Future Development Group, LLC https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com Education Reimagined Wed, 17 Jan 2018 16:48:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1 Normalizing the Paradigm Shift https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/normalizing-the-paradigm-shift/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/normalizing-the-paradigm-shift/#respond Fri, 03 Feb 2017 01:07:59 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4644 This post is meant primarily for school leaders, ed tech coaches, support providers,  and other individuals working in schools to establish innovative programs which are sustainable beyond your tenure. All of us in leadership positions know this is the truest measure of a leader and something many of us grapple with every day.

Great professional development is like a really fine concert or event – it’s thrilling when we’re in the moment, and it may even feel life changing. The reality is, once the moment has passed, most of us go right back into our life the way it was before. I’ve attended events and classes where I learned new things – things I wanted to come back and use. Achieving success with this, however, lies in whether or not the larger system and culture are poised to support and sustain new ways of doing things. Coaching is another place where this challenging dynamic exists.  Although a longer lasting event, it’s still just an event – unless steps are taken to normalize the changes into the larger system. As someone who is deeply committed to normalizing a paradigm shift toward engaging and joyful learning which incorporates hands-on learning and technology in our schools, I’ve learned some things along this journey which are worthy of sharing.

Although these types of challenges exist in every organization, they are especially prevalent in education, and even more so in educational technology. It’s important to note this because the very nature of education with it’s rapid and repeated shifts over decades make normalizing a massive paradigm shift even more challenging due to the fact that getting buy-in is ever more difficult here. Teachers have seen change upon change upon change, and many have said to me over the years that they hesitate to dive into something new, no matter how enticing, as it will likely be gone in no time, to be replaced by something new they must learn. In the realm of educational technology, we add insult to injury with the fact that ed tech companies rapidly come and go, tools switch from free to paid, and the focus of the overall school system itself seems to be stuck in a never-ending loop of shedding it’s skin to become the “latest and greatest” thing.

In my work with teachers to create engaging, joyful learning experiences, we face these challenges together every day.  From day one, I have maintained an unwavering dedication to the notion that I will never push or pull or “leverage” teachers into using a tool or learning something new. Instead, I take the “take my hand and we’ll do this together” approach, which has never failed. Examples of the aforementioned approaches always land flat. While that grassroots work is very exciting, for me, personal fulfillment can only be enjoyed if the programs and initiatives I launch have the ability to last beyond me.  Sustainability makes starting the journey worthwhile.

As I ponder and experience these challenges firsthand, some thoughts surface which I believe will help others doing similar work – launching programs and initiatives which require a great deal of energy and leadership just to get started and that will live beyond the initial sprint.  My take on this is if the system can’t sustain what we’ve started, why do it in the first place? Understanding the principles and steps to create sustainability is a necessity – for the sake of our kids, our teachers, and our future.

Step 1: Launching Something New in the Classroom

First and foremost, your “something new” must be enjoyable and relevant and possess a clear purpose for both teachers and students. Worth repeating because if your something new isn’t enjoyable and/or purposeful, good luck even getting past step one. Everything I do is built around the idea that it can be learned easily and sometimes even on-the-fly. Time is precious and there simply isn’t a ton of it laying around to be filled with new things which consume gobs of it. We’d like to think that we can make time, and we can to a point, but engaging learning using technology does not have to be complicated. When it starts feeling overwhelming, layered and time consuming, it’s time to stop and walk away for a minute to get some perspective on what it is we’re really trying to do. For more on engaging learning that doesn’t take hours and hours of toiling and planning, check out this post: Five easy ways to increase engagement in your classroom.

Ok, so we’ve got step one under our belts, summed up easily as this: the beginning of integrating technology (or anything new and innovative) into your classroom shouldn’t feel like an overwhelming mountain to climb. It should be fun, fairly simple to learn and easy to implement. Start with just one thing if you need to, and move on from there as you advance skills and knowledge.

