Friday, June 28, 2013

5 books that every educator should read!

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.
            -Ray Bradbury

5 Books Every Educator Should Read:
I believe that it is very important for educators to read book in order to stay connected to the latest trends, current news, creative pedagogy, and for inspiration and creativity.  I have read hundreds of books on education over the past ten years and many of them have had a major influence on the way I teach and the way I perceive the world.  These are some of my suggested books:

Please check out my Com-Passion Based Learning Blog at:
I would love your feedback!

1.  DRIVE by Daniel Pink - This book completely changed the way that I see the world!  Daniel Pink does an excellent job of illustrating some myths about motivation in this book and explains that people are more intrinsically motivated than we give them credit for.  He describes the importance of providing autonomy, mastery, and purpose and how these principles have transformed businesses such as Google, 3M, and others.  After reading this book, I have never viewed education quite the same.  Although I knew that education needed to be reformed and improved, this book left me thinking that we need to make some major changes.....NOW!  We need to find ways to tap into students' intrinsic motivation instead of using the "carrots and sticks" methods of grades and punishments.  Please, please, please read this book.  I wish it was mandatory reading for every teacher as I feel it has the power to transform education into a place in which students learn how to learn and are excited to learn regardless of "how many points it is worth" or "how they can get an "A"'.
Purchase this book: 

2.  THINKERTOYS by Michael Michalko - Creativity is often deemed as an "inherited trait" that you either have or you do not have.  NOT TRUE.  Michael Michalko is a creative genius that helps show you ways to improve your creativity and the way you look at the world.  I believe this book will instantly have you thinking "outside of the box" and creating engaging, interesting, new lessons in your classroom, while also learning how to teach students how to be more creative, which is essential for the future of our educational system.

Purchase this book: 

3.  CLASSROOM HABITUDES by Angela Maiers - Excellent book at illustrating what 21st Century Skills are and how we can inspire students to develop them.  This book is extremely motivating.  Angela Maiers is a "GENIUS" at helping you realize that you are a genius.  She also is wonderful at helping you understand how you can help each of your students realize that they are geniuses as well.  In this book, Angela illustrates the seven most important "Habitudes" - which are habits of disciplined decisions and specific attitudes that students will need to succeed in the 21st century "real world". These include imagination, curiosity, self-awareness, perseverance, courage, passion, and adaptability.  I wish this book was a mandatory read for all teachers.  This is the direction that education needs to be headed.  We need to cut back on content and increase the concepts that are clearly laid out in this book.

Purchase this book:

4.  OUT OF OUR MINDS by Sir Kenneth Robinson - Do you think that education needs to be reformed?  Sir Kenneth Robinson argues that it needs more than this, it needs to be TRANSFORMED.  This book is a wonderfully written and thought-provoking perspective on our NEED to make changes in education immediately.  Why do we spend $9,000 yearly per student on average to be educated but $29,000 yearly per prisoner to be incarcerated?  Why have we allowed education to remain the same for over 100 years despite the fact that everything else in the world has changed and the skills needed today are not the same as they were back then?  Why do we continue to only value standardized tests and IQ, while cutting arts and other creative programs from our schools.  Read this book.  If you have already seen his TED TALK (which is phenomenal), READ THIS BOOK.  If you disagree with the belief that education needs to be transformed READ THIS BOOK.  If you agree that it does, READ THIS BOOK!

Purchase this book:

5.  TEACH LIKE A PIRATE by Dave Burgess - I am going to be completely honest.....I didn't like the title of this book and cannot believe that I decided to read it.  With that said, I heard so many people talking about it, that I had to read.  Wow!!!  I am glad that I did.  This book is excellent.  If you want an instant injection of passion along with clearly defined ways to make your classroom a more engaging and memorable experience, while providing a top-notch education to EVERY student, READ THIS BOOK.  The book is very well written.  Dave Burgess uses humor, motivation, and clear explanations to get his points across.  This book will teach you how to build better rapport with your students and coworkers, how to be passionate in class every day, even if the specific content of that unit isn't your favorite, and provides very clear and specific examples of how to get students more engaged.  I really like this book and the attitude of Dave Burgess.  Pirates "refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence."  Maybe we all need to be a little bit more like a Pirate. 

