Saturday, February 28, 2015

Don't make me a mandatory reporter, mister!


Treehuggers unite!

About six months ago, we planned a vacation to Orlando.  The only request from the littlest member of our travelers was that we might spend some time visiting the LEGO store at Downtown Disney.  It seemed like an innocent enough request, but once we actually got to our Universal Resort, we realized that a trip to DD was going to cost us $80 round trip, in either a rental car, limo from the hotel, or taxi.  After a bit of cajoling, we assured said traveler that there was a LEGO store in King of Prussia, and that we'd visit there soon.

Today was soon.  Although the soon didn't happen as soon as one might have liked, as our first stop was the Franklin Institute to see the LEGO exhibit.  Fortunately for all of the adults, no one had clued Carter in to the ultimate destination in K of P, and he was truly fascinated by the artwork of LEGO artist, Nathan Sawaya.  

I know he's my grandson, and it's my job to think he's brilliant, but I'd like to toss the fascination exhibited by this kid while touring an INCREDIBLY crowded museum on a winter Saturday.  He's three, almost four.  He carried the map and studied it relentlessly.  As he looked at each of the LEGO sculptures, he insisted that we read the accompanying placards with the title, number of bricks, and inspiration written by the artist.  He touched nothing, and stared at everything.  

The same could not be said for many other children in the museum today.

How Mandatory is Mandatory?

While waiting in line for tickets, the family in front of me was, well, antsy.  The line was long, the museum was crowded, and the brass railings on the marble steps seemed to be the perfect jungle gym for the kid from Reading.  His father redirected him at least a dozen times, and finally said to the kid  "Don't make me wallop you in front of this nice lady," and glanced at me.

Seriously?  He wanted to bring me into this?

I smiled at the dad, and then at the kid, and said, "PLEASE do not make him wallop you in front of me, because I have too much to do today to file a mandatory report."

Now, given the nice conversation I had with these people, I have no fear that there would have been anything resembling a wallop as an actual consequence.  We engaged in a conversation about teachers, mandatory reporting requirements, and how that might extend to my responsibilities while visiting the Franklin Institute with my own family.

I have to tell you, the conversation I had with myself in my head was not unlike previous discussions I had years ago after becoming a lifeguard trained in CPR.  This weird sort of social obligation I have placed upon myself based upon job choices. Maybe it's my rule-following nature, but I think that I truly believe I have a responsibility to execute due diligence with the alleged skills I have incurred.  If CPR is in order, okay, I'll do it - (although I wonder about my long-term kneeling abilities these days, but I digress.)  And even though it's been almost 3 decades since I sported an official lifeguard's whistle, I still can attempt the "Reach, Throw, Row, Go" mantra to someone in distress.

But would I really want to forgo a day at a museum seeing a really cool exhibit with my family to go make a phone call to the state, (which would probably go unanswered, given recent news reports), and how the HECK would I know the name or names of the individuals involved?

Despite the fact that we've had HOURS of training, I suppose I am now obligated to research my obligations further.

And continue to give pleading talkings-to small children hanging on brass railings on marble while waiting for tickets, allowing for maximum museum amusement for all involved.

Let there be peace on earth -- or at least in lines -- between parents and children.


 

Friday, February 27, 2015

I don't want to be an instructor.

We've all had those days -- the type of day that makes you happy, feel successful, and well, basically on top of the world.  The type of day that you wish you'd been observed, because the stars aligned, everyone was engaged, and you felt that for one brief and shining moment, you were a capable teacher.

Two days in a row, my friends, two days in a row.  

And I have no desire or goal to hold out hope that I'm on some sort of success streak, because dollars to donuts (what does THAT even MEAN?) it will all come crashing down around me sometime next week.  I just hope that the aforementioned observation is not happening when the inevitable happens.

Constructivism, Instructivism, Connectivism

I've been using Socratic discussion as a means for student engagement and advancing lesson directions for a long time.  The time passes quickly, the kids enjoy both participating and listening to the discussion, and when the planets and stars align, I sit back and nod to myself, silently muttering "this is GOOD STUFF."  The wonderful folks at Te@chthought recently shared specific names for the various types of instruction in which most high schools root their lessons -- try these on for size:

 We've all been seated in a classroom taught by an Instructivist.  Understand that there is a time and a place for such lessons -- often in an acquisition lesson, if you're LFS savvy -- and I work my hardest to keep from being the deliverer of such a lesson.  Gifted kids, especially, do not hang on every word.  Not even every OTHER word, in a lecture, and being told how to experience new learning is anything but a desirable characteristic for most gifted kids.