Important caveat: For those of us who serve as coaches, this is the easy part. Because we are taking the lead and, as I’m sure you’ve found, teachers are very excited and eager to learn new things, with your support. But what happens when you’re not there to lead (or to cheerlead)? I’m sure you could parse this out scientifically and predictably using the Law of Diffusion of Innovation. To keep things simple, we’ll just go with what I’ve seen and learned over the last nine years: In my experience, a very small percentage of people will take the gift of an idea and run with it – these folks are easy because they really only need your help once or twice and then they’re good to go. The majority, on the other hand, will need more from you and your system before they are able to sustain what you’ve taught them – even if they’re really excited about it.  This has nothing to do with skill, ability, or dedication, it’s just the way things are. People are diverse, thank goodness (imagine how boring the world would be if we were all the same)! With that diversity comes a range of “types” of adopters, from those who will dive in early, to those who move more with the majority, and so on. Understanding this helps set the stage for step two.

Step 2: The System and Life Beyond The Coach

This is the most difficult, and also most important part of this process. Difficult because it requires more than just the coach or PD person, and important because it’s the only way to really make an impact that will last.

Systems are made up of processes, culture, institutional language, and leadership. To simplify this, let’s focus in on a specific scenario: an initiative to integrate technology in classrooms in new and innovative ways, which is initially prompted by an outside force. In our case, that outside force is coaching or PD related to technology. For example, I serve as an outside force by working in classrooms with teachers on a regular basis to incorporate technology in meaningful ways.  I come into the classroom, do some kind of activity with the kids – with the teacher as a partner and learner (This can also easily be applied to math, ELA, or other PD brought in to support teachers.). We run the activity together. This scenario is an example of an artificially cultivated experience, in that it potentially wouldn’t happen without the outside support (and remember, these are not the early adopters. These are the majority).

There’s so much to learn and so little time, that this is the most effective way to support teachers in embracing classroom technology. It gives them an opportunity to learn and implement in real-time. This is why so many schools have chosen to hire or contract with coaches and mentors – to quickly and effectively create the beginning of the paradigm shift. In order to keep that shift in place in a sustainable way, we must now think beyond the coach and the teachers. Sustainability requires heightened participation from the leadership in a couple of specific ways, detailed below:

Everything in a system happens because it is required, measured, or honored. We are required to show up at a specific time every day. We prepare for tests because they are measured. Innovation happens because it is honored. That sentence is worth one more read, and this is really important, because it’s tempting – very tempting – to think that the easy solution is to simply require or measure technology use in classrooms and that in doing so, the innovation will continue. Wrong. Innovation by it’s very nature cannot be required. Instead, it must be honored, recognized and valued in order to flourish and thrive. And truly, if we want teachers to embrace new things and shift the way they teach, it’s innovation we are looking for, not compliance.

  • Some examples of this come out of the schools I work with: Principals know – and are excited about – what their teachers are doing. They share photos and fun blurbs on social media, illustrating engaging and innovative learning. They check in with their teachers and learn about what they need to keep going, offering support in a multitude of ways. They work to develop relationships built on trust, mutual respect, and shared goals.

Years ago, I had a job at a coffee shop while I was in college. I worked the weekend shift and towards the end of the day, it would get really slow. I used the slow time to do things that weren’t required of me, like mop and wax the floors. At the end of the weekend, the place was glowing. The first time I did this, the owner left me a short, but beautiful, handwritten note to say how much she appreciated my extra work. She noticed, and now I knew she noticed. Not only did she notice, she was very appreciative and it made me feel really good. So I did it again the next weekend and the next, and the next. Over the years, I got lots of those notes – not every time, mind you, because she was smart enough to know that if she wrote them every time, I’d come to expect them, and they would lose their impact. She knew how to show appreciation in a way that would motivate me. Daniel Pink talks about this concept at length in his amazing book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I was lucky enough to hear him speak in person at an educational leadership conference back in 2012 and know from experience that what he has to say about how to motivate people is very true. Another resource for learning on this topic is a super quick read by William C. Byham called Zapp! The Lightening of Empowerment. This book takes a completely different approach, and if you can get into the fun way he illustrates the concepts, you will find it’s a gold mine for how to bring this concept to life easily.

To sum up, long-term sustainability requires a specific commitment from principals and superintendents to keep innovation going. It requires those at that level of leadership to buy in as well, just like teachers; to embrace, recognize and honor those who strive to keep it going and to thoughtfully and purposefully weave these new things into the processes, culture and institutional language of the organization – through empowerment. It also takes patience and collaboration over time. Our job as a coaches is easy compared to what the leaders of these systems have to do to sustain the paradigm shift we start, and it’s an honor to be here, working with so many dedicated people, in support of their vision. The hard work is just beginning.

