalator broke down.  I wonder how this scene would have played out if the three of them put their heads together to make a new plan by which each could continue on his/her individual path, and then took collaborative action to implement that plan with a continued willingness and ability to adapt as it unfolded.  My guess is that it would have been more effective.  Great video Arin!  Thanks for the challenge:)!

Some Things to Consider:

1.  Finding ways to collaborate can enhance initiatives that would otherwise be developed/implemented in isolation.

2.  Keep a “Great Ideas” journal.  We are surrounded by great ideas.  When educators keep their eyes open and gather ideas for use/adaptation they enhance their abilitie to engage all learners.

3.  Read & follow Arin Kress on Twitter @KressClass…you will learn and grow!

4.  Explore video production/use for classroom instruction and professional development.  Check out some more thoughts and ideas at

5.  Expand/engage with your Twitter PLN & Blog (read and write)!


Your input is always welcome and appreciated…happy learning!



Taking Risks, Working Together, & Failing in order to Succeed


Reasonable Risks, Crossing Bridges, & Collaborations are Keys to Learning & Growth

I keep hearing about how important it is to promote the taking of “reasonable risks” in our classrooms and school communities.  The theme of “failure” as a learning opportunity is hot in the education dialogue right now…as it should be.  After all, where would any of us be without it?  Failure has arguably brought us every great innovation, idea, and achievement that we have.  It can be an incredible motivator, a wonderful teacher, and a tremendous character building resource.  No risk, no reward.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m a believer in axioms.  They generally make sense because they tend to be time tested.  I could declare that eating mashed potatoes with every meal makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.  However, it most likely would not make axiom status, in large part because it’s not true.  It doesn’t work.  As tasty as mashed potatoes are, it probably is not in anyone’s best interest to eat them with every meal (especially if you’re a butter fiend like me).  On the other hand, when people get to bed early, they set themselves up for reasonable amounts of sleep (and tend to stay out of late night trouble), and when they wake up early, they have time to get things done.  So many people have found this practice to be a good model for health, wealth, and wisdom that early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise became an axiom. I digress in an effort to illustrate that no risk, no reward holds true as well (statistically).  So, earn a penny by saving one, stick with birds whose feathers are similar to yours, keep your chin up, get out of the kitchen (if you can’t stand the heat), imitate people you wish to flatter, strive for less (it’s actually more), treat people how you want them to treat you, behold beauty in your own way, don’t try to change a leopard’s spots, if you’re looking to save nine stitches…stitch one (in time), face the music, and for goodness sake…take risks!

My two-year-old has an aptitude for risk taking.  Ironically, I frequently find myself calling after him with words like, “no,” and “stop,” and “don’t,” in a loud, sharp voice, and with a reddening face.  I don’t want the kid to get hurt.  But there in lies the art of modeling reasonable risk-taking and supporting our learners in taking reasonable risks.  It’s the reasonable part that they need to understand.  How can we help our children and our students develop the essential critical thinking skills that allow them to determine whether or not any given risk is in fact reasonable?  I would suggest that we will have done our jobs if those we raise and teach are not only able to be reflective and grounded enough to cross each bridge as they come to it, but that they will be able to evaluate how to cross, if an alternative route is called for, or if crossing is in fact not the reasonable option at all.  Then, I would like to think that they will have the courage and resourcefulness to follow through with whatever conclusion they come to.  Finally, if/when they fail…I hope that we’ve been effective enough teachers that they are able to celebrate that failure as a step on the path to success.  Truman Capote said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  I like that.

After multiple previous failed attempts…

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my 2-year-old risks life and limb to successfully cross the shaky bridge at the park!