In my recent self-diagnosis, I've decided that I am a strong proponent of Constructivism.  It's both terrifying and freeing to have students defining their own learning and outcomes.  Case in point, the darling first grader who was working hard today to discover, implement, and launch the Xylo program for Dash and Dot.  She had seen the xylophone accessory in the box of supplies I tote from building to building, and was anxious to try this for herself.  (Her teacher was not nearly as excited, having only seen Dash play the xylophone one previous time, while under the control of her 29 year old son in her living room.)

Eureka, my friends!  Not only did we successfully choreograph a dance to the catchy tune of "This Old Man" performed on the xylophone by Dash himself, the choreographer and musical director, without any prompting from her teacher, put down the controlling ipad and went immediately to her journal to record her findings.

I was amazed.  I was astounded.  I was shocked that a first grader used punctuation, including quotation marks, commas, and exclamation marks correctly, all the while asking for no assistance with composition or spelling.  Previously, she's recorded code that she's written to command the robots, while learning a bit about both coding and story sequencing as she experimented with cause and effect.


 









Don't get me wrong.  I'm not advocating for the elimination of teachers -- heck, I'd be out of a job.  adventure.  But the joy that can be experienced by a teacher when students are working through an independent discovery process is something akin to the excitement parents get to experience when their kid comes home with an exciting story of accomplishment.  

This Constructivism thing has some serious merit, and through ongoing encouragement -- with both first graders and high schoolers -- I've seen the fruits of the spirit of patience.  
When I began teaching, many an administrative walk-through focused on "wait time."  Administrators with actual stopwatches would report that I, (or whatever teacher was the focus of the observed lesson), had given the kids less than 5, 10, 0r 15 seconds to consider and respond to a prompt or a question before pouncing on them with an answer.  I found myself silently counting "Mississippis" in my head, forcing enough wait time to allow for, well, no criticism of my teaching.

So in the next few weeks, I'm purposefully sharing the conceptual lesson design with students, hoping that they will own their own learning just a bit more.  Maybe they'll become connectivists, reflecting a bit more than normal, or encouraging others to search for deeper answers.

And maybe, just maybe, high school kids will be motivated by the story of a little first grader who crossed the unwritten boundaries of computer science, music, and writing, without a single prompt, to share her enthusiasm for learning.











 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

We are not normal people.

My last prep period, where I actually worked on lesson planning and grading, was sometime more than a week ago.  February has been filled with GIEP meetings and preparation for National History Day regional competition, which has necessitated sacrificing before and after school time, as well as planning time, for student meetings and work sessions.  It's been my choice to schedule my life this way -- primarily because I want to actually go home from school before midnight the night before the competition, and currently have high hopes that all projects will be finished and polished sometime before Wednesday next week.  

I know, I'm a dreamer.  But I'm not the only one.

And as far as dreaming, well, most of the dreaming I've done lately has been about -- you guessed it -- school.  When one dreams about assisting students, said dreams often involve waking up to scribble a note or two, without ever going back to sleep.  

So yes, I'm exhausted, sleep deprived, and more than a little stressed by the impending competition date that is just slightly more than a week away.  My teacher filter is switching off more often than it should, like a circuit breaker running both an iron and a space heater, causing me to consider what is about to become verbal sentences instead of just thoughts in my head just nano-seconds prior to the words leaving my lips.

This is my life, and I love what I do.  Even if I have to fight to protect 30 minutes a day to catch a breath, a laugh with the A Lunch crowd, and a hot lunch.  I see the end in sight -- and hope that the end is sometime near 3 pm on March 6th, rather than 3 am on March 7th, allowing for a few winks before 8 am registration.

We are not normal people.

Recently I read a blog by Alice Trosclair, "Why Teachers Cannot Have a Normal Life..."  Alice makes some excellent points, many of which are embraced by other teachers.  I'm always amused when kids (including high school kids) see me shopping in a grocery store or at the mall, and act, I am not kidding, surprised that I would engage in such an activity.  Some kids see me and actually hide in another aisle -- usually because they owe me a paper -- others actually ask questions like "What are YOU doing here?", as if my current location is such a foreign concept that my grocery cart containing toilet paper, eggs and milk (among other things), is worth tweeting about immediately.

"Saw Mrs. Heydt at DARRENKAMPS!! WHOA!"

Seriously?  Tweet-worthy?  I am not Lady Gaga.  (And I'm somewhat confused about anyone that would bother to tweet about Gaga in a grocery store as well, but I don't expect that sighting ME in the grocery store will ever actually TREND.)

