Musings and Strategies From the Teachers Next Door

Posts tagged ‘TED talk’

TED Talk Tuesday: How To Escape Education’s Death Valley

Death ValleySir Ken Robinson uses Death Valley as a metaphor for the current state of American education.  Can you think of anything more glum?  We work HARD, we believe in students, we are trying new initiatives, yet the reality is…the current landscape is full of high school dropouts, up to 60% in some areas, and disengaged kids.

Unlike the U.S., Finland has it going on.  They focus on all subjects, including the arts, and they tailor education to fit the student.  The data shows this approach works.  Think about your own children, or the ones you teach, are they identical?  Do they have the same interests and ability levels?  The answer is a resounding NO.  So why do we approach teaching with a one size fits all model?

He offers 3 principles that cause people to flourish:

1.  Diversity

2. Curiosity

3. Creativity

Great classrooms, great schools, great systems have these principles evident throughout.

So what do high performing systems around the world do differently?

1.  They individualize teaching and learning.

2.  They choose great people and give them constant support and development.  In these countries, teaching is a valued profession.

3.  They give schools the responsibility of getting the job done without micro-managing.  The needs of students and schools look differently in diverse areas.  They allow schools the flexibility needed to engage, rather than having it legislated by those who don’t teach.  They put t back in the hands of the teacher.

Education is a human system about people.

“Real leadership is about climate control, and creating a climate of possibility.”

Did you know that Death Valley, characteristically a very hot, dry, desolate land…devoid of most anything because it doesn’t rain there, actually experienced a significant rainfall in 2004. 7 inches.  In 2005, things started to bloom. Death Valley was not dead. It was dormant. How are we? Are we desolate, devoid of creativity and ingenuity? Or are we dormant? Are our schools dormant? Our classrooms?

Let’s change the conditions! Let’s plant a sense of possibility and see the growth that takes place!



TED Talk Tuesday “Embrace the Near Win”

It’s the third grade. The classroom spelling bee. It is the moment I have been waiting for all year! The moment where I just KNOW that my studying and practicing will pay off! I am going to be the third grade spelling bee champion! After a long, grueling match, it is down to two lone contestants. Another child…and ME! My teacher says my word…a common word. I KNOW this word. “Machine. m..a…s..h..i..n..e. Machine.” Not right?? How can that not be right? How DO you spell it then? I’m out?!

And in that one moment, I almost won the spelling bee. While some might call this a failure or a loss, I call it my near win. It was one among many that I would encounter through the years, but it was the first near win that compelled me to be better. Although I was defeated in the competition, the desire to push myself further, to become better was not squelched. It was that near win that led me to a love of reading, writing, and the study of words.  At first, it was to prepare for any word I was ever asked to spell, but it grew into a deep love and appreciation for the Arts. This near win propelled me into a life-long struggle toward mastery. Over the years, the “thing” that I was trying to master has changed, but the struggle itself has remained constant.

This TED talk has come at such a perfect moment.  Today is one of those days when I have held back tears and thought over and over how far I have to go, as an educator, a believer, a mom, a wife….I want the life that lives in my head.  The one where success happens at a steady pace that can be seen.


But my path can be a mess… forward, sideways and backwards…. and sometimes I can’t tell which direction I’m headed.  I know what I want, I know the steps necessary to get there, but rarely does it happen when I want and how I want.

In this talk, Sarah Lewis uses her expertise as an art historian to talk about the importance of a near win. She tells of her experience of studying an artist only to realize that not all of the works were masterpieces. She explains that achieving mastery is really coming to the realization that mastery is never possible because there is always room for improvement and growth.

I want to encourage you to take a few minutes to watch this talk.  Think about how you can embrace your “near wins,” and how you can celebrate those your students have.  Realize that the runner-up in the classroom spelling bee is not the loser. It may very well be that the runner-up is the student who shows more passion, more self direction, more charisma than any other contestant, including the winner. We are all masterpieces…unfinished, yes, but we each have the potential to propel ourselves forward each day, getting better at our jobs, becoming better educators, better moms, better wives…and it’s our near wins that make all the difference.

TED Talk Tuesday “Math Makeover”

Math Minded

Do you have a go to place where you look for inspiration and innovation?  For us, it’s TED Talks so from now on, Tuesdays are TED Talk Tuesday. Here is our pick of the week.

In this talk, Dan Meyer clearly illustrates the difference between poor math instruction and math instruction that engages students in deep thinking while sharing how he develops real world questions and problem posing.

He states the obvious, that “Math reasoning is hard to teach.  The way we teach it in the U.S. all but ensures they won’t get it.”  We know that, we see it in classrooms often.  Are you wondering how successful you are?

Five Signs You’re Doing It Wrong

1.  Lack of Initiative – Your students are not self starters.

2. Lack of Perseverance – Your students give up, they lack grit.  If the answer is not immediately clear, they expect you to hold their hand and walk them through it.

3. Lack of Retention– You find yourself teaching, and reteaching, and reteaching.  It just doesn’t hold.

4. Aversion to Word Problems-They hate word problems.

5. Eagerness for a Formula…to solve said hated word problems.

We’re guessing you are reading this because you value education and you want to get it right.  You desire your students to excel and your instruction to create depth and understanding in those whose minds you’re shaping.  So why do educators find it necessary to go back to the old multiple choice stand by?  We’ve witnessed students answering multiple choice questions like nobody’s business, but change one nuance and they are lost.

Meyer makes a great point.   Have you ever faced a problem in which you were given all the information necessary to solve it… in advance? Or better yet been given several options to choose from…wisely? We haven’t either.

We were so excited when we saw this talk.  He breaks the development of good questioning down, starting with a picture and getting kids talking, bringing in math, as the kids see the need for finding ways to talk about what they see, and then having the kids pose questions that need answering.

The beauty of starting with a picture, or something that all kids know about, is that it levels the playing field.  One of his examples deals with filling a water tank.  He shows it and then asks kids how long it would take to fill it.  Kids see the picture and watch a video of it being filled.  Now, when they talk about filling the tank, every kid is on equal footing, even those kids that have decided they don’t need to talk about math, because someone else has the answer – every kid has filled something, so they have experience upon which they can draw.  He then takes guesses and writes them down.  He found that in the course of one semester, he could put a new problem on the board, something they have never see,n and the kids would have conversations about it.

The takeaways:

1.  Use multimedia in your class  -as often as you can, the best quality you can.

2.  Encourage student intuition – to level the playing field for all students.

3.  Ask the shortest question you can – and then let the other, more specific questions develop through conversation.

4.  Let students build the problem.

5. Be less helpful – knowing it will develop patient problem solvers.

“It is an amazing time to be a math teacher.”  We have the tools at our fingertips.

For more insight, follow his blog.


April and Diane




Children Make The Best Scientists

The inquisitive and curious nature of children make students the perfect scientists.  As educators, do we believe that is true?

Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist, has done some fascinating work using children AS scientists. (You can view his TED talk for the full description.)  The basis for his experiment is that children do experiments everyday through play.  They ask questions, gather information and make conclusions.  He went into a school and had the children ask questions that they wondered about bees.  From these questions, they worked together to design an experiment to see if bees could solve a puzzle and learn to fly to a specific flower within a specific pattern.  The fascinating part of this story is the students did the observing, the investigating, and the gathering of information.  Funny thing though, he mentioned that the greatest resistance he had in doing this project was actually the teachers.  The teachers didn’t think the kids could do it, AND they weren’t comfortable trying something that might not work.

That made me stop and question my own philosophy of education.  Do I hold my kids back thinking that I am protecting them from failure?  Do I hold them back because of my need for control?  Do I hold them back because I have lost my sense of curiousity?

I decided to jump in with both feet and see my students as actual scientists.  I showed them Blackawton Bee Project and spent time letting them ask questions about the world around them.

After talking about our questions, I let them choose a question they wanted to pursue.  The only criteria is that it couldn’t be googleable 🙂

photo 4 photo 3 photo 2 photo 1

We have been working on our projects for 6+ weeks now, about 1 hour each week.  And they have astounded me – not all, but most.  Here are a few of our topics:

  • Does your zodiac really match your personality?
  • Does your intelligence determine how fast you can solve a maze?
  • Can kids determine emotions by expressions?
  • Do all dogs communicate the same way?
  • Do all people taste food the same?
  • Can you really tell what a person is like from their Facebook profile page.

They designed an experiment that would give them information they could use to answer their questions.   For example, the girl curious about the accuracy of zodiacs, created a questionnaire.  She randomly listed the personality descriptions of each zodiac sign, without listing the zodiac name.  Then she had place for the person to write their birthday.  So awesome!!

As they worked, they asked tons of questions about gathering data, having a good sample, and as they worked on a way to clearly present their material, they have created graph, learned to use excel, and worked on presentations using many different formats.  They are having to learn what it takes to speak clearly, maintain interest, and draw conclusions.  So much learning has happened.

As a teacher, I am learning to be comfortable not knowing how things are going to turn out.  It’s making me better.  It’s making me comfortable with my own “failure.” And it’s transforming my class into a safe place with students can take risks without having it effect their grade.  I’m finding that disinterested students are now engaged and the quality of work has greatly improved.

How has your class improved over time?


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