2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Failure is the Mother of Invention

My last post reflected on the importance of curiosity and risk-taking to creativity and invention.  I touched on failure as a risk, and it got me thinking: Why is failure a risk?

So many times my students see their writing as a "final project."  They put something down on paper (or on a screen), and they call it a finished project. There are two sayings that students often hear in my classroom: 1.  You can't just vomit your thoughts on paper, say it's done, and then expect me to admire it.  I don't admire vomit.  2.  There is never a finished project in writing.

My intent is to make writing, all writing, continuous.  I want students to constantly reflect on their writing, their learning, and their processes for that writing and learning.  My role is to help that reflection by providing formative feedback, and I do.  A LOT.  The problem is that students (and parents) are so used to seeing feedback as a final decision, a grade, that they are devastated if that grade is lower than an A.  Why should it be an A?  I have never done something right the first time (including writing these blog posts).  I am used to failure because I fail every day.  This doesn't mean that failure is final.  Failure is a step in my growth.  Why did I fail?  How can I fix it?  How can the next attempt be better?

Last year, I had an incredibly bright student--let's call him Joe--who was working on a digital storytelling project in my AP Literature and Composition class (click here for a link to the description of the project).  I had given guidelines and rubrics for the outcomes, but the instructions on how to achieve those outcomes were purposely loose.  I wanted the students to have freedom of creativity; I didn't want to keep them on a leash.  Joe worked happily in his group on the project, but the submitted "final" result did not meet the requirements of the rubric.  I used the rubric for my feedback, and Joe was upset with himself and his group because they didn't pay enough attention to the rubric.  I told him not to be upset; just fix the project and resubmit.  His face lit up, and he said, "You mean I can redo it and make it better?"  Of course; that's the point.  Learn from your failure and make it better the next time.  Joe's next product was MUCH better because he analyzed his mistakes from his first attempt (based on my formative feedback) and corrected them.

Now, I've been writing about, well, writing, but this can apply to anything. Ask a mechanical engineer to describe his or her career path, and you’re likely to hear something along these lines: I built this cool thing, but it didn't work, so I had to take it apart and try again.  And again.  And again. Failure is tool for learning; no inventor gets it right on the first try.

In this video profile, students meet mechanical engineer and inventor Nate Ball, who explains his big invention – a rope-climbing device named the Atlas Power Ascender that is employed in search-and-rescue operations. He describes the process used to design, build and test the Ascender and discusses the role of failure, which is not only common in engineering but teaches valuable lessons. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1ea3ScA

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Boredom and Mistakes: Necessary for Invention

Sometimes my favorite thing to do is to ground my son from electronic devices.  Because he is eight and mouthy, it is a rather frequent occurrence.  During this time, I forbid him to tell me he is bored (and when he does, I give him a chore to do).  
Sigh.  Okay.  I guess I'll play in the fresh air with my gazillion toys AGAIN.

When he tires of reading and writing, he starts inventing, and that is where the fun really begins.  He has created countless robots, TV screens, computers, and machines, which he stashes in his room.  We are not allowed to throw out cardboard boxes or milk jugs in this house, and my son has big plans for the stack of wood in our basement.  
This tree house is in our future.

There are at least two things that are necessary to cultivate an inventor: curiosity and mistakes.  Boredom is a plus to spark curiosity, but it isn't always necessary.  Children naturally want to know how things are put together, which is why they spend so much time taking things apart.  

I am trying to do a better job of encouraging my children to invent both at home and in the classroom.  One way is to give them freedom to meet the goals of the lesson in any way they choose.  "You need to show me that you have an understanding of Ralph Ellison's depiction of the Harlem Renaissance.  How you do that is up to you."  

Freedom can be exciting, but it can be frustrating, too.  One way to encourage invention and relieve that frustration is to allow mistakes in order to grow.  We all need to make mistakes; otherwise, we never question what we know.  Inventors make LOTS of mistakes; that is how they improve their inventions.  What if we taught our children that mistakes are something to embrace instead of something to fear? What could our students accomplish?

Are your students curious about how things work? Do they like to come up with new ways of doing things? Then they have what it takes to be an inventor!