I’m currently engaged in an exciting project with two incredible educators who I recently met on Twitter.  Together with Ashlee Logan (@logan_ashlee) and Aaron Koleda (@aaroNKoleda) I’m co-founding and co-moderating a Twitter chat focused on ways that educators can use videos and video production for best practice instruction in their classrooms and school communities.  The idea was born out of an informal conversation about Ted Talks, a combined love of collaborative learning, and a collective desire to grow by taking reasonable risks!  Given that we each live and work hundreds of miles apart, the three of us would have little chance to know each other if not for our individual efforts to reach out (a reasonable risk).  I’m relatively new to Twitter, but I’m quickly finding that the magic isn’t in having access to the limitless flow of ideas and resources.  Rather, it’s in the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, connect, and engage in relationships that extend past one hundred and forty characters.  Ashlee, Aaron, and I met recently for the first time in a Google “Hang Out.”  It was awesome! Having bounced our ideas and enthusiasm back and forth on Twitter for a few weeks it was wonderful to be face-to-face (to-face), even through a video chat.  The next step is continuing to develop our #vidEDchat concept.

We’ve set up a blog and a Twitter account, we’re collectively brainstorming format, guiding topics, logo design, and connected resources, and we’re actively communicating the upcoming maiden voyage of #vidEDchat to our respective PLNs (August 14th from 9-10am).  Our intention is to recruit as many collaborators as possible to join in on our journey to explore how videos and video production can enhance learning.  We hope to enlist experts like Brad Waid (@Techbradwaid) & Drew Minock (@TechMinock) from to join when we discuss augmented reality, Todd Neslony (@TechNinjaTodd) at to help us explore how videos and video production play into flipped instruction and project based learning, and chat pros like Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat ) & Victoria Olson (@MsVictoriaOlson – to provide feedback as we work to develop the concept.  One of the most important aspects of this effort to each of us is that it’s a shared effort.  I’ve not met anyone on Twitter who isn’t there to connect.  The collaborative energy is outstanding.  My incredible #vidEDchat partners and I are more than ready to cross the bridge from shooting off and reading Tweets to building authentic relationships by which we can perpetuate ongoing and meaningful collaborative learning.  We’re excited at the prospect of joining forces with as many others as are so moved to join us!  Two of the axioms at play here are no risk, no reward & the more the merrier.  The reasonable risk is that we’re putting ourselves out there, exposed in the Twitter-sphere, ready to push through the roadblocks in developing an idea we believe in.  The hope is that others find our collective work as meaningful as we have, and that by growing this chat we’ll be exposed to learning that will take everyone involved to places we couldn’t have otherwise imagined!  As educators we will continue to practice and model this type of action and learning, not only for our children and our students…but for ourselves!

Summer Learning Happened So Fast!


Keeping Kids Engaged All Year Round



Kids will engage in learning over the summer if they are given exciting opportunities to do so.  Finding creative ways to connect students with their peers and their parents through playful exploration motivates them to keep the learning wheels turning.  With passion, play, and purpose it is possible to avoid the summer lag!










I’m really dating myself by using a Grease reference for the title of this post, but it just seems to fit so well!  For you younger readers who aren’t making the connection…rent the movie Grease (it’s with the guy from Pulp Fiction).  To the point though, I have to admit that when I got the, “Hey all, our first Harlan Citizen Science meet-up is tomorrow,” text from the incredible Elisabeth Stayer, I thought, wow…already?!  I love that we just left the buildings and already this amazing group of educators from Birmingham Public Schools’ Harlan Elementary are coming together with students and parents to begin sharing the learning they’ve each been doing as Harlan Citizen Scientists over the past two weeks.  Mrs. Stayer and her colleagues organized this wonderful project around the book Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns, with Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz.  Check it out at









From the title you can imagine that the book outlines ways in which children can use their curiosity and imagination to learn through exploration and critical thinking.  I was honored to be a part of the filming of the Harlan Citizen Science video that was used to introduce the concept to students at the end of the school year.  There was an assembly at which Mrs. Stayer and her team passionately outlined the plan and introduced Harlan students to the supplemental materials, including an awesome reflective learning blog.  Later, they distributed Citizen Scientist journals (that they created) to students who wanted to participate.  They gave parents the option of buying or borrowing the book.  There were 20 copies ordered and put in a plastic box in front of the building with a sign out sheet.  Harlan Citizen Scientists are trustworthy people.  How cool is a makeshift summer library based on the honor system?  Leave it to a media specialist and a group of highly passionate elementary school teachers!

