Greatest Invention? Kindergarten

Green Screen Weather

Ms. Meyer prepares her students for a weather report.

Mitchel Resnick of the MIT Media Lab, calls kindergarten the “greatest invention of the last 1,000 years.” And in his latest book, Lifelong Kindergarten, he argues that all schooling needs to be more like it. His point is that the rapidly changing world, only assures us of uncertainty in our future. So instead of preparing students for the world we know today, steep them in an environment where they can think creatively and develop the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions.

This has been on my mind as my kindergarten colleagues (Ms. Meyer, Ms. Theall, Mrs. Nedwick), our librarian (Mrs. Turner), and I wrap up a weather project featuring the greatest elementary school combination ever! Kindergarten students and a green screen.

Teaching and learning is always fun when everyone around you is pulling together and smiling. To the persnicketers, no this culminating project does not make these students weather experts or meteorologists. They may have misspoken or over/understated some weather facts that save lives.

But in this project, their tender brains were inundated with a flurry of activity. Self-checking content information, delivering memorized and unscripted lines, coping with the pressure of performance, in front of peers, teachers, and a live camera, while recalling their preparation for storytelling, including body presence, eye contact, and voice, while balancing on a stool so that we can see more than their heads, and trying to imagine that the green wall behind them is actually a funnel cloud or snowstorm, and then in the end, hopping off the stool with relief and laughing about it all… my goodness.

Every school day really should be more like kindergarten.


Public Speaking Used to Be Scarier


Second grade girls perform at the Edgewood Talent Show.

I am always astonished at the ease with which Edgewood students rise to the challenge of public performances. Whether it’s the Edgewood Talent shows or 5th grade Capstone TED Talks and Ignite/Spark presentations, students today have the capacity to summon the right mix of adrenaline and fortitude to perform for a live audience.

That’s not how I remember 5th grade. I do have this one vivid memory. My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Gordon, had his students read from the play he had written for our annual class production. He asked me to read the lines for one particular role. It featured a baby airplane and he needed me to talk like one. He even demonstrated the part with his own “baby voice.” The class howled with laughter. Everyone in the room could see the show-stealing potential of this one scene. And Mr. Gordon had asked ME to read the lines.

When I stepped in front of my classmates, with script in hand, I wanted to reward my teacher’s faith in me. I wish I could say I had shed my “shy guy” persona and stood with poise and confidence at that moment. I wish I was able to channel my inner baby and upend the room with laughter. But the only inner baby I could summon was the one that cried under pressure.

They weren’t tears of fright or embarrassment. Even as tears rolled down my cheeks, I was laughing right along with my classmates. But I remember feeling the crushing weight of the attention on me. Too much to handle. Eyeballs upon eyeballs, all on me. Needless to say, I didn’t take the baby airplane role. It went to Teddy who begged for the part and would ultimately steal the show with his performance.

Public speaking was a deal breaker for me back then. So it was not surprising to learn, through much of my childhood and adulthood, that it was the number one fear among Americans. But that was so 20th century. In this new era of online information and perhaps misinformation, Americans find that there are now far worse things that frighten us, according to the 2018 Chapman University of American Fears. Public speaking pulls in at #59.

top 10 fears

The Chapman University Survey of American Fears 2018 has “public speaking” at 59th on the list.

It makes sense. We are of a generation that accessorizes with mobile recording devices and leaves little of our lives undocumented. We have grown accustomed to posing, performing, and sharing our lives with our social media friends. And their friends. And their friends (who collectively remind us of the many things that ought to scare us).

In fact, our social media feeds are tantamount to performance art. Collectively, they represent artistic portrayals of lives that are dramatized and romanticized in hopes they are received favorably. We can only hope that those who post these portrayals are also genuinely finding happiness in their lives, even when there are no likes or retweets at stake.

It stands to reason that the everyday performances we share with an online community makes us a little more comfortable seeing and hearing ourselves in a public setting. And as a teacher, it also makes it a little easier to encourage students to share their voice with a public audience because there’s now this cultural expectation that we should pose with our food, post video of our glorious summer trips, and share and re-share appeals on behalf of important social causes.

It is a cultural norm that even those who shape education policy have noticed. Take for instance the new K-12 Next Generation English Language Arts learning standards and its focus on audience engagement. The following is from the Speaking and Listening section called Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • Standard 4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence so that listeners can follow the line of reasoning. Ensure that the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • Standard 5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
  • Standard 6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of academic English when indicated or appropriate.