In this MARTHA SPEAKS interactive story, students learn how new devices are developed. After inventors come up with an idea to improve life, they test it out, make changes as needed, and then work to refine and perfect the invention. From that, students will learn how to experiment as well as learn from their mistakes, and ultimately, create something that solves a problem! EXPLORE: http://to.pbs.org/1AhKFN1

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Educating Body and Mind

Can you sit still and concentrate for more than seven hours? How, when, and where do you do your best thinking and planning?  
How long before your back starts hurting?  An hour?  Two?

Chances are pretty good that your first answer was "Heck, NO!" and your second answer, either through preference or necessity, involved some sort of activity.  I am a high school English teacher, and while I love reading in bed more than I love chocolate, I would not be able to fully concentrate and function for more than seven hours without some kind of physical activity.  I can't even function for more than one hour without moving or stretching. As for where I do my best thinking and planning?  That would be in the middle of a run.

This is EXACTLY how I look when I am planning lessons. . .and finishing a half marathon.

The thing is, if we can't sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, why do we expect our children to do so at school?  Standardized testing is taking over our schools, and strapped school boards are cutting physical education and recess, what many people initially considered "gravy," from their school curricula in order to spend more time with test preparation.  Is this good for kids?  If you asked your students if they’d like to have more P.E. time, do you think they’d say “yes”? Of course, they would! 
This is what schools are losing.
Good news for them – lately, a different kind of “movement,” one that goes beyond a focus on testing and raising academic performance, has been catching on. 
Active learning incorporates strategies like dance and play to help students concentrate better, navigate social situations and practice leadership and patience. 

Teachers and administrators who create the right balance of academics and play report promising results in their classroom. Using this PBS NewsHour video, help students understand why physical activity is important to both the body and the mind. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1LLjwsA

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Teaching Healthy Food Choices in School

As a runner, I'm pretty aware of what I eat and drink.  I try to include as many fruits and vegetables as possible in my diet, and I do track my nutrition on myfitnesspal.com.  

My children at home and my students at school are aware of my eating choices; discussing food and exercise is just a way of life to me.  I try to show them that moderation is the key to healthy eating, and I try to demonstrate eating to fuel my body rather than bingeing to compensate for an emotional need.  

One thing I do with my Blended Rhetoric and Composition class is food blogs.  I demonstrate with my post about making butternut squash quesadillas, and then I bring in the quesadillas to share with the class.  In my blog post, I write about taste, texture, and nutrition.  Sometimes this hits home with the students when it is their turn to write posts and share food, but more often than not, it just gives our class an excuse to eat brownies.

Not healthy, but oh, so good!

Different foods provide different kinds of nutrients, and some foods are more nutritious than others. That is the basis of this multi-media lesson from WGBH that teaches your students the fundamentals of nutrition and how essential it is to our health! 

The lesson begins with an activity in which students consider two plates of food – one composed of healthy choices and one composed of “less healthy” choices. Students then watch a video about healthy eating habits, and discuss the role of fruits and vegetables in a wholesome diet. Your class will also investigate snacks and learn about the difference between "everyday" and "sometimes" foods. 
Everyday food
Sometimes food

Finally, they’ll participate in a hands-on activity that challenges them to make healthy choices while preparing a plate of food for a friend. EXPLORE: http://to.pbs.org/1H4azqZ

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Love from PBS LearningMedia

As a PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator, I get really cool stuff to share with you each week.  This week the theme is "Backyard Summer."  Each week I will share links and material with you to help you in your lesson planning.  Here is the video for the week of July 6:

Do you like slugs, spiders and beetles? In this video from Wild TV, students learn about many different kinds of insects, and gain a healthy reverence for them. They’ll see that some insects crawl like spiders and centipedes, while others fly, walk on water and even flip and “click.” 

Students will also learn the names of some interesting-looking insects, like the dobsonfly. They will discover how to be safe around dangerous spiders and how some use escape reflexes, like the click beetle. As they listen and watch closely, students will observe how the speakers in the video feel about the various insects by the way they react to and talk about them. WATCH: http://to.pbs.org/1ICx6Jr

Like what you read?  Follow me on Twitter @itibrout.  I will share a new link each day.  Some will be useful for elementary school teachers, some for higher levels.  Enjoy!