On Being a Junior Photographer

Old School Camera

Old School Camera

In the early 1970’s  I was selected for our elementary’s “enrichment” program.  I suspect it had something to do with test scores.  There were just a handful of us little ragamuffins excited about choosing our area of interest and designing projects around them.  I wanted to be a photographer and so I was given the camera with no boundaries and taught how to develop film in a bona-fide dark room.

I WAS a junior photographer.  “Learning about ” was only a part of the bigger picture in which I developed an eye for seeing the world through a lens and bringing it to life in a picture.  I was able to do the work of REAL artists.

Lucky me, although I experienced guilt for having this experience while many of my peers “did school”.

The College of William and Mary School of Education’s curriculum for gifted education  is built off of the Integrated Curriculum Model for Gifted Learners.  Essentially,


  • Big ideas within a higher level  depth of knowledge
  • Advanced Content (as desired)
  • Problem-based inquiry using research and reasoning

While gifted education has historically been saved for the  few, these concepts are beneficial for all

“…..curriculum designed for gifted learners using ICM makes a difference in the nature and extent of learning that these students will amass. It also appears to be a powerful motivator for the less able, especially the scaffolding provided by the instructional models. If we design curriculum for our best learners and use it to stimulate a broader group of learners, then we will have succeeded admirably in our efforts to raise the ceiling for the gifted, but also to provide a new set of standards for others to emulate.”   Joyce Van Tassel-Basaka, College of William and Mary”

 All learners

I will not argue about the needs of the children ICM is designed to support.  I believe they are very real.  However, I believe all children will benefit from models like ICM.  Differentiated classrooms support all children at all times.

In a session at the Project Zero Summer Institute 2013, Dr. Ronda Bondie of Fordham University  facilitated a mini-session entitled  All Learners Everyday.  Dr. Bondie addressed how to effectively differentiate instruction for all students.  What is different about Dr. Bondie’s approach?  She includes thinking routines, teaching for understanding, multiple intelligences and formative assessment.  In essence, Dr. Bondie believes ALL students can learn to think deeply and to thrive in an inquiry-based learning environment.  I agree.

 All students should be able to tinker around as   ‘junior versions of’  (artists, photographers, engineers) in an environment of inquiry 

not just those who “do school” well.


Beyond Niche Learning

Daniel Perkins frames the Future of Learning

Daniel Perkins frames the Future of Learning

Harvard Graduate School of Education hosted the Future of Learning Conference .  While I was not fortunate to attend, I did follow the twitter discussion (#hgsefol and #hgsepzfol).  I discovered a presentation by David Perkins.

Elements of the presentation include a discussion of the future of learning:

The Six Beyonds (above).  

  • Beyond Local
  • Beyond Content
  • Beyond Topics
  • Beyond Prescribed Studies
  • Beyond Discrete Disciplines
  • Beyond the Traditional Disciplines

What kind of learning?

Niche learning:  understanding the process of mitosis

Lifeworthy learning:  Studying communicable disease and how they are spread

Reimagine education with much less niche learning~ David Perkins


Why Do I Need To Learn This?


An article by Audrey Waters, Is Math Education Too Abstract  , on Mindshift discusses the idea that the typical way of teaching math over time is not the most effective.  Water pulls from an op-ed article by Sol Garfunkel and David Mumford:  

“Today,” they write, “American high schools offer a sequence of algebra, geometry, more algebra, pre-calculus and calculus (or a “reform” version in which these topics are interwoven). This has been codified by the Common Core State Standards, recently adopted by more than 40 states. This highly abstract curriculum is simply not the best way to prepare a vast majority of high school students for life.  The authors contend that the “traditional” math curriculum focuses too much on abstract reasoning and abstract skills. “Imagine replacing the sequence of algebra, geometry and calculus with a sequence of finance, data and basic engineering,” they suggest.

Audrey’s central question:

“But does thinking about “applied mathematics” mean necessarily that we have to steer clear of algebra and calculus as their own units in math education? Does putting math in context mean that we cannot teach math in abstract?”

The answer seems clear to me:

we need both the pieces and the whole.

There are many sound reasons for teaching the elements and the contexts in which the elements live.   Addressing BOTH is important; doing so is:

  • relevant
  • comprehensive
  • engaging
  • it takes knowing to understanding
  • it allows one to do something with their personal understanding

If we teach the elements and the whole, and  do it well, we will get many questions.   This  will not be one of them:

Why do I need to learn this?

Education’s Throughline


What a great age

What is education’s greatest purpose?  How is that related to the “what” of teaching?

For many years, I accepted what the state said should be taught.   Of course students needed to read, write, do math, know about the constitution.    But then I began mothering a deep thinking percussionist who moved to a very different beat.  I learned to own his education from the beginning because his fit with the system was awkward, at best.

Through the eyes of a mother:    we want them to grow into  healthy, engaged and productive adults who wear clean underwear, look good in a suit and smile with their eyes.   A solid handshake was also important, my husband  would say.  You want them to support themselves, but also to have passions and interests that will keep them learning for all of their lifetime.

