Think Again

two woman having conversation

I know that it’s hard to imagine doing anything “extra” after this crazy school year, but some schools like to do book studies over the summer – and some teachers, like me, get reinvigorated by reading professional books. I’d like to toss this one out there as an idea for those of you searching for a book for one of those purposes or even as just as a non-fiction book to read for enjoyment.

Think Again is by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at Wharton. I received this book as one of three that arrived in this quarter’s Next Big Idea Book Club subscription box. When I read the intro on the book jacket, I thought this book was ideal to read given the current state of our world. “The bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life.”

Before you read, you may want to take the free quiz to find out which type of thinker you most resemble: Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, or Scientist. This tends to influence the methods you use to open the minds of others when you disagree.

If you have never read a book by Adam Grant, I can assure you that he is a talented writer who engages the reader with anecdotes sprinkled with relevant facts. I was prepared to find some good nuggets of advice in Think Again, but didn’t realize I would use up all of the ink in one of my highlighters as I turned each page to discover more and more guidance that would be helpful in my everyday life.

Even though the entire book is valuable, I want to summarize some takeaways from one specific chapter because it addresses “teaching students to question knowledge.” As this is primarily an education blog, “Rewriting the Textbook” is probably the most pertinent to you, the educators who read this blog.

Grant discusses the importance of questioning information no matter the source, being willing to take risks and accept being wrong some of the time, and students taking ownership of their learning – all precepts that I have also encouraged in my classroom and on this blog. He, of course gives evidence to support why these are vital skills and interesting examples of teachers (including himself) using student-centered techniques that encourage this type of thinking. One of the observations he makes from a collaborative lesson he taught in his college classroom is that the Straight-A students often struggled on the open-ended project, quite possibly because the obsession with being “right” was interfering with any inclination to take creative risks.

Among the teachers Grant showcases in the chapter, he mentions Ron Berger who worked summers as a carpenter and during the school year as a public elementary school teacher who “devoted his life to teaching students an ethic of excellence,” which includes “constantly revising our thinking.” I liked reading about Berger’s habit of posing “grapples” to his students that were multi-phase problems rather than beginning every lesson by presenting information. As Grant described more of Berger’s unconventional methods, I was impressed by the iterative mindset he instilled in his students, prioritizing revision and increased mastery rather than racing to completion. It should not have surprised me (but it did) that Berger became the chief academic officer of EL Education, one of the schools in which the famous video, Austin’s Butterfly, was filmed.

From the Black musician who confronts members of the KKK to an epilogue that analyzes the communication of leaders during the pandemic, Think Again is a book that parents, educators, leaders, and followers in all walks of life would find meaningful and timely. I plan to thumb through those pages often to remind myself of the power of re-thinking.

Think Again, by Adam Grant

They Don’t Need Another Hero

Our society has a tendency to resort to worship heroes. When they turn out to be imperfect, we “cancel” them and move on to the next person who seems worthy. As parents and educators, it’s tempting to allow the children in our care to place us in that hero category, and to cover up our own anxiety, frustration, and mistakes. After all, not only do we enjoy having someone thinking having confidence in us, we also want them to feel safe around us. Here’s the problem – making them confident in us by constructing the illusion we are perfect makes them less confident in themselves.

As Adam Grant points out in the video in this article from MindShift, we have a duty to have conversations with children about our own fallibility. They will inevitably experience it themselves, and we can model healthy strategies for dealing with it instead of leading them to believe that their only fallbacks are to give up, lie, or blame others. We need to show them that some things don’t come easily to us, and how to analyze if those things are worth the effort. We can model constructive approaches to confronting difficulties and failure so they do not have to rely on “heroes,” who will eventually let them down.

Last weekend, my 17 year old daughter gave me the best compliment I have ever received from her: “I learned from you that I don’t need to depend on other people to be happy.” She knows about my battle with depression, mistakes that I regret, and struggles I still have. She is well aware that I’m not the perfect parent she idolized when she was three. But just like every other disappointment that has come her way, she deals with it.

(I’ll be adding this video to my Growth Mindset Pinterest Board.)

Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

The Magic of Chess

“Old people shouldn’t be forced to learn chess, but if they want to learn chess surely they can!  They’re allowed to,” a young girl assures the interviewer in The Magic of Chess.

“Even though they could be doing something else – like playing Legos,” the young boy next to her adds.

This adorable short film featured on Vimeo will inspire any young student (and maybe some old people) to try the game of chess.  The filmmaker, Jenny Schweitzer Bell, captured the many positive aspects of playing chess by interviewing boys and girls at the 2019 Elementary Chess Championship.  The children tout the problem solving skills they have learned, and growth mindset is a constant theme.  Their passion for the game is truly inspiring!

I am adding this delightful video to my Inspirational Videos Pinterest Board.

The Magic of Chess from Jenny Schweitzer Bell on Vimeo.

Image by Ally Laws from Pixabay

Goosechase Edu

While writing yesterday’s “Game of Phones” post, I started searching my archives and I was surprised to see that I hadn’t mentioned Goosechase Edu.  So, let’s rectify that today.

Goosechase is a scavenger hunt app available on the App Store and on Google Play.  Players need to download the free app.  (If you are using district devices, be sure to verify ahead of time that the app has been approved for use.)  Organizers need to create an account online.  There is a special, educational version of Goosechase available that has different pricing tiers, so be sure to visit the Edu site rather than the one designed for corporate use.

The pricing can be a bit confusing when you are new to using Goosechase Edu.  Suffice it to say that, as a classroom teacher, I found the free plan to work well for my class.  This plan allows you to have 5 teams compete against each other during a game.  This is in contrast to the next tier, which allows for 10 teams or 40 individuals to play at a time.  You only need one device per team, although you can use more – allowing team members to separate to complete different missions.

When the organizer sets up a Goosechase game, he/she adds missions to the hunt.  Each mission can be awarded points when completed, and the organizer can determine which missions are weighted more than others.  An example of a mission would be the following, which I used in my Principles of Arts class when we were learning about different camera angles:

The organizer can make up missions, or use missions that have already been posted in the Goosechase Mission Bank.  In fact, you can even browse the library of public Goosechases, and choose to copy an entire hunt for your own use.  Each mission requires that a photo and/or video be submitted in order to complete it.

Like many online student interactives available these days, Goosechase creates a code, which participants will use to join the hunt.  Teachers can determine the amount of time for the hunt, and even when missions or automatic messages will appear for participants.  (When students first launch Goosechase, remind them to allow for notifications so you can get in touch with them during the hunt.)

I like to mix missions that require some, most,  or all of the group to be in the pictures or videos as well as some images that are of things around campus.  This way, the group has some accountability for staying together and on school property.  I also go over behavior expectations before they leave the room, stressing that teams must: stay together, not disrupt any other classes going on, stay safe when taking pictures, and return on time.  As students are off on the hunt, the organizer can pull up an activity feed to see the missions as they are being completed. I walk around the halls as I monitor the feed to help discourage any temptations for mischief.

With notifications enabled, you can send out a reminder to the teams when time is wrapping up.  Give yourself some time to do a debrief at the end, when the class can look at the team submissions and decide as a group how to assess them before declaring the final winners.  One of my favorite features of the game is that you can actually download all of the submissions to save for the future end-of-the-year slideshows or other reminders of silly learning experiences in class.

There are plenty of Goosechase games in the library related to core curriculum that you can use.  Another great way to use Goosechase is in a unit on Growth Mindset.  I worked with my 8th graders on this a lot last year.  We talked about taking risks and solving problems, and then I sent them off to complete the following set of missions:

Here is what I like about Goosechase: students can get out of their seats, students can be creative, students can choose the missions they want to do, we can laugh together as we learn, we are making tangible memories, and even the students who are the least engaged will participate.

An “Impossibly Strong” submission from my Growth Mindset Goosechase

BreakoutEdu for the Win

My usual bag of tricks has not been extremely successful at my new school, especially in my engineering classes.  I didn’t bank on the fact that middle/high schoolers don’t want to appear interested even if they are – and most things that I have to share with them are apparently not even worth sitting around and appearing disinterested, judging by the steady stream of students asking to go to the bathroom.

I even tried the Hour of Code with a group.  But nothing I said could convince them that making games might be just as, if not more, fun than playing them.

It has definitely been a bit humbling.  Sometimes depressing.  Often humiliating.  I’m still trying to convince a lot of these students they can trust me, and they become immediately suspicious whenever I introduce something new into the mix.

Our high school students went on a trip last week, so the 8th graders were stuck with me.  I assumed (correctly) that they were not going to want to “work” (their current tortuous project is to design something in Tinkercad) while their classmates were kayaking.  So, I decided to try a BreakoutEdu with them.

I chose a fairly simple challenge since I knew most of the students had never done one before.  And I dangled the idea of a reward at the end. (A couple of chocolate candy Kisses)

I had two goals for them: collaboration and perseverance.

As I set them free to look for clues, I waited with bated breath for the inevitable, “This is too hard,” or, “This is boring.”

It didn’t happen.

The challenge took them about 30 minutes.  Nobody fought.  Nobody gave up.  Nobody surreptitiously kept taking out a phone to check Snapchat.

And no one asked to go to the bathroom.

After they finished, and we were reflecting as a class, one student said, “This is a great way to learn.  Every teacher should do this!”

But the kicker came from one of my other students, someone who always tries to figure out what’s in it for her before she applies any effort.

“Can we do this again?” she asked.  “And you don’t even have to give us a reward,” she promised me. As she popped a candy Kiss into her mouth.

Now. That. Is. Huge.

For my first post on BreakoutEdu, click here.

Not my students.  But just as engaged.  From Kentucky Country Day School on Flickr

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

First of all, this is the best book title I’ve ever seen.  It is intriguing when you see the cover, and totally makes sense on a variety of levels once you read the book.  Even the author’s name, Dusti Bowling, seems perfect for a story set in a theme park in Arizona.

I think I first learned that Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus existed from @TechNinjaTodd on Twitter months ago.  Before I even had a chance to read the book, I followed @Dusti_Bowling on Twitter and she almost immediately followed me – which I took as a sign that I am a Very Important Person.  After reading her tweets for a few month, I realized that Dusti Bowling is just a down-to-earth author who responds quickly to her readers.  She also supports her fellow authors by recommending other great books, and Skypes with students on a regular basis.  So, it turns out that, to Dusti Bowling, everyone is an important person – a theme she models in this book.

I finally got some time to read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus a few days ago, and I was not disappointed.  The main character, Aven, is a young girl who was born without arms.  Her adopted parents have raised her to be a confident problem-solver instead of a helpless complainer.  She can do pretty much anything with her feet, and the friends she has grown up with don’t even notice her unconventional methods anymore.  However, Aven becomes much more self-conscious about her uniqueness when the family moves from Kansas to Arizona.  Starting a new school with students who have never seen a person eat with her feet, Aven realizes the one problem she can’t solve is that some people fear those who are different.  Just when she seems to have reached her lowest point, Aven meets a few friends who have also been mistreated due to their differences.  Throw in some tarantulas, a tantalizing mystery, and the declining Wild West theme park her parents manage, and Aven must summon up all of her will-power to ensure the family’s move to Arizona doesn’t end up as a disaster.

This is a great book to use for teaching empathy, perseverance, and the power of a growth mindset. (For another great story that has those themes, I also recommend Fish in a Tree.) I could see using it as a class read-aloud in grades 3 and up.  To learn more about the inside story of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can visit the StoryMamas website for an interview with the author.  If your class wants to ask the author more questions, be sure to fill out the form on Dusti Bowling’s home page to request a Skype with her.

Find out where you can buy this book!