CUE 2018: Taking Risks and Unchartered Paths

Another great year at CUE. While the keynotes have not radically changed or inspired new thinking, I realized they have a common message for us to bring back to our students; follow your passion, push through difficult times and embrace the creativity and uniqueness you offer. When you do these three things you will be forced to take risks and walk a path that is not yet chartered. And at first glance this message resonates for our students, but it is even more powerful for ourselves. Are we taking enough risks and going down unchartered paths or are we just giving students OUR comfort zone?

For the first time after CUE I will be heading right back into the classroom. How will I take risks to allow and encourage my students to take risks? How will I give my students opportunities to explore themselves and their own creativity in relation to this 21st Century world?

One of the keynotes yesterday shared something along the lines of, “Let’s make the schools that we imagine, REALLY happen.” I hope each educator can figure out their next step in making their imagination be their reality, by following their passion, pushing through difficult times and embracing their own creativity and uniqueness. I’m ready and can’t wait to try “Student Sandbox Tech Time” to tap into THEIR knowledge and creativity. That is my first step, what is yours?

New Job Title: Innovative Teaching and Learning Leads

Over the course of the last four years my role has continually shifted and changed. I have posted several times about Thinking being the focus not Technology. After CUE I have committed to reading more from innovative leaders. I read this blog this morning and it made me think how lucky I am to be at a school that has really allowed my role to change in the direction described in this blog. Should my title change? Check out the post here

STEM Success: What takes the lead?

STEM! Once an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics has now become its own word. You can buy your kids STEM toys and can participate in STEM clubs, but what is at the heart of STEM. After preparing, teaching, observing and reflecting on several STEM lessons- I have a few reflections about what can make STEM lessons successful and rich learning opportunities.

  1. Taking the Lead: While STEM is the integration of several disciplines the most successful lessons allow one content area to take the LEAD. For example, if I am teaching the science concept of pushes and pulls, how can literacy, math, engineering and technology be used to support this endeavor? We can measure, analyze the results of the data, engineer something to test all with the main focus on learning about a science content. It is impossible to make each subject the leader and to teach for UNDERSTANDING which is the ultimate goal of STEM lessons. However through multiple experiences and applying skills in a variety of contexts students build understanding of not only the lead content, but the supporting disciplines and skills as well.
  2. Authentic Opportunity for Math and Science Practice Standards: Regardless of which content area takes the lead, STEM lessons allow students to authentically utilize the Common Core Practice Standards. When students manipulate real data they have gathered from a science investigation they have more connection to the numbers which gives them more meaning and allows them to manipulate the data at a whole different level. I can give students a worksheet on measuring angles or I can have students repeatedly measure an angle for testing a science experiment. Either way they will learn angles, but we know which one they will remember more and which one will build this as a skill for life.
  3. Shorter Teaching, More Facilitation: After focusing on a Lead Content Area or maybe Guiding Question and allowing for the authentic integration of other disciplines, you will naturally find your teaching shift. Less teaching will happen up front and more teaching will occur as students naturally ask questions or need guidance to use a new skill. You won’t have to think about how to differentiate the lessons or even pre-assess students skills, as the teacher you will see these things occur naturally. While working in teams students will gravitate to the skills they are most comfortable, students will teach each other how to be precise in their work and you will stop the class when you can tell their is a roadblock to provide a brief mini lesson and then send them on their way.

While these reflections on successful STEM lessons are extremely important it has also gotten me wondering. Due to Common Core Science and Common Core Math standards, STEM is often lead by content for Science, Engineering and Math. However when we look at the jobs of tomorrow more fall into the technology end of the spectrum. According to Code. org 71% of new STEM jobs are in computing. Should TECHNOLOGY take the lead? How would that look? Can we develop lessons to teach the fundamentals of technology and allowing science, engineering and mathematics to support the thinking?

I just taught a lesson using Scratch Jr. where Computer Science principals  took the lead and students applied their geometry knowledge. The conversations about the math were fascinating, but the students’ understanding of the basic principles of computer coding is what really grew. (Slideshow of the lesson)

As a classroom teacher for many years, I know it is difficult to think about how you could fit in one more thing. It makes me wonder though are we teaching for yesterday or tomorrow?

CUE 2017: Going Beyond a Growth Mindset

Both Keynotes at CUE focused on MINDSETS. Listening to Jo Boaler speak about the Fixed vs. Growth mindset, I could see how far we have come as educators. George Couros was the second keynote and he took Boaler’s work one-step further to focus on an Innovator’s Mindset. From his book, “The innovator’s mindset can be defined as the belief that the abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas.” Two simple questions he asked got me thinking about our classrooms. One, is Starbuck’s out doing your learning environment? Two, would you want to be with yourself for 6 hours a day? I know my own tendency to overcomplicate and control things, and wonder if at times this stripped students of their NATURAL CURIOUSITY? Or in the stress to cover content and get high test scores, would I move on and not allow the time and space for INNOVATION?

As teachers we know the times in which we were building the innovator’s mindset because you can feel the buzz. In these moments we focus on understanding, organically allow students to direct the learning, and provide meaningful learning opportunities. Couros shared examples of students being innovative outside of schools and sometimes even in spite of schools. We limit innovation and creativity when we ask students to do what WE are COMFORTABLE WITH and NOT what THEY are COMFORTABLE WITH.  Technology has changed our students and technology continues to be transformational, but in our classrooms are we removing the barriers so learning can happen, are we showing students the possibilities and allowing them to not only be problem solvers but problem finders?

I attended a session by Future Design School. They identified a process to help students develop an innovator’s mindset starting with understanding others and empathy.  However, one of the biggest problems they discovered is that many don’t feel they are creative. There is a myth that ART IS CREATIVITY. Helping students to identify these are not synonymous is a critical component in freeing them for an innovators mindset. I often thought of myself as NOT creative for this same reason. When I realized how much I enjoyed the creative process of curriculum development and my innate desire to solve problems for people, I actually began to view myself as creative. How can we broaden our own and our students views of creativity, innovation and design?

While we can be nostalgic about the past, in this fast paced society, standing still is actually falling behind. It is our job to prepare students for an uncertain future in which the jobs of tomorrow have not been invented yet. Companies tell us they are looking for leadership, flexibility and adaptability to change. What would it look like to build these dispositions in our classrooms? Do students have opportunities to come up with multiple ideas, to be leaders, to collaborate, to learn and adapt at their own pace?

An engineering mindset, an innovator’s mindset, and a computer scientist mindset…whatever the course the shift in education is continuing to understand we do not teach content we teach thinking! Not only do we need to build mindsets in our students and ourselves, we need to force out the faulty or fixed mindsets that often hold us back from reaching true understanding and potential.


Reflections from Sir Ken Robinson KeyNote



In 2011 when my family and I started a nonprofit to help provide meaningful professional development for teachers, we were trying to find a great Key Note speaker. My mom came across Sir Ken Robinson and thought he stood for everything we were trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, he was significantly beyond our price tag!! Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Sir Ken Robinson speak and it brought back why we started Teaching Beyond Textbooks and the importance of transforming what education looks like today.

Here are just a few of the lessons I took away from his talk…

  1. Heart of education is the relationship with the teacher and the learner!
  2. Against standardization, not standards
  3. Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.
  4. Humans have the power of imagination. Creativity is putting imagination to work (have to be doing something) and Innovation is putting good ideas to work.
  5. Teachers help students discover inner talents, find their passions and then refine them.

I can understand each of these statements, but they all offer a lot to unpack and learn when we apply them to our classrooms. I do WONDER if in the chaos of planning lessons, grading, parent emails, test scores, student behavior, etc. – if we actually spend enough time thinking about these critical components of teaching. We KNOW that we live in a different world today, but do we actually teach differently?

One of his last points was to Create a CLIMATE of POSSIBILITY! 

Stop worrying if we get to each mini lesson in your unit of study, if students had their allotted “reading” and “math” time and focus on creating opportunities for students to see the possibilities! It is harder to step out into this unknown world of facilitating possibilities and opportunities. It is easier to rely on old habits and teach like we have always taught, but we are deeply missing out on discovering students’ talents, nurturing them and allowing them to change the world. As teachers we NEED to TAKE a RISK and break free from our TEACHING HABITS to make a difference in this 21st century world.

Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talks are worth a listen.


Back To School Challenge: Routines and Structures

Building a 21st Century Culture is more than just teaching the technology, it requires reflection on the behind the scenes routines and structures of a classroom. Developing these routines and structures is the framing for your house. When you are teaching throughout the year you will forget about these routines, but without them we are unable to build our house.

Why make this investment?

When integrating technology there is a lot of room for wasted time, distraction and chaos. If we want technology to enhance the learning, not distract from it, we need to establish routines and structures for success. Consistency and practice on the routines and structures created is critical to making technology easily integrated into the classroom. If it takes 30 minutes to get out devices, you will be less inclined to pull out devices when those perfect opportunities for technology integration arise. 

Questions to ask yourself?

Where/How will my devices be stored and organized? How will students get out the devices quickly and quietly? How will my students return the devices? How will I get my students attention when they are using devices? What basic agreements do we need to have about the care and use of the devices? How will I store and make accessible peripherals, such as headphones? What will be the ways in which we trouble shoot issues in our classroom? What rules will we have about how students will support one another?



Challenge: Take a few minutes to answer the questions above and build your frame for technology integration. Being intentional about these little decisions will give you the freedom later to focus on THINKING!
More Information about How you Can teach this? What it will look like? and Follow Up? for Routines and Structures

Back To School Challenge: Focus on your 21st Century Classroom Culture

It is that time of year when teachers are diligently working to set up the perfect learning environment for their students. They are thinking about those first learning activities and long term units, classroom seating, parent communication, making copies and so much more. It is also the perfect time to REMEMBER what is most important; creating CLASSROOM CULTURES where thinking is VALUED, VISIBLE  and ACTIVELY PROMOTED. 