This evening I came home to a post from a former student teacher in our building with one of the most intelligent pleas regarding the treatment of teachers, or would-be teachers:

I saw this on a blog today:
"I don’t care if it’s a only a joke, please don’t make comments about how someone’s choice of field of study isn’t going to take them anywhere because it can be a great source of stress and your joke won’t help."
Please, PLEASE, never douse someone's dream job. By doing this, it's telling someone that their passion is useless. As we know, college is one of the most trying times in someone's life for a plethora of reasons and as someone is going through this, they should not hear any jokes about their career path. They need to hear support and yes, even the brutal honest truth about their path sometimes, but making a mockery out of our field of study, essentially makes us feel like you're making a mockery out of us.I've heard many times that being a teacher is pointless because a) "you're going to be broke your entire life" b) "you're just an overpaid babysitter and anyone can do it" and even c) "the world won't need you due to the Internet". Hurtful doesn't even begin to cover the feeling you will give the person. Going to college means spending countless hours crying over exams, worrying about getting into a class you need, calculating how much money you have to actually survive on because you will leave college with debt. Students and post-grads don't need to hear you make a joke or tell us our passion is useless...we're already drowning in a sea of self-doubt.
So, college bound/students/grads--DO WHAT YOU WANT. You're the one who's going to live with it for the rest of your life.


The aforementioned Alice, presumably teaching for many years, and Meredith, the recently-graduated new teacher, get it.  Both understand why teachers do what we do, even if we ask ourselves, sometimes, why we let work get in the way of sleep, rational behavior, and well, pretty much everything.

We are not normal people.

It's probably a good thing, because if I were normal -- and who can really define that anyway -- it would stand to reason that I'd be something besides a teacher.

And missing out on the best career life ever. 

 
 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lockers aren't for humans

In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I am also the publicity coordinator for the Performing Arts group at the high school. This year's show is the perennial favorite, The Sound of Music.   (If you're local, and available the weekend of March 13th, showtimes are 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, and 2 pm on Sunday.)  PR has gotten much easier over the years, especially now that most press releases are accepted electronically, eliminating the need for envelope-licking and stamp-sticking, but several of the tasks still require something akin to Sherlock Holmes himself to solve the mysteries.

Case in point, THE LOCKER PLACARDS.

It is tradition that two weeks or so prior to the show, placards listing student names are placed on their lockers, recognizing their involvement in the show.  In the olden days -- and by that I mean before we moved into the gorgeous new building and became victims of a dictatorship that forbids the use of anything but UHU putty on any surface -- we would make loops of scotch tape and merrily smack the placards on the lockers, and go back to living our lives.  

UHU putty sticks to nothing.  And by nothing I mean, especially not paper, wall surfaces, or metal lockers.  But we'll try, again, tomorrow -- and maintain the tradition, minus the tape.

Lockers aren't for humans.

You might be surprised to discover how few lockers are used in high school.  Kids find places to conveniently store their various worldly belongings -- music kids use band cubbies, athletes use lockers near the training or weight rooms, kids adopt shelves in classrooms, etc.  In fact, it's really only the freshmen who seem to have a clue what their combinations to their government-issued masterlock is.  Most of the rest get the lock the first day of school, put it on the locker as required, and then retrieve the combination from their homeroom teacher the last week of school to remove and return the lock, so as to be free of obligations prior to the end of the year.

It amazes me that this happens, but it truly is the norm.  When I was a kid, our lockers were a full five inches wide, and it was difficult to wedge one's coat into said container, let alone shuffle the books in and out between classes, so we all swapped books and learned each others' combinations, storing books in the communal locker in the appropriately-close hallway.  My students have lockers large enough to hide in.  Like on Saved by the Bell, when someone would get bullied into a locked locker (a great fear of the claustrophobic), or jump out to surprise a friend.  

A lot has changed since I was in high school.  I get it.  Kids are still carrying backpacks that weigh more than my combined grocery order for a week, rather than opening a combination lock and using a locker.

I'm feeling a little like Emily Litella or Roseann Roseanna Danna  on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update, feeling like I'm just not clued in on the real reason for this current avoidance phenomenon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February's Cruel Joke.

Last week, I talked about the often-random questions asked of Teachers of the Gifted, and my overwhelming difficulties in choosing what to keep, and what to toss, as I clean cabinets and classrooms of resources.  Sure, math teachers have math resources -- and some of them might even have a slide rule in a closet somewhere, just for old time's sake.  English teachers have anthologies and commentaries, history teachers may keep maps and globes long beyond the inception of redrawn boundaries. 

But Teachers of the Gifted?  How do we determine relevance of materials?

The truth is, we can't.

 Who would have ever expected to say (or hear) THAT?

Today Sarah and I discovered that in addition to being incredibly, unbelievably, cold, February also has played its annual cruel trick where it suddenly ends without warning.  It's easy to look at the calendar, see the date, and assume that on the 23rd or 24th, one has somewhere close to a full week before the arrival of the next month.  HA HA!, taunts February.  This is not the case.  

