Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top High School Speakers Shine at Colorado's State Speech & Debate Tournament

“Anyone who bemoans the state of public education need only spend a weekend at a high school speech and debate tournament to have their faith restored.” That’s the perspective of Curt Stedron, debate coach at Littleton High School. And anyone who joined the legions of debaters, coaches, judges, family, and friends at the state championship this past weekend would have to agree.  As the snow swirled outside on a cold Saturday afternoon, things were heating up inside the classrooms at Valor Christian High School, which served as the host for the 2014 Colorado state championship of high school speech & debate.

Check in on my coverage in the Denver Post's Your Hub for more information about this great event.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Napping Your Way to Happiness and Success

When I lived in Taiwan - or when I travelled in Europe - I was always amused by the office workers who kept pillows in a drawer at work. They would, literally, fall asleep at their desks after lunch or in the early afternoon. Napping was just an accepted part of the culture. Americans, on the other hand, have always looked at it as a sign of sloth - at least after pre-school they do. Now, it appears the good word on napping is that it is valuable, even necessary, for health and well being.

Matt McFarland looks at the positive side of napping in his article "Why You Should Be Proud to Sleep on the Job," published recently in the Washington Post. The experts say napping is actually good for us, leading to less stress and lower risk of heart attacks. Napping actually makes people more productive. In fact, it was a key component in the genius of both Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali, who would nap with metal objects in their hand, so they would wake up at the edge of consciousness when the objects fell to the floor.

While jolting myself awake to capture moments of creative insight doesn't sound fun to me, drifting off in my office chair or on the couch at about 3:00 pm sounds great. In fact, I love to nap. I will even nap around 8:00 pm, only to wake up, work some more, and then go back to bed at 11:00. Apparently, we are hardwired to napping, as most mammals do. It may have been a way to avoid the hot afternoon sun. And we should never resist the urge. Remember, that is one of Robert Fulghum's bits of advice in "All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" - take a nap every afternoon.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Russell Simmons Meditates - And He Wants You To, As Well

"Money doesn't make you happy … but happy makes you money."

That bit of insight - which seems to be a bizarre merging of the Buddha & Donald Trump or the Dali Lama & Marc Cuban - is the wisdom of one of the original moguls behind the rise of hip-hop music and culture. Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Records and Phat Farm fashion line, is apparently quite the sage of the contemplative life.  Nicknamed "Rush,"or now Uncle Rush, Simmons concedes that at one time he was driven to succeed quickly and always be working.

However, somewhere along his journey to being one of the wealthiest and most successful African-American men in history, Russell Simmons discovered the value and benefit of being still. This epiphany has clearly brought him clarity and, perhaps, even more success. It certainly impacts his ability to enjoy and even perpetuate his success.

And Simmons concluded long ago, as all the great teachers do, that sharing the joy and sharing the wisdom is one of the primary benefits. Thus, he began to offer such wisdom through books such as Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple. It contains the message that he believes so many of us need and could benefit from. "Everyone could benefit from stillness." Despite a driven life, Simmons learned that "the only true creativity came in moments in stillness.  Thoughtful conscious actions are what make you good … the fact is we need to be awake."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Standardized Test Opt Out Movement Gains Steam

Today, my son was required by the state of Colorado to take a standardized math test that was a full five grade levels below his current class and ability level. There is clearly something wrong with this system, and while I have never complained about standardized tests as a parent or an educator, I am beginning to feel the frustration that is fueling a growing "Opt Out" movement. The Fair Test organization is committed to providing parents - and even school districts - the information they need to safely and legally opt their children out of required state assessments. United Opt Out is another organization that seeks to provide information about the "option" and whether it does exist. Many parents are unclear and frustrated by the increased standardized testing and the pressure on schools to conform. And EdWeek has done an admirable recently of amassing information on the complexity of opting out.

One particular story from Lisa McElroy, a professor at the University of Denver, has hit the internet this week on sites such as Slate and the HuffingtonPost, where Lisa told of her frustrations when she attempted to opt her child out of Colorado's TCAP tests. Despite living in a rather liberal place like Boulder - where you would thinking fighting against the state would be second nature - Lisa was hounded by school personnel when she informed them that her children would not take the test. The school's response was based on the idea that students in Colorado are required by law to take the state tests, and schools whose students opt out receive a "zero" on that test. Thus, it lowers/skews the school's academic ranking.  Of course, the actual effect of opting out is rather ambiguous in Colorado. For several people challenge the notion that the state can force kids to take the test and can penalize districts for a student's refusal to do so.

The Coalition for a Better Education believes the state and federal government has no right or power to force students to take standardized state assessments or penalize kids and schools that fail to do so. Yet, there is no doubt that Colorado law requires such assessments. It all gets a bit ambiguous from there. Ultimately, a child's academic progress is accountable first and foremost to his own parents. And if parents choose not to place faith in a general standardized test, and instead trust the work of the teachers in the classroom and the grades/assessments they provide, should that not be enough? Is the state the right authority to counter that parental desire?

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Arts & Creativity Lay Claim to the Role of Innovators

More news from the STEM to STEAM movement, as research continues to extol the virtues of the arts and humanities in contemporary society. By now many of us know the role arts and design played in the rise of Steve Jobs and Apple. And more people are becoming attuned to the importance of the right-brain thinking that Daniel Pink so clearly enlightened us about in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. Now, writer Sarah Lewis continues the promotion of the arts with her book The RISE: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.

With a deft approach to the role of creativity and innovation, Lewis promotes the value of the arts in school, drawing from such left-brained, STEM icons as physicist Richard Feynman. Lewis and Feynman remind us that the mathematical world is so often about a clearly defined answer. And teachers can literally correct their students "errors." It's so much harder to be effectively critical in the arts. For, artists are prone to innovation and individuality, and they will naturally find a way where their predecessors saw none. For this reason, it's important that art students begin without the assistance of CAD (computer assisted design) and technology. Beginning with pen, brush, ink, paint, paper, and canvas is real the true innovation and creation comes.

And there is more than just aesthetic value in the arts, as Steve Jobs reminded us. In fact, as Sunil Iyengar points out in "Who Knew? Arts Education Fuels the Economy," there is great socioeconomic value in the arts.  Iyengar and colleague Ayanna Hudson at the National Endowment for the Arts articulate a solid financial argument for investment in arts education. The return is every bit as significant as a promotion of STEM skills.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mindful Meditation Now Has a Magazine

It was on that late night jaunt to the supermarket to return a movie to RedBox that I ran across a new magazine that should relax me - but may have only stressed me out more. Mindful is a new magazine and website that is designed to promote the benefits of "mindfulness" - or at least the practice of meditation to get there. Having never seen this magazine before, I was immediately intrigued, and my attention was drawn away from the latest edition of Fast Company which is such a fascinatingly busy magazine about all that's new and good in the world that it was hard to be mindful about Mindful. And so, drawn in by the title and the cover picture of Sandra Oh from Grey's Anatomy, I began leafing through the magazine, intrigued by articles such as "How to Meditate" and Sandra Oh's commentary on the joy of being mindful.

When I think of being "mindful" and the meditative life, I am generally inspired by Henry David Thoreau's advice to "live deliberately." Of course, standing in a supermarket magazine aisle, casually reading a magazine on meditation, I wasn't too certain I was being mindful or living deliberately. The magazine was a bit busy, I must admit. And that sort of thing can counter the peace that should come from meditation and mindfulness. For, how am I ever going to find the time to do all this? And still check out the article on the most innovative companies in the world. And, with that I returned the magazine to its shelf, returned my movie, and went home in time to put my eight-year-old to bed with a little reading of Little House, the Rose Years.

That was living deliberately.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Your 20s Matter … A Lot

The average American doesn't consider him or herself truly "an adult" until about the age of 26. For me that was certainly true - I think I figured it all out at about the age of 27. And I had a marriage, "real job," a house, and a son by the age of 32. In many ways, it all worked out for me, even though I lived a very "twenty-something" lifestyle for the first five years out of college. For me, it was teaching English 20 hours a week in Southeast Asia, and traveling around with little thought about a career. However, the foundation I grew up with led me to build up "working capital" during that time.

Psychologist Megan Jay has written extensively about the conflicts, challenges, and potential pitfalls of our lives between college and "real life." One book I have recommended to many young people is her book, The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter - and How to Make the Most of Them. Some interesting advice - especially for the hook-up generation - is "the best time to work on your marriage is before you have one." The decade should be about figuring out who you really are and what you really believe. It's liberating and challenging, scary and exciting. And it will all be fine as long as we follow the advice of transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau - live deliberately.

As Longfellow advised, "Neither joy and not sorrow is our destined end or way, but to act that each tomorrow find us further than today."


Advice From Uncle Walt

Few of us could ever hope to explain "America Singing" the way our country's bard, Walt Whitman did. But in a world of uncertainty and unfulfilled feelings, this man of the 19th century had timeless words to guide us on our path. And this, he offers, is what you shall do:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

Walt Whitman has been cited by many the poet and dreamer to offer advice for the future as he encouraged us to "Sound your barbaric yawp." And he encouraged us not to doubt or second guess or regret, but to live. And if people challenged us, he reminded them,"

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large - I contain multitudes."

Monday, March 3, 2014

Test-Based Accountability Doesn't Work

The groundswell of public opinion in opposition to expanded standardized testing in schools continues to grow. Today in Denver, Colorado, a group of students known as the Denver Student Union held a rally as part of their first State of the Student Address. The primary focus of this group was to encourage the governor to end the culture of high stakes standardized testing in schools. Speakers today argued for a more meaningful educational experience, based on the arts and sciences, rather than test preparation.

And this challenge to high stakes testing - and the accountability attached to it - is also the focus of many education reformers who have seen little progress or improvement in the decade ruled by the No Child Left Behind Act, which basically mandated a system of testing. Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy has been writing about the "Failure of Test-Based Accountability." Basically, the use of high stakes test to promote and even guarantee growth has shown little improvement in student achievement. And, research now reveals that grades - GPA - are a more important and effective indicator of student achievement than standardized tests. In fact, students who don't submit test scores are at no disadvantage to those who do.

Ultimately, the backlash against standardized testing is only going to grow. And state boards of education are going to need to re-evaluate the broad-based faith they have put in tests.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Making Millions by Blogging

Most bloggers begin their online writing out of a bit of ego and a genuine desire to share information. They are, mostly, information mavens, which is the term Malcolm Gladwell coined for content-area experts who have a knack for curating useful information for countless niche markets. However, many bloggers would also love to do what they do full time and make a healthy income - if not millions - by doing it. I know a part of me dreams of A Teacher's View being that media source for many and income source for me.

To that end, countless bloggers and internet readers are drawn to articles like "How We Grew a Blog from ZERO to $6 Million."  Those titles are pretty tempting - especially because they make it sound so easy.  Of course, if it were so, I wouldn't still be working a full-time job in schools. Or maybe I would, but I'd do it for fun. But that's not to say that articles by sites and organizations like Digital Marketer are wrong or exploitative or deceptive. The information they provide such as setting goals for subscribers, providing real products, sharing advertising, and maximizing pays-per-click are absolutely on target.

For example, the above article about "Growing a blog to millions" focuses on areas such as selling products, site design, and, most importantly, the idea of content curation or content aggregation. The key to most successful sites is the way they provide readers consistent access to quality information. And they rarely produce it all by themselves. Think about it:

I’ll say it again: The world does NOT need more information. Instead, what the world needs (and values) is a trusted authority who will organize and aggregate all the GOOD information that’s actually worth reading into one place. And this concept is nothing new. In fact, the largest, most successful authority sites on the web rarely feature content written by the person who has their name on it.
Think about it: The Huffington Post, The Drudge Report, Bloomberg, Forbes, Breitbart… these sites aren’t famous for the owner’s writing style. They’re famous for the content they presentIt's just that making money by blogging does require a lot of work and quite a bit of luck.
Do you see where I’m going here? I sometimes like to jokingly call this “The Oprah Factor,” because Oprah built her ridiculously successful career by bringing the best experts, content, and entertainers onto her talk show. Oprah understood something that most people don’t…
Experts do NOT equal Authority… authorities are people who aggregate and associate with multiple experts. That’s why Oprah has associated with (and in some cases created) expert brands such as Rachel Ray, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz.
This is the playbook that the most successful authority sites use. They host expert content, associate with the most reputable thought leaders in an industry, and they leverage those associations to build their authority…just like Oprah does (just on a slightly smaller level).