I thought I would offer a break from the name tag writing and the class list posting (you know you are going to get a new student anyway) and ask two questions…

  1. How can we INVEST in developing a 21st Century Culture?
  2. What MESSAGES are we sending to our students about what we VALUE?

For the next 8 days,  I will share thoughts through the lens of the 8 Cultural Forces from Ron Ritchhart’s book Intellectual Character. Hopefully during this hectic time we can support each other in staying focused on the big picture and the reason we went into this profession…to impact student thinking!

Tomorrow…Establishing 21st Century Routines and Stuctures

Google Classroom: Streamlining classroom practices

I believe whole heartedly the culture you create in your classroom has the greatest impact on student learning. It doesn’t matter the textbook or the materials,learning happens when you have a classroom culture where THINKING is VALUED, VISIBLE and ACTIVELY PROMOTED.

Google Classroom takes out the wasted time of logistics, paper,  and organizing allowing us to focus on differentiating instruction, providing timely and meaningful feedback, making student thinking visible and providing rich academic opportunities. It is the way in which this tool becomes invisible in the classroom that I LOVE this tool.

Math teacher extraordinaire, Fawn Nguyen,  posted about the ways in which she uses Google Classroom. Her examples show how Google Classroom can simplify the work of a teacher and allow teachers to focus on the challenging work of asking rich questions or finding challenging problems. Read her short post on how she uses it in the math classroom.

I write all of this to ask, How has technology streamlined processes in your classroom to allow you to focus your attention on more meaningful work?

CUE 2016: Top FIVE… for now

Almost the End of CUE and here is what made my short list!

  1. Slack– a communication platform for teams and collaboration. Allows separate channels with different audiences and very useful search features. Great video-worth the 2 minutes!
  2. Drawp for School: Student friendly way to draw, type, record BUT what makes this program unique is the seamless method of sharing and the ability for teachers to assign work.
  3. Custom Search Engine by Google– Create your very own search engine with websites or domains that you approve! MY SAMPLE 
  4. Search for a Primary Source with Google Newspaper Archives It shows images of newspapers from a specific day- so many primary resources at your fingertips!
  5. Discovery Education STEM resources-Free curriculum and professional development for STEM

Hope you will have a chance to check these out.

Year 2! CUE Day One Reflection: Bottom line INTEGRATE

Being my 2nd year at CUE I was extremely excited. BUT, I did wonder will there be anything NEW. I have to say, so far, NO HUGE SHOCK more redefining and deepening of understanding. We have started dappling with INTEGRATION being our sole focus for next year’s professional development- completely appropriate in the evolution of teaching at this present moment. WHY is INTEGRATION so important and how is it ONLY getting better you ask?

WHY is INTEGRATION so important?

I attended two different sessions, that couldn’t have been more opposite but realized both had the same message.

My first session was on Makerspaces. Makerspaces can best be described as places were people come to create, invent and learn.(Full Definition and Articles) This movement is exciting and it is the new buzz word, but throughout the presentation they kept sharing how important it is to connect this to the classroom learning and that really this type of learning should be happening in the classrooms. It makes me wonder if this very movement is missing the INTEGRATION memo!! If this is intended to be integrated, why are we creating a separate space- to provide a model?  learning is too messy? cost? The concept of INQUIRY teaching is NOT NEW, so how do we support utilizing new tools, new materials and this new emphasis on the engineering process in a FULLY INTEGRATED way because without integration we may open creative doors but we may just create junk!

My second session was on enabling ALL users through the use of technology. His motto, “With Technology, We All Have Super Powers! It is just a matter of unlocking them!” His stories made me cry as he shared how technology opened doors for people with disabilities, but his message was bigger than accessibility for those with learning challenges. He showed just how INTEGRATED and USEFUL technology can be for ALL. They very things that help a student with a reading difficulty can also make it safer for people driving and needing directions read to them . ONCE again how are we INTEGRATING these tools into our classroom to unlock each child’s possibilities, no matter our what our needs, to CREATE, INNOVATE and LEARNPresenter’s website

THANKFULLY,  INTEGRATION is getting better!

With each new model or new app, technology is getting MORE PRECISE, MORE INTEGRATED, and MORE EFFICIENT.

PRECISE: When ALEX (Voiceover reader on iPads) now reads he actually reads a paragraph ahead to be able to read the words and numbers with appropriate meaning.

INTEGRATED: I can now easily move from one app to the next and sync what is happening on one device with many without even thinking about it

EFFICIENT: Because our attention spans are so short, we won’t tolerate anything that takes too long. Companies realize this, so apps are easy to figure out and continually removing any redundancies. One big issue in educational technology is managing the work flow. The big new thing this year is really streamlining this process!!

Thanks for reading my reflection, I promise to post a short list of by favorite tools!