Remember the Egg?

Years and years ago, I remember watching some television sitcom where one of the characters had to care for an egg as if it were a baby. It was a school assignment designed to teach students responsibility, and I think it had something to do with babies. I really don’t remember the details.

This week I found out that this assignment has been updated at GMS to help students transition to our 1:1 iPad program prior to deployment. Mrs. Ray’s students created mock iPads out of construction paper. For the past few days, they have carried their paper iPads with them, taking them out of their backpacks in each class. The paper iPad cannot be on the floor, cannot get crumpled or stained with food, and it cannot be left at home or in a locker.


The students are having fun, building excitement, and learning important habits.

Great idea, Ms. Ray!

Geometry Bug Books

For our G21 project this year, the students in my geometry pre-AP classes created insects and other creatures using geometric shapes. They were very creative in naming and describing their creations.

We have collected pictures and descriptions to create a book for each class. The students used a template to produce a page for the book, and I have assembled them as ePub files. Here they are for you to download.

Day 2, Block 4

Day 2, Block 3

Day 2, Block 1


Instructions: From a portable device, click on the link and download the file. Your device should prompt you with instructions to follow in order to view the file. Enjoy!

The Case For Downtime

Last week I read an article in The Atlantic about the importance of daydreaming. The author cites studies and makes the point that giving the brain time to drift from one idea to the next, unprompted, helps cognitive function. In daydreaming, while people appear idle, the brain is fully-engaged in cementing knowledge, making connections, and just practicing invention.

This idea of unstructured thought reminded me of a couple of reports I had heard on NPR long ago. I had to search for them, and was surprised I was still wondering about something I heard on the radio back in 2008. I talked about these reports  for weeks, but never got around to blogging about them. The first report focused on old-fashioned play and the development of executive function. Executive function is the ability to self-regulate.

This was the portion that most impressed me from that report:

We know that children’s capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.

“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” Bodrova explains. “So the results were very sad.”

That’s quite a drop. And, yes, a very sad drop. Here are the implications:

Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, “Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.”

I remember thinking, “No wonder some people have issues about ‘kids these days.’” We expect kids to behave in certain ways, but we raise then in environments that don’t support the development of self-regulation.

The second report showcased what can be done to encourage the development of executive function in a world where old-fashioned make-believe play is so scarce. Most of the report focused on a school in New Jersey where students engage in lots of pretend play and activities designed to help them control their impulses. Again, as with daydreaming, this time spent in pretend play, while it seems idle, is crucial. Pretend play helps kids learn to abide by rules without necessarily being subjected to punishment as they learn. 

Ms. LAURA BERK (Psychologist): We often call it free play, but it’s the least free of children’s play context in that children are always during make-believe acting against immediate impulses, because they have to subject themselves to the rules of the make-believe scene. And those rules almost inevitably are the social rules of the child’s cultural world. So that a child pretending to go to sleep follows the rules of bedtime behavior, another child imagining herself to be a parent conforms to the rules of parental behavior, and the child playing teacher asserts the rules of the school and classroom behaviors.

With the push towards higher academic achievement, we have cut out lots of downtime from children’s schedules. We have short recess in elementary and a 25-minute sedentary lunch in secondary. We flip classrooms and make kids spend more time watching videos at home. I know there are schools in surrounding counties where teachers are required to assign daily homework. Now we are discussing year-round school pilots.

Are we paying attention to what all this research shows us? With all our efforts to focus on time-on-task and seat hours, we might be doing more harm than good.



Creating Creators — Creativity is One of our Values — Is it one of yours?

A team of Goochland educators attended a talk this morning, “Emerging Educational Technology” by Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the US Department of Education.

He made sense and challenged us.  Earlier this year he gave a similar talk “Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStrett.”   Please listen to him.

Our technology team here in Goochland accepts the gauntlet he has thrown down about personalized learning.  While we acknowledge the challenges facing us, we get excited imagining the future.

Infectious Apps

What apps do you use in your classroom? Is there a more commonly-asked question at educator gatherings these days?

We are in the process of selecting and purchasing apps for our 1:1 pilot at Goochland Elementary School. There are the usual suspects: Motion Math, Explain Everything, Popplet… We do need to do work, but I want school to be a place where exploration and creativity have a prominent place. John Hendron feels the same way. We have had several conversations over the last couple of months about the kinds of apps we’d love to have for our students, and we agree that there is a place for creative, interesting apps in the classroom. Not everything has to be tied to a standard. Not everything has to be about pushing content. The kids must have incentives to WANT to pick up the devices, and drilling math facts is no incentive. As Ruben Puentadura wrote a few weeks ago,

If we want our students to create more frequently and across a wider range of disciplines with mobile devices than they have with more traditional computing tools – and I would strongly argue that this should be one of our goals – then providing them tools that are a pleasure to use is a key component of this strategy.

Having come to that conclusion is not a helpful thing. It is quite the opposite. Now we have to make tough choices and select apps we know will pull kids in and engage them in creative thinking. I don’t have an official list, but I do have my own children’s iPads as a proving ground. Yes, the day my children realize how much I use them as guinea pigs, I’ll have to quadruple (or more) their allowance.

Music is a must. We have GarageBand, but there are other fun apps out there that let kids explore sounds and scales. Bebot is a fun one. So is Musyc. There is also MadPad, which lets you make music out of everyday sounds you record yourself. I’d make earbuds mandatory any time these apps are launched, but kids should have exploration time with them.

iOS devices have really good cameras, and we must teach kids to communicate with visuals even if that is never formally assessed with a bubble test. Taking and editing pictures and making short videos has to happen in these classrooms. While all this can be about specific content covered in class, there has to be some creative exploration time, too. What could be more fun than storytelling with stop motion (OSnap!) or creating fantasy landscapes ( Photo Editor by Aviary). Imagine, for example, all kids using the 1 Second Everyday app from the first to the last day of school. Each student would have a unique record of every single day of the school year. Imagine sharing those at a 5th grade graduation after three years of recorded moments. Instead of the traditional teacher-created, teacher-centric slide show, we’d get to see school from the student’s perspective.

Thinking games are also incredibly important to me, especially ones that are independent of content knowledge and depend solely on the player’s problem-solving efforts. We have already added KickBox and Big Seed to our list, of course. These two are from the MIND Research Institute, creator of the amazing ST Math. They even feature JiJi the penguin. I have spent plane rides and waited out software updates playing these two games. They really make you think. Another favorite is Arcs, a 2D, circular Rubik’s Cube. Unfortunately, this last one is a free “starter” and the full version is an in-app purchase. That’s never good for schools. I could list about a dozen more here.

I guess what I want is for the iPads to be a go-to device during downtime as well as during work time. I want them to be something the kids want to have in their hands to help them explore the world around them and, ultimately, own them in a way that lets them create and share. If the kids are taking the iPads home, they could use them in fun activities that  turn out to be learning activities.

Scratch En Español

The students in Mrs. Barnes’s Spanish 2 class are using Scratch to create games to help the students in Spanish 1 learn how to conjugate regular verbs. I stopped by for a visit earlier today and got to watch what they were doing and chat with them for a little while, in Spanish, of course.

What do they like the most about Scratch? In the students’ own words, “We can make up our own way of creating a game and there is no wrong answer.”

IMG_6440 IMG_6441 IMG_6442 IMG_6443

Out of Our Minds – Part 3

I previously wrote about this book back on July 17. Chapter Four concluded with this notable quote: Human intelligence includes the capacity for academic activity; this does not mean that academic activity is the whole of intelligence. This speaks directly, I think, to formal education (e.g., schools) as a reminder of how important the holistic nature of education is, beyond our traditional structure of subjects and what appears upon a report card.

Chapter 5 tells us that human intelligence is highly diverse, dynamic, and distinct. Central to this definition is Robinson’s concept of creativity, something that thrives between the dynamism between different ways of thinking and being. That’s deep stuff.

Robinson’s knowledge of Dance United leads him to conclude with this, echoed in part, in the story he tells that was re-told by Mark Fernandes, just this past week in Goochland. And I quote: “We ned to treat these young people as people with potential. Anyone who has observed the sort of work that is being done here realizes the huge untapped resources that we need to develop.” — Professor Robert Morgan.

Developing human potential, that’s the Luck Companies’ mission.

As a creative person myself (in other words, I recognize my own creativity), the opening of Chapter 6 spoke to me like shouting from atop a mountain. “Helping people to connect with their personal creative capacities is the surest way to release the best they have to offer.”

What is innovation? Robinson tells us it is “the process of putting new ideas into practice. Innovation is applied creativity.” I know my counterpart in Newport News has the title “Supervisor of Instructional Technology & Innovation.” I like that title.

In further defining creativity, Robinson says he defines it as a “process of having original ideas that have value.” This process has two pieces, one that generates content, and another that evaluates it. As an educator, the natural question is how do we allow the development of creativity to flourish? Robinson says:

Facilitating creative development is a sophisticated process that must find a balance between learning skills and stimulating the imagination to explore new ideas.

It seems to me, in schools we’re good at practicing the development of some skills. But how do we get better at stimulating the imagination? I think from my own experience, and in reading between Robinson’s lines, one sure method is to ask a lot of questions. In fact, spending our time asking questions is sometimes paramount to getting answers. Different questions lead us to different paths of thought.

I now have four remaining chapters, one of which is centered on developing creativity. I look forward to these, and will have one final blog post to sum up my reading.

Out of Our Minds (Read Along)

Last week, I picked up Sir Ken Robinson’s latest book. I thought I’d blog about the parts I really liked, as I read it.

It’s a book about the importance of creativity in education today. I really believe strongly in the importance of creativity, so I hope I read a lot of things I agree with!


  • Creativity is the greatest gift of human intelligence.

Chapter 1

  • Most children think they’re highly creative; most adults think they’re not. This is a bigger issue than it may seem.
  • Innovation is the process of putting new ideas into practice.
  • No matter where you are, or what you do, if you are alive and on earth you are caught up in a global revolution.
  • It is essential that education and training enable people to be flexible and adaptable, so that businesses can respond to changing markets.
  • In my experience, many, perhaps most people, have no idea of their real capabilities and talents.
  • Ironically one of hte main reasons for this massive waste of talent is the very process that is meant to develop it: education.
  • Life is not linear. When you follow your own true north you create new opportunities, meet different people, have different experiences and create a different life.
  • But as Lincoln said, it is not enough to think differently. We also have to act differently.
  • Those with the imagination to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies will thrive.
  • The single-most important leadership competency for organizations to deal with this growing complexity is… Creativity.
  • All organizations are organic and perishable. In a world where lifelong employment in the same job is a thing of the past, creativity is not a luxury.

So far, so good. If you’re thinking about getting this book, check out Sir Ken from the TED conference.