But then there’s that mandated curriculum.  The course offerings are so limited.  I want my children to be thinkers.  Problem solvers.  

What is it that we want for our children?   

Howard Gardner has done some thinking about this.  He might say that we want our children to be

“the kinds of human beings  we want to populate the planet”

  • good workers
  • good persons
  • good citizen
  • good players
  • good collaborators”

I think that should be education’s throughline:

We are here to help grow the kinds of human beings we want to populate the planet.

Life is both the curriculum  and  test.  We are just here to facilitate the thinking and doing.

For more information, check out Howard Gardner’s book, written with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon:  Good Work

The Good Poject

The Good Work Project

Technology Fosters Agency

Howard Gardner:  Project Zero Summer Institute 2013

Howard Gardner: Project Zero Summer Institute 2013

This week, I reflected on a great quote from Howard Gardner during  the Project Zero Summer Institute 2013.

“Kids need to learn to live WITH technology.  Kids need to learn to live WITHOUT technology.”

Simple words with deep meaning.

I have been a supporter of  teachers helping to lead the effective use of technology in the classroom.   Trying to filter all the options in a meaningful way is a challenge for all of us.  Which tool do you use, when?  Which tool is the best?

This morning I read a great article by Susan Oxnevad (@soxnevad) via Mindshift entitled:  3 Ways to Encourage Higher Order Thinking with Technology.  The author has embraced the SAMR model of tech integration.

“One simple way of understanding our pedagogical theory of iPads is that we don’t want them to just become replacements for notebooks and textbooks, we want them to be objects to think with. We want students using them to mess around with the world around them and their courses of study.”

This is about doing “tech” well by using the tools in a graceful and meaningful way.  

Technology  helps us DO something with our THOUGHTS 

Here are three ways Oxnevad recommends for teachers to prepare to design learning experiences that encourage higher order thinking through the use of technology as a tool for learning.

  1. Develop a digital toolkit
  2. Design flexible learning experiences (centered around essential questions)
  3. Get out of the way and let students create

If we learn HOW to harness the good in technology, it can be a  vehicle for students to bridge the knowing-doing gap. Technology isn’t mandatory, but we should allow students the choice to use it when it works.   After all, making thinking HAPPEN is our goal .

If the Shoe Fits: Nurturing an Ecology

In a recent post, I highlighted an integrated plan for change that was created by one thoughtful staff at a public elementary school.  While the plan was created by the staff, based on their unique needs, it includes (as a vehicle for change) several “programs”.   Rollout can happen in one of two very different ways:    
  • We can “install” the system as a shiny, dangly “new” initiative
  • We can “build” the system within the current , complex ecology

The subtle, but important,  difference between the two methodologies is important to understand.  People do not embrace change if it is too bulky, too rigid, too boring or laborious.  Change must be graceful, even when it is somewhat disruptive.  

For lasting change, we must build upon the good things that are already happening within the school ecology.

I have written about The Genius of And and the false dichotomies that plague education.  I challenge people to step back and to modify how they view new initiatives.  They must be roomy enough to integrate what already is with what can be.

If the shoes fit, people will wear them.

What Does It Mean To Understand?

mid“… Instruction begins when you, the
teacher, learn from the learner, put yourself in his
place so that you may understand what he
understands and in the way he understands it….”
– Soren Kierkegaard, The Journals, 1854

What is Understanding?

“The performance view of understanding is consonant with
both common sense and a number of sources in
contemporary cognitive science. The performance
perspective says, in brief, that understanding is a matter
of being able to do a variety of thought-provoking things
with a topic, such as explaining, finding evidence and
examples, generalizing, applying, analogizing, and
representing the topic in new ways.

From The Teaching for Understanding Guide by Tina
Blythe and Associates (Jossey-Bass, 1999)

I would like to highlight the doing part.  It isn’t just knowing.  It is also doing something with what you know.  

Teaching for Understanding is a framework , developed in a research project at Project Zero during the early nineties, links what David Perkins has called “four cornerstones of pedagogy” with four elements of planning and instruction.

 Four Central Questions About Teaching

What shall we teach?

What is worth understanding?

How shall we teach for understanding?

How can students and teacher know what students understand and how students can develop deeper understanding?

The Teaching for Understanding framework

  • Throughlines, or Overarching Understanding Goals (extend through the entire course—focus learners on BIG understandings)
  • Generative Topic (the content we focus on in our unit; what it is about the topic that motivates us to learn more)
  • Understanding Goals (extend through a unit; connect to Throughlines and stem from the Generative Topic)
  • Performances of Understanding (learners demonstrate their understanding of the topic at various points in a unit)
  • Ongoing Assessment (learners assess themselves and one another, and receive frequent formative feedback from the teacher)

Here is an example of a unit planning guide, created by staff at the Washington International School.

Here  is an organizer to use when creating a project.

For more information, including registration for the High Quality Instruction and Delivery course offered through the Harvard Graduate School of Education, go here.

We need to teach the parts.  They need to know the elements.  But more importantly, they need to put the knowledge to use in meaningful ways to truly know and understand.  

This is learning in a meaningfully engaged way.