July 3, 2014

Flashes Foretell the ISTE Cloudburst

Filed under: deep thoughts,gifted,ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Network,iste14 — Candace Hackett Shively @ 2:10 pm

ISTE bagMost of us who went to ISTE 2014 in Atlanta have already blogged or sent copious clever tweets about it. We have collected, shared, and digitally packed our ISTE takeaways into a turquoise-tinted ISTE Cloud. Already precipitating from that cloud are favorite gems, sprinkling or pouring down on constituents back home. A long holiday weekend (in the U.S.) may pose a temporary interruption to the ISTE precipitation cycle,  but the ISTE Cloud remains pregnant and ready to burst open again upon the next inservice, staff meeting, or chat.

Since my home ground is everywhere that Thinking Teachers live and work, my ISTE Cloud will rain down over the next few months in many digital spaces from TeachersFirst. But for now I must share a few impressions that struck me at ISTE. These are not the downpour of thoughts and skills, tools and tasks, entire new angles and approaches to learning that are incubating in my ISTE Cloud. These are flash impressions, the lightning that foreshadows a coming storm. I saw each lightning bolt flash before me only briefly, but knew each had more power than anything I could produce on my own — and I can only attempt to explain.

A school board president and tech director from a rural Idaho school district stand outside the Bloggers’ Cafe as I hear the board president ask his tech director, ” So how could I use a blog?” The conversation that ensues (as I pipe in) spans from a 60-something business owner into a world he begins to envision: sharing his business, seeing his grandkids’ pictures and writing about school board issues so the community can understand and converse. Then he asks, ” And how do teachers and kids use blogs?” From the world he knows to the world of school to the world beyond as he SEES it for the first time. He came to ISTE, and he will go home a different leader.  My flash: Not every leader or every school or every teacher has the tech or PD we at ISTE assume they do. I wonder: How can we each turn our ISTE Cloud into PD and learning philanthropy? 

Six twenty-something teachers from a Georgia high school stand in a clump in the GWCC lobby on the first day of ISTE, teachers representing their departments at the same high school: math, science, history, English, etc. They stop me because I have badge ribbons, so surely I know where to go and how to get started. They have the ISTE app, but their eyes are those of a new ninth grader on the first day of school: giddy,  laughing, a little terrified, ready to rock and roll, but already lost without the schedule they know they have here somewhere. My flash: A first ISTE is like first year teaching. Everyone needs a mentor!

Late afternoon in a windowless room of tables nearly full.  About 150 ed tech coaches — with at least 40 different job titles — gulp down collaboration with peers from all over the U.S. and a few other countries. They exchange problems/solutions, Twitter handles, “kryptonite,” and verbal/Google Drawing pictures of what their coaching looks like. The sound of the room is beyond hum or buzz. It is a the sound of water tumbling powerfully at the base of the waterfall, ready to rush forward. My flash: The Ed Tech Coaches Network has all the energy we could ever need. Let it spill forth! We’ll just manage the flood control.

Mid-morning in the subdued light beneath a busy escalator, eight stations of Superhero Ed Tech Coaches are doing far more than “Saving the Day.” At the newbie coaches demo area, there isn’t even standing room left. The other stations are 3-4 rows deep. My flash: The ed tech coaching waters are deep, and the superheroes will allow no one to drown. 

Two hundred teachers look up at us from perfect rows of convention-center-latched chairs. They lean into their devices or hold them up to scan QR codes on the screen as they listen, chat back, and multitask with our enthusiastic endorsement. I glance beside me at my colleague and once-mentoree as she explains about dozens of ways to differentiate and meet the needs of gifted kiddos using great, free tools. Heads nod, and occasional Ooos escape. I chime in with my portion of the presentation as she chats back to the questions and comments on Todaysmeet. My flash: Not everyone has forgotten about the gifted kids in today’s test-driven world after all, but we have a whole new generation of teachers who may never have been given permission to think about them.  

May your July 4th bring you both independence and incubation time so you can share in the outpourings from ISTE 2014 over the months to come, whether you were there or not!

I will be posting a bit less often during July as I ease my schedule a bit to enjoy summer fun. Weekly madness resumes in August.

