Friday, December 19, 2014


Deeper learning is about transfer. The ability for kids to develop skills, knowledge, and ideas, so they can be transferred to fresh situations without the need for an adult facilitator to make that happen. Deeper learning is certainly more complex than just transfer, but it is at the center of excellent learning opportunities for kids. Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing the type of project that allows for this transfer to occur and the irony of it was that it was on the topic of heat transfer. Two incredible science teachers at Hixson Middle School included in their learning about heat transfer, the opportunity for students to launch hot air balloons as a means of gathering data, both numeric and observational, about what heat transfer looks like in a real-world setting. It was great to see the student engaged, empowered, and energized throughout this learning project. 

A Quick Build Hot Air Injector

The Blue Skies Were an Amazing Backdrop for Watching the Balloons

This Students Reaction Made My Visit

The Two Teachers Involved Were Awesome 

The December Cold Was a Secondary Lesson in Heat Transfer

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Design, Create, Make

Affton continues to work to build a culture of students spending more and more time designing, creating, and making. We are seeing increases in engagement and the fresh energy in the schools is noticeable. Coordinator of 1:1 Programming Manuel Herrera has taken the lead in this work. He is facilitating more and more sessions where kids are designing, creating, and making. Below is his guest post.

by Manuel Herrera

Over the past few weeks, our Project Lead the Way Bio Medical students, have been working on a Design Innovation project for their semester presentation. For this project, instead of just designing an innovative product on paper to be included in their presentations, these students are able to do some rapid prototyping using two new pieces of technology at Affton High School, the Dell Chromebook 11 and our Lulzbot 3D printer.

The 3D printer allows any student to design a product or model using free 3D modeling software on their Chromebooks. Within a couple of hours, the student can then have a physical object in their hands that they designed. The power in students prototyping their products is that they are able to experience the design process. This includes some groups going through a deep brainstorming process to identify a product while others drafted numerous iterations of their designs before they found one that was suitable for their client's needs.

Building structures with texture

Layer after layer the students see their ideas grow

Prototyping a new type of arm braces

Tinker cad serves as great design software

Problem solving around the finding the right temperature
for the 3D Printer provided real problem solving

Design and drawing is both low-fi and high-tech

Students taking control of their learning

Dell Chromebooks are being integrated into the process. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Power of Digital Story

This article was originally published for Edutopia on December 15, 2014.

Telling our story is an essential part of our humanness. It allows us to feel part of the community that knows our story, and it fosters empathy for those that surround us. Story is a powerful force in shaping mental models, motivating and persuading others, and teaching the lessons of life. Telling story extends back to a time when oral history dominated the tools of communication. And now the flood of technology tools that allow for instant communication has spun us back into a golden age where story again dominates the media landscape.

Digital stories, now both easy to produce and simple to publish, are an ideal way to energize learning and engage students at a deeper level. Digital storytelling creates space for students to pursue topics about which they are passionate, grows their learning around assigned topics, and showcases their learning for peers, teachers, and audiences beyond the schoolhouse, all of whom are able to interact with the storyteller. To allow the power of story to blossom in learning spaces, it is necessary to focus on a few factors that can maximize its effect.

Create Space for Listening
The world is full of story -- just look at the fire-hose blast of Snapchat images, YouTube videos, and those moments of binge-watching Netflix. The noise of this digital information can be overwhelming. It can create a numbness to the outside world and limit the ability to retain and reflect on essential learning. Because of this, places of learning must be places of listening that allow time and space for the speed of life to be digested in a meaningful way. How have you practiced listening to story as a teacher, and how have you created this space for students? The power of digital story comes from the power of the audience that is genuinely engaged in listening to its message.

Persuade with the Head and the Heart
Digital story works because it fills our heads with engaging emotional rhetoric and paves a compelling reason to act or think differently. Emotion alone doesn't make digital story, as the names, faces, and numbers of the situation round out the message. Without the intellectual hook, the emotional plea can sound hollow and appear to be built on a flimsy foundation. The unique nature of digital story -- with its quick visual displays of information coupled with its engaging images of people, place, and planet -- provides the ideal media for amplifying the impact that comes from seamlessly weaving together these areas.

Lead with the Narrative
Great digital stories are rooted in their narrative. The beauty of digital story is that the narrative follows the same story arc that has always been a part of oral and written story. Helping kids become great presenters and great writers will support their proficiency as digital story creators.

Amplify with Images
A thousand words isn't the true power of images. Great images link story elements, humanize the abstract, and force the audience to see invisible people and places. Images are a gateway into the soul of stories. Digital story creators need to select each image with the same intentionality that each word is chosen for the narrative. Beautiful images allow digital stories to be remembered by more people in a deeper way.

Nurture the Process
Classrooms, schools, and districts that are rich in story will better support the learning of students who are already living in a culture of digital storytelling. Teachers, students, and community members need to feel an environment for learning that promotes voice, shares best practices, and celebrates the best of learning. In addition, the best of digital storytelling comes from the art of iteration. Success comes from publishing, revising, editing, analyzing, and tinkering with the craft. Allow time for adults and students to be a part of this powerful practice.

