Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We Can't Forget That There Are Faces Behind the Data

Global competition and knowledge of what successful countries are doing to get quality results have caused all countries to examine their policies and strategies for improving their school systems.

Action research and inquiry are an integral part of education and is necessary in order to improve practice on a continuing basis. Teachers collect evidence to inquire into their practices, assess their effectiveness, identify the reasons for difficulties and successes, and plan how to improve and make interventions as a result.

Principals, learning teams, and supervisors go through their schools with checklists, on instructional rounds and walkthroughs looking for visible evidence in classroom artifacts of what the data have been suggesting to them.  Armed with all these data, Professional learning communities examine spreadsheets of achievement and attendance data together looking for gaps and shortfalls (places where they can quickly intervene).

Its good to have data to help you make better, more-informed decisions and to allow you to intervene before it's too late.  It's good to be able to learn more, in real time, about how your students are doing.  Here are just a few reminders to consider when collecting and analyzing data to best meet the needs of all students:

  • Be evidence-informed, not data-driven. 
  • Don’t overload yourself with data
  • The point of data is to help you know your students
  • Remember that there are children behind the numbers and if the data aren’t helping us know our children better, or if we are so busy analyzing data that we have less time to be with the children, then we are getting sidetracked on the wrong path. 
  • When data are used to promote progress for all and not only to track those who might be falling behind, this benefits learning and achievement for all students and strengthens feelings of professional success.
  • Don't limit data to just benchmarks and standardized tests.
  • Data need to be supplemented by other kinds of data, on other aspects of learning, and by knowledge of children and learning that is also based on shrewd experience and not easily quantifiable at all. 

As educators, we need to remember that data are only numbers on a page, or a spreadsheet on a screen. They only measure what has been tested. And people often only test what they can measure. The challenge for schools is to understand the data available and get behind the figures to explore the strengths and weaknesses they indicate about our students!

In short, we can't forget that there are faces behind the data. 

You might also like

The 21st Century Learner, Needs a 21st Teacher
14 Ways to Use Socrative as a Formative Assessment
ePortfolios: The Replacement of Standardized Testing

  1. Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Window Treatment

I participated in a professional development workshop today with Dr. Anthony Muhammad on the topic of school culture and change.  My biggest takeaway from this workshop was from an exercise that we did in the beginning of the session.  He asked everyone in my district to select the most influential subgroup to a healthy school culture from the following options:

  • Teachers
  • Building Leadership
  • District Leadership
  • State and Federal

From this exercise, we found that most everyone either voted for "Teachers" or "Building Leadership", only a handful of people selected "District Leadership" and no one selected "State and Federal" as having the most influence on school culture.  

After the exercise Dr. Muhammad told us that he received the same results from other districts across America.  He then posed the following question: "If educators believe that the State and Federal level have little to no influence on a healthy school culture, then why do we complain so much about it?"

This really made me stop and think about what we were complaining about, and why we were complaining in the first place.  By reflecting on this exercise, I realized that I had recently fallen into a trap of negativity regarding education in America.  I noticed myself becoming more interested in blogs and twitter posts regarding how America is failing our students.  In addition, I began to latch on to those ideas by writing posts of my own, which allowed me to vent my frustration and validate that I wasn't the only one out there.  However, this did nothing to help the situation, but make me feel better. I realized that my actions probably only continued to spread the negativity about education, which ultimately enables a toxic environment.  

From this day forward, I am going to make a valiant effort to shift my focus from a negative lens to a more positive and constructive lens.  I need to shift from a "Why is it that?" mentality to a "How might we?" mentality.  I need to shift from complaining about the problems in education, to seeking solutions with my professional learning community.  I need to shift from a descriptive and deflective approach to problems, to a reflective and prescriptive approach, which will promote healthy change and problem solving.  

As professional educators, we should focus on the things that we can control and dedicate ourselves to positively improving those things. In order to make a difference, let's stop looking through the window at the outside world and start looking at our own reflection. 

How many uses can you find for this Paperclip?

This blog post was Inspired by the @plan3t_t3ch post: What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Most of the time when we have a need or a problem, we try to find the best tool for the job. However, there are times when we have a tool and we try to find the best way to use it. This idea supports the argument that teachers should look at their technology tools and find creative ways to implement them into their instruction.

For example, if you are building a house and all you have to work with is a hammer, then you would try to find as many uses as you could for that hammer.  Similarly, if you are teaching students and all you have is a chalkboard, you will try to find as many uses for that chalkboard as possible.  Teachers who have access to limited technology must undergo this type of innovation in order remain an effective teacher.  I am suggesting that we as educators do more of this type of "out of the box" thinking with all of our technology tools.

