Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sketchnotes: Pushing Linear To Visual

ASIDE 2017
It’s been a hectic spring, and as we approach the end of school in fewer than 8 days, we are busier than ever. Of late, we’ve had a tendency to overthink what to post, instead of just sharing the many good things that we do with our students to promote making thinking visual. To that end, we thought we’d share in this post some of the sketchnotes that our students completed this year.

ASIDE 2017

One of the things we try to do is steer clear of just filling in worksheets and graphic organizers; instead, we want our learners to design their own organizational structures of information. We did this with our digital citizenship pledge this year. The students visually designed their own pledges. This approach let them focus on the content and create a graphic display of what it means to be a good digital citizen.

ASIDE 2017
Since our students routinely use sketchnotes in a variety of subjects and on multiple grade levels, many of them include visual annotations, or doodles if you will, on their own as reference points. We see it in their notes and sometimes in the margins on an assessment.

A few other unique examples we wanted to share were completed in a lesson about the different types of primary sources. Ask any student about where they can find primary source information, and most will say books and the Internet.

ASIDE 2017
This sketchnote activity opens their eyes to the vast array of places to locate primary documentation and firsthand accounts of information. The examples in this post represent some of the unique ways our learners visually organize how they think about content.

Sketchnotes are used to give context to content, and this design process helps with comprehension and retention of material. It’s one more tool for helping students to make thinking visible.

ASIDE 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Making Learning Visible – 1st Grade Infographics

Source: ASIDE 2017
We’ve built our mission on the idea that making learning visible through design changes they way learners view content. The examples in this post by our first graders illustrate just how important design was in providing a context for their Arctic animal research. This was our youngest group to tackle creating infographics, and boy, did they do a great job.

This crop of little designers followed a set of guidelines set up by our colleague Stephanie Temple (@stemple3) to organize the information. The process allowed them to follow step-by-step instructions regarding font selection, number of pictures, and factual information. Of course, choice meant that the students could personalize their work once they completed the basic criteria. Several capable students also took it upon themselves to do more; this provided an added level of differentiation.

Source: ASIDE 2017
Using infographics offers students an opportunity to display their research in a visual representation that can be easily understood. Students from second through eighth grade know this process, and we’re happy to say that we’ve added first grade into the mix. In fact, by the time they hit middle school, it becomes routine. They learn to critique each other for contrast, layout, typography, and more.

Source: ASIDE 2017
We keep the elements and principles of design posted in our classrooms and also electronically on their student portal. As a result, we frequently hear students helping others on different projects using what they’ve learned. It’s just what we want; thinking visibly becomes second nature.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Schools, Please Don’t Ban The Fidget Spinner - 9 Reasons Why This Is The Best Possible Fad

Source: Various

If you haven’t yet seen them, you will soon. In a matter of weeks, the latest kid craze has emerged, twirling in the hands of every middle schooler. Boys and girls alike now arrive in class with a plastic spinning whatchamacallit that they whirl ad infinitum throughout the day.

These popular trinkets are called fidget spinners, or some variation thereof. They are not new, but they are the newest trend. They feature either two or three prongs jutting out from a middle circle that, thanks to weighted bearings or loose-fitting rotators, allows the device to spin for long lengths of time between the thumb and forefinger. Some may have interchangeable parts. Some are made of plastic or steel. But all of them are currently occupying the idle minutes of children, many of whom have invented clever spinning stunts and tricks that can be seen across YouTube.

Source: ASIDE 2017

As with all kid crazes, it’s doubtlessly true that some teachers and schools are already in the process of outlawing them. Unfortunately, there is sometimes the impulse to ban first, think second. Pokemon cards, for example, have been largely prohibited from elementary classrooms, because they potentially lead to distracted and upset children. We would argue (as would one of our students, who wrote an editorial for our school newspaper) that teachers should help kids work through their interpersonal issues when a child, for example, gets upset after a Pokemon trade gone awry.

Source: Imgur

Perhaps fidget spinners are distracting. Perhaps they are “toys” that should remain at home. We would urge schools, however, to please embrace the spinners. Please celebrate the outlets of vibrancy and restlessness. Our seventh-graders let us try them out, and gosh darn it, they’re pretty neat.

Here are nine reasons that fidget spinners are the best fad of the decade:

1. They activate the mind - Kinetic energy of the hands translates to synaptic responses in the brain. Even repetitive tasks, such as spinning a widget, engage the mind and let the imaginative juices flow. Exercising or taking walks has long been recognized as helping with learning. Fidget spinners offer micro-exercise, to stimulate thinking at a child’s desk.

2. They (might) help distractible kids - A broad and worthy debate is taking place about whether these spinners truly help children with ADHD. Some argue that the trinkets are an outlet for excess energy. Others purport the opposite, that they distract rather than focus. Either way, all educators acknowledge that some kids are always going to lean back in their chairs and squirm in their seats. These toys do give active children an outlet to exercise their energy, spinning the prongs again and again and again.

3. They are harmless - At long last, here is a fad that is truly innocuous. Unlike bottle flipping (which makes a mess) or slime (which spreads its goo), these spinners have no injury quotient. They are all about one user and his or her play.

4. They are not about status - There is no prestige factor with fidget spinners. Unlike Ugg boots or Hamilton tickets, these are (relatively) inexpensive, available at local 7-Eleven stores. They are a novelty, a bauble, rather than a currency for popularity or exclusion.

Source: Dorkly

5. They are non-gendered - Fidget spinners constitute one of the only trends in recent memory that is not boy- or girl-specific. It is not about cat headbands or jeggings or friendship bracelets. It is not about football cards or anime or numbers of Instagram friends. This whim is completely benign.

6. They invite creativity - Kids are currently figuring out clever and advanced ways to keep the widgets spinning. Take a look at YouTube to see all sorts of neat and inventive stunt.

7. They are personal - Twirling a plastic knickknack is an individual activity. There is no competition and no trading. Instead, the activity welcomes a sense of mindfulness, to center one’s thoughts for a moment.

8. They involve the hands - In a world of passive screen time and binge television watching and all-night video gaming, these spinners actually celebrate motor coordination. They keep the student moving, and they enhance the dexterity of actual digits, rather than digital electronics.

9. They are a single investment - Students only need one. They are not collectibles. They don’t require scrapbooking or updating or charm-braceleting. They are a one-time purchase, to be enjoyed as long as the fad lasts.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why Multitasking Is A Myth AND Bad For Our Children

Source: ASIDE 2017

Today's students live in media-dominated bubbles. They stream Netflix, check Snapchat, Facetime friends, and scroll Instagram  simultaneously on laptops, iPads, and phones — all while purporting to do their evening homework. Parents tell us that homework now takes five or six hours a night for their children. But candidly, most of our parent conferences end up being conversations about how to wrestle devices away from their kids. Families acknowledge that more often than not, their sons and daughters are in bedrooms with doors closed and with devices on full blast. It's a mystery how much "work" is actually being done.

Source: NBC News

That's because today's media-saturated world demands multitasking to parse the competing inputs. "Multitasking" seems like a badge of honor for modern professionals and learners. But for most children and adults, multitasking is a myth that deserves to be disproved. Multitasking by its definition relies on interruption. It (wrongfully) claims disruption as a blessing. Countless scientific studies have refuted this premise. Instead, every endeavor benefits more from full attention, not fractured thought. Every test, quiz, or homework assignment benefits more from dedicated study, not digital disturbance.

A helpful video from NBC News tries to make sense of this contemporary obsession with multitasking. The scientists quoted in the clip argue that monotasking is in fact more vital for brain development. They note that interruptions of fewer than three seconds can double the rate of errors on simple tasks. Multitasking can lead to a difficulty in ignoring irrelevant information and in memorizing facts, both of which are crucial for young learners.

Source: ASIDE 2017

Here are some other articles that provide terrific ideas for teachers and parents about how to negotiate the multitasking impulse in our children:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Club Discussion Questions For "Originals" By Adam Grant

Source: Adam Grant

Adam Grant's book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, has vaulted to the top of best-seller lists since its publication last year. The book is a fascinating study of creativity, imagination, ingenuity, and success. It examines the conditions and case studies of standout individuals who embody vision and entrepreneurship. As a top-rated Wharton professor in organizational dynamics, Grant is a leading voice in studying what makes historical and contemporary figures unique in their influences.

Source: ASIDE 2017
Recently, our school held its annual Colloquium evening. Here, parents, teachers, alumni, and staff came together for a night of food and conversation to share ideas as adults. Like a book club, the Colloquium each year picks a thought-provoking publication to inform small-group exchanges. This year, we read Originals, and we were lucky enough to have Adam Grant himself phone in to our gathering to answer questions and inspire our audience.

We were surprised, however, in searching the Internet, to find very few discussion questions centered on the book. We wrote our own list of questions, both for the small-group conversations and for the author himself. We wanted to share our list, in case any book clubs or schools out there are reading Grant's terrific book about self-expression and innovation.

Essential Question:

  • “The last time you had an original idea, what did you do with it?” Did you “speak up and stand out”? Why or why not? (p. 13)

Source: Adam GrantArts Wisconsin

Discussion Questions:

  1. After reading the book, do you see yourself as either “creative” or “original”? Why or why not?
  2. Adam Grant has his own definition of originality: “introducing and advancing an idea that’s relatively unusual within a particular domain, and that has the potential to improve it.” Do we have our own personal definitions of what it means to be “original”? (p. 3)
  3. Do you think your current job or life role allows you to be creative? To be original? Why or why not?
  4. Overall, did you feel that Adam Grant laid out a strong roadmap for originality, looking to the past for examples and to the future for methodologies?
  5. Why do so many of us automatically accept the “default” options in life instead of engaging in research and making informed decisions for ourselves?
  6. What do you think of Adam Grant as a writer, with his mix of narrative voice and scientific scholarship, and his interweaving of examples?
  7. What did you learn from this book?
  8. Which of the “Actions For Impact” in the last chapter did you find the most helpful? Which (if any) are you thinking of trying?
  9. Adam Grant suggests that procrastination can actually help entrepreneurs build companies that last. How does society view procrastination? How can teachers or parents find ways to reward thoughtful, deliberate, and strategic procrastination?
  10. Does a person have to be an “informed optimist” to be creative and/or original? Do pessimists make poor change-makers? (p. x)
  11. How much “borrowing” is allowed before a dynamic and change-making idea becomes successful but not necessarily “original”?
  12. How can we apply the phenomenon of “vuja de” to our own lives – seeing something familiar with a fresh perspective? (p. 7)
  13. Are there other examples of people who enacted change by becoming “curious about the dissatisfying defaults” in our society? (p. 8)
  14. “Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.” How does this statement inform our jobs as parents and teachers? (p. 8)
  15. Do you agree that achievement crowds out originality? Because it brings a dread of failure?
  16. In the end, after reading all of the anecdotes in the book, do you think originals crave risk or prefer to avoid it?
  17. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Sarick Effect? Where else in life might it be useful to start with the open admission of one’s weaknesses? Where might such a strategy be harmful?
  18. How do we take into account the inherent difficulties and errors in self-assessment? Seventy percent of high school seniors rate themselves as above average in leadership skills, and 94 percent of college professors think they are doing above average work. How many of us view our children or ourselves as above average? Why? (p. 33)
  19. How do you feel about Adam Grant’s note regarding the greater historical number of “creative” accomplishments made by men as compared to women? Is it a matter of time / freedom / access to producing a greater volume of output? Or is it a matter of “speaking while female”? (p. 37, 85)
  20. If peer evaluations provide the most reliable judgments of new ideas, how can we be more open to genuine feedback?
  21. How do you feel about the notion of “idiosyncrasy credits,” built up by “quirky” individuals to justify their creativity and earn them respect? (p. 67)
  22. “Younger brothers were 10.6 times more likely than their older siblings to attempt to steal a base.” How do we think about risk-taking and risk aversion in our own lives? In our children’s lives? (p. 150)
  23. Do you agree that praising character rather than behavior is the ideal strategy?
  24. If “groupthink is the enemy of originality,” how can we avoid that trap in a culture that increasingly emphasizes collaboration and teamwork? (p. 176)
  25. Do you agree that “dissenting opinions are useful even when they’re wrong”? (p. 185)
  26. Is originality just creativity plus action?
  27. Do you agree that “no one has the right to hold a critical opinion without speaking up about it”? (Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates, p. 190)
  28. Does your current life include “critical upward feedback”? Would you like it to? (p. 203)
  29. Do you agree that the better personal mantra is “I am excited” as opposed to “I am anxious”? (p. 216)
  30. Raise your hand: Do you use Internet Explorer or Safari as your web browser? Do you feel more linear or patterned than Chrome or Firefox users? (p. 5)
  31. What are some ways to take extreme risk in one arena and offset it with extreme caution in another?
  32. Let’s talk about Seinfeld: Was it really original? Or just different? Or just smart? Are these the same things?
  33. How do you feel about “The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking”? (p. 212)

Source: Adam

Author Questions:

  1. In your book you talk a lot about risk-taking and potential failure – that achievement can crowd out originality because it brings a dread of failure. For us as teachers and parents, how can we assuage our children’s fear of failure in a culture that still values A+’s and college admissions?
  2. Since Originals was published, have you come across any new people or companies that you wish you could have included in your book?
  3. Schools by their nature are in the business of assessment. Can you give us any guidance in how to negotiate the inherent problems with self-assessing, for students and teachers, knowing the research that says most people think of themselves as “above average”?
  4. You quote one of your former students, Justin Berg, as finding that, on average, “women make better creative forecasts than men.” Could you tell us more about this idea? How does it fit with the other interesting notes in your book regarding the greater number of “creative” accomplishments made by men as compared to women?
  5. You write convincingly about the importance of peer evaluations in providing the most reliable judgments and the most helpful feedback about new ideas. Do you have any suggestions about how parents can apply this model to their daily lives? Or how teachers can do the same?
  6. We liked your notion of “idiosyncrasy credits” in explaining why some people are afforded the respect to introduce new ideas, to deviate from expectations. Would you mind telling us more about this idea? Is it something we should all be trying – to be more idiosyncratic?
  7. We were surprised to read that procrastination can actually help entrepreneurs build companies that last. It’s somewhat different from the message we often instill in our children, about advance planning. Are there ways that you recommend for teachers or parents to reward or encourage thoughtful and deliberate procrastination?
  8. In thinking about writers, entrepreneurs, artists, and inventors, how much “borrowing” do you think is allowed before a dynamic and change-making idea becomes successful but not necessarily “original”?
  9. Do you have any suggestions about how we can we apply the phenomenon of “vuja de” to our own lives – seeing something familiar with a fresh perspective?
  10. You talk about the notion that “groupthink is the enemy of originality.” How can we avoid that trap in a culture that increasingly emphasizes collaboration and teamwork?
  11. You rightfully note that many “originals” never act on their ideas. They conceive of bold or innovative notions, but they never act on them. What do you think holds them back? In other words, why some but not others?
  12. “Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.” This was a particularly interesting line from your book. Do you have a sense of how this statement can inform our jobs as parents and teachers?
  13. Could you tell us a little bit about what you are working on for your next project?
  14. Out of all the organizations and individuals that you highlight in your book, is there one that stands out in your mind as being particularly unique it its story or its embodiment of a truly original mindset?
  15. Okay, finally – let’s talk about Seinfeld. We here are New Yorkers, so of course we agree with your praise of the show. But after reading your book, we wonder:  Was Seinfeld really “original”? Or was it just different? Or was it just smart? Are these the same things? How can we distinguish between those similar but different concepts of achievement?
Many thanks to Adam Grant for his generous time in speaking to us during our Colloquium evening. Also, we want to credit Natasha Chadha (@MsChadha92) for her terrific ideas in helping to draft these discussion questions. Finally, we want to thank Dolly Chugh (@DollyChugh) and Stefani Rosenthal (@StefRosenthal) for their leadership in staging such a successful Colloquium evening.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Make Your Mission Matter: From Vision To Values - NAIS 2017

Source: NAIS

The National Association Of Independent Schools (NAIS) 2017 Annual Conference just wrapped up in Baltimore, Maryland. The two days of sessions, speakers, and confabs all highlighted the evolving roles of schools and school leaders within the ever-competitive learning landscape.

We want to express our sincere thanks to the room full of educators who came to our Friday session, “Where Learning Meets Design: Taking Control Of The Visual Classroom.” The questions and ideas made for a terrific conversation about graphicacy and the importance of visual proficiency in both a student’s and a teacher’s toolkit.

Source: ASIDE 2017

All of the links, resources, and videos from our workshop are posted on our “Visual Classroom” website. The PowerPoint from our presentation is also now live on the page. If you happen to take a look at the slides and graphics, please feel free to get in touch with your feedback and additions.

We also appreciate the enormous encouragement from our school’s Headmaster and Director of Communications in supporting our trip. It was a real treat as well to see our former head from 15 years ago pop into the back of the session room.

Source: ASIDE 2017

The highlight of this year's conference was without a doubt the lively and thought-provoking talk by Sir Ken Robinson. With characteristic wit and insight, Robinson reminded us that children are learning organisms. They love the internalization of language and ideas, but they don’t always love “education.” This is because the nation's school systems operate on efficiency, not talent. They prioritize shared cultural knowledge, rather than the inner yearning for discovery.

Source: NAIS
Other speakers included Susan Cain and her ruminations about the power of introverts to change the world, as well as intriguing sessions that focused on data-driven assessments and alumni engagement. The most fun, however, came from the accidental hallway encounters with long-time friends and colleagues from across the country. These sorts of run-ins are what make this gathering so meaningful.

Obviously, we didn’t make it out of Baltimore without sampling some crab cakes. We recommend The Oceanaire for their super-fresh, super-local seafood. Also, BricknFire Pizza Co. in the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor makes the best caramelized onion and mushroom pizza we’ve ever had.

Thanks to all of the NAIS organizers for staging such a smooth conference. And if you weren’t able to attend this year’s symposium, follow the #NAISAC tag on Twitter for great on-sight reporting and resources.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Building Common Ground Through Respect and Curiosity, Not Fear Of The Unknown

Source: Pocket Stories
Just by chance today as we looked through our resources, we came across the video entitled "Migration vs. Travelling: An Infographic Journey." It could not be timelier as we watch the growing turmoil around the country at town hall meetings and in debates about immigration searches or transgender rights.

In light of the first 30 days of a new administration, with echo chambers propelling confirmation bias on a scale not witnessed in decades, as well as a media that dwells on the hype or gingerly participates in press conferences, it’s hard to present a balanced look at issues based on facts. We also want our learners to see the human side of reality. Social media and news feeds breed biases and falsehoods that continually need to be questioned.

It’s disheartening as educators of young learners to see the strife, and it's why we continue to share as much as we can to present the facts to our learners. This video, which compares migrants and travelers, explores the stereotypes associated with each. Why is it that migrants are seen as “something negative,” whereas travelers are viewed as “something positive”? Our hope, as always, is to provide as many resources as we can to present the facts behind the issues.

Source: Pocket Stories

Media literacy is essential today. Learners need to understand how messages can influence others, as well as recognize how they can be skewed toward a particular point of view. As educators, we must show students both sides of an issue based on facts -- not alternative facts, but real facts.

Source: Pocket Stories
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