Entropy ... Everywhere

Photo by  Nathan Dumlao  on  Unsplash

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

If you want to brush up on entropy, you can read about it here. That´s the article I read that started me thinking about, and seeing, entropy … everywhere. If you don´t want to read that article (you should, you know) the very simple idea is that things, on average, run towards chaos and destruction … unless some outside force is applied. For example, your cup of hot morning beverage gets cold. The heat releases to where it isn´t hot. Never, ever, will your steaming hot cup of morning stay hot, nor get hot…unless you do something.

Let´s unpack that a moment with a focus on a classroom. You start the year. You get to know each other, you build community, you build guidelines or rules with your students. You play some team building games. And then, you stop. You stop, probably, because the immense pressure of CURRICULUM and COVERAGE start to press down upon you. Now, there is a chance, a very small one, that through random occurrence the community that you built in the early part of the year will continue to grow and blossom. However, the overwhelming percentage of random events favors chaos and destruction. When that starts to happen, you then have to “apply force” by recommitting to getting to know each other, or to reconvene your long lost community circle to figure out if “this is who we want to be.”

I was creating a mini-cast (podcast under 15 minutes.. I may have invented the term, I may not have. I haven´t Googled it in any case) with a colleague, Jesse Howe. Our focus was labels. He mentioned that labels and diagnoses, at least in the American Public School System, were created because people needed help and they were not getting it. A good thing, right? However, since inception, entropy has set in. Now we dole out labels will-nilly in the hopes that it might help teachers know their kids so they can help them. However, if you know anything about Roesenthal´s rats, labels can be very dangerous. If they lower teacher expectations, good luck kid.

The bottom line in all of this is: if we want to maintain or improve anything, we must WORK. We must put forth EFFORT. And thinking of effort, my thoughts on what a teacher´s best ROI (return on investment) are for another day.

Too Much of a Good Thing is Still Too Much

Photo by  Romain Vignes  on  Unsplash

Photo by Romain Vignes on Unsplash

Our brain hasn´t changed much over the past 200,000 years. Our lives sure have though. Every brain needs the following things, every day, to be healthy. Focus time, down time, play time (spontaneous, creative, novel), physical time, connection time (with people or nature, technology DOES NOT count), time-in (thinking about our thoughts, feelings, etc), and sleep. Thinking about our past, these things were just a natural part of life. We didn´t have to “make time” to do any of them. Now we do. Why?

Just like our body and brain developed ways to make us eat as many sugars and fats as we could,I am guessing they it did the same with focus time. If you look at all the activities that are bad for us, and that we become addicted to, they all are some sort of focused activity. Social media, YouTube, Netflix, Television, video games. All of them are focused activities.

Our brain is only capable of so much focus in any given time period. It´s something like 25 minutes at a time (10 for kiddos less than 12), and somewhere between 2-4 hours in one day. Think about that. 2-4 hours in one day. How much time do you spend staring at a screen? Your children? Your students? Are we robbing ourselves of any attempt to focus on things that truly matter?

If you think about an average child now, how much time do you think they spend doing focused activity on an average day? You have the school day: depending on the school, a student is probably being asked to focus for AT LEAST 4 hours. That same student goes home. How many focused activities are they doing there? Down time? Time-in? Sleep? How much actual play?

I played a ton. I did imaginary play all the way through High School. I think maybe … maybe .. 3 of my 22 students do any sort of imaginative play at this point. I teach 5th grade. Think about that. We live in a world that our brains are not made for. This world has evolved systems that make us addicted to them (most likely accidentally!!). We have accidentally addicted our children to technology. To their utmost determent.

Why has this happened? Thoughts on that next time.

A Reflection on Risk-taking, The Launch Cycle, and Scaffolding

I like to take risks. Nothing too out there. Calculated risks is a better term. You would never catch me falling out of a plane or launching myself off of a bridge. Not my kind of risk. I also think incessantly about things. I have been known to think about how to improve a lesson up until I start the darn thing. I also know that if I stop thinking about something, that my brain continues to work on the problem or process that I´ve been contemplating. 

I want our classroom to be a place where all kids are included. Where they know they have influence. Where we are an actual community of learners. I don´t think we´ve ever made it all the way. One of my great laments about teaching is that I just have the group of kids for one year. And then I start over with a new bunch. It´s painful for me. 

Anyways, at some point last week, about one minute before I started to talk to my class of learners, a voice boomed in my head. "Remember the launch cycle? Remember how you tried it once, and it was a big bust, and how much you still like it? How could you use it for the kids to design something within the classroom?" And then three things popped up in my mind. The classroom library. Our daily schedule. A class website. 

These are all things that I have designed in the past. They have been owned and operated by yours truly. And I´ve always been a fan. And maybe some...SOME... of my students have been fans too. So I made a split second decision, based on years of thinking. I listed the three topics, and had them rank them of which interested them the most. I told them they were guaranteed to get one of their top three choices (Have I ever told you how funny I am?) I then created three groups. Every student wound up getting at least their number 2 choice.

