Saturday, June 4, 2016

57 Flavours ....... or just 1?

A long time ago I wrote  a post called 57 flavours? about how teachers are hired because they will bring the school something it needs, because they will add their own "spice" to the mix. I wrote that teachers should not hide their uniqueness or worry about the fact that they are not quite like anyone else at the school.

However, lately, whenever I talk to colleagues I feel that things are changing. I participate in activities, such as the Teachers' Guild, where I meet teachers from private and public schools all over the world. I am hearing from teachers - constantly now - that administrators want more consistency across classrooms in each grade, and are asking teachers to do the same things, the same way, on the same schedule. It sounds like administrators do NOT want teachers who bring their uniqueness: it sounds like they would prefer to have teachers who are as identical as possible.

I must admit that part of me completely understands this need: it must be difficult, for administrators, to keep an eye on progress across a grade if the teachers are teaching different parts of the curriculum, in different ways, at different times. And, of course, parents tend to compare notes, and a parent who feels that another teacher in their child's grade is doing something better, is going to be unhappy and may complain. Every time two teachers do things differently, at least some parents are going to think the other teacher's way is better, and be unhappy. Unhappy parents are bad for the school, and there is an easy "fix" for this sort of unhappiness: make all the classes do things as similarly as possible.

So, I understand the drive for consistency, but a part of me wonders... by eliminating the things that make us (teachers) different, by making all teachers do everything just the same, are we giving our best to the students?

If we all teach the exact same lesson, the same project, in exactly the same way, don't we lose some of the passion a teacher brings by communicating in the way they feel most excited about, feel is most natural for them? If we don't vary our approach and timing based on the students' response, don't we lose some of the differentiation our students need? If we send the same letter to all parents in the grade every week, don't we lose some of the authenticity we are trying to build in our relationships with them?

This is difficult stuff. We want to make sure that admin can properly track progress in each classroom. We want parents to be happy, and not to feel that their child would have a better experience in another teacher's classroom.

And yet...

Consistency means that innovative, creative teachers must stop innovating and creating. Consistency means that teachers are being asked not to do their best, but to do only those things that all the other teachers can do equally well. Just as every teacher has unique strengths, every teacher has some relative weaknesses: consistency means every teacher must level down, in each area, to match the teacher who is least strong in that area. One result is that it is easier for the school to monitor the classrooms and be sure that every student is getting the education they were promised. But leveling down to every teacher's relative weakness means the students have a very different experience, compared to one where they can benefit from their teacher's greatest strengths.

I have many friends in schools around the USA and around the world, and I am increasingly hearing that many of them are moving schools with the hope that, in a different school, they will again be allowed to keep their "spice" alive. They were hired for their track record of talented teaching but now are being asked to stop being different.

At the Teachers' Guild, I have come across teachers who are trying to find people at other schools who can implement their ideas, to see if their ideas would work, because they are not allowed to do so themselves. You can imagine how frustrated they feel!

The drive for consistency seems to be happening everywhere, all at once. I certainly understand why. Certainly, "creativity" and "uniqueness" should not be used as excuses for failing to properly teach the curriculum; it is important to identify teachers who need help, and to get it for them. But, it does make me wonder: is this the best way to ensure that every student has the most amazing possible experience? Or are we guaranteeing somewhat poorer - but equal - experiences for everyone? And, how can we get the best of both worlds?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Teachers Guild

I have not written for a while. Inspiration is everywhere but the will to sit down and write sometimes is not! But I want to tell you about Teacher's Guild - so time to warm up the keyboard!

I discovered Teacher's Guild (TG) this summer, and had a blast! TG is the result of a partnership between IDEO and Riverdale Country School, and I received an email asking if I would like to join the Beta version during the summer. I answered yes and was invited to join a Google Hangout (GHO), which I did.

Here's how it works: the Guild posts a challenge and you are invited to come up with, develop and select ideas to address the challenge. The process is structured in phases: Discover, Ideate, Evolve, Select, Favorites and Reflect.

You will often start with your own idea,  and you will read other people's ideas, soon there are self-selecting teams forming around ideas and developing them, and you find yourself working with people who are enthusiastic and curious and creative and fun - remember, these are people you have never met! And, you are not just working on your idea - you may be working to develop several ideas.

I really enjoyed working on them with typically about seven people, sometimes more. I was surprised how much fun we had, and how committed people were to the process - remember, everyone is doing this because the want to. The discussions were amazing and rewarding. The Guild is a place that I found that the children and the learning community is center and front.

The specific question we were looking at was, "How might we create rituals and routines that establish a culture of innovation in our classrooms and schools?" and we brainstormed, we streched our minds and we worked hard as a team to answer a common question.

We started at the Discovery phase with 210 contributions, at the Ideate phase we had 121, followed by Evolve and Select with 51 then we had Favourites with 13 ideas. From this 13 ideas, 6 were from the NYC Design Team, the team I now belong to!

We don't have ownership of ideas, we have sharedship and I must tell you sharedship is AWESOME.

Check the Guild out:

Teachers Guild

There will be a new Challenge in October, and we would love to see you there! Let's collaborate, it is a safe place, your mind will be stretched, you'll meet some great people, and you'll have fun!

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Great News!

If you enjoyed reading about iCity two years ago in this blog you can now download the iCity booklet at the Apple Bookstore for Free.

iCity is booklet number 2 of the Spreading JAM series. Book 3 and 4  (iCelebrate and iLive) will be available soon.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Great News!

If you enjoyed reading about iTravel earlier in this blog you can now download the iTravel booklet at the Apple Bookstore for Free.

iTravel is booklet 1 of planned series called Spreading JAM. Book 2, iCity will be available soon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

QR Codes !!!!

When an opportunity arises JUMP IN!!!!

Imagine this...two students eating lunch, get talking about what they brought for lunch and how it was bought at the supermarket.

The teacher starts paying attention to the conversation. The next thing she knows one is saying:

"- so the woman  at the cashier passes the food on this rectangle that goes beep and this appears on the computer, like magic!"


I jumped in immediately... and explained that she is passing the food over a scanner that translates the barcode on the food for the computer.

We looked for barcodes on their food, and then on their boxes of apple juice, and then we found them on books! Soon, all the children were looking for things with barcodes.

So, the next morning, there were 2-D barcodes (specifically, QR codes) posted at various places around the school. I had downloaded an app onto the class iPad, and the children were able to scan the codes to read them. Of course, I had printed the codes the previous evening, and they contained fun messages for the kids to read! (Yes - to read. Sneaky, isn't it?)

Next step: coded math puzzles!

You never know when the kids will get curious about something, but when they do, it can be amazing how much fun - and learning - you can get out of it!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

iCity - STEAM

STEAM in the Classroom

Have you ever heard the word STEAM

Science/ Technology/ Engineering/ Arts and Math

Plus Design Thinking. (see previous post)

The activity combines learning about the world, nature & weather (science); designing and building something (technology and engineering); crafts (arts); and an understanding of spatial relationships, and of shapes (math). The activity is STEAM – all in one!

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Now for something completely different!

Yes, it has been quite a while. I have been reading a lot and inventing a lot.

My latest idea is not an old one or one that other teachers haven't done yet, I also have done models before, but I have never done one with Design Thinking in mind.

A while ago I wrote about iTravel and we end iTravel activities by "returning" to New York. 

and when returning to New York (this year) we will build STEP BY STEP a model (last year we had a cooking show for this Unit)

So, we will move from a global view to a local one.

In Model City, the children discuss the elements of a city (roads, buildings of various types, etc.). They each choose an element that they will make (a crafts activity), and then we build a model city. In building the model city we discuss whether the relationship between the various elements makes sense, and the children can move the elements around until they arrive at a configuration that works. While doing this, we discuss the notion of process (Step by Step is one of our Interdisciplinary units). More broadly, this activity also helps us to practice "design thinking", where we use what we know about the world to come up with solutions, and in the process we identify things we don't know yet (and need to learn about!)


As I read about Design Thinking, I realize that the process of coming up with this activity did follow the Design Thinking process:
- Discovery: I have a challenge
- Interpretation: What does this challenge tell me?
- Ideation: What can I create that might address this challenge?
- Experimentation: Try it and see!
- Evolution: It doesn't always work perfectly right away - iterate and improve, based on feedback from the children and parents, and our own observations.

The first thing we did last week was to decide where the streets would go, and how big the Model City blocks would be, then each child chose a "building". Once they had their buildings, each child traced its base on their own Styrofoam block, and thought about what they would put on the surrounding part of the block (grass, gravel, etc.). Then we glued our buildings in their designated spaces and painted them white. Next, we started a discussion on what our buildings were going to be - shops, apartments, offices, hotels, hospitals, etc., and why, and what kind of things each of these buildings would have and need, e.g., parking. (We will relate this to the neighborhood walk and eventually connect it to our last Interdisciplinary unit: Where Are We.) 

Each child has its own styrofoam block (18 in total), they are all numbered because they must be put together in a certain way. Every class starts with a discussion, with the challenge, we brainstorm, then the child works on their block alone as they are doing the basics. later they need to work with the friend that has a block next to theirs and sort out their common spaces. This model making is about collaboration, brainstorming, overcoming challenges and finding solutions and above all observing the world around us. one of the pre assignments I gave the students was to do a neighborhood walk so when they start looking at the details they can look at the pictures they took and see if their city has what needs.

And yes, we have a long way to go and the discussions are fantastic!
Because in this process the important part (as in most) is the journey not the arrival.