When I evaluate technology tools I try to ask myself two questions:

  • Is this the best tool for the job? 
  • How many different uses can I find for this tool?

When I download an app, or buy a technology device, I always ask myself these questions to maximize the efficiency of my money and the tool.  I find that the majority of apps that I download are free and have multiple uses for learning.  Some of my favorite apps are Google Apps for Education, Evernote, Socrative, and Tweetdeck just to name a few.  These apps allow me to consume information, create content, collaborate with others,  and share my ideas and resources with the world. I always try to invest in tools and apps that are multipurpose in nature and are essential "go to's" for most jobs.  I continue to surprise myself by the many new ways I discover to use the tools and I often share these new discoveries using the exact same tools.

I would like to demonstrate an example of how a technology tool can progress into being used in many different ways.  Below is a picture from Wordle .

  1. Cool visual: When I first used Wordle I thought that it was a cool way to visualize words.  I used it for creating images and posters for different topics. 
  2. Infographic: As I started to use Wordle more and more, I began using it as an infographic.  I would ask my students, "What information can we gather from this Wordle? What words stand out? Why?
  3. Assessment tool: One day I thought to flip the way I was using Wordle.  I used to plug words into a Wordle to collect data on a particular topic.  Then I discovered that I could create a purposeful, Wordle and ask my students, "Based on the types and sizes of words, what question might have been asked to produce this Wordle?  This idea took Wordle to a whole new level of Blooms Taxonomy and I could begin using it as an assessment tool for critical thinking about content learned in class. 

Another example occured last year when I was conducting a formative assessment on internet research. I assigned my 5th grade students to visit A Google A Day to answer the following question, “Is there moss on all sides of the rocks where Aurelius Ambrosius is said to be buried?”  About a minute later, one boy raised his hand and said that he found the answer.  To my surprise, he showed me a 360 degree view of a Stonehenge rock that had moss on all sides.  I felt like my head exploded. I was so flabbergasted that a 5th grader was able to think so far outside of the box to use Google Street View to answer the question. I immediately shared his discovery with the rest of the class and they were all amazed! I learned to never underestimate the curiosity of a child, and we all learned a new application for Google Street View.

Do we as educators seek the best tool for the job.  Absolutely!  But it shouldn't stop us from trying to find the best instruction for the tool!  Because it's not about the technology, it's how you use it!

You might also like

It's Not About the Technology
My Brain: The Most Underrated App Off the Market


What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Let's Practice What We Preach

As educators, we preach that we need to facilitate student-centered learning via inquiry-based instruction to meet the needs of all of our learners.  Research shows us that we as human beings naturally prefer learning via authentic, self-directed, customized, first-handed, curiosity-driven, trial and error approaches. [1]

If we know this information to be true, then why do we insist on conducting professional development that is teacher-centered and lecture-based, rather than learner-centered and inquiry-based? Aren't educators learners too?

As I reflect back on my training session that I participated in today,  I am perplexed by how disinterested I was and how unhelpful the training session was.  This training session was a lecture-based webinar, where we as participating, professional educators were spoken to like kindergarteners.  Don't get me wrong, I love webinars when they are used appropriately.  But too often I see technology being used as a catalyst for teacher-centered instruction.  What matters most is not the technology itself, but what teachers and students do with that technology.

During the training session, we weren't given time to inquire, to explore, to sandbox, or to reflect.  All I wanted to do during the entire training session was to explore the tool, ask authentic questions that were important to me, and try to find the answers.  I wanted to start creating content, testing it, and sharing it in order to construct my own meaning, and apply my own learning and understanding.

The approach that was taken during the training session, was to demonstrate all of the features of the tool.  This is something I could have easily done on my own.  The content was not relevant to me, nor was it in the context of my school district.  We logged in under an "example" account and were directed to perform every action that the moderator performed, which only proved that were obedient and could follow directions.  Unfortunately, this sounds all too familiar to me.

We need to start practicing what we preach as educators.  Let's foster learner-centered, inquiry-based learning opportunities not only for our students, but also for our educators when we are sharing, collaborating, and leading professional development!