As always, I am grateful for your eyes on my work, my thoughts, and my writing! This post, in particular, begs to have input and comments from others so please post your comment below or feel free to email your thoughts to me directly so we can ponder this together! In all of this, there is one thing I am absolutely certain of: we all need each other, and together we can do amazing things that will positively impact generations of kids!

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The Education Treadmill https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/the-education-treadmill/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/the-education-treadmill/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 15:43:00 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4641 Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to see, participate in, and experience our education system on a very deep level; spending much of my time in classrooms, admin offices, with children and their parents and I think the best way we can describe it is this:

Everyone in education – teachers, kids, administrators, staff at every level – have been on a treadmill with no exit for a very long time. In the last several years, the speed of that machine has been slowly increasing via new mandates, tests, tests to support tests, etc. Those who suffer the greatest effects of the never-ending sprint are teachers and kids, because they have no real down time, and they have very little control over any of it. Teachers have no office to escape to for five minutes of peace, no ability to say, “I just need 5 minutes to gather myself” and no real power in the decision-making process which, has resulted in the way this profession is taking shape. The more time I spend really “seeing” things, the more I see so many educators who are doing their very best to keep going, to keep adding, to keep growing, to keep teaching, to keep doing it all…and getting to the end of their rope. So many people think teachers have it easy, that they have short work days, lots of breaks, and long summers. And you know, much to my own embarrassment, I once thought that too. Now that I’ve spent years working in education, I know that it is simply not the case.

Here’s what it really looks like: teachers are on stage all day, with classrooms full of kids who are challenging. Kids who are brilliant, kids who are abused, kids who are struggling with learning disabilities. When they are at recess, they are keeping track of all these kids, and then they go back into the classroom and work to support them all. Then they have a short lunch with their colleagues, use the restroom, take a breath, and keep going. They are running. They rarely get sick during school, because getting subs is a challenge, and when they do get sick, they feel guilty for staying home. When they have a break like the one we had a Christmas time, they get sick. Instead of spending their break refreshing and feeling like they’re on vacation, they deal with having a fever, feeling crummy, and eating soup. Some work during their breaks to learn new things and plan engaging activities that take more time so when they get back to school, they can do amazing things with their kids. The treadmill continues to quicken.

People don’t want to talk about these things because they are not sunshine and rainbows. They are reality, and that reality is reflected in data showing extraordinary rates of attrition in the teaching profession, along with many other measurable factors illustrating that we have a problem. It’s hard to talk about a problem which has no visible solution. As I sit here right now, I wonder how this post will land, and if saying these things will get me in trouble. Fear keeps us from standing in the place we are meant to stand, and it has almost kept me from standing there myself. Fear of losing support, fear of losing a job, fear of being ridiculed.

So, what is the solution? I am equal parts realist and optimist, so when I see a problem that makes me feel sick in my stomach, I can’t ignore it. If I can do something about it, I will doggedly process and circle it in my mind until an idea surfaces to make things better. After nine years in education, doggedly working to understand and positively impact this system, an idea has surfaced. This idea is just as bold as the challenge it seeks to address and it is already beginning to work.

We’re flying this one under the radar at the moment, allowing my team and I to work out any startup bugs and quirks. Like any newborn, it is delicate and vulnerable and needs to be quietly nourished, so it can grow. For those of you who are helping with that work right now, I owe you a sincere debt of gratitude for your support. For those who would like to join us to help this grow into a full-blown solution with the power to create real change, please reach out to me. This is a national effort to support all who work in our public schools toward feeling fulfilled, empowered and encouraged about what the future can hold.

I believe in possibility. I believe that there is nothing we can’t accomplish when we work together. I believe in having crazy ideas and in bringing them to life in support of those around me. So far, the road continues to unfold. Not because of what I do alone, but because of all of you who walk it with me, believing that we truly can make a difference together.