I then introduced the Launch Cycle to them (John Spencer, A.J. Juliani. Follow them. Read them. Watch them. Just do it.). After that, I had them brainstorm when working in teams was good, and what it was the pits. I asked them to come up with some agreements to keep it in the positive side. I then asked each team to have a project manager. And then I set them off.

From there I checked in with the project managers. I showed them how to use Google Sheets to assign and track work. I asked for summaries and plans of work. Fast forward a week later, and probably close to 200 minutes of classtime and no team is finished.  And that´s o.k. They´ve never done this before. I asked them to reflect on what they had learned so far. Here are some responses:

  • "You have to work together as a team, you can't split up, you have to keep going and talk a lot about the process."
  • “I learned what things you need to create a good website.”
  • “I've learned that when I have a problem on the computer, I can solve it myself or with the help  of my team.”
  • “I've learned that working on a team is not that easy. I also learned that there has to be good communication.”
  • “Working on a team is easier and more difficult at the same time.”
  • “I learned to make my own photos, and not copy what other people have done on the internet.”
  • “I discovered that you need to put effort into everything. If you don't, your work is not going to turn out well.”
  • “Designing a library is hard work. You have to listen to other people's ideas, and you don't always get to do what you want.”

For my own reflection, I should have given them different support. A structure, more than the sheets and summaries I asked of them. And as I was thinking that, I get an email from John Spencer (yeah, the same one from up there! It was his newsletter, but still.. an email) that goes over 5 structures to use with your students to help them learn project management. So we are off and running again. I now understand, wonderfully, that these projects (I hope) are going to last the whole year, with each group trying to improve their design. When each team finishes their first cycle, and they agree that I can share their work with the world (or the very small amount of it that might read it here, and you count as the world!!) then I will post some pictures of their products (and even a link to our website)

Best... Day... Ever .. (at least professionally ... I think ...)

My daughter just started attending the school where my wife and I teach, so she has started joining us on the morning commute. To make things fair, we said that each day we would take turns choosing what we listened to. Yesterday, I chose a podcast that my wife and I enjoy very much, The Knowledge Project by Shane Parrish (follow him immediately if you don´t already). Near the end of the ride, my daughter moaned, "This talking is making my tummy feel bad." 

Cut to this morning. She packed herself three books to "read" in the car, just in case we had to listen to the talking again. Love that kid.

So, the professional part. Some time this week, I read a blog post that was shared by Barry Dequanne (follow him immediately as well if you don´t already) about how a team of teachers were trying to build agency in their students. Inspiring read. This morning I had each student brain storm on post-it notes when reading, writing, maths (yes I like the English way to say it better, blame Jo Boaler (follow her immediately as well), science & social studies went well for them, and when they were the pits. They then posted those thoughts onto posters. We then went around and read all of the responses and put a check-mark if we agreed or an exclamation point if we thought it was a great idea. I also asked them to come up with some community building games, and some rituals and traditions we might start.

During my planning time, I was able to go through all the comments and make some decisions for the rest of the day. One of those decisions may have been a mistake. I decided to give them a baseline maths assessment , well part of one at least. The reason I fear it was a mistake was the fact that it was the first "official" thing we did in maths this year. However, in reading their responses to when maths was the pits, it mostly had to do with having stress, being forced to do very long assessments in one go, and not liking tests. I wanted to show them how it was going to be different this year. I hope it was the right decision. Time will tell.

Fast forward to our team meeting. Our grade-level wants to set some common expectations for safety and share those with our students. When I was thinking about planning this, it occurred to me to try and do so as a group planning conversation facilitated by one of our trained cognitive coaches (if you´ve never heard of either, find out. It´s life changing stuff.) We also invited administrators and other coaches to come and watch (even record!) our conversation. It was kind of a big deal because it was the first time at our school that anyone had tried something like this.  As I was talking to one of our other coaches, she mentioned that we should invite one of our trained systems experts to come in for support (what kind of a great place do we get to work at, huh?).  The conversation was hands down my favorite team meeting I have ever been to. I still need to send a delta/plus reflection to the rest of the team to get their feedforward. The one person I talked to exclaimed that they really enjoyed the format, so I am hoping it´s more if not all of them thinking the same way.

After lunch, I had the students do an actual gallery walk. I say actual because I had always half-assed them in the past, having half of the students present as the other half was the wandering audience and then switching. This time, I decided to read the directions. So I had five "artists" going at once, and another 4 triads and 1 group of 5 as the rotating gallery walkers. Each artist got a total of 5 minutes (Five 1 minute presentations) to talk about their work. During the gallery walk, I used positive discipline effectively to help a student. After the presentations, I then had each table group get together to answer a particular reflection question, and then give appreciations. We had at least 10 appreciations ... which were the first appreciations of the year given by someone not named Mr. Light.

After our 15 minute brain break (want to learn more about breaks? Go here. Oh, and follow Daniel Pink) we brainstormed about what kind of content we wanted to create for the student run classroom website. I then gave a rousing speech about our homework approach, and the concept of JUNTOS (that means together in Spanish, and it´s something my 3 and 1/2 year old son says a lot) which is a major theme of mine this year. 

