ed news and trends

Last year at the ASCD conference, there was a tremendous amount of buzz around the term the whole teacher: just as teachers are tasked with developing the whole child, principals are increasingly being tasked with developing and supporting the whole teacher. This year, I would sum up the ASCD conference in a single word that takes that concept even deeper: WHY.

All of the presenters I heard–from Daniel Pink to Sir Ken Robinson to Eric Jensen to Jane McGonigal–discussed the importance of asking this question within the context of our work in schools. Superintendents and administrators need to ask it. Teachers need to ask it. And just as critically, students need to ask it. Why are we doing this? Why does this matter? Why is this important?

ASCD-Annual-Conference

Click to view tweets from the conference and see what other big ideas were shared.

In their incredible session on student engagement, Robyn Jackson and Allison Zmuda reminded us that WHY is a much harder question than HOW. Teachers are rarely asked why they make instructional choices in the classroom, and they rarely have time to ask it of themselves. A typical response to Why are you teaching this? is Because it’s on the test. And why is it on the test? Because it’s in the curriculum. Why is in the curriculum? Because it’s a standard.

The real truth that none of us want to admit is this: we don’t often see a good reason for kids to learn the things we’re tasked with teaching them. Why, for example, do we teach elementary math students to figure out the area of a space? There is no obvious, practical, and compelling reason why we should teach it or why they should bother to learn it. Because they might want to lay carpet in an irregular space one day? Who would be excited to learn or teach that?

The alleged real-life purpose for a skill or concept is often not that meaningful. So we attempt to dress up the curriculum a bit to make it more authentic and relatable: What is the square footage of Beyonce’s mansion? This strategy only works part of the time, because not all kids care about Beyonce, and even fewer of them care enough about her to put in the hard work needed to determine the size of her house. When we choose the context for problem solving for our students, that doesn’t automatically make it relevant or engaging or important. Sometimes that approach leads to even more student disengagement.

Most of the time, we launch into instruction on concept after concept without really knowing how or why it’s going to benefit students. We’re grasping for real-world connections and seeking to entertain our students instead of engage them. We make the mistake of believing that learning must be fun when in fact real learning is often hard work. Real learning is centered around engagement and meaning, and struggle for mastery is often the very thing that makes it enjoyable.

passionate teaching

Robyn reminds us that without our own compelling reason for teaching a lesson, it’s really difficult to get kids invested in their learning:

But when you start your lesson planning by answering the WHY, you immediately get more excited about your own lesson. And that is the secret to finding your passion: start with your WHY for teaching that lesson. Your passion and clarity of focus become contagious and the kids become engaged, too.

Here’s the best part, Robyn says: you don’t always have to be the one who finds the answer to why something is important. You can create a space in your classroom for students to find the answer for themselves. Sometimes a skill or concept is important because it helps kids think in a different way or problem-solve. Sometimes an activity is important because it gives them a chance to practice skills they’ve already learned and apply them in new ways.

The importance of a task does not necesarily stem from the possibility of a student one day becoming an architect or fiction writer or physicist. The task must, in some way, benefit them right now. When we truly believe in the purpose, we enjoy teaching more and do it more effectively. And when students truly believe in it–when they discover the personal benefit and consider their unique, individual reasons for learning–real engagement happens.

Do you have any routines or practices that help students connect with the purpose for a task? How do you connect to the WHY of a lesson while planning? Can you think of a time when the WHY got you really excited to teach? I would love to hear how you make time for WHY in your classroom.

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Daniel Pink at ASCD: why being persuasive in the classroom is more important than ever

ed news and trends

What percentage of your time is spent convincing people to give up something they value (like time, energy, attention, or money) in exchange for something you offer? This was the question posed by Daniel Pink, the first keynote speaker at this year’s ASCD conference in Los Angeles. He shared a study where 7,000 Americans participated, and […]

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21st century schools

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21st century schools

I’m home and getting settled back in after the biggest ed tech conference of the year: ISTE, which was held this year in San Antonio, Texas, and attracted over 20,000 participants. I’ve already shared my notes on the inspiring ideas shared in the first Ignite session at ISTE and my summary from a session on integrating […]

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21st century schools

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ed news and trends

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ed news and trends

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12 “myths” about education in Finland debunked

ed news and trends

The success of public schooling in Finland has been a huge topic of discussion in the education community over the past year. I’ve read a few good articles about it, including Why Are Finland’s Schools So Successful?, and was impressed with what I learned. So when the image to the left started circulating on social media, […]

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Teacher job satisfaction hits lowest point in 25 years

21st century schools

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The data doesn’t “prove” that technology increases student learning. So what?

21st century schools

Quick aside: A big thanks to everyone who has emailed, messaged on Facebook, etc. to ask how we’re doing after Superstorm Sandy. We really appreciate your thoughts and prayers. Our part of Brooklyn is just fine: our biggest problem is that we still don’t have subway service and the gas shortages are serious, so it’s tough […]

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21st century schools

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Can a student information system prevent bullying?

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Flipped classroom Q&A

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The edublogosphere has spent the last two years weighing the pros and cons of the flipped classroom model, and the number of conversations is only growing. The initial buzz centered mostly around Khan Academy and was overwhelmingly positive; the idea of having kids view the teacher’s instruction at home and use class time for practice […]

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ISTE Conference 2012 Recap

21st century schools

ISTE 2012 just flew by this year! It was worth every penny and I am definitely going to save up again so I can go next year when it’s in San Antonio. You can read my initial reflections on the 2012 conference here. In this post, I’m going to combine the last two days of […]

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#ISTE12 initial reflections

ed news and trends

The travel day from hell The ISTE conference almost didn’t happen for me this year. It took me 18 hours to get to San Diego from New York. BY PLANE. You don’t want to know what happened. Suffice it to say that I was seriously close to saying forget it and going home. But I survived, […]

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What does 21st century learning look like in an elementary school?

21st century schools

That’s the question that was posed to me this week by the faculty at a wonderful school on Manhattan’s upper east side in preparation for some upcoming PD work. I think it’s an outstanding question that’s worth reflecting on in-depth as we all start to think about what our goals and direction are for the […]

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Should schools buy technology teachers don’t want?

21st century schools

Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of teachers in a lot of different schools. The schools include public and private, urban and suburban, and are located in wealthy and in high poverty neighborhoods. And yet in schools all across the country, there is the same phenomenon: only a handful of teachers use the […]

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Big take-aways from the ASCD conference

ed news and trends

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Reflections on the ASCD 2012 conference, Part 2

ed news and trends

ASCD’s annual conference is coming to a close as I write this: I’m in the last session on Monday afternoon. Yesterday went by so quickly I decided to combine the Sunday and Monday summaries into one final reflections post. (If you missed my first post from the conference, here are my reflections on day one.) […]

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ASCD 2012 Conference: Day 1 Reflections

ed news and trends

It’s my third time attending the annual conference as a member of the press (sounds so important, right?) courtesy of ASCD. This year we’re in Philadelphia, one of my favorite east coast cities. I arrived early and spent some time wandering around the city, enjoying the beautiful spring weather, historic architecture, and of course, cheesesteaks. […]

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