Purchase this book:

There are many other EXCELLENT books out there.  I plan to review others in the future, but wanted to start out with these five.

PLEASE LET ME KNOW in the comments if you have a book that you would recommend!  I love to read and I love to learn.

Com-Passion Based Learning:

Oliver Schinkten
Co-founder of Communities at ONHS
Lifelong Learners

Monday, June 24, 2013

An Important Message About Passion-Based Learning

When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'

                -Lao Tzu 

Passion-Based Learning.  20-Time.  Genius Hour.  Innovation Time.  Fed-Ex days.  In my opinion, this is the most effective way of teaching students if you want them to learn how to learn, become enthusiastic about learning, and remember stuff at a deeper level for a longer time.  This philosophy is gaining in popularity,but I feel it is important to WARN ANYONE WHO IS CONSIDERING TRYING THIS!!!

I have implemented passion-based learning methodology in my classroom for several years and the results are powerful and jaw-dropping.  When you allow students the autonomy to choose topics and methods which they are passionate about, and then find any teachable moment to teach them assist them in their learning, the results are staggering.  Instead of trying to force feed information down their throats, they will be running to you with question after question after question.

I have had the opportunity to speak to many educators about some of the passion-based learning styles and activities that I have been implementing including 20-time, menu units, etc....  Every time that I have ever spoke about this, whether to elementary teachers, middle school teachers, education students in college, there is always a high percentage of them that REALLY like it.  I have had many of these teachers try this out and then report back to me.  I would love to say that 100% of them had glowing reviews about what a wonderful experience they had, but this isn't true.  In fact, about 25%+ report just the opposite.  It BOMBED!

I have really been looking hard into why this bombs sometimes.  It isn't for the typical reason that the "haters" think it is; "it was just an unmotivated class".  After investigating this further and asking questions the answer became quite obvious.  This next paragraph is of utmost importance if you are considering implementing this style of teaching!!!

You are the tour guide on their voyage to learn!  I have been on many tours and seen many tour guides.  Some of them talked monotone and seemed bothered by my questions.  Some seemed passive and sick of working.  Some seemed so freakin' excited that I wanted to take the tour again right after it was done.  Which type of tour guide are you willing to be.  Your class is like a sports team.  You are the coach.  If you are bringing a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the table, you will most likely have a team with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.  If you want students to be passionate and enthusiastic about learning......then you need to tie your shoes, and dive in.  Be enthusiastic.  Show them passion.  Answer every question with a big smile and a follow-up question.  Inspire every student to go a little bit further with their project and with their learning than they normally would have.  Congratulate and complement them often.  Choose one of your passions and investigate it with them.  Tell other teachers, principals, custodians how proud you are of the students and there hard work and tell them to stop in and see it.  Take pictures of them working and tell them you cannot wait to show the other teachers how involved they are.  

In summary:  You are the spark plug.  Passion and Enthusiasm are contagious.  If you walk in and try to sit back and check your email, stand and talk to another teacher, tell kids to be quiet and get to work, threaten taking "points" will FLOP and you will hate it.

Unfortunately, there are many teachers out there looking for the "lesson in a can" that magically works without putting forth any effort.  IT DOESN'T EXIST and you SHOULDN'T BE TEACHING ANY MORE.  Teaching is hard work.  Teaching takes enthusiasm, commitment, the ability to take chances, fail, and get back up swinging for the fences.  If you are looking for a way that you can have the kids "work" so they will not bother you or so you can get something else done......please.....for the students sake.......don't try this.

In the and watch everything you can by Daniel Pink, Angela Maiers, Sir Kenneth Robinson, Michael Michalko, Seth Godin, etc.....  Inspire yourself before you try to inspire others.
If you have any questions, concerns, comments, suggestions, great stories, please comment.

You can reach me at:

Twitter:  @schink10

Check our pilot program out at:

at Oshkosh North High School

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is Education a Joke?

