Low tech

525,600 Minutes

“525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?  How about love? Measure in love.”

- Seasons of Love from the musical, “Rent

December is always an interesting month for me. While I prefer the summer months because of the sunshine, longer days, and many outdoor activities (especially lake kayaking!) to partake in, December always signals a time for getting still and quiet, reflecting on the 11 months that precede it, and thinking about the new year to come. It is also the month where my birthday falls, so in addition to starting a new calendar year, I am beginning another trip around the sun myself, causing even further desire for self-reflection, exploration of personal growth and goal setting.

2017 was an extremely difficult year for me personally. In addition to my own difficulties, I feel like there were a lot of challenges in 2017 for many people on our planet. I don't feel I am inaccurate in saying that I have very few friends, acquaintances or people who I follow through social media who would express that it was their best year yet; in fact, for many, the opposite may be true. Nevertheless, we have made it through to the end of it. We learn from both our successes and our challenges, and sometimes the most powerful lessons come from the most difficult of circumstances.  Here are some of my most important takeaways from 2017:

  1. I forgot that one of the hardest things about being a classroom teacher is the amount of sleep I lose worrying about the students in my class.

  2. Mindfulness and meditation practices can help you process and work through some pretty difficult stuff that medication cannot.

  3. It is ok to stop, breathe, and take time to take care of yourself.

  4. There are many people around you going through hard things, including the students in your class and school - and your colleagues too. Be kind to everyone.

  5. When you are really, really struggling, sometimes you are often surprised by the people who show up to support you that you never expected… just as you are sometimes bewildered by the ones who you thought would be there for you, but are not.

  6. Sometimes when things feel the darkest, you don’t have any idea how close you actually are to getting to the other side of the tunnel where the light is shining.

  7. If you are willing to be courageous, curious, and caring, you begin to realize that almost everything is figureoutable.

In addition to personal contemplation, this time of year is a great time to ask your students about their own reflections on 2017 and their wishes for the new year.  I absolutely love this article about doing a nightly debrief with your children at home, and have borrowed some of the questions to add to a quick reflection for 2017/18 printable (go to "File - download as - PDF document" for the most printer-friendly formatting.) I left it in grey-scale for photocopying purposes. You are welcome to use it with your own students, and I will be using it with mine.  I am not a gifted graphic designer, so if anyone wants to take this template and improve upon it, I would love it if you would do that and then please share it back with me: info@theglueedu.com, so I can share it here on the blog for others to use as well.  We are better together. UPDATE: Thanks to @mrmaltais for sharing his version of the above reflection printable.

One thing I know for sure: my life has been made better in 2017 through the incredible gift of connection. I am lucky to have so many rich connections with people - both face-to-face and online, and I can’t imagine having gotten through this year without them. I am always slightly mystified by people who still blame technology for disconnect between humans. So many of the people in my friend circles, my “tribe”, and my support networks have been those who I connect with from a distance, and this would not have been possible without the use of technology.  I cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel every day for the ability to spend time with these people via the use of the Internet and my technology devices.  It is possible to feel a dark, deep loneliness and disconnect with someone whose face you have an opportunity to see in person every day, just as you can experience absolute joy from a connection with someone who feels like sunshine to you, in a time zone 9 hours different from yours. It really is what you do with technology that matters.  If you are purchasing technology devices for yourself or others this season, please keep that in mind.  The best technology is that which allows you to create and connect, to share stories and support, and get to know and understand others better. There is no better gift than that.

As you think about the 525,600 minutes to come in 2018, how can you use your devices and Internet connection in the service of human connection?

Happy holidays and here’s to an amazing new year! 2018 is going to be the year that love wins. For me. For you. For all of us on planet Earth. I just know it.

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Nothing Sticks Together If We Don't

This content is cross-posted from the EdTechTeam blog.

“Whatcha gonna do about it?” I felt like the Universe was taunting me with this question after a challenging series of difficult life events and unexpected changes in rapid succession.  In addition to feeling defeated and depleted on a personal level, I was feeling anxiety and concern about the world at large. Every time I turned on the news, scrolled through social media or perused trending topics, I was bombarded with stories that were steeped in negativity.  I needed help finding the positive, and looked for inspiration in books, podcasts, online courses, and videos from people who have worked through difficult times with great courage. I noticed that many of them had the same core message, expressed beautifully by Viktor Frankl:  “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”  Perspective is powerful. Seeing difficult times as a catalyst for change and growth can help mitigate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.  Instead of perceiving “Whatcha gonna do about it?” as a call to surrender to sadness and wave the white flag, I decided to choose to see it differently – as a challenge to do something good.  My response? The Glue EDU.