Understand the Tools
The quality and quantity of web-based tools for creating, designing, and making incredible digital story continues to grow. It is important for classrooms and schools to choose a few tools that work for them based on ease, accessibility, and cost, and take the time to really understand those tools both with and without content wrapped around their use. Currently, there are excellent stories being created using online tools like WeVideo and the editing tools within YouTube. Others are using iPhoto, Garageband, and iMovie to craft stunning digital stories that elicit strong emotion from audiences around the globe. In this process, students also have a chance to learn about the importance of using Creative Commons videos and properly crediting artists for their intellectual property. Some excellent student examples of these tools in action can be seen in Emma Bright's "My Defining Moment", MRH Middle School's "Dauphin Island Reflection", and Ollie J.'s "Eleven by Sandra Cisnaros".

Today's best tools for digital story will quickly become relics, so it is also essential to stay in the conversation, listen to what other educators are doing, and see what kids are using in their own creation space, so that the tools and features being used to create story will stay fresh.

Finally, it is essential to share story, personal and professional, successes and failures, because story inspires story. As we see through the beauty of digital story, idea generation, inspiration, and collaboration can only grow. And, in a larger sense, best practices in education will grow and scale whenever we all release trapped or siloed wisdom into the system.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Retain, Reflect, Redistribute

This post was originally published for Brilliant or Insane: Education on the Edge at this link:

The words “professional development” have grown a third head that is making it nearly impossible for people to lean into these moments with positive energy and enthusiasm. Words, when beautiful, generate mental models that propel us into action, but words surrounded in legacy baggage, thwart innovation and more. I propose that we have reached a critical moment with adult learning in schools, a moment where we must drop the words professional development and replace them with the a simple and elegant while complex and robust term, learning.

Reflection can come from having participants answer simple thinking routines like “I used to believe…now I believe,” having learners doodle, or even having them complete a blog post to solidify the thinking surrounding the ideas presented. Learning is something all educators can lean into with a fresh passion and energy. Learning is seen as an opportunity to grow. Learning is foundational to our work as educators. The joy of learning is often what has brought most educators to enjoying their daily role in the classroom. What if we were purposeful about calling planned adult time together for growth “learning” as opposed to “professional development”. Is it possible that more of us would look forward to these moments? Is it possible that the shift in language could shift the structure, focus, and format of these moments within organizations to fit best practices in learning as opposed to just fitting the mental model of today’s mostly tired, mostly painful professional development sessions.

Would parents and community members better understand our breaks in the calendar if they were called days of adult learning instead of professional development? I know that much of this is just semantics, but words matter. Words can get stale, tired, and cause institutional numbness. The second phase of shifting how we think about adult learning goes beyond just words and focuses on adult learners retaining, reflecting, and redistributing ideas, resources, and concepts that grow out of learning opportunities. We are no longer in a shortage of learning moments for professional educators. Learning is happening non-stop in both synchronous and asynchronous ways, but so much of the learning is forgotten or trapped during the process.

With a focus on helping adult learners retain and reflect on information, the best ideas can transfer from training spaces to learning spaces. In order to support this, we have to give plenty of time for intentional conversation within the learning structure that allows our adult learners space to explain to others their current understanding and assimilate it into their working schema. Too often, the best learning experiences are left in the car on the way home as opposed to celebrated and amplified the next days at school because retention wasn’t an intentional focus.

During adult learning, we need to also build in time for reflection and redistribution. Reflection can come from having participants answer simple thinking routines like “I used to believe…now I believe,” having learners doodle, or even having them complete a blog post to solidify the thinking surrounding the ideas presented. The final piece and the one that has really suffered in most adult learning spaces is the opportunity to release trapped wisdom into the system.

The best ideas, resources, and materials can’t get trapped in one classroom or one school, and it is important that during adult learning, we set aside time to share out to teachers beyond the experience using social media tools as well as other means. Learning is amplified when it scales, and redistributing ideas in an intentional way supports this scaling of learning. Every gathering of learning professionals is a gold mine of ideas that can’t remain trapped if our hope of transforming learning for all kids is to become a reality.

There is always a need to think about fine tuning our experiences surrounding learning including the words that we use to describe it and the opportunities that are created to maximize it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Call for Support in a Most Difficult of Week

I'm deeply sad. I'm not sure that I realized how much the events of the last 100 days surrounding the Michael Brown death have impacted me. I feeling very deeply for all of the people that this case touching. The list is longer than any conceivable list that we can make. I hurt, both physically and emotionally.

This is going to be a week when the town that I love is torn apart in many ways. To know that it is coming is really hard. It is draining. I find myself growing tearful as images of potential situations flash through my head. The worst pieces of who we are are going to be highlighted all across the country. The media is here to capture their version of the story. In times like these, the loudest voices, both in protest, the media, and online, are rarely the healers. I worry that these individuals will become the voice of my city. They will create the images of Saint Louis that people will remember for a long time, and the work of so many people in community building, education, and social justice work will be marginalized in a time when their wisdom is most needed.

This is a week, more than any other week since I've ever been connected across the country with so educators and friends, that I need your help. I need this week to be one where the people in my network of support are able to remind folks that St Louis is a good place. It has good people. Please remind them that good, healthy, healing work is happening here. Help me paint a counternarrative to the one that will fill our screens. 

Remind them that this is a complex situation, and that there are no simple answers. Remind them that the layers of the mess are dense, thick, and many. Remind them that there are no good jokes or light moments to be made about Michael Brown's death or the struggles in so many urban areas and beyond on the issues of race and poverty.

There are so many good things that are beginning to sprout that can allow Saint Louis to heal and provide a way forward for other communities as well. None of these will be highlighted this week, but please remind everyone that they exist and hope with me that they will prevail.

I need all of you to care about kids deeply this week, and know that people just like you are caring for kids back here in St Louis. Your caring for kids this week will help Saint Louis to heal. It is how you can help. There's plenty of blame to go around.

There are plenty of mistakes that have been made, and there will be plenty more this week. Knowing that there will be more mistakes this week is hard to accept, but we are an imperfect people in an imperfect community.

Please remember that there are good, decent, hard working folks throughout Saint Louis leaning into this messy situation. It will look at times this week that we aren't any closer to a solution or solutions than we were fifty years ago, but this isn't the case. There are coalitions of incredible people, quietly pushing back against repeating the mistakes of the past. Parents are teaching their children differently. Schools are shaping the learning experience differently. Communities are listening differently.

Each of you has a voice. Please support me. Please support us. Please know that supporting Saint Louis will support your community and its healing as well. Let our voices support those without voice. Let our voices support those doing their job the right way. Let our voices support the children of Saint Louis that need more care now than ever.

Choosing Hope and A Way Forward

Last April, I had an incredible opportunity to explore some what if… questions around the way that kids learn and grow. It was a process that allowed me to truly stretch my thinking around what is possible for kids. Since then, I have been carrying around a drawing that synthesized my thinking. I haven’t been able to figure out whether to throw it away, revise and extend it, or share it in draft form. In essence, it is a mess. The kind of mess that comes from my mind as I dream and hope. It is the kind of mess that gets me excited and depressed at the same time.

Here are some of the current highlights of this visual dreaming. We need beautiful places for kids to learn. I was standing waiting for my daughter to finish Girl Scouts last night, and I was noticing how beautiful her school is. I noticed an attention to detail, big windows, and welcoming lighting and colors. There are so many meager school facilities, and this fact is a hurdle to learning that many schools never clear. Our next generation of schools must have walls that inspire, showcase a dedication to the principals of sustainability, and think deeply about items like lighting and acoustics. All kids deserve the soul filling experience of their learning space being their Third Teacher.

Next, leadership is the same, and leadership is dramatically different. Leaders today must be effective curators of information. They must look to amplify their best people and leverage their partners and potential partners so that kids are surrounded with opportunities and experiences. Leaders must listen deeply. At no other time has the noise of life been so loud and this requires all leaders to listen deeply, single out the best stuff, and be open to listening to a variety of ideas and opinions across the spectrum. Leaders need a network to support them in their lonely work, and the same network to provide a transfusion of ideas when the supply is low. My favorite current leaders focus on being cross pollinators and saying “YES and” to the energy of the organization.

 Finally, as I think about the student that I hope sprout from the learning places that we sow, I hope that our each learners have the ability to see. This ability to see into the future just far enough that they can smile, have hope, and long for the journey toward the next day and next week. There are too many part of life that draw the shades of pessimism over our eyes, but learning and school should be a huge beam of sunshine that propels us forward. We need people with a deep optimism surrounding our kids with incredible projects of purpose that will allow them launch in the hope light of life with a bit of attitude that says we can solve anything together.

How can we pursue these things together? What can we change tomorrow to begin these shifts? Why aren't more of us pushing for more conversations about the importance of these things?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Having Parental Privilege

Recently I noticed how much parental privilege that I experience at my daughters' schools. I'm able to go into every parent teacher conference knowing that it will be a happy, caring twenty minutes where the teachers will say wonderful things about my daughter. I enjoy being in classrooms, and I don't have any bad memories about school that haunt me. I have an open line of communication with the teachers, and they enjoy talking education with me. I show an empathy for their work, and they respond with compliments about my parenting. I know how to call my daughters in sick without being questioned, and I understand the rhythm of a school day. It is easy to forget that this privilege exists, and it is even easier to forgot how many families never get even a taste of this privilege. How can we remind ourselves that we have a responsibility to build the capacity of all of our parents, so the school and home can truly wrap around our students.