Learning is not done to you.  Learning is something you choose to do.                   
                                            -Seth Godin

What is going on?  I decided to go into teaching because I love learning, I love helping other people, I love innovating, I love children, and I feel that education is an extremely important part of a successful society.  In my first few years in education I made sure that I "did as everyone else was doing" so that I could fit in and keep my job.  Now, as I grow older (and wiser.....I think), I am able to take a step back and reflect upon what has been going on.  Well, I have been reflecting, and I do not like what is going on.  Why are we cramming our students full of Trivial Pursuit knowledge that can be found in seconds on the internet and leading them to believe that the most important thing in the world is a test that will be coming up at the end of the unit?  Why are we having kids memorize all of this information and frown upon asking others for help (aka: collaborating) because that would be cheating.  Why are we complaining that our students to not have any "social skills" and that they seem disengaged in school and do not seem to care, yet 95% of classrooms do nothing to combat this?

Stop!  Take a step back and think about what we are doing.  We have a world full of wonderful children who are looking to us for guidance.  Most of them have been trained to believe that we are helping them to reach their full potential, so they do as we say.  I feel ashamed.  Having them memorize information and take tests on it isn't making them any more likely to be successful.  It isn't helping them to reach their potential.

Unlike at the beginning of my career, I am now a parent also.  I often think about what I want my kid to learn about when they are in school.  It definitely is not a bunch of information such as mitosis, the Calvin cycle, or the oceanic trenches.  I want my kids to learn how to communicate, collaborate, be creative, think critically, be altruistic people with empathy and a love for learning new things.  If education does not change quickly, this is not the experience my children will get and that bothers me.

Over the past 5-7 years I have began implementing change, only to find that it is resisted by a large majority of people.  People (parents, teachers, administrators, etc..) do not like change.  Teachers have received a lot of blame recently for not doing a good enough job of teaching our youth.  Our hands have been tied!  Don't hate the player, hate the game.

Please, ACT NOW!!!  Something has to change.  We are not in the industrial age anymore in which we need to train people to think they are cookie-cutter creatures that should fill out worksheets, follow the leader, believe there is a right answer to everything (and that the teacher already knows it), adjust to bells and move accordingly, and learn how to do well at memorizing information and taking tests because apparently that is what they have been told indicates their future success.

These are some disturbing things I have heard:

1.  "Why are we writing?  This is science, not literacy"
2.  "What do I have to do in order to get an A"?
3.  "How can I get my grade to a "C"?
4.  "How many points is this worth?"
5.  .....and most disturbing of all....when I issued a survey and asked whether students would rather earn an "A" but learn nothing, or earn a "C" but learn a LOT......the first choice ("A" without learning) won soundly.  Most students stated that they needed that "A" in order to stay competitive for college and scholarships.  YUCK!!!!!

Education is becoming a JOKE, in my opinion.

I have recently had the opportunity to make changes thanks to being teamed up with very progressive thinking teachers and having a very supportive administration.  This is something I blog about in my Com-Passion Based Learning Blog at: - Please follow.  I would love your feedback.

Please join us in changing the way that we educate our students so that we can provide every student with authentic learning experiences that they will remember forever, while equipping them with all of the skills they will need to be successful for the rest of their lives.  And in the process, let's help show them that they are capable of making the world a better place.  It starts with you!

Follow me on Twitter:  @schink10
Contact me for questions, concerns, suggestions, ideas:

INNOVATE!!!  The students deserve it!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Make Education More Relevant!

"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it"
          - George Bernard Shaw

I couldn't take it any more.  

Students would repeatedly ask me, "Why are we writing and reading so much in here?  This is science class not literacy".  

They would say "Why are we doing math in here, this is science class, not math". 

They really do not get it.  We have created a major problem in education in which students view subject areas as specific classes that are isolated and unrelated to the other classes.  This is sad. Real life is filled with science, literacy, math, social studies, art, music, business, technology and more, all wrapped up into one.  Why don't students understand this?  Whose fault is this?

