OK Go Sandbox

If you have ever seen a music video by “OK Go,” then you cannot fail to be in awe of the band’s incredible creativity.  In every production, you can tell that they spent a lot of time on brainstorming, working hard, and having fun.  Even more notable, though, is how much math and science must be used to create these complex feats of artistic expression.

In cooperation with the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas (seriously wish this had been a thing at my university!), OK Go has designed a new website, the OK Go Sandbox, that provides resources for educators to use with students for STEAM activities based on a few of their music videos.

Each of the music videos currently featured on the site has a link to educational materials that include free downloads, challenges for the students, additional videos, and suggested activities.  From making flipbooks to experimenting with sounds made by different “found” instruments, this resource explores the astonishing potential of merging science with art.  Some of the challenges can be used with the Google Science Journal (a free app available for both Android and iOS).

It looks like this is a dynamic project that is encouraging advice from educators, so be sure to visit this page for more information on how to get involved.

OK Go Sandbox

The Rubik’s Cube Revolution

I have a private magazine on Flipboard where I save all of the weird things that might make future Phun Phriday posts.  When I see a few that seem to fit a theme, I curate them for you.  They are not necessarily educational – just random stories that catch my eye.

It’s a mystery to me why the Rubik’s Cube continues to be a “thing.”  I didn’t like it when it first came out, and still find it frustrating.  I realize this is completely my own fault, and that my feelings say a lot more about my own stubborn laziness than the quality of the toy.  But that’s why I found it interesting to see that, decades after its initial introduction to the toy market, the Rubik’s Cube continues to fascinate people.

This guy, for example, has posted a tutorial on Instructables on how to make a fully functional Rubik’s Cube – out of paper.  I was intimidated by Step 1, so I can’t really advise you if this actually works, but it seems on the up and up.

Then there’s this man, who made a Rubik’s cube out of cheese.  This achievement should not be confused with his other Rubik’s cube accomplishments: the candle cube and the ice cube.

I doubt either of these men would be willing to loan their creations to this robot, who can solve a Rubik’s cube in .38 seconds.  (Watch the last video on this page, and you’ll see why they might be reluctant to trust their art to this robot.)

I think I’ll just stick to the virtual ones.

image from William Warby on Flickr

Leonardo the Leprechaun

I mentioned that I would be trying to create some digital breakouts when I posted this.  Leonardo the Leprechaun is my first attempt, and I thought I would share it with those of you who might be able to use it this week in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

I should tell you that I have already asked my 4th and 5th graders to give this a try, and I made some changes each time based on their feedback.  We definitely had some major issues – one of them being that the new Google Sites is currently blocked in our district.  If your students are unable to access the link, that is probably why, unfortunately.  The other glitches were all my fault, but I’ve hopefully fixed them!

Your students may want to write down the answers they get for each clue, as they will all need to be submitted at the same time in the Google Form.  Also, I’m not revealing any answers here – I don’t want any smart problem-solvers Googling to find them!

I’d be happy to get your feedback here, or you can e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Click here to get to this Digital Breakout!

Jody Williams on Activism

Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work as the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, knows something about activism.  You can watch this RSA Animated Short in which she speaks about the importance of trying to make a difference.

Whether you agree with the students who join in the National Walkout today or not, I think that we should take heart that they are moved enough to choose do something rather than nothing.  Often accused of being self-centered and apathetic, these young people will be working to make their voices heard.

You can find more RSA Animated Shorts on a variety of topics here.  I will also be adding this video to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos.



In yesterday’s post, I reviewed The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, which is one of the books my colleagues and I received in our first package from The Next Big Idea Club.  Today, I would like to talk about the second book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel Pink.

When shares the intriguing research that has been done about how success and failure can often hinge on temporal choices.  With intriguing real-life examples weaved in with scientific documentation, Pink shows us how we can give ourselves incredible advantages by conceding that our brains and bodies are extremely influenced by our internal clocks.

In this book, Daniel Pink demonstrates many direct implications of this research for education.  For example, he cites a Danish study that established an increase in standardized test scores after students took 20-30 minute breaks.  He also devotes a section of his book to the importance of recess, emphasizing that students should receive several breaks throughout the day (Finland gives their students a 15-minute break every hour).  Teachers, according to Pink, should also get breaks for themselves by alternating monitoring duties during these times.

School start times, something that seems to have been in the news quite a bit lately, also have a dedicated section in When.  Implementing later start times for teens is highly recommended, and has been shown to improve attendance and academic performance.  Are you in college?  “The optimal time for more college classes is after 11 a.m.”  (That explains so much about my college experience!)

In When, you will find not only advice on optimal times of day to be productive, but suggestions for

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel Pink

the different strategies to use in the changing stages of a project – and of our lives.  You will learn about the science of endings and why, “Choral singing might be the new exercise.”  There are many applications for education, but even more for living your best life.

When is the perfect companion to The Culture Code, as both books highlight the need for aligning purpose with thoughtful actions as well as the value of connecting with others.

The Culture Code

After receiving a tip from my former principal, John Hinds, about “The Next Big Idea Club,” two of my colleagues and I decided to share a subscription.  Every three months, we will receive two new, non-fiction books selected by Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Susan Pink, and Adam Grant.

We just received our first package, and it included a bonus book.  The books we received were: The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, Endure, by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell, and When by Daniel Pink.  I dove into The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, first.