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A Month of Giving https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/a-month-of-giving/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/a-month-of-giving/#respond Wed, 30 Nov 2016 20:22:18 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4624 In the early days of my work bringing maker education to North State schools, I received a huge boost of support and encouragement from the folks at Maker Education Initiative.  That support played a wonderful role in helping me to drive forward here.  Maker Ed’s passion and dedication to their mission of creating more opportunities for all young people to develop confidence, creativity, and interest in science, technology, engineering, math, arts and learning as a whole through making continues to support and inspire people like me all over the globe.

We need incredible organizations like this and when we find them, I believe it’s important to not only ask what they can provide us, but also how we can support them. Support comes in many forms, from sending a note of thanks, to sharing messages on social media, to donations.

I’m excited to announce that FDG is donating all of the proceeds from our t-shirt and mug sales to Maker Ed this December, in support of the outstanding work they do! So, shop your hearts out this December, give a gift to a friend or a teacher, and smile because you are also giving a gift to our friends at Maker Ed.  They’ve been hard at work adding new resources to their website, along with some other pretty cool stuff, so check them out today to see what you’re supporting when you buy a shirt.

We’ll update this post at the end of the year so you can come back and see exactly how much you helped us to donate to this very worthwhile cause.

Until then, may your holidays be extra special and filled with joy!

P.S. there’s a sale starting tomorrow: 10% off everything Promotion (Dec 1st – Dec 5th // Code: CHRISTMAS16)

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Guest Post – Kate Murray: To make, to fix, to tinker, is to actively resist and preserve https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/guest-post-kate-murray-to-make-to-fix-to-tinker-is-to-actively-resist-and-preserve/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/guest-post-kate-murray-to-make-to-fix-to-tinker-is-to-actively-resist-and-preserve/#respond Tue, 22 Nov 2016 12:49:40 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4609 It is an honor to share with you a post written by a friend and maker movement champion, Kate Murray.  Kate is on a multi-continent trek with husband Alex, which began in Austin, Texas in August, 2o16.  Her journey has allowed her to take in and learn about makers all over the world, and from that perspective, she shares her thoughts here on diversity, cultural history, equity, and how, ultimately, we are all connected as one people who make things.  

I am absolutely in love with her ability to tell rich and inspiring stories about the people she meets and hope this post is but one of many that we get to share with you here.

On a tiny island off the eastern coast of Panama, an old woman named Oti sits fused into a couch. She is small and frail by all accounts, and disappears among the folds of fabric that are so accustomed to her presence. In front of her stands a TV whose display crackles with grey, behind her an array of colorful goods, and between her hands a creation she has been working on for eight months. In the detailed movements of her fingers, amidst needle and thread, all thoughts of feebleness dissipate – they are expert, skillful movements.

My Spanish was poor as I asked her questions about her life and craft – the two of which are intimately intertwined. Despite my simple words, Oti communicated clearly about her process and her motivations for creating. Layers of fabric and intricate stitching take on various forms – headbands, patches, wall hangings, hot mittens, molas (blouses) – all depicting her various interpretations of the life that surrounds her. A bird represents the spirit of the human heart, an octopus the plenty of the sea and ability to provide. The intricate and colorful designs are all based on the patterns which the indigenous Guna Yala women used to paint on their bodies, before textiles arrived with the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s.

That’s right – these beautiful, geometric designs sewn together in reverse application have been a part of the Guna traditions for over 500 years. Oti learned her craft and style from her grandmother – and her grandmother did the same. At 77, Oti is now teaching the very same techniques to her own grandchildren. The creations of all the Guna women and “algunos hombres” – some men – carry the stories, perspectives, and traditions of a people that have persevered through numerous attempts at subjugation… but who have prevailed independent time and time again.

Oti is a maker, though she’s never heard the term. And she’s not the first or last to say so. Oftentimes the mindset around “making” as a culture seems unfamiliar to many true makers that I meet. “Maker” is a word strongly associated with high-tech gadgets and surrounded by proprietary information and limited access. The “maker culture” itself is, in fact, commonly considered a technology-focused branch of the DIY movement. But making isn’t simply tech. It isn’t a term owned by the people familiar with the recent movement, the crowds in hackerspaces, or even by a publication. It’s a mindset for asking why, and for solving problems with the tools available to us. Making is a distinct result of human nature, a process which we have been actively engaged in since utilizing the first tool.


