Checking Our Bias as Educators

Cognitive bias concept word cloud background

My good friend, John Hinds, former principal of 17 years and current leadership consultant, just published a video that I wanted to feature on the blog today for my weekly anti-racist post. Though his video does not explicitly address racism, it does encourage us to examine our own biases as he relates a story about his first tour of a school to which he had been assigned. It brings me back to a couple of books I reviewed, Talking to Strangers and Bias, in this post, and the idea that our brains are naturally wired for bias to help us bring order to our world. As many administrators and teachers are returning to work in the next couple of weeks, I think that it is important to be conscious of our tendencies to make assumptions and how those assumptions may be detrimental to ourselves and others. One way to combat this is the Bias Toolkit, which is one of the many resources you can find in my Wakelet of Anti-Racism Resources.

Chatter by Ethan Kross

During the last few years, the voice inside my head has been vehemently berating me and informing me that I am a failure. Despite over a quarter of a century of teaching experience, I felt less confident than my first year of teaching. Though the logical part of my brain argued against this critical inner voice, it was difficult to overcome. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling inadequate, but that didn’t make it seem any less real.

Ethan Kross, psychologist and director of the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory, calls this mental self-criticism “chatter.” He has written a book by that name on what he and other scientists have learned about how to “harness” the judgmental thoughts that cycle through our heads so we can make them less destructive and more productive. Interspersed among the tales of athletes, scientists, and others, there are psychological studies that have informed researchers about chatter, and Kross offers suggestions for tools we can easily incorporate into our daily lives to leap out of those negative feedback loops.

One such tool is called, “distanced self-talk.” When I tell you how simple it is to do this, you will most likely doubt its effectiveness, but Kross has quite a few examples to back it up. The idea is to mentally advise yourself in the third person, as though you are an outside observer rather than the subject immersed in the situation. You can also temporally distance yourself by imagining that you are looking back on the circumstances from a time in the future.

In the chapter, “The Power and Peril of Other People,” Kross surprised me with the fascinating work of Bernard Rime, who found that “talking to others about our negative experiences doesn’t help us recover in any meaningful way.” In fact, what we often think of as venting can make our chatter worse. (Does this make anyone else think of Teachers’ Lounges?) He goes on to explain how this can be avoided when, “The interlocutor ideally acknowledges the person’s feeling and reflections, but then helps her to put the situation in perspective.”

I won’t give away all of the tools because I think Kross explains them best. (He includes a chapter at the end that recaps all of the tools mentioned in the book and offers suggestions for how to use them in different situations.) I will say that if you are experiencing the deleterious effects of Chatter, that you will find this book enormously helpful. If you are someone who teaches, parents, or in any way supports a person who battles anxiety, depression, or self-hatred, you will find this book enormously helpful. If you somehow managed to survive a traumatic event, a natural disaster, or a worldwide pandemic, you will find this book enormously helpful. And, even more importantly, you will find this book hopeful. I think quite a few of us can use a bit of that right now.

Click here to learn more.
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Genius Hour Presentation Planner

I’ve updated the free Genius Hour Presentation Planner, and I’ve added it to my Genius Hour Resources page under “Free Genius Hour Downloads.” This is a digital planner made in Google Slides, and is meant to be used after students have completed the Genius Hour Research Notes (also on the Free Genius Hour Downloads page). In the past, I noticed that students often jumped to creating their presentations before acquiring very much new knowledge, so these two resources gave them a framework to help them with gathering information and preparing to share with others. I would also recommend taking a look at my post, “Step Away from the Slideshow,” to get some ideas on how students can present without boring themselves or their audiences to tears. One particular addition I made in the update to this Presentation Planner was to add some guidelines for the Timeline to help students understand what needed to be done before each of the three dates (Rough Draft, Rehearsal, Final Presentation).

(“From Jaded to Joyful: Galvanizing Students with Genius Hour” is one of the many Professional Development sessions that I offer, and can be done virtually or in person.)

Solving the Curation Equation

My latest post for NEO offers advice on how to develop a workflow to help you compile the hundreds of teaching ideas you gather from social media and other digital sources. Solving the Curation Equation: Efficient Methods for Collecting Teaching Resources relates some of the secrets I use to save myself time when I bookmark those resources — and when I need to find them later. Though my current favorite tool is Wakelet, you can easily adapt the suggestions in this article to any tool you use. Speaking of Wakelet, here is my page of public Wakelet lists to which I’ve just added “Books for Maker Ed/Design Thinking/STEAM.”

