Episode 110 – Dr. Douglas Fisher

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Meet Dr. Douglas Fisher

Dr. DOUGLAS FISHER is a Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University, where he trains future administrators and institutional leaders. He is also a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College, a high school that he co-founded some years ago as a kind of lab, a practical context in which to continue the work of education research and innovation on a practical level. 

A Career in Literacy

Dr. Fisher is a highly accomplished researcher and author in the field of education. He is a member of the California Reading Hall of Fame and is the recipient of an International Reading Association Celebrate Literacy Award, the Farmer award for excellence in writing from the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Christa McAuliffe award for excellence in teacher education.

He has published numerous articles and books on student achievement and literacy, including Text-Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading (with Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp), Checking for Understanding (with Nancy Frey) and Common Core English Language Arts in a PLC at Work (with Nancy Frey). He is also a board member of the International Reading Association and a past board member of the Literacy Research Association.

Disconnection and a Change in Perspective

Around 15 years ago, Dr. Fisher found himself in a trying situation with his students. He was struggling to connect with his students in the ways that he was accustomed to connecting, and relationships were not coming easily. The experience was discouraging enough that he found himself starting to question whether the profession was even for him.

“Parents send us the kids they have. They don’t keep the good ones at home.”

Then, while attending a conference later that year, he heard a speaker say “Parents send us the kids they have. They don’t keep the good ones at home.” This quote spoke to him in a profound way, filling him with renewed gratefulness for the privilege we hold as educators to care for the children of others.

The public trusts us with the responsibility of teaching, training, and “loving up” their kids, Dr. Fisher observes. Sometimes we just need that reminder of the tremendous honor that is education. After the conference, Dr. Fisher returned to the classroom with renewed commitment and dedication and has never looked back since.

Balanced Literacy

Dr. Fisher recently co-authored This Is Balanced Literacy, Grades K-6. When asked to elaborate further on this idea of balanced literacy, Doug is quick to point out that the concept has been around since the 1990s, when there was a lot of debate going on between phonics and whole language approaches. Kids need sufficient experiences with foundational skills, experts argued, including systematic and sequenced steps to growth in literacy. They also need meaning-making experiences that include reading comprehension and thinking about writing.

Since this time in education, the conversation about balanced literacy has largely moved to discussions about the value of whole group versus small group instruction. In this book, Doug and his co-authors sought to move the literacy conversation back to a focus on the balance between skills and knowledge learning. As they developed their research with this focus, they also started to take a closer look at the balance between reading and writing.

Current estimates suggest that the average elementary classroom spends up to 80% of their literacy instructional minutes on reading and 20% on writing. In the words of one of Doug’s colleagues, “Every writer can read, but not every reader can write.” Truly balanced literacy instruction requires us to ask these questions of our practice:

  • Are we using our literacy minutes effectively?
  • Are we making sure that our students are properly building both reading and writing skills?
  • Are we including both direct and dialogic instruction?
  • Are we making sure that our students are consuming both informational and narrative texts?

Studies show that narrative or fictional texts dominate the reading diets of elementary students – informational and expository texts may not be receiving the attention they deserve.

So how do we balance these tensions: direct and dialogic instruction, narrative and expository, reading and writing, skills and knowledge? This book offers the authors’ take on the best ways to thoughtfully integrate all of these methods and strategies in the literacy classroom. 

For more on balanced literacy, listen to Doug’s two co-authors explore this concept further.

The Balanced Literacy Workshop from Corwin Press

Dr. Fisher and his co-authors currently offer a workshop that explores these strategies further in practical ways. This professional development event includes deep dives into reading instruction, writing instruction, assessing learning, impactful teaching practices, class engagement, coaching, and more. Workshop attendees will ask:

  • What should balanced literacy look like in the classroom?
  • What are the evidence-based strategies that we can adopt in the whole class environment?
  • How can we engage students in high-level collaboration using academic language that allows the teacher to sit down with small groups of students for more specific, targeted instruction?

There is no one way to teach literacy, Dr. Fisher points out. There are many right ways, but there are also wrong ways. This workshop unpacks the menu of effective options for instruction that literacy teachers have at their disposal. 

A Quick Suggestion on Literacy Instruction 

When asked for one quick tip or perspective on literacy instruction, Dr. Fisher reminds us that our literacy strategies accomplish different things at different stages of student learning. There’s nothing wrong with surface learning and the strategies that bring learners to that level, but when we move from surface to deep learning, our tools change, and when we move from deep to transfer levels of learning, our strategies change again.

As teachers, the question must be: what will unlock literacy for that learner right now, exactly where they are? 

Visible Learning Plus 

Visible Learning Plus is a specialized coaching program offered by Corwin Press, Dr. Fisher’s publisher. In Corwin’s words, this program will “Connect and harmonize existing school and system initiatives, build internal capacity, and harness the collaborative energy of educators to accelerate student learning and maximize time, energy, resources, and impact.”

In simplest terms, Visible Learning Plus mobilizes John Hattie’s research on learning and helps schools understand and elevate the impact of their practices on student learning. Corwin’s coaches and consultants help school leaders and teams get to the bottom of the question of impact: Is what we are doing working? The program also seeks to strengthen collective efficacy – how can teaching teams improve their beliefs, practices, and procedures in a cohesive, engaged, and synchronized way. 

Teacher Credibility

One thing that has really captured Dr. Fisher’s thinking of late is the whole issue of teacher credibility and its impact on learning. He’s done a little bit of writing on this topic and has started to dig deeper into the research in order to learn more. When students view their teachers as credible, they learn a lot more from them. The following critical questions determine your credibility as a teacher:

  • Are you trustworthy?
  • Are you competent?
  • Do you show dynamism or passion?
  • Do you have proximity and closeness with your students?

All of these factors influence student learning in powerful ways, and the good news is that they are changeable behaviors. Significantly, a teacher can employ proven instructional strategies, but if their students do not view them as credible, the strategies lose their effectiveness. As professional teams and learning communities, we should be constantly asking how can we help each other improve our credibility in the eyes of our students.

Personal Passions: Travel and Exercise 

When he’s away from his research and the halls of academia, the things that most energize Dr. Fisher are travel and exercise. He never stays with one mode of exercise for too long, so his activities range from running to spin class to trapeze.

A Personal Productivity Tip: Block Time for Writing

Dr. Fisher puts time into his calendar to do his writing. This is blocked time that he treats as a job – he does not allow email, phone calls, or other distractions to interfere. He believes that every educator has a book in them, and many educators want to write, but it requires making that time non-negotiable. Although he is thrilled when other people enjoy and consume his writing, he writes primarily to clarify his own thinking.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Dr. Fisher recommends following the amazing @BreneBrown, renowned speaker and author of such books as Dare to Lead.

In the world of edtech tools, Dr. Fisher is a fan of what PlayPosit can do to improve learner engagement with video content. Get to know this tool a bit better by following @PlayPosit

Normal Sucks by Jonathan MooneyOne non-educational book that Dr. Fisher and his team have gained a lot from in the last year is Contagious Culture: Show Up, Set the Tone, and Intentionally Create an Organization That Thrives by Anese Cavanaugh. Another title that has done a great job of rethinking how we meet the needs of dyslexic learners is Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines by Jonathan Mooney.

At the top of Doug’s podcast lineup is Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales, one of the largest podcasts in the education space today. If you’re not already following Jennifer on Twitter, connect with her @cultofpedagogy

On YouTube, there’s no beating the classic TED Talks. Dr. Fisher is still a fan of the medium, the content, and the incredible learning that TED continues to share with the world.

When he has a few minutes for Netflix, Dr. Fisher is watching Money Heist. It’s a fascinating series about a band of bank robbers who plan an elaborate heist in Spain, and Dr. Fisher is also using the series to brush up on his Spanish.

We sign off on this helpful conversation, and Dr. Fisher gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

You can connect with Dr. Fisher …

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Episode 107 – Trevor MacKenzie

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Meet Trevor MacKenzie

TREVOR MACKENZIE is a learner, teacher, speaker, consultant, and outdoor enthusiast. Trevor teaches English at the 10th through 12th grade levels at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is also regarded by many as the preeminent voice on inquiry-based learning today, authoring Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice and co-authoring Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners

The First Five Years Are the Hardest

When asked about an experience of adversity on his education journey, Trevor thinks back to his first five years in the profession. There were many forks in the road, he says, where he found himself questioning whether or not he even wanted to stay in education. It took him a while to move from substitute teaching to a full-time contract, and even then it was a real challenge to juggle all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher: lesson planning, unit design, assessment, parent communication, coaching, and other duties.

Trevor credits his local community of colleagues and professional peers who gave him advice, encouragement, and solidarity during those early years. Although his professional learning network has evolved far beyond the bounds of his own building, he continues to appreciate the power and importance of collaboration today.

Why Inquiry? 

First and foremost, Trevor says, he never proposes that other teachers must do things his way. “Teaching is an art with incredible nuance and subtlety, and there’s simply no lockstep approach or prescriptive framework to what makes a good teacher.”

That said, Trevor readily admits that inquiry-based learning is where his heart is, and he loves nothing more than helping other educators see what is possible for learners. Education has changed a great deal in the last decade – not just because of our access to phones but also in terms of the amount of prior knowledge that students bring to the classroom. It’s no longer about how much students know, but about what they can do with what they know.

Inquiry-based learning challenges teachers to facilitate experiences that help our learners to explore content and then create products that have an impact on others. Inquiry also challenges students to investigate the “un-Googleable” questions, the sort of questions that Google Home and Alexa cannot help them with. These are the kinds of vast, broad questions that students must chew on and wrestle with over extended periods of time. Inquiry encourages the development of the 4 Cs: competencies that are absolutely critical in today’s workforce. As a framework, inquiry provides the space and common language for students to become creators, problem-solvers, and active agents of their learning.

Inquiry and Curiosity

Children enter the school system full of curiosity, chomping at the bit to learn, to play, to read, and to interact. Sadly, students often leave high school with that curiosity and joy of learning greatly diminished. “Curiosity is at the heart of how we can better meet the needs of all of our learners,” Trevor points out.

We need to look at our curriculum with an eye to integrating inquiry approaches – it never needs to be a situation of all or nothing, inquiry vs the curriculum. Inquiry-based learning, when properly applied, allows us to explore prescribed curricular outcomes through the lens of curiosity and creativity.

Understanding the Types of Student Inquiry

Structured    Inquiry, Controlled Inquiry, Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry

In the swimming pool illustration, Trevor divides the types of student inquiry into four levels: structured, controlled, guided, and free. Although it might seem tempting to jump quickly into the deep end of the swimming pool, Trevor cautions against initiating free inquiry without giving learners the necessary tools, understanding, and vocabulary. To move too far and too fast into inquiry is to invite chaos and confusion for teachers and learners, so strategy and forethought is required here.

Ideally, a school can work together on strong and structured units of inquiry-based learning so that all learners in the community become familiar with a common language. Frame those first units of study around central, unGoogleable questions. Use provocations to spark rich and engaging entry points to new areas of interest and study, and allow space for students to pursue side paths and related questions along the way. For help in getting started, visit TrevorMacKenzie.com for a large collection of free inquiry unit planning templates and other resources.

Inquiry and Assessment

When first introduced to inquiry-based learning, educators often have questions around assessment. To help guide teachers through these challenges and demonstrate what assessment can look like in the inquiry classroom, Trevor is currently working on a book that speaks directly to the mindset shift he has experienced around assessment in his own practice, and he goes on to describe some of the changes he’s made in the classroom.

For example, he no longer puts any numbers or letter-grades on formative assessments — he only offers feedback. He also makes sure that students are invested in the assessment process through the co-creation of criteria, the inclusion of student voice, and by making sure that assessment occurs in the classroom, by and with students — instead of something done to them. Assessment done properly infuses course content instead of taking the shape of something slapped on to the end of a unit of a study. 

The Power of Grading Conferences

Speaking to the power of the conference, Trevor says that the simple decision to sit down with each of his learners to discuss their assessments for the term was one of the most helpful and practical moves he’s ever made in his practice. He immediately noticed the empowerment and sense of agency that the conferences gave students. For a change, many of his students actually wanted their parents to read their report cards because they had a direct hand in crafting those comments. Even more importantly, the process broke many students out of a fixed mindset regarding what past report cards and the education system had told them they were and were not capable of as learners.

Could Inquiry Reshape Professional Development?

Sadly, Trevor says, professional development is often not designed by teachers, and as a result, there can be a disconnect between philosophy and practice. Make sure that teachers have a voice, and make relevance and immediate application high priorities in the design of professional development activities, he urges.

What Else is Setting Trevor on 🔥 in Education

Beyond inquiry, something else that is setting Trevor on fire in education today is the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s taken some hard looks at cultural responsiveness, systemic biases, allyship, identity studies, and the unpacking of his own personal biases. Educators who greatly impress Trevor in this space include Gary Gray Jr., Liz Kleinrock, and Cornelius Minor. If we want our students to truly understand themselves as learners, people, and human beings, we owe it to them to help them understand the biases, narratives, and historical forces that shape our understanding of ourselves.

Serving with Presence

As much joy as he derives from working with learners in his classroom, Trevor is also passionate about teaching teachers and working with other educators around the world. Balancing the two consituencies well and being fully present in every context requires intentionality and mindfulness. “As I enter the classroom each and every day, I’m asking how I can be present and mindful of what’s immediately before me,” Trevor says.

A Personal Passion: Cycling

Trevor is an avid cyclist, and on many mornings he is up early and out of the house on his bike before school. He also enjoys a good community of fellow cyclists in his area that he enjoys biking and racing with. Cycling gets him going, fires him up, and keeps him healthy so that he can serve others well.

A Productivity Hack: Early Mornings 

Trevor’s best productivity hack is to get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning, and he’s been inspired by other creatives to work before the rest of the world is awake. It’s the perfect time to tie up loose ends, complete tasks, do important reading, or write reflectively. With small children at home and students at school, the early morning is simply the best block of time in the day to be productive and undistracted.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice 

Over on Twitter, Trevor recommends following @TheMerrillsEdu. The Merrills are an amazing elementary teaching couple who take creativity to a whole new level in their practice. Make sure to give them a follow!

No edtech tool has revolutionized Trevor’s assessment practices more than FlipGrid, where students post video responses and interact with each other’s ideas. Microsoft recently acquired this legendary platform and made its features absolutely free for educators, increasing equity and access for all learners in the process. Make sure to connect with Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

The Innovator's Mindset by George CourosWhen prompted for a book pick, Trevor points to a classic — The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, by George Couros. Trevor also shouts out another title that has been influential in his practice, Understanding By Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

In the world of podcasts, Trevor is making a late appearance at the world’s most famous true crime series, Serial. He’s also gaining a lot from the Teaching While White Podcast – White Fragility podcast series.

As for YouTube channels, Trevor is going back to one of the faves he mentioned previously: Gary Gray Jr. Gary is an important voice in the conversation on equity and he keeps things real on his channel.

Although his kids are still too young for the chills and thrills of this popular series, Trevor has been enjoying Stranger Things whenever he does find the time for some entertainment on Netflix.

We sign off on this terrific conversation, and Trevor gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Trevor …

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Episode 105 – Tiffany Ott

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Meet Tiffany Ott

TIFFANY OTT is a high school Math teacher at Western Reserve Academy of Ohio, a Director of Curriculum Development with the Teach Better Team, and the founder of #MasteryChat. She’s also a co-author of the recently published book Teach Better, and she’ll be playing a big role in the upcoming Teach Better Conference.

Tiffany recalls a time early in her career when she was teaching middle school in North Carolina. She and her husband were broke, Tiffany was pregnant, and the couple was short on options. After moving back to Ohio, Tiffany found a long-term substitute position that showed good potential to convert into a permanent position.

She was teaching an enrichment class for students designated as gifted, and she introduced her learners to a unit on brain science, psychology, and mental health. Unfortunately, some of the parents of these students were skeptical and suspicious of her motives and complained – loudly – to administration. As a result, the substitute position didn’t convert to a permanent one, an experience that opened Tiffany’s eyes to the importance of communication and actively seeking buy-in from the entire learning community.

When developing those relationships with your students’ parents, Tiffany encourages, try video newsletters. People seek connection today, and Tiffany has found that parents really appreciate who you are and what you are trying to achieve with their children when they can actually see and hear you.

Teach Better: The Book

Teach BetterTiffany describes the new Teach Better book from the Teach Better Team as part memoir, part inspiration, and part practical teaching strategies that educators can put into place immediately. The book includes a series of interwoven stories from four authors that detail their struggles, challenges, and victories in the classroom, accompanied by the realizations that they took away from those experiences.

Teach Better is not about being perfect – it’s about being better than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we were today. It’s about being constantly reflective, looking in the mirror and at our own practice, and asking “What is one thing I can do today to move my practice forward?” It’s grounded in the belief that every educator is capable of growth and improvement in their practice. “My heart and soul is in this book and I just hope people can find something that can help inspire them and push them forward,” Tiffany says.

The book starts with “Get the hell out of my classroom!” – perhaps the lowest moment in Chad Ostrowski’s career, and you’ll be drawn in as you read his story. Tiffany is also passionate about chapters titled Expect Better and Complain Better, and she articulates how these mindset shifts can change the culture of buildings and make incredible impact in the growth and learning of students.

#MasteryChat

The weekly #MasteryChat on Twitter is Tiffany’s baby, and she’s as passionate about the conversations that happen there as she was when the chat first launched. Each week features a different guest moderator, and topics include everything under the sun of education.

Like the Teach Better book, #MasteryChat is about incremental growth and improvement in educators, and Tiffany values the rich diversity of views and experiences that over 100 participants regularly bring to the conversation. This chat is not an echo chamber, she says – it includes robust discussion, occasional debate, and constructive pushback. Questions seek to go beyond buzzwords and cliches to actually stretch the thinking of educators and spark learning.

What’s Setting Tiffany on 🔥 in Education Today

Education is so exciting today because things have changed so much and continue to change so quickly. The opportunities for global connection, collaboration, and learning are greater than most educators have fully realized. Rather than be overwhelmed or intimidated by the pace of change, Tiffany says we should regard these movements of change as the fire that pushes us forward.

A Professional Goal

Tiffany speaks highly of the way that her school tackles professional goal-setting for its teaching staff each year. Rather than one-and-done fill out this piece of paper and move on, each educator’s professional goals are embedded in professional activities throughout the school year, allowing frequent review and follow-up.

One of Tiffany’s main professional goals for this year is to build deeper connections with her colleagues. Her training and experience comes from the middle school levels, where team approaches to planning and instruction are often emphasized. The same can’t always be said of high school environments, where teachers sometimes experience more isolation and division by departments, levels, course streams, and other factors.

There’s a lot to be gained when we come together and connect the dots across all kinds of content, Tiffany says, which requires taking the time to have more small and large conversations with colleagues. When we make ourselves vulnerable, genuine, and available to support others, we build the social connections that translate into significant professional and instructional gains for learners.

One of Tiffany’s other professional goals is to make her math instruction more relevant for learners. Rae Hughart, one of Tiffany’s partners on the Teach Better Team, talks often about the importance of integrating community partners and businesses into the math classroom to show learners the relevance and application of the curricular principles they’re learning.

Personal Passions: Baking and Crocheting 

Educators neglect their personal passions and interests all too often, says Tiffany, and it comes at the expense of our learners. On the home front, Tiffany loves to cook and bake, activities that have formed great points of connection with her daughter. They watch The Great British Baking Show and other cooking shows together, and Tiffany takes great joy in hosting great meals and serving guests.

She also enjoys art, sculpting, and crocheting – something that she is integrating in one of her math classes by asking students to crochet physical representations of hyperbolic planes. It’s a great example of a personal passion adding a dimension to the classroom learning environment. 

The Secret to Her Productivity

The credit for her incredible productivity, says Tiffany, goes to her husband. Not only does he cover for her during times of peak work and deadlines, but he acts as a good accountability check in terms of her mental health. When the stress and strain of responsibilities starts to make her crack, he doesn’t hesitate to make her take a break, step away, take a nap, or do what she needs to do to recharge. 

The Teach Better Conference 

Tiffany is thrilled about the coming Teach Better Conference – now just a few weeks away. The hosting team has crafted some unique experiences that will help attendees reflect, integrate, and apply the things they learn in practical ways. She’s also hoping that the conference will go a long way toward building the kinds of new professional relationships that will push educators collectively to be better every day.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Tiffany’s Thinking

Over on Twitter, Tiffany recommends following Danny Steele @SteeleThoughts. Whenever she feels like she may be losing her fire, no one rekindles her motivation and passion for education like Danny Steele.

Tiffany’s edtech tool of choice right now is Gimkit. Think Kahoot but with a gambling factor, Tiffany laughs. There are few better and more engaging means of collecting formative assessment from learners in real time.

Lies My Teacher Told MeFor a book pick, Tiffany points to a modern education classic – Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. This title will open your eyes and widen your perspective on western history and its inherent biases.

It’s no surprise, but Tiffany’s favorite education podcast is Teach Better Talk. She doesn’t point to this one because she has to, she says. Hosts Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart keep her laughing and never fail to bring new insights and strategies that move her practice forward.

Tiffany is no stranger to video communication, and on YouTube she suggests subscribing to Michael Matera’s channel. The author of Explore Like a Pirateclassroom teacher, and producer of the Well Played podcast is a very, very smart guy and a fantastic person, too.

Finally, and just for fun, when Tiffany gets Netflix time it’s spent on The Great British Baking Show, which has been a great source of inspiration and a point of connection with her daughter.

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Tiffany gives us the best ways to connect with her. See below for details!

You can connect with Tiffany …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

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Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel!

Episode 102 – Dr. Jacie Maslyk

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Meet Dr. Jacie Maslyk

DR. JACIE MASLYK is an educator, speaker, and author at ISTE, SolutionTree, and Steam-makers.com. She’s an Assistant Superintendent for the Hopewell Area School District just 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, PA, and she brings a passion for #STEM education, makerspaces, literacy, leadership, and creativity in education.

Stonewalled as a Young Administrator

Soon after Jacie became a principal at the age of 30, a veteran teacher approached her and flatly stated that there was nothing she could learn from her. It was an instant realization for Jacie that she was going to need to break down stereotypes and build trust with the teachers in her building.

Eventually, this initial antagonism softened into a mutually beneficial relationship, but it took work to get there. It required demonstrating her commitment to the school, to the staff, to the learners, and the community over the long term.

The Heart and Mission of Unlock Creativity

Unlock Creativity by Dr. Jacie MaslykIn the past, says Jacie, school systems have been focused on data and accountability, a mindset that has led to an overdependence on standardized tests and rigid structures. That mindset seems to be shifting into an era of innovation that is paving the way for creative thinking in classrooms.

It starts with teachers, she points out: when educators believe that they are creative and have the ability to do creative things, that passion and interest spills over into their classrooms and into the imagination of students. Teachers must find more ways to model creativity and vulnerability with and beside their students so that they can see active models of creativity and failure and perseverance in front of them. As a result, students will become more passionate learners and grow to become critical and creative thinkers as adults.

What is your creative outlet? Whatever it is, share it with your students, Jacie says. You never know what might connect in a powerful way with one or more of your learners. 

What’s Setting Jacie on 🔥 in Education Today: Maker Education

Jacie feels like she’s been on fire for maker education for quite some time, but lately she’s seen even more of a resurgence. Maker education is a fantastic way to build full engagement with every learner and provide equitable on-ramps for students who .

When students are given opportunities to learn with their hands, their learning can grow exponentially. On top of that, STEM learning and maker education builds the very skills and dispositions that are so critical in the 21st century economy: flexible thinking, tolerance for ambiguity, problem solving, improvisation, and so on. If you’re looking for practical makerspace ideas, check out Instructables, Maker Maven, and Demco.

Professional Goals and Growth

“I’m always looking to learn and grow from others,” says Jacie, crediting her engagement with social media for her deepened hunger for learning and exposure to new ideas. Among other projects, she’s currently working with Kristen Nan on a new book that will combine views from central office with views from the classroom. The book’s theme will be built around Las Vegas, focusing on the bets that we need to make in education today. Keep an eye out for this one!

Personal Passions and Continued Learning

Jacie’s biggest area of learning at the moment is her sons and their passions, including professional wrestling and American Ninja Warriors. She enjoys the time they’ve spent lately on their own American Ninja obstacle course in the back yard.

Her Tried and True Personal Productivity Hack

When it comes to personal productivity, Jacie says she remains a fan of the old school notebook. Whether it’s a to-do list, some reflections, a quote that resonated, or anything else that grabs her attention, she enjoys the process of physically writing things down and carrying them with her in a tangible way.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Work

Over on Twitter, Jacie recommends following @FroehlichM, guest on episode 51 of the Teachers on Fire podcast and host of the Teachers Aid podcast. Mandy is currently offering a free course based on teachers wellness and self-care.

The one edtech tool that Jacie currently considers indispensable is Voxer, her daily source for real-time professional development. 

One Drop of KindnessWith two young boys in tow, a lot of Jacie’s current reading is in children’s books. Two of her favorites in that category are One Drop of Kindness by Jeff Kubiak and EngiNerds (MAX) by Jarrett Lerner.

Jacie’s got two favorite podcasts, and both are hosted by former guests and friends of the Teachers on Fire podcast: Teach Better Talk, hosted by Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart, and STEM Everyday Podcast, hosted by Chris Woods.

We sign off on this inspiring conversation, and Jacie gives us the best ways to connect with her. See below for details!

You can connect with Dr. Jacie …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

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Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel!

Episode 101 – Nancy Frey

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Meet Nancy Frey

NANCY FREY is a Professor of Educational Leadership and Literacy at San Diego State University at the graduate and doctoral levels. She’s also an instructor at Health Sciences High and Middle College, a secondary charter school which she co-founded 13 years ago with Doug Fisher and others. The school runs from grade 8-12 with about 700 students, and her teaching practice there helps to make sure that the ideas she advocates for in her research and writing actually work in practice.

Nancy has also authored or co-authored a number of books, including PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design.

Rocked By a Hurricane

When asked about a low moment, Nancy thinks back to the time she spent teaching in south Florida. One year, Hurricane Andrew hit the area just days before school opened. The storm exacted a heavy toll on the communities across the region, causing her district to expand very quickly due to damaged and destroyed schools in nearby counties. More significantly, almost every additional student came into the district with significant emotional trauma.

It was a difficult year that even made Nancy challenge her place in the profession, partly because she felt so unprepared to offer the guidance, comfort, and support that her learners truly needed while also promoting their academic growth and development. Thankfully, with a mix of inner commitment and support from colleagues, Nancy remained an educator, and she now credits this year with giving her valuable experiences and perspectives regarding trauma-informed education.

What is Visible Learning?

Visible Learning is the terminology used to refer to the research engineered by John Hattie, who used a meta-analysis to review hundreds of academic studies in an effort to determine what truly works in education. From this research, he and his team have created an index of what he calls effect sizes: how do different interventions positively or negatively affect learning outcomes?

With close to 300M students represented in these studies, this research can say with authority what works and what doesn’t in education. Supported by the groundbreaking research and resources from Visible Learning, schools and districts no longer need to guess about where to apply their energies. 

Taking Your PLC to the Next Level: PLC+

PLC+ by Nancy Frey and Douglas FisherIn PLC+: Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design, Nancy and Doug Fisherlook at the power behind professional learning communities and apply the latest research to suggest ways to take PLCs to the next level. The ‘+’ in PLC+ is you – what it is that you bring to your learning community.

The book organizes the PLC+ process around five key questions:

  1. Where are we going? What is our destination?
  2. Where are we now? Take a situational assessment.
  3. How can we move learning forward?
  4. What did we learn today? How are we enriching ourselves as a PLC so that we can continue the work that we’re doing?
  5. Who benefited and who did not? This is the essential question of equity.

These questions are grounded in four universal values:

  • Equity,
  • Higher expectations,
  • Activation, and
  • Individual and collective efficacy – belief in our ability to effect change.

In Nancy’s view, PLCs and our perceptions of them have tended to become more restrictive over time. Twenty-first century manifestations of PLCs should actually integrate well with PLNs in the sense that every member of a PLC must remain engaged in a PLN in order to further support their own learning and allow them to better contribute to their PLC. Other strategies like micro-learning and learning walks must be parts of robust PLCs as well.

Building Literacy Through the Tools of Metacognition

When I asked Nancy for some quick advice for the literacy classroom, Nancy pointed back to John Hattie. Do you know your impact? Do you know when your students have learned something? These are the questions that must drive everything we do in literacy and throughout K-12 education.

In the literacy classroom we must also ask ourselves how we are bringing students into the learning. This goes beyond ensuring content relevance – it means that students must understand WHAT they are learning, WHY they are learning it, and HOW they will know that they have been successful in learning it. Learning intentions and success criteria must be made clear to learners in every lesson, and when it comes to English classes, progress tends to be incremental – they’re generally not leaving a 30-minute lesson with a brand new skill.

With that in mind, we must give students the tools of self-assessment: how can students look at their own work and gauge their own growth and progress? How can we equip our learners to critique the work of peers? For English teachers looking to empower their students in this area, Nancy points to a few titles including Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill.

Other Areas That Are Setting Nancy on 🔥 in Education

Nancy is very intrigued by the ways that technology is being effectively embedded and woven into instruction today. She points to the ways that our views of technology in education have changed from past decades: from computer lab to essential tool. Technology tools can be a double-edged sword, however, because technology itself is no assurance of learning, and in fact, we still don’t fully understand how technology changes the ways in which students learn.

Today, high school students walk around with computers in their pockets – devices more powerful than the computers that first sent spaceships to the moon. On the one hand, these phones can be the bane of a teacher’s existence, but on the other hand, educators must better harness this technology in order to advance learning.

The questions around phones and phone policy in schools are not easy ones to answer, but we must continue to struggle and learn in this area. (Editor’s Note: Check out my exploration of this issue at On Schools and Cell Phones.)

Is Handwriting an Essential Literacy Skill?

Should pens and pencils remain part of the writing classroom? Nancy says that students should be exposed to a wide continuum of learning experiences. Evidence also suggests that the motor functions involved in writing seem to inform the abilities of young learners to break the code (decode letters and words). Young children should know how to engage in print and cursive, and older students should at least have the capacity to sign their name. Nancy shares her experience from a recent class of seniors – many of whom struggled to sign a document in cursive. Yes, young learners should learn how to keyboard, and voice-to-text will continue to change the nature of composition. 

Professional Goals for This Year

Nancy’s annual and evergreen goal is to ask: How can I be a better teacher this year? If that isn’t a question you’re asking, Nancy chuckles, it may be time to look for a new profession. Lately, Nancy has been writing about the intersection between teacher credibility and collective efficacy and the ways in which these two constructs can support and promote the other.

Nancy is also intrigued by the ways that students learn about their own learning through practice tests. Do students know what they’re learning and what they’re not learning?

Personal Passions Outside of Education

One activity that ignites Nancy’s passions and brings her alive as a human being when she leaves the halls of education is her work with kettlebells. She has participated in functional fitness workouts with kettlebells and the kettlebell community for the last six or seven years, and she is consistent. “Strong is the new skinny,” she says. She hits her gym about six days out of seven, and it’s formed a big part of her personal wellness.

A Productivity Habit: Meditation

The personal habit that has been making the biggest difference for Nancy in the productivity space is meditation. She meditates for 15 minutes after waking up each morning, and she finds that she is more productive as a result. It’s time to be quiet, to be mindful, to be self-aware, and to slow down. Nancy uses the Calm app and is competitive enough that her personal streaks are important to her, and she even appreciates the badges earned over time.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Nancy’s Practice

On Twitter, Nancy is a big fan of the #G2Great hashtag and regular Twitter chat.

As far as edtech tools go, Nancy loves what smartpens do for learners and learning in the classroom. There are so many uses for smartpens that fit within UDL and increase equity for all learners.

Tis by Frank McCourtNancy’s all-time favorite read is Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt. This classic describes the life of an English teacher in New York City from an earlier time.

In the world of podcasts, Nancy’s pick is Disgraceland, which unpacks the spectacular missteps and disasters that have followed countless pop music stars. It’s a guilty pleasure and Nancy can’t get enough of it.

On YouTube, Nancy is a big fan of the resources shared on the Teaching Channel. Get to know the Teaching Channel on Twitter @TeachingChannel

Yes, Nancy does occasionally find time for Netflix! One of her favorite series of late was Russian Doll

We sign off on this conversation, and Nancy gives us the best ways to follow her and connect online. See below for details!

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