Tag Archive for pedagogy

Seahawks’ Keys to Success Work in Schools, Too.

The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks are known for their confidence, speed, and defense. They are also known for running the most innovative coaching program in the NFL. How radical are their techniques? Not very, if you are an educator. Many of the strategies that Seahawks coaches use to get the best from their players are generally practiced by good teachers.

Treat each player as an individual

Head coach Pete Carroll: “I wanted to find out if we went to the NFL and really took care of guys, really cared about each and every individual, what would happen?” This detailed ESPN Magazine article describes the many different ways that the Seahawks take care of their players, including individual “status profiles” and counselors who check in with players after a bad practice. Individualization recognizes that each person’s circumstance and pattern of strengths and weaknesses are unique.

The best schools are built around teacher-student relationships. Students are known as individuals, with their unique personalities, interests, and learning dispositions. Students feel valued because teachers know them well and follow their development through years of study. The smaller the school, the most personal this relationship can become. Student support services, through advisors, teachers, counselors, and learning resource specialists, provide a nurturing, personalized support structure for each student.

Allow players to be themselves

A number of the Seahawks players have strong personalities. Some previously toiled within a poor team climate or openly clashed with past coaches. Those players have thrived in the Seahawks’ supportive system. When Marshawn Lynch refused to speak with reporters, and Richard Sherman delivered his famous rant on national television, the Seahawks did not penalize them (as far as we know) but rather seized on the learning moment for the players. The Seahawks organization also did not rush to the defense of those players but rather allowed them to feel the consequences of their actions from the NFL and public opinion.

At the best schools, students feel able to fully be themselves within school. They don’t have to check part of their personality at the door or conform to a school’s social norms. The best schools enforce enough rules to provide structure and also leave plenty of space to students to express themselves. Some students express learning challenges in ways that might be mistaken for obstinance, laziness, or defiance. Skilled teachers cut to the heart of the issue instead of heavily penalizing the overt behavior.


Have Fun

Coach Pete Carroll is well known for showing “boyish” enthusiasm on the sidelines and in practice. He has also encouraged playful contests during practices, pick-up basketball games for his players, and has a DJ play music during practices. He makes training fun, as many good teachers make learning fun, because happy people tend to perform better. Positivity is also part of the plan. Carroll and the rest of the coaching staff recognize positive play and encourage players to think optimistically about their potential and future performance. The Seahawks play from a position of confidence and strength, not fear of consequences.

The best classrooms are energizing places of enthusiasm. Teachers share their own passion for the subject and for their students. They understand that the social environment of school is absolutely vital for kids, and that a positive, inclusive social climate can enhance, rather than inhibit learning.

Experiment and iterate

The Seahawks organization has been labeled “new age” for their integration of yoga and meditation into the practice routine. However, the most significant aspect of this for me is the habit of experimentation and iteration. The Seahawks are eager to give new techniques a legitimate chance, including yoga, nutrition, social events, counselors, and more.

Pete Carroll has refined his approach through the years. Remember that he started as an assistant NFL coach and was fired twice from head coach positions (Patriots, Jets). Carroll continued to develop the model while at USC and took four years to fully refine and implement it with the Seahawks before winning the championship this year. Throughout, he undoubtedly made countless small adjustments to the approach and no doubt will continue to do so in the future.

The best schools are constantly making small adjustments to their program to sustain excellence during rapidly changing times. All members of the community contribute ideas for iterative program improvement. Innovative schools learn by doing, trying new ideas and seeing how they go.

Celebrate success

Carroll is known for leaping into the air on the sidelines, hugging his players, and even jumping into practice himself. These unabashed celebrations of success fill his players with the confidence that the head coach believes in them and recognizes their accomplishments.

The entire Seattle community, perhaps the entire northwest region, has joined in the celebration. Huge numbers of Seahawks fans attended the game. Crowd noise gave the Seahawks something of a home field advantage during the big game. An estimated 500,000 people will descend on the celebration parade downtown today.

Community celebration is self-reinforcing. Healthy schools recognize moments of success through community celebration.

