It’s always important to remember that our students listening skills are in need of constant development. I’m a huge fan of Listenwise and Flocabulary, but I recently came across the app, Leela Kids. The app is full of podcasts organized by age group. These podcasts are organized by age group and by category.
Elena Maria Del Barra: Señor, uh, Miller, how long have you been selling laboratory equipment?
Rollin Hand: Oh, long enough to know that I can sell you.
This year my classroom will be run like an RPG. A lot of it has to do with millions of hours of video game play, but a fair amount goes to Rollin Hand. The classic television series, “Mission:Impossible” has influenced the way I have conducted my classes for a while. As I embraced design thinking more and more, “Mission: Impossible” provided a blueprint for planning versus a plan and solution seeking behaviors. It was Landau’s character (Seasons 1-3) that is in many ways my patron saint.
Rollin Hand is such a great character because his function in the Impossible Mission Force is generally to be someone else. Whether through use of make up and prosthetics or by assuming another identity, Hand slips effortlessly between personas, convincing even most hardened counter espionage agents that he was the “Real McCoy.”
But what does this have to do with education?
1. A “Confidence” Scheme
To solve problems, one must have the confidence necessary that one can find a solution. To achieve my goal, I have to believe it. In show after show, Rollin walks into certain doom with air of confidence that he’s not playing a character, HE IS THE CHARACTER.
Many times it’s necessary to think like someone else in order to ascertain possible answers to questions. Students (and teachers) should be comfortable enough to know that thinking like “myself” might not solve the problem, but if I were to think like Maryam Mirzakhani, Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Ken Burns, I might be more successful. Having the “masks” available can result in divergent thought.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon educators to offer a myriad of stratagems, archetypes, and “characters” to choose from when working in class. There is no one way to reason through a solution. Concepts like challenge based learning, project based learning, and design thinking are “open worlds” where students can be free to try on different masks in order to be successful.
This also frees us from the “I’m not good at blank ” excuse. That’s great that you’re not good at math. Let’s put on our Mirzakhani mask and try this thing, again.
2. The Mask Should Match the Task
This also forces students (and teachers) to consider the “mask for the task.” Which character do I need to become in order to be successful in this particular enterprise? Why would I choose to think like this particular person as opposed to another? Could I take different aspects of different people in order to find solutions?
The metacognition is oft mentioned, but undervalued. Having conversations and structures in place that organize thought processes in classrooms is imperative if students are to see themselves as successful.
3. Following the Leader
Everything’s a remix. Season 4 of Mission:Impossible opens with Landau and Barbara Bain absent. Landau is replaced by Leonard Nimoy’s Paris, a character with a similar bent for disguise. He performs the same function.
When we see people employ a strategy that works, we all want to try it. Having students observe how others work, converse with one another, and employ new strategies allows all stakeholders in your classrooms to access the strategies that lead to triumph. Observing how a peer uses the “right mask” for the job, makes it less of a competitive unapproachable task, and more of one that able to be grasped.
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Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Einstein (?)
But in describing those gifts, White said that blacks ”like to sing and dance,” while whites ”know how to tap into money.” He said that Hispanic people ”are gifted at family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and he can put 20 or 30 people in one home.”
Like Mr. White’s comments, the quote seems to imply that one is ‘naturally’ abled. The talents that one has have been bestowed rather than developed. You can see the rather troubling place that can lead us from Mr. White’s words.
Stay in Your Box
The quote, while well-meaning, seems to be saying that one is given a rather limiting set of skills that one should stick to. One should not challenge the status quo. Climb a tree? Nah, you’re a fish. Stick to what you’re good at. Do fishy things, but don’t try to see beyond your pond. That’s dangerous thinking. Plus, you’ll fail. Absolutely you’ll fail. Even though you’ve never tried, you’ll fail because fish don’t climb trees.
Change “fish” to black, poor, female, ELL, or IEP and that quote gets very grimy. Very grimy. It’s the stuff that eugenicists dream of. It’s the ultimate “stay in your box because you don’t have the talents to do that” statement.
The Excuse Matrix
It also gives the “fish” an excuse for not achieving. I can’t do certain things because I’m just a fish. I didn’t do my homework because I’m a fish. I can’t do math because I’m a fish. Learn computer science? Fish don’t do that. Make movies? I’m a fish remember. Write a symphony? Fish don’t do music.
Teachers could also use this philosophy to deny opportunities to students. I’m not going to teach script writing and movie making to these fish. It’s not their talent. I’m not going use certain tools with these fish. Fish don’t do (insert skill). Fish in this neighborhood don’t do well doing (insert skill) so I’m not going to present it to them.
All Talents are Equal?
This quote is pretty Orwellian. Essentially, all talents are equal, but some talents are more equal. It infers that some talents are more desirable than others and those that have those talents are therefore more valuable. It creates a hierarchy that is “natural” and eliminates the possibility of dreaming. It’s pretty literal. Fish aren’t birds. Birds aren’t lions. Lions aren’t hippos. “Tapping into money” and being able to “turn a television into a watch” seem like a lot better talents than fitting 30 people in a house to me. However, you get what you get and don’t have a fit, right? There ain’t no changing. If you’re a cockroach, get used to scurrying when the lights come on because it’s not going to change.
We have to teach fish that they might not be able to climb trees, but they can build jetpacks. According to science, all life started in the seas. We’re all fish. Some of us we’re told by others that another reality was possible so we evolved legs and lungs and left the pond. This is what we need to teach students. You don’t have to stay a fish.
We need a coherent curriculum that is knowledge based so that students are able to very rapidly eliminate the achievement gap. We need students to be given the opportunities to not only learn the rudiments of reading and math, but also computer science, multimedia creation, science, arts, and engineering. We need to allow far more exploration and collaboration in schools so that no one sees themselves as a fish that can’t climb trees but as a school of fish that push each other to evolve into whatever they’d like.
In the first part of this series, I talked about podcasts, systems, and Omnifocus. After that maybe you decided to start listening to a podcast or two (Cortex, perhaps?). You purchased Omnifocus or some other app in which to dump your thoughts so they aren’t occupying your brain and you started thinking about how to improve your systems.
I suggest bookmarking these posts and coming back to them from time to time for both my own shameless self-promotion and for a couple of other reasons. One reason is to ground yourself and get back to basics when things get crazy. Second, you might not be ready for the next step. Perhaps it’s been difficult getting into the habit of inboxing or remembering to capture your paper memos and put them into your cloud storage of choice. If you’re looking for a quick overview of Google Drive, check out the 60 Second Tech Tip video I made on it.
Today I want to talk about timers. As teachers, we rely heavily on them. I always struggled with buying enough of them. I was glad to have iPads for my classroom because every iOS device and probably most mobile devices come with a timer built in. You can even just type, “20-minute timer” into the Google search bar and it will give you the option of starting a timer on the search results page.
There are two timer apps in particular that I’m fond of: 30/30 and Due.
30/30 is great for sticking to a routine. This can be useful if you think you waste time getting ready in the morning, you want to do HIIT at the gym or if you do rotating centers in your classroom. The app is created by Binary Hammer. Check out their website or download it and give it a try.
Due is another Grey/roommate recommendation (I’m starting to wonder if they’re just the same person). Due is actually a reminders/to-do list app, but the timers are where the power lies. You can create custom timers and when they go off, you can snooze them for a minute. At which time, they’ll pop up and remind you again.
I used to set a stopwatch to track the amount of time I did something. When I was done doing the thing, I would record the time on the stopwatch. The problem with this was I would often get distracted or forget that I set the stopwatch going in the first place. With Due, I make it a set amount of time and it’s a countdown instead of a count up. I find this helps me stay focused because I know that at the end of the countdown, I’m going to take a break (see: Pomodoro technique).
Another app that I’ll give a quick mention to is Coffee Break. I like that Coffee Break puts my screen to sleep after a designated time. I have a tendency to keep working even though the timer goes off. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes I forgo my break as a result which is no good for productivity and focus. Another reason I love Due, it keeps track of how long it’s been since your timer stopped. Thus, I know if I’ve spent an extra two or ten minutes working. Sometimes it’s amazing how quickly time goes by.
This whole timer thing might feel too regimented and stressful, but it goes back to reducing or eliminating resistance. If I don’t have to think about what comes next, it stresses me out a lot less.
Do you use a timer system? What systems have you tweaked or put in place in order to eliminate or reduce resistance and stress in your life? Share in the comments below.
Systems keep you focused and eliminate resistance.
In General Purpose Problem (Cortex Episode 6), Grey said, “When something is not working well in your life just try harder is always the wrong answer. You need to figure out how to make the system better.”
One way to reduce resistance is to reduce choice. Then, practice until it happens automatically.
When you get a piece of paper at a meeting, what will you do with it? If you don’t have the habit in place, you’ll get back to your room, desk, or office, toss it on the table and it will slowly grow to an untenable monster pile that consumes your soul.
Once you decide on digital cloud storage that is accessible anywhere, commit to putting everything there. Reinforce the habit. For the one minute version of how to get started, check out the 60 Second Tech Tip on our YouTube channel (subscribe while you’re there).
If you know that the response to getting a piece of paper is to take a photo, store it in your digital storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, whatever) and then throw the paper away, that pile never comes into being and then, later on, when you’re looking for it, you can find it.
A word about flash drives:
They’re great as a redundancy, but not as a primary storage place. If the flash drive gets destroyed because you stop fast and a gallon of milk crushes it, your plans are gone and there’s nothing you can do about it. The same applies to saving only to your computer. Remember: Digital storage should be accessible from anywhere, not just your devices.
Practice with low-risk material first.
Take photos of pigeons and things you don’t care about. Save them to your cloud storage and then delete them later. This will be low risk enough that if you mess up, you won’t be upset if you make a mistake and lose information. That’s a good habit to get into anytime you’re trying something new. The more you’re willing to take risks and try new things the better you’ll get.
Go sign up or set up your cloud storage space. Play with it. Save some pigeons there. Pay attention to areas where you can eliminate resistance and create habits of automaticity.
It’s that time again. Back to school. While parents might be posting photos of them frozen in a joyous pose next to their miserable children, teachers are gearing up to run the gauntlet.
One key to success and maintaining sanity for both teachers and the self-employed (because teachers are pretty much entrepreneurs, but that’s another post), are systems. We have systems in our classrooms for our students, but don’t extend that kind of care and thought to our own work.
I’ve posted before about my bullet journal and a few of the tools I use in my workflow. That has since expanded and explosively so since focusing on working for myself and my roommate introducing me to an amazing podcast.
Cortex is a podcast on Relay FM. For those unfamiliar with podcasts, they’re like radio shows for the modern age. You can download them in a variety of places including iTunes. My podcast app of choice is Overcast. Another introduction my roommate made for me ages ago. Overcast is great because it skips over silences so it moves the podcast along without speeding up the hosts and you can share links to specific points in the podcast and listen to them via the browser.
Podcasts are also a great way to build your knowledge of a topic or find new things to bring into your classroom or systems. Here at Intelligent Hoodlums we’re big fans of bringing in work and strategies from other areas (see: Design Thinking, advertising, marketing, etc). You can listen to them in the car like books on tape and make the most of a long commute. The Quick and Dirty Tips network was a favorite of mine for a long time.
Back to Cortex…
Cortex is a podcast hosted by Myke Hurley, one of the co-creators of Relay FM, and CGP Grey, a former physics teacher, and current YouTuber. One of the things that drew me to this podcast, aside from my roommate’s recommendation, was that Grey used to be a teacher. I was curious, being someone who is working on transitioning from teaching to freelancing, how he made the transition and what systems he uses to keep his fantastically produced videos on track.
Also, I thought about a conversation I had with the first year teacher I mentored last year. At the end of the year, I asked her what was her biggest challenge and she said keeping track of everything – forms, dates, times, lessons, kids, all of it.
Systems automate. They take the decision out of it and, one of the things Grey said in an early episode that really stuck with me, they eliminate (or at least reduce) resistance.
As a teacher and freelancer, I feel like I always have 1,000 things rattling around in my head, “Did I turn in that form?,” “What’s the deadline for that conference application?,” “When is my doctor’s appointment?,” “Get index cards at the office store,” and always, “Did I forget something?” I’ve looked at a lot of productivity strategies and one that I’ve really stuck with comes from GTD, Getting Things Done.
Have a place to dump your thoughts.
Some people call it inboxing. Whatever you call it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that as soon as you have a thought like, “I need to make an appointment for the dog at the vet,” you have a place to put it.
Let me get out of the way that it’s $40 which is the most I’ve ever paid for any app, but for the peace of mind it gives me, it’s WELL worth it. My roommate does too. He swears by it and, as you’ve noticed, his recommendations tend to be pretty good (this is how I spent 3 weeks on the side tangent of binge watching Southland because we watched a clip from the movie End of Watch because we were talking about how Michael Peña is the best). I’ve used A LOT of to do apps – wunderlist, errands, any.do, todoist, handle, remember the milk, reminders, Google keep, glass planner, pendo, Evernote…
As I’ve used them more and more, I add to the list of features I want. Omnifocus has all the features I’m looking for and it can be as basic or complex as you want. You can add context to tasks so if it’s something you have to do at school, you can just look at that list, if it’s something you need at the store, you can just look at those things. It makes adding items and shifting dates SO easy.
For now, I’m going to stop. Go listen to episode 1 of Cortex and check out Omnifocus. Omnifocus can seem overwhelming at first. Take the time to read through the pre-loaded tasks that walk you through the app. If you’re interested, I can go into more detail or make a walkthrough video on the Hoodlums YouTube channel of how Omnifocus can help keep a teacher organized. Really take stock over the next week of what systems you can put into place for yourself to eliminate resistance.