My first instinct was to blame the students.  They were not putting enough effort forward and were not attempting to see a connection that to adults, seems obvious.   I was so frustrated that one day I asked students to take out a piece of paper because we were taking a "pop quiz".  I asked them to write down the question...."What is Science?"  The class peered up with blank stares and waited for me to say that I was just kidding.....but I wasn't.  They struggled.  They struggled mightily.  I then asked them to answer the question, "What is Math?"  Again, blank stares.  That night, when looking over those quizzes, the most popular answer that I came across was that they "were classes that they had to take at school".  This is sad. These are topics they needed to combine in order to survive in the real world.  Why don't students understand this?  Whose fault is this?

It hit me:  WE ARE DOING THIS TO THEM.  These students (7th and 8th graders) were legally not able to vote, drive, drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco because we have determined they are still physically developing and not mature or wise enough to make the right choices.  Yet, we were quick to put the blame on them for not understanding how subject areas in school relate to real life, for not understanding how these topics are interconnected, and for not understanding their relevance.  I do not blame them!!!  They are supposed to believe in us.  They are supposed to follow our lead, and assume that we will help them understand everything they need to know.  We have let them down.  Our subject areas have become so isolated and our content so irrelevant that students do not know what to do and they are shutting down.

I couldn't take it anymore.

I was fortunate enough to fall into an opportunity to collaborate and innovate with some of the best teachers that I have ever been around in Rick Leib, Brad Weber, and Julie Dumke (look them up and follow them!).  With the support of some wonderful administrators and an innovative school board, we were granted an opportunity to start an interdisciplinary program at our local high school in which students would study "themes" and concepts.  Within these themes they would do projects in which they would have autonomy in developing learning experiences that were real-life, relevant, and rigorous.  It was an opportunity to have students for a 3-hour block and pretend that they were in the class of "life", instead of science .....switch ......literacy ......switch studies .....switch.   We were able to teach a plethora of 21st century skills because our students were collaborating with the community.  Each project was designed to work with community partners in an attempt to involve students in altruistic, meaningful learning experiences that helped to improve the community.

Our culminating events for the units were essays which were published in magazines, TED Talks done by the students, websites which the students created, and more.  The students would speak using the content language and explain concepts such as elections, war, sustainability, and human disease.  The students would speak about collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills they had learned.   About halfway through the school year I could feel the culture changing.  They didn't seem to act as if they were in "science" or "literacy" or "social studies'.......they were in the game of life.

Please check us out!  Communities at Oshkosh North High School.
Facebook -
School Blog -
Twitter - @communitiesonhs

Keep in touch.  Share your stories.  We should collaborate and help provide students across the world with these opportunities.

Oliver Schinkten
Twitter:  @schink10

Com-Passion Based Learning -

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Com-Passion Based Learning

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"

Education needs to change!!! We are no longer in the Industrial Age. Our students are disengaged and unconcerned.  The format of our schools and the content which our teachers are required to teach are becoming irrelevant and ineffective.  Students should be going to schools to learn; better yet, to learn how to learn.  Students should not be going to school to memorize a plethora of facts which help make them good Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit players.  The internet has changed that game.  Anyone with a computer and an internet connection has access to any necessary facts.  We need our students to learn how to find these facts, what to do with them, how to think critically and creatively, and to develop enthusiasm to take their learning to the next level.  Please watch or read anything by Sir Kenneth Robinson for inspiration.

Many new innovative methodologies have surfaced in recent years, mainly due to a grassroots movement of educators and community members who are passionate about improving education.  One of my favorite is the concept of 20-Time and Genius Hour which are forms of PASSION-BASED learning.  You can find many great examples and facts about this type of learning through social media.  Innovators such as +Joy Kirr , +A.J. Juliani , +Denise Krebs , +K Petty , +Angela Maiers+Hugh McDonald+Kevin Brookhouser+Gallit Zvi and others provide great insight into this concept.  I highly suggest following and reading about these educators as they have a LOT to offer.  The concept of passion-based learning is awesome!  Students are allowed to learn about things that they are enthusiastic and passionate about.  Through this develops an unseen level of enthusiasm and the ability to teach interdisciplinary concepts, 21st Century skills, and more.  Unless we get the attention, motivation, and enthusiasm of our students back, our education system isn't educating anyone.

