Marty Keltz and Jena Ball
Anyone who’s been in education any length of time knows the feeling. A TED talk, blog post or quote shared by a colleague reignites your passion for teaching; a child’s eyes light up as she discovers the answer to a question; and something you hear in a Twitter chat makes you sit up, take notice and think, “Hey, I can do that!” We call those feelings, “aha moments,” and we’ve been having them for several weeks now during a Twitter chat called, #Edtechbridge.
Despite its techie title, the real power of #Edtechbridge lies in the bridges participants are forging between industrial era, one-size fits all approaches to education – which quality test children like cars coming off an assembly line – and 21st century models, which stress the importance of teaching the whole child by finding and nurturing what makes each unique.
Educators who show up for #Edtechbridge not only articulate, discuss and suggest real-world solutions to issues facing teachers, but propose alternative, some might say disruptive, approaches to educational reform as well. That many of these discussions include technology is to be expected, but are nothing new. The equivalent of today’s Genius Hour and Maker Movement were already happening in the mid 1960s during the Media Literacy movement, and were supported, in part, by the first federal title grants (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) under Lyndon Johnson. What distinguishes #Edtechbridge is the opportunity to meet and collaborate with a global community of educators who not only inspire but empower one another as well.
The best and most exciting example of empowerment we can offer is the conversation about crowdfunding and disruptive technologies that began two weeks ago. Participants were discussing their frustration with the one-size fits all approach to education, in which 85% of instructional material dollars go to purchase basal textbooks produced by a handful of publishers with little or no input from classroom teachers. This leaves little or no money for what have come to be called “supplemental or enrichment materials” designed to deepen and personalize learning for individual children.
During that initial discussion, we talked about resources, such as PledgeCents and DonorsChoose, that give teachers a way to raise funds for their “supplemental and enrichment materials.” However, subsequent chats have taken the discussion to new and deeper levels. While it’s certainly possible to raise money to purchase art supplies, band instruments and even outdated textbooks, other questions were raised. Why not harness the power of crowdfunding – supported and enhanced by parents, community members, entrepreneurs, and organizations – to fund “real” educational reform? What happens if we start with the premise that we must teach the whole child – mind, body and emotions – regardless of how that child learns? What if we set out to find, purchase and implement educational programs that incorporate multimedia/multi-modal approaches and support the teaching of 21st century skills that include empathy, compassion, collaboration, appreciation for differences and kindness?
Forging potentially powerful alliances between crowdfunding platforms, creative storytelling platforms like Touchcast, and all who have a stake in what and how we teach our kids could have a very disruptive and positive effect on the current system. Instead of focusing on one-size fits all teaching models and high stakes testing, which do little to prepare students to be the collaborative, innovative and creative thinkers most employers say they want to hire (http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/11/12/the-10-skills-employers-most-want-in-2015-graduates/), this new, grassroots business model would be driven by the needs of students and guided by classroom teachers. It would shift the attention from widgets, offering new and better ways to implement and test Common Core Standards, and focus it instead on multi-media storytelling and project based learning. Students would learn through relevant, real-world experiences and become content creators as well. Young film makers, animators, designers, scientists, artists, musicians, writers and mathematicians would be given tools to think creatively, work collaboratively and above all believe that they have something unique and valuable to contribute to the world. Or, as our friend Christina Luce, (herself a deeply committed and creative educator) recently wrote, “We need to embrace curiosity, and cultivate wonder. We need to play, and infuse joy. This need not be a pipe dream, no pie in the sky ideal; no. We are the architects, the innovators, the creators, the voices that together must demand it and make it so.”
#Edtechbridge convenes every Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm (EST), 4:00 pm (PST) and Thursday morning at 9:00 am AEST. Won’t you join us?
I have loved and identified with Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” for more than 30 years. There’s something about choosing to follow a path that isn’t clear and will undoubtedly require course corrections that feels right to me. I have never fit in any role (though I certainly tried hard enough), and most jobs I’ve taken felt like straight jackets. I still laugh at the memory of my mother asking me why I wanted to pursue art in college. “You’re so good with your hands,” she said. “Why don’t you become a dentist?”
It was only when I finally stopped trying to fit into the boxes that others tried to assign me – bus driver, swimming coach, cook, office manager, journalist, editor, illustrator, teacher, textbook writer - that I began to feel like I belonged in my own skin. That’s not to say that it’s been easy, wearing the many and often conflicting Not Perfect hats that are required to start and build your own company, but it feels a whole lot better than pretending to be someone I’m not. Oh, and here’s the other thing. People are drawn to authenticity. They sense and respond to those who feel good about what they’re doing, who believe they can have a positive impact on the world.
