Pause and reflect…


Who are heroes?

I read somewhere that heroes are ordinary people who do extradinary things. Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.”

My son is a hero to me: he could give up after his tragic motorcyle accident, but he doesn’t. He continues to live his life — his style is shorter (from a wheelchair), but everything he strives to do now, he accomplishes.

My husband is a hero. On his way out of town he noticed smoke, and stopped to grab a neighbor and hoses to help contain the fire until firefighters arrived, saving two homes.

All over the world ordinary people have stepped up to help in floods, storms, and earthquakes. 

When the need arises ordinary people do extraordinary things. We carry the possibilities to bring our communities together when nature pulls them apart.

In our lives we have many communities: family, friends, church, work, play. And in each of these communities, we pull together, and in small ways are heroes to each other when the need arises. For stories of heroes from communities around the world, see the Giraffe Heroes Project.

In the US, all of us have a community in our classrooms and schools. In each classroom are heroes, including the teachers who are not just instructing, but often are mentors, counselors, referees, coaches, nurses, mediators, cheerleaders, tutors, etc. to those children in their care who come to us not as objects to be filled but as whole persons with ideas, dreams, issues, problems, hopes, needs. Despite the requirement to teach the curriculum, it is the child that is to be taught, to be understood, to be encouraged, and to be engaged. Without this consideration of the whole child, the child will probably not engage willingly with learning. Imagine guiding a classroom full of students, each of whom you are to inspire. Look at their faces in your mind. To do this, is to be a hero; it often takes extraordinary skill to guide each child in one’s care.

Yes, guide. Look at the root of educate (Dictionary.com): 



1580–90;  < Latin ??duc??tus  brought up, taught (past participle of ??duc??re ), equivalent to ??- e-  + -duc-  lead + -??tus -ate

So, to educate is to lead.  Teachers lead students towards each one’s learning, and help bridge the gap from individual to community.



Play to Learn…

If we want our hereos to jump in for our many communities, then our common community, our schools, must be allowed to lead to learning that which is most important: forming and supporting a learning community. That takes time, conversation, and more than the basics. It’s why project-based learning is so powerful: solving a problem to complete a project together is engaging, inspiring, and energizing. How else could we guide students to see their possibilities? 

What Does Successful Project-Based Learning Look Like? By Bob Lenz explains that project-based learning includes, among others, these:

  • Lasting learning of a deeper learning skill, idea, or way of thinking that is relevant to students’ lives, their futures, and transforms who they are as human beings.
  • Mirrors real-world work of professionals in craft, process, or skill (e.g. historians, writers, mathematicians, artists).
  • Moves beyond classroom in purpose, audience, or contribution to community.

I’d like to thank the heroes of reform today who keep voicing the need to develop schools for learning rather than for testing — no test can assess the kind of learning we need to lead students to learning within a community, so the students too will be heroes in their communities.

So even though I teach in a test-prep school, I will also conduct that preparation within the confines of both district requirements and engaging projects– and to find “extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.” Our democracy depends on this, don’t you think?


What about you? Who are your heroes? What are your communities? How will you best lead students to a sense of community and learning? How is it that educators lead us to find “extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people?”



Photo Credits:

Missour River and Jake by Sheri Edwards

Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence

Pause to reflect:


It’s not the technology; it’s the teaching and learning: pedagogy and purpose. I read often about technology and instruction; one more article about this, called “It’s the Pedagogy, Stupid: Lessons from an iPad Lending Program” by Heather Beattey Johnston and Carolyn J. Stoll, drew me to reflection.

No matter what it is: program, device, technology, software, or curriculum, for learning to occur, the focus will always turn to the student and the teacher. That is where the magic is, not in any silver bullet.

That said, let’s look at today’s learners and their future: they expect to be engaged and their future requires active participation in a collaborative and creative culture.

How do I know?

Students expect to be engaged:
Almost every student has some device with them at school (even though it is, unfortunately, banned).
If they aren’t engaged by the learning, they engage themselves with classroom distractions or their devices.