May 9, 2014

Ideas for Gifted: A handful for the handful

Filed under: creativity,gifted,iste14,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:31 am

Consider this post part of the “think out loud” planning phase of our ISTE presentation. Melissa Henning and I are presenting at ISTE Atlanta next month on Nourishing gifted through technology in any classroom. We have collected scores of our “favorite” resources to share with teachers, but time will limit us to sharing a number roughly proportionate to the number of gifted among the general population (< 2%). Well, maybe we’ll do a little better than that.

One of the things I learned from teaching gifted kiddos is that given choices, they’ll take forever to decide.  They LOVE choice, but they can generate more criteria to weigh their decision than the President of the U.S. in deciding whether to ask Congress for a declaration of war. But maybe this… and what about that… and this could happen, etc. Choice can sometimes mean paralysis for a gifted kid. They do need to learn HOW to select the best tool for the task, but the best we can do is offer them both limited choices and limited time to decide. So one strategy I will suggest in my part of the presentation is to offer a handful to the handful…then let them decide hands-on during the time at hand.hand

Here is an example for teachers of elementary gifted kiddos. Since most web tools (and U.S. law) say kids must be 13 to set up memberships without parent permission, the path of least resistance is either no-membership-required or teacher-controlled accounts. No membership is the quickest. So you want the kiddos to work on a gifted level challenge about plants on their own while you are reteaching the basics to students who are struggling or having most of the class do a reinforcement activity. Here is a sample handful for your handful of munchkin (gr 1-5) gifted ones. Note that with very young ones (K-2) or those with no technology experience, you might want to limit the choices to the topics and just TWO options from the “show what you know” group.

1. Choose a project topic: (You have five minutes to think or search online and decide. You MAY suggest another topic of your own choice.)

  • A year in the life of a specific plant
  • Life without bees (is this going to happen soon?)
  • The weird and the wild (strange plants and how they live)
  • People who work with plants
  • Incredible edibles:  the plants we eat and how they make us grow

2. Choose a way that you will SHOW WHAT YOU KNOW after you research and learn: You must decide before  you come to class tomorrow.

  • A sticky note board with images, links, and your own written information, tips, questions, and more. Your board could be an activity for people to do or an organized online “display.” Use a tool called Lino.
  • One to three online drawings or whiteboards with words included. Use Draw It Live, but be SURE you copy the urls for your boards or mark them in Favorites so we can find them again!
  • A blog post using Loose Leaves (written as if the author were you or someone/something else). Note that this tool is for WORDS only!
  • A talking exhibit with recorded sound downloaded from Online Voice Recorder to go with an actual display of drawings or models you make.
  • An image (up to 3 images) with speech bubbles and more . Use a tool called PhraseIt and images you find with help using Compfight.

3. Make a  Strike To-do list of the steps for your project, mark it in Favorites, and have it approved before you start. You may play with any of the tools listed (or suggest your own alternative), but you must commit to your tool/project choice in the To-do list.

That should give the handful a headful of possibilities AND a plan to dig in. Having a clock or timer around to remind them of real world time couldn’t hurt, either. Unfortunately, gifted or creative people do not deal well with being creative in 40 minute increments!

Wondering how to evaluate what they do ? We will talk about rubrics in our presentation, too. For now, I am still collecting and curating FAVORITE ideas and tools. Stay tuned.

Oh, and about the post title… yes, I know that gifted kids can also BE a handful. But isn’t that the joy of teaching them?

December 5, 2013

Unfolding cardboard school

Filed under: creativity,education,gifted,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:35 am

I cherish my collection of memorable teaching/learning moments that exemplify how gifted students “see” the world differently. I do not believe that gifted students are alone in their unique views. They are, however, uniquely willing and able to express these thoughts —  or may have them far more often. In any case, I believe we as teachers can learn much from listening to the questions of gifted students who blow away the cliche, “think outside the box.” Their questions, ideas, and thoughtful approaches unfold the boxes, creating something entirely different from the plain brown cardboard called “school.”

