Saturday, March 30, 2019

Why School Leaders Need to Know About 3DBear

I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of educator who has a real fear of missing out.  I don’t want to be left in the dark on any new ideas, new technologies, or trends.  I hate when someone knows about a resource that I haven’t heard of, so I strive to always learn and grow.  As a district leader, I know that I can never stop learning if I want to keep leading.

My need for continuous learning pushes me to seek out about new things, read about them, and try them out, doing whatever I can to learn more and keep current. If you have FOMO too, then you know that internal drive to keep learning.  That is particularly true when it comes to technology.

As school and district leaders, we need to stay on top of the changing educational landscape while ensuring that our schools, our teachers, and our students are equipped to thrive within this technologically advancing environment.  Regularly reading edtech blogs and attending conferences can be great ways to keep current, but sometimes you need some hands-on exposure to a new tool to really find its value.
Technology is changing by the minute as artificial intelligence, and virtual reality is altering the way we approach teaching and learning.  Augmented reality is one pathway for teachers to immerse students in learning experiences that combine creativity and technology skills. You may have heard about 3DBear, a new augmented reality tool that is opening doors for students and unlocking their creativity.

Grab a free trial so that you can learn more about using this tech tool in your school.  

Creation, Not Consumption
As leaders, we want students in our schools spending time in creation, not merely consumption. For this to truly happen, we need to equip our teachers with the knowledge to design these learning opportunities for our teachers.

Students can certainly read about medieval times or learn about dinosaurs in textbooks or through video.  What if instead, students could immerse themselves in this learning making and creating the very topics they are learning about?  When students create using augmented reality, they activate their imaginations and skillfully craft products that they can share immediately with others, offering opportunities for global collaboration.

3DBear provides endless possibilities for classroom creation. In any subject area and at any grade level, this app will allow students to create scenes that invoke creativity, demonstrate knowledge and build technology skills. Once students (and teachers) start to engage with the app, they will soon discover that they can bring their creations to life by connecting to a 3-D printer. No longer focused on consuming information, students have the ability to create and produce their own designs.

Activate Creative Thinking
I want students to be problem solvers and complex thinkers. We need classrooms where students are challenged to engage in thinking, planning, and iterating as they develop collaboration and critical thinking skills.  When students are working in 3DBear they will activate creative thinking as they plan and design their images, carefully mapping out their images and making their learning visible for others. 

Exploring with this tool, I quickly found my creative juices flowing. Looking outside at the flurries falling from the sky, I used the 3DBear app to create a virtual flower garden indoors.  As I worked, I found myself rearranging the plants and flowers thinking about the aesthetics of my image.  While I was informally creating with the app, I wondered how students might use this to redesign their classroom, build an ancient structure, or create a welcoming landscape.


My augmented reality flower garden

Content Integration
When teachers are designing lessons, 3DBear offers ways to enhance learning within the content areas.  English Language Arts teachers looking for another layer of engagement can have students design scenes from the stories they are reading.  Math teachers looking to develop spatial awareness and build an understanding of geometry concepts with find options within the app.  Science teachers will love the bank of images that can be used when students are studying plants and animals or the solar system.  Merging knowledge from math and science with tech is a great step towards STEM and STEAM lesson integration as well.  Check out this solar system image I created after just a few minutes tinkering with the app on my phone.  Imagine what students might create when given the time and space to explore augmented reality in the classroom.
       Solar System Exploration in 3DBear

Engagement At All Levels
3DBear can be used in simple ways in the primary classroom but can increase in complexity throughout the grade levels. First-grade classrooms can jump into augmented reality to build words and even practice spelling. The tool can be used to practice vocabulary and create images to enhance word meaning. Intermediate level students can expand use to build intricate scenes connected to creative storytelling and narrative writing.  Middle-level science classes create animal habitats. High school students design homes and 3-D print the components.  3DBear can support academic learning, social-emotional learning, but it can also just be for fun. 

This weekend my sons (ages 4 and 6) messed around with the app and created this image for March Madness.  Even my preschooler was engaged and used his iPad to create other scenes on his own.

Ease of Use
We know that adding something new to the plates of our teachers can present its challenges, but 3DBear makes it easy with a teacher dashboard.  This tool provides lesson plans and resources so teachers can get started right away.  The dashboard provides examples for all subject areas making 3DBear an easy-to-learn and quick to use the platform.  Get this into the hands of your teachers, so that can share in the fun with your students.

Since this tool is easy to use and can work across grades and subject areas, I can see this becoming a favorite app for teachers and students.  Check out for more information.

As a district leader and educator, this is the kind of tool that I want my teachers exploring. It provides an opportunity for exploration and student creation in so many ways.  Teachers will find 3DBear easy to use, as will students. Take advantage of their free 30-day trials for teachers and sign up for an account here

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Stop Teaching Skills That Disappear

I recently had the opportunity to watch the educational documentary, Most Likely to Succeed by Ted Dintersmith. It's a pretty powerful video.  While there were dozens of ideas that struck me during the viewing, there was one particular idea that I keep circling back to.

I understand that we all have a curriculum to teach and standards to align our instruction to, but I think we need to ask ourselves some tough questions about what exactly we are teaching.

Are we teaching students things that stay with them or are we teaching them things that disappear?

If you really think hard about this, it might be a game-changing question for you.

My son is in first grade and every Friday he has a spelling test, a vocabulary quiz, and a reading test. Don't get me started on the fact that a 6 year old has already deemed Fridays as "test days".  He knows about the 5-day death march that we trudge through week after week.

Luckily, he doesn't have to study a lot for these tests, as he has strong literacy skills. But, imagine if he didn't.  Some students have to study for 4 or 5 tests every Friday.  Let's think about what it is that he is learning. He gets a set of spelling words on Monday and then is tested at the end of the week.  Once Friday comes and goes, that knowledge also goes. While he will apply spelling patterns in the future, he'll never have to regurgitate that list again.  Why have we created these routines in education?

Consider a similar situation in an upper level math class.  Our students memorize formulas for the big test and then throw that information away once it has served its purpose.  I fear that we are forcing our students to consume information that they will never use again. What if we taught students things that stuck with them, like how to work in a group or how to think flexibly about a problem. What if our lessons focused on how to communicate with others and confidently present an idea. Then we would be equipping students with skills for life, the skills that don't disappear on Friday or any day a year or two from now. 

We wonder why kids say--when am I ever going to use this?  It's because we are teaching them things that will disappear--likely sooner than later.  How can we change that trajectory?

Connect with kids--Every conversation we have with our students allows us to model the importance of relationships. The interactions we have and the stories we tell shows students that people matter.  Their words matter. That is a life lesson that won't fade away throughout their schooling.

Design tasks that matter--Rethink your instruction and create tasks that push student thinking and force them to tap into skills that don't disappear like grit, empathy, and perseverance.  Memorized skills and rote repetition won't stick with your students much beyond Friday's test. Opt for learning experiences that will expand creativity and equip them to solve problems.  These are tools that will help them in any class, job, or life experience.

Provide a purpose-Learning a topic "because we have to" or taking a test on Friday out of habit are not good enough reasons for me.  Tell your students why they are learning what they are learning. Define the purpose and make sure it's a good one!  Provide students with the reasons behind the content they are learning. 

When we provide a purpose, connect with kids, and design tasks that matter, we are building knowledge within our learners that won't fade away over time.  We can give them a foundation for learning that will stick with them and show them the value in this thing we call school.

This week, reflect on what you are teaching and assessing.  Are you focused on skills for Friday or skills for the future? Teach your students the things that won't disappear.  

Share a comment below about your reflection. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

How Do We Celebrate Creativity?

In schools, we hold academic honor ceremonies, athletic competitions, and science fairs.  We have spelling bees and "Math-A-Thons". We lift up the successes of our students in big ways when it comes to these types of accomplishments.  We recognize championship wins and perfect SAT scores.  We hand out certificates for honor roll and perfect attendance, but how do we celebrate creativity?

I recently attended an event at my son's school called Arts Alive.  Your school may have one of these kinds of events, too.  Student artwork was hung throughout the halls.  Each grade level practiced a few songs and did a performance on stage.  There were crafts in the cafeteria for families to do and a even a face painter.  It was a lively evening focused on celebrating the arts, but it got me wondering about what we do to support creative learning throughout the year.

If we value creative thinking and the imaginative work of our students, then we should celebrate this in both big and small ways. Here are a few simple ways to honor the creativity in your students and show them that their creative mindset matters.

Showcase Student Creativity (all year long)

When I was an elementary principal, we had an amazing art teacher.  Not only did she build student skills in the art room, but she inspired students to be creative.  She did a great job of displaying student work throughout the school, but visitors to the school didn't always have the pleasure of walking the halls and viewing these masterpieces.  We invested some money in some plain black frames and hung them in the main office.  Select pieces of student work could be displayed regularly in the office for everyone to see.  While this is a simple step to take, imagine the pride in a student's face when they see their creative work displayed in this way.

Offer Creative Assessment Options

If we agree that creative thinking will solve the complex problems of the future, then we need to start equipping students now with the skills to do that.  Reflect on your assessment practices.  Paper and pencil tests can't always measure everything we want to see in our students. Do you offer options that tap into the creativity of students?  Are video animations a choice when summarizing a story? Can students use Buncee to illustrate their understanding of a science concept?  Does building a physical model to explain a math formula "count" as an assessment? Exploring creative assessment options provides an alternate pathway to demonstrate understanding and allows student strengths to shine.

Promote Creative Accomplishments

We post on Facebook and tweet out when our sports teams win and when our scholars excel.  Let's honor our designers, painters, poets, and musicians just as often. Promote the work of our creative students all year long, not just for the one-time art show every spring.  Let's be intentional about giving students the time and space to exhibit their creativity.  We can promote it through the programs we offer in our schools and the communication that we push out to our school community. Tell the story of creativity in your school and share it.

Celebrate Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson said, "Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status." There is no doubt that lots of educators are lifting up creativity and giving it the status it deserves. Let's #uNlockCreativity and open a world of imagination within our students!

How do you celebrate creativity in your classroom? In what ways does your school promote student creative successes? Share your ideas for unlocking creativity in schools.