Rewind to yesterday. I was talking with my wife (follow her too!) about how to get kids to reflect deeply on their work. At the end of the talk, it was decided that I should ask my students if they were proud enough of their work to publish it to a global audience (I unpacked what that meant with them, and then had them write a reflection about if they believed so, why they believed that, and what decisions did they make that caused them to produce the work that they did).

This afternoon. I handed each student back their reflection from yesterday and asked them to reflect again. See, during the gallery walk, each student got to see 17 other exemplars that they could compare their work to, so they could truly get an idea as to what their quality of work was. I had no interest in creating a rubric, or grading them. I know these things don´t help. Seeing excellent work, done by a peer in the same situation as them. That´s the data they need in order to reflect on their own practice. All I asked them to do was write down if they agreed with their assessment of their work from yesterday. Yes. Or no. When they left for home, 7 kids asked me for a new piece of paper, so they could redo their ungraded work.

By the by. The parents of 14 out of 22 of my students filled out a survey.  And they all signed up for my WhatsApp broadcast list that I am going to use to share ideas on how to motivate their kids, and tips on parenting. 

Not a  bad 10 hours, huh?

The Levels of Growth Mindset

Photo by  Jeremy Bishop  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

I was sitting in a meeting today when the facilitator showed an image. Fixed vs. Growth Mindset. If you haven´t heard of it, Carol Dweck is the guru. So watch her Ted Talk or read her book (and probably move out from that rock you have been living under :) )

This idea has been in education for a while, and I think a lot of people have bought into it. I also think there are different levels (like anything).  As an educator, you can have a fixed or growth mindset about your students (some vs. all). You can have a fixed or growth mindset about yourself (some things vs. all things). There is one other area of mindset that I wonder about. Your thoughts about other adults...

When you look at some other human-- another teacher, an athlete-- anyone who can do something better than you. Are you willing to admit, out loud, that they have worked harder than you have? Or do you say, they were lucky? Or that´s just who they are? At this point in my life, when I see someone do something well, I now assume that they have put the required work in to do so. They may not have put it into the specific skill I saw-- maybe they worked a lot on something connected to it-- that made the acquisition and application of the skill that much "easier" than for me or for others.

Maybe you´ve thought someone was just "Techy". (or "artsy", or "sporty" ... any of the Spice Girls) Well, you might be relegating 30 years of playing around with technology (or art, or sport, or spice), experimenting with it, having fun with it, learning about it to your one word description. So, like I asked before, are you willing to acknowledge someone outworking you? If you are, than I think that means you are pushing the boundaries of what it means to have a growth mindset.

Let´s Begin.

I´m not sure just what I hope to accomplish with any of this. I do know that I want to start marshaling my thoughts, and writing is the best way to do just that. So, that´s what the goal is. Marshal my thoughts. If anyone gets a benefit out of it, great. If it makes an impact, even better. If it leads to a fundamental shift, wow.

I am worried about a lot. I know that every generation before me has been worried about the generations after them, especially the youngest ones. So I am not breaking any new ground here. Kids need to play. Kids need to have limits. Kids need to be taught. Kids need to figure stuff out for themselves. Kids need opportunity to fail. To make mistakes and to rise up.  What am I worried about?



There are so many ways to not think now, and we don´t really like to think. It´s not something we do without effort. We tend to choose things that don´t require much thought. It´s some sort of energy saving device. We are mammals after all. Is the typical home, now, a place where no one is thinking? Is it a place where parents and children alike take to their own device and connect themselves out of the present, remove themselves from this realm and into a different, less thought inducing, reality? Is that the norm? That´s what I´m worried about.

I´m worried that children, for the first time in Human history, have access to the adult world. And if the adults that love them do not shield them, or at the very least guide them, from and through this world, then very bad things will happen. I teach 5th grade. The things kids laugh at...a series of prank videos where a person randomly sprays people in the face with a fire extinguisher....a vine in which someone has just been clipped by a car (on purpose? by accident? accidentally on purpose?) and as he is rolling around in pain, someone voices over, "he needs milk!".... memes that poke fun at people suffering...oh, and Nazis. If you type Nazis into Google Images inside of your doc or slide, it shows a bunch that have been doctored and memefied, and the kids laugh. Oh  do they laugh.

And as I am talking to them about these things, I often get the feeling that I am shouting into a hurricane. That I am dropping a pebble into a tsunami. I worry about my own children. I have no interest, ever, of getting them a smart-phone. And what happens when they are older, and all of their friends have one. Does my position make them outcasts? Can I do that to my own children? My plan is to try and help other parents see why they should take my own position.  And if I fail... what then?

Since there are so many ways to dull your brain, turn it into cabbage as Charlie Munger would say, is that making it that much harder for our youngest to even  be able to think? I know school needs to change, I´m just not sure it needs to change in the way we all think.  Actions lead to mindsets. What actions do we need to make sure our students are doing, that will help them to thrive in our present and any future that comes their way.

And so these are my starting points. Let us see what comes of this, shall we?