One such unfolded view comes in the “visual creativity” Jonathan Wai describes on the Mindshift blog. Wai posits the importance of recognizing and promoting visual thinking (“spatial creativity”) among all learners. I have seen memorable moments of this acuity “unfolding” in front of me, students whizzing through Tangrams and Set so quickly the rest of us missed  the answers before they began another problem!  Visual-spatial skill uses an entirely different part of the brain, one typically underdeveloped in teachers’ verbally adept brains and ignored by tests, Standards, and cardboard school. The Common Core Standards include shapes, slices, rotations, flips, turns, surfaces, and the usual volume and area. CCSS high school geometry standards include endless requirements about relationships and functions that define shapes. There is even one standard that calls for “Apply[ing] geometric methods to solve design problems (e.g., designing an object or structure to satisfy physical constraints or minimize cost; working with typographic grid systems based on ratios). Another calls on students to “Identify the shapes of two-dimensional cross-sections of three-dimensional objects, and identify three-dimensional objects generated by rotations of two-dimensional objects.”  But all of these are within confines (boxes) that are rarely unfolded outside of “math class” or for other purposes and approaches to thinking visually.

Stop to think about the kid you went to school with, the one who was amazing at geometry and stunk in every other math class. S/he “saw” the proofs that you struggled with, even if s/he never quite got them on paper correctly. Remember those kids. I taught them, the gifted kids who scored the maximum 19 on the Block Design subtest of a WISC-R  but could barely write or speak a complex sentence.  Jonathan Wai may be onto something. If promoting talent in visual thinking is good for these extreme cases, perhaps we should be encouraging all students to unfold and repurpose the boxes. I share ten FREE, reviewed resources to get started, since this is not an area most teachers feel adept to address:

Several reviewed, online Tangram games

A collection of virtual, visual manipulatives (requires Java)

Blender 3D animation— a REAL challenge!

TinkerCad design for 3D printers

Foldplay (very cool!)

Box Templates (to make, UNFOLD, and change?)

Origami Club animations of MANY foldables

A new way to look at unfolded boxes (direct link)

Cloud Dreamer (for younger ones)


Another, profoundly memorable teaching/learning moment for me came in a single question from a second grader: “Is the number of grains of sand on the earth — at any one moment– infinity?”  I thought of this question when I ran across this post, an example of a box unfolding to new thinking. Questions like the second grader and blog versions of the grains-of-sand debate defy boxes. They do not go “beyond” a box, they create new folds in our understanding of the world. Like many questions that pop into our students’ heads, these fall outside the scope of cardboard school. But shouldn’t we invite them inside? The BEST source for questions is your students’ own thought questions. If you don’t want them to “interrupt” a lesson by unfolding their thinking out loud, at least offer a virtual graffiti wall using a tool accessible from any device where they can post their questions and “crazy ideas.” How/ how often do you encourage your students to interrupt YOUR thinking with theirs? Here are some sources for questions you and your students can drop into your curriculum, outside the “standard”:


Think (elementary)

101 questions

Super Thinkers

Thought Questions

This is the season of boxes: shipping boxes, gift boxes, ornament boxes, etc. Why not use the inspiration of a few experiences with gifted kids to unfold some of the cardboard in your class’s thinking as a special gift? You never know what you might unwrap.


July 19, 2013

Going Listless: A case for deeper thinking

Filed under: creativity,deep thoughts,gifted,learning,writing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:58 am

NUMLISTToday’s rapid-fire, tweeting world loves lists. We see numbered lists on Twitter, in headlines, on magazine covers, among the “popular” stories on our Google News sidebar, among our Facebook friends’ links, on blogs or sites we follow, and even on television. The lists often outnumber any significant substance. The headlines read “Ten best ways to do this,” “Top seven blunders of that,” “50 Best blah-blah,” “100 top whatever.” I admit that I have fallen into the numbered list trap when in a hurry. It’s simply easier and quicker to list a bunch of stuff than it is to finely craft a single idea.

I am tired of lists. Give me one solid, deep article or critique any time over a long list that allows the author to avoid a firm decision or  investigation of  one option in full detail. I would like a supported opinion on one book, a recommended investment, a classroom management strategy, or tip to deal with an ornery two year old, not a long list of possibilities that I must sort, probe, or filter. Yes, I like choices, but I also like to hear an opinion supported by evidence and flavored by nuance. Numbered lists are quick, but they share as much subtlety as an all you can eat buffet. They scream,” My smorgasbord is impressive because it has so many serving dishes, not because any dish can actually stand  on its own culinary merit.”

As teachers, we expect our students to provide visible steps for their solutions to equations, solid evidence for the thesis of their essays, and connections between data and conclusion in their lab reports. Would we allow a “Top ten options in solving for X”? or “Seven possible reasons for the Civil War”? I hope not. Numbered lists have value as brainstorms and for idea gathering — as preliminary investigations, not as ends in themselves.