[Note: I do find the tool regarding this training session to be very powerful and very useful.  I was just dissatisfied with the implementation of the training session, provided by the company of the tool]

You might also like
  1. I Think We Have Education Backwards, Don't You?
  2. Don't Get Caught With An Open Container Violation

  1. http://willrichardson.com/post/31918393655/schools-vs-abundance

Sunday, October 21, 2012

It's Time to Shift or Get Off the Pot

It seems as if Education Reform is a hot topic right now.  That's because it is.  I would argue that in order to successfully prepare our students for their future, our education system needs a paradigm shift.

There are lots of ideas regarding "one" solution that will completely "revolutionize" education and fix all of our problems.   However, the reality is that there isn't a simple solution.  This is a difficult challenge.  In order to effectively reform education, there needs to be a completely new vision, a mission to carry out this vision, and accountability for all educators to uphold this vision.

There have been a lot of "silver bullets" that have been crafted by our government with the intention to "fix" education.  However, it seems as if these "silver bullets" are not only "blanks", but we seem to be running out of them. [2] One common solution has been to make a lot of improvements to the current education system which has been operating for hundreds of years.  However, I believe that most of the improvements that have been made are just ways of making a flawed system, a little bit better.  This is not an effective approach.

Public schools were created in a time around the Industrial Revolution, where it was essential to develop workers with a particular skill set.  This is what Paulo Freire refers to as the "banking concept of education". [1]  Overtime, this type of traditional school system hasn't really changed much.  There is a joke I once heard that I particularly like:  If Rip Van Winkle were to wake up today, he would have no idea where he was until he visited a school and he would say, "Oh, I know where I am, I'm in a school".  Rip Van Winkle would identify a school because in reality, not much has changed over the years.  Yes, there have been improvements and gains along the way, but the infrastructure and basic principles of the American public education system is essentially the same.

I am suggesting that the American "public" education system needs to be completely overhauled regarding its infrastructure, policies, pedagogy, standards, and assessments. In order to make this paradigm shift in education, I believe that the following things must change:
  1. Pedagogy needs to change from teacher-centered to student-centered
  2. Assessments (both locally, and nationally) need to be created that measure not only content knowledge, but workplace readiness skills.  These assessments are more difficult to create and are more time consuming to grade, but are a more accurate assessment of students demonstrating mastery.
  3. Students need to be participating in project-based learning where they get to explore their interests, ask their own questions, and practice their creative and critical thinking skills.
  4. Leadership needs to be distributed to include all stakeholders and shift from a "we" know what's best model, to a "you" know what's best model. In other words, leadership needs to change from "power over" to "power with". 
  5. There needs to be more emphasis on the process of learning.  Students need to practice "how to learn" rather than just focusing on "what has been learned".
  6. Policy makers need to have a background in education, coupled with teaching experience. This will ensure that both decisions and policies are made in the best interest of our students, not in our institutions. 
If you notice, all of these changes are in complete opposition to the current model of public education today.  We seem to have education backwards in this country and it will take the effort of all educators from the ground up to make this change happen!

It's time to shift or get off the pot!

You might also like

I Think We Have Education Backwards, Don't You?
Questions Have Always Been the Answer
There is More Than One Way to Climb a Tree
Don't Get Caught with an Open Container Violation

  1. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1970. 
  2. Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. Teachers College Press, New York, NY 2012.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Curiosity: The Simplest and Most Powerful Learning Technology

For those of you that missed today's webinar hosted by the Discovery Education Network (DEN), Dan Rothstein gave an amazing presentation regarding how to teach students to ask their own questions.  In his book, Make Just One Change, Dan offers the simplest and most powerful learning technology, "teaching students to ask their own questions".  After attending the webinar, I decided to type up some notes from the presentation to continue the sharing and learning.

Overarching goal
The goal of the webinar was to quickly learn to teach a simple skill that promotes curiosity.

Student Goals

Students will be able to:
  • Produce their own questions
  • Improve their questions
  • Strategize on how to use their questions
  • Reflect on what they learned and how they learned it

 In order to successfully achieve this goal, teachers must follow the criteria below.

[Note: Don’t give your students examples of questions as this limits creativity and authenticity]

  1. Design a question focus for students
  2. Students use the rules for producing question
  3. Students prioritize their top 3 questions
  4. Students report their top 3 questions

1. Question Focus
  • Ex: Students are not asking questions in the classroom.

2. Rules for Producing Questions
  • Ask as many questions as you can
  • Do not stop to answer, judge or discuss
  • Write down every question exactly as stated
  • Change any statements into question
3. Prioritize
  • Review your list of questions
  • Choose the three questions you consider most important
  • While prioritizing, think back to the Question Focus: Students are not asking questions in the classroom. 
[Note: Have students enter their Top 3 questions into a Google Form (recommended) so everyone can see]

4. Report
  • Questions you changed
  • Priority questions, and the sequence of your priority questions
  • Rationale for choosing priority questions
If performed correctly, this process will help students to develop authentic questions that will stimulate creativity, and critical thinking in all subject areas.