If we focus on the negative, we tend to see more of it. If we look for the positive, it begins to appear more frequently. I decided I wanted to create a blog that focused on the good, that helped myself, other teachers and students work toward becoming more “Wholehearted” (as defined by Brené Brown), and generate a positive ripple as a result.  

Sketchnote by  Leonie Dawson

Sketchnote by Leonie Dawson

I came up with my site’s mission: We appear to be existing in a time in this world (and often in educational systems) where the focus seems to be on things such as power, programs, policies, politics, plans, and procedures. It feels like decision makers sometimes overlook the most important “P word” of all: PEOPLEThe Glue EDU aspires to be a place where we can share lessons, activities, ideas, resources and more that help us work with our students to become human beings who are courageouscurious, and caring  – both to themselves and to others.  This could be through mindfulness activities, acts of service, global projects, storytelling, perspective shifting, and more!  Many of these activities can harness the power of technology to help us be even more effective and/or wide-reaching.

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As someone who has worked as a tech integrator for more than a decade, I am passionate about sharing ideas about using technology for GOOD, and teaching our students to do the same. I listen to a lot of people blame technology for many negative things in the world – that we are more connected to our devices but less connected to one another, just for starters.  In some instances, this may be true, but I believe we can work to shift our perspective here as well, and focus on all the positive ways we can use our tech tools. I have been incredibly fortunate to attend and present at many EdTechTeam Summits and events where I have seen this demonstrated over and over in presentations by other amazing educators. We can work with students to use technology to inspire curiosity, engage in empathetic interactions, and create, create, create – whether it’s connections to others, stories to share, solutions to problems, or moments of joy. It’s what you do with it that matters – and there are so many ways and opportunities to do it well!

It is scary to share your work publicly. When I began The Glue EDU, I worried that my only blog followers would be a couple good friends and my mom.  The response has been so much better than I ever expected. Colleagues in my own district are using some of the mindfulness resources I mentioned. Teachers from across North America, in New Zealand, and from Singapore, among others, shared how my post about #eyebombing brightened their day, made them smile, and inspired them to try it with their students. Kids in California are now getting a hug, handshake or high five from their teacher every day. An educator in Ohio reached out to say she made some big connections to the truthbombs I shared and thanked me for writing about them. Knowing that I am creating the positive ripple I had hoped for it gives me the courage to keep posting.

Human relationships, empathy, and compassion: they create the glue that connects us. I would love to hear your stories about using technology for good and possibly share them on the blog so others can hear them  – your perspective is important and necessary! Let’s use technology to connect our classrooms, share good ideas, and shift perspective to the positive together. Nothing sticks together if we don’t. Please join me!

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Truthbombs from Ten Year Olds

Sometimes kids surprise you. Sometimes you think that, because they are kids, they don't understand the deeper connections between the projects we do in school, and larger life lessons.  Sometimes they prove you wrong. 

We wrapped our photography unit by having a discussion about things they had learned to be true about photography. Here is what they came up with (edited by me for clarity of expression, but basic concepts preserved):

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Sometimes 10 year olds come up with some pretty big #truthbombs. 

Truthbombs resonate, because they're... well... TRUE.  They're usually pretty simply stated, but they make a big impact because they're expressed in a context you, perhaps, had not thought of before.  We'll be spiralling back through these photography/life #truthbombs throughout our learning year. They are good ones.

My students hit me with another #truthbomb this week. I asked them to discuss the question, "Do you believe people are naturally good?" More than 2/3 of them said that they did not believe this statement to be true. This broke my heart. I expressed my surprise about their responses to some of my colleagues, which led to an interesting adult discussion about how it is possible that children's worldviews are being shaped by technology in a negative way. News is often sad and serious. People sometimes say horrible things to each other on social media. It is easier to dehumanize others and treat them in ways that are cruel when we can hide behind our screens to do it. It is difficult to escape the media and communication options that surround us and are available 24/7. We start to believe what we see, and much of it is negative. Knowing that the magic ratio of positive to negative moments in a day needs to be at least 5:1 for optimal emotional and physical health, are we seeing enough of the good stuff in our feeds, streams, and media? After thinking about all of these things, is it really technology that is the problem, or does it get an unnecessarily bad rap?

My questions at the end of this discussion were: 

How can we use technology for good? How can we harness its power to help our students see that we are all connected... that despite any perceived differences, we are all simply human beings who crave love and belonging and live on one planet that we all need to take care of together? 

