Monthly Archives: November 2011

Collaboration Fluency

In their book Literacy is Not Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age, Crockett, defines and explains the importance of collaboration fluency:

“More and more, working, playing, and learning in today’s digital world involves working with others. It is the spirit of collaboration that will stimulate progress in our global marketplace, in our social networks, and in our ability to create products of value and substance. Collaboration fluency is the ability to successfully work and interact with virtual and real partners. The 5 Es of Collaboration fluency are: 

  • Establish the collective, and determine the best role for each team member by pinpointing each team member’s personal strengths and expertise, establishing norms, and the signing of a group contract that indicates both a collective working agreement and an acceptance of the individual responsibilities and accountability of each team member.
  • Envision the outcome, examining the issue, challenge, and goal as a group.
  • Engineer a workable plan to achieve the goal.
  • Execute by putting the plan into action and managing the process.
  • Examine the process and the end result for areas of constructive improvement.”

At the beginning of the year, to get my freshmen warmed up to writing essays (a scary task for most students, especially since it is their first essay of their first high school English class!) I had my students write a collaborative essay using google docs. Before we jumped into the writing portion though, we first brainstormed our ideas about our topic (**ENVISION**)  through a Harkness discussion in which I and another student took notes on what was said by everyone at the table. Then I sifted through the notes and the next day showed the students the notes and we talked about what ideas they seemed to focus on more than others. From our discussion and notes, we mapped out an outline,(**ENVISION**) then divided up the labor (**ENGINEER**), assigning three to four students responsible for writing each body paragraph, intro, conclusion because we found that there was too much lag time if everyone tried to type on the same part of the essay at the same time.

By sharing the document with everyone in the class, all students could see what others were writing and respond to the writing by using the chat box feature. (**EXECUTE & ENVISION**) The chat box feature was the best part of this experience. Before the lesson, we talked about what constituted appropriate comments. Students had to understand that this task was different than texting friends or posting a comment on twitter. (**ESTABLISH**) I was delightfully surprised by how well they handled this chat box. I wish I had saved some of their comments, but I can sum them up and categorize them as follows:

1. Students demonstrated awareness of an essay’s requirements before we had even talked about such things with posts such as: “We still don’t have a topic sentence yet? Can someone help write that?” or “This paragraph is only four sentences. It needs to be longer.”  (**ESTABLISH**)

2. They also demonstrated they knew their strengths and weaknesses (**ESTABLISH**).  One student would post something along the lines of: “Can someone help me proofread this? I don’t know why but it sounds wrong.” Another student would respond “I can proofread it for you.”

3. They were also really encouraging of other’s ideas and helped each other find support for points made or push each other farther with posts such as: “Great example Sue! Can I add the part about the TV too?”; “What about the end of the book? That doesn’t fit what you just said.” ( **ESTABLISH**)

What I find by reflecting back on the experiencing now with the knowledge of the five Es of collaboration in mind, is that we don’t move through these steps linearly. Collaboration requires us to continually circle back and establish or reestablish our accountability to and  acceptance of others in the groups. In the process, we find we may have to re-envision and re-engineer as well, taking into consideration new found variables and skills present in our group members and in the task itself.

What I liked about using Google docs was not only that it was a safe way for kids to ease back into writing at the beginning of the school year, but it also promoted the kind of community building skills that I value in my classroom and that Heritage Hall values as a school. It dovetailed nicely into the Harkness method I use for class discussions, because we were able to use our discussion of what is appropriate communication skills to have online to what is appropriate communication skills to demonstrate in class person to person. (**EXAMINE**)

Digital Tools Make for Creative Students

This is both a follow up to my creative fluency lesson from a few weeks ago and an introduction to some new digital tools we’ve been using this week to translate our written ideas into the visual through websites and movies.