Explanation of Activities

This process works so well because it promotes multiple types of thinking.  As students participate in this process, they actively engage in these three types of thinking, in this sequential order:
  • Divergent Thinking (abstract thinking)
  • Convergent Thinking (critical thinking)
  • Metacognitive Thinking (reflective thinking)
For your consideration

What are advantages and disadvantages to asking closed-ended questions vs. open-ended questions?

One activity could be to practice changing questions from one type to the other (closed to open)
Example: What is the answer? to How did you get your answer?

A fun game to initiate this type of thinking is 21 Questions. The category could be content specific to get students asking questions in context.  Students could play the game first using closed-ended questions, then play again using open-ended questions.  They could reflect on how these types of questions yield different responses.

You might also like

Quesitons Have Always Been the Answer
Inquiring About Inquiry
Why Do I Have to Memorize This When I Can Just Google It?
The Evolution of Education: From Teacher to Co-Learner

Friday, October 19, 2012

Questions Have Always Been The Answer

"The dramatic shifts in how we work, learn and interact brought about by fast-moving technology and cultural change have made asking the right questions more important than ever for leaders trying to shape the world around them." [1]

"Virtually everything we know, experience, or enjoy has evolved over time, thanks to the power of asking the right questions.  In a sense, the exponential growth of the Internet has been driven to a great extent by our desire to ask questions and share our answers with each other." [1] We can thank Google for that!

In case some of you have been living under a rock since 1998, "Google is an American multinational corporation which provides Internet-related products and services, including internet search, cloud computing, software and advertising technologies. The company's mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". [4]  Thanks to Google, our students have the ability to learn about whatever they want, whenever and wherever they want, and to contribute to this shared learning environment for the benefit of others.

We ask questions every day.  Furthermore, we ask the questions that are important to us and we seek out those who can help us find the answers we need.  Unfortunately, in traditional models of education, teachers have supplied almost every question that students must find the answer to. "In our schools we stand in front of rooms full of kids and we say, "These are your questions, you all need to find the same answers and you'll be tested on Friday".  Why can't our students solve the problems that are important to them, at the times to which they find them important?" [3]

Research tells us that "Questions improve engagement and form connections between previous knowledge and current learning content". [1]  "People are most likely to take a deep approach to their learning when they are trying to answer questions or solve problems that they have come to regard as important, intriguing, or just beautiful. One of the great secrets to fostering deep learning is the ability to help students raise new kinds of questions that they will find fascinating. Sometimes that means beginning with the questions that are already on their minds and helping them see how those inquiries lead to new puzzles." [2]

Curiosity breeds a sense of fun, innovation, and excitement, and those good feelings bring out the best in us. "This kind of inquiry does not result in being driven by data or becoming a slave to external evidence.  Teachers as action researchers or inquirers use external and internally collected evidence to inquire into their practices, assess their effectiveness, identify the reasons for difficulties and also successes, and plan how to improve and make interventions as a result." [1]

We each have our own motivation to seek information. Our goal as educators should be to provide students with the spaces, tools, and resources that will allow them to take advantage of that inherent, intrinsic motivation, in the ways and time frames that make sense to each of them. [3]

I want to create learning environments that foster creative inquiry and provide students with the tools they need to answer their important questions and connect students to the appropriate communities to help them find those answers. [3]  Furthermore, I want to connect and collaborate with other educators  from around the world to create these same learning environments for all students so that the next generation in the 21st century workplace will continue to keep us moving forward as a civilization.

The best thing about inquiry is the more questions you have ... the more you know ... and the more you know ... the more questions you have. This cyclical pattern is the reason why questions have always been the answer to learning, leading, and innovating. I think its about time to get our students asking questions ... don't you?

You might also like

Curiosity: The Simplest Most Powerful Learning Technology
Inquiring About Inquiry
Why Do I Have to Memorize This When I Can Just Google It?
The Evolution of Education: From Teacher to Co-Learner


  1. Reason, Casey. Leading: A Learning Organization: The Science of Working with Others. 2010.
  2. Will Richardson on Important, Intriguing, Beautiful Questions:
  3. Google Teacher Academy UK 2012 Boone Langston:
  4. Wikipedia on the topic of Google: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Let's plant the seed of learning in our students!