I would like to introduce you to a new concept:  Com-Passion based learning.  The philosophy is extremely similar to passion-based learning, in which students are allowed approximately 20% of their class time to innovate, create, investigate, and research something they are passionate about.  The goal is to provide a structured environment in order to give students autonomy.  The one difference with Com-Passion based learning is that students are expected to find something they are passionate about, but turn in into a project that "BENEFITS THEIR COMMUNITY".  This is where the "Com" comes in.  Examples of this could include a partnership with the Humane Society or Zoo for someone passionate about animals.  It could be a fundraiser or event created by someone passionate about a certain disorder, disease or social issue.  The sky is the limit.  Any topic can be selected, however, the goal is to create some way of improving the community through this topic.  The community could be defined as the "School Community", the "Local Community", the "State Community", the "National Community", or the "Global Community".  There are many ways that students can "benefit" the community, through projects related to awareness, service-learning, fund-raisin, research, volunteering, innovating, or providing opportunities for children or other groups.

+Daniel Pink, in Drive, one of the most inspiring book ever, explains how everyone is motivated by three intrinsic factors:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Passion-based learning, including 20-time and Genius Hour are wonderful opportunities to give students autonomy and eventually mastery of their topic (which help create enthusiasm and confidence).   I think that one could justify that purpose is also implemented in these forms of learning (because it is such a wonderful opportunity to teach real-life 21st Century skills).  I would like to challenge anyone and everyone to take the purpose to the next level, by incorporating it more into these projects.

This year three other teachers and I were granted the opportunity to start a pilot program at Oshkosh North High School.  We all held the belief that we wanted to provide more authentic, real-life, relevant learning conditions for our students while still incorporating content and rigor.  The first year was a success, in my opinion, and it will only get better.  We were able to teach so many 21st century skills and make the content truly interdisciplinary.  It was awesome!  The most inspiring part, however, was the feelings of empowerment, benevolence, altruism, and purpose that our students were able to develop.  Each project that we did was intended to help the community in some way.  Each project presented a difficult learning adventure for our students, which created a lot of frustration.  At the end of the projects, however, when the final product came together, the sense of accomplishment and pride in the students was one that I have never seen before in the world of education.  The experience was life-changing.

My intention is blog about this topic.  I want to share some of the specific stories and projects that we did.  I want to share some of the activities that worked, some of the things that didn't work, and some of the obstacles that we overcame.  I want to provide ideas and support for anyone interested in implementing this at any level.  I WANT TO HELP!!!  I strongly believe that education need to change, and I want to work with others that hold this belief.  I am excited to learn from others who are trying innovative projects and activities in their classrooms.  I am a lifelong learner with an open mind and I want to improve each and every day!

*** I plan to begin blogging about Com-Passion based learning and my experiences, stories, pitfalls, and resources.  Please follow at if interested!  I would love any suggestions or feedback.

Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, suggestions, ideas, etc....  Also check out our program.  We were allowed to have 75 students at the 9th and 10th grade level.  Students would be with us for a 3-hour block and receive science, literacy, social studies, and leadership credits.  Students had to apply, and in the end we had a lottery to select the students who got in.  The diversity in our program was awesome!  We had people in the program because they wanted more opportunities to go above and beyond what they are able to in traditional education but we also had students who were in the program because they were doing poorly in traditional education and wanted to learn differently.  After our successful year, we were given permission to expand to the 11th and 12th grades for next year.

Communities at Oshkosh North High School:
Facebook -
School Blog -
Twitter - @communitiesonhs

Keep in touch!!!

Oliver Schinkten

Monday, June 10, 2013

How effectively did you teach your students how to communicate?

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
                                                                                     -George Bernard Shaw

In education's obsession with content we have seemingly brushed aside any concern for developing 21st century skills and soft skills in our students.  These include communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, self-directedness, the handshake, eye-contact, leadership voice, etc......  Year after year I hear teachers complaining that there is so much content they are required to teach that they cannot fit it into the school year.  Unfortunately, this does not leave much (if any) time for emphasizing the real things that matter.

This year I had a unique experience to partner with businesses and community members to help educate our students.  A group of three other teachers and I started an interdisciplinary, problem-based pilot program that worked in the community, with the community, in order to do projects that improved the community.  We were fortunate enough to partner with over 80 community businesses/partners this year as the community was extremely receptive to helping provide a more relevant and hands-on education for students. Time after time after time we heard guest speakers, mentors, and partners say that they "do not care if you know any facts or procedures" because they could teach you everything their business does once you get their.  What they want, are students that can effectively communicate, collaborate, innovate, critically-think, look someone in the eye and talk, etc...  It is ironic that this is an overwhelming need according to our society, yet these skills are secondary thoughts in the world of education.  I know that the first thing most people would respond is that "good teachers can teach the content while having students work on their 21st century skills".  Okay.  Whatever.  I am sure there are a select percentage of superstars that are effective at this, but for most, the justification would be that they had their students present a cheesy power point using a cheesy rubric in a completely unrealistic display of skills.  This is not what I am talking about, though.  When do you take the time to TEACH these communication skills?   This isn't just for the literacy teacher, because their plates are also packed.  When do you teach them about:

* Speaking - eye contact, leadership voice, nonverbals
* Speaking - voice inflection with speed, volume and pitch.
* How to send an email that doesn't look like a text message to a buddy.
* How to differentiate between a science research paper, a magazine article, and a letter to a coworker.
* How to listen and respond.
* How to give constructive feedback to a group member.
* How to differentiate between talking one-on-one, in a small group, or in front of an audience.
* How to adjust a speech after careful consideration of the intended audience.
* How to be assertive, rather than submissive or aggressive.
* Etc........

So, my question is this:  Did you improve your students at these "real-life" skills that will have a major impact on their future success?

These students will not need the content (jeopardy facts) that we are teaching them.  Even if they did, they WILL NOT REMEMBER THEM in two years.  They will learn those facts when they are older and ready to learn them.  In the meantime, we should teach them the real skills they need to survive and succeed.

*  Throw aside the textbook and break out the Dale Carnegie book once in a while.
*  Use passion-based learning such as 20-Time or Genius Hour.  Allow students to get enthusiastic about learning, while learning about something they love.  While they are doing this, work on their communication skills (during small group discussions, presentations, emails to experts, using search engines properly, taking constructive feedback and adjusting to it, giving feedback).  The best part is, they won't even know that you are doing it.

Pretend that each student is your own child and do what is best for them.  There are creative ways to ensure they will get all of the facts they are required to get.  In the meantime, teach them the skills they need so they can succeed in the real-world. Do not hope that you find time to work this in, GIVE TIME to it.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why do students go to school?

"You better check yo' self, before you wreck yo' self."
                                                          - Ice Cube

"How many points is this assignment worth?"
"What do I need to do in order to get an A?"
"How many points off will it be if.........?"

If I hear these comments anymore I am going to barf.  I have been growing increasingly skeptical as to why students are even at school.  It seems that every class is comprised of two main types of people; those who do not buy into the system and do not care about school, and the "grade chasers".  What if you removed grades altogether.  What if for every assignment you explained that it will be a unique and excellent opportunity to "learn" and to "better prepare yourself for the future"?  What would happen?  The "grade chasers" would be baffled.  They would continue to ask the three questions that I listed at the beginning of this article.  

Why can't school be like this.  I understand that back in the day (Industrial Revolution) that we were purposely trying to mold humans into "rule-following", start & stop at the sound of the bell, cookie-cutter, robots that could work in our factories, but those days are over.  We need innovators.  We need people thinking outside of the box instead of plodding along gathering 3.75 grade point averages that tell them absolutely NOTHING about their ability to survive in the real world which is nothing like the "game of school".  