New Year’s Resolution

My New Year’s resolution for this blog is to write about instruction more explicitly. When talking about technology, let us describe in detail the instructional environment in which that technology is being used. What pedagogical strategies do the teachers use? What prior experiences and habits of mind do the students bring to the learning environment? How are the students demonstrating learning, and how are teachers assessing and documenting that? Discussions of instructional technology are more meaningful when embedded within specific instructional contexts.

Happy New Year to you!

Experience and Education

We read Dewey’s Experience and Education first in our graduate program. I recently had two experiences that reminded me of the necessity to make authentic student experience central in the design of a educational environments.

We introduced fourth grade students to web research with a simple activity. Ask them to find ten discrete facts on the web using Google Search. We modeled good search techniques in class and provided two paper resources. One listed the ten facts to find, and the other described a cyclical method for refining search terms in order to improve results. We talked about authority of websites and how to scan a web page for content. This introductory lesson went really well. Students learned the protocol, proceeded through the activity, and found the facts.

More recently, students applied this knowledge in a plant research project. Each assigned one plant they had seen in the Oregon woods, the students searched for the taxonomic name for the plant, its ideal growing environment, nutritional value, average height, and other facts. Students took much longer to find this information. Many got stuck partway through and needed help.”I can’t find the scientific name!” “Where can I find ‘food value’?”

Why the difference? The second activity was more authentic and experiential. Students were engaging with real information about plants they had found and held and searching for them on the “real” web. These searches had not been tested in advance to compile a worksheet. Rather, students had to understand what a taxonomic name actually is, rather than look for the term “scientific name.” They had to be flexible and understand that “nutritional value” or comments on why an animal might eat these plants made up the “food value” they were seeking. Charting their own course through an authentic environment produced far more useful learning than completing a structured, finite activity.

The Haiti earthquake and resulting humanitarian disaster are very present in our minds these weeks. We are exposed to frequent reports from news sources and support our students’ efforts to raise money and awareness for Haiti. However, all of this does not compare when one’s colleague relates her stories of past trips to Haiti, nervous attempts to contact friends post-quake, and informs the school community that her doctor husband has just left for Haiti with a medical team.

She writes:

It is with those computers that were donated by CG and the Rotary, [my son’s] help, albeit small, in setting them up that has allowed some of the connections and relationships with others around the world. The people of Matenwa are still able to communicate and receive email/news, which is amazing. It is so important to them to know others care and are trying to help.

In the long-term, these experiences are without a doubt more “educational,” but they are messy, difficult to manage, and complicated to assess. We should show the confidence to accommodate the short-term disorder and uncertainty that accompany kids’ struggles with authentic content in order to foment powerful learning.

Never mind the toys

Oh, how many toys exist to consider.

Kindle! Nook! Reader!
iPhone! Droid! Nexus!
Ning! Twitter! Facebook!
Netbook! Apple tablet! XO tablet!
Smart Board! Active Board! Wiimote!
Google Apps! Chrome!

Education technology blogs appear obsessed with tracking the latest gadgets. Certainly, new product announcements provide a rich source of content for writers. It is easier to reflect on the latest company news and speculate on its effect on education than to consider the core question of education. How does one design rich learning opportunities that will make the greatest difference for students?

Face it: most of the devices above won’t make a bit of difference to teaching and learning. Let’s stop talking about the devices and start talking about students, teachers, and learning environments. I think Warlick has got it right. So does Larry Cuban. Tom Frizelle, too.

Some of our teachers have also got it right. Suspicious about education technology, they tend to shy away from trainings and conversations about computers in the classroom. It’s too bad, because ed tech professionals deserve our reputation for relentless optimism about new technologies. It’s up to us to sing a new tune: all about teaching and learning, all the time.

Let’s promote with our teachers only the technologies that show real promise and stick with them for at least a period of years. Focus on how a technology integrates with an existing, well-designed learning unit or activity. A little skepticism about new technologies may also help demonstrate our ability to think critically.

Forget the new toys. Let’s think deeply about our students, curriculum, and pedagogy.

All Kinds Of Minds in action

You may know the whole-brain teaching philosophy called All Kinds of Minds. A majority of our teachers attend professional development days to learn this brain-based approach to teaching students, one part of our approach to progressive education. Teachers learn to construct learning activities that work for different types of learners. Students learn to identify their own learning strengths and weaknesses and appreciate the unique set of qualities that each person possesses. Such an approach gives students responsibility for their own learning. In the following video, second grade students share what they have learned about their own skills and brains.

The video also serves as a fine example of teacher use of technology to share student learning with the school community. This second grade teacher collected media, produced this video, and presented it to parents without requesting any assistance from our IT department. Well done!

Technology – Pedagogy

I just finished facilitating a session that aimed to make explicit connections between technology activities and specific pedagogical theories of learning. It went okay — we struggled a bit with the challenge of speaking about pedagogy in sufficiently specific terms, in the context of technology activities. Two or three people invoked multiple pedagogical constructs for a single technology example. While this might authentically reflect the real complexity of actual classroom work, I also feel that we would benefit from at least narrowing the conversation to one pedagogical construct at a time in order to truly understand the reason for its effectiveness.

poster signup
Participants expressed interest by posting stickies under the session description.

Here are our notes from today’s session:

Pedagogical Constructs
– Behaviorism: rewards, grades, stars, stickers, reinforcements
– Cognitivism: intellectual complexity, Socratic method, programming, debating
– Constructivism: building meaning based on experience, building knowledge base, socially, based, Montessori, project-based learning, not one authority
– Connectivism: working in a highly connected environment, using your network, blogging, lurking on backchannel (sidebar convos, perhaps) chat
– Engagement, joyful participation
– Differentiated Instruction
– Inquiry model, studio
– Understanding by Design
– Universal Design for Learning: multiple representations


Internet Safety — 5th and 6th graders
– Lecture, poster or comic about one safety rule
– Build a web page and publish it, demonstrating that they can follow the rule
– Connectivism, Understanding By Design: project is available for any student to be successful with, every student completes the task; more than constructivist, because of group work, connected to all teachers, working with and supporting each other

Art/music collaboration: history of silent films, background in nonverbal communication, drama, what it takes to create a movie
– students created storyboard, ideas for how they would create a silent movie
– how can we make this more open to different kinds of students? break students into groups? not so product driven?

Podcast project with ninth grade
– vignettes, write about an experience in their lives, added music and sound effects
– extraordinary podcasts in terms of writing and expression, correcting themselves as they were speaking it aloud
– one kid in particular related his experience with parents getting divorced
– very personal, not shared outside of the class
– differentiated — being able to express themselves in a different way
– kids who had decided they were not good writers
– read vignettes written by other people

Digital Storytelling — fifth grade
– kids had a personal narrative, Macs, iMovie, Garageband
– music, sounds effects, parents made up the audience
– blogged and podcasted so that relatives far away and teachers could also enjoy it
– behaviorism: rewarded for their work
– constructivism, engagement, personal narrative
– can add to story by including random elements, discussing how that impacts the story
– using photos may not be easier, especially if gathering other peoples’ images
– visual literacy: how are images interpreted? How do you tell a story well with images?

Google Tools: teachers investigating tools themselves and thinking about how they could use them in their classrooms, present the tool to the rest of the class
– larger group response and feedback to the tool
– greater opportunity for creativity — more ideas about how tools could be used

VoiceThread: bridging podcasts and vodcasts
– focus on the up-front preparation before you get to the technical tool
– could also have value to throw kids directly into the tool to explore it (e.g., Scratch)
– teachers didn’t think that one would be allowed to submit a research paper as a VoiceThread
– when is the purpose of the lesson exploration? (especially when it is something new). No matter how teacher-directed an activity is, learners find the opportunity to explore.
– exploration is highly constructivist — building your own representation of the tool based on your toying around with it
– power of exploration when there is a direction to it: e.g., “build a house” “build a bicycle”. Need to have some kind of goal, allow the time to explore, fewer projects, more time per project.
– Able to accept as research once you set the bar high for product expectations

Simple repetition: elementary school students record own stories and then, on their own, decide to re-record over and over in order to improve them.