Picture Source: http://essential-oils-for-hair.org/oils-for/
Students learn like plants grow!

Students have their own individual learning needs, just like plants have their own individual growing needs of water, sunlight and carbon dioxide. Just like plants, students need to seek their needs in different amounts of quality and quantity, not only to survive, but to thrive in their current and future environments.

For example, if there were 10 different types of plants in the same soil, in the same location, and they received the same amount of sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide everyday, then they would grow very differently. Some plants might thrive, some might die, and others might survive just fine. Now, if these plants were able to grow in their preferred type of soil, coupled with their preferred amount of water, sunlight and carbon dioxide, then they would all thrive in their "preferred" growing environment.  Therefore, if our students were able to learn via their preferred type of instruction, then they would, too, thrive in their "preferred" learning environment.

All students come to our classes equip with different needs. Some of these needs include individual learning styles, interests, readiness levels, and talents.  Teachers can't expect to deliver the same instruction to everyone and expect all students to succeed. Teachers need to accommodate to all of the needs and interests of students, and what better way to do that than by giving students opportunity and choice to fulfill their own individual learning needs.

I believe that students learn best when they are able to ask their own questions, find answers to their questions, and demonstrate what they have learned using their preferred learning style and interest. I think that empowering students to take ownership of their own learning is the best thing that we can do for them. Our world is changing and we need students to think differently, critically and creatively to solve tomorrow's problems. The only way to prepare our students for their future is by creating authentic learning opportunities for them to construct their own meaning, and apply their learning and understanding to their world.

Plants have to evolve in order to adapt to their changing environment ... and so do our students!

Let's plant the seed of learning in our students so that we can continue to thrive as a civilization.

You might also like

I Think We Have Education Backwards, Don't You?
There is More Than One Way to Climb a Tree
Don't Get Caught with an Open Container Violation

We Can't Forget Professional Development for Students

Picture Source:  http://agreatplace4kids.com/links.html
Yesterday, I lead a professional development training session with my Digital Learning Team regarding how to effectively use Schoology, which is our new online Learning Management System (LMS).  The training session was designed to help a team of tech-savvy teachers learn how to use Schoology, so that we can train the rest of our staff.  During the training session the following question was asked, "When will our students be trained to use Schoology?"

We often spend a lot of time talking about professional development for teachers, but for some reason, we don't spend enough time talking about professional development for our students.

"Teachers spend countless hours learning new tools to use in class, but do they set aside any time for students to learn these new tools as well? Too often, we assume that students know all about this stuff because they are young and hip to the whole technology thing. That's one of the worst assumptions a teacher can make about a student."  Assuming that students will immediately know how to use these technology tools, sets them up for failure. [1]

Ideally, we should offer time during the school day to train our students how to use the same technology tools that we expect our teachers to use with them.  However, the reality is that teachers simply can't afford to "give up" their instructional time to train students how effectively use these tools.  Teachers have so much content that their students must learn in order for them to perform well on state standardized tests.  Moreover, teachers have to plan rigorous and challenging lessons for all students, attend team meetings, and respond to other tasks and initiatives that are expected of them.

It is simply unfair to expect our students to use the same technology tools that we are asking of our teachers, without providing them with sufficient training. 

So, when do we find the time, and how do we train our students to use the same technology that our teachers do?

Below are three tips on making professional development for students a seamless part of your classroom.


Demonstrate appropriate use of the technology tool with students.  This can be for a few minutes in the classroom, or in a computer lab.  Demonstrating appropriate use will allow teachers to model the desired application of the technology tool. 


Let students explore the new technology tool.  Allow students to practice using the tool in class when time permits.  Encourage students to explore the tool at home, with their friends, and during scheduled times with teachers.  A great time to have students explore new technology tools is during a flexible block of time scheduled for each school day that accommodates the many different needs of students. 


Set high expectations for students.  Students need to know the specific features of the tool that they will be expected to use.  Moreover, students also need to know what will be expected of them in terms of behavior, frequency of use, and quality of use.

By integrating these three ideas into the classroom, students will get the support they need to effectively use new technology tools to enhance their learning and understanding of content knowledge in the classroom.

For your consideration

How do you help students with the new technology tools in your classroom?