Why can't school be like this?  Forget grades. What do they mean anyways?  I am so perplexed when the majority of parents are satisfied or grateful at teacher conferences when their student has a "88%" or a "94%" in Biology.  What does this really tell them, though?  In a world in which almost 50% of college freshmen do not return for their sophomore year, in which the unemployment rate is astounding, in which antidepressants are being prescribed at alarming rates, what are the schools doing to give students a valid and reliable analysis of their potential in the real world?  What in the heck does a "88%" in Biology mean?  As long as the parent sees this number, they do not care about their child's collaborative skills, their communication skills, critical thinking skills, creativity, passion and enthusiasm for learning, motivation, etc....  They only care that they "played the game" and passed the standardized tests.  Congratulations!

Why can't school be like this.  Where did we go wrong?  I wish that school was looked at as a free opportunity  for students to enter into buildings, surrounded by professionals, in which they have the unique opportunity to learn as much as they can and get assistance in becoming the best person they can possibly become.  I wish students were hungry for knowledge.  I wish a student could say "I could care less if I got a "C" in this class because I learned a ton" (which I found out through surveying this year is not true.....they would rather get an "A" and learn nothing!).  How do we recreate this culture?  I think that there are several parties guilty for this mess.  The unwillingness for the system to change (politicians and lobbyists), the fair % of teachers that inundate students with irrelevant and boring work that does not help the student progress in any way shape or form, and society for not demanding that we change.

In the meantime, is there anything you can do?  I believe so.  Provide relevancy to work.  Explain the "why you are doing it" to everything (instead of saying "because I am an adult and I told you so").  Give the students autonomy and let them get passionate about learning.  Teach 21st century skills.  Replicate the real world and give students a glimpse into what skills they will need in the future.  Create a culture of enthusiasm to learn.  I have two suggestions:

1.  Implement 20-Time or Genius Hour.  This has worked wonders in helping to motivate students, increase their respect for education, and increase their enthusiasm to learning.

2. Constantly be the motivator.  Challenge students to keep learning, keep learning, keep learning.  School just ended, unfortunately, and the students' brains now lay dormant for three months.  I tried to challenge the students to learn over the summer with ideas such as:
     *  Continue implementing sustainable environmental practices (the unit we ended with)
     *  Create art from 100% recycled material and share it via our Google Document.
     *  Read a book or article and give a review via a Google Document we started.
     *  Learn how to computer code.  I have about 5 students working collaboratively with me on learning html programming right now.  Awesome!!!!!  I am the guide by the side because I know nothing!
     *  Create a YouTube video with a positive message and try to get 50,000 hits over summer.
     *  Stretch yourself.  Go to events or places that you normally would not go (farmers' market, museum, park, concert, etc... and share via a Google Doc we created)
     *  Etc..........

If anyone has suggestions on how to change the culture of education......please comment and let me know.  I am working hard to do so.  I will give my heart and soul to help any student who is intrinsically motivated and wants to become the best person they can be.  Each year, more of them are starting to surface.  I love it! 

For the rest......"You better check yo'self before you wreck yo'self", cause going through school without a purpose, is bad for your health.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

20-Time and Genius Hour in the Classroom

"Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved."
                                                                   -Ralph Waldo Emerson

The concept of 20-Time or Genius Hour in the classroom comes from the autonomous style of companies like Google, 3M, Best Buy, etc... that gives employees time to investigate, research, or create whatever they would like to.  Google, for instance, gave engineers 20% of their work week to work on whatever they wanted to work on.  Most of the engineers used this time to try out an idea that they thought would work, and it led to some amazing discoveries such as Gmail, Google News, and many more.  Many companies are now copying this concept and trying to allow their employees to create and innovate.

Can this model be replicated in schools?  When explaining this model to most people the first message that comes up is that Google has ultra-motivated employees that can make this work.  In schools in could never work.

After doing this for a few years, I disagree with this statement.  The goal of classroom 20-Time is not the same as the goals that Google has.  In the classroom I want students to:

*  Learn the big concepts about the topics I teach
*  Be introduced to facts and vocabulary about these topics
*  Learn how to Learn
*  Become enthusiastic about learning and education
*  Become passionate about a topic
*  Develop 21st Century and soft skills in order to prepare for life

The 20-Time concept is amazing at helping accomplish this in the classroom.

