Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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The BEST Holiday Presents for Students This Year? – The Gift of Design

This month, the Global Search for Education Global Blogger Series takes on the all important question: “What’s the best gift you would recommend for your students this holiday season?” Since I have just about wrapped up my holiday shopping, I have a few suggestions.

2016 may become known as the “Design Thinking & Making Christmas” to all who receive presents from me though it started as the year of the Kiwi Crate. According to the web site, Kiwi Crate aims to inspire a new generation of “scientists, artists, and makers.” Whether you buy one crate or a monthly subscription, each box contains a mini project for kids to design and build.

Different crates for different ages

Different crates for different ages

This year, I also became enfatuated with the Extraordinaires Design Studio. Earlier this fall, I wrote about how this game inspires teachers and students to embrace design thinking, making, and innovation. For a few of my older friends, I bought the Deluxe version of the game and can’t wait to see what they do with it. Not only do the Extraordinaires inspire kids to use their imaginations and create new products, but it also gives them a chance to think like a designer. For even more fun, they can download different Design & Make instructions to learn how to physically create some of their creations. The video below provides a great overview.

This holiday season, I wanted presents that would last longer than a few hours and hopefully inspire the recipients throughout the new year. These seemed like fantastic options to achieve that goal.


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Maximizing Arts Education in a Traditional Classroom

This month, as part of the Global Search for Education’s Global Blogger Series, I have decided to tackle the question, How can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?

This may seem like an odd topic for me as anyone who knows me well can attest to my complete lack of artistic talent (especially visual arts) and mediocre musical skills. However, over the summer, I read The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools by Dr. Mariale Hardiman. In learning about two of her targets — Teaching for Mastery of Content, Skills, & Concepts as well as Teaching for Extension & Application of Knowledge — the arts played a central role in enhancing the potential for student learning within more traditional subjects.

Teaching for Mastery of Content, Skills, and Concepts requires students to gain a deeper understanding of a domain of curricular knowledge such as history or science while forging stronger connections between their learning experiences and their long term memories. Arts integration creates hands-on experiences that allow students to make those deeper connections. As they delve into topics through drawing, painting, music, and even drama, they generate new types of information and learning artifacts as well as physically engage in the learning process. These active learning experiences not only help students to make varied neural connections to the content but also engage them in more divergent thinking – generating multiple, varied solutions to a problem.

Most assessments in traditional subjects value convergent thinking and encourage students to generate a single, correct, response. However, the arts inspire creativity, incite students to seek out novel approaches that demonstrate both their content knowledge as well as their critical thinking, and support Teaching for Extension and Application of Knowledge. In her book, Dr. Hardiman describes a language arts teacher who encouraged students to design a guidebook of survival tips for their community based on their understanding of themes from the novel, Hatchet, as well as a biology teacher who placed her students into “medical teams” charged with diagnosing the genetic disorder of a fictitious patient. In this latter example, the students collaborated to diagnose the problem, determine a solution, and then present their findings to their peers.

In Assessment and the Learning Brain, Hardiman and Whitman state that to determine the innovativeness of a school, ask about their thoughts on assessment. Innovative schools provide their students with multiple opportunities to creatively demonstrate their learning and can be characterized by motivated students who focus on mastering domains of knowledge rather than performing on tests. Instead of considering the arts (and technology – had to fit that in) as something to “fit in” with a traditional curriculum, we need to start considering it a necessary strategy for forging deeper connections, engaging in more creative and complex thinking, as well as inspiring students to learn.


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What are the important skills, behaviors, and attitudes that students need to become contributing global citizens?

This is the question that I chose to tackle this month for the Global Search for Education’s Global Blogger Series. In many ways, it spoke to me as part of the larger question that I am addressing in my dissertation research at Johns Hopkins – systemically innovating American public school districts to better prepare students to meet the intellectual demands of the knowledge economy.