We should model what we expect. If we write lists for our students (or parents), we should prioritize the items and explain why. If we allow Top Ten lists from our students, at the very least we should ask,”Now that you have chosen ten, can you rank them, explaining why you chose that order?”  If we write articles or blogs, we should skip lists and focus on one thorough critique or discussion.

Ready to go listless? Here is a teaching idea to promote 21st century skills and an opportunity for authentic learning: Have students collect as many examples as they can of numbered lists from their own experience of the media, web surfing, or social networking: articles, blog posts, videos, etc. Then ask them to select one list they care about, research it, and rewrite it based on evidence to support a specific rank order. Of course, they will need to write their explanation in a manner  understandable to the list’s intended audience, including all the supporting evidence, appropriate voice, and conventions needed for publishing in that venue. Have them share it as a comment, blog post, or in-kind response to the original author.

“Listless” could become a very productive oxymoron.

July 12, 2013

Awesome Foursome: Writing ideas with a twist

Filed under: creativity,gifted,Ok2Ask,teaching,writing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:10 am

I must share this awesome foursome of writing resources that grabbed my creative eye as I prepare for an online OK2Ask session  in August. twist2

Gone Google Story Builder (reviewed here). Layer writing on top of digital storytelling about writing using this tool that plays back the writing and editing process as a video. Here is a tongue in cheek (?) example. Imagine assigning students to write s story about writing, portraying two or more characters in the process. Suddenly, the writing matters because we are highlighting the actual process of writing. But the metalayer is that we can “see” the persona doing the writing. What a wonderful way to make students aware of narrative persona and of the thinking processes involved with writing. It would be great fun for a student to show an internal tug of war as he/she writes, such as the impulse to be wildly creative and the impulse to please admissions committees reading a college essay. To actually use this in class, you might have to start by simply brainstorming characters who could be writing and editing a piece together:  a parent and a teen, Jekyll and Hyde, a dog and a cat, Hemingway and Dickens, etc. It also might be easier to make this a partner project. Then ask students to jump back and describe the message of the writing “story” they have told. Layer on layer…

Five Sentences (reviewed here). This is simply a challenge to become more succinct and get to the point in emails. Email is a boring old people medium, but it is also a workplace (and adult) reality.  It is a very practical way to focus writing for a purpose. Students could start with examples of long emails they or their parents have received, rewriting them in five sentences.  Then they could write their own five sentence emails for a real purpose. [Five sentence end here…got the gist?] Many web sites have “contact us” boxes with limited text fields, so the five sentence limit is good practice. Brainstorm things teens might be asking for: a refund, a replacement for a defective product, information about something, etc. Then have them write the five sentences. Make a five sentence rule for emails to YOU as the teacher, and promise to respond in five sentences. Do you think parents would comply?

750 Words (reviewed here) Everybody needs a place to mind-dump. This private space is a good one to vent, collect pieces of writing you don’t know what to do with, lines from songs you like, or angry words you should never actually send via email or text. If your students have email accounts, they can have 750 words accounts. These personal spaces are great for daily write-to-think time, but they are even more likely to be used if students have permission to write off topic at last part of the time. Instead of having them write for you, have them write for themselves.  Keep a class 750 words account where students can enter simply the TOPIC they  wrote about with their own 750 Words today. That list will become inspiration for others.

Quest (reviewed here) Write a game. A long time ago on devices with small black and green screens, there was a game called Adventure. Players made choices about their moves based on text descriptions of where they were and what their options were. The writing must be very clear and consistent, but the option to use vivid description and clever plot twists makes text-based game-creation addictive. A science or history teacher could incorporate writing and gaming to reinforce concepts. For example, a game written by students could include accurate geologic formations or chemical reactions. A game set in a certain place and time in history could include encounters with actual historic figures. This seems a perfect collaborative task for a group of 2-3. Just realize that it could spin into weeks of game obsession. Got gifted? Toss this one at them as a way to use what they know and write their way much further.

I love summer for getting the creative juices flowing.