Which brings me to teachers. I come from a long line of committed, caring teachers who have struggled with the low pay, lack of acknowledgement and increasingly restrictive rules. I have also done my time as an educator, teaching ESL for more than 9 years in Japan. But I have to say that the educators I’ve been meeting recently are a new and exciting breed. Yes, I hear them struggling with the many and ongoing challenges of the job, but there’s something in the air, something exciting about how they are coming together to collaborate, share and remind one another that there is nothing more important than what and how we teach our kids.
I am drawn to these teachers and they to me, and, though I have no idea where all this collective enthusiasm, intelligence and pent up desire to create positive change will lead, I believe in our less traveled roads. I believe we WILL make a difference.
I invite you to take a close look at the images above. Notice that some remarkable, almost unheard of things are happening in these classrooms where the Not Perfect Hat Club has been enthusiastically embraced.
The classroom on the left is a group of thirteen 7th and 8th grade “Special Ed” students in Whitehall, New York. The class on the right is a group of eighteen 3rd graders in the rural town of Webster, Iowa.
The Not Perfect Hat Cub concept and its goals – to celebrate differences and give every kid a place to hang a hat – was introduced to the students in Whitehall at the start of the school year. The students, and their enterprising teacher Deb Aubin, made the Not Perfect Hat Club their own, raising more than $600 by designing, sewing, marketing and selling Not Perfect Hats not only to other students, teachers and families, but to local businesses and even some overseas customers as well. You can read about their extraordinary journey and the resulting news coverage here:
Not Perfect Hat Club on CBS6: http://critterkin.com/2015/02/not-perfect-hat-club-on-cbs6/
Special Education Students Soar to New Heights: http://mittaubs.blogspot.com/2015/03/special-education-students-soar-to-new.html
It should come as no surprise then that when Tammy Massman’s third grade class in Iowa began its own Not Perfect Hat Club project, the students in Whitehall were eager to help. Using Skype, the two teachers brought the students together for a crash course in Not Perfect Hat Club manufacturing and selling.
The Whitehall students did a fantastic job of describing the process of deciding how much and what kind of fabric to buy, itemizing the costs for supplies (fabric, thread, pins, packaging and mailing), and detailing their new found marketing and promotion skills, which included creating a bulletin board and flyers, writing letters to local businesses to ask for sponsorship, setting up and manning a sales table, building a “hat tree” to display their hats, and hosting a Not Perfect Hat Club contest.
Over night, the kids no one noticed or made fun of for being different, became the talk of the school and town. Now they were being celebrated for their entrepreneurial spirit and given the opportunity to learn another important skill – how to pass their knowledge and wisdom on to others. We call this the Not Perfect Hat Club “Butterfly Effect.”
There are many versions of the Not Perfect Hat Club for schools to choose from, and we will work with you to find the best fit and the best way to bring the concept to your school. Take a look at the list of positive learning outcomes shared with us by students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members who have participated in Not Perfect Hat Club events. Then follow the links below to see what other schools are doing.
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Whitehall, New York: http://mittaubs.blogspot.com/2015/03/special-education-students-soar-to-new.html
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Warren, Texas: http://critterkin.com/2014/12/perfectly-not-perfect/
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Cooperstown, North Dakota: http://travisjordan31.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-not-perfect-blog-post.html
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Sydney, Australia: http://critterkin.com/2015/03/4082/
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Bolingbrook, Illinois: https://www.pinterest.com/critterkin/critterkin-kids-at-john-r-tibbott/
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Manila, Philippines: http://notperfecthatclub.com/2015/02/kids-weigh-in-part-i/
The Not Perfect Hat Club in Syracuse, New York: https://www.pinterest.com/critterkin/nphc-and-nate-perry/
To Schedule Your Own Not Perfect Hat Club Reading and Event Contact:
Phone: (647) 478 – 5618
Copyright 2015 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
An extraordinary thing happened today. I opened the blinds that cover the sliding glass door to my back porch and found a young squirrel clinging to the screen. It didn’t look sick, but then again it didn’t seem in the least bit surprised or upset to see me or my very large, very excited orange cat. It simply clung to the screen, moving up and down and letting out a sharp little squeak every now and then.