[Note: some of the ideas from this blog post came from Edutopia blog post above]

Cross-posted on the Digital Learning Series

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Don't Get Caught with an Open Container Violation

In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire reveals and criticizes the “banking concept of education”.   When describing the “banking concept of education”, Freire metaphorically defines students as receptacles, or open containers of information. With regard to a female teacher, Freire writes, “The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are” [1]. In other words, Freire suggests that teachers make deposits of information, which the students obeyingly receive, memorize, and repeat. The more students regurgitate what has been deposited in them, the more successful they are. This is what I refer to as the "Open Container Violation" in education.

Unfortunately, this is the way that most public schools operate due to policies that enforce standardized testing of specific content knowledge as the only determining factor of measuring student achievement. The effect of this type of “drill and kill” instruction is when students are stuck in the middle of a problem, they don't try and figure out what makes sense to do next, rather, they try to remember what they are suppose to do. [2]

This model for education is the complete opposite of how we should be facilitating learning in our classrooms. However, the transition to move away from this model is difficult for teachers because research shows that this type of instruction yields high test scores on the standardized tests. This is a problem because teachers are currently being evaluated on how well their students perform on these tests, so naturally most teachers are defaulting back to this type of instruction.

I agree with Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) in their pursuit of transforming teaching in every school.  They argue that achievement matters and so does evidence, but the relentlessly serious pursuit of increases in the basic comprehension skills that can be demonstrated on standardized tests should never overshadow what gives teaching its mystery and majesty, what brings children joyfully into classrooms, what introduces them to interests that will absorb them for the rest of their lives and what lifts them back up when their lives have taken a tumble. [3]

So, how can we as teachers reverse this “banking concept of education”? We need to provide our students with opportunities to ask their own questions, research their own answers, construct their own meaning, and apply their own learning and understanding.  In short, shift from a teacher-centered classroom, to a student-centered classroom.

And don't get caught with an Open Container Violation!

You Might Also Like

I Think We Have Education Backwards, Don't You?
There is More than One Way to Climb a Tree!
Let's Plant the Seed of Learning in Our Students

  1. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1970. 
  2. http://www.joebower.org/2010/11/legacy-of-traditional-education.html?m=1
  3. Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. Teachers College Press, New York, NY 2012.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Garage Sale for Education

I recently participated in an activity titled, "Garage Sale for Education".  Not only was the activity fun, but it was extremely powerful.  The purpose of the activity is to think of educational items, in the context of a garage sale.  Participants are tasked with writing  these items on sticky notes and assigning them to different "garage sale" categories on a white board.

Items that might be in the garage sale could include values, programs, equipment, past events, social relationships, curricular ideas, teaching approaches, instruction, assessment, pedagogy, educational issues, conflicts, etc.  Arranging these different items into categories requires higher order thinking skills of Blooms Taxonomy, such as analysis and synthesis, which makes for a great formal assessment.

For this activity, the participants must categorize their "garage sale" items into the following categories:
  • For Sale or Barter
  • Not For Sale 
  • Recycled
  • Repair Shop
  • Garbage
  • Toxic Waste

Regarding the context of education for this activity, I made a suggestion to change "Not for Sale" to "Shared or Borrowed".  I made this suggestion because I think education is too competitive in America.  I believe that we as educators should let others borrow creative materials and share instructional strategies that work!  We are all teaching the same generation of students that will be running our country in the future, so why would we want to "short change" them?

Application for Teachers

This is a great activity for teachers to participate in because it allows them critically think about things in education that are of great value to them, things that might need improvement, and things that are of little to no value to them.  When teachers participate in this activity, they not only reflect on what is important to them, but they also get a chance to see what is important to other teachers. Alternatively, teachers also get a chance to see what others perceive as useless, or needs improvement.  Finally, teachers get the opportunity to discover similarities, differences, trends, and themes about their perceptions.

Teachers could perform this activity at team meetings, department meetings, faculty meetings and workshops.  Topics could be as broad as public education, or as narrow as individual or team practices.  The insight gained from this activity can be very powerful and valuable and might even help a group of teachers to make important educational decisions.

Application for Students

This activity can also be a great opportunity for students deepen their learning and understanding of content knowledge.  The great thing about this activity is that it can be applied to any subject at any grade level.  For example, students could participate in this activity to analyze World War II, dissect a short story, debate strategies for solving word problems, and cross-examine renewable energy resources.  The "garage sale" activity helps to spark discussion, identify major themes, and gain different perspectives from the diversity of its active participants.

For your consideration
  1. With regard to education, what would you sell? share? recycle? repair? trash?
  2. What are some other creative uses for this activity?
  3. How would you use this activity with a group of teachers?  With a group of students?