Category Archives: Collaboration Fluency

Love Learning, Yet Hate School?

This morning, in an email from TIE, I received a link from Greg Limperis to watch a viral video related to education. The title caught my attention…Why I Hate School But Love Education. I was hooked…had to watch. You should too…

Now, I should mention that I’m currently reading Tony Wagner’s latest book, Creating Innovators. I’m only a chapter or two in, but something clicked as I watched Suli Breaks‘ video sermon about re-envisioning the role of school in education. No, I wasn’t thinking that schools are no longer needed just because a handful of famous, wealthy, successful people didn’t stay in school (and I don’t think that was ultimately his point). Rather, schools are at risk of failing to serve students who want a more meaningful learning experience (which reminds me of Dan Brown’s An Open Letter to Educators video rant back in 2010). Could schools actually be on their way to earning a failing grade in their own course, Education 101?

We must evolve our approach to teaching and learning. If we don’t, schools WILL become obsolete. It’s NOT good enough to hand our students a laptop or an iPad and proclaim, “There, now we’re 21st century school.” It’s about changing the fundamental way in which our schools and classrooms operate to best serve the needs of the modern day student. We have to make a shift from a pedagogy founded on  knowledge-delivery to one that promotes creativity, innovation, and differentiation.

Suli makes this point with prose that brings words to life…true “education” is education that is meaningful to it’s possessor. Picasso learned the art of, well, art. Shakespeare mastered the art of words and Colonel Sanders perfected the art of fried chicken. Each did it their OWN way, not one that was prescribed in a school’s curriculum. As Suli vividly describes in my favorite example of his about passion-based learning, Beckham didn’t learn to “bend it” (a penalty kick) at Chingford Foundation School. In fact, David once said,

At school whenever the teachers asked, ‘What do you want to do when you’re older?’ I’d say, ‘I want to be a footballer.’ And they’d say, ‘No, what do you really want to do, for a job?’ But that was the only thing I ever wanted to do.

So he did. Beckham bends it with such skill and precision, not because Chingford Foundation School successfully coaches all their kids to do so, but because he had a passion for the sport that drove him to study and perfect the art of penalty kicking. Imagine how scary he would be on the pitch had his teachers fully accepted and promoted his passion for soccer as a career!

Ultimately, schools must learn to inspire and promote our students’ inherent passion for authentic, meaningful, and individualized learning. After all, our future depends upon it.

What are your thoughts about Suli’s video? How can we shift our approach as a school to provide a more relevant and authentic experience? Please share your thoughts.

Global Digital Citizenship: Elementary Physics Project Part I

I had a hard time coming up with an idea that incorporated global digital citizenship in a physics curriculum meaningfully. Ultimately I had my students work in small groups to plan and teach 20 minute lessons to small groups of lower school students. I had considered this idea initially, but was skeptical that it was practical. I owe a huge thanks to Roxanne Warner for putting all of the logistics together!

The planning stages of this project were very interesting. I wanted to ensure that my students were teaching meaningful physics vs. just playing with the elementary students. In that sprit, I let students know that a part of their grade would depend on the elementary students learning at least one thing from their lesson. They immediately bulked at this idea. What if their students didn’t pay attention or worse purposely sabotaged the lesson? As a teacher, it was great to see my students realize that teaching might not be as easy as they thought.

The lessons themselves were very successful – the elementary students loved them. It was fun to watch the elementary students experiment with and explain simple physics concepts. My students enjoyed the experience too. We used four class periods to complete the project  (two planning, one peer editing, and then the actual lessons), but I feel like it was time well spent. From a physics standpoint, my students were learning as they taught. I was also pleased when I heard my students say things like:


This [teaching] is hard.

You do this for five periods?



Global Digital Citizenship: Elementary Physics Project Part II

Global Digital Citizenship still feels like an abstract hodgepodge of all the other fluencies wrapped in one to me. The 21st century learning site even states:

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.

As my students saw, teaching is almost the embodiment of this fluency. My novice-teachers solved problems, interpreted and manipulated information, thoughtfully used media, and worked collaboratively/creatively while planning and executing their lessons. Several of the guiding principles including leadership, ethics, global citizenship and personal responsibility were also key to our success. I especially like the fact that my students bought into the project as something “real.” I think it is very hard to encourage characteristics like personal responsibility or leadership in venues that seem artificial to students.

I was glad that this fluency was our last – I feel like it was great closure for our journey through 21st century fluencies this year!

The Bully Project: What’s the Solution?

13 million kids will be bullied in the U.S. this year. That’s the problem. What’s the solution?

Recently, I was blessed to attend a private screening of the new documentary Bully, arranged by my school as part of a professional day. The movie is a powerful and emotional portrayal of one of America’s biggest social problems – and probably the most significant issue faced by American schools today. On a side note, I thought the cinematography and film editing were phenomenal. Lee Hirsch has outdone himself on this documentary. But I digress…

The problem is obvious. The most profound observation I am left with following the movie is a question of solution fluency; that is, how do we solve the problem?

Traditionally, bullying is viewed as an act of agression and the focus is on punishing or rehabilitating the bully to protect the victim. However, this movie illustrates the global nature of this problem across several demographics. Bullying isn’t just about the bully. It’s also about the victim. It’s about witnesses. It’s about parents. It’s about teachers. It’s about administrators. It’s about law enforcement. It’s about politicians.

Why haven’t any of these groups found a solution to this insidious social problem? I think the answer lies within another fluency…collaboration. There is no one person or group that can solve this problem. We have to work together to put an end to this. It’s about us. Teamwork will lead us to the solution.

Please, comment and share your thoughts on the movie and the issue.

Media Fluency

Timing is everything. Every semester I try to find a creative way to let my Film Criticism students demonstrate their understanding of the work that we have done during the semester. Projects that find examples of film terms, outlines, and film clip analysis are ideas that I have used in the past. I was trying to come up with something new and challenging for my students with little success. Media fluency defines what I am looking for from my students-the ability to look at media to understand the real message. We talk about how different directors influence and guide their audience to an artistic and emotional message. The good director takes an audience on a journey of discovery for a variety of purposes that should be well defined and create a platform for the director’s vision. The second component is to create an original product that matches the media to the understanding of the purpose of the film.
Then we visited New Tech High in Coppell, Texas, on April 2. The young man, Jack, that was one of our ambassadors and tour guide on the visit, inspired me. One of the classes that he is passionate about creates videos and movies. He was so enthusiastic that I started thinking about how I could let my students create a movie about movies. After working with iMovie, I wondered what options would suit my 7th and 8th grade students.
I then sought professional help – my colleague Ami, who has been a true inspiration to my education into all things technical. As I explained my goal, she immediately pulled up the new version of iMovie that allows students to create a movie trailer- a perfect project that will ask students to use a variety of camera angles and other terms that we have discussed this semester. Our plan is to have them work in teams with the goal of having a trailer film festival at the end of the project to show to the other elective classes. I hope that this will allow the students to show their knowledge of films through the creative process and get more experience with iMovie.
It has always been my goal to have my film students be intelligent consumers, and enhance their enjoyment of an activity that they choose to pursue in their free time. I am excited about plunging into this project!

Deprogramming Students for 21CL

“Just give me the answers.”

“Why won’t you help me? You’re the teacher.”

“This project is going to take FOR…EVER. Ugh.”

“You mean I actually have to think on this assignment?!?”

Ever heard one these grumblings from one of your students? Believe it or not, it’s a good thing. It means your learning environment is transitioning. Our students are programmed to succeed in the traditional educational system. They want to continue to use BASIC while the world now requires them to know Objective C.

FACT: The recent shift to 21st century learning – promotion of skills like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, curation, and innovation – is just as difficult for students to embrace as it is for teachers. Shocked?

Our kids are accustomed to the age-old game of content acquisition (passive learning) and testing (regurgitation). And many have gotten downright amazing at it. You know them. They’re typically your honor students. The ones who breeze through the homework and ace all your tests. They average a 98% or better in your class. And they’ve found a nice, warm, cozy niche in your educational environment. The problem is that information, once scarce, is now abundant and instantly available in today’s world.

So now, you’re challenging them to move. You’re asking them to take knowledge  and do something with it (other than just spew it back to you). You’re asking them to design. Create. Innovate. Share. Debate. Present. Choose. Imply. Ask questions. Manipulate the content – and do so in a team with others.

It’s not going to be an easy adjustment for some of them. And, as teachers, we must understand the challenge involved in figuring out the rules of this new game – 21CL. So, what can we do to help our students then?

Have you encountered student resistance to 21CL activities in your classroom? How have you handled it? Found anything that works? Share your experiences with the E21 blog community. Comment on this post.

We have to “deprogram” our students by increasing the 21CL opportunities. We have to talk with them about the fact that the game is changing. Discuss the new “rules” when you implement a PBL unit. Explain that it may seem at times like you’re not teaching them, but that’s because you want them to learn. The active process is now theirs, not yours. It’s because you want them to take ownership of their own learning. Assure them that you are not abandoning them – and they can call on you for help and guidance as they explore. Expect mistakes along the way…and encourage your students to learn from failure. You are their 21st Century Tour Guide.

Failure is okay. Some of the world’s most successful people failed miserably while learning to succeed. Remind your students that they fail time and time again playing video games.

And yet, in the end, they always save the world.

Collaborative Fluency: Lab Practica

Application: Lab Practica

In order to compliment our written tests, I’ve been experimenting with a lab test or lab practica. In many ways, the lab practica is an opposite to the written test. Where the written test is solitary, the practica depends on a team effort (students earn team grades). Where the written test rewards theoretical knowledge, the lab practica is as much an engineering challenge as a theoretical one. In the practica, strong laboratory skills, construction aptitude, common sense and interpersonal skills are critical to success. Surprisingly, the students who do the best on the written tests often have the most trouble with the practicas.

One simple example of a lab practica I have used pits students against two different battery powered cars. Students must predict where the cars will collide starting from arbitrary starting positions. Each group is able to use an array of tools to come up with any of many ways to predict where the cars collide. However they can’t manipulate both cars at once. When they are ready to test, they roll a dice to determine where each car will start and then have three minuets to use their solution method to predict the collision point and run the test.

Lab practicas are always intense class periods. With a significant portion of the lab practica grade relying solely on the accuracy of the predicted result for the single test, everyone usually gathers around the group who is about to test. Many groups will accurately predict results within 3% or less. Others are wildly off. Many times the smallest detail is responsible for huge errors – not unlike the NASA rocket that blew up because engineers forgot to convert English units to SI units.

Although students sometimes stress over practicas (uncertainty is inherent), I think they are very powerful. I rarely see students more focused then during a practica. All those soft skills suddenly become important – and students know it. Working together on something that matters to everyone is a huge team builder for physics groups.

The Big Picture

Although the lab practica format is specific to science, the larger idea of creating a real world performance based group test is applicable anywhere. I think there is hesitation about grading based on performance (outside of established performance-based subjects like the arts, speech, & foreign language) Additionally, having students earn grades as a group instead of individuals presents some obstacles. With care, I think both of these concerns can be managed to a reasonable level. And ultimately, adults are almost exclusively evaluated on performance instead of knowledge. Additionally, and especially in the future, team performance is often just as important as individual performance. It’s not perfectly fair, but then no one said it would be.

Energy Challenge: Photo & Video Montage


Wiki: Skeptic Turned Supporter!

While reading through my student’s Wiki time logs and checking their contributions thus far (spring break was a partial deadline), I came across a comment I had not expected!

This was actually kind of fun and very helpful! Can’t wait to see next quarter’s Wiki!

This same student was very skeptical just three months ago! At that time, she felt like it was the “blind leading the blind” and seemed unsure how to contribute to the Wiki.

Likely because of the spring break deadline, the site has improved greatly even since I posted a couple weeks ago (check out a history page to see how it evolves). There is still much that can be done to improve it – but eventually I think it has the potential to approach the breadth and quality of a professional site.

Creative Fluency: Energy Challenge (Rube Goldberg Machine)

"Toothpaste Dispenser"


I am a little behind where I thought I’d be so we have not actually started the energy challenge yet – I will post a recap (& pictures!) once it happens (right after spring break). Anyway, the basic idea of the energy challenge is to build a completely autonomous Rube Goldberg Machine that is capable of popping 3 balloons in a specific order. Students also earn credit for involving multiple energy transformations (i.e. a falling mass releases energy stored in a spring). To accomplish the task students are given a wide variety of household materials including masses, springs, popsicle sticks, cardboard, string, magnets, wheels/axils, pulleys, mouse traps, pvc pipe, thumbtacks, pins, plastic track, textbooks, supersized rubber bands, clothes pins to name a few.

Last year, when the first energy challenge occurred, I was floored by the diversity of ideas. I’m not exaggerating when I say no two designs were even remotely alike. Some groups of students designed machines so complex they would have impressed Goldberg himself. Others designed elegantly simple machines. Either way, you could see how excited students were to match their creativity against such an open ended challenge.

Another thing I think was neat about this activity was that it could have fit under solution fluency or collaborative fluency just as easily.

The Big Picture

Obviously this activity is best suited for physics. However, I think this project demonstrates some of the components that Ken Robinson wrote of in Learning to be Creative. First, creative projects require that many possible routes exist to a solution. Second, most creative activates require resources. Third, to inspire creativity, students need to buy in to the activity. Finally, since creativity is applied imagination – there must be a clear way to evaluate student’s creativity.