First of all, let me just say that as we progressed through the written portion of the utopia assignment, more and more students started to take ownership and come to me with their own ideas of how they could add creativity. One student (usually quiet and reluctant to participate) asked if instead of writing a journal entry as the assignment asked, he could write a series of twitter posts showing what a day in the life of a community member was like. He made the very valid argument that nowadays, people don’t write in journals or diaries, they share their lives in 120 character soundbites posted live throughout the day. This was exactly the kind of creativity and initiative I was hoping for.  Other students helped illustrate the kind of thought process I was hoping a creative assignment would solicit. One student, struggling to write the rules for his community, realized that if he wanted to allow his people to be completely free, they could end up doing something dangerous. This led to a discussion of what are different kinds of  freedom (freedom from or freedom to)and how do we balance limitations and freedoms in a society. Another student later in the week, while trying to write her declaration of independence, commented that the founding fathers of the US had a really hard job because she was tempted to just make herself dictator but realized she couldn’t do that if she really said she believed in equality. These represent the kind of “aha!” moments that I love to watch my students experience, especially when it doesn’t come from me preaching at them.

The next step in our Creative Fluency project was to add some technology. We did this in a couple of ways: First, using a very easy to navigate website designer at, my freshmen English students began creating websites to showcase the utopias they wrote about earlier. The goals here were to not only get them to showcase their ideas through a different media, but also learn how to problem solve as they encounter the kinds of challenges (How do I make this look like that?  How do I get X to do Y? Why won’t this work!?) that every new digital tool they every attempt to try the first time will present them. Through weebly, students were able to create blogs and community forums to show what life is like for the members of their utopia and how they interact, they can show what their community would look like by creating photo albums (using photos found on–another lesson in copyright laws thrown in just for fun!), and add other pages that detailed community rules and how the community got started.

Then, just to add a little spice to the assignment, we also created movies using the moviemaker at Again, this is another very user friendly site that allows kids to choose a variety of animated characters, voices, camera angles, gestures, settings, and sound effects to create a monologue or a dialogue. Students had the option of taking their written journal entries and transforming them into video diaries, or take their written transcript of a townhall meeting and translate into a dialogue between two “actors”. These movies are then published to youtube and posted on their weebly website to enhance the reality of their utopias.

As we were working on this, another student told me about Minecraft and how he could create a 3D image of what his utopia looked like, take a video of it, and place it on his website.  Another student wanted to act out a video, post it to Youtube, and download that to his website. Other students went above and beyond by creating national anthems for their utopia or welcome videos inviting new members to take a tour and meet the founder. Keep in mind, none of my students knew how to use weebly or xtranormal before we started. In fact, I would argue that I have a good number of students who struggle with simple copy and paste commands and don’t know basic terms like “browser” and “desktop”. But those that did know helped their struggling classmates, I learned from them just as they learned from me and others, and in the end all of us walked away with more skills than we started with.  That to me is the beauty of trying new digital tools with my students. Yes, there were plenty of places to trip along the way, but the best lessons come through the journey itself (detours and all), not just upon arrival at an end destination.


This is a really neat site made by Raytheon for STEM teachers/students. It has some of the best educational games I have seen. The games are “real world,” thoughtful, easy to navigate, and cute. I signed up as a 6th grade girl and ended up playing a math puzzle about re-arranging clothing racks in a store and a “Jewel adding game.” For physics, there was a really neat roller coaster simulation that was almost the educational version of Roller Coaster Tycoon (an outstanding computer game). The site is quite huge so I only skimmed the surface.

Here is a screen shot of the rollercoaster builder:

Collaboration Fluency

As I researched my fluency, I realized that the team working proficiency extended into my drama class. As we research our parts for our skits, I ask the students to create a back story for their character. Since I have a wide range of comfort levels with performing, some students are eager to take the “hot seat” and improvise a background for their characters orally. Other actors are not comfortable with the spontaneous nature of the assignment. Many times they would avoid the exercise at all cost. It occurred to me that a character sketch template completed on a computer would allow those students to complete the process without the extra stress. Although only a few students need this adjustment, it will allow the novice performer the experience of the creative process that can be transferred  onto the stage. The real test will be their comfort level at the performance for their peers in the middle school. I think it may be a better way to help actors see that they are part of an interactive effort and encourage the collaboration fluency.

Solution Fluency

Solution Fluency by Definition

Solution fluency is the ability to think creatively to solve problems in real time by clearly defining the problem, designing an appropriate solution, applying the solution then evaluating the process and the outcome.

