Episode 70 – AJ Juliani

70 - AJ Juliani

Meet Our Guest

AJ JULIANI is a dad, a sought-after speaker, and prolific author of several education books, including The PBL Playbook, Empower and Launch. He is a recognized authority on design thinking, genius hour, growth mindset, IBL, PBL, and all things innovation in education. Read more from AJ at http://ajjuliani.com/ and follow him on Twitter @AJJuliani.

AJ is currently the Director of Learning and Innovation for Centennial School District, located near Philadelphia. He and his team serve about 6,000 learners. In addition to his work there, AJ writes frequently on education and speaks at schools and districts across the country.

Frustrated by the Game of School

Teaching in 2011, AJ was starting to get discouraged by the climate of his classes. His students were intent on playing the game of school, navigating their way through assignments in ways that they thought would earn them the best grades for the least work. Frustrated by what he saw, AJ started reading more widely and searching for better solutions in his practice.

He eventually found Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, and it led him down the rabbit hole of intrinsic motivation, inquiry and passion-based learning, genius hour, and much more. It was the beginning of a huge paradigm shift, and he’s never been the same. He now sees student choice as a sort of secret sauce when it comes to inspiring student engagement and empowerment.

Thoughts on How to Approach Project-Based Learning

AJ’s practical advice about project-based learning is to start small. Try to avoid massive projects that simply follow exhaustive requirement checklists, which really amount to recipe-based learning. Instead, start with small class activities that help students embrace greater amounts of control and direction in the classroom.

Secondly, treat the project itself as a source of continual formative assessment instead of simply using it as a piece of summative assessment at the end. It’s the main course, not the dessert. Students should be able to demonstrate their evolving understanding of concepts throughout.

The Professional Benefits of Blogging

In many other professions and industries, it’s normal and expected for practitioners to write about their work and share it broadly. In K-12 education, this work is often left to researchers, when in fact the teachers in the trenches have important and valuable perspectives worth sharing as well.

AJ sees three primary benefits in blogging about educational practice:

  1. It helps us reflect on and learn from our own practice.
  2. We’re sharing the highs and lows of our practice in a way that others can learn and benefit from.
  3. As we reflect and write, you start to see your profession differently. You start to see the growth that is possible as you track your evolution as a professional, engaging with other educators, and sharing other perspectives. Blogs and PLN activities can inspire us and give us the encourage.

Be More Chef

Most students – and many educators – approach education as cooks. We want to follow a given recipe, and follow it well, hoping to find the success and learning that the formulas promise.

The chef’s approach is different. She takes a look at available resources and asks “What can I make with this?” And that’s AJ’s call to educators.

As you think about your practice and even your life, ask yourself “Am I just following recipes?” AJ’s late brother was a fine example of someone committed to leaving the beaten path and writing his own recipes. Yes, there will always be economic opportunities for people who prefer to follow and be compliant. But there are far more opportunities in today’s economy for people who are go-getters, strong self-starters, creators, makers, designers, and dreamers.

Building Empathy Through Design Thinking and Story

Design thinking always starts with awareness of one’s surroundings. It helps learners learn to take note of the needs of others. It helps young learners to ask critical questions to better understand their context and the needs of others. These are important skills.

Another way we can build empathy is through stories. Brain researchers tell us that the brain processes stories in a different way than it does other information – it activates more resources in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the needs of others. Telling and sharing stories is by far the best way to build empathy.

One recent example of a design product that came from AJ’s district was the creation of reflector socks for cyclists from MIT. The students didn’t enter the design process thinking they were going to engineer a new sock design, but after getting a clearer understanding of the needs of the cyclists, that’s where they ended up. The socks continue to sell today! In another case, some elementary students designed an artificial insect that could evade exterminators effectively. These second graders had to pitch their product design to some actual exterminators – another authentic learning experience.

Goals, Interests, and Passions

At the moment, AJ is working with a company called Next Lesson to develop PBL lessons and units for elementary classes. These are resources that will help educators take their first steps into PBL without jumping straight into Genius Hour.

From a larger perspective, though, the thing that is really exciting AJ about education is how many people are doing things differently. Most educators have moved past the initial stages of integrating technology in their practices, and now so many educators are thinking more deeply and differently about the learning process itself.