Here are my other NEO Articles in case you missed them: Podcast Pedagogy: Leveraging Audio Programs for Learning, Six Ways to Support Spatial Reasoning Skills Online, Let’s Talk a Good Game: Mining Talk Shows for Classroom Engagement Ideas, How to Do More with Less Screen TimeHow to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in Hybrid or Virtual ClassroomsTop Ed Tech Tools for DifferentiationFrom Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve EducationApplying Universal Design for Learning in Remote ClassroomsHow Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

A couple of specific articles that you may want to read are: Podcast Pedagogy (which pairs well with this recent list from Common Sense) and From Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve Education. The latter article was written last August, and I think it’s a good reminder of the improvements we can made in education based on what we learned last year instead of returning to status quo.

Photo by Cesar Hiar on Pexels.com

Teacher Checklist for Current Events

As school boards, districts, and states pile on bans of teaching Critical Race Theory in the classroom without even understanding what they are censoring, others are substituting vague language in weak attempts to disguise these racist laws. I am not a lawyer or a history teacher, but I oppose any efforts to restrain students from learning the truth and exercising their own critical thinking on the lessons that could be learned from that truth. I also think it’s important to keep things relevant in the classroom, and that means that current events should not be ignored. Facing History has a free checklist for educators to use for planning purposes when considering current events. You will need to create a free account on the site in order to download this editable PDF, which also has links to reliable news sources as well as suggested strategies to use during student discussions. Armed with this and a list of the state standards you are addressing, you can be prepared to help students make connections between the past and the present, as well as to their own personal experiences.

I will be adding this post to my Wakelet of Anti-Racism Resources. Click on this link to find more!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids

About 6 years ago, as people who are excited about learning new things can be wont to do, my colleague and I emphatically agreed to piloting a 3d printer on our elementary school campus without actually knowing a single thing about 3d printing. There was a huge learning curve just trying to figure out how to get the darn thing to print out one of its pre-programmed examples. Once we accomplished the extraordinary feat of coaxing our printer to spit out a plastic bolt that we could use for pretty much nothing, we realized that we needed to figure out what meaningful objects we could fabricate – and how to design them. Our research was frustrating. Other than mass producing keychains and other items with school logos, no one seemed to have any idea about what elementary students might be able to do with a 3d printer. (By the way, if you are thinking of purchasing a 3d printer for your classroom, or doing a Donors Choose request, here is an article I wrote on some considerations you should make before you commit.)

That’s when we stumbled across City X. And Design Thinking. And Tinkercad.

And that’s when we learned that we didn’t need a 3d printer.

Don’t get me wrong. They are nice to have, and students love holding their own designs in their hands. But the most valuable part of the learning is the Design Thinking process.

The free toolkit from City X helped us to walk our students through the design process. The premise of the program is that humans have started a new settlement called City X on another planet, and the citizens need help with different challenges they are encountering in this novel environment. You can read more about how my colleague and I used the program here.

The toolkit includes a lot of resources, and was a true blessing for the two of us, as we discovered a way to really engage children while helping them to learn about empathy, problem-solving, and multiple other lifelong skills.

Now there is a City X book (thanks for letting me know about it, Amy C!), written by one of the co-creators of the original project, Brett Schilke. Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids begins with the same idea as the original project, that the mayor of City X is asking for your help with various problems. In this book, however, there is more detail on how to embark on the design adventures as members of “The Irresistible Futures Agency.” It includes 35 challenges in the areas of transportation, environment, communication, food, health, safety, and energy. Each challenge walks students through solving problems for the fictional planet as they make connections to our own, real-world. There are still choices when it comes to who their “clients” will be and what their final solutions entail, but there are additional activities and recommended explorations in each chapter that are perfect for students new to the idea of Design Thinking.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a 3d printer. Students can prototype and test with any number of easily accessible materials such as cardboard and clay. Also keep in mind that the broad categories of each challenge make them relatively easy to integrate with science or social studies curriculum.

Once students experience the City X project, they will be ready to do “real-world” designs using the same framework.

For more of my posts on Design Thinking, click here. Also, this is one of the professional development sessions I offer, and it includes a ton of free resources.

“Foolsball”: a new game you can play in City X