According to 21st Century Fluency Project, there are 6 essential steps in creativity and problem solving-known as the Six D’s:
Define the problem, because you need to know exactly what you are doing before you start doing anything.
Discover the history of the problem which provides context.
Dream. Envision a future with the problem solved.
Design your solution in stages through gap analysis from Define to Dream.
Deliver the goods. Complete and publish your solution.
Debrief and foster ownership, by getting involved in the evaluation of the problem-solving process.

Solution Fluency in the Classroom

I am so intrigued by this essential and complicated fluency. By definition, a fluency is something that is so mastered, it is fluent—smooth, done with ease, and done as if subconscious. Solution fluency in Kindergarten, at this point, I feel is almost non-existent. We continually work on problem-solving, but it’s as if that’s a far as we get. There is practically zero application from one problem to a similar one. Yes, kindergarten is a young age and for that I will be a little easy on them. I don’t want to overlook my classroom examples though. I will try to throw in a positive example too.

One of my kindergartners found an extra marker lid in her cubby. A moment later, a child sitting at her table announced that he lost his lid to his marker. The girl asked me what to do with the lid. I said, “talk to the people at your table, it sounds like you can figure it out.” The boy without a lid said to the girl, “Hey, I don’t have a lid.” The girl with the extra lid said, “Miss Duty, can I throw my lid away? I can’t find a marker without a lid in my cubby.”

These two kids somewhat discovered the problem at hand, yet could not dream of a possible future with the problem solved. Their thinking did not take them far—there was no thinking. What I have noticed is that these kids require so much affirmation and are so dependent, that their own personal thinking is not up to their full potential. I have found similar scenarios everyday. In fact, while talking with another teacher (a fourth grade teacher), we discovered we could record 50 examples a day of lack of problem-solving skills.

I spent some time explaining to the Lower School teachers the 21st century fluencies and how they apply to us. I made an effort to have conversations with teachers across the school on Solution Fluency. My conversation with the fourth grade teachers struck me most. While my days in kindergarten are filled with problems like the aforementioned “marker lid” example, I found it very interesting that even in fourth grade, these situations are still occurring.

I know that Solution Fluency connected to 21st Century Learning involves higher-levels of thinking and even goes as far as technology-use. However, my concern is with basic common-sense. A question/concern I have heard now repeatedly in the Lower School is: My students can’t solve problems or do any thinking…I don’t want technology to be another resource or chance for them to skip the thinking process. How can we keep technology as a useful tool, but not let it take place of thinking, especially when these kids show very little problem-solving/higher-level thinking skills as is?

Many teachers came to me with examples of lack of problem solving. I would like to share a quick list, rather than diving into each one.
-A fourth grader received a poster to complete her project. She noticed that her poster had a mark on it. She asked what she should do. The teacher asked, “What do you think you could do to make it work?” The child could not come up with a solution. The teacher was shocked that after turning the poster around in different ways and staring at for several minutes that the child could not think to use the back of the poster, or even try to erase or wipe-off the mark.
-Two 1st graders were sharing the loft as a listening center. One child put on a headset and the other child wanted to listen to the story too. When asked what the children could do to solve the problem, one girls suggested that they take off the headphones at the end of every page and then switch. The teacher asked, “Do you think you will hear the whole story that way or just every other page?” The girls did not have a clue how to think of an alternative solution.
-A fourth grade teacher purposely prints extra spelling lists, important notes for the week, etc and posts them on the wall at the front of the room. She has done this since the first week of school. A boy-in the 2nd week of November-said that he can’t find his spelling list and grows upset and confused. The teacher said, “Well, what can you do about it?” The boy grew frustrated and couldn’t think of a solution. She reminded him to “look around the room for clues, like we always do”. The boy did not figure out that the extra lists on the board were available until someone directed him there. Apparently, that was the fourth kid in one month with the same problem.

I want to emphasize that these are not examples from the same kids over and over. If I listed all the examples of poor solution fluency, you would need a whole day or two to read them. My point: Solution Fluency is essential. What can we do to improve on this? In our last e21 meeting, I recall teachers commenting on 9th graders inability to find solutions in simply logging into email and other various simple computer skills.