Future job requirements:
Think about it: Will future jobs require:
  • reading
  • writing
  • listening
  • speaking
Yes– but there’s more needed. Think about it:
Did you know that in the United States, 47.0 million people (18 percent) spoke a language other than English at home? (Source: Census )

The number is growing, and with our global culture growing, the need to connect wit others as part of one’s job is also growing.

Look at the applications now developing so people can meet online but at their own time and place (webinar systems (Adobe, Blackboard), collaborative documents (Google Docs, Wikis). 

The future is participation as part of global teams collaborating on documents for which the people involved collaborate as well as protect the information.

Johnston and Stoll shared in their article, “”Being able to demonstrate the solution to a problem or provide examples for a concept by simply handing over a device as you would a piece of paper is transformative.” It’s not just a piece of paper the device holds: it’s the research, the graphic, the problem, the tools, and the documentation and collaboration all in one device held in one’s hand.

Therefore, to engage students and to deliver relevant and real instruction, the technology tools are very important. 
But that’s not all that is needed by teachers to engage students, is it?  There is no magic yet for deeper learning.

How do I know?

Does this sound familiar?
Middle school students come to class from their little worlds of drama with friends,  days of gaming, and dreams of hoop heroes. When asked what their goals are, they usually have none, except to become an NBA or NFL player. If they plan for college, it’s just to “get a good job.” A few will say doctor or lawyer, but without any reason or dream behind it. Let’s get real, though. They are only middle schoolers, what should they be thinking? If our schools are preparing them for their future and their future careers, and they have no clue of the possibilities, what is their purpose for coming to school, let alone planning for life?

That led me to a blog by Thom Markham, Ph. D “Reaching Young People to Go Deeper — The Power of Purpose.

He shares research by Bill Damon, Stanford professor and child development expert who indicates that “25% of teenagers claim to have no purpose in life. And, while others ‘dabble or dream,’ only 20% have a solid sense of direction.”

Just engaging youth in gadgets won’t inspire deep learning of the communication and collaboration skills needed in their future. Dr. Markham suggests “that the school’s most important goal is to help students discover their purpose in life—to go deep into themselves and come out the other side with insights about who they are and what they want out of life.”

What does this mean?

Dr. Markham explains:
“Purpose is a critical asset for healthy adulthood. Without a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a host of problems start to show up in people’s lives that impact their health, behavior, and productivity.
Purpose also relates directly to the pursuit of new skills and knowledge. Research clearly shows that purpose, meaning, and mastery move in tandem. Without tapping into a sense of purpose, high schools are reduced to rules and incentives—primarily the promise of college—rather than relying on the deeper wellsprings of learning that lead to the highest levels of student performance.”

Without purpose, why involve oneself in the learning?

In another post at Edutopia (Project-based Learning and Social-emotional Learning ), Dr. Markham points out that “At its best, PBL taps into intangibles that make learning effortless and engaging: Drive, passion, purpose, and peak performance. But peak performance doesn’t start with a standardized curriculum.”

He continues with these suggestions (condensed):
Step 1: Redefine rigor
Rigor is a measure of personal performance, not a standar
d to quantify how much information has been learned
Step 2: Establish a “drive and thrive” culture
Establish a culture of inquiry, excellence, and personal responsibility.
Step 3: Acknowledge the “soft” skills as “hard” skills
Navigating a changing world demands a communicative, creative, and collaborative person with a flexible, empathetic, resilient, and persistent temperament.

If my purpose is to help students discover their purpose in life as well as learn the skills needed to achieve that purpose, then the learning standards cannot drive the learning, the student’s purpose must. We’ve heard this many times: “Student-centered learning.”  With the purpose, there’s drive and passion. With drive and passion, there’s peak performance.

Think about it — the project-based learning process:
Guide students to their possibilities and opportunities which will provide the purpose to find personally relevant information with rigor and through a drive/thrive culture of inquiry while communicating, creating, collaborating in this discovery. 

