What I’m Learning Right Now

The new year has been a busy one of learning, growth, and reframing. It started with the Positive Education pilot retreat that I, along with 20 other colleagues, participated in over two days the 2nd week of January. It rekindled my interest in psychology, my first love, that I studied in college and for a time thought that would be my direction. Positive Education falls under the umbrella of Positive Psychology and is grounded in research and evidence on the effects and benefits of positive emotions on health, well-being, and relationships with others. In a nutshell, you can think of it as, “Others Matter”. Intrigued? You can see my notes from the retreat in this Storify.

When I like something, I usually dive in and learn as much about it as I can either through books, workshops, or coursework. Coincidentally, and perhaps a bit of the stars aligning, there was a course from from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in Positive Psychology that was beginning the following week on Coursera. I enrolled and am moving right through it. What I am learning is that we are hard-wired with a negativity bias which was helpful to our early ancestors who needed to be attuned to dangers. Negative emotions “scream” at us whereas positive emotions are more subtle “like a whisper”. The negativity bias makes it harder for us to recognize the positive experiences around us. “Positive experiences are actually more frequent than negative in people’s lives but we need to train ourselves to see them and let those positive events become positive emotions” (Fredrickson).

In addition to the Positive Psychology course I have been reading Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a PIRATE. What I love about this book is that he is blending his knowledge of marketing and his passion for magic and showmanship with his love of teaching. I recognize many of Burgess’ hooks and ideas from two previous courses I took from Wharton through Coursera. TLAP encourages and reminds us as educators that we need to make our content relevant to the students and we need to find ways to make our classes unforgettable so that students want to come to class to learn. It is not enough to just show up and deliver our lessons, we need to find ways to incorporate our passions and our students’ interests into each class so students are engaging with the content in meaningful, memorable ways.

You can read my current notes for both Positive Psychology and Teach Like a PIRATE here in this Storify.

How Things Catch On: Marketing Your Lesson’s Message

4281814950_7feffddb9d_mI took a great course from Wharton through my favorite online learning site- Coursera. The course was called, “Contagious: How Things Catch On” (currently called “Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content”) and I loved learning something new. However, while it is a marketing course, I think it has applications in education, especially for teachers who are trying to teach lessons and concepts- which is all of us!

One of the questions Professor Berger posed in the course is Why do some messages stick and others don’t? As teachers we can edit this to read, Why do some lessons, topic, concepts stick while others don’t?

There are six principles of “stickiness” that make up the acronym SUCCESs:

1.Simple– “Less is more”

We can apply this idea to our lessons. What is the one idea (maybe two or three max) that you want your students to walk away with today? Use analogies to help relate or compare the idea or concept to something your students already know and understand. Find the core then pull your students in, leave them wanting more tomorrow. Simple opens up a “curiosity gap”.

2. Unexpected– Novel or surprising

We need to make our messages novel or surprising. We need to hold our students’ attention so that they want to find out what happens. If they think they already know what is going to happen, their minds may wander. Add something unexpected to keep their attention and interest. “This is not about doing something crazy, it is about violating expectations.” (Berger, Week 1)

A few years ago we had Judy Willis -educator and neurologist come to speak about brain-based teaching and learning techniques. The principle of making our messages novel, unexpected, or surprising is a brain-based methodology. Information and stimuli need to be selected and accepted by the Reticular Activating System. To get through the RAS, information must be novel, changed or different. If information is not selected by our RAS, it will not reach consciousness and not be retained. To sustain the attention we can use Discrepant Events. D.E. are novel or unexpected so the RAS will let them in; they’re predictive because you already are thinking one way then you throw in a discrepant event and people are curious.

“Once you have their attention, you empower your students to become engaged in their learning process. Using wonder (discrepant events), humor, movement, change, advertising, and provoking curiosity capture students’ attention. They will be ready to focus on the sensory input (information) in the lesson . . . ” Judy Willis

3. Concrete– “Show, don’t tell”

As teachers we can apply this principle of concreteness to our practice. We can use vivid language & images that help students imagine/visualize/see the message we are trying to make stick. The question we should keep in mind is, Can you see it?

4. Credible– Use statistics and information in a WOW way

Just like we can use analogy to help students understand new concepts by comparing them to things they already know and understand, we can share statistical information with our students in comparison to things they already know. For example, we can make a numerical analogy to give large numbers a context, California is larger than the 12 states that make up New England and the Middle States or 20 of Rhode Island (source).

5. Emotional “How can we get people to care about what we are saying?” (Berger Week 1)

The principle of using emotions to help messages stick incorporates concreteness as well. Concrete ideas generate more emotion. The more something pulls us in, the more likely we are to remember it. The more we are able to evoke emotions in our students with the concept or idea we are teaching, the more likely the students will care about and remember what we are saying. So we can do this in many ways. In social studies and history, we can utilize personal accounts, reenactments, experiential learning, and historical fiction  so that we can pull our students into that time in history. If we think about the emotion we want our students to feel then we can design the lesson’s message to evoke that emotion and make the message of the lesson stick.

6. Stories

It is much more interesting to listen a story than to just a list of facts and figures. It also helps with memory because stories often trigger emotions, allow the listener to create images in their head, and make connections to things they already know. Additionally, “stories are easy to retell.” (Fahey)

For some highlights from the course, you can check out my Storify.

How will you use SUCCESs to make your content stick?

photo credit: beautiful bun (Shannon 139/365) via photopin (license)

Get Your Learning On

All genuine learning comes through experience. ~John Dewey

I hope you are having a lovely day! I have been collecting some things to share with you that I think you will find useful, informative, and thought-provoking. I’m keeping it short today . . .

I have shared in the past about great current events sites to use with your students. This week I learned that Newsela announced “Text Sets” which are articles grouped by subject. You can create your own text sets, or use or remix other teachers’ sets. Here is the article and here is the link to current text sets.

For more sites to use with your social studies and history classes, check this out– resources for teaching current events.

You may have heard the phrase, “the sage on the stage,” well writers of anything- including tweets, texts, Facebook posts, and of course emails and docs- this one is for you! Grammarly is your grammar guide on the side!

Here is a great opportunity from Coursera to learn about Web 2.0 Tools and put them into use in your classroom.

Who says young students can’t reach an authentic audience and do something with their writing?! This article about a fellow Twitterer’s 9-year-old daughter and her food blog will show you that your students can write with a purpose and for an authentic audience reaching far beyond the classroom with their writing!

Summer is coming which means you will have time to rethink your classroom space and do some garage sale shopping to make your space “more like a nice restaurant” (said a student in this teacher’s classroom) and open and inviting to more collaboration and group work.

With summer coming, you’ll have time to get your learning on. PBS teacher line has some excellent professional development opportunities that include both self-paced and instructor-facilitated grad credit courses. They range from 1.5 hours and $49 to $335 and there are numerous options that I think are worth the look.

Have you thought about how you might like to help your students become more creative? Wednesday afternoon there was a great webinar (1 hour long but even if you listen to the first 28 minutes, that would be enough-dayenu) from @edtechteacher and the topic was How to Unleash Your Student’s Creativity so they can tell the story of their learning. I watched the recording because I was unable to attend it live,  and I highly recommend viewing and trying some of the ideas. A big takeaway- if everyone’s products look the same, it’s a recipe, not creativity. We must create the space for student choice and voice.

I will leave you with this visual on the impact of technology use in the classroom. Food for thought.

It’s About Passion

If you don’t have passion for what you do, then what you are doing will do you in.

Just my opinion of course, but I think passion is the key to turning a “job” into a vocation. After all, when you love what you are doing, it ceases to be just a job.

And, I also believe that for students, having a teacher who is passionate about their subject, who is passionate about teaching, makes all the difference in the world with respect to students’ interest and enjoyment of the class, and, I believe, their performance.

Case in point: my son who is a junior in high school has the most amazing US history teacher. His passion and enthusiasm for the subject is palpable. The students eagerly go to his class and engage with the material and the teacher in a completely different way. They are not memorizing facts and figures, they are discussing motivation, reasoning, impact on society and impact on their lives. Now, one could say that passion alone will not make a student like a class or even do well in a class. But I will say that it is a large part of what makes a class or subject come alive for them.

Case in point number 2: I happen to have introduced coding to my eighth grade students during the Hour of Code this past December. Many of the students enjoyed it so much that I decided to suspend my regularly scheduled class programming so the students (and I) could explore a bit more of the coding. We are using code.org and Khan Academy and we spend about 48 minutes once a cycle solving puzzles and creating code. It’s been very exciting. One of my girls who started off as a reluctant participant (she preferred the discussions we were having over the coding we were/are doing) told me today that she is going to be participating in the LEAD program this summer and she will be continuing to learn computer programming! Now this is quite a turn around for this student who begrudgingly started coding with me just a short time ago. But, because of the excitement and enthusiasm in our classroom environment, she has become excited and enthusiastic about learning how to code! Quite wonderful if I do say so myself.

SO what can we as teachers do to keep the passion alive?

  1. I think we need to begin every year as if it is our first. We should not just open our plan books to see what we did last year at this time. New students, new interests, new personalities, teach them differently; one size does not fit all.
  2. Try something new. Coding is not something I knew a lot about. I had taken a Coursera course from Stanford, which I loved, and tinkered around in Tynker, but it was not until this year that I really began embracing the excitement and challenge of solving these puzzles.
  3. Keep learning. As John Cotton Dana says, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”
  4. Find other teachers to learn with and from- create your PLN
  5. Lastly, take risks. There is nothing difficult about doing everything the same. It’s easy certainly, and comfortable, but you can’t grown when you don’t change.