Third grade partners were in the hall working on math. I heard them getting frustrated (they were doing story problems). I stopped to ask them how it was going. They said, “We don’t like this! We can’t figure out how to solve this problem and we usually get more help.” The kids went on to explain that it is much easier when teachers guide them through problems and that third grade is much harder because they didn’t get as much help. I was pleased to hear that at least one of the 3rd grade teachers is allowing these kids time to think for themselves. (example of the math problem they were on: There are two things that together equal 6 legs at the zoo. Figure out what the two things could be.–something to that effect)

I have found that these kids need affirmation. Affirmation for turning their paper in the right spot, affirmation in that the child wrote in his/her agenda correctly, affirmation that he walked in the hall nicely, or affirmation that he cleaned up his own mess. These kids are so dependent on others, that I believe Solution Fluency will be our biggest challenge. I don’t think it is impossible, but I think it will be difficult to completely let go and let kids do the discovery, dreaming, and designing of solutions. My concern has become how the students’ home lives are connected to their ability at school. Many parents are so caught up in wanting their child to be successful that they are doing a disservice by doing too much for them. Other parents are busy and find it easier to just do it for them rather than allow a teaching moment.

These kids need to grow independence. While I know in the middle and upper school there will be a different response to this fluency, I felt strongly about pointing out the serious need for solution fluency. I am very anxious to hear how other e21 members will address this fluency. I am simply addressing it as it came to me in my environment, the Lower School.

Researching this fluency has been an enlightening eye-opener for me. I will say that now this is on my mind, I am doing my best to allow for opportunities in my classroom to witness this fluency in action. In kindergarten, it takes patience. These five and six year olds need time to process the fact that there is a problem and that they are capable of finding their own solution. A positive example of good problem-solving in the classroom would be from the second week of November. We were on the playground when some of my students smelled smoke. The girls couldn’t see any smoke and really wanted me, the teacher, to tell them where it was coming from. I said, “I don’t see the smoke either. Do you think I know where it is coming from?” The girls figured out that I didn’t know either and rather quickly, one girls shouted, “Let’s go to the top of the playground toy and see if we can see it from up high!” I was elated that someone in my class would have dreamed of the possibility and designed a potential solution, and so quickly! She delivered the goods by sharing it with her friends and leading the way to the top! After they looked around the skyline for smoke, the girls unknowingly debriefed the situation—they evaluated that they were not high enough to see the smoke or that there were too many buildings in the way.

Solution Fluency at Heritage Hall

How the teachers in the Lower School feel about Solution Fluency and how the teachers facilitate healthy problem-solving methods will most certainly affect how these kids enter the more “independent world” of middle school. Let alone, their ability to survive and thrive in the Upper School with the ability to use the Six D’s, and better yet, leave Heritage Hall with the confidence and fluency in finding creative solutions in the real world. We want these kids to leave Heritage Hall and be marketable, employable, and good citizens—we can’t expect much out of these kids if they are still dependent, desiring affirmation in all that they do, or struggling with dreaming a possible solution to a problem. It all starts in the Lower School! How these kids see and attack problems at school and at home as young kids will definitely shape their experience and future designs of problem solving.

There is a lot of teaching and learning to do as teachers. How can we help facilitate and encourage Solution Fluency without doing too much? We have to allow kids to discover and dream up creative possibilities on their own. How will Heritage Hall going 1:1 affect the students’ acquisition of the fluencies?

Solution Fluency Resources

Digital Citizenship Fluency

All the 21st Century fluencies are learned within the context of the Digital Citizen, using the guiding principles of leadership, ethics, accountability, fiscal responsibility, environmental awareness, global citizenship and personal responsibility (

The first week of school I used a paper magazine produced by the FTC to discuss with the students how to “Live Life Online.” This was a great resource because it includes several articles and short quizzes for the kids on crucial issues that they face almost on a daily basis such as sexting, cyberbullying, online etiquette, and how to analyze advertisements from companies. It also provided several real life dilemmas to the students that I used as bell ringers and also some as closing activities for the end of the hour.

This was truly beneficial because I found out that most of the students were not aware of the legal consequences that accompanied actions of sexting or simply forwarding a message they received by email or text. They were also not aware that typing things in all caps on text, email, or social networking sites is considered to be “online yelling” and they need to make sure they monitor their tone of voice.

These lessons helped me lead into the use of our class page because I first had the students and parents sign a responsible use policy before they were aloud to create a profile on the website.

