Category Archives: kids/culture

Flourishing – Determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Tenth and final post in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

One of the most significant flourishing outcomes that we hope for our students is our last item- a determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others. In order to do this, we must be able to bring together all aspects of head, heart, and hands – our cognition, passions, and behaviors. It is not that a people with this determination are saccharine sweet, out of touch with reality, or constantly smiling; rather, they know what they believe, who they are, and have a sense of their impact on others as they go through life. This determination comes from a sense of deep faith, gratefulness for God’s gracious gift of salvation, and a desire to live out a life of grateful service to others, to be Christ to them in small and large ways.

What we are really talking about is what attitude we choose to demonstrate each day, in each situation and circumstance. One of the most helpful quotes that speaks to the significance of a positive attitude is this famous one by Chuck Swindoll:

“Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, money, circumstances, than failures and success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, ability, or skill. It will make or break a business, a home, a friendship, an organization. The remarkable thing is I have a choice every day of what my attitude will be. I cannot change my past. I cannot change the actions of others. I cannot change the inevitable. The only thing I can change is attitude. Life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it.”
Charles R. Swindoll

Swindoll is saying that attitude is more important than most anything else in life:  it is a critical issue to address with our students. We can help students realize is that they have a choice about their attitudes. A broken or difficult past may haunt us, but we have a choice about whether we forgive and move on or not. We have the opportunity to choose our attitudes each moment and in each circumstance. We see this modeled by Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25-28) as they were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel and chose to spend their time praying, singing, and eventually giving witness to that hope and joy that was spilling out of them. All students have the potential to flourish in this way – it is not dependent on intellect – in fact, some “special needs” students often can be the best bringers of joy and hope.

Our ultimate hope for our students is summarized in this final Flourishing Index statement – that they learn to become Christ-like – giving evidence of the hope that they have through Christ, being grateful in all circumstances, being humble in times of blessing, and living selfless lives of service to others, which is the faithful presence of Jesus Christ in the world.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, encouraging the heart, image of God, kids/culture, student outcomes, worship

Sucked in or hopeful?

It has been said that there are two types of people in the world – those who see the glass half empty and those that see the glass half full. I would like to make the case that, as believers in the good news of Jesus Christ, we should be glass half full people. And if we are not, we can rightly be accused of not living into that good news.  In other words, it would be better for us to be in the starry-eyed optimist camp – we have been given every reason to be there.

What is prevalent is the 24-hour news cycle that now has a global reach and gives more details about every aspect of life. It used to be just hard news, but now we have access to every detail of celebrity relationships, fantasy football/baseball stats, and reality TV plots. The news has not only gone further in bringing us global vs. local/national stories, but also more micro, in terms of vast details about everything on the planet. While we find stories occasionally that increase our wonder and compassion, we most often hear stories that focus on the evil, the tragic, the macabre, and deficits of all kinds. We are sucked into this vortex of glass half empty stories that skew our perspective. As Christ followers, we must certainly tell the truth, but balance the worldly perspective by seeking stories of hope and renewal.Abundance-book-cover-large

A refreshingly optimistic book recently gave me pause to consider a different and more hopeful perspective. Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, examines our current global resource challenges and presents possible solutions through the use of technology, do it yourself innovators, techno-philanthropy (Bill Gates as an example), and the “Rising Billion” – the currently poor of the world who will reach higher standards of living through technology. In the words of the authors: “What all this means is that over the last few hundred years, we humans have covered a considerable stretch of ground. We’re living longer, wealthier, healthier, safer lives. We have massively increased access to goods, services, transportation, information, education, medicines, means of communication, human rights, democratic institutions, durable shelter, and on and on.” Because of the fact that we can now store, exchange, and improve ideas through the use of technology, new avenues of abundance are now possible. Example after example is given to demonstrate how live has not only improved, but how in the authors’ view we can solve many of today’s problems by the year 2035. I suggest reading this helpful review of the book.

While I do not hold the same level of optimism of the authors that we can solve the world’s problems by 2035, I find this book extremely encouraging and inspirational. Focusing on examples of possibility instead of problems for a change is refreshing – I believe it opens up creative thinking about how we can resourcefully use our gifts. I concur with the authors’ view regarding what is needed as our educational focus: “Teaching kids how to nourish their creativity and curiosity, while still providing a sound foundation in critical thinking, literacy and math, is the best way to prepare them for a future of increasingly rapid technological change.” I would add that teaching kids to understand that they are image-bearers and children of God is even more critically important. It is God who has given humans the ability to create technologies that alleviate human suffering and promote human flourishing – we celebrate those gifts in students, all the while giving praise to God for his lavish abundance in mankind and in creation. A book such as Abundance gives reports of God’s gifts of grace and how restoration is happening. Even though the authors do not acknowledge God, we can celebrate how God’s creativity in man is being demonstrated and how restoration and renewal is happening in our time in history.

As Christian educators, responsible for nurturing children,  we should be careful to keep a Christ-focused perspective that is not only based on reality, but a perspective that testifies to the hope that is within us – that victory has been won, Christ is sovereign and will make new this earth and those who believe. We are reminded of this by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” So then, how can any believer really allow themselves to be pessimistic? Christ is King!

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Flourishing – Understanding how God has gifted (students) and called them

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

(Eighth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

I had two differing experiences in my educational career that dealt with the aspect of vocation. One was in my 8th grade year when my teacher took some time with each of us to talk about our individual talents and how we might use them in high school and beyond. A second came during a very confusing time of life as a college freshman – seeking direction in the guidance office, I was given a vocational test. The test suggested that I should consider becoming a rabbi; I thought this a curious outcome since I was not Jewish, but an evangelical attending an evangelical college. (Given that I am writing this blog on nurturing student faith, maybe that test was not that far off! :) Needless to say, one experience was helpful, and the other was not particularly so.

I hope that as K-16 institutions, we are now doing a much better job with helping students understand how God has gifted them and also helping to discern God’s call in their lives. But I wish I had more certainty – please write if you feel this is an area of strength in your school – I would love to share what you are doing!

Over the last decade, the recognition in the business world, that we should be working from our strengths rather than spending time trying to build weak areas, is a welcome relief to our previous deficit approach. I am specifically referring to the work done by Clifton and Buckingham and the numerous books written as follow-ups to this groundbreaking work. Using a strengths model, I believe that the time is ripe for us to better equip students through identifying their gifts/talents and having them practice using their gifts/talents in team settings. We have said that we believe all children can learn, so then we can’t continue to teach in the same ways – we need to be helping students know who they are and how God has wired them, thereby optimizing their talents in the classroom. Secondly, we know that cooperative learning is a research proven strategy, but unless we have identified individual gifts/talents, we likely will not effectively put project groups together where talents are maximized.

Last month I shared what Beaver County Christian is doing with having their alumni come in and talk about how their Christian education is impacting their careers. One of the benefits that I like about this project is that it serves to cultivate the missional imagination of the students. Through the stories shared by the alumni, students can begin to imagine how they might be listening for, and living out, God’s call in their lives. As a child I was brought to “missionary union meetings” to hear how missionaries were making an impact on the world out there. Although I didn’t always enjoy going, I usually enjoyed the engaging stories, the cool artifacts, and learning about the world on the other side of the globe. I realize now that my parents were trying to expand my missional imagination!

We are living in a time where we have a greater global awareness through our connectivity, more movement toward a personalized student educational experience, and more understanding how teams function best.  These three aspects may indicate that this is a perfect time of convergence around better equipping our students to flourish through understanding their gifts/talents and how God is calling them. What is working well in this area at your school?

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Filed under Biblical worldview, church partnering, classroom, community, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, kids/culture, mission development, student outcomes

“No more hurting people – Peace”

Martin RichardOne of the most poignant images from the recent Boston Marathon bombing was 8 year -old Martin Richard’s sign. The bombing was the largest of several stories of hurt in the month of April. People deeply hurt by gun violence were testifying in front of Congress. A video surfaced at Rutgers University showing a coach hurting players by his physical actions and harmful words directed at his players. It struck me that Martin, by his sign, was not only hoping for an absence of pain by his choice of his first four words, but also a pro-active state of peacefulness by his next. If we seek peace, we must not simply embrace it as an abstract concept, but consider how peace may be attained in our daily lives and at what cost.

Mulling over all these events, I found myself wrestling with the situation of the fired coach and what implications it might have for all those who seek to nurture faith in students.  I found myself wondering about how we define the line he crossed. I am a sports fan and regularly see coaches display intensity, passion, and anger – how similar are they to the Rutgers coach and where is the line of unacceptability drawn? As I considered this I began to think of not just coaches, but teachers and other adults who work with kids.  Where does “helping and discipline” turn into hurting? Does it just have to do with volume or is quiet sarcasm to control and manipulate kids just as deadly? Is sarcasm ever acceptable in working with kids or is it a lazy way for an adult to maintain control, to be cool with the cool kids, to keep the classroom pecking order intact so that equilibrium and order can be maintained – at whatever cost?

I also wondered how some adults who refrain from using any objectionable methods with youth get stellar results year after year. The ones we should be emulating are the best coaches and teachers who demonstrate by word and deed that they truly see the person in front of them as an image-bearer of the God of heaven and earth and therefore worthy of the same respect they would expect to receive! They do not need to shout at or put down a student in front of the peers of the student or later in front of their own peers. They seek to build up students, and in return, the students are secure in the love of the teacher.  Students will take and even seek correction and advice from them. Why do some teachers and coaches get not only results but respect and lifelong admiration from those in their charge? And why do we put up with anything less if we are truly serious about emulating Jesus and living out our school missions?

My belief is that in Christian education we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard – we seek to serve the Prince of Peace who says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Our children’s faith is nurtured or discouraged by the words and actions of adults around them – it will take courage for us to confront each other if we see hurting happening by an adult – but it is what we are called to as children of God working with God’s children.

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Flourishing – thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions

(Fifth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

Are we fogging the mirror? The statement,“We believe all children are made in the image of God,” has powerful consequences that I invite you to think about related to this aspect of flourishing. Are the ways we teach our students encouraging them to be more creative and divergent thinkers and therefore increasing their flourishing? A flourishing student is certainly one who demonstrates a developed sense of thinking divergently and creatively about problems and solutions. How can this capability be developed and enhanced over the course of a student’s educational experience? One of the things that we grieve in the process of the education of children is the loss of creativity. In his well-known video, Sir Ken Robinson alludes to the book, Breakpoints and Beyond ,and a test of creativity. The gist of this study, and his point, is that creativity diminishes each year from kindergarten forward. Robinson wryly suggests that the common denominator in life for children is that they have attended school. A sad commentary!

Robinson is not alone in his concerns. In a recent blog post entitled “My Son is 8. He is a Maker,” professor Scott McLeod, writes about his 8 year old son, lamenting that the process of “making” is getting squashed out of his son’s life by school. Others who have had a similar personal experience share their stories in the comments to this post. I especially was touched by the woman writing about her 16 year old daughter’s experiences and the comment by a teacher who is attempting to teach her AP English class creatively.

School has wounded some learners and damaged their creativity and divergent thinking. In fact, wounds of creativity are one of the several types of wounds listed by author Kirsten Olson in her book Wounded by School. This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.

As Christians, we believe that each person bears God’s image and that we reflect his goodness, beauty, and creativity. I have asked the question previously in this blog: “If we ‘kill creativity’ through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?” This is a very sobering thought!

We have an unprecedented array of both technological tools and global awareness/opportunities today as we work with students. In his new book, Brain Gain – Marc Prensky, best known for his “digital native, digital immigrant” language, argues that technology actually complements and frees the mind for greater creativity. It is up to us as teachers and administrators to build an encouraging environment/opportunities, give permission/encourage students, and create a culture of expectation for creative work.

A word about standards and creativity – they are not in opposition to each other – it is not an either/or scenario. In the McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) paper Five Things That Make the Biggest Difference in Schools, Bryan Goodwin suggests: “Standards should not be the ends of education, but rather the beginning, the platform for creativity, innovation, and personalization.” As we now recognize, creativity is at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how perfect that the highest thing we can do is to image our creator’s creativity!

Some creativity links for you to explore:

What would happen if we “Let Kids Rule the School”?

Creative cities are happy cities – towns where learning is held highly and creative work is valued.

A creative young maker demonstrating creative things kids can do: Sylvia

Curriculum of Creativity – a compilation of ideas.

What might be done to produce different learning environments that stimulate creativity?

Will Richardson blog post: “How do we help our students establish themselves as a “node” in a broad, global network of creativity and learning? Shouldn’t that be one of the fundamental questions that drives our work in schools right now?”

Video creation –  by Rushton Hurley – Next Vista for Learning – five minute videos created by students about things to be learned, global study and service.

Careful – this video is just for fun, but you may recognize something you have said to stifle creativity: “Anti-creativity checklist” created by Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

And to close, some wonderful creative student efforts happening at two of our CSI schools in Canada:

Toronto District – Unique Programs

Abbotsford Christian – Student Showcase

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An intriguing bag of “learning” gifts at year’s end

Wow – it’s the end of the year already – 2012 has flown by! It is time for a number of hopefully helpful, inspirational, or intriguing goodies that I like to share with you. Enjoy the collection and in the spirit of Christmas pass on to others what you think they may find helpful!

Let’s start out with some science:

One of David Mulder’s science education students at Dordt College – Amber VanderVeen – has put together an online resource website. Thanks, Amber and Dave!

One of the science teachers at Lansing (MI) Christian, Omar Bjarki, made me aware recently of a YouTube channel called Minute Physics. Here you will find fascinating topics relating to physics explained in a matter of minutes. Great for your class or your own learning! Thanks, Omar!

I recently overheard a middle school science teacher raving about the Forensic Science Unit on this middle school teacher science site.

I am always on the lookout for new ways to encourage reading. This caught my eye – 8 Free IPad Apps for Young Learners.

I have mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy so many more times than I thought ever likely when I first learned it! Here is a nicely explained version of the latest taxonomy including the creating aspect.

I am seeing a lot more blogging activity by principals, teachers and students, which is encouraging! See what the best bloggers are doing – here are the latest Edublog 2012 awards for various types of blogs that have been deemed to be the very best!

What could we learn from Finland? I blogged about this in September 2012  and here is an interesting selection of some of the differences: 26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System.

Provocative Dept.#1: Are we paying attention to what our students are saying? Are we asking them what they think about how they are learning? They may be saying: “I hate school, but I love learning!” Check out what the kids are saying in these videos.

Provocative Dept. #2: What would schools look like if we were organized around the idea of students as empowered, passionate, interested, self-directed learners? Here is a quick summary and current critique by a high school sophomore at a Tedx youth event.

Project based learning has grown in popularity – want to know more? The two best resources are The Buck Institute  and Edutopia. Here is a nice stream on project based learning at the early grades.

Blended learning – want to know more? Here is a very helpful report from FSG (a non-profit consulting and research company) entitled: Blended Learning in Practice: Case Studies from Leading Schools.

Are any of your teachers using Learnist.com? “It’s like a Pinterest for education, as it allows users to collect web resources and add them to “Learnboards” to educate an audience about a particular subject.” – Hauna Zaich, Edutopia.

The end of higher education as we know it? Here’s a good short article on the impact of the rise of MOOC’s!

Are badges a better way for kids to show what they know? Here are six frames to help us understand badges’ potential for showing student learning inside and outside of school. Also – Learn “Why a Badge is Better than an A+”.

40 Predictions for the Future  – an excellent list by Tom Vander Ark.

If Pinterest is new to you, you should check out the neat way resources are organized. Here is a really helpful Pinterest site by New Tech that is dealing with educational topics.