Check out the blog for the video and more information about the project at









Meanwhile, Tuesday’s meet-up was a big hit!  The incredible Brianna McKinney and her awesome, curious toddler greeted me as I pulled into the Harlan parking lot.  We barely had a chance to say “hello” before the cars started to roll in!  Together with the first group of Citizen Scientists we walked to the outdoor classroom where we began to discuss explorations, observations, and ideas for next steps in unfolding the mysteries of backyard bugs and bird nests.  Did you know that the Black Capped Chickadee is the most common bird found at feeders during Michigan winters?  Neither did I.  Now I do!  I think I’ll put a winter feeder out so that I can get to know this round little breed a bit better.  Did you realize that some ladybugs look like taxicabs?  Some people even call them taxicab ladybugs.  The really funny part is that they’re scientific name is Propylea Quatuordecimpunctata.  We got a few good laughs trying to pronounce that!  We decided to stick with taxicab ladybugs.










In no time, Mrs. Simonte, Mrs. Stayer (along with her wonderful toddler and some Fig Newtons), and a whole bunch of other Harlan Citizen Scientists had arrived to confer and collaborate.  We looked over each other’s notebooks, we shared drawings and notes, we extended our research using iPads and iPhones, and we explored the field and the playground…hunting for butterflies, beetles, flowers, and dandelions.  We had so much fun!  We learned, we laughed, we thought, we talked, and we planned.  The student and their parents were excited.  I was amazed by the critical thinking that was taking place on that playground, and during summer break!  Some of the students were making lists and drawing pictures, some were talking about connections they had made and information they had learned, some were flipping through the model text, and others were serving as an authentic audience for their peers.  This is a group of real scientists!  The program, along with this first successful meet-up, inspired me to go home and continue the Citizen Scientist explorations I’ve been doing with my sons.  The learning is fun, the engagement is amazing, and the positive modeling is phenomenal.  I love that one of the kids is wearing a “The Future is Mine” t-shirt while being supported in an effort to actively develop himself as an engaged learner.  Well done Harlan Citizen Scientists…keep up the great work!


1.  Kids will engage in learning over the summer if they’re given exciting learning opportunities.

2.  With passion, play, and purpose it is possible to avoid the summer lag!

3.  Parents are excited to get involved in their children’s summer learner.  Giving them structures makes it easy for them to do so.

4.  Collaborating with colleagues to develop learning initiatives is a great way to move those initiatives forward.  Two, three, or more heads are better than one.

5.  Using model texts is an effective way to introduce and perpetuate learning.

6.  Giving students ownership can enhance their learning experience and outcomes.

7.  Exciting science opportunities exist right in our backyards!

8.  Teachers actively and authentically engaging in learning with their students can be an extremely effective motivator.

9.  Fun learning is engaged learning.  Students enjoy being explorers.

10.  Getting together a few times during the summer to perpetuate continued engagement is not a difficult thing to do; the benefit out ways the burden.

Exploration Instruction: “Take It Apart Tuesday”

Exploration Instruction:  “Take It Apart Tuesday”

A Great Strategy for Activating Your Students’ Curiosity & Innovative Creativity

The Point:

When students are allowed to explore things that interest them in ways that excite them they tend to engage in critical thinking and creative learning.  Scaffolding exploration with effective instruction about the scientific process, introducing an umbrella focus topic, and allowing groups of students to guide their own learning through research, inquiry, and reflective processing can be incredibly effective in sparking their imaginations and supporting their growth.

The Story:

I first heard about “Take It Apart Tuesday” at a Community Education Meeting at Pierce Elementary School.  One of the parents was reminiscing about this great activity that her kids used to do at “Kids Club” (the after school activities group).  She was going on about how they “loved” exploring televisions, toasters, cell phones, and other gismos and gadgets by simply taking them apart.  She made it sound like she was describing the latest new gaming craze.  The cool thing is that she was talking about learning!  It was one of those instructional ideas that grabbed me immediately.  I promised myself that I would put it into practice soon.  Turns out I didn’t have to wait.  The incredible John Kernan made it happen with his fourth graders and invited me to participate.  One of John’s great strengths is his ability to adopt new strategies, implement them into his instruction, and adapt them to meet his students’ needs along the way.  In this case he gathered donations ranging from VCRs to iPads, brought in a bunch of tools, set up the initiative with scaffolding instruction about scientific exploration, reflective note taking, and next step planning, and thrust the practice into his “Simple Machines” unit of study.  Perfect!