March 22, 2013

Opening the lid: A tale of fleas and information literacy

Filed under: creativity,gifted,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:41 am

I saw a reference to this YouTube video about Training Fleas in a tweet, questioning the actual source of the information (thanks to Stephen Ransom, @ransomtech). The video itself bears no identifying information about the speaker.  Nor does the YouTube poster’s profile say much. There are no references to support the information presented as fact. It is not discussed on Snopes, either.jar

As a former teacher (and lifelong advocate) of gifted students, my antennae went up. Of course, I love the message of the video as an analogy about the plight of students held in a “jar.” That analogy has apparently been widely used among members of NAGC and  in various presentations on gifted. I also enjoy the irony that adults — even those who should be critical consumers — seem to accept this source.

My question: Could gifted kids (or any kids) do a better job of digging up the source(s) and validating or refuting the information? Unable to immediately toss the challenge to students of my own (since I no longer have any – sigh) , I emailed two colleagues who have gifted kids in class every day. (At least I could enjoy “watching” the results vicariously.)  The first round of results  from a HS group during a “club period” (with thanks and full credit to teacher PJ for sharing with me):

A great group of four kids who are incredibly creative thinkers, as well as being smart. They jumped in head first and had a great time with this, although in the 40 minutes they had to work on it, they didn’t find anything conclusive.

They researched:

Could fleas live in the jar for 3 days with no air and no food? What percentage of the fleas’ lifespan is 3 days, and how would spending those 3 days in the jar affect their ability to reproduce?

They looked critically at the video itself and wondered why they couldn’t see any flea eggs in the jar at the end? Or any dead fleas?

They did get distracted (as they often do) with trying to research whether fleas are subject to peer pressure, whether fleas have families or gender roles, and a number of other things…

It was great fun watching them churn through the possibilities and ideas for researching, but also very frustrating to watch how our District’s poor tech support (we could barely get the video to run because of buffering issues–and it’s only a minute long) and the fact that they kept bumping up against blocked websites.

So I share the lessons I learn as a teacher from PJ’s anecdotal observations:
  • A challenge based on “debunking” an issue of interest may be the best motivator for students to think critically and  collaborate to develop research strategies. It might be even better if it’s on YouTube?
  • Students can generate some really interesting questions very quickly.
  • Students do not look first for the “scholarly” issues, such as the credentials of the author, to support online information.
  • Students may get distracted, but the tangential questions they generate could be valid learning experiences in themselves.
  • Students will persist — at least for 40 minutes– despite the annoying roadblocks imposed by web filtering and bandwidth throttling (sigh).

What do I do next? I am thinking of pulling together some of the web sources that even we adults typically accept and offer them as fodder for students to debunk, thus building information literacy skills while possibly showing us, the “educator” adults, how gullible we are. Yes, loads of sites do this already, but I think mining YouTube could be especially fun.

Have any similar informational videos to nominate for student review/debunking? If you try this with your students. please post about it (and give me the link) or comment here to share!

December 7, 2012

Rage to learn

Filed under: education,gifted,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:41 am

If you have read my blog for long, you know that I am a former teacher of gifted students. One of the things we teachers of gifted quickly learn is that the teaching strategies and initiatives we use with gifted kids are often adopted several years later for all children, though altered in pace or depth. It is a source of pride to us, an “I told you so” that we knew what worked all along.  Many of the same philosophies behind creative teaching and learning for gifted can benefit all kids. The truly gifted, especially those my colleagues and I facetiously dubbed the “severely and profoundly gifted,”  need a hyperbolic version of these same strategies and rarely need any of the skill backfill that others do.

So I was not surprised to read a passionate post on Stephanie S. Tolan’s blog The Deep End about the politics within the National Association for Gifted Children and the irony that the children themselves were not invited to the NAGC conversation. This is the same discussion that is occurring among education reformers who seek to change education from “schools” to “learning.” Follow the Twitter hashtag #edchat for a few days to see the passion among educators seeking to rethink what learning is all about and to include students as key players and decision makers in their own learning. Ms. Tolan describes the gifted with powerful voice:

One of their major differences (at least until we squash it out of them with work sheets and grades and gold stars and tests, grade point averages, boundaries and limitations) is their rage to learn and understand, and to do something with meaning. [my boldface, her italics]

I absolutely agree that this describes the gifted kids I know.  I think it can also describe most kids. Gifted kids feel the rage in heightened fashion and seek meaning at greater depth, but all kids feel the rage to learn until we stuff the school experience into boxes that lack any personal meaning. The gifted often find meaning via their own odd connections or perceptions. Other learners may need some help discovering meaning and personal connection.

