Unearthing the Unknown 

  
While sitting at the @blackgirlscode Dallas event, something was said that epitomized everything I do and believe but see encouraged at a very poor rate. 

A gentleman mentioned growing up and taking a copper hairpin to fix the on and off switch on his old Atari 64 and I remember doing the same. However, as mentioned by the moderater, parents today will fuss and sometimes cuss at the child and say that they broke it, you damaged it…I spent all this money on this and this is how you…

We focus on the negative instead of an opportunity of discovery. Innately kids are built to be curious and naturally gravitate toward personal passions. However, we don’t spend time in schools and in homes sometimes asking what our kids are fervent about in order to reach them where they are. 

As parents, my wife and I, who both are in STEM fields, spend a ton of time sitting back and watching our kids. We started by simply placing things in front of our kids just to see what they could and would do with it. Once we saw serious interest in something we allowed for further exploration. Our oldest, always went toward music; the keyboards, violas and guitars in the house. Naturally, she ended up a Fine Arts Academy. However, she is a huge gamer, writer, artist and technology geek. So, while at the @blackgirlscode Dallas event where they plan to teach girls how to build and code video games, my daughter asked if I thought the instructors would let her build a game that combined all her passions. My response was “if not, we will!” 

If we don’t champion the drive for our children and students to unearth the unkown, who will. However, the key is meeting them where they are then planting and watering a seed of opportunity to move forward with their passions so they can unearth the unknown.  

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Celebrating 16th Place

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At the annual Spelling Bee in one of the schools I saw a very interesting reaction. In the 8th round, a student, who just happened to be my son, misspelled a word, was out of the competition, but celebrated as if he had won. He is a hilarious kid already, but this response took me by surprise. When it was all said and done and the winner was established, I asked my son why he was so giddy about coming in 16th place. He looked at me with eyes of devilish innocence and simply said, “Progress!”

Throughout all my years of teaching I always celebrated progress, growth…the little moments with that understanding that every student’s pinnacle may not be the same. However, when you take the time to make a big deal out of the little moments, students were encouraged to either keep climbing or challenge themselves on the next mountain. I’m ecstatic to know that my son has picked up on this and has learned to celebrate even 16th place…he didn’t even make the final 40 last year. Progress!

He just entered the Geography Bee…can’t wait to celebrate with him.

 

When To Put the  Lesson Plans Down

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I saw some incredible learning today. I walked into a High School Social Studies classroom for a routine Tech Check and found myself wanting to forgo the remainder of my schedule to just to sit in. When I entered, students were providing political responses that were simple regurgitations of what their parents believe. Then suddenly a brave student said, “Mr. , what would make a good political party work?” The teacher tossed his notes to the side, pulled up a blank flip chart on his promethean board and simply said, “You tell me.” All heads were raised, eyes lit and students begin to design a Party based on their understanding of various features and characteristics of the current Democratic, Republican and Independent systems. The teacher would spit out an issue and the students would create their new party’s stance.

Personally, I despise whole group discussions regarding politics, but the students were extremely engaged. Every student had a say, I didn’t see any reluctance from anyone. Even the kid who was drawing when I walked in had something to add. The funny thing was, the students didn’t realize that they were demonstrating mastery during this activity. All they knew was this teacher valued their thoughts. What they also didn’t realize was the teacher simply wanted them to find their own voice and not the voice of others. He in turned realized to never underestimate the voice of his students.

I went a little further though. My suggestion was to provide the students with some sort of silhouette figure and decorate it by developing the perfect candidate to represent their newly created political party. Have them find a way to label the representatives characteristics, viewpoints, civic responsibilities, and anything else the would explain why they would be the exemplary candidate. This would also entail a full background that would most likely  be researched when being analyzed as a potential face of the party.

I know what you’re thinking. How many TEKS was he able to check off on that lesson. Who cares! I wonder how many students now truly understand the topic all because it suddenly became relevant. Sometimes it takes putting the lesson down for moment to make it applicable to where our students are today.

 

An Appropriate Perspective…According To Who?

Imagination

The above link displays a video that simply conveys the notion that children may very well see life differently than us adults. 

The one aspect of childhood that I desperately attempt to maintain is the unfiltered audacity to dream and imagine the world from my own personal view. Through my children, I vicariously use their lenses to live in this realm of technology which helps to force an open-minded approach to other’s reality. I’m always asking my kids what they are imagining while performing various task. My oldest son has this strange addiction to video games. Not sure where that came from, but he is very consumed. When I sit and play with him, my goal is to observe his actions rather than do whatever it takes to crush him for bragging rights. I’ll ask him why he made certain moves or what was he thinking when…etc. His imagination is flowing while playing which gives birth to his ability to problem solve. Now I may not have made the same moves, but it worked for him. The way he visualized the moment allowed him to come with his own conclusion and I’ve learned as a father and educator to be okay with that. My job is to continue to expose him to new situations, new problems, new experiences in order to enhance “his” way of analyzing, evaluating, problem solving and his ability to create. This approach also helps me when I work with teachers wanting to implement technology in the classroom.

Now, this is the typical weekend for all of my kids, playing to see how they think in order to treat them as individuals. So when I walk into a teacher conference this past week and I hear an educator say that she was upset at a child because he doesn’t color “appropriately”, I was a little discouraged. I stopped the conversation to ask what does “appropriately” mean and according to who. Her response wasn’t to explain her thought, instead she chastises the student for not listening for the past two weeks that they have been covering “appropriate” coloring. Then she explains to me that a child’s ability to color has a direct correlation to his ability to read and comprehend. After taking a deep breath, I asked to see the picture, the child’s TPRI and DRA results. The student’s drawing was beautifully different; filled with imagination and personal perspective, according to my opinion. I looked at his results next. As a 1st grade student, he completed level 20 with no frustration and was reading at 86 WPM. I begin to chuckle, which may have been unprofessional at the moment, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked the teacher where was the validation in her previous statement connecting coloring to reading. She hesitated…

I proceeded…Could it be that this child took your two weeks of instruction, made an inference to mold his own understanding. Then identified with what he already brought to the table. Matched the two up and justified his understanding in order to draw a new conclusion. He then could have devised his plan, compared it to your example and through his analysis, came up with his own truth. Could it be? I then asked if she ever thought about asking the student what he was thinking while creating his masterpiece? It just so happen that the kid was waiting outside and the teacher brought him in and simply asked him what made his picture “appropriate”. He confusedly responds, “Not everyone looks the same. I kept looking in the mirror and I tried to draw myself, but then I looked at my friend and the other people at my table and thought I would put everybody together.” (I actually wrote what he said down.) The fuss was about the mouth on the drawing. The student had taken a brown, pink, peach, and a light purple crayon and combined the colors for the mouth. He created an image of his group.

This student takes home a paper reader, basic site word sheets and phonetic spelling words home on a weekly basis all because his perspective of a drawing did not match up with his teacher’s and she used this to determine his ability to learn. To me, that is failing to meet that child where he is. Failing to take the time to see how he thinks. Failing to get down to his eye level to see how he processes as an individual student. When will we as educators stop dictating what are students should think and allow them to draw their own conclusions without the need to validate our authority by proving who is right or wrong? Does the color of the mouth truly matter? A child’s ability to create a world of their own is a precious gift that is being stifled in many classrooms. Not everyone colors the world the same, but does that make their perspective inappropriate? The truth was later admitted that this teacher wanted the drawings to all look a certain way in order for her to put them outside on display. She wanted the drawings to make her look good as a teacher and was not concerned with how the student looked at life.

So what’s your perspective?

You’ll Never Know

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 12.49.11 AMMy first attempt to get back to blogging consistently. Inspired by my new friend Refranz Davis

Life is important only as it impacts the lives of others. Therefore the unveiling of my soul is my only reason for existence.

I wrote this quote my last year of undergrad while contemplating my future as a teacher. This is how I live and today I had the opportunity to put it into action while completing a job at a few of the High Schools in the district.

We were there just to complete a technology survey for a future equipment refresh. I finished my assignment early and was just hanging around the office. There were some students, serving as Office Assistants who were not doing much, so I began to ask them questions regarding their future plans. One of the young ladies told me that she wanted to go to college and study psychology. (Can someone say platform?) I began to tell her my story of how I started as a Psych major, but struggled in 101. Yes, I said 101. It was a pass or fail class and I failed the final exam. Somehow I just froze. I went to the Professor afterwards and began to rattle off answers to the exam that I could not seem to come up with during the test and I begged for a retake. I knew the information, heck, I was born to be a psychologist. I knew this stuff better than I knew myself. Well, he let me retake the test in his office…. I failed again. I had to retake the class. 2nd term…failed again.

Now, I was granted a scholarship for academics and a partial scholarship to run track. but at this moment I was about to lose it all. I’m not ashamed to say, but I cried like Colin Farrell did in Phone Booth when he is humiliated after admitting his faults to the entire world.  This was a mess, but somehow I was walking during the entire episode. All of a sudden I heard a voice and it so quietly said, “I didn’t create you to be a psychologist, but gave you the gift to connect and build relationships in order for you to teach and change lives” I opened my eyes and I was somehow standing in front of the Education Building. I went in, grabbed some information, talked to my advisor and changed my major. I taught for 15 years before I stopped to do what I am currently doing.

The young lady was looking at me with tears in her eyes and explains that she was just praying about what to do about declaring a major. She knew she loved to help others, but wasn’t sure if she wanted to go into psychology or education. She then says my story was a confirmation.

Now, I wasn’t there for this. I didn’t intend to connect on that level. I just wanted to unveil my soul by giving her some relevancy to what she may encounter. However, here is the kicker. I asked her where she wanted to go to college. She tells me her cousin attends the University of Missouri for journalism and wants her to go also.

Guess where I went to school?

Sometimes, we are in the place we are in for one reason, but if we are open enough to be used, we just may end up fulfilling  another purpose altogether.

You just never know sometimes.