Sunday, August 15, 2010

Middle School Marshmallow Challenge

Over the summer, I watched Tom Wujek's Ted talk called, "Build a Tower, Build a Team" and I immediately knew that this was a challenge that I wanted to present to the middle school faculty at ACS.  We have worked very hard over the past few years to build a collaborative culture and I knew that this challenge would lead to a great discussion about the power of teaming.

At the end of the day, I was not disappointed.  The marshmallow challenge was a great way to reunite with colleagues after the summer break and the activity generated some great discussions about learning in our school.  Here are some of the main points that faculty members brought up during our discussion following the activity.

  • Manage your time - time is always a limiting factor and it is important that you are aware of the time that you have available to you and plan accordingly
  • Team building - working with a team can be very complex but this challenge allowed for everyone to have their voices heard and play a role in a collaborative process
  • It's okay to take risks - this challenge reinforced that it is okay to think outside of the box when trying to accomplish something.  The simple fact that no one had ever attempted anything like this previously meant that we were all immediately outside our comfort zones
  • Learn from our mistakes - it is important to use prototypes when following a creative process.  As teachers, this can be in the form of formative assessment.  We constantly need to be monitoring our students learning and using that information to make our instructional decisions
  • Set reachable goals - it is important to set goals that are attainable and measurable.  
  • Group size matters - although the activity calls for groups of 4, we completed the challenge in our departments which meant that our group size varied.  It was discovered that the smaller groups seemed to be more successful with their towers than our larger groups.
  • High stakes can lead to decreased performance on creative tasks - Tom Wujek outlines how the performance of groups in this challenge decreased when he introduced significant rewards.  As our faculty continues to introduce more creative tasks in our classes, we need to ensure that we are setting our students up for success in their learning 
  • Fun - this was a fun, exciting activity and was a great way to kick off a new school year!

Tom Wujek's website "The Marshmallow Challenge" can be found here.   This site will give you all of the materials that you will need to conduct the challenge at your school.
Feel free to let me know how it goes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Leap of Faith - Powerschmoogle!

Our school is taking a huge leap of faith this year and re-thinking our school communication tools.  A decision has been made to move from our old systems to an amalgamation of Powerschool, Moodle and Google Apps that will completely change the way that we communicate, teach and learn at ACS.  At the end of the day, this change is going to allow our school to accomplish some major goals

  •  Improve communication – with limitless user accounts provided by Google, we will now be able to give all of our parents user accounts.  Parents will be able to log in to a portal (Moodle) and access all Google functions, as well as read email from their school account.
  •  Privacy – because we are provided with our own domain, a lot of school content can be created and displayed within our school wide system
  •  Move to 2.0 – this platform will allow for our entire community to have access to blogs, wikis, Google docs, etc, and provide our students with a greater number of opportunities to learn how to use these important tools
  •   Sustainability – since this system will be our primary method of communication, the need for hard copies of school letters, information and report cards will disappear (I hope). 
I am extremely excited about this change, but I also know that it is not going to be easy.  In order to ensure that all of our community members understand how to utilize the system, we will need to devote a lot of resources to training for students, teachers and parents.   Although this will be difficult and at times messy, I am glad that we have made this decision that will help our school to develop and grow as a community.  By identifying the targets of why we need to change, and looking for tools that will help us accomplish our goals, we have been able to find a solution that I believe will improve our school.    

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Muddled Brain

I have to admit that as we are heading into a new school year, I have been having a really hard time getting my thoughts together and focused (some would say this is not an anomaly).  Frankly, I have spent a lot of time over the past few months reading tons of great books and articles and all of these ideas seem to have been competing for time in my mind.  Fortunately, today I finally had my epiphany thanks to John Medina's Brain Rule # 1 - Exercise builds brain power.  In his book, Brain Rules, Medina chronicles the evolution of the brain and argues that our brain works most effectively when we are physically active on a consistent basis.  This assumption is supported by research which consistently finds increased cognitive abilities in people who exercise regularly.

I used to run a lot but unfortunately, over the past few years, I have not made the   time to exercise as frequently as I should.  One of my goals over the past summer was to get myself in good enough shape to get myself running again on a regular basis and this morning I found some motivation in a blog post by a fellow principal (Patrick Larkin) to get myself on the treadmill.  As I ran, my muddled thoughts began to clear and a plan began to take shape for a great way to kick off the year to help us focus on our newly defined mission.  It is my hope that this plan will allow for our teachers, students and parents to better understand our mission and work collaboratively to ensure that we are doing all that we can to accomplish our school's goals.

It is amazing how something so simple can often be so difficult.  We all know that exercise is important yet we often fail to find the time to be active even though it can benefit us so much physically and mentally.  I am hopeful that the success of my little jog this morning will help to motivate me to find some time to exercise and allow me to be at my best throughout the year.

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