GAFE Summit Day 2 Keynote: Christopher Craft, Ph.D.

This is the second day of the GAFE North Carolina Summit. Today’s keynote is presented by Christopher Craft, Ph.D. The title of Chris’s talk is “Four Chairs.” He invites to come along with him on a journey:

“To be the best learner you can possibly be, and to inspired your students to do the same.”

Altavista original logo via Wikimedia commons

Altavista original logo via Wikimedia commons

Chris highlights his journey with technology, that ultimately resulted in him getting on the internet. I remember the old 8.8 modem… back in the day… The shift in technology went from isolated work, the internet and portable compputing, to high speed internet, to online research via search engines (remember Altavista?).

Google search engines has one of the most sophisticated search algorithms. That in conjunction with their push into education. While some of us grew up geeky, kids today are living in a geeky world – and it’s normal! Now let’s take the role of education seriously and guide them!

“What teacher impacted you the most?”

We can all answer this question. For me, it was Mr. Raap and Ms. Roeding in elementary school, and Mr. Parker at my high school. I’ve had some great teachers, but these three stand out for not just helping me to gain knowledge, but giving me a stronger sense of myself and value.

As a teacher, sometimes we forget that we can have this impact on our students. We don’t always know what impact we have on their lives. Students we impact may be distracted, jaded, disinterested… They often feel this way because of how they have been treated in school – as a number, as one of several hundreds or thousand, as someone that needs to step in line… We should want kids to be individuals, not to be another number in the crowd. We need to consider the kid, not the label.

Courtesy of wikimedia commons

Courtesy of wikimedia commons

Chris states that he doesn’t believe in learning styles. He says they’re bunk! In fact, he argues that the educational science does not support it. Instead, when planning lessons think “Will this connect with Tony, Susy, Keaton?” He uses different strategies to connect with his students in the classroom:

  1. He greets every student in class and gives them a riddle. He publishes his announcements with Buzzsprout (a tool for recording, publishing, and hosting a podcast). This way if a student misses class they just have to access his website. It also increases parental engagement – they often go to parents for help on their riddles!
  2. His second chair addresses students that have struggles at home, perhaps because they have family disruption, they move around a lot, they may not have contact with a parent, etc. This is becoming increasingly common around the country and all teachers have seen this student. Chris likes to get these students to focus on something that other kids want to know – for example, app development. Using Appshed, a free tool for schools, students can learn to build and publish and iPhone or Android App!
  3. Another problematic student is the child that is quiet, obedient, and blends in. They are easy to gloss over and ignore because they can easily fall between the cracks. They are “well trained in school.” As teachers, it’s easy to focus on the “problem” kids and these students can get short-shrift. We have to reach out and get to know these students. For example, if a student really likes Movies you can reach out to them with a tool like STEMHollywood hosted by Mayim Bialik, Ph.D. (she played Blossom and is now on Big Bang Theory). It highlights the STEM realities in Hollywood movies, like why zombies walk funny!
  4. Another child we see is a child that is fired up and eager about school. They want to be challenged and learn. They can also be a little difficult because they’re so enthusiastic and can be demanding on your time. So start looking at their direct interests in order to direct them. If the student is interested in science, you can engage them at a higher level – have a Google Hangout with real scientists! It’s better than Skype!

  5. Always be sure to focus on yourself (the teacher). Share with students what you’re reading, share what you’re learning, engage with others. It’s important to continue to learn and share your excitement about it! Students and colleagues respond to this. We should talk to kids more about our learning. If learning is the most important thing, then we need to demonstrate that to them. Don’t just share with them your successes, share your failures as well. Learning comes from failure.

“…to succeed in the 21st-century economy, students must learn to analyze and solve problems, collaborate, persevere, take calculated risks and learn from failure.” – Tony Wagner

Chris tells us that his primary take home is that “children are more than test scores. Every test score has a name, every name is a child, and every child matters.”

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