The many, many good teachers I know try to forge connections of meaning for students who do not seek them on their own or need help doing so.  The very best teachers are able to kindle the rage to learn despite institutional requirements that muffle it. I hope our current moves to build rigor in our schools will stop to allow students to join the conversation and find meaning just as Ms.Tolan asks. It’s not just good for the gifted.

October 25, 2012

Break something to make something

Filed under: creativity,edtech,gifted,learning,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:51 am

What can I do to beat this, break this, or make people laugh?

When I taught gifted kids, their first approach when faced with a new technology tool, game, or toy was to beat it, break it, or make people laugh. I saw this reaction back in the day of early computer games we loaded from a 5 1/4 inch floppy disks. In the pre-PC days, my students — gifted or not –had the same reaction when faced with a special effects generator in the school’s black and white TV studio. (OK, now you can guess my age.) They wanted to make special effects that cut off heads or caused the TV monitors to go crazy.

Kids, especially middle school kids and older, will want to break, outsmart, or use any tech tool to make their friends laugh. We are missing a bet by not using this impulse to help them learn. There is a misconception, well debunked by Bill Ferriter, that technology itself is motivating. Ferriter is right. It isn’t motivating to ask kids to do what a tool is intended to do. It is motivating for kids to show their prowess in defeating it or molding it to their own purposes, preferably for an audience. The same social impulse makes them want to share on Facebook or YouTube. There may be some gender differences, but the stereotypes say what the boys break the girls will secretly redirect to their own purposes — giggling.

The makers movement challenges kids to MAKE things to fit a challenge. The gamification movement invites kids to create games to construct learning. I think we miss a bet by not asking kids to break things to meet a challenge. How can you use a tool of your choice to do something new and productive that it was NOT intended to do? What tool can you break to solve this unrelated problem? Give students the web full of  “tools,” and they will want to combine them or use them every way except as intended, especially middle and high schoolers. So let them.

Instead of  assigning kids tech tools to make a project using a specific tool, maybe we should simply allow them to break or “redirect” tools at will. The final rubric should certainly include curriculum accountability:  the result must show what they know about the prescribed curriculum. In the interest of teaching life skills and preserving our own jobs, we must include a requirement that the products have no more than a PG-13 rating (at least not in the version they submit for a grade). Share the rubric and any relevant acceptable use policy, but let students do it any way they want. Humor, even deviousness, can be a far greater motivator.  The teacher pleasers will ask for tools to be assigned, and that’s fine. The most able, most motivated,  and most creative will break something to make something. Isn’t that the innovation we want to build in our students?  The examples of “broken” or redirected  tools can serve to lure the timid into trying something a bit more adventurous themselves the next time.

One practical concern of this idea is that kids will take a long time to figure out the gimmicks and potential humor of the tools they choose. Let them do this on their own time. Schools have no walls, right?

Many years ago, I learned that comedy is far more difficult to write than drama. Parody, satire, and humor challenge the greatest minds. (I know how long it took to write a barely-adequate spoof of  “The Raven” last week!) If we can motivate kids to go above and beyond in their learning by following their impulse to break, trick, or make others laugh, we  have gone above and beyond our own curriculum. We have “mashed up” the student behaviors we can barely control with the curriculum we want students to master.  We have encouraged innovation. And we might even get a chance to laugh together.

January 21, 2011

China “snapsnacks”

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,gifted,istechina,learning,Misc.,musing,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 6:15 pm

Snapsnack: (I made this up) n. a quick impression, much like a handful of M&Ms or crackers to give you a small taste but nowhere near a “meal.”  Snapsnacks also make your brain work :)

There are still so many things I have not written about the China trip, so–just for teachers and kids– I am sharing some quick “snapsnacks” from China. My disclaimer: As with any short trip (11 days), my impressions may not be fair representations of China as a whole. Think about a visitor to your town. If he came on a certain snowy day, he would have one set of experiences, perhaps thinking that everyone always wears boots. If he stayed for a year, he would have a much truer sense of what your town/city/country is all about. For fun, try people-watching at your local grocery store and imagine what a one day visitor would say about your community!