What is the correlation between socio-economic status and achievement? An oft debated topic thoughtfully dealt with by Grant Wiggins.

A 1980's smartphone!

This was your smartphone in 1980!
Source: pic.twitter.com/UfMyU8KH

I got a kick out of this picture of the technology available in the 1980’s (see right) that is now all contained in our smartphones – amazing!

If you enjoyed my blog post on World Class Learners by Yong Zhao or would like to know more, here is a link to a 9 minute audio entitled World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.

Great info about the value of education and teachers in this report A Dozen Economic Facts by The Hamilton Project, part of the Brookings Institution.

Dr. Todd Hall has been doing some amazing research on the spiritual lives of Christian college students – here is an overview.  I encouraged schools to consider using his Spiritual Transformation Inventory in 2007-  – if any of you are using it I would love to hear from you!

I leave you with some good humor: “O Fortuna – bring more tuna” – this is what happens when we don’t understand the words – you will not ever hear this piece of music again without these images popping into your head – have a wonderful Christmas break!

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World Class Learners

ImageOne of the best new books that I have been recommending to others recently is Yong Zhao’s book: World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Why do I like this book so much? Here are five reasons.

1.     Our current state – Zhao makes a compelling case for our loss of creativity among students (it gets worse the more we educate students!) and points to curriculum narrowing and the latest school reform efforts. He demonstrates that there is an inverse relationship between entrepreneurship scores and international test scores – in other words some of the countries scoring best on the PISA tests are showing a low level of entrepreneurship among students. He argues that, due to curriculum narrowing with NCLB, time for the arts, music physical education, and even science has been decreased, resulting in a marginalized curriculum. With a global job shift underway, entrepreneurial skills are more needed than ever – and we are not preparing students for this changed world.
2.     The myth of superior Chinese education – Zhao points out that while we have been trying to learn how countries such as Singapore, Korea, and China get superior international test scores, they have been trying to learn how the United States remains the hotbed of innovation. He asks: “Why does the United States remain the world’s innovation hub despite its long history of poor standing in international education assessments? Where did all the creative entrepreneurs come from?’ His answer is that China has been even better than the U.S. at killing the creative spirit. For example, the preeminence, and I would add, idolatry of, the national college entrance exams in Far Eastern countries, locks and dooms students to limited life opportunities and are one of the major factors behind the despair, depression, and high suicide rates of youth in these countries.
3.     Changing the paradigm – simply put, is schooling about narrowing down human diversity into a set of desirable skills for employment or about celebrating human diversity (individual, cultural, and economic differences) toward enhancing and expanding talents? Traditional education will only get us so far – we need to be paying attention to education that is child centered, that recognizes the gifts and needs of each learner, capitalizes on their strengths, and gives them the freedom to sharpen their talents and expand their opportunities.
4.     Product oriented learning – citing past examples of student oriented learning and recent engagement (or should I say student disengagement) data, Zhao believes that “freedom to learn and authentic student leadership” constitute the first fundamental principle of the new education paradigm we need for the 21st century.” Therefore, school must have environments that have a broad range of experiences for students, promote personalized learning, are flexible, and involve students as decision makers. He goes on to examine various product oriented learning environments and shows how project based learning is making a difference for students and exemplifies the design principles he suggests.
5.     Global, world-class education – in order for schools to develop entrepreneurs, they must move beyond their physical boundaries and engage with others around the world to network and solve problems. I appreciated his specific examples of schools doing this. In order for students to be global entrepreneurs they must develop their cultural intelligence in order to effectively network. Zhao closes by giving us this helpful summary – we must pay attention to the “what” (student passions, interests, creativity); the “how” (problems, products, caring about people’s needs); and the “where” (global perspectives, partners, and competencies.)

The ideas expressed in this book would fit well with a transformational and Christian approach to education. I highly recommend that our schools (teachers, administrators, and boards) read and discuss this book and then consider what it means for their school’s mission and vision moving into the future.

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