However, to date, most of my research has focused on student skills. In 2003, economists Autor, Levy, and Murnane published a paper about the changing task composition of the labor market as a result of computerization and globalization. As computers became cheaper, smaller, and faster, they could replace many of the routine tasks that people had previously completed. (Think about ATM machines, credit card readers on gas pumps, data entry positions, etc).

In his book Raising Innovators, author and Harvard Professor Tony Wagner, claims the world needs “problem seekers.” So if we want our students to have these new skills – to seek out problems, to find novel solutions, to analyze and synthesize information across sources, to communicate and collaborate using the available technologies across distance and time (those all come from Levy & Murnane’s paper, Dancing with Robots) – then we also need to consider their attitudes and behaviors.

The most important attitude that our students may need to become contributing global citizens is empathy. How can we expect them to seek out problems and design novel solutions if they cannot connect with the individuals whose problems they need them to solve? Our students need to be able to deeply engage with others and embrace their perspective. And as educators, we need to give them the initial experiences on which they can then build new knowledge and understanding. (I credit Christine Boyer for that sentiment.)

Finally, as Tony Wagner said, we need to instill in our students the behavior of problem seeking. Our students need to be able to act to actually do something in the world around them. In a global society, we need students who have determination, persistence, and the internal motivation to seek out solutions to problems that we have never seen before, with technologies that have never existed, and in a world that none of us as educators, parents, and adults have ever experienced.

Today, I am wrapping up a three-day EdTechTeacher workshop with an amazing group of elementary teachers from across the United States and abroad. On day one, we came to a consensus about one critical fact: it’s not about me. As educators, we also need to develop the skills that our students will need, to engage in empathy with our students to deeply understand their reality, and to become problem-seekers ourselves to help prepare our students for the global world that they will enter, and hopefully, improve.

>> Make sure you read the rest of the answers from the other Global Bloggers!


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What are the best ways for a teacher to engage their classroom in a global conversation?

This month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, posed the question “What are the best ways for a teacher to engage their classroom in a global conversation?

Wonderful examples already exist of students engaging with others from around the world. Through the Primary Blogging Community, teachers of grade K-4 students can connect with other classrooms in five-week cycles. Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) launched the Global Read Aloud in 2010. Since then, students from over 60 countries have participated and connected. With Mystery Skype, students engage in 45-60 minute inquiry sessions with other students to make geographic and cultural connections. To learn how to get started, Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz) has an excellent guide for educators. Just this past month, students circled the globe 120 times in just two days as part of Microsoft’s annual Skype-a-thon.

However, all of these projects have one element in common: they each require the teachers to be connected and engaged in a global conversation. I often hear teachers talk about how they wish that their students could conduct themselves better online or engage in more effective communications. Most of us grew up in a time before Google was a verb; you could tweet to someone; and AIM (remember that?) existed. Our parents and teachers modeled how to write letters, make phone calls, and engage in conversation. Now that the platforms and audiences for conversation have increased exponentially, the best way that we can engage our classrooms in global conversation may be to engage ourselves.

Right now, I’ve been watching #12daystwitter unfold online. To learn the backstory, I reached out to Ann Feldmann (@annfeldmann1) of Bellevue, Nebraska. She explained that the #12daystwitter kicked off on December 1st and in just a few days had reached a global audience. Last year, during a local unconference outside of Omaha, educator Mickie Mueller (@mickiemueller) suggested the idea.  Now in its second year, this tangible challenge has reached thousands of people from around the world. “Joining an upbeat conversation is a great way to engage in a global conversation,” Ann tweeted to me.  “I am always amazed at the people power collaborating in the Twitterverse.”

Whether you choose Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Edmodo, or any other platform, the first step is to introduce yourself. Join a Twitter Chat, hop into a Google+ Community, or subscribe to a LinkedIn Group. To engage our students in the global conversation, we need to make sure that we first engage ourselves.


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What was your most challenging classroom and how did you turn it around?

This month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, posed the question “What was your most challenging classroom and how did you turn it around?