This means that our K-12 students are not only learning the content, they are asked to present it to an audience for the sake of teaching them. To teach is the ultimate test of whether we have learned. In teaching audience engagement skills, we help students get past anxiety and self-consciousness to focus on connecting others with useful information. But most important in teaching students these skills we help them find their voice and ideally help them use it in ways to contribute to their community.

And when I think back to that day in Mr. Gordon’s class, I realize now what he was doing. He had looked inside me and saw something I hadn’t. That the best of me was yet to come and that with time and experience, I would one day step forward to center stage, and be heard.


Less Me, More We

I Am HumanThird grade teacher, Sara Nedwick, shared this story with me. It’s the type of story that reminds us why the small moments matter. Her class was walking down the hallway when one of her students stepped onto her untied shoelace and tumbled. She was a bit hurt and embarrassed, at first. But was quickly distracted by the sight of two boys pulling away from the group and rushing back to see if she was okay. One of the boys sat on the floor and tied her shoe. 

In the Susan Verde book, I Am Human, she writes, “A bad day can become a great day with kindness.” These boys demonstrated in one sweet and instinctual act of empathy that people of all ages have the power to heal and rejuvenate.

I’ve been an elementary teacher for more than 20 years. In some school districts, they’d declare me a Master teacher, based on time served alone. But I am far from a Master. Each day as I join my students in exploring what they want to know, I’m humbled by the enormity of what I do not know. But here’s what I have learned as an experienced practitioner in the teaching and learning trade.

When we learn through the service of others, we build nurturing and trusting relationships that can help us get through the occasional bad moment or bad day. Some days we’re tripped up by our own shoelaces or maybe it’s something else we left untied and untended. But when we stand by a friend, a colleague, or provide support for someone seeking comfort in a new neighborhood, through our relationships, the world becomes a place that’s intentionally constructed and serendipitously designed to pick us up when we fall. 

Ralph Branca, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers general manager known for breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the signing of Jackie Robinson, once said, “Luck is the residue of design.” Each of us has the power to create the conditions that enable good things to happen when they’re needed most.

This is no surprise to experienced teachers. We know that when students feel their contributions are valued, they become more trusting of their environment and learning partners. In turn, they are more likely to exercise their creative engines and push beyond learning obstacles. For teachers, there’s gratification in creating the conditions that permit a child to share knowledge with everyone, including the teacher, and watching them walk out the door a little taller. Joyful teaching is symbiotic. Teachers need their students as much as students need their teachers. 

Educators are in a tough line of work. We are not firefighters, but we put out fires. We are not in law enforcement, but we strive to be just. We cannot do all that we hope to achieve without the strength of others. And it all begins with a sense of humility, gratitude, and working in the service of others.

Take for instance, Ella and Yuzuki. They are second grade classmates. At a recent lunchtime Classical Cafe performance, Ella prepared to sing a Christmas song. She stood behind the microphone, wearing a festive outfit and radiant smile. But once the first notes of her song played on the sound system, her smile drained away. Her eyes stayed bright, but showed doubt. She quick-stepped off the stage and another performer took her place. Then another. And another.

Ella remained off stage, being consoled by her mother, in person, and her father via FaceTime. Then along came her friend Yuzuki. She rubbed Ella’s back and leaned into her friend’s ear. Ella smiled and moments later she was back on stage. Yuzuki stood by her side. Far enough to give Ella the spotlight, close enough so Ella could feel her presence. When the performance ended, Ella bounded off the stage to raucous applause that for many of us felt as much for Yuzuki as it was for Ella. But that’s not why Yuzuki took the stage. She did it because that’s what friends do. They stand by each other’s side, when needed most. And for those of us who had the good fortune to experience this moment, we all walked out of the room a little taller. 


Video Chat Etiquette

Whether we communicate with a partner in a video chat or face-to-face, we rely on the same basic interpersonal communication skills. We use our verbal language, voice intonation, body language, and facial expression to convey our thoughts, meaning, and motive. The goal for each partner is to be understood. The Video Chat Etiquette graphic below was designed to prepare students for an online interview, but it serves as a reminder of how we communicate with on-screen partners to have a meaningful and enjoyable conversation.

video chat etiquette



Show YouTube Videos without the Distractions

YouTube is an essential educational tool in today’s classroom. But not everything on a YouTube video page is vital for learning. Not anyone’s playlist, or on-deck videos, and definitely not the comments section. With this in mind, there are a few online tools that allow teachers and students to view YouTube videos without the sidebar distractions. Here are three choices: Safe YouTubeView PureWatchkin. Each one allows you to copy/paste a YouTube link that will transform the original page into clutter-free viewing of just the video. Just the video. Give them a try.