When my kids were little, I recall a Cub Scout leader scheduling meetings on the last Friday of the month -- unless, of course, the last Friday of the month happened on the first Friday of the next month.  Then you had two meetings in one month.  You heard me right.  I realize that our new-found logic on February makes about as much sense as the scout leader, but when you're working with dozens of kids who are independently working on dozens of projects, hoping to hit deadlines for National History Day, Science Fair entries, and writing competitions all in March, every day, every week, is precious.

We know the deadlines; the kids know the deadlines.  And we all love deadlines -- especially the sound they make as they whoosh on by.  But much like the Grinch attempting to keep Christmas from coming, well, we can't keep them from coming.

Our room was full of kids working on projects in various states of competition -- including a team who are POST competition, already dissecting their Future City model, planning revisions and updates for their entry next year.  I sensed a frustration coming from my colleague.  Science Fair is coming.  She has two kids working on projects.  One accidentally washed her notes, plants are dying, and -- my favorite statement of the day -- "February is playing a cruel joke.  There is no way that this poor child can build a ukelele by Friday."

Given that tomorrow is Wednesday, and we are only in the building one more day this week, I'd say that's a fair assumption.

An odd, accurate, and fair assumption.

Sarah's right.  February is playing a cruel joke.  I'm not talking about wind chill here, and I know that more than a few of my community are quite willing to listen to February whoosh past us, pushing us that much closer to spring.  Meanwhile, she and I will beg teachers to release our kids to work on random projects in our room, and we'll salvage the projects that can be salvaged, and remind every single one of the researchers that the process is more important than the product, and that there is still next year to build that ukelele.

Because we won't throw anything out, and we have plenty of cabinets for resources.  Fortunately for us, they don't have glass doors, allowing us to be the hoarders of inspirational resources that is our destiny.
 

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Needle Pulling Thread....

Where do you look for inspiration?  When was the last time you shared a little bit of "your story" with someone else, and were blessed by inspiration in return?  Sometimes I spend so much time rushing from meetings to classes to the next school, and so on, that sometimes I forget to realize how much there is for the taking.

No, I don't mean that last cupcake on the table, with just a touch of cinnamon.  (Okay, maybe I do...)

Sometimes I feel as if I'm being nudged into my happy place, after thinking that I can't possibly afford the time.  For me, my happy place is knee-deep in thread clippings and scraps of fabric, cutting perfectly gorgeous big pieces of cloth into tiny triangles and squares, just to sew them back together into big pieces of cloth again.  

If you are unfamiliar with that concept, or wonder what the point of that action is, then you clearly don't know a quilter.

Sew What?

Quilting is a noble profession, especially if you consider the humble beginnings from which many quilts are born.  While I can't imagine searching on roadsides or taking apart worn mattresses to salvage their fabric coverings, or dumpster diving outside the clothing factory for scraps of fabric like the women of Gee's Bend, I take great delight in watching the pattern develop with each and every seam.

While I can argue all sorts of educational significance for quilting -- geometry, calculating yardage using the Pythagorean theorem, understanding the implications of stories and history told through patterns and blocks designed based on history and scripture, (and maybe even the underground railroad mapping, but I'm skeptical on that one), searching, and finding inspiration for, and from, a hobby like quilting has a value all its own.

There was a year where several students designed quilt patterns themselves -- the most creative of which featured Nintendo's Mario, painstakingly graphed on paper, and converted to fabric.  We called the seminar EGFA, because we love acronyms, as you well now.  Exploring Geometry through Fiber Arts provided both a justification and focus for the design process.  We ran out of time before the quilts truly were complete, but everyone got the chance to start.

There are weddings in the next year.  My godson will marry the lovely Catherine, and they need a quilt, with some hidden sunflowers to celebrate Jake's mother, Amy, who left this world all too soon last spring.  I will make sure that she is there to hug and warm them, even if it is only symbolically.  My own son and Bailey have chosen a January date, so a quilt is an absolute must for them as well -- we all know how cold January can be!  Each of those quilts will be assembled in a pattern of 2 inch squares, and each of those squares, I hope the recipients know, are sewn as I dream wonderful dreams for the future of these marriages.

I came home this evening to a text message from a friend of my daughter's, looking for advice about purchasing a sewing machine.  He stopped over, played with fabric, sewed on a Bernina, and shared pictures of dresses and costumes, some nearly 100 years old, that he is hoping to restore.  

Where did I go after his visit?  Why right up to the sewing room to those 2 inch squares.  

So today, the day after the Oscars, where Lady Gaga sang about needles pulling thread, I realized that small chunks of time here and there add up to larger chunks of time, until you've assembled a whole day -- or quilt -- or two.   The joy of a single 20 minutes this evening allowed great progress, without causing the guilt associated with ignoring the backpack of essays that needed grading or IEPS calling to be written.

Find your 20 minutes.  Find your inspiration.  Discover your joy.  

Be open to continuous learning.  It's a habit of mind.  :)
 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

News from the Heartland

Yesterday I spoke about the Talent Development Opportunity (TDO) project proposal of one of my students.  Given that his previous project has been an ongoing TDO for the last three years, it wasn't surprising that a former student recognized the Robespierre novel, and was easily able to identify the student behind the newest proposal. 

What did surprise me was that this student reached out with her own success story in the risk-taking department:


Hey!
So I just read your blog post about the project and I think it’s super cool.You probably don’t know this yet, but I quit softball this year. It was a tough choice, but I realized that even though it’s generally the thing I’m known for being “good” at it wasn’t making me happy in the slightest. In fact, last year was just downright stressful and self-destructive and I didn’t want to repeat it. So I made a goal this term to try new things and push myself out of my comfort zone, especially where art was concerned since I’ve officially decided to be a Cinema and Media Studies/Psychology double major. So I started sketching, thinking that being able to translate what’s in my head onto paper will be very useful in film. I joined ebony (and was in a dance with Laramie!) and danced in front of people, which was EXTREMELY uncomfortable, but also a blast and made me learn a lot about what makes an engaging performance and being in front of an audience. 


I’m currently in a dungeons and dragons campaign and it is amazing. I got to meet some awesome new people, and it’s a fun way to engage in character and story creation development collaboratively. I’ve learned a lot from the more experienced players about what makes an interesting character. It’s also just 4 incredibly hilarious and ridiculous hours a week. With all of these things I’ve been making it a goal to stand behind what I do and create, and not belittle what I work hard for. But even with all the fun I’ve been having it can be really stressful and disheartening to be involved in multiple things where you’re the newbie still learning the ropes. But I’ve also learned SO MUCH and the term isn’t even over yet. 

So yeah, even though I haven’t gotten to talk to him in a while I’m super proud of him for going out on a limb and doing something new. It might suck at times but it also tends to teach you things about yourself you never knew before. I hope the new semester goes well, and best of luck to everyone on their projects! 

Madi  

Given the fact that Madi was anything but a risk-taker in high school, and that she goes to college in (and I emphasize southern) southern Minnesota, where the windchill is, well, probably negative triple digits, I actually teared up when I read her  unsolicited comments.

So here's my question.  Does risk-taking come with maturity?  And, by that, I mean responsible risk-taking.  (Because there certainly was some risk involved in creating an observatory-sized R2D2 costume for the science building at Carleton College -- or at least in the final fitting of said costume. - see picture above).

AND, if risk-taking is something that we can discover with maturity, then why do so few of us engage in educational risk-taking?

I wish I had the answer.  I know I still have my virginal blank book, and have not written or drawn a single thing in it, still paralyzed with the fear of the result being anything but pleasing.  

You're right.  I can dish it out, but I rarely take my own advice.  Although there is a certain personal satisfaction in reveling in the success of others -- this weekend, it's Madi.

You go, girl!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekend Update




 It's the weekend before the first TDO reflections are due.  Over the last month, students have been working on their projects, and some have already revised - or completely scrapped - their original plans in favor of something new.  My students share their proposals via Googledrive, allowing both teacher and student instant access for commentary, revision, and, well, last minute changes before the first mandatory reflection.  

As I've said before, I truly love the creativity and ingenuity of my students.  Case in point, the decision by one student, who has been working on a novel for the last 3 years, to suddenly scrap that plan in the last semester of his senior year, to explore something with reckless abandon.

Title of Project: My Endeavors In a Field In Which I Have No Left Talent to Develop: Art Projects

Proposal:  I plan to explore art, an area I have not explored since middle school.  I plan to come in with no preconceived idea for what I plan to create, but borrow resources brought in by other students for their TDOs to make my own art and work in many different styles and mediums.  Ultimately I plan to create a grand “portfolio,” portfolio being in quotes because that word implies professional quality, and I certainly do not think I will be exhibiting that.  I have not explored art since middle school for a reason: I am very bad at it.  I have turned my “Talent Development Opportunity” to an “Un-Talent Development Opportunity.”

 Defense: I think as a heavily left brained individual, an experience in the right brained side of things will be interesting for me to say the least.  Also, something that always stressed me taking art classes in the past was the  side of things will be interesting for me to say the least.  Also, something that always stressed me taking art classes in the past was the (???)o attempt to develop in an area I am so poor in.

Standards:
1.3 Self Understanding: Students with gifts and talents demonstrate understanding of and respect for similarities and differences between themselves and their peer group and others in the general population
1.6 Cognitive and Affective Growth: Students with gifts and talents benefit from meaningful and challenging learning activities addressing their unique characteristics and needs
3.2 Talent Development: Students with gifts and talents become more competent in multiple talent areas and across dimensions of learning



Editorial Reply:

Aside from the obvious prepositional ending to his defense, the reflection in the actual proposal is pretty sound.  It also demonstrates a certain risk, which is certainly encouraged in this course.      

