06 December 2018

To My Parents (Stories from Parenting a Gifted Kid):

Earlier this month was my birthday. December 6th.

I was 36 on the 6th. That's not the "Golden Birthday," but it should be something for the mathematically minded. I have 4 kids, and as they get older, and they show off more of their personalities, strengths, and interests, I get more perspective on what it meant to be my parents. And I appreciate the heck out of it.

Parenting a "gifted" or high-ability child has a unique set of challenges from parenting "regular" children. (Not to say that all parenting isn't challenging. It's just different. You have your struggles, my wife and I have to make the decision on whether or not you ground a 7 year old from chess because you know it'll sting as a consequence, or how much time listening to audiobooks is too much because your 9 year old needs constant language input/output.) Now that I parent gifted children myself, and teach gifted children all day, I have an appreciation for how exhausting they are. They're sneaky because they can often talk to you on a level advanced beyond a "typical" kid their age, but then they will have a regular kid-type reaction to not getting their way, or eating too much sugar, or skinning their knee, or (for my middle schoolers) drama with their friend, and you've forgotten they are only __ years old and don't know how to emotionally handle that yet or make rational decisions.

(Before I get too far into this, here's a helpful article on how you can get a handle on whether or not you think your child or student is "gifted")

Here are the traits that I most exhibited as a kid from the list linked above:

  • emotional intensity
  • intense curiosity
  • ability to concentrate on a topic for long periods of time
  • a deep fund of knowledge
  • continually asking questions
  • strong memory and recall

How did these play out in me as a child? Here are several vignettes...

As I remember, I planned my own birthday party in kindergarten. I made invitations, I gave them to my friends in class...I don't remember inviting my parents into this process. And it came to the day of the party and ONE kid showed up with his dad. The way we organize simple playdates in 2018, this seems odd, but I genuinely felt like I had this thing under control. I remember being a little bummed that a couple friends weren't there, but for the most part I just rolled with it. Me and Seth had a great time. My lack of soul-crushing disappointment seems...different. LOL (Thinking now of my oldest son's lack of social awareness.)

In 2nd grade we wrote in journals every morning to start the day. I LOVED this time. I spent a lot of my writing in the beginning of the 2nd semester being oddly obsessed with the 1st Iraq war. I willingly sat and watched the evening news, read headlines (and at least the front page text), and remember vividly listening live on the radio the night the US coalition started bombing Iraqi positions. I don't know what percentage of adults knew as much about gas masks and Patriot missiles as I did. So, because we could write about whatever we wanted, I took a break from reimagining/retelling the plot of Back to the Future and wrote about George Bush, Saddam Hussein, skud missiles, Patriot missiles, Israeli warning sirens, and gas masks. As an educator, I'm reading this 8 year old's journal assuming his parents are either in the military currently, or crazy. My parents are both Air Force veterans, but both only served 4 years and then went on to civilian careers. Props to them for letting a gifted kid lead their own learning. Also, its probably God's grace that the internet did not yet exist, or this obsession could have gotten really unhealthy.

Percussion Glockenspiel Bell Kit 30 Notes w/ Practice Pad +Mallets+Sticks+Stand
Currently in their basement, my parents are still housing an alto saxophone, alto clarinet, a percussion bells set, a flute, and a regular clarinet. None of these instruments have been played for at least 20 years, and the bells set was purchased because I got interested on evening during a Christmas cantata at our church, but they live on as a testament to the value they placed on my sister and I learning and performing music. (For those of you keeping score, the sax, clarinet and bells were mine, and my sister played the alto clarinet, flute, and also a viola.)

Answering (or at least listening to) a million questions and wonderings before Google. I'm pretty sure questions are a sign of creativity/curiosity/intelligence, and I value that in my own children, but cannot imagine having to do more than an internet search to appease their curiosity for the day.

Finding new, creative hiding spots for presents every year. I was a snoop.

Figuring out how to keep an 11 year old safe on the internet before many adults even knew how to get on the internet. In one of my worst childhood moments, I got my dad's credit card out of his wallet one day while he was taking a nap and signed us up for AOL using the floppy drive they'd sent in the mail. That was the most 90s thing I'll write this year. The advertisement claimed we could have TEN FREE HOURS, so my too-smart-for-my-own-good self thought I did an awesome job of tracking my 10 hours, and was pretty certain I'd cut myself off before the monthly payment kicked in.  I WAS WRONG. My Dad's reaction was maybe the most surprising aspect of the story - I think he grounded me, but we kept the internet. I'm sure we'll have the conversation after they read this, but from my parenting perspective, it was a gutsy move. Exceptional people with exceptional success are usually the result of exceptional opportunity (which I learned in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, but also is learned through experience), so being introducing the web when I clearly had an interest was an investment of hope. (I went on to squander it playing Shockwave games and chatting with 6 friends at once on AOL Instant Messenger, but in a way this blog and a some of my ability to adopt/adapt technology for the classroom has its roots in that decision).

I would read my social studies textbook for fun. You know, after I'd done all of my regular elementary homework.

In 6th grade, I got a red ribbon in the school science fair, which meant I got to move on the the St. Louis County-wide science fair. My project had no photos, which as an educator is awful, but as a kid I blamed out lack of Polaroid camera. I was a science hot shot in my class, so I expected good news when we drove to the venue where all of the projects had been judged. I wandered through the gym, trying to find my project amongst the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners... but it wasn't there. It was in a side room, where the honorable mention winners picked up their ribbons. I was devastated. No kidding, I cried for at least half an hour about his "failure." (Again, as an educator, I'm questioning my school's decision to send a project that didn't have photos, but IDK.) This was the first time I fully realized some people were just more talented than I was at stuff, and it was crushing because I'd built all of my kid identity on being the brightest (or somehow justifying that I was.) Here's where my parents won this one - they were encouraging that night, letting me know it was okay, that I could try again next year in middle school, and then they just let it go. They let me decide how I was going to respond to this challenge, how much I was going to really care, and they let me own it.

Mom and Dad,
The further we get from childhood the clearer we see the patchwork of decisions our parents made that shape who we are and how we live. Sometimes we live out of response to decisions that caused us pain, and other times we adopt what they gave us because recognize the good. I find myself adopting much much more with my kids and my students than I reject. Thanks for all the opportunities. Thanks for helping me understand myself. Thanks for all the good. - cb

25 November 2018

Are You Pumpkin-Spicing Your Classroom?

I'm not ashamed to say it - I'll crush a Starbucks PSL. I smile gleefully as I wait for that first sip of the season.(Pumpkin Spice Latte for the uninitiated, although it contains no actual pumpkin, which often confuses people, but to be fair, it's pumpkin SPICE, not pumpkin PIE. Back to the point.) There have been several years I've looked forward to the yearly onlaught of all things pumpkin spiced.

"I wish I could have pumpkin spice all year long," I thought one evening in front of the dry, non-dairy creamer at the supermarket. "If I buy a few of these, I can probably make them last several months at work. Win!"

I proudly pulled out my creamer the next day and sipped my clever coffee hack, looking forward to the months to come.

You probably can guess the end of this sorry. Just like Christmas carols, the Filet-O-Fish, and extended stays with family over the holidays, in order to appreciate a good thing, it's generally best for everyone if enjoyed in moderation.

"What in the world does your PSL obsession have to do with teaching?"

Fair question. Have you ever found yourself falling in love with a tech tool, website, or teaching strategy and wanting to use it ALL THE TIME? Kahoot! Quizizz. Quizlet. Thatquiz. KnowledgeHook. And that's just a list of formative assessment tools. I'm sure I could poll the internet and find websites from every content area, as well.

I've found that the magic bullet website/tool/strategy that is going to get 100% of your students engaged all the time only works for a period of time. A particular trait of the gifted students in my classroom is craving novelty. If they expect what's coming, be ready to be looking at kids tuning you out working on something else next time you look up.

Comfort is often unhealthy for us, too, right? We get complacent in comfort. Most of my students are building skills. Most of my kids are connecting with me relationally. Most of my students' parents came to conferences. You name it.

So, yeah...I crushed the Pumpkin Spice Life in my cereal bowl this morning, and I'm going to definitely be pulling from my greatest hits as we head into the final stretch of the semester next week, but I'm going to remember that not everyone likes PSLs as much as I do, and I can only truly appreciate pumpkin spice if it stays in the fall where it belongs.

02 July 2018

Why Take a Course on Administrating Gifted Programs?

Full disclosure: The motivation for taking this course after already completing my coursework for gifted certification was so I can move up the salary scale in my district. I do, however, want to shout-out to Truman State University in Missouri for offering this course online!

I look forward to the targeted research and intentional reflection but have no current aspirations for administering a gifted program, so I'm just here for the learning and to be a more knowledgeable teacher-leader when we make curriculum decisions at the STEAM Academy specifically, and for gifted students in general in my school district.

This intro video details a bit of my story as an educator, my professional learning the past year, and features a cameo from my oldest son, waiting for us to go home from the summer program with Gifted Resource Council we're a part of in St. Louis.

12 March 2018

Computers, the Internet and Creativity - Net Gain or Net Loss?

One topic for discussion in our gifted curriculum class last week was creativity. 

Our instructor began the discussion with a fact: since the 1980s, researchers have seen a decline in creativity.

::Alarm bells::

Hang on, what?

We've got kindergartners posting to their own YouTube channels, entire websites essentially dedicated to people trying to cultivate or share their creativity (Pinterest, anyone?), memes and "it" ideas of Internet culture last only a matter of days or weeks, and everyday, regular people, every day going out to work, trying to figure out how to stay ahead of the computer that ultimately wants to take their job, and people are LESS creative?

I'm less creative than the 1970s version of myself that came home from work, patted his kids on their sweet heads, ate whatever random Campbell's soup-based casserole was for dinner that night, and then watched a couple of hours of the generic, broadly appealing TV that the 3 broadcast networks were pumping to the rabbit ears on top of my television?

Come on... I realize that this research from Kyung Hee Kim of the College of William and Mary analyzing 30 years worth of results from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking supports it, but I don't buy that this is a closed question.

Perhaps we're asking the wrong questions now. The internet has changed the speed of innovation and shortened the shelf-life relevance of many ideas, so why wouldn't smartphones and the internet affect the way we think about and measure creativity? 

A quick digression in case you're unfamiliar with the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking
The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TCTT) was developed in the mid-20th century by educational psychologist Paul Torrance, and is built upon previous work from Joy Paul Guilford defining creativity and fleshing out creative traits of divergent thinking: fluency, originality, flexibility, and elaboration.

Okay, back to my argument (with a little bit of stats talk)
To summarize the article linked above from Dr. Kim about the decline in creativity, she observed changes in the median score on the figural (non-verbal) portion of the TTCT over a 30 year period. For most of the creativity traits, the normed scores were level-ish (yep, of course that's a scientific term. LOL), but particularly in this century, most all of the parameters median scores feel by a statistically significant level from the 2000 norming of the test to the 2008. She acknowledges that the scores might even be inflated because of the long timeframe between national norming of the test. As an example, drawing a smartphone during one phase of the figural test constitutes an "original" idea according to the scoring, because that would not have been an "average" object in 2008. In other words, test takers are getting points for originality that they probably should not be.

I read that entire article, and poured over every chart, hoping to find a chink in the numbers that explained what I was anecdotally seeing in my world - that the internet was, in fact, enhancing humans' creativity in 2018.

An interesting parallel trend to the decline in creativity is that average IQs scores have increased over the same period. So...are we getting better at thinking like computers? (And all the while programming our computers to learn and to think more creatively)?

What's the score?
Here's my general take - overall, computers and the internet have been a positive change for creativity and creative thinking, but that they have had a negative effect on some aspects. I'll use the TTCT Figural Test categories for reference.

Fluency: GAIN
Its nearly impossible to NOT be aware of more ideas and news in a broad range of topics in this day and age, and the more connected you are to social media and internet culture, the more accustomed you are to a breakneak speed of creative output and publishing. Ideas get old quickly on the web.

Originality: LOSS
This one was most important to one of my classmates. He sees his coding kids attempt to steal code from other projects they find on the web nearly every day, so its his professional responsibility to stress the importance of shutting out the echo chamber, sitting with your own thoughts, and having your own ideas.

Elaboration: GAIN
I think elaboration can be the inverse idea of both fluency or originality. Whichever it is, we get lots of practice in our connected culture taking other creatives' ideas and adapting it or viewing it with a critical eye for how we would do better.

Resistance to Premature Closure: EVEN
I've got to admit that I still don't totally understand this one. It has something to do with being okay with an idea not totally being "finished". This sounds to me like apps releasing in Beta and nearly finished products getting funding on Kickstarter. On the other hand...a lot of days long arguments on Facebook stem from individuals seeking closure of an argument that by its very nature probably will not.

Titles (Abstractness of Titles): GAIN
We title things on the internet all the time. Our reviews on Amazon. This blog post. The meme we created for the latest politician's blunder. That perfect caption under your Instagram post.

BUT...the research clearly says that creativity is in decline. So, what's your point?
We've got to keep looking into this! For everyone brave enough to attempt what becomes the next Pinterest Fail, for the DIYer that is going to transform their guest bath, and for every small-business and start-up that risks epic failure to address a problem that currently is underserved, we cannot stop and assume that our creative muscles are atrophying with our thumbs swiping screens, but that rather, we're only getting stronger.

Just because we haven't proved it yet doesn't mean we aren't.


21 February 2018

Book Review: Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk

Book: Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk
Author: Jordan Raynor

You are called to createPlatform: I read this on the Hoopla Digital app (and the Hoopla Digital website) with my library card from the St. Louis County Library

You could also find it at:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

Who's This Book For?
  • Anyone who thinks they have entrepreneurial skills
  • Anyone who thinks they might desire entrepreneurial skills
  • Anyone who doesn't know what they want to do with their work lives
  • Anyone who would describe themselves as a "creative."
  • Anyone currently feeling unfulfilled in their "secular" job.
  • Students seeking to understand entrepreneurship and working in a "creative" industry from a Christian, Biblical perspective

My Take:
Leading a single-income household with 3 children (my wife has been lovingly giving of herself, joyfully staying home since 2011), I've often felt a pressure to leave my paltry teacher's salary behind for greener pastures of private industry as a corporate trainer or the like.

The thing that usually made it hardest for me to envision myself NOT in education was the idea of leaving behind this people-centered industry for a job where my worth would largely be measured in efficiency over love, and generating wealth for others over shaping lives. It felt like a dead work. It felt less spiritual. It felt like a waste of the majority of my waking hours in the name of making my family more secure and comfortable. Certainly, I have a mandate to care for my family, but I don't believe God wants us to work so that we can put our trust in our 401k.

Part of that low view of corporate life came from ignorance on my part of the amount of face-time that you all not in education get with co-workers on your teams and in your offices, part of it was a blindness to the impact I could and should have been having to bless my fellow teachers (not only my students), and a low view of how God uses work and business to help us glorify Him in how we live and what we value.

If you've ever felt the same way about work, this is a great book for you. I appreciated Raynor's breaking the book into a what, why, how, and so what framework of entrepreneurship and creating from a Christian worldview. The tangible examples from businesses and business owners that you'll probably find familiar serve as a means to build your faith for the way God uses work, entrepreneurs, and creative productivity to bless those around you and to fulfill a mandate from Genesis to create and bring order, just like the Creator (who Raynor sometimes refers to for the purposes of this book as the "First Entrepreneur".

I also appreciated how Raynor mixes in biblical and scripture references into a genre that I've seen sometimes error toward vaguely biblical, but more self-helpy. I didn't come to this book expecting every piece of truth to come explicitly from scripture, but there is plenty of good reading on entrepreneurship and innovation if you're not looking for a Christian perspective. Layering the word God on an otherwise "regular" business book doesn't make it better, it makes it less genuine. All that goes to say, Raynor mixes biblical truth and business examples into the narrative in a way that enriches his story, rather than distracting from it.

Called to Create clocks in at 240 pages, which might be a tad longer than a busy entrepreneur/creative might typically be able to get through if not in the practice of reading, but the narrative is easy and the 4-part structure of the chapters also makes it more digestible.

I wholly recommend this book!

19 February 2018

I Went to a PBL School and Discovered How Little I Know About PBL

Altogether, I've probably attended at least 75 hours worth of professional learning and workshops on Project-Based Learning between my work with Pathways to Prosperity, various sessions at EdCampSTL, METC, and MORENet conferences, and training from THE Buck Institute for a week last summer and one day in December with my new school, the STEAM Academy. I've designed and/or implemented several projects that I thought were pretty good. I've seen the Most Likely to Succeed film 5 times. I have a great foundation on the general "how" and definite passion for the "why" of project-based learning.

I had AMAZING visions for what my students were going to accomplish this year! We started so well - I threw the curriculum pacing slightly out of order, found a project integrating Algebra, Geometry, and Architecture that I loved, had a friend come mentor the kids for a day, and took some really good pictures! I co-designed a project for our 6th graders that involved planning the purchases and recipe scaling for a Thanksgiving meal for all 80ish 6th graders in our building. My co-teacher was super into it! The kids worked together so well!

And yet, here I am in the middle of February, and I find my classroom and our school becoming test-prep central. Don't get me wrong, PBL activities are still happening in the building - our fine arts department has begun a cool Carnival themed unit called "STEAM Caliente" that I'm sure is going to be amazing for our students, but I feel entrenched in this anxiety and pressure to prepare my students to death so we can meet our goal of all students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" on our state tests in May.

If YOU were to ask ME the question, "How can I do PBL units and make sure I cover all of my standards," I would tell you to "make sure that you design your unit backward to ensure that what you want the kids to learn is at the front, and that as the kids work, the learning will work itself out." I would point out that your test-prep cramming is meaningless in the end anyway.

But here I am, feeling at a complete loss for vision for the task before me.

See the source image

Who's got a model for PBL that involves deep, interdisciplinary projects with kids who do well on their standardized tests AND also administer days worth of practice tests to generate predictive data for students' performance on state tests. Send me your links! :)

Back to that question that you would ask me - I would tell you that feeling uncomfortable is really good for you professionally, and I still believe that, but I've also found that it can be a lonely, humbling place. (But in the end, humility is great, too).

17 February 2018

Why Do We Keep Looking for the Next Best Thing?

The next MJ.
The next LeBron.
The next iPhone.
The next band.
The next app.
The next activity for your kid.
The next testing platform that will address all of your district's needs.
The next extension that completes your productive workflow.
Your next car.
Your next house.
Your next job.
The next friendship that finally completes you.
The next ___ followers on your Instagram or Twitter.
The next thrill.
The next church.
The next meal.


Let me drop this there-is-nothing-new-under-the-sun truth bomb on you from the writer of the book of Acts, describing the Apostle Paul's visit to Athens, Greece:
"Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new."
Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
Acts 17:21 ESV

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
Acts 17:21 ESV

There's nothing particularly of moral or ethical weight to the statement on the surface; its simply descriptive of what the people of Athens often did to fill their time. Taken in some context, however, I see it as an indictment on the waste of what these men (and women) were filling their time with and giving their worship to. The beginning of this chapter states that the city was "full of idols," and as my pastor continued to preach last week, I stayed fixated on my own searches for "next."

I've spent a ton of time on this blog, in my classroom, in conversations with friends, scrolling newsfeeds and Twitter chats in search of any opportunity for "telling or hearing something new." In and of itself, new can be good. Innovation is obviously a great creative force. When the search becomes "nothing except," however, is where things go awry.

I put a ton of worth, identity, and effort in being known as a guy who is usually hip to new trends in education, new apps, new websites, new tech. Your thing might be bands, or sports, or cars, or styles, or celebrities. Whatever. There's an entire sub-culture on the internet and social media making people famous for knowing "next." People crave it!

And if people crave it, that means they worship it.

What's the mean for the classroom?

For me, worshipping the "next" thing in education leads me to neglecting what's right in front of me. Neglecting the kids in front of me. Neglecting the duties God has already called me to and made me responsible for. Maybe someday my job will be finding and sorting through "next," for educators to help them in their jobs. But for now, its important for me to be about not the next, but the present.

Next makes it hard for me to collaborate with others, because they might get more credit than me.
Next makes it difficult to have polished lessons, because you rarely use/do something multiple times to iron out kinks in your delivery.
Next makes me more time on my Twitter feed than in giving feedback to students and contacting parents.
Next leaves little room for someone else to have a good idea, because Next is best worshipped when I am the one who did that.
Next feels good when I get to share something new with a colleague, but instead of being helpful, Next just lords it over them.
Next needs an audience, so when I worship Next, I'm only content on a PD day if I am facilitating one of the sessions.

Keeping abreast of new research and tools is obviously an important professional obligation, and my PLN keeps me going often when I need perspective outside my school/district, so I'm not suggesting that we neglect new things, or seeking innovations to improve our craft or our students experience. We must keep in perspective WHY we seek those things.  We seek innovation and change for our STUDENTS, not for ourselves.

Next must be more FUN - for STUDENTS.
Next must be more ACCESSIBLE - for STUDENTS.
Next must be MORE RELEVANT - for STUDENTS.
Next must provide MORE OPPORTUNITIES - for STUDENTS.

Otherwise, we're just spending all our time "telling and hearing something new."