Summer Reading 2016

During the school year I pine for time to read books thoroughly. So, I make up for it during the summer. Below are the books I have read this summer, and a brief comment about the book.

Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nurture Creative Talent by Nolan Bushnell (@NolanBushnell)- A very fun and insightful read about creativity and innovation in the tech industry from a video game and industry giant. His 52 “pongs” are easy to read but are very deep when considering how to encourage creativity in an organization.

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About by Paul Collier- I teach IB Economics, and I chose this as my second book to read this summer so I could better understand and relate Development Economics to my students. Dr. Collier not only outlines the “traps” of the countries of the bottom billion, but he also identifies why G8 countries should care. He also offers very insightful recommendations to improve the situation. More aid is not usually the answer, but that is the only tool most policy-makers use. An easy book to digest, even if you do not understand economics. The implications of his work are astounding for international policy-makers now and for the future.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson (@StevenBJohnson)- I finally got to the end of this book. It took me more time not because it was not a good read, but because my summer got more involved than I had planned. This book is different than a typical “innovate-in-your-business-now” book. It instead highlights trends that have spurred innovation from the printing press through Twitter. Especially if you enjoy the history and record of scientific breakthroughs, this book will complement your knowledge of innovation well.

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary- My boys and I read books together in the summer. I like to encourage longer chapter-book reading, and I picked this up having thought I read it in elementary school. If I did, I long forgot the story and the style it was written in. The ending is quite mature in how the main character deals with the divorce of his parents.

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt- One of my students picked up a free copy of this book at a school conference and handed it to me. It is certainly a good read for those interested in Economics and those with a desire to read through some mucky detail. Written in 1946, it also provides a nice post-WWII view of classical economics. More modern economists will find reason to dispute some of his claims, but reading this book will prove insightful into economic though and the implication on all stakeholders.

Henry and the Paper Route by Beverly Cleary- Another book my boys are urging me to read with them.

Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell- In progress.

 

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You Matter and United Way’s The21 Campaign

At 6AM EDT Friday morning, I got the chance to prove to the world Angela Maiers’s belief, “You are a genius, and the world needs your contribution.”

On Friday, June 21, the United Way (@unitedway) ran a 21 hour event called The 21. Together with Google, “The 21 is a twenty-one hour broadcast of live programming in support of worldwide education… This first of its kind event will feature celebrities from the sports world, entertainment, leaders in the education field, and also everyday heroes who are making a difference in their communities through education… Think of it as a telethon reinvented for the digital age, except our goal isn’t to get money, it’s to recruit 21,000 people to pledge to become volunteer readers, tutors or mentors.”

Angela Maiers, co-founder of the Choose2Matter campaign, invited myself, three of my students, and five other professionals, to speak to the United Way and the global community about the Choose2Matter campaign. Angela came to the Downingtown STEM Academy in June and challenged my students to use their genius to change the world. Since that visit, she has been working tirelessly to spread the message of how successful Downingtown STEM Academy students were, and why this is important for public education.

The embedded video is segment grabbed from United Way’s YouTube Video, and slightly edited by me. Make sure you check out my students’ contribution (after a small technology glitch) around 50 minutes.

United Way #the21 from Justin Staub on Vimeo.

Angela Maiers’s town hall forum on the importance of her #YouMatter campaign in the global fight to improve education worldwide.

Below are a few of the key inspirational points I pulled from the video:

“[You Matter] is an “end run” around the school system.” -Mark Moran

“You are a genius, and the world NEEDS your contribution.” -Angela Maiers

“[You Matter] is not about you, it’s about us.” -Shawn Murphy

“Putting people of all ages under pressure to stretch is awesome.” -Ted Coiné

“[Some people] don’t respect children because they are young, and they don’t know anything. We have to fill their brains with knowledge. You know what? Memorizing stuff is not what school should be for. It should be for sparking their creativity.” -Ted Coiné

“If you’re telling me you want to change, get uncomfortable. It will feel different. Trust me, you will enjoy it.” -Tim McDonald

“WE is smarter than ME.” -Angela Maiers

“Those who don’t adapt will have someone else adapt them.” -Mark Moran

Special thanks to the following participants in the video:

An Age of Mass Connectivity

One year ago today, I ventured into the unknown social media world to develop my professional presence and expand my career potential. To date in one year, I’ve tweeted 6,889 times to 1,194 followers. In one year, I’ve posted 65 blog posts, visited 5,652 times by individuals in 76 different countries. We truly are in an Age of Mass Connectivity.

In the 20th year anniversary of Wired, contributors were asked to catalogue the previous twenty years in computer and technology. For his contribution, Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly) asked those working in startups in the Bay Area about their dreams. What follows are some of their thoughts:

“The next big thing will be a new way of deciding what we innovate.” –Michael Glass, Scribd

“We are in a creative revolution of how people work.” –David Albrecht, Crittercism

“This is the age of mass connectivity.” –Santosh Jayaram, Daemonic Labs

“We are widening our collective eye.”

What does this mean for educators, though?

As a friend of mine said,

Education needs to join the Age of Mass Connectivity. In the past year, spurred by Will Richardson’s (@willrich45visit to my school where he urged me to start blogging, I did just that. I also started chatting on Twitter more. I engage in weekly Twitter education chats. Social Studies chat on Monday nights from 7-8PM EDT (#sschat), Educational Technology Chat (#edtechchat) on Monday nights from 8-9PM EDT, Education Chat (#edchat) on Tuesdays from 7-8PM, Parent-Teacher Chat (#ptchat) from 8-9PM EDT, and Saturday Chat for educators (#satchat) on Saturdays from 7:30-8:30AM EDT. I obviously cannot do them all, every week, but I engage as much as I can. This connectedness bore fruits in the past school year.

Because of my social media presence, I connected with New York Times bestselling author, Kenneth C. Davis (@kennethcdavis). He Skyped with my students twice in October, he was so impressed that he came to my school in March.

During the same time, I connected with Dr. Jeff Goldstein, Center Director for the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

After a series of connections, Dr. Goldstein, who leads the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, came to my school to announce the winning team sending their experiment to the International Space Station in November.

Today, my students were in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, receiving official citations for their accomplishment.

Then, because of my willingness connect, I attended EdCamp Philadelphia and met Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers). Then Angela came to my school and encouraged my students to change the world. I don’t doubt they will.

Educators need to connect. In just one year, I’ve managed to do more for my students than I did in the first nine years. Connections help break down walls, walls that in the 21st century are only good at keeping the bugs out. We live and teach in an Age of Mass Connectivity. Reach out and explore. As Dr. Jeff Goldstein says, it’s only with leaving your comfortable place (your home) that you will gain a new perspective of where you are. If you do not press into the “unknown” of a connected classroom, you will never know what possibilities lie on the horizon. Make it your goal this summer to connect. Share this post with someone who is reluctant. Share your experiences. Find out what happens when you stretch to new horizons.

Mindset Summer Book Study

Two years ago I first read Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Every summer I re-read her work and consider how it will change my professional practice. Because of my growing connectedness and sharing via Twitter, I have been asked to lead a Mindset book study this summer. So, here are the details I have worked out so far. Please add comments to this post or to the Schoology group if you want to adapt how we run our book study.

Who: I will moderate most book study sessions. I have no specific experience except having taught in a growth mindset school for two years and putting Dweck’s ideas into practice. I am privileged to work with colleagues who have all read the book and embody the growth mindset.

What: Twitter chats (#mindset13) and reflective discussion posts via Schoology. Create a free account and join our group discussion page.

When: June 24 – August 12 2013 with weekly Twitter chats on Mondays at 3PM EDT.

Where: On Twitter, using the hashtag #mindset13. Also, collected reflections will be posted on an open Schoology group. Please create a free account and join us there.

If you have questions, please add them to the comments below. See you during our Chapter 1 discussion on Monday, June 24, at 3PM EDT!

Dare to change the world

On May 18, 2013, I attended an education “un-conference” called EdCamp in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the movement. At the Saturday conference, I met Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers), who spoke with passion about her believe in student genius. Many educators at the conference were excited about her ideas, but when challenged to implement the vision in their schools, many recoiled. They asked, “What about the standards?” “What is your business plan?” “What if my administration says no?” Perhaps because I am daring, bold, or simply because I like a challenge, I raised my hand and asked to those who doubted- “Why would anyone stand in the way of your students daring to change the world?” I said yes.

The rest of the weekend, I spoke with Angela many times in person and on the telephone. By Monday, I had enough confidence to bring Angela’s and my idea to a set of innovative teachers at the Downintown STEM Academy. These teacher always focus my ambition and provide checks of reality. After a few moments, they agreed we should give this a shot.

I followed by emailing the Headmaster of the school and the superintendent of the district, asking for support for our plan—I wanted Angela Maiers to come to my school for a two-day workshop in the last week of the school year, AFTER students had finished finals. The biggest fear was whether students would show up. They gave me the latitude to continue, and I put aside the doubt and proceeded.