The fact that two of his friends, one of whom is actually his girlfriend of more than a year, are the apparent targets for access to free art supplies is not lost on me, and my response to his proposal reflected that obvious statement of intended theft.

See question marks above.  Also, do your classmates, aka the targets for all of your supplies, have any idea of your intentions?  Any chance you’re going to be viewed as a supply-moocher?

I'm excited to see how this all plays out, and pleased that a senior is attempting something that he will ultimately present in front of underclassmen, potentially illustrating the "purse out of a sow's ear" principle in the intended assignment and his end-of-project reflection.

Am I a little sad that the groundbreaking novel, now more than 80 pages long, may never be completed?  Sure, just a bit.

Fortunately, it was based on the French Revolution, and history can help me overcome the curiosity I have for what the ending might have been.  

 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Taking Responsible Risks. Okay, a Risk.


As I've told my students numerous times, we should all be working smarter, not harder.  To that end, I've spent much of my out of school time this week working on an application for another educational pursuit - this time at Drexel University.  The application requires a 500 - 750 word essay on why I am interested in the program.  After many stops and starts, I decided to write the essay as a blog entry.  

Oh, and to use the same essay as today's blog entry as well.  

Drexel will not get the benefit of the beautiful background, the pictures, or the hyperlinks.  Given the 18 phone calls and dozens of emails they've sent me since Tuesday encouraging me "not to forget my started application", I don't think I'm taking too big of a risk here.  They seem to recognize that I have a funding source to pay the tuition, and will probably either forgive, or be excited by, my non-traditional essay filled with creativity and innovation, and either accept me, or stop calling my home phone.  (Either of these options would be most welcome.)

I'm not sure that my "Taking Responsible Risks" Habit of Mind extends to just sending the hyperlink to this blog as my actual essay, although I may include it at the end of my submission.

 Creativity and Innovation, at Drexel.


As a Teacher of the Gifted for the last sixteen years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the best and the brightest in my school district.  While the motivation for this population of students is particularly high, the willingness to take risks often becomes paralyzing, as their perfectionistic tendencies overshadow their desire for creative excellence. 


With the nearly universal acceptance of the Common Core Standards, districts, including mine, are requiring that all lesson plans be designed with an explicit focus, citation, and mandatory referencing of standards to be addressed in the lesson.  The frustration for me is that nowhere in the standards are there specific goals for encouraging or teaching creativity, innovation, or metacognition.



While studying at the University of Connecticut, I was exposed to the research of Robert Sternberg, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Howard Gardner, and Donald Treffinger.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Treffinger by phone years ago while working at Penn, and have been fascinated by his creativity instruction research for nearly ten years.  I’ve crudely used Torrance’s tests for creativity with elementary school students, encouraging them to be more fluent, flexible, original, and more elaborate – taking risks and stretching their brains.  I’ve SCAMPERED with kids from kindergarten to twelfth grade.   Suffice it to say, I see the value and importance of creativity, and am frustrated by society’s governmental Common Core designers’ inability to recognize the value of teaching creative thought as a learning tool to encourage student achievement.



I loved my time at UCONN.  Connecting with educators of gifted learners from around the world, developing a “Professional Learning Network” that are now my “go to “ experts on a daily basis, and feeling fully immersed in education and learning and challenging my own boundaries and limits gave me a self-confidence that I recognized was lacking.  I was infatuated, I was giddy, I was in love with learning at UCONN.  I contemplated the PhD program at the conclusion of my Master’s program, ultimately deciding that the required year on campus, (which I’ve learned usually stretches to two years), didn’t seem to match my personal and family obligations.



I break rules every single day, now that I’m more confident in my abilities.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a renegade handling a live grenade.   I do, however, teach with a reckless abandon – and that was not the case prior to learning to take responsible risks when it comes to connecting with the learners in my classroom.    So far, the result has been that my learners have surprised me with greater quality work, more intense levels of interest, and creative and innovative solutions to both their problem-solving and their personal Talent Development Opportunity (TDO) projects, which they use both to challenge themselves and as the basis for metacognitive reflection and understanding – a required task for everyone in my classroom.



I firmly believe that understanding yourself, reflecting on your own learning, thinking about your own thinking, and challenging yourself to think from an alternative perspective, or two or three, increases achievement and understanding.



In a recent conversation with my superintendent, I commented on how much I enjoy my job.  The word JOB seems too harsh, because I really consider every day more of an adventure than a chore, which is a delightful confession to share.  Recently, a friend and colleague, who also teaches gifted in a neighboring school district, made me aware of a new learning opportunity.  This time, it’s closer to home.  Drexel University is offering a certificate in Creativity and Innovation, which can grow into a master’s or a doctorate.  It sounds like the sky’s the limit on this one, which is exactly where I’m hoping to travel. 