Teachers are bogged down with an overwhelming amount of standards and benchmarks.  For this reason most teachers put their heads down and plow through content as fast as they can in order to have students "know" everything that they were supposed to know.  Is this good?  I always felt that students knew this information for the test, but would not remember it later.  Now, after rounds of testing this thought, I have repeatedly seen this to be true.  Students retain very, very, very little of the information that we are forcing down their throats.

This entire last paragraph was about only one of the things that I want my students to accomplish....and that is the Trivial Pursuit facts about the content.  At this point the students are usually too overwhelmed to understand the concepts, as they are busy cramming in all of the fine details and attempting to predict which ones will be asked on the standardized tests they will be given.

Learning how to learn?  Becoming enthusiastic or passionate?  Developing 21st century skills?  NO WAY!  These areas have been harshly neglected from our education system and our schools for far too long.  Most students that I encounter "hate school", "hate math", "hate reading", "hate science" and this is all before I get to spend one second with them in the classroom.  Why, in a country in which we spend about $12,000 per child so they can have a guaranteed access to an education, do the students act like they are being punished for having to go?  There are not many students that look at it like a free $12,000 scholarship and for an opportunity to improve themselves.  I know that many will say that there are plenty of students that are motivated to do this, but I do not believe the % is very high.  Most of the students that do appear to care are simply grade chasers who would rather have an "A" and learn nothing than get a "C" and learn a LOT.  They have been trained to play a game called "school".  Many of the students that do actually care about becoming educated are ones that have a strong social structure outside of the school, which helps reinforce this desire.

Enter the 20-Time concept.  Give students 20% of the school week to learn about whatever they want to learn about from cooking, to mechanics, to writing a novel, to computer coding, to dinosaurs, to submarines, to whatever.  I was shocked at how many students would actively seek information, knowledge, skills, strategies once they were given this time.  It allowed me to teach time-management skills, collaboration, communication, research, and a bunch of other skills better than I ever had before.  I saw a lot more smiles, a lot more engaged students and a whole different vibe (on those days as well as the regular days).

The most moving observation, was that many students who had been written off by all teachers as "lazy" and "uncaring" thrived in this environment.  I had several times in which teachers came down to observe "so and so" working on this big project that they could not stop talking about because they couldn't believe it was really happening.  Also, there was another extremely important observation made.  Many of the students that struggled during this inquiry-based and autonomous time, were students that were dubbed "great students" with straight A's and excellent standardized test scores.  When the game changed, however, into a more "real-life" game, they struggled mightily.  Many did not have the ability to be self-directed, manage time, be creative, or inquire about a topic.  This was such an important discovery because it allowed me to work with them on improving these skills that they were desperately in need of before they were thrust into the real world, which is not as forgiving.

I cannot emphasize enough the amazing benefits that were achieved through implementing 20-Time.  I always find myself in defense of this time because for some reason, teachers seem to be afraid of it.  They seem to be afraid to give up 20% of their time.  They seem to be afraid to give up control of their classroom.  I have seen the opposite happen.  By implementing (not giving up) 20% of the time, I have had an opportunity to teach many skills and interdisciplinary concepts that I would not have otherwise.  Also, the other 80% of the time was much more productive because students were learning how to learn and seemed to have a new found respect and enthusiasm for the process of education.  I challenge you to give it a try.  I do not think you will be disappointed.

***  I receive no commission off of anyone implementing 20-Time and you do not hurt my feelings if you hate it.  I just wish your students could have the opportunity to try it.

Please check out work done by many of the experts of 20-Time or Genius Hour.  They have a ton of great stories and strategies to share.  This includes:

*  Joy Kirr -  and
*  Denise Krebs  -
*  A.J. Juliani -
*  Kevin Brookhouser -
*  Gallit Zvi -
*  And a bunch of others.

Check out this resource as well:  Kate Petty's 20-Time in education: