Using the Outdoors

As a new and enthusiastic sixth-grade teacher, I was bringing my students back to the classroom after doing a math lesson outdoors. I passed a colleague in the hall who stopped, smiled, and said, “Must be nice to go outside and play instead of teach.”

Although the comment was just lighthearted kidding, I still couldn’t help feeling annoyed and even a bit uncomfortable. I was annoyed that my colleague obviously defined “real” teaching as something that could take place only inside a classroom. But I was a new teacher, and the remark also raised the uncomfortable notion that maybe I wasn’t making the best use of time. After years of reflection and experience though, I am more convinced than ever that the best use of time occurs when kids are actively engaged in motivating learning activities and environments, either indoors or beyond the walls of the classroom.

Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning, by Herbert W. Broda, page 1


‘Start With Why’ for Your Class

You know that book, Ways We Want Our Classroom To Be? That book largely answers the question of “How.” How do we want our class to interact together?

But I think asking “Why” is even more important, especially in the midst of the radical transformation happening in education. I think we need to ask “Why” first, before we even ask any questions about “How.”

For example, I think we should ask first day, first hour, “why are we here?” Why are we all here?” Now there’s some trite answers like, “My parents made me come here.” And that is valid, yes. It is true. But on a deeper level, why will we continue to come here every weekday and become a group for the rest of the school year? “What reasons do we have for coming together as a group, as a team, every weekday?”

Consider a homeschooler. If you were homeschooled, you’d be able to accomplish a lot, right? And you’d meet with all kinds of people in other groups, right?

“So what can our group do that we wouldn’t be able to do with any other group? What can we do collectively that we wouldn’t be able to do as an individual? What impact can we have on our lives, on our communities, on our world?”

Like a start-up, or an established organization, we can create a statement of our purpose, our reason for existing. We can make it enlivening. It can be the central focus of all our activity.

Such a basis creates an identity. We all become practitioners in our self-created community of practice. We identify and highlight our significance. We create and label the way that we are essential to the community and to the world.

We arrive at this statement of significance by consensus.

“What do we want to accomplish or achieve that we can only do with this specific combination of people, this unique group? What change do we want to make in our life or in lives around us? What contribution do we want to make? In what way will we serve, be servant leaders?”

Simon Sinek had a Ted talk and has a book: Start With Why. And I think we need to do that for our class.

Someone might say, “We’re here to learn stuff.” But is that the real reason? Is that something you can’t do by yourself? Is that something you need all of us for? So then what is a better reason?

And whatever we co-create, it doesn’t new to be fixed or permanent. Maybe later we find it needs to be fixed or modified or re-imagined completely. So we can keep coming back to it and refining it if need be. We can keep checking in on our statement of significance and reflect: “Is this still our significance? Is this still out purpose, our reason for being?”

#MustRead Shares (weekly)

Craig Lambert:

I feel excited, intrigued, and enlivened by this news! Thank you, Bo Adams.

Originally posted on it's about learning:

  • HT @MikeyCanup

    tags:school modelschools of the futureSchool Changeschooldesignschoolreform#MustRead

    • But what are they betting on? AltSchool is a decidedly Bay Area experiment with an educational philosophy known as student-centered learning. The approach, which many schools have adopted, holds that kids should pursue their own interests, at their own pace. To that, however, AltSchool mixes in loads of technology to manage the chaos, and tops it all off with a staff of forward-thinking teachers set free to custom-teach to each student. The result, they fervently say, is a superior educational experience.
    • heir own weekly “playlists,” queues of individual and group activities tailored to the specific strengths and weaknesses of each kid.
    • This puts AltSchool at the intersection of two rapidly growing movements in education. Along one axis are the dozens of edtech startups building apps…

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The Disciplined Pursuit of Less quote #school #Essentialism

What if schools eliminated busywork and replaced it with important projects that made a difference to the whole community? What if all students had time to think about their highest contribution to their future so that when they left high school they were not just starting on the race to nowhere?

–Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (page 25)

Learning Spaces Where Children Teach Themselves and Each Other

Children teach themselves. This simple but profound truth inspired Montessori’s lifelong pursuit of educational reform, methodology, psychology, teaching, and teacher training—all based on her dedication to furthering the self-creating process of the child.

–from the NAMTA website


At TED2013, Sugata Mitra was awarded the TED Prize, and he made a bold wish: to help build a place where children can explore and learn on their own — and teach one another — using resources from the worldwide cloud.

–from NPR article: “How Much Can Children Teach Themselves?”

PROCESS POST: Play, Self, and Other

This is a post to process my thinking while I write, hence, a “process post.”

I am very inspired by the work of a friend named Howard Moody. He does adult workshops for organizations all about play.

For many years, he and a colleague ran a summer camp for teens called Adventure Game Theater in the Massachusetts Berkshires and upstate New York. On the surface, it looked like any other kind of live-action role-playing. The meat and potatoes was actually about creating authentic community through play. What it distills is self-awareness and personal growth/ transformation.

As an educator for fourteen years, I know what I stand for in education. One of those things is developing the skills of “Intrapersonal Intelligence.”

As an adult, I do a lot of learning and research and thinking, but when I really reflect on it, my most profound learning everyday is about Who Am I and Who Are You and how can we connect and relate and live together and work together?

I would like to see these inquiries made more explicit in school and learning environments. I’d like these research topics and skills taught with mirth, humor, and play. I am really curious about how to address that. I think Howard Moody has got it nailed.

I was walking through Barnes & Noble and I saw two rows labeled “Your Best Life” or something like that. Maybe it’s been that way for a long time, and I just never noticed it. It used to be called self-improvement. Success literature.

“Your Best Life” seems to be a catch-all phrase for any book that explores these topics of Intrapersonal Intelligence (Who Am I and Who Are You and how can we connect and relate and live together and work together). So if it is in such high demand that a bookstore is willing to devote that much shelf-space to it, then isn’t it something that needs to be taught in school? And not just high school, but for all ages. I believe many children would like to know how to relate better with others, how to connect, and to understand others more.