Over the past 20 years, I have taught in a number of settings that presented different sets of challenges. As a captain and instructor with ActionQuest, I faced the challenges of working with teenagers on board a 50 foot sailboat for 21 days. My first year teaching 9th grade English in a “real” classroom, every student in one section had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). As the Director of Academic Technology at St. Michael’s Country Day School, I even taught technology classes in a computer lab that had no computers for the first few weeks of school! Now, as an instructor with EdTechTeacher, I walk into a different classroom, with a different group of students, at least once a week. Each group brings with them a new set of challenges.

To say that I have had a single most challenging classroom would be difficult because each one brings with it a unique context; and yet, when considering how to “turn it around,” a few strategies always seem to work.

Strategy #1 – Build Community

If the students (or adults) do not feel as though they are part of the learning community, then there is no common understanding on which to build trust, acceptance, and respect. From “passing the spoon” at ActionQuest, to name games at St. Michael’s, to taking the time to have every participant in my workshops introduce themselves to the group, the class needs to exist as a community so that there is a foundation on which to build solutions to challenges that may arise.

Strategy #2 – Ask Early, Ask Often

My biggest mistake during my first few years of teaching was that I did not seek out help early enough or often enough. Today, it is possible to get help not only from within your specific learning environment but also through virtual connections. I found tremendous value in having a colleague come and observe a class where I struggled. Because this person also knew the personalities and learning needs of the students, they could offer not only insights but tangible suggestions. On the other hand, virtual connections bring fresh perspective and potentially fewer preconceptions.

Strategy #3 – It’s always “very nice…”

While at ActionQuest, one of the instructors had a saying: “Very nice…” You could tell him that his hair was on fire, and he would respond with “Very nice… “ One day, as I was running around in a frenzy, he stopped me with one of the best pieces of advice that I have ever received: if you stay calm, so will everyone else. As long as I do not show frustration, exacerbation, or any other emotion to indicate that the situation may be anything other than what I am hoping to achieve, then any challenge can be mitigated.

Every day has the potential to be the most challenging; however, when a solid community exists and you elicit feedback when necessary, it’s always “Very nice…”


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Around the East Coast in 30 Days

I started to write a post yesterday and then didn’t. No real excuses, just didn’t get there. However, this morning, Cathy Rubin (@cmrubinworld) gave me a shout-out in her Around the World in 30 Days post for June, so I figured out my angle.

June 1 – Asking Essential Questions

Ever since I heard Jay McTighe talk about the concept of Essential Questions and read his book, I’ve been inspired about what it takes to get people to engage in deep inquiry. Leveraging the power of Visible Thinking, I spent the morning of June 1st with the teachers from the Williston Scholars program at Williston Northampton School in MA wrestling with the question:

How can the Williston Scholars teachers design a curriculum that encourages deep inquiry and exploration across cohorts as well as creates experiences unique to the individual courses?

June 3-4 – Strategies, Literacy, & Fluency

From Williston, I traveled South to work with teachers in Charlotte, NC. This group was preparing to go 1:1 with iPads next year. With a team of 5th and 6th grade teachers, we tackled questions of strategies – how to address note taking and active reading with digital tools, literacy – how to build an understanding of media and address the impact of possessing a global library inside of a tablet, and fluency – how to develop a growth mindset such that learners become comfortable regardless of the interface of various apps and tools.

In many ways, it’s because of these early workshops that I wrote about empathy as a key trait for teacher leaders.

June 6-10 – iPads & Chromebooks in Atlanta

To kick off our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshop Series, I flew down to Atlanta, GA and set up at Woodward Academy for the week. What most impressed me about that week was the amazing educators who arrived with open minds and a thirst to learn, explore, and challenge their own ideas. We continued with those themes of empathy, strategy, fluency, and literacy with a constant objective of empowering students to construct understanding and create artifacts as evidence of their learning.

With the Google & Chromebook group, we also had a chance to explore the power of DocHub for active reading and collaborative note taking. I wrote this post about it for Free Technology for Teachers.