My method of travel to this tiny island in & of itself is a great quest into why people build and what keeps them maintaining old ways. I reached the small, coconut strewn island Oti calls home by sailboat. Built in Holland circa 1903, the 120 foot, 235 ton Stahlratte spent 80 years fishing for herring before evolving through various habitable stages into its form today. Its sails still catch wind, and when they don’t, an old engine pushes it slowly forward. The hot oily engine room in its stern reveals the up and down motion of large pistons while a steady beat provides soundtrack to the appearance and disappearance of waves rocking in and out of view through small portholes. Old trunks, reading nooks, globe lanterns, and bunk beds give the whole boat a charm between the various smells of shared meals and moments spent snorkeling turquoise waters. From the welds between two pieces of steel, to intricate woodworking inside the captain’s quarters, to a pattern of electrical additions from various eras weaving through the cabins, to the small creations of passengers decorating the walls… the ship holds the stories of all those who traveled in it, and all those who sought to solve a problem faced by life at sea.

Two months prior to stepping on board the ship, I admired the works of the makers at Hacedores in Mexico City, embracing tech – even injecting it under their skin – whilst prioritizing the introduction of hands-on, socially-focused education to local schools. Three months prior, I spoke with a man who makes bread and butter from scratch in Jackson, WY, maintaining his father’s traditions and recipes in memory of the man lost. Four months prior, I found myself in the lobby of the historic Waterville Hotel; much like the Stahlratte, it is a space that was carefully constructed in 1903 and continues to transport people through decades, yet reveals, on its walls and in its narrow hallways, the many stories of its stewards. Five months prior, I stood in front of a forge in Ester, AK, making my first nail alongside ten year olds, visited schools with full fabrication spaces and others with cardboard as their main material, and I sat outside a barber shop in San Diego watching a kid transform himself into a robot with found materials. Six months prior, I spent my final days serving as an educator in a makerspace designed for 8-12 year olds, where each day I had the fortune to discover inspiration alongside the participants through inquiry, exploration, and creativity.


From the colorful creations of an old woman, to the stern of a ship, to the space I shared with so many bright young minds… in all these moments, what have I learned about making?

To make is to give meaning. It communicates our inner value. It broadens our horizons for what is possible. Whether it’s hand forged nails in Alaska, 3D printed history projects in California, or hot sauce in Seattle, making gives us the tools to solve our own problems, tell our own stories, and redefine how we view ourselves and the world around us. It encourages us to ask questions, and to seek meaning in all that we do.

Making isn’t mass production. Endless objects are created and discarded every day, with tremendous costs: the loss of human rights, the depletion of or damage to the world’s natural resources, and a disconnect between these realities and the awareness of the user. In the face of these items sold without a story, to make, to fix, to tinker, is to actively resist and preserve. To embrace and support traditional crafts and skills-based industries works to reform the connections between humans and their tools.

Making connects us despite perceived or real difference: across ages, identities, labels, borders, languages, and time. Making carries with it all the stories of those before us, and the potential of all those surrounding us. It connects us to history, creates new communities in the present, and sends ripples into the future.

The many makers I met revealed to me the importance of not only embracing but embodying the values of accessibility, diversity, and collaboration as a creator, crafter, and educator championing this movement. They imparted me with a deep appreciation for the breadth of what it means to make, and reassured me that it is not just about the latest tech… rather, it is about the mindset. Whether in a classroom, on the base plate of a 3D printer, in a machine shop, or on a sidewalk with street vendor, making is about the layers of colorful human connections we are making and the stitches we are actively sewing into history.


Want to know more about Kate and Alex’s epic journey around the world? Check out their website and social media here.  As always, happy making!


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Grateful https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/grateful/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/grateful/#respond Fri, 18 Nov 2016 15:49:19 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4595 Grateful for moments where reflection and unfolding future collide in harmony! Hope this inspires and brings peace on this Friday before Thanksgiving break. Much love to you all out there!
In our most passionate moments fighting for what we believe, it’s just as important to show compassion for those around us.  MLK knew this and it served him and the millions he served well.


In looking to build a better tomorrow, remember that we are still living in today.