The Culture Code may very well turn out to be my favorite book of the year, despite the fact that it is not written specifically for educators.  Coyle begins the book with an interesting case study that illustrates what he believes to be the three characteristics all successful groups do: Build Safety, Share Vulnerability, and Establish Purpose.  He continues to give evidence and examples for each criteria, referring to the practices of some of the world’s most famous organizations, like Pixar and the San Antonio Spurs.

So much of The Culture Code can be applied to classrooms, schools, and districts.  I alternated between shouting, “Yes!  That’s what I try to do with my students, too!” and, “Wow!  We should try that!” throughout the entire book.

Some big “yes” moments:

  • “Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful, overarching idea: We are safe and connected.”
  • “To create safety, leaders need to actively invite input.”
  • “Building purpose in a creative group is not about generating a brilliant moment of breakthrough, but rather about building systems that can churn through lots of ideas in order to help unearth the right choices.”
  • “It’s about building ownership, providing support, and aligning group energy toward the arduous, error-filled, ultimately fulfilling journey of making something new.”

One interesting idea that I think would be helpful to use more in education would be the concept of “Red Teaming.”  This is a strategy, according to Coyle, used by the military to test potential solutions to a problem.  The “Red Team,” which is comprised of people who were not involved in proposing the original solution, lists any way they can think of that would derail the plan.  This helps the leaders to uncover vulnerabilities and prepare for them ahead of time.  The purpose of the Red Team is to make the plan stronger, and the only way that it can work is in an environment where the participants feel safe and connected.

Coyle makes an interesting distinction between organizations that are designed for proficiency and ones that have a creative purpose.  His insights about the different leadership required for each type of organization reminded me of what I believe to be one of the fundamental problems in education – we are structured around proficiency, but we bemoan the lack of creativity.  Coyle talks about two leaders who have clear, but diverse messages based on the divergent purposes of their companies: “Meyers needs people to know and feel exactly what to do, while Catmull needs people to discover that for themselves.”  I honestly think that we regularly convey both of these messages to our students – to their detriment.

After reading The Culture Code, I found that it certainly reinforced the beliefs that many of us have about classrooms needing to be places where students feel safe and connected.  The biggest problem that I think that education faces today is that we seem to have difficulty agreeing on the purpose of education and communicating that consistent message to our students.

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle


What is Your Manifesto?

I decided to help my students design their own manifestos again this year.  (Here is the link to last year’s post about this.)  To get them started thinking about their core beliefs, I first showed them this video from Gretchen Rubin, which I found out about from Larry Ferlazzo.

Then I started giving them words, and just asked them to write or draw whatever came to mind in their notebooks.  For example, “Leadership,” was one of the words.

When I said, “Mistakes,” I added, “and try not to just write what your teachers always say – like, ‘We always learn from our mistakes,’ or “Making mistakes helps us to grow.'”

There was silence.  Finally, one student said, “You’re really the only one that says that to us, Mrs. Eichholz.”  Several of the others nodded in agreement.  Then someone mumbled under their breath, “And means it.”

I was stunned.  I know I’ve heard other teachers say this.  I’ve witnessed it.  I’ve seen quotes in their classrooms.  It’s repeated all over social media.  How could I be the only one they are hearing this from?  How could these 5th graders, many who had attended this same school for six years, not have heard this message from anyone but me?

When I thought about it, I came up with several reasons.  First of all, many of these students have attended my weekly pull-out class for years.  I’ve definitely been consistent about saying that we need to turn mistakes into learning opportunities.  In fact, it’s on my own manifesto that I made last year:


Secondly, and more importantly probably, I don’t just say it.  I make a daily effort to praise the hard work that students do in my class and the mistakes they’ve learned from.  I let them use pen whenever they want so they often have a permanent record of their mistakes.  I try not to praise students who finish first, even if they get the whole thing correct.  Instead, I say, “Gosh, I guess I need to make it harder next time!”  I constantly tell my students about my own mistakes.  Sometimes I do hard riddles or math problems with them so they can see all of my “mess ups” as I try to figure them out.  Finally, we spend a lot of time on improving things – getting and giving feedback and making things better.

In a regular classroom, these things are hard to do.  The way our school system is set up, you are rewarded for perfection, not struggle.  Unfortunately, students know that you’re still going to get points taken off if you make a mistake, so it makes it difficult for them to embrace them.  And there is rarely time to spend on improvement if you want to stick to the scope and sequence.

I just read The Culture Code (a book I’ll be reviewing next week on this blog), by Daniel Coyle.  In the book, Coyle tells the story of Johnson and Johnson’s manifesto – which they call, “The Credo.”  The first part of the “Credo” states, “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.”  According to Coyle, the company regularly reviews this “Credo” to make sure it still aligns with their mission.  It informs important decisions.  For example, when the Tylenol poisoning crisis happened, Johnson and Johnson took all of its Tylenol off the shelves at a cost of $100 million, despite the advice of many experts who thought this was not necessary.  It initially cost the company quite a bit, but they stood by their “Credo.”  When the public realized that this corporation valued the lives of its customers over its bottom line, market shares in Tylenol actually began to rise.

Like Johnson and Johnson, we educators need to decide what our beliefs are and make our actions consistent with them to the greatest extent possible.  If we want students to be willing to take more risks, become independent thinkers, we have to stop penalizing them for it.

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