Unsure what to do, I sent a quick text to friend who rehabs wildlife for a living. While waiting for her reply, the squirrel abruptly climbed down and ran away. “Problem solved,” I thought, and went back to my writing. Imagine my surprise when the squirrel returned a few minutes later with a friend. Same size, same bright button eyes and bushy tail. Now I had TWO baby squirrels on my screen. “Surely this isn’t normal,” I typed to my friend.
“No, not normal, but they are too young to survive on their own,” said my friend the rehabber. “Try to catch them and put them in a box or a cat carrier. Then, call George.”
“Who’s George?” I texted back.
“Rehabber who specializes in squirrels, opossums and otters.”
Well I confess the whole idea seemed a bit preposterous. I once lived on the edge of a wildlife preserve where we were routinely visited by elk, bear, coons, white-tailed deer, antelope and once a mountain lion. If there was one thing I had drummed into my head time and time again, it was “Don’t feed or touch the wildlife!”
The other thing I couldn’t quite figure out was how I was supposed to catch the little critters. Squirrels are wild, nervous and fast. What was I supposed to do, sneak up on them, throw a towel over their heads and whisk them into the carrier?
So I sat and watched and tried to feel what was the right thing to do. There was something about the baby squirrels, clinging so tenaciously to the screen, that felt important. These weren’t just any squirrels, I realized. They were MY squirrels, my little gift from the universe today and it was up to me to decide what to do.
In the end, I put on my mittens, grabbed an old towel and put a soft piece of fleece in the cat carrier before going out “catch” the squirrels. The instant they saw me the second squirrel ran off with an indignant squawk, leaving his baby sister to fend for herself. I stood quietly for a few seconds, then picked up the towel, wrapped it around her and gently detached her toenails from the screen.
I wouldn’t say she enjoyed the process but she didn’t fight terribly hard or try to bite. And I confess that holding her – feeling her heart beat a mile a minute in the palm of my hand – was a moment of pure joy. For the few seconds it took to transfer her gently to the carrier the wall between “them and us,” “wild and tame,” “human and animal” came down. I was doing what I am always encouraging kids to do – showing empathy and kindness to another living thing. It felt right. It felt good, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was the one who had been given the gift – been reminded that the single most important lesson we can teach our kids is to lead with their hearts.
George, the squirrel rehabber, met me at a local mall. Before transferring my little friend to his carrier, he took a moment to open her mouth and show me that she was too young to have teeth. “You did the right thing,” he said. “She can’t eat solid food yet.”
Tomorrow I will be on the lookout for the second baby squirrel and any additional lessons the universe has to teach me.
The Magic of Not Perfect Hats!
I know, I know that’s an impossibly long title for a blog post, but I couldn’t resist, and it really should have been longer! What do frogs, antennae, ice cream birthday cakes, fake purple hair, colanders, pirates, jelly beans, blueberries , lemons and red apples all have in common? Not Perfect Hats and a wonderfully imaginative, up-for-anything-class of second graders willing to ponder what it means to be “Not Perfect” by creating Not Perfect Hats.
The results of our efforts are pictured above. The amazing thing to me was that every student knew exactly what his or her hat said about his or her personality. “I’m a birthday kind of girl,” said Amy. “I like tall hats and lots of presents.” Billy said that he liked frogs and blueberries. The connection between the two still isn’t clear to me, but judging by the big grin on his face, it was something funny. Then there was Joshua who drew what looked like a house, but turned out to be a “Hat Jar” for jelly beans (he likes the orange ones best).
All in all, it was a laughter filled hour in which the kids and I discussed everything from why certain colors make us smile and why it’s impossible to be perfect. We also had a lively debate about Joshua’s jelly beans and decided that butterflies should come in shades of aqua marine, hot pink and lime green. It was quite a visit that left me feeling energized and amazed by the curiosity, creativity and compassion that come so naturally to kids.
It also left me with a question. Instead of trying to “teach” and “test” our kids, why don’t we empower them to explore who and what they want to be? Why don’t we encourage and help them to develop the emotional skills they’ll need to cope in an increasingly complex world? Most important of all, why don’t we allow them to teach us? Let them remind us what it means to be curious, playful and willing to throw our whole hearts into something knowing that no one is perfect and making mistakes is all part of this ongoing process called life?
Many thanks for the learning today kids. To be continued!
To Schedule Your Own Not Perfect Hat Club Visit, Contact
Phone: (647) 478 – 5618