I approach the global aspect of this fluency by using the CNN Student News in my class at least once a week. This news cast is written on a middle school level but allows the students to have insight on the issues of our country as well as issues that are affecting other nations of the world.

This fluency is critical to Heritage Hall due to the 1:1 movement beginning to take place. Our students will be “connected” on a daily basis while at school and must have the knowledge and skills to effectively navigate and contribute to the online world.

Going beyond the use of technology Heritage Hall is already approaching some aspects of this fluency by adopting a new set of core values; courage, responsibility, kindness, and intellectual purpose.

Resources used:


Creative Fluency

from  “Creative Fluency is the process by which artistic proficiency adds meaning through design, art and storytelling. It regards form in addition to function, and the principles of innovative design combined with a quality functioning product.Creative Fluency extends beyond visual creative skills, to using the imagination to create stories, a practice which is in demand in many facets of today’s economy. It is widely regarded by many successful industries that creative minds come up with creative solutions.There is tremendous value in the artistic creation of items in order that they may transcend mere functionality.”

So today I introduced my students to their creative project for the semester: Build Your Own Utopia. I thought this would be something fun for them–a chance to flex their imagination muscles but still demonstrate an understanding of the ideas we’ve been discussing all semester long. Yet I heard over and over again from students: “This is HARD!” or “This requires me to think!” (insert shocked expression). The assumption on their part was that something creative should be easy and thoughtless. Maybe one way of understanding this is by looking at the difference between imagination and creativity.

Oklahoma‘s recent National Creativity World Forum 2011 (www., explains on their website that “ Imagination is the capacity to conceive of what is not yet present or manifest. Creativity is imagination applied (“imagination at work”) to do or make something that flows from the prior capacity to conceive of the new.” My students have imagination (they can come up quickly with some off the wall zany idea never heard of before), but when it comes to applying that imagination (creativity) they realize that its not enough to just come up with an idea, it has to be made meaningful and requires a lot of problem solving that they didn’t anticipate.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Professional Development Thoughts: Part II

Although webinars are convenient, (see part I) I feel like they are a new way of doing traditional professional development. And frankly traditional professional development utterly pales in comparison to the kind of peer created and peer led professional development we could be doing.

When I taught in Chicago I was part of a group of physics teachers that met monthly to share (for me: absorb) ideas. It was similar to the “Physics camp” the teacher we skyped with advocated. In the summers I’ve been attending teaching methods workshops that are led by veteran high school physics teachers. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 95% of my best ideas were not my idea first.

What if, next in-service, we had one 1-hour session where instead of meeting as a huge group with such widely ranging age levels and subjects we met as a science department or English department etc. In each meeting there would be a list of numbers on the board where teachers would write their name to create a presentation list. Each presenter would take between 1 to about 5 minutes to very informally share one good idea. The idea might be a specific lesson,  activity, classroom procedure, demonstration, lab, assessment technique, tech tool, discussion technique, even a good explanation for a hard to teach concept, or anything else that would be valuable to a portion of the department. After the presenter finishes sharing, the audience might ask a few questions or start a brief discussion before moving on.

For example, I might share “fist-to-five” a neat little informal assessment I learned this summer. The basic idea is to ask students to raise their hand with anything between a fist (no clue) to five fingers up (I could teach it) to gauge understanding of a particular topic/question. It’s useful because its fast, non-verbal, you see where all students are individually, and more importantly allows students to express “I don’t understand” while still saving face (by putting up two or three fingers).

I think the vast majority of teachers would be willing to share one good idea with their department (goal: all?). Depending on the time and after everyone who wanted to present had a chance, teachers with more then one good idea could repeat. I’m confident we have enough good ideas out there to not only do this once, but many times.

What do you think? Is it practical? Would you be comfortable presenting? Do you think you could learn from this? Have you already participated in something similar? Please comment below!

Professional Development Thoughts: Part I

Yesterday I attended my first webinar. The topic was using Edmodo (social networking) safely in the classroom. In some ways, attending a webinar seemed similar to a traditional lecture driven professional development session but there were also some differences. Like an “old school” presentation, the presenter talked through a PowerPoint presentation. The presenter was obviously knowledgeable and the presentation was smooth.

Since I was as interested in learning about webinars as I was social networking, I also signed up for the backchannel were audience members kept a running conversation during the presentation. While listening to a traditional session tends to be very passive the webinar was the opposite of that. While I was listening to the presenter, reading the PowerPoint and jotting down notes I was also trying to follow the backchannel conversation and fiddling with the webinar software (not smart). It was a little overwhelming. In the future I will need to be more careful with my attention especially with the backchannel. It can be very interesting but also distracting.

Overall, I think the advantages of webinars over traditional sessions are: some additional choice of topic, a small classroom feel (quite uncharacteristically for me, I even asked a question!) and convenience.

Information Fluency Report: The Little Things


According to the Sardine Blog information fluency is:

“the ability to unconsciously and intuitively interpret information in all forms and formats in order to extract the essential knowledge, authenticate it, and perceive its meaning and significance.”

The blog continues by mentioning five key steps: asking good questions, acquiring appropriate information sources, analyzing the information quality, applying the information and finally assessing both process and product.

In my own words, I think of information fluency in the 21st century as the ability to wisely use all of the information that is available to us nowadays. I think memorizing most facts is obsolete when they are literally little more then a few clicks away from reach. Instead of having too little information, we have the opposite problem, which is why asking good questions, strong analytical skills and reflection are more critical then ever.

Application: The Little Things

Instead of doing a big flashy lesson/project on information fluency, I tried to incorporate information fluency into my class on a more daily (mundane?) basis. To me this is more meaningful.

When I first read the description for information fluencies one of the first things I noticed was the part about asking good questions. This really got me excited because I’ve read a lot of physics education research that shows how important the discourse between students in a physics classroom is. In my classroom, we do a lot of peer teaching using big whiteboards. After a group of students teaches the rest of the class an idea, the audience is expected to ask questions.

I’m continuing to work on encouraging students to ask three basic types of questions: understanding, extension, and Socratic. Understanding questions are the ones students understand and expect most readably. Extension questions are questions that build off the original questions. Right now, my students are generally only able to ask questions very closely related (i.e. what if the height was doubled?). I try to encourage students to ask more and more general questions. The last type of questions are the hardest: Socratic. It is so much easier in physics (and I suspect any subject) to have an answer then it is to understand why the answer is right. I once heard about a company that aimed to be able to answer “why?” 5 levels deep for major questions. That’s my goal for my physics students, although we are along way from reaching it. Currently I’m pleased if my students can go 1 level deep (i.e. they can explain the reasoning behind their answer, but can’t explain the explanation). Once in a while a student is able to go 2 levels deep and that is really great!

Another thing I noticed on the sardine site is an emphasis on interpreting visual information. While teaching kinematics (study of motion) this year I equally emphasized graphical, diagrammatic and words descriptions along with the more common algebraic models. One really neat things you can do when you learn about the same idea but in different “expressions” is ask students to “translate” a specific example in one case to all the others. This is really neat because it’s not something you can fake like plugging and chugging an equation. Instead you truly have to understand. Since my students generally are able to translate between one kinematics representation to another I think this was successful.

Finally the last thing I wanted to mention was how we applied our physics knowledge. This year I found about some of the work of the University of Minnesota’s Physics Education Research group. The group has produced a bunch of content rich physics problems. The problems are useful because they don’t fit into nice neat little boxes like standard text book problems do. They talk about everyday situations that appear simple on the surface but are actually quite challenging to solve. One of the problems I used asked about a jogger running around a lake trying to decide when he would meet another jogger. The problems include lots of information which students have to determine relevancy from. One student who literally crossed out the irrelevant information. Overall, I thought the content rich problems were successful because of the obvious level of thought most of my students put into the problem.

The Big Picture

Although the context of my class is obviously physics, I think that these ideas can be applied in any setting. I don’t see why peer instruction with whiteboards couldn’t be used in math or even history. Certainly requiring students to ask understanding, extension, and Socratic questions of each other could be done in any discipline. I also think that using different ways of representing knowledge could be applied to many subjects although the types of representations would obviously be different then the ones I mentioned. Finally I think adding intensive context to problems or assignments can be done in any field.

In short, I believe that working on good questions, multiple representations of knowledge and content rich application help students build information fluency.