June 17-19 – Minnetonka Institute & Skokie, IL

When I submitted my problem of practice to Johns Hopkins for the EdD program, I talked about the need to provide high-quality, sustained, professional development to teachers as a means to create lasting change. These three days helped to shed significant light on the subject.

In Minnetonka, the district has made an investment in PD. They provide consistent, high-quality opportunities inside of their schools and also invite in neighboring districts. For their institute, teachers drove from as far away as 3.5 hours (I now know where Worthington, MN is located) to take part in 2 days of learning.

After leaving Minnesota, I flew down to Chicago to kick off my first full-year program with the K-6 teachers in Skokie, IL. I am a huge fan of these learning opportunities because there is no pressure to race through concepts and ideas. We can iterate over the course of the year and build on various concepts over time. It’s after participants can begin to see the power of leveraging all technologies (yes, even paper and pencil) that they realize the power of student-centric learning. However, it’s also this experience that led me to write about the need for A New Metric for Learning.

June 22-26 – Chromebooks & PBL

Last week, I continued summer workshops in Chicago. For the first few days, I worked with a number of teachers in a Chromebook Classroom workshop. These three days reinforced my believe that we really need to address the concepts of strategy, literacy, & fluency in professional development. More on this coming soon…

With my Project Based Learning workshop, I hit a few snags – namely a misunderstanding of the concept. More on this coming soon as well.

Rounding out the Month

To end June, I’ll be kicking off an extended program with teachers in Westborough, MA as well as catching up on my homework. Keep an eye out on Edutopia (@Edutopia) as I have a new post running either today or tomorrow about The Art of Reflection.

July is going to get interesting as well!


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What are the Biggest Mistakes that Teachers Make with Technology?

As part of this month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, I’ve been asked to identify some of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers making with technology. In thinking about how to respond to the query, I kept circling back to the concept of word choice. When teachers describe their efforts with technology, they often struggle with the words they use to define their endeavors.

Word Choice Issue #1 – Integrate

Image Credit: Greg Kulowiec

Credit: Greg Kulowiec
Is your tech IN your school or ON it?

Oftentimes, the teachers in my workshops feel enormous pressure to integrate technology; they see it as a looming weight. Given their limited time to address content and curricular standards, they worry about how to “fit it in.”

However, we don’t hold trainings specific to pencil integration, nor do we ask teachers to specify plans to incorporate pencils into each lesson. Rather than being told to integrate technology, teachers need to have it presented as a way to enhance or support teaching and learning.

Word Choice Issue #2 – “Technology” Projects

Many teachers tell me that they feel forced to create “technology projects” that lie outside the scope of their curriculum, just so that they can check off a box for “integration.” The power of digital tools is in how they give students voice & choice. Rather than assign a technology-based product and stress over how to “fit it in,” give students an objective (i.e. show your problem solving, demonstrate your understanding, communicate your opinion) and then encourage them to use any tools – analog and/or digital – which enable them to be creative.

Shawn McCusker, Social Studies teacher in Libertyville, IL, gives his students a Choice Board for each project. As a result, they can create on paper or possibly even with video, like this student:

Word Choice Issue #3 – “What?” vs “What If…?”

Teachers often ask me, “What do I do with this app/tool/device?” or “What app/tool/device should I use?” They begin the conversation focused on the technology and not the learning.

The more interesting question is What If?

  • What if my students could explain their problem solving?
  • What if my students could collaborate to visually demonstrate the vocabulary?
  • What if my students could curate their learning into a multi-media journal?
  • What if my students could share their learning with a wider, more authentic audience?

When we start to ask “What if?”, we remove the limitations to our thinking. From there, we might see how to leverage all of the available technologies to best support teaching and learning.

Other words that I like to emphasize when approaching professional development in technology are play, explore, improve, and try. When the intent is improving teaching and learning, teachers rarely make mistakes.

The other bloggers in this series also posted excellent responses to this question. Read the entire post at CM Rubin World.