AJ derives tremendous joy and fulfillment from sports, but the thing that he’s really been diving deep into lately is AI. He’s reading and watching as much as he can, and he feels like today we’re boiling the frog – things are already drastically changing around us, often in ways we don’t notice or are not aware of. For him, AI isn’t something to fear but instead something to be cognizant of and recognize.

Voices & Resources That Inspire AJ’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, AJ recommends following @CultofPedagogy. He learns a lot from Jennifer Gonzales and describes her as his pedagogical North Star.

AJ just finished reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari, and considers it a fascinating read. Follow the author on Twitter @Harari_Yuval.

AJ’s podcast pick right now is The Knowledge Project Podcast with Shane Parrish. Follow the host on Twitter @FarnamStreet.

Over on YouTube, AJ suggests subscribing to his co-author, John Spencer. Follow John on Twitter @SpencerIdeas.

In terms of non-educational viewing, AJ and his wife are enjoying The Americans on Amazon Prime right now. It’s making him suspect everyone around him of being a spy!

We sign off on the conversation, and AJ gives us the very best place to connect with him and receive more of his thoughts on education: AJJuliani.com. Visit him there and subscribe!

Other Places to Connect with AJ

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

iTunes | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Follow the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media.

Song Track Credits

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

Episode 40 – Kristin Hundt

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KRISTIN HUNDT is a devoted wife and mother of four boys, a 6th grade teacher, lifelong learner, and global citizen.

In our conversation, Kristin talks about her passion to provide good reading materials for her readers. An engaged reader herself, she advocates for student voice and choice, genius hour, going gradeless, standards-based feedback, and revision of work. Other passions include project-based learning, the outdoor classroom, and the 40 book challenge. Kristin also shares some awesome recommendations for books to read, Twitter accounts to follow, and much more.

Kristin was recently featured in The PBL Playbook by AJ Juliani. Check out that title on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2noKqQM.

Follow Kristin!

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:57 – Kristin describes her current teaching role in a 6th grade integrated English and Social Studies classroom.
  • 2:04 – She talks about her passion to provide students with the widest variety of reading materials possible.
  • 5:11 – We discuss Kristin’s greatest sources of passion in education today: voice and choice for students, genius hour, going gradeless, feedback based on standards, and building classroom cultures of revision and growth.
  • 7:57 – As a mother of four boys and a teacher of even more, Kristin enjoys reading about boys’ development. She also doesn’t hesitate to suggest books for others.
  • 11:12 – Her recommendations on Twitter are @JoyKirr and @kttasch.
  • 12:56 – For edtech tools, Kristin points to the amazing communication and representation features on Seesaw. Follow @Seesaw for more information about what is possible on this LMS.
  • 13:47 – One book that has been an absolute game-changer for Kristin was Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers on Twitter).
  • 14:45 – Her podcast pick is Teachers Going Gradeless. Follow @TG2Chat for more information about the podcast, blog, and the amazing work around assessment happening on this platform.
  • 15:46 – On those late nights and early mornings with a sleepless baby, Kristin enjoys reruns of Friends or The Crown.
  • 16:40 – We sign off on the conversation and Kristin tells us the best ways to follow her online. See above for details!

Subscribe to the podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube

Follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

Listen to this episode on YouTube and subscribe for more episodes!

Episode 37 – Dan Jones

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DAN JONES is a 7th and 8th Grade Social Studies Teacher in Mansfield, OH. He is the K-12 Editor for Flipped Learning Review Magazine and the author of Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide.

In this conversation, Dan tells us about the time his passion for teaching died and he almost quit the profession entirely. Instead, he Googled “new and innovative teaching practices” and stumbled across the flipped classroom, which set him on a journey of transformation. Dan also tells us about a personal passion that energizes him, a habit that contributes to his success, and recommends some amazing resources for educators.

Check out Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide on Amazon!

Follow Dan …

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:58 – Dan describes his work as a 7th & 8th grade Social Studies teacher and website director at the Richland School of Academic Arts, flipped learning trainer, editor of FLR magazine, blogger, and author.
  • 1:48 – He tells about a time seven years ago when he realized he hated his job, felt ineffective, depressed, and wanted to quit. Thankfully he was encouraged to stay by supportive administrators. He then Googled “new and innovative teaching practices,” and the flipped classroom began a journey of personal and professional transformation.
  • 9:16 – Dan explains what the Flipped Classroom 3.0 is all about, how it combines with PBL, and the opportunities it creates for educators and learners. Check out his book, Flipped 3.0 Project Based Learning: An Insanely Simple Guide.
  • 20:11 – Dan shares about the personal passions and learning that helps him relax and refuel: using fine craftsmanship tools to make pens, shaving equipment, Christmas ornaments, and more.
  • 21:50 – A habit that contributes to his personal and professional success: carving out quiet “me time” to allow him to be the best he can be.
  • 23:03 – Dan’s Twitter recommendation: @JonBergmann.
  • 24:23 – Over to edtech, Dan suggests we check out PlayPosit (@PlayPosit) as a place to distribute instructional videos to students. He also applauds the amazing Kahoot platform (@GetKahoot), which engages students and gives teachers a powerful tool for formative assessment in the classroom.
  • 25:22 – In books, Dan suggests Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers (@KyleneBeers).
  • 26:43 – Need a new source of education inspiration on your daily commute? Dan recommends tuning in to the BAM Radio Network (@BAMRadioNetworkand Jon Bergmann’s podcast, Flipped Learning Worldwide.
  • 27:18 – When he’s got no energy to plan lessons, write books, produce videos, or make pens, Dan is watching The Office on Netflix – especially when a good laugh before bed is in order.
  • 27:46 – We sign off on the conversation, and Dan shares the best ways to follow him and keep receiving his great content (see above).

Subscribe to the podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube

Follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

Listen to this episode on YouTube and subscribe for more episodes!

Episode 16 – Maria Thompson

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MARIA THOMPSON is a middle school teacher at Snow Hill Middle School in Snow Hill, Maryland.

Maria is an expert in Summit Learning, a program that personalizes learning and supports students while they direct the focus of their own studies. She has great insights to share that fit nicely within the models of project-based and inquiry-based learning that many educators are seeking to move towards. Maria also offers some helpful recommendations for a Twitter account to follow, a book to read, a YouTube channel to subscribe to, and more.

Follow Maria on Twitter @MThompsonSHMS.

In this episode, Maria discusses …

  • 1:21 – her current teaching situation
  • 2:16 – her most challenging year of teaching, and what she took from it
  • 5:45 – why she’s passionate about Summit Learning
  • 16:23 – another area of personal learning
  • 17:24 – a personal habit that contributes to her success
  • 18:26 – an account to follow on Twitter: @SteeleThoughts
  • 19:08 – an edtech tool to use in the classroom: NaturalReaders.com
  • 19:51 – a book recommendation: Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, by Karen Casey
  • 21:33 – a podcast recommendation: Summit Sparks
  • 22:28 – a YouTube channel recommendation for the classroom: Mr. Zoller
  • 23:24 – what she’s watching on Netflix right now: Flint Town

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

LISTEN to this episode on YouTube and SUBSCRIBE for more episodes!

Episode 4 – Adam Stefiuk

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ADAM STEFIUK is a high school teacher and acting vice principal at the Energetic Learning Campus, part of the North Peace Secondary School in Fort St. John, British Columbia, Canada.

In this interview, Adam shares his solution to the challenges he faced with classroom management early in his career. He also tells us what excites him about the new BC curriculum and gives us some great recommendations for edtech tools, books, YouTube channels, and more.

Follow Adam on Twitter at @Adam6foot6.

In this episode, Adam discusses …

  • 1:07 – his current teaching situation
  • 2:30 – a challenging moment in his teaching career
  • 5:12 – a passion in education
  • 6:47 – a Twitter recommendation
  • 8:40 – more about his unique school environment: the Energetic Learning Campus
  • 12:12 – If he wasn’t an educator …
  • 13:40 – a key to his personal success
  • 14:41 – a favourite edtech tool
  • 17:02 – a book recommendation
  • 18:46 – a favourite YouTube channel
  • 19:54 – what he’s watching on Netflix

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

LISTEN to this episode on YouTube and SUBSCRIBE for more episodes!