How do we help people understand that all of us belong to each other, and that every time one of us hurts another, it hurts us all?  

How do we find wisdom in the way we use technological tools to help us get to the #truthbombs that allow us to make connections to our lives in ways that might induce positive change in our thinking, like we did with our photography projects?

I don't have all the answers, but I was really grateful for technology that allows anyone to share their story with others through video this week. Here are two videos that I watched that helped me to feel more optimistic. I shared them with my students. Some of them said it shifted their thinking about the inherent goodness in people.  Maybe they will help you feel better too.  If you have any thoughts or answers to the above questions, please share in the comments below or in our Facebook group.

#Eyebombing

Using photography to create a catalog of beauty was a great way of practicing being present, mindful, and grateful.  It was also a nice exploration into looking at things from a different perspective and considering how shifting a vantage point might change one's experience with an idea, object, or person.  I have been looking for some project ideas to do more perspective-shifting work with my students, and, as fate would have it, the perfect one came through my Facebook feed: #eyebombing. Watch the video below to learn more about the fun concept.

I learned about #eyebombing when I happened upon an amazing HyperDoc assignment created by my friend, talented California educator, Lisa Highfill, based on a lesson idea by Adam Randall.  HyperDocs are a transformative way of using collaborative technology, such as Google Docs & Slides, to create blended classroom instruction and engage students in learning activities. Find out more about HyperDocs here, or by reading Lisa's phenomenal book, co-authored with Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis. This particular HyperDoc merged writing, photography, creativity and FUN!  You can view the HyperDoc here (you can make your own copy if you are logged into your Google account - please maintain credit to the original creators in any copy that is made), or scroll through the Slides embedded below to learn more!

What was extra exciting for me was the fact that in this assignment, perspective was addressed in two ways. First was the idea of looking for ordinary things and seeing how we could shift/add something to experience them in a completely different way - one that might create a moment of joy for ourselves and/or others.  The fact that the simple addition of two plastic eyes made us see the object completely differently than we did before adding them was powerful in terms of understanding perspective shift. Second was the idea of writing a story from the perspective of the #eyebombed character. It made us think beyond our own feelings and try to understand those of another - fictional as they may be.  These will be really great concepts to build upon in future lessons.

For less than $3 (thank goodness for craft store coupons!) I was able to purchase a package of 160 self-adhesive googly eyes. This gave each student in my class six eyeballs (three pairs of eyes) to use to create characters.  They worked in groups of 3 - each group having a camera to document their creations - and set off to #eyebomb our school.  (*Note: I did email my entire staff the day before and let them know what I was planning so that nobody was caught by surprise).  We explored different areas of the campus - inside and outside - and found so many fun ways to create "faces" on inanimate objects. The joy was palpable - everyone was giggling for two reasons: they were having a ton of fun creating their own #eyebombs and appreciating what their classmates were designing around them, and they were anticipating the smiles that would be brought to others' faces at recess when everyone came out of class and noticed the #eyebombs. It was a really enjoyable activity to be a part of and witness to.

Check out some of my favourite creations from the project in the gallery below. So awesome!  We are still working on writing and editing our stories in Google Docs, but I have no doubt that they will be as fun as the creations themselves!

If you are interested in #eyebombing, you can follow the hashtag or the user @eyebombing on Twitter.  You can also check out the website Eyebombing.com

Have you done any activities with your students that help explore the idea of looking at things from a different perspective?

Have you planned to create any moments of joy in your lessons and units this year?  

Please share in the comments below, or join our Facebook group and tell us your stories there!  Your voice and ideas are important and valued. Please share!

Addendum: Check out this amazing iteration of the HyperDoc that Gina Ripley created and shared out on Twitter after reading this post! Even better than the original!

Also, check out this great vlog from Darin Nakakihara highlighting how he did this project with his 4th graders, and a fun interview with Lisa Highfill as well!

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A Catalog of Beauty

“I am not against critique, but the world’s need to nick pic everything is a dis-ease. What I crave is holiness. We are so far away from the heart, when only the head leads with only what is wrong. How about the million beauties you walked by today and did not see? Name them. The world needs/ I need your catalog of beauty. What is your catalog of beauty?”

- Glenis Redmond

I was excited to start the year with some photography projects. So were my fifth grade students.  They buzzed with questions and anticipation when they saw the kit of digital cameras arrive to our classroom from our district resource lending center, asking what I was planning for their use.  "I am so glad you are curious, " I responded happily and vaguely, much to their frustration. "I'm not telling yet. You'll find out soon".  I didn't make them wait too long. I was eager too.

Digital photography is a flexible medium that allows for a multitude of project options and opportunities for curricular integration. Photography is a great way to learn about elements of visual and graphic design, an amazing storytelling medium, and an incredible format for capturing thinking and learning in a visible way.  It's a great ladder into videography - another terrific format for developing creative muscles, and an excellent launchpad for discussion on digital citizenship and information privacy when talking about sharing work and peoples' likenesses online. Unlike my own early experiences with film-based cameras, the digital format is easy and inexpensive, there is no wait time to see what the photos turn out like, and you are not limited to 24 exposures on a single roll of film. It is easily accessible technology that almost anyone can learn to use successfully.

We started with a short lesson on some basics.  My friend, Nicole Dalesio, a talented educator and photographer from Los Altos, California, uses a great acronym that I shared with my students: SCARE. 

S - Simplify

C - Closer

A - Angle

R - Rule of Thirds

E - Even Lighting

I won't go into too much detail about what each of these terms mean in this post, but if you are interested, Stephen Davis gives a great description (and some nice project ideas) in this post from the CUE blog. We had some discussion around each of the above items, watched a few short, related YouTube videos to help with more in-depth understanding of the concepts, and then I let them loose on the school grounds to start snapping images. It was amazing to see what only 30 minutes of instruction around a few basic elements did to improve the quality of the photos they were taking. There was a high creativity factor, and everyone was excited and engaged. The students were proud of their work, and many expressed a wish to spend more time taking photos, or to at least plan another photo-taking activity for the future, when time constraints forced us to conclude our activity.

One valuable, and not often overtly recognized, gift of photography is that it can be an incredibly powerful way to be present and mindful, and to see things from a different perspective. My students were absolutely "in the moment" as they looked for beautiful and interesting things to take pictures of. They were willing to get on their backs or bellies and stand on top of objects to change their vantage point, and to see potential and art in the mundane things that we normally just walk past and take for granted. They were utterly and completely in the "now".  We had a good discussion about this upon returning to the classroom. I told them about how I have gone on photo walks during times when I am feeling stressed or worried - just me, my phone/camera, and my dog - in order to clear my head,  and stop lamenting about things that have happened in the past (which can lead to depression) or worrying about things that might happen in the future (which can lead to anxiety). Spending a small amount of time simply looking for beautiful moments to capture can be a very calming and effective mindfulness and gratitude practice. It always helps me feel better.  I encouraged them to try the same outside of school if they have the opportunity. 

As I was thinking about photography and the way it encourages us to be present in the moment, I was reminded of a passage from the talented poet, Glenis Redmond, that I have included at the beginning of this post.  I came across this quote on Rachel Macy Stafford's blog (which is a MUST read - so many beautiful stories that make you think and touch your heart) awhile back, and remembered it as I was thinking about writing this post. When I first read the verse, my breath caught - there was so much truth in these words. I felt happy when I recognized that my students and I were creating a catalog of beauty as we took our photos. We were noticing the "beauties" we normally walk by, and appreciating them fully, even if it was just for a small period of time. We were seeing with our hearts.  

I hope that we find more moments like this regularly throughout the year. Luckily there are other ways that we can continue this practice, even after we send the camera kit back to the lending library. We can use tablets, or webcams, or iPods, or phones. If I have even one camera that I can keep in the classroom, it can be requested for use by anyone who becomes aware of a moment of beauty that is just waiting to be noticed and captured into our shared catalog. We can use the same strategies without any technology simply by going on a walk and shaping our fingers into a rectangular "frame" and working hard to "develop" the image in our brains for future recall. This is a valuable practice to continue. The world needs more "beauties" to be collected and shared. We'll try to do our part.

I did not ask permission to use my students' photos in this post, so I have none that I am able to share, but I have been gleaning a lot of inspiration from amazing educator, Trevor Mattea, and his Twitter feed. He has been doing some great photography work with his students in the San Francisco area and posting them for others' enjoyment. Trevor has also shared some amazing and useful resources, such as his "Classroom Camera" slide deck, and a terrific playlist of helpful YouTube videos on photographic principles. Thank you, Trevor, for "showing your work" and sharing with others! It is such great stuff! 

Have you considered using photography as a way of appreciating the present moment?

Have you used photography projects in other creative ways in your classrooms?

Please share in the comments below, or join our Facebook group and tell us your stories there!

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