I believe it was Thursday, May 23, that Angela Skyped with some students of mine to discuss the possibility of coming to the Downingtown STEM Academy. The group of about 30 students were very excited. A colleague of mine and I then planned out the two-day event on Friday, May 24. The dates are important because this happened very quickly.

Taking a pause—many times in this process I doubted it would work. Would students show up? Would all teachers support it? Would Angela’s visit be worthwhile? Would Angela be disappointed? Could I organize support from all stakeholders? Would I disappoint them? If I had stopped at any of these breaking points, none of this would have happened. Public education needs risk-takers. Breaking barriers and making school better for your students requires daring and risk-taking. It would have been easy to quit, but my growing network of support kept me going. Voices joined together and said, “Keep going.”

Angela came to my school on June 3 and 4, and still on my way to school on Tuesday, June 3, I had doubts. What if the students didn’t buy in to her vision?

I have a personal belief that students excel with less boundaries; they will use creative, curious, innovate, and investigative means to reach new plateaus of knowledge. Teachers should support these endeavors, not block them with standards, tests, and requirements in schools. Would students buy in to my vision? I had no proof.

Well, Angela has already posted her view of the two-day workshop. More posts are coming.  Below is the proof- in two short days, these are just a few of the organizations my with which my students will change the world.

Do not underestimate the innovation of your students. Do not dare to take risks. Do not say no because everyone else is. Believe you can make an impact and you will. You matter.


Bikes with Benefits (@BikesBenefits)- Supporting emergency medical relief to isolated portions of third world countries. Visit our Facebook page. [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShvPMyZi-4o%5D

Brighter Days (@BrighterDaysOrg)- Raising money, raising awareness, saving lives. Taking suicide prevention to the next level. [youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA0udPIOBk8%5D

Cancer Matters

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r82qAksJCRY%5D

Lunchbox Notes (@YouMatterLBN)- Lunchbox Notes sets forth on a mission to create a world where smiles are genuine and happiness isn’t rare. A world where thoughts count and actions matter.

Need2Lead (@Need2Lead)- Providing inner city boys and girls, ages 11-15, with a friend and mentor who teaches what leadership truly is.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA59JEHOyTg%5D

Valour Organization (@valour_org)- We’re setting out to change the world’s mentality toward mental illness. We are part of @AngelaMaiers #Choose2Matter [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2Yw7NObIIY%5D

A Dream Deferred

One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams. If you are unfamiliar with the movie, Ray and his wife Annie buy a farm and raise their chid in the middle of Iowa. One day Ray begins hearing voices that urge him to do something seemingly crazy. If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t reveal the ending. However, early in the movie, Ray is woken up by this mysterious voice saying, “If you build it, he will come.” I had a similar, less scary awakening this morning. I woke up with this quote from Langston Hughes on my mind.

A dream deferred is a dream denied.

All children have many powerful visions of the world. They see many ways which can change the world. Often, though, adults defer their dreams rather than help them achieve it… until you finish school, until you go to college, until you get a good-paying job… Adults see this as helping, but often this “help” decreases the imagination and creativity of students. Students begin to think school is the only way to fulfill their dreams or the only way to be successful.

Does American public education simply defer dreams, or do public education teachers make dreams possible? Can we do the latter by helping students realize their potential at a young age? I think we can. In fact, I think we must. Rather than defer dreams, we need to unlock dreams and help make them possible. Teachers need to be dream cultivators, schools need to be innovation cultivators.

Let us unlock the dreams of students. Students have access to highly-educated teachers, a professional social network, local community contacts, and a chance to inquire and shape their learning. Let’s not stand in their way! Students have access to more knowledge today than ever before. Public education should not restrict access to using the information. Teachers and schools should encourage using it.

I cringe when I hear teachers talk about reform claiming the Common Core, and its focus on “College and Career Readiness,” will change our education model. I do not care if my students go to college. Any path to success that includes a multiple choice gateway is a bad path! I want to help all my students realize their dream. If college is their dream, I want to help. If entrepreneurship is their dream, I want to help. If students want to travel the world, join the armed forces, work for their parents, apprentice as a skilled laborer… I want to help. I want to be a dream cultivator for my students. Let us get out of the way and help our students realize their dreams.

A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Everyone Can Innovate

Innovation is the buzzword of the 21st century. Perhaps because of the way technology is quickly changing our lives (think Apple, Google, and social media) or because globalism is helping us realize others can do our job just as well (or better) than we currently do. Dan Pink (@danielpink) wrote in his 2006 book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Abundance, Asia, and Automation will take over current economics, and if countries do not adapt to innovate and create, existing superpowers will see an end to dominance. For educators, if our job does not adapt to right-brained, innovative teaching, then our students will be ill-prepared for the future.

So, how does one innovate? It’s not a professional development session of “innovative idea-sharing.” Jonah Lehrer, in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works (yes, I know the controversy over his book, but it’s not all plagiarized) found only 1% of Psychology papers published from 1950 to 2000 focused on an aspect of creativity. Perhaps no one is clear on how to innovate and create.

I believe innovation is a life-style, which ultimately leads to new ideas. Like anything else, I do not think innovation is a gift special to a chosen few. I believe innovation is for those who cultivate it; some have a special gift toward innovative thought. This does not mean individuals cannot learn or practice innovation.

To quote Lehrer, “Every creative journey begins with a problem.  It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer.  We have worked hard, but we’ve hit the wall.  We have no idea what to do next.”  As Larry Page said, “If you’re not doing something crazy, you’re doing the wrong things.”

I’ve made innovation a goal of mine this year. I see many, major problems in education. I also know I am equipped to tackle them, but I need to dedicate energy to creative solutions. Here are my notes on what I’ve been practicing so far this year.

1. Innovation requires time. 3M, one of the most innovative corporations in the world, gives engineers 15% of their time to an innovative idea. Google copied this idea, giving engineers 20% of their time (essentially one day a week) to cultivate innovative ideas. Innovation takes time. Do not think you will turn on your creative juices over night.

2. Effort and Focus. Though 3M gives time back to its engineers, 3M also requires dedicated work to the job. Though the work environment is relaxed, this does not mean no work is done. Rather, innovation requires a strong devotion to an idea. Diligent, direct action can help focus the mind and fix problems. Yo Yo Ma believes his ability to improvise only comes after hours upon hours of practice. Without the effort input, he is not creative. Focus to a goal or a problem is important, but focus can also be detrimental. Focus drives the mind outward, to analytic problem-solving. Caffeine and stimulants help. However, such focus limits right-brained thinking. So, while focus does help, only this intense focus is also bad.

3. Relax. For as much as focus can help you accomplish your goals, so can relaxation. We have all experienced this. The one time in the day when you are disconnected, where you have time to yourself—the morning shower! How many a-ha moments do you have in the shower? It’s not coincidence. First, you are most relaxed immediately in the morning. Also, your brain is finalizing the random right-brained connections from nighttime dreaming, and your relaxation in the morning fosters these creative ideas. Daydream. Meditate. Think positive thoughts. Relax. Whatever technique is best for you, practice it daily. Give yourself this time in the morning, when you are most likely to continue the right-brain connections from sleep.

4. Collaborate & Share. One person cannot figure everything out for oneself. Share ideas among colleagues in different fields. Share ideas with new peers and established peers. A mix of new and old ideas will foster creative thought. Encourage this in schools and model this with students. Avoid brainstorming; brainstorming limits creative ideas. Rather, criticize ideas in positive ways, building on what could make bad ideas better. This encourages new ideas to arise.

5. Fail. You cannot achieve ideas without testing dozens of failed ideas before. Do not be discouraged with failure. Reflect on the reason for failed attempts and build toward success.

6. Lead. Innovation in organizations needs leadership, one who is crazy enough to support new ideas. Latch on to individuals in your organization or community who foster innovative thinking. Find a leader who challenges you. If you cannot find someone, become the leader to tackle new problems with innovative peers. Unless leaders support innovative solutions, the new ideas will only support the existing status quo, not the creative solution result desired.

So, what does my routine look like? I’ve taken my own advice this year, and I have enjoyed looking at problems from uncommon vantage points. Here’s what I do.

  • I get up earlier, adding about 10 minutes to my morning routine. With there small boys, sometimes this isn’t enough.
  • I’ve delayed or eliminated caffeine as much as I can, unless I need to have strict focus to one task. This is easier some times than others.
  • I am trying to meditate and pray more often. I prefer the repetition of the Catholic rosary, but I submit I’ve used simple meditation techniques to the same success.
  • I’ve branched out to so many new peers for collaboration that I could ever imagine. This has led to many new ideas I hadn’t known existed previously.
  • I’ve encouraged these ideas with my students and colleagues.

I have not attained innovation nirvana, nor have I had any million-dollar ideas to save education. I have felt more self-aware of the problems around me, and I feel better prepared to identify future problems than I ever had before.