I have been amazed at the great process and the incredible (and ongoing) outcomes.  To begin with, these fourth graders couldn’t be more enthusiastic about their science exploration.  Of course, the wonderful modeling and enthusiasm from Mr. Kernan and the groups’ phenomenal paraprofessional Carol Maynard doesn’t hurt.  Being in this class reminds me of just how important it is for educators to actively and overtly live their learning philosophies.  Students really pick up on the energy of their teachers!  Also, I’ve been hearing some really promising exclamations like, “So that’s how they do that!” and “Oh, I didn’t realize that’s how it fit together!”  It’s this kind of stuff that leads me to believe that these explorers are engaged in some complex critical thinking.  What an authentic opportunity for them to dig around into the world of simple machines.  I’ve heard kids talking about the fact that it takes many simple machines to make up a more complex machine.  I saw a group of kids re-assemble the printing mechanism of an old printer, put an ink cartridge in it, and roll a piece of paper through.  It was if they discovered fire!  The room was a buzz with congratulatory anecdotes about their work, like: “Can you believe that they actually figured out a way to print!” and “How Cool!”


One of my favorite moments was when a group discovered a QR code on one of the chips that they removed from a relatively old Dell laptop.  They immediately accessed their scanning devices.   iPads, iPods, and cell phones were flying out of pockets, ready to retrieve information for these excited learners.  Turns out, the QR codes were too small.  Mr. Kernan encouraged a few students to go down to the office and enlarge the codes in the copy machine.  I love that he was adaptable in supporting their efforts!  In the end, the codes led to product identification numbers.  It was a bit disappointing for the students because they wanted a link to some company website that would enlighten them as to what the chip was for.  However, in true explorer fashion, they gathered themselves and perpetuated a conversation about the implications of their discovery.  Consequently, they’ve challenged themselves to research the history and evolution of QR codes, thinking that maybe this computer was built before companies began using the codes in the ways they do today.  I am so impressed with the line of exploratory thinking and the students’ comfort with following a path of inquiry based on curiosities about the discoveries that they are making.  Great instruction!  Great Learning! Great Teaching!  Great work!

The Take: 

1.  Inquiry instruction is often frontloaded with intense work both on the part of the teacher and the students.  However, when teams of learners understand and are able to employ scientific exploration and research strategies the growth benefit is tremendous.  Time taken to scaffold Project Based Learning (PBL) is time well spent!

2.  Inquiry instruction can help to support the development of students’ imaginations, their creativity, and their ability to conceptualize innovation as real and relevant.

3.  Reflective processing and critical thinking are essential to learning and growth.  When teachers offer time, support, and encouragement to that effect, the transition from information to knowledge and understanding is enhanced.

4.  When I keep my ears open for great instructional ideas they come.  Listen, adapt, and partner with as many people as you can.  Collaboration is among the best ways to grow as an educator, and it seems to offer the maximum learning benefit to the diverse group of students that we serve.

5.  I can’t remember a new instructional strategy that worked exactly the way I intended it to.  Some blow me away with incredible outcomes that I didn’t anticipate and some disappoint me by delivering poor results.  However, I’ve never regretted trying something new, and with every new attempt I enhance my knowledge, my understanding, and my practice.

6.  Reach out to the community…people are willing to donate stuff!

7.  Taking things apart can help you learn about how they work.

8.  Making connections is a key component of PBL and Inquiry.  In order to successfully support student interest, systems and structures have to be in pace to ensure that those interests are explored in ways that connect to critical content and developmental skills.

9.  Be the learner that you expect your students to be.

10.  Let students veer off in organic directions.  Manage the process so that enduring understandings and essential outcomes remain in focus, but allow for flexibility.  True exploration has the potential to surprise the explorer.  True discoveries are often unimaginable until they are uncovered!