Snapsnack 1: Students in China do not work in groups much. They do things all together as a class, often sm-desks.jpgreciting things out loud as a whole group. When one student is called on, he/she stands, hands behind the back, and looks at the front wall as he/she answers. We never saw a student raise his/her hand. I don’t know if this means they do not ever raise hands to ask questions/volunteer or if our visits just did not happen to see it. The students sit two-across or four-across with long aisles from the front to the back of the classroom. The only schools where we saw other seating arrangements were the international schools– where desks and tables were arranged many different ways. Do you think the way the seatssm-jaderocks.jpg are arranged in your classroom affects the way you learn and behave?

Snapsnack 2:  Did you know that high quality jade changes color over many years of being worn against human skin? I guess it is the warmth that changes it. The hardest jade comes from a mountain that is only partially in China. It is called jadeite. People in China give jade, not diamonds, when they get engaged. What natural resources from your area are rare? How rare are they? How do people use them? What affects their value?

Snapsnack 3:  The terracotta warriors were not always brown. When they were first excavated, they had brightly painted colors, but the colors faded very quickly once exposed to air. When the Chinese officials figured out that even the experts could not stop the fading, they stopped excavating the warriors. They are waiting to dig up the many thousands more (that they know are still underground) until they have found a technology to prevent the fading. They have consulted experts from around the world. What ideas do you have that might prevent the warriors’ colors from fading? How would you test your ideas?smrestorations.jpg

Snapsnack 4: Most people in the Chinese villages have never had  “land line” telephones. Your grandparents probably still have one, even if your family does not. The people in the villages do have cell phones.  Knowing what it takes to put “land line” telephones into homes vs. making cell phones work in the countryside, why do you suppose most villagers never had landlines? What do you know about the economic level of people in the Chinese countryside villages? What happened in China during the years since cell phones were invented? Can you think of reasons why the villagers’ phones are mostly cell phones?

The picture below shows a village home. What can you tell about what jobs people have in villages?


Snapsnack 5: There are web sites that do not work in China because of censorship, but people still “see” them. YouTube does not work on computers, but it does work on smart phones that have web browsers. Some sites do not work, but people pay to “get around” the censorship using a proxy server service. The cost is about $50/year. Teachers even pay it so they can use some sites with their students. Do you know of censorship that people “get around” or rules that people ignore? What is your definition of a rule that is “made to be broken” vs. one that should be respected and followed?

I hope to share more soon. For now, stay warm — those of you in the northern hemisphere.

February 17, 2010

Staircases and Habitrails

Filed under: creativity,education,gifted,learning,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 11:56 am

I recently came across this post about task analysis, an approach to helping many students master new concepts by carefully breaking them down into steps:

I believe that every new skill can be broken down into steps. We follow a certain procedure no matter what we do. Everything has its own recipe.

I fear that so much of education has swung in this behaviorist direction that we are losing touch with the countervailing trend in what our students do on their own, with their own time and self-directed learning. We have also created entire generations of teachers who learn — and therefore teach– via this step-by-step approach.

There is no question that for many learners, both young and not-so-young, staircases work. The risers are of equal size and measure out to arrive exactly at the landing after the prescribed number of upward swings of the legs. No single step is too taxing, and success is virtually guaranteed, provided we allow for differing rates of speed in going up the steps. Once a teacher masters the analytical skill of measuring out and calculating the amount of rise and number of steps, he/she is likely to guide most learners to the desired landing.

Now look at how our students learn when left to their own devices. Instead of staircases, some students’ learning takes place via giant, expanded Habitrail-like environments with wheels, chutes, interwoven tubes and shortcuts, and even a tube with an open-ended escape the big, wide world. The speed and rapid turns of these learners may not be suited to staircases, but they often have no other choice. They may see tasks a big pictures, with favored route that go by way of the big,wide world. They may even chose to climb three times farther and descend to the desired landing. They may never even cross that landing becuase they have built a direct chute to a whole different level. In a web 2.0 world, learning can be much more of a build-your-own Habitrail than a well-designed staircase.

Some kids prefer running up and down stairs over and over. As adults, we assume that everyone wants to go up. Some learners want to start at the top then appreciate the steps by exploring them (or striding briefly past a few at a time) on the way down.

I sincerely hope that those who teach do not forget that staircases, no matter how admirably engineered, may not be the way their students learn. Trying to navigate even a well-designed staircase can be a bruising experience for the leapers and learners who choose another way.