Just When You Thought Slideshow Templates Couldn’t Get More Fun!

slides carnivalGrowing tired of the same old built-in Google Slides and Keynote templates? Visit the Slides Carnival website. It offers oodles of template options that match your presentation needs and mood. Feeling Inspirational, Playful or Creative? Slides Carnival has free downloadable templates that match your mood and visual interests to spiff up your presentation. Each template offers a Google Slides or a PowerPoint version. If you’re a Keynote user, then just download the PowerPoint template. Launch Keynote, then click Open and choose the PowerPoint file you downloaded (.ppt).


Stop Motion Animation for the Classroom

With Stop Motion Studio for the iPad, creating stop-motion animation has never been easier. This app is appropriate for all K-5 students. You can animate any inanimate object. Perhaps it’s an illustrated paper cutout or maybe a pencil or lego piece. Stop Motion Studio gives students a captivating outlet for their creative ideas and voice. And during the production process, it introduces them to sophisticated concepts such time, storyboarding, audience, and citizenship, even at the youngest elementary age.

Take a look at the tutorial below, then let me know if you’re interested in bringing this production tool to your classroom!



Do Your Students Care About Your Writing Assignments?

Now that’s an offensive question. It presumes that students might not. And that the teacher dictates what a child will write in the classroom. And when does that happen? Because in school students have plenty of opportunities to write freely… during designated classroom writing times… in the genre chosen for them… based on the seasonal requirements of the district writing program. Ugh… Hopefully, not all schools have their students write like this.

But Ralph Fletcher expresses concern for such scripted classroom writing (with “conscripted” writers, my quotes) in his book Joy Write. He called on teachers to loosen the reins on our classroom writing and promote opportunities for “low stakes” writing. Encourage writing that is purposeful and fun for the writers, whether it’s through notes, signs, silly songs and rhymes, or a reflection of their continuously gleaming imagination. Perhaps a play that captures the realities of life as a kid. Or  observations that hint at a future Katherine Paterson or George Lucas. It’s the low stakes writing that builds the foundation and upper reaching supports for high stakes writing. It makes writing meaningful to a young writer.

When classroom writing opportunities are allowed to expand beyond the requirements of a commercial program or state standards, and open doors for our students to the possibilities of writing, who knows what their jottings will lead to? Perhaps we can use these famous people and the notebooks they kept, as reference.

This summer I gave a workshop to K-12 and Higher Ed educators and librarians at the Summer Institute of Digital Literacy at the University of Rhode Island. The topic was about making writing relevant to students through everyday “writing rehearsals.” I had teachers fashion characters or objects out of pipe cleaners and write about their creations and then I spoke about developing creative writing techniques through Adobe Spark (Video, Page, Post apps). Because digital tools don’t always have to be about making final presentations. They can be used to discover and outlet imagination that can jump start the more complex and creative narrative. In other words, writing for the fun of it!

Students don’t have to start and finish a piece in one classroom sitting. They don’t have to devote the entirety of their daily writing to a particular piece. They just need a chance to write freely with purpose and preferably… through an open door.


Don’t Mix Up Your Google Accounts Again

Chrome PersonHow many times has this happened to you? Someone sends you a link to access a shared Google file. You click on it, but you get a message saying your account does not have permission to access the file. This happens a lot when a user is logged into more than one Google account in a single browser window. For instance, there’s the work Google account, the personal, the family member’s account, etc. Only one of those accounts provides access to the file shared by a work colleague. And there’s no way your browser will know which Google account you want to use at any given moment.

The solution is to create a separate Google Chrome Profile, so that you can switch between Google accounts as needed. Perhaps you can create a Work profile and assign your work email to it. Do your professional work in this browser. And then create a Home profile and assign your personal email to it. Do your personal stuff in this browser. And so forth.

By keeping your Google accounts logged in on separate Chrome browser windows, you’ll be able to easily switch back and forth between accounts and avoid any confusion regarding file access. Check out this tutorial to help you set up your multiple Chrome Profiles.


Recording Notes and Ideas in Google Keep

Google Keep is an online note-saving tool from the G Suite (formerly Google Apps) that come with every Google account. Type your notes directly into Google Keep or voice record them! Add the extension to your Chrome browser and easily stash away notes, web links, and images, and then pull them into other G Suite apps, such as Docs and Slides.  A useful tool for managing research information and creative ideas swimming inside your mind! Below is a slideshow from my ST@C presentation.