Education, K-5, Parenting, Videos


In light of recent news events, it seems that sexist stereotypes and misogynistic behaviors continue to be supported and trivialized in our society.  The “boys will be boys” attitude persists in all age groups, socioeconomic classes, and cultures despite attempts that have been made in the last few decades to eradicate it.  What can we, as parents and teachers, do to combat the many chauvinistic messages that bombard our children every day?

Inspiring Girls, an international organization based in the UK, has an idea.  Noting that many of our children are exposed at an early age to a multitude of animated characters, the organization also found that only 29% of these potential role models are female.  In a revealing video included on the resources page, a classroom teachers asks her students to draw people in several different professions such as a firefighter and a surgeon.  61 pictures were drawn as men.  5 were women.

The #redrawthebalance campaign from Inspiring Girls wants us to bring awareness to this disturbing example of gender stereotypes, and to help our students see that women can be strong, intelligent, and hard-working as well.  You can find a workbook on the resources page that can be printed with pages that prompt students to draw their own characters, who will hopefully be more representative of themselves.  There are also downloadable posters of characters such as “Carla the Coder,” who are female.

We’ve come a long way since we had to fight for the right for women to vote.  But all we have to do is take a look at the headlines to see that it hasn’t been far enough.

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 7.47.41 PM.png
from Inspiring Girls




In 2016, I attended SXSWedu, and wrote this post about some speakers who gave us the key ingredients that contribute to the success of the Finnish education program.  I mentioned that, as a celebration of its 100th year of independence, Finland was endeavoring to collect case studies of 100 of the most innovative educational projects around the world to be published on a website.  In addition, Finland shares 100 of its own programs.  The website was completed earlier this year, and you can find incredible inspirations on it that may give you ideas for your own next contribution toward education reform.  You can find the HundrED innovations here.  By either clicking on the map or doing a keyword search that can be filtered by age group, type, and category, you will see some of the extraordinary ways that educators are reaching children on every inhabited continent.  Click on one that interests you (and I promise you will find more than one!), and you will be given a summary of the program, as well as steps for implementing it.  This is a great gift from Finland, as it not only informs us but also shows us what we need to do in order to participate or replicate the program.

I have definitely not had a chance to look at all of the innovations, yet, but here are a few creative ones you may want to start with:

Thank you to Finland for this phenomenal collection, and Happy Anniversary!

image from Pixabay

How Do You Feel About Homework?

I’ve been thinking a lot about homework lately.  This is partly because my daughter begins high school today, and one of her teachers has already assured us that there will be lots of homework assigned in her class.

When I was a 5th grade teacher, I assigned homework every night. My goal was to teach responsibility because I had heard the middle school did the same.  I didn’t worry about whether or not the homework was meaningful or how it might impact the students who had home environments and/or schedules that weren’t conducive to doing school work every day.

When my child entered grade school, homework began almost as a game.  They received packets at the beginning of the week with bingo pages that allowed them to choose any 3 homework activities in a row to turn in on Friday.  My daughter was so excited that she insisted on doing every single activity each week.

That didn’t last.

My least favorite assignments were the ones that required parent participation.  We would have to cut out game pieces and make boards and then I had to try to pretend that it was exciting to practice my multiplication tables while I simultaneously attempted not to crush my daughter’s spirit by excelling at the game.

If I ever taught 5th grade again, I would not assign mandatory homework.  First of all, I’m lazy.  It takes a lot of time to explain homework assignments, collect them and record who did them, and delve out consequences to the ones who didn’t.  Secondly (and I realize this should be the first reason, but I’m just being honest), I really don’t think it teaches very much to the students who need practice the most.

I’ve read a few articles like this one that seem to support that homework shouldn’t be assigned, at least at the elementary level. This school in Massachusetts, which is banning homework for the next year, seems to agree.  (Full disclosure, they have lengthened their school day as well.)

In this hilarious video from the Huffington Post, you can see what happens when a middle schooler tries to get some adult help on math homework.

I get it.  Sometimes homework is important – particularly in secondary school.  But it’s intention should be to support learning – not to teach responsibility (and it should never be used to introduce a concept.)   One of the teachers I follow on Twitter (@alicekeeler) suggests that students be given a sampling of math problems to do, and then the choice to get feedback on whichever three they would like.  This, in my opinion, makes homework about what the student needs, instead of drill and kill.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about homework in the comments below!


Computer Science, Education, Gamification, K-12, Videos

SXSWedu 2016 – How to Think and Learn Like a Futurist

I have seen Jane McGonigal present before, and I really enjoyed her message. Looking forward to another fabulous keynote address from her at SXSWedu this year, I was not disappointed.

McGonigal’s presentation was, “How to Think and Learn Like a Futurist.”  If you feel like that is impossible, then you should know that a futurist is not someone who predicts the future.  As McGonigal states, “I am making the future!”  And, “To create something now, you have to imagine how things can be different.”

A futurist does these 4 things:

  1. collects signals from the future
  2. combines signals into forecast
  3. creates personal foresight
  4. plays with the future

I can’t really do her talk justice by summarizing it here.  Suffice it to say that it involves jellybean recipes, a Mega NFL where you can earn power ups for your team by being fit, and an intriguing idea that shows a complete shift in the education paradigm, resulting in lifelong learning.

To learn more, please watch McGonigal’s keynote. Yes, it is an hour long – but she will open your mind to new possibilities and new ways of thinking.  If you teach children or have some of your own, you will be fascinated with the potential workforce and education they may may face in one or two decades.

For more information on futuristic ideas, visit the site of Institute for the Future, where Jane McGonigal works along with other inspired and creative futurists.

Education, K-12

SXSWedu – Throwing Out Grades

I am attending SXSWedu in Austin, TX this week.  You can see the posts that I’ve published so far to summarize my learning here and here.

Our K-5 school is about to embark on an interesting journey.  We are working on “throwing out the grades.”  Instead of averages in each subject, parents will be receiving feedback each nine weeks on how their child has done in each standard that was covered during that period.  Our plan is to slowly roll this out, starting with Kinder and 1st next year and adding two grade levels each successive year. Our goal is to have the entire school using this system in three years.

We are still working on the details, so I was excited to see some of the pioneers in this area would be presenting at SXSWedu.  Mark Barnes and Peter Bencivenga presented. Unfortunately, the third presenter, Starr Sackstein, was unable to attend due to a severe case of the flu.  Mark and Peter did a great job despite missing a teammate!

If you have ever had a student ask you, “Do we need to know this for a test?” or “What do I need to do so I can earn an A?”  then you might understand the reasons for changing our current system.  In the traditional system, students aren’t learning for the sake of knowledge; they are looking for ways to beat the system – to find ways the shortest way to an A.  Another problem is that an average on a report card doesn’t effectively tell the story of that student. Does a B mean that she didn’t know it at first but has completely mastered it now?  Or does it mean she kind of knew and still kind of knows it?  Also, students tend to see that grade as the culmination of their learning and move on, rather than reflecting and revising and digging deeper to achieve more understanding.  They often choose courses based on what has the most potential to increase their class rank rather than on what they actually want to learn.

Mark and Peter spoke about how “throwing out the grades” can actually increase engagement and learning among students.  The feedback that is given to students is actually much more frequent, and gives multiple iteration opportunities to the students so they can improve their work.  Because the students are more focused on the projects they are doing than on the grades they can obtain, they voluntarily work harder to learn more for their own benefit.  Self-reflection is a key component.

One argument that you may hear against this philosophy is that students will have a difficult time getting into colleges if there is no rank and no GPA.  The presenters, however, have seen a shift in college admissions that reflects their own recognition of the need for change.  They emphasized that there is a need for “bottom-up” reform, saying that even reluctant colleges will eventually need to change their process once they see that K-12 schools are making this change.

Communication with parents is vital, and you may find yourself with the difficult job of changing mindsets.  One quote that made a lasting impression on the attendees was what to say in conversations with parents who oppose throwing out the grades.

“Your child is more than a number and a letter.”

What parent can disagree with that?

Hacking Assessment by Starr Sackstein
Hacking Assessment by Starr Sackstein




SXSWedu – Replicating the Finnish Miracle

If you saw my first post from SXSWedu 2016 yesterday,  you might think that I planned to summarize each day in a series of posts this week.  However, today was so full of learning that I am going to have to spread out my posts a bit.  I want to dedicate today’s to a session I attended called, “Can the Finnish Education Miracle Be Replicated?”

As you probably know, Finland’s educational system has been in the news quite a bit in recent years because they have achieved extremely high ratings from PISA.  Many people want desperately to know what Finland is doing so right and what the United States is doing so wrong.

Well, first of all, we’re not so wrong.  We may not be at the top of the chart, but we aren’t at the bottom either.  As Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator who is currently a Harvard visiting professor, pointed out, we need to focus on what we are doing right and make it even better.  That being said, there is obviously some room for growth in our country.

The qualities that the top successful countries seem to have in common are these: collaboration, creativity, trust, professionalization, and equity.

According to Sahlburg, one of the areas where the States could use some growth is in equity.  “You need to take equity more seriously.” Nearly all of Finland’s students go to public school – not private or charter – and their country’s top priority is keeping their schools equitable.

Sahlburg’s co-presenter, Saku Tuominen works in Finland, and runs an innovation company called “SCOOL” whose mission is to help schools change.  SCOOL is helping Finland to implement a radical program called, “HundrED,” to celebrate the country’s 100th year of independence this year.  This ambitious project has the following goal, “Over the next two years we will interview 100 global thought leaders, create 100 case studies of exciting education happenings worldwide, and trial 100 new innovations in a selection of schools in Finland for one year. Our findings will be shared with the world for free.”

Shared with the world. For free!  How amazing is that?  They will be collecting all of these innovative ideas, compiling them into tremendous resources for their educators, and then giving them to the world. For free.  What a beautiful idea!

The criteria the company will be looking for as they select their final products will be:

  • Is it fresh?
  • Does it make pedagogical sense?
  • Can it scale?

An example of one of the 100 new innovations they will be doing in Finland is to assign every high school student to be involved in creating a documentary against racism.  To show their commitment to this project, Finland has already rented every movie theater in Finland for one day to showcase the final videos created by the students.

You may need to re-read that last sentence again to digest it fully.

If you would like more information about HundrED, please click here.  I anticipate that there will be incredible global advancement in education due to this amazing idea.

In closing, Sahlburg said he would like us to leave with these three ideas:

  • Let them play!
  • Prepare kids to be wrong.
  • Build on what has worked.

To learn more about Finland’s educational system from Sahlburg’s perspective, you may want to read his book, Finnish Lessons 2.0. The 2015 edition is an updated version.

Finnish Lessons 2.0
Finnish Lessons 2.0