Oh, and I don’t travel alone – I bring along anyone that cares to follow, so pack your proverbial bags and get ready for the next big thing in Gifted Education in my world.  Creativity and Innovation.






Thursday, February 19, 2015

Feel the Love - Just don't touch.


A simple note in my mailbox, thanking me for writing a letter of recommendation.  You know your heartstrings will be tugged when the personal note begins with "It's been a long ride, ..."

As I've mentioned before, developing relationships with students is particularly interesting for Teachers of the Gifted.  Certainly the longevity of the multi-year relationship adds to a deeper personal connection, and often gifted kids would, quite frankly, rather hang out and talk to teachers and other adults, than their same-age peers, simply because of their level of intellect or diverse, often more adult, interests.

Don't get me wrong, VENSPIRED.COM is right -- without my students, well, I guess I wouldn't be a teacher.  And it's darned easy to fall in love with anyone that lifts you up with amazing and inspiring affirmations on a daily basis.

How can we demonstrate love while maintaining healthy (legal) boundaries? Share a favorite memory or story.

After sixteen years, it's darned hard to share a single favorite memory or story.  So, instead, I'll share this week's encounter.  

Our district is fortunate to have a College Adviser who is paid under the Pennsylvania College Advising Corps,   and through grants.  This is the first year that our adviser is in our building full-time, and the work that Brady is doing is phenomenal.  A recent graduate from Franklin and Marshall, he relates really well to the juniors and seniors with whom he works, and is truly pushing each and every student to examine their full potential, and take risks, (you know how I LOVE THAT!), applying to "Reach" colleges.  


On Tuesday I stopped by Brady's office to drop something off.  He had that sparkle in his eye, and asked if I had heard from a particular student.

"No....??"

" (Student Name) was accepted at Dickinson!!!"  The financial package is amazing, and this is a huge accomplishment for a student I've had for the better part of a decade.  I was so excited for him, I was practically in tears.

Almost as if on cue, the student appeared in the doorway.  The first thing out of my mouth?

"Is it okay if I hug you?"

Fortunately, he said yes, and we had a great time celebrating.

Ten years ago, I'm not sure I would have asked a kid, if I were in the same situation.  Today's protocols certainly warrant asking.  I often contend that the longevity of my relationships with my students gives me a little more leeway than single-year teachers might have.

Oh, one other demonstration of love, by the majority of the teachers in my district.  On graduation night, the teachers process, in full regalia, to encircle the graduates during the ceremony.   The last official sendoff for every single graduate is a standing ovation, in the form of two lines of teachers, applauding the graduates as they leave the field, prepared to toss their caps.

Most of us crying as if our very own children have graduated. 

And in many ways they have, and do, every single year. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The F Word.

Today was a TDO Day.  (Talent Development Opportunity).  It's the third time this semester that the kids are working on their self-designed project.  Some kids are far ahead, others are still trying to refine their projects, and still others are already trying to change their projects, less than a month into the semester.

The reality is that the reasoning behind this project is anything BUT the final project, because what I teach is actually not the topic -- it's the process of reflection.  The kids who have been in my class before get it -- and the new kids kind of panic, some acting like they can't define a project for a semester-long time commitment for fear of failure.

 Failure.

Imagine being so paralyzed by perfection that you are unable to take a first step.  Think about the kind of fear where you're in the woods and there's a giant grizzly bear looming overhead, standing on its hind legs, arms raised, while your feet feel like they're cemented to the ground.  Confusion and indecision -- quite possibly the only human reaction is to faint dead away, as the blood is no longer able to pump to your brain.

There are brilliant kids who feel that way every single day.  Some of them feel that way in your presence, or in your classroom, afraid to disappoint you, embarrass themselves in front of their peers, or risk being incorrect in their responses.  Part of my job involves getting kids to take risks.  I'm not talking skateboards without helmets, here.  I'm talking responsible risks  that allow for learning experiences and actual growth.

Research shows that gifted kids often think they have learned something, after 1 - 3 repetitions.  The reality is that the information is readily available for a short period of time -- usually just long enough to get an A+ on that exam, and then be forgotten.  But minds learn and retain knowledge when they are able to process knowledge and reflect on that knowledge in a way that allows a little manipulation of the material.  

Picture the manipulation, turning, and studying of a Rubic's Cube in the hands of a bright kid.  That kind of processing is what causes the brain to get to move that learning into long-term memory, cementing that experience for as long as a lifetime.

So we're doing our gifted and talented kids a disservice by allowing them to answer quickly and move on.  We're doing them no favors by allowing rote answers with short bursts of facts.  We need to stretch their brains, force them to take risks, and teach them to twist that Rubic's Cube in their brain.  Oh, and experience the F WORD.

Failure.

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.  Or so they say.  (Although I'm not sure who "they" are...)  Providing a safe environment -- a very personal environment -- to fail, is an absolute necessity in the education of our gifted kids.  TDOs are similar to Genius Hour , which is a great environment to experience failure.  Everybody is doing an independent project, so there's no basis for comparative success.  This year, in my class, the project is not being graded, the PROCESS is the focus of the assessment.  As long as students can reflect, modify, and identify metacognitive processes used in their projects, they succeed.

Even if the project itself is a dismal failure, based on the standards of its creator.


 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Chaos, Greek Weddings, and Coal Miners.

Over the last few weeks I've been trying to streamline the bookshelves and cabinets in my classroom.  I am a packrat, never quite knowing what I will need, or what fascination some student may have, in any given school year, and if I toss something, I'm sure to need it the very day the recycle bin is emptied.

When I stroll around the English Department, I see teachers who have coordinated notepaper and bulletin boards over their desks.  Mine looks like the bulletin boards in the post office -- minus the REWARDS posters.  In my mind, everything is matchy-matchy, and easily retrieved at a moment's notice.

There are many who wonder how I exist in such chaos.  On many days, I am included in that number.  Yet it is not at all uncommon for there to be a weird request that reaches my desk.  Case in point:  today.


Hey Mrs. Heydt! I have a weird question: 
do you know any Greek people who would be willing to answer 
3 - 5 questions about Greek wedding ceremonies
 for my communications class? 
Would you also happen to know any coal miners? 
Thank you!


Honestly, this just doesn't seem all that weird.  Random, yes, as attempting to wrap my head around lamb and tuna fish as a realistic combination.  (Yes, that was a shout out to the brilliance of Adam Sandler, but I digress.)  And while I didn't know a coal miner -- most likely because the very thought of being that far underground causes heart palpitations and sweaty palms for me, I was able to connect my former student with a woman very active in the Greek Orthodox Church who was both gracious enough to offer her time and expertise, and, coincidentally, knew not one, but two, coal miners.

Of course, the organization to answer this particular query was my list of Facebook friends, and a simple connection of two of them.  

Teachers of the Gifted improve when they are able to make connections.  Working within a community of people supportive of the educational process is particularly helpful, as is maintaining an open mind for a variety of random facts, and listening to what people do - both for their careers and their hobbies.    There is a connectedness that exists in all of us, and attempting to complete those connections with students assists in that "show empathy" goal -- simply by saying, "I care enough to care about what you care about."

Even if it's someone eating baklava in a mineshaft, 2 miles underground.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Random Acts of Kindness?

Today is day four away from school -- a lovely long weekend that I've spent playing with fabric and thread, antiquing a bit, and rearranging my cupboards with new tupperware containers.  (I just realized how lame that last phrase sounds.... oh well, it's true.)  It's been the perfect reflective down time for me.  I've also written lesson plans, and revamped the entire semester's calendar to be more purposeful, and not overwhelm myself with 30 research papers to grade over Memorial Day weekend, because, well, I don't really don't want to be up against that kind of time crunch at the end of the school year.

I've also been in dry-dock, in terms of inspiration for the blog today.  This is proof, I suppose, that I need to go back to school tomorrow -- even if they are predicting  6 inches of snow overnight, causing me to doubt an on-time start, if at all.  So I turned to my friends at Te@chthought for inspiration.

For February, they are sharing one prompt a week:

How can we teach students to pay kindness forward 

- to give expecting nothing in return?

About the sweetest thing that I read this weekend was the story of Dan Williams of Edmond, Oklahoma.    The kid started planning, last summer, to make Valentine's Day special for every single girl in his school.  All 1076 of them.  What was his motivation?

“To know that someone cares about them, that’s the best feeling in the world I think.”

His original plan did not include revealing his identity, but it happened anyway, probably causing more recognition than was comfortable for him. The wire services picked up the story, which has caused more than a few gulps and teary eyes over this weekend of love.

If, however, that such acts of kindness were commonplace, Dan Williams might have been able to remain anonymous.

Are we a society who now relies on the random acts of kindness, as suggested by Jonathan Zittrain in his TED Talk.?  Is the common decency of sharing research you've done without some sort of proprietary right to that information, as far as RAKs can go?

Or can we prompt students -- and adults for that matter - they way Orly Wahba did when she saw thirsty construction workers in her neighborhood?  You've seen messages of encouragement inside Snapple lids, and on the cups at Chipotle.  Do they matter?  Do they incite change?

So this week, my bulletin board is changing.  Right now it says FOCUS.  I'm asking my students, this week, to find ONE thing on which to focus to show empathy or kindness (see yesterday's blog) to someone else at school.  Sure, it's a social experiment.

Let's see what winds up on the board next week when they tell their success stories.