In my mind, Dr. Markham expanded the past pedagogy of rigor, relevance, and relationships to today’s terms: personal rigor, personal and future relevance, and the relationship to the work, peers, and teachers as a community of learners using today’s collaborative and on-demand tools.  

Is that all? Is that the magic?

It’s not the device. It’s not the pedagogy. It’s not the purpose. 

I really thought about this quote: “Without a reason to get out of bed in the morning, a host of problems start to show up in people’s lives that impact their health, behavior, and productivity.”  Especially when, near the end of the blog, he suggested “A new set of best practices for 21st century education is emerging, melding youth development principles with inquiry-based methods that stimulate a young person’s desire to know more about the world and serve it well. That’s how we can prepare students for the future.”

Our civilization progresses when our people have “productivity” and “serve it well.” 

How do I know?

First thing that pops into my mind — The wheel — someone invented it, and the rest of the world was served by its benefits.

The computer — some people invented it (it sat in huge rooms for awhile before Steve and Steve made it small and personal), and the rest is history.

True, the inventors may not have set out to “serve it well,” but, in the end, they did. 

Think back to the classroom — when do classroom activities work best? For my room, it’s when the classroom is a community of learners, helping one another. 

Therefore, It’s not the device. It’s not the pedagogy. It’s not the purpose. 

The magic of engaged learning is Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence.

How do I know?

This year, the seventh grade reading teacher found a way to get her small group of active boys reading: they partner read with kindergarten students (pedagogy). In order to read to the students, they needed to know how to read (purpose). Once they read to the little partners, and realized the impact, they did not want to stop (Beneficence). 

Also this year, the seventh and eighth grade students did not have presenters for our Outdoor Education Day at the lake, so the two teachers decided we would plan an Outdoor Eduction day as a service project (pedagogy) for the Kindergartener’s who are not part of OED. The older students planned with maps and checklists created themselves a Nature Walk around the campus, including science and nature talks at each stop. Since the younger students had just read about pirates, the older students also planned a Nature Scavenger Hunt using a “Nature Treasure Map” and based on the Nature Walk. It was a great event, and the immediate response back at the room for the older students were self-evaluative discussions of a) managing younger students and b) planning better information for next year. 

Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence equals engaged learning.

Play to Learn

So how does one move to Purpose, Pedagogy, and Beneficence?

At all ages we need to share careers of opportunities for students. Connect them to our curriculum. Allow students to learn about them. Most importantly, create the pedagogy of the content area so that students think like careers in that content: So their work, thinking, and products are that of writers, geographers, historians, geologists, scientists, cartographers, authors, etc.

Make sure the purpose is relevant to the learner and the purpose engages the class in a community of learners whereby each member adds to the project in ways that enhance the community, or some other person or entity. Purpose, then reflects the targets required, the learner’s desires, the project’s cause, and the learning community’s goals.

A project could be:
Annotated artwork for nursing home
Website of facts about animal abuse prevention
Letters to agencies
and on and on

For all of this to occur, the classroom process and goals need to be taught — the purpose of this school or classroom will look and feel differently. In addition, students will need skills in collaboration, listening, analyzing, discussion, problem-solving, etc.  See resources below for ideas.

My Goal to Begin:
Engage students in introductory, short projects (example: prepare and teach about digital citizenship to younger students– a review for my students, and a purpose/product that is achievable).
Evaluate that process and establish protocols and procedures for successful completing.
Evaluate content skills learned and set goals for improvement.
Evaluate the effect of our work on others.
Begin career investigations.
Brainstorm and plan further projects.

What do you think? How do you know? What will you do?

Project Based Learning

Think Like A Scientist

Think Like an Historian

David Perkins – Thinking Skills

Questioning by tbond

Educational Origami by Andrew Churches

Thinkers Toolbox by paulajamieson

Habits of Mind

Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks