Friday, September 30, 2011

Lessons Learned: Dolphin Tale

Last evening, I took my daughters to go see the movie, Dolphin Tale. (Fabulous movie!) Ten minutes into the movie, my heart sank when I saw how Sawyer, a shy, withdrawn, but bright young boy, is so apathetic about school. It soon becomes apparent that Sawyer is not disengaged with learning, just school. Sawyer suddenly becomes incredibly engaged in learning everything about dolphins and other members of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, when he helps to rescue Winter, yet his "by the book" summer school teacher fails to see the meaning in his student's new zest for learning. The teacher refuses to award credit to Sawyer, even though the boy is willing to do produce any work to report on his newly acquired knowledge. The teacher demands that Sawyer must be in his seat in order to learn, especially as he, the teacher, is such a GOOD teacher. 

How many Sawyers are out there? How many of our students are so disengaged with school? How many teachers fail to spend the time to get to know their students and help their students cross the bridge to the "land of engagement"?  

Finally, the teacher comes to realize that Sawyer's engagement with learning has resulted in not only Winter being saved, but the aquarium too. The teacher relents and grants Sawyer his summer school credit.

In the end, Winter the dolphin is saved, but so is Sawyer. What must we do to ensure that this is the norm? What must we do to guarantee that every educator learns this lesson?

Thanks to @dallasf & @shareski, I just watched the most fascinating video about a group of students who could not be more engaged :
The video showcases a pilot project where a group of disengaged high school students were able to "re-engage" via learning through establishing an independent school group. What they have learned is amazing. Check it out.

Dolphin Tale is a retelling of a true story. 
A young boy, Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), befriends Winter, an injured bottlenose dolphin who loses her tail due to being entrapped in a crab trap in the Indian River in Fort Pierce, Florida. He motivates everyone around him to help save the dolphin by creating a prosthetic appendage to replace the dolphin's missing tail. Harry Connick Jr. plays a vet who rescues the mammal and brings her to the marine hospital he runs. Ashley Judd plays the boy's mother while Morgan Freeman is a doctor who creates a prosthetic limb for Winter. (

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A New Accountability-Digitize Me!

 My school has been thoughtfully discussing the uses of electronic or digital portfolios. The purpose would be twofold: to have a living, reflective authentic assessment of student work and to demonstrate growth tied to a student's individual learning plan over time. A worthy goal, right? Why aren't more schools doing this? While researching digital portfolios, I came across examples that seemed to fall into either a"fancy digital file cabinet of student work" or simply a photo gallery of "this is what we did". No reflection from the student. No comment from a teacher or peers. Just because you put student work in a folder online does not make it a digital portfolio. What was the purpose?  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a portfolio is defined as "a selection of a student's work (as papers and tests) compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress."

With so much emphasis on standardized test grades, providing parents (and someday college admissions officers and/or future employers) with a fuller, richer picture of one's academic achievement and growth should be our goal. With today's technology, it is not the burden it once was. One could use Evernote, Wordpress, or Google Apps for FREE to create such a living repository. Or there are wonderful companies out there like Digication (which actually handles the portfolios for free if you are a Google Apps school). Dr. Helen Barrett (I like to think of her as the Megamind of E-Portfolios) has a wealth of resources available, all which underscore that it doesn't take much to capture a child's growth in a variety of subjects.

Facebook recently introduced a totally new format, the timeline. Why? Well, according to Mark Zuckerburg, 
“Millions and millions of people have spent years curating the stories of their lives, and there’s no way to share them,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.
Perhaps Mr. Zuckerburg is on to something. I believe that in this digital world, people do like to curate their lives. The time is ripe to do the same with our students. Collectively, teachers have spent millions of hours curating their students' lives. Many teachers, especially elementary teachers, spend considerable time curating each of their student's works into boxes or folders or the like, only to be sent home at the end of the year. Perhaps parents look at them. Maybe they get put in boxes to be saved and cherished. Maybe someday in the future they will be opened and the former student will glance at the work with fond remembrance? 

I think we can do better. Let's not curate without reflection. Let the curation be purposeful. Let's encourage our students to be reflective, to be "noticers", to take ownership of their learning, and to understand that a standardized test score is only a snapshot.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How did Social Media get so Unsocial? (or Where have all the manners gone?)

I always thought manners were more than just protocol or etiquette, but an expression of how you cared about someone else's feelings. A demonstration of consideration. I posted just last week about the need to educate our students on how to communicate in social media so that they understand how best to express their ideas in a clear and concise manner. I believe I fell short in my call to action. We need to do more. Recent events underscore the need to teach our students (and model ourselves) how to communicate socially in social media. 

Several weeks earlier an article by Sharon Noguchi, Educators Combat Crude Culture of Social Networks, popped up in many re-postings. In short, the article refers to the rampant profanity and crude behavior exhibited on social media by students, especially on Facebook and the steps that the legislature and educators are taking to combat this trend. 
     But now, as kids head back to school, they may find more adults are paying attention. Educators increasingly are joining in to challenge the crude culture of social networks, which they fear unleashes cyberbullying and sexting, heightens the social drama of puberty and teaches the wrong values.
     Even though Facebook flaming usually originates off campus, more schools are teaching "digital citizenship," how to care for online profiles, deal with bullies and speak up for what's right—a critical skill because teens often don't take problems to adults.
Several weeks earlier there was a great article in the New York Times, Teaching Kids How to Break Up Nicely By Benoit Denizet-Lewis. Mr. Denizet-Lewis reported on efforts to teach students how to responsibly handle ending relationships, to "face it, not facebook it".

      “When I’m done with a relationship, I’m not going to wait a day, an hour or even 10 minutes to update my status,” Roberto told the group. “When it’s over, it’s over. I’m done with you.”
      “The key word here is ‘racing,’ ” another girl replied with all the condescension she could muster. “Is that really healthy? Breaking up shouldn’t be a competition!”
      The group’s adult facilitator — who wore a blue “Face It, Don’t Facebook It” pin, in a reference to the apparently troubling trend of young people breaking up with one another via social media — nodded in agreement and suggested that Roberto consider taking a “technology timeout” the next time he felt compelled to race home and publicly declare his singlehood. Roberto reluctantly agreed to consider it.
A technology time-out? Ummm, I think we can do better. Are we really teaching our students to hide behind social media. When are we teaching them to be brave and responsible in our dealings with others? I think back to my parents' lessons and all my wonderful teachers' lessons and how they consistently modeled how to do the right thing. Whether it was "sharing is caring" or "if you can't say something nice about someone . . ." Have we educators been so overwhelmed by teaching to the test that we forgot to model some values along the way? Is it a failure by parents to actually parent? Or is the lure of destroying someone anonymously so great, that we cannot combat this trend? Good grief, there are even articles helping you choose which social media is best for you to use to break up!

How did social media get so unsocial?

When Carol Bartz, former chief executive officer,  was fired from Yahoo she turned to her IPad and vented to her staff:
To all,
I am very sad to tell you that I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.

Fantastic. short, sweet and to the point. Fired over the phone? Not a very classy job, Yahoo. Whatever happened to your manners? Whatever happened to building relationships? Of course since Ms. Bartz called Yahoo Board out for their lack of class, I expected to see her act the opposite way. Umm, not so much.
In a defiant, often profane interview with Fortune, Ms. Bartz said she intended to remain on Yahoo’s board. If so, it would make for some uncomfortable meetings because, in the same interview, she also called her fellow board members “doofuses.”
Ugh. Ms. Bartz, where have your manners gone? Where have all the manners gone? If you find them, please let me know. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Are We Putting All Our Lessons in One Basket?

     Two tweets crossed paths this morning on my feed and inspired this post asking if we are failing students by not teaching them how to communicate in social media? Are we putting all our writing lessons in one basket?
     The first spark was a tweet from @willrich45 about Digital Outcasts. Will discusses Nishant Shaha's definition of  a digital outcast as ". . . not somebody who doesn’t have access to the technologies; s/he is somebody who, after the access has been granted, fails to actualise the transformative potentials of technologies for the self or for others." Will suggests that we need to teach students not only how to use media properly, but how to employ it in the service of others. Really interesting point and as I was chewing on the implications of where Will's post was leading me, a tweet came into my feed from @DanielPink about how Columbia Business School is asking for 200-character admission essays. Here is an excerpt from the post:
Earlier this summer the University of Iowa's Tippie School of Management made headlines by ditching the traditional essay in favor of allowing would-be students to use Twitter to write a 140-character application. Now Columbia Business School is following suit by asking applicants, "What is your post-M.B.A. professional goal?" and limiting responses to just 200-characters—not words, characters.
     Good grief! A 200-character or less response to what is your goal? Of course the response would have to be incredibly focused and fresh to get the attention of the admissions committee. A great challenge but are our students up for it? 
     Daniel Pink's tweet reminded me of one of my least favorite doctoral classes. It was a required technology class and we had weekly assignments where the professor would post a question on one of the assigned readings and we needed to respond in a blog in 25 words or less. Not bad, right? Well the kicker was that your response had to be completely original. You could not repeat the thoughts of any previous poster. Of course, I would  sit impatiently by my computer near posting time so as to try and get my post in first, for the more time (and the more posts submitted) that went by, the more difficult it was to respond in 25 words or less with an original response. At the time, I cursed that class and that professor, but now I think he was genius. I read those weekly readings very carefully in light of how I might be required to respond any one of them. I tried to anticipate how others might respond. The professor's point was that it was not all about how you responded to the reading but understanding how others felt too, and by incorporating those communal thoughts,  perhaps you might change your perspective and respond with a fresh perspective.He required rapid, clear, and concise responses. It was great training for current communication practices.
     So, what do you think? Are we missing the boat in putting all our eggs in the basket of long essays and literary analysis? Should we be teaching our students how to properly provide a critical response to a blog, how to properly tweet, how to truly listen (read) to other responses and respond back in a thoughtful and concise manner? Wouldn't our students benefit from a laser like focus on their analysis and writing? And more importantly, why are we not taking the next step and teaching our students how to use these technologies to change the world for the better? 

     Let me know what you think   . . in 140 characters or less. :)