Category Archives: Motivation

Welcome, Mr. Reed!

I want to welcome a new teacher to the profession.  I don’t know him.  I don’t even know where he teaches.  But I know he teaches 4th grade, and I’m pretty sure his students are going to have an awesome year.

Mr. Reed Welcomes His New 4th Graders
Mr. Reed Welcomes His New 4th Graders

Mr. Reed made a special music video to welcome his students to 4th grade, and watching it made me wish I could be in his class.  I love that he found a way to combine two of his obvious passions – music and teaching.  I also think it’s great that you can download the music track for free here.

You’re incredible, Mr. Reed.  To you, and all of the other new teachers beginning their careers this year, I welcome your energy, enthusiasm, and elation. I wish I could make you feel as special as your students must feel.  Thank you for committing to this profession and, more importantly, to the students.  I don’t have a music video to communicate how great it is to have you join our ranks, but here is a link to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Video for Teachers to help you out on those days when you start wondering if you made the right decision.  (Trust me, you did, Mr. Reed!)

Back to School Games from Breakout Edu

In this Education Week article, “10 Non-Standard Ideas About Going Back to School,” by Nancy Flanagan, she gives the following advice:

“Don’t make Day One “rules” day. Your classroom procedures are very important, a hinge for functioning productively, establishing the relationships and trust necessary for individual engagement and group discussions. Introduce these strategies and systems on days when it’s likely your students will remember them and get a chance to practice them. This is especially important for secondary teachers, whose students will likely experience a mind-numbing, forgettable parade of Teacher Rules on Day One.”

It’s often considered good practice to establish rules and procedures at the beginning of a new school year, but I can definitely attest that my daughter came home from each first week during her middle school years feeling bored and defeated.  Not only did the teacher of each subject spend the entire period going over rules, but many of them showed the same not-so-exciting videos, which repetitively appeared in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. (Fortunately, each year improved dramatically after the first weeks, as her fabulous teachers definitely challenged and engaged her.)

As a teacher of 25 years, I’ve gone through many first days, and I can tell you that I am just as enthusiastic as the students when my staff development weeks begin with rules, procedures, and awkward team-building activities.

Nancy Flanagan goes on in her article to suggest doing engaging activities the first day that will also help the students to learn something.  If you are looking for ideas, Breakout Edu offers some Back to School games that might be just the ticket to ramp up excitement so your students go home the first day and tell their parents what they learned and that they had fun doing it!  There is one game each for elementary, upper elementary, and secondary. There is even one for Staff Development! (Note: You will need to register for free with Breakout Edu in order to get the password to access the games.)

Consider embedding rules and procedures into exciting learning activities, rather than making them the starring topic for introducing the year.  Your students – and their parents – will thank you!

from Breakout Edu Back to School Games
from Breakout Edu Back to School Games

Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders

Teacher Katy Delzer spoke at TEDxFargo last year, and eloquently stated a philosophy of teaching that I hope is embodied in my classroom.  Her final sentence summarizes it all:

kayladelzer

You can view “Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Teachers,” here or in the embedded version below.  You may also want to watch some other inspiring videos to get you ready for the school year.  I’ve pinned quite a few on “Inspirational Videos for Teachers,” here.

The Bravery Deficit

In yesterday’s episode of TED Radio Hour, “Nudge,” one of the featured talks was by Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code.  In her TED Talk, Saujani speaks of our nation’s bravery deficit, saying that, “Our economy, our society, we’re just losing out because we’re not raising our girls to be brave.”

I listened to Reshma Saujani with interest, but froze when I heard her relate this anecdote from her experiences with Girls Who Code, “During the first week, when the girls are learning how to code,a student will call her over and she’ll say, ‘I don’t know what code to write.’ The teacher will look at her screen, and she’ll see a blank text editor. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think that her student spent the past 20 minutes just staring at the screen. But if she presses undo a few times, she’ll see that her student wrote code and then deleted it. She tried, she came close, but she didn’t get it exactly right.Instead of showing the progress that she made, she’d rather show nothing at all. Perfection or bust.”

The reason this example electrified me was because I had just witnessed the same phenomenon last week, but hadn’t recognized it.

During the “Undercover Robots Camp” session I held last week, the teams were tasked with programming their robots to “save” three plastic figures at various locations on the floor.  The groups immediately headed for the craft table to design augmentations for the robots to help pick up the plastic figures.

As I observed the groups, I noticed that a few of them felt the need to add more to their robots when they noticed their designs didn’t work.  They didn’t take things off – just kept adding things.  A couple of them began to look like robot anteater hybrids because the teams kept adding longer “scoopers” to the front, and I found it very intriguing that they never reflected on what might need to be changed or subtracted – just that they needed “more.”

Those groups, interestingly enough, were comprised almost entirely of boys (1 girl out of 7).  I had one all-girl group, who seemed to have the opposite strategy – do nothing.  They looked like they were doing something every time I strolled by the table, but nothing stayed on their robot, and they had not even begun the programming part of the task.

After a break, where I talked to all of the groups about really thinking about what might need to be changed instead of just randomly selecting new things to add to the robots, the other 3 groups took my suggestion to heart and began to modify their constructions.  The all-girl group continued to struggle.  I was concerned that they weren’t getting along with each other, and encouraged them to discuss their ideas, or maybe delegate tasks.   Nothing I could say seemed to help, though.

When time was up, the girls had nothing on their robot, and only a few lines of code.  I felt like I had failed in helping them, and I’m sure they didn’t feel too happy, either.

All weekend, I wondered how I could have handled the situation differently.  And then I heard Reshma Saujani.  I realized why my advice to those girls had been useless; I wasn’t addressing the real problem.  Although communication may have been a factor, the true issue was that they just couldn’t figure out how to do the task perfectly.

Now, I don’t believe that every girl strives for perfection and that boys never do.  But I have seen students of both genders who don’t know how to adjust to making mistakes; they treat errors like kryptonite.  As Reshma Saujani states, it is quite likely our society contributes to this type of mindset in girls – particularly by raising boys to be “rough and tumble” and girls to be “safe.”

If I could rewind back to last Friday, I would sit with those girls and ask for their ideas.  I would ask them to choose one to try, and we would try it together.  We would reflect on it afterward and make some changes to make it better.  I might even tell them about Reshma Saujani’s talk, and ask them what they think.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating for us to teach children to deliberately make mistakes or fail.  What we need to do is to teach them to deliberate thoughtfully, and to learn from imperfection rather than to be paralyzed by it.

Brave

Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement

My latest post for Fusion is out, “15 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement.” There are plenty of other great posts by writers from around the world on the Fusion blog, so it’s definitely worth a visit!  One recent one that I enjoyed was, “30 Inspiring Quotes for Teachers that will get You Through the Day,” by James Johnson.

Two of my other past Fusion posts are:

I pulled lots of good resources together for each article, so you will definitely find at least one new idea in each post!

15 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement

My latest blog post for Fusion Yearbooks has been published.  It’s called, “15 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation and Engagement.”  You should check it out!

With Math I Can

Jo Boaler, Professor of Math Education at Stanford University, and Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology (also at Stanford) have teamed up with several industry partners, including Amazon, to launch an initiative called, “With Math I Can.”  Dweck’s name will sound familiar to those of you who have heard of “Growth Mindset,” and Boaler specifically promotes the importance of having a growth mindset in math.

I’ve mentioned YouCubed.org (one of Boaler’s many projects) on this blog a few times due to its great resources for teaching students how to have a healthy attitude about math.  With Math I Can has a similar purpose, but seems to be targeting a larger audience as it encourages you to take the following pledge:

Pledge from "With Math I Can"
Pledge from “With Math I Can

The site gives video resources for the classroom, your district, and home that include the recent set of “Big Ideas” videos from Class Dojo, along with the statistics and brain research that explain why we need to teach students that math is accessible to everyone.  The introduction video on the home page can be used to inspire teachers and parents to think carefully about the messages we send about our own attitudes toward math.

Hopefully, initiatives like “With Math I Can” will help young people to stop saying, “I’m just not good at math,” to “I’m just not good at math, yet.”