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Five easy ways to increase engagement in your classroom https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/five-easy-ways-to-increase-engagement-in-your-classroom/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/five-easy-ways-to-increase-engagement-in-your-classroom/#comments Sat, 29 Oct 2016 15:38:50 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4554 This post is one of many in an effort to make our work and our thinking more visible and accessible, so a larger more diverse group of teachers, kids and communities may benefit from our sharing. Hope you enjoy!

In reflecting with some amazing teachers on what we did last year at one of the schools I support, we realized that something really remarkable happened – we sent an entire grade level of kids on with such a different set of skills that even the substitutes have noticed, saying things like, “I’ve never seen a group of kids like this before.”

So how are they different? These students are more able to participate in discussions and group work; they are extremely confident and imaginative learners, able to tackle unfamiliar topics with ease, and they have great listening skills, which makes this group of children a joy to work with. As an added bonus, this group of kids also showed marked improvement in both English and math, so we’ve got hard numbers to back up what the teachers, school leaders and I suspected was going to be a very successful year. Looking ahead, we believe the skills they’ve cultivated with our support will also help them to achieve a higher level of satisfaction and success as adults, because this is exactly what the most innovative employers are looking for – people who are capable, creative and passionate.

So what did the teachers and I do that generated such a positive outcome? We intentionally and consistently infused hands-on minds-on learning into their classrooms all year with rich, student centered activities (both high and low tech).  Activities like those offered in the Google Apps Edu suite, and no-tech activities like creating shadow puppet theatre productions.  After sitting down with the teachers to reflect on last year and plan for this year, here are five strategies we identified, which we all agree made magic happen for everyone:

1. Ask the kids. How many times have you encountered a situation where someone – a boss or teammate – suggested a plan for the whole team without including the ideas of the group? Or worse yet, they ask for your ideas and then choose to do something totally different that doesn’t resonate with you at all.  Chances are, if you’re a teacher, you’ve got some experience with this. The number one frustration I hear from teachers is that planning is done to them rather than with them.

Planning with your students before you head into the next unit or lesson is a surefire way to get them fired up and ready to learn, because you are giving them opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings and including them in the decision making process. Implementing their ideas guarantees engagement from students, because it offers a way for them to approach learning with genuine interest and excitement. You’re also developing their skills in critical thinking, innovation, leadership and decision making as they are given opportunities to participate in the process that’s normally left to the adults. You’re helping your kids build maturity and confidence, which will dramatically improve your experience as their teacher because you’ll no longer be dealing with 30 unruly kids, you’ll be working together as a team.

Classroom example: “Hey class, we’re getting ready to learn about Native Americans.  Now, we have some things we need to learn, which are…I’d love to hear what you’re curious about. [discussion] Also, as part of this process, we’re going to do some hands-on activities – I know you have ideas about what you’d like to do, so let’s talk about that for a bit.”

Get them talking and sharing their ideas. One of the biggest challenges teachers talk about is that they have so much they have to cram in, and they don’t feel like they have time for things like this. Classroom conversation feels frivolous and there’s real fear that if someone walks in while the kids are talking and the teacher isn’t teaching, that there will be hell to pay. I get that, but these skills are like gold and they’re exactly what kids need to be successful, both in the classroom and as adults.

It takes guts and determination, but you will be able to achieve results that will make your administrator smile right along with you if you can bring this element into your classroom.

2. Make time for discussion. This is related to the strategy above, but with an added element: having regular two way conversations throughout your lessons and units with students. Invite them to share their thoughts, feelings and curiosities with the class.  Again, this takes time, and it’s often time we feel we don’t have because of all the things we’re asked to do, but it’s time well spent and again will pay measurable dividends in the long run.

Classroom example: “Now that we’ve finished researching, making, writing, whatever…let’s talk about it. What did you find interesting in this process? What did you like? What was hard for you? Did you discover something that you’d like to share with the class?

Let your students talk and share, and engage in conversation with them.  As one child shares, it will begin to spark thoughts for the other kids and you’ll see really rich conversation begin to develop. As an added bonus, there’s a ton of research out there on how engaging in discussion with kids helps them to build vocabulary, think more deeply, express themselves better, and learn new things more quickly – all qualities that will help them in your class as well as in their future.

3. Kick things off with video. Not just any video, something really interesting and maybe even a little mind blowing. The videos I use are generally under 5 minutes and fit into one of two categories: how to or provocation.  Here’s an example of a how to video I like to use to introduce tools like Piktochart to kids. Because today’s children have such shorter attention spans, and need a different kind of mental stimulation to focus, I find that they will pay attention longer to a video rather than to an adult in person trying to explain how to use a tool. It’s sad that the constant stream of media and technological stimulus has created this situation, but I find it’s better to think of ways to use that to my teaching advantage rather than to try and reverse an irreversible process. One of my all time favorite provocation videos is SPARKED:A Live Interaction Between Humans and Quadcopters, which I’ve used to introduce coding, engineering, and circuit building activities. Provocation isn’t meant to teach or even introduce the topic directly; it’s meant instead, to provoke thoughts, discussions, questions, creativity and ideas. These videos make getting this process started super easy and fun for everyone.

The other great benefit that you get from using video to create curiosity or introduce topics is it’s a great way to easily bring a more diverse set of teaching voices into your classroom. Give yourself a little break and enjoy those moments where you get to observe your students from a different angle. The perspective can be really invigorating, and for me, often generates ideas that don’t come when I’m in front of the room doing the delivering. A fun example of this would be something like using this video of Robert Frost reading his poem Birches when heading into an ELA lesson. You’ll find tons of videos just like this on YouTube, which will captivate your kids and give you a little break!

4. Offer choices. This is one of the most important pieces of all. I considered moving it to the top, but felt it sits in the framework a little more successfully here as some of the above strategies provide some needed foundation. Choice is huge. As adults and professionals, we crave choices and thrive when we are given the freedom to make our own choices in our work. The same applies for our students, who are just a younger version of us.

The need for choice is universally human and universally invigorating.

Classroom example: Students are working on animal reports. They research their chosen animal, learn a specified list of traits about their animal and then create a poster which features all of those facts. You can change this up by talking with your kids, asking them what ideas they have about showcasing what they’ve learned. Thanks to an amazingly innovative group of teachers, I had the opportunity to lead this discussion in a few classes about a month ago. I told the kids we were going to do something a little different and we needed their help to figure out how to proceed. When asked what ideas they had about showcasing their learning, they were alive with excitement and a flurry of really great ideas came out of the discussion. Some wanted to create a Piktochart poster, others wanted to do a Google Slides presentation, some wanted to use my iPads to create movies about their animals and a couple of them wanted to stand in front of the class and do a presentation on what they’d learned. Their ideas were wonderful and diverse, and the best part was that for each individual kid, their idea made learning about their animal even more exciting. Over the next couple of weeks, the kids were hard at work on this activity and every time I saw one of them, they would say with a huge smile, “Mrs. Carlson, you have to come and look at what I’m working on with my [insert that kids’s project here]!!”

5. Allow students to work in groups – As an adult supporting teachers, I love group work! As a kid, I hated it because of the way it was structured: teacher counts off numbers and we all find our like number and “work in a group” – it was awful. I was shy, usually not interested in what we were doing, and just totally weirded out by the kids who wanted to take control and boss everybody else around. Things have changed. With a lot more understanding about group dynamics, classroom culture, introvert/extrovert dynamics, etc. we are able to allow groups to work in much more successful ways. For starters, if students are actively working, why not let them choose their own groups? Also, I enjoy allowing students to choose their group size (within reason). This really embraces the very different needs of the introvert and the extrovert equally, allowing the ones who learn better in quiet environments to choose a single partner to work with and the extroverts to get into slightly larger teams. Another piece of groups that we’ve found to be very successful, is to allow students choices in where to work. At some of the schools I support, it’s possible for students to work outside at tables, in quiet corners in the classroom, and at desks and tables around the room.  Again, letting them find the situation that best fits their team and their assignment creates opportunities for them to build skills far beyond those which are tested.

A note from my teacher friend, Noelle McDaniel who teaches sixth grade this year: “I always spend a good amount of time in the beginning of the year teaching kids how to use different programs to create their assignments. Then when I assign something, students get to choose, which takes away from a lot of the grumbles.” Love that idea!

One of the best parts about all of this? It’s not a magical fix-all tool that takes precious funding away from where it needs to be spent, and it doesn’t require endless hours of boring, expensive trainings. It’s free, you don’t need permission and you can start using these strategies right away. By integrating these five tips into your daily routine, you’ll be bringing a whole new world of interesting things to your kids and they’ll reward you every time with their attention and their enthusiasm.

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New friends supporting the work https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/new-friends-supporting-the-work/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/new-friends-supporting-the-work/#comments Sat, 24 Sep 2016 15:08:37 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4540 This post is a continuation of the one I wrote a while ago about my crazy big dream to fund epic volunteering efforts through the sale of fun t-shirts, mugs and other swag.  I have an overflowing bucket of ideas, but very little in the way of graphic design skills.  Luckily, I have amazing friends who are also very talented artistically, and with the support of true heroes for kids (Michelle Hickok and Heather Vine), we were able to launch this idea and it’s been going great!  People all over the country are rocking Michelle and Heather’s amazing designs, and because of that, I am able to grow our FDG Gives Back initiative.  Thus far, this initiative has brought custom furniture into makerspaces, and has made it possible for me to volunteer every Monday with the youth and staff in our local juvenile justice center.

mstoneToday, I am excited to welcome another amazing human – and talented designer – onto the team of people seeking to change the world for kids: Michael Stone (@CoachStone12).  Michael is an experienced educator with a passion for teacher and leadership development. He currently serves as the Director of Innovative Learning for the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga, TN, and is the Cofounder of devX PD, a national teacher and educational leadership professional development organization. Blending his technology prowess with a passion and talent for effectively educating students and adults, he has become a leader in instructional technology integration and innovative professional development. In July 2016, he concluded a one-year appointment as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, DC. Michael has taught an array of courses including calculus, graphic design, fablab integration, and computer science.

In addition to being a hero for kids, and a superstar human, Michael has generously donated his time to design some shirts for our collection.  The quote for the design I’m writing about today came to me during a super fun conversation that took place on Twitter after I posted a photo of the Make robot (@Makemagazine) that one of the juvenile hall kids designed for printing on the Pancakebot (@thePancakeBot).  I posted this photo on Twitter in the hope that it would inspire people to see the kids differently, and also to share with the folks at Make about how their iconic robot logo had become a symbol of freedom for our community’s incarcerated youth.  Here’s a little snapshot of some of that conversation:


Notice the second piece from the top: “Change hearts, change lives, change the world!”  Thanks Caleb Kraft (@calebkraft) , for the conversation that brought this to life!

The power of that statement can be seen in what’s happening here in our community.  We are showing everyone what it looks like to see people in a different way – to bring more humanity to our work, and to ultimately change the world for some of our most vulnerable youth.  All too often, these kids believe they have no other choice but to live the life they have grown up in.  They believe they have no choice but to continue on the destructive path that led them to where they are now.  But, when you show them another option, and let them experience a different future through making and being part of a community, it changes everything.  By changing their belief in themselves, we are offering them a whole new world of possibility; one that will benefit society in so many good ways.

So on this amazingly beautiful weekend, we are launching another shirt, thanks to Michael’s help and the inspiration of people I’ve never met in person, but feel like they are now part of the family.  Please share this message far and wide.  Join the team of amazing humans who are set on a path to change hearts, change lives and change the world.  If you are feeling inspired by this, head on over to our shop and grab your shirt today!


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Designing for the future https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/designing-for-the-future/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/designing-for-the-future/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 17:16:28 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4531 For a while now, FDG has been creating and selling fun t-shirts, which help fund various volunteer and community building efforts such as working with staff and kids at the local juvenile detention facility on Mondays, custom furniture donations to school makerspaces and a variety of other philanthropic endeavors that are close to my heart.

The design of the shirts has been made possible by some very talented and amazing local graphic artists, who believe in these causes and have generously offered their expertise and time to make it happen, namely, Heather Vine and Michelle Hickok – two over-the-moon heroes for kids and community.  Being extremely talented means these fantastic women are also in high demand for their time and skill, and it has allowed them to have their dream job, stay in their community and do good in the world.

What if we were able to take this whole concept, and make it bigger, to support the dreams of more young people who aspire to have careers in design?  Today, as I was processing through my mental idea factory (it can be a very busy place in there sometimes), I realized that, in addition to helping fund FDG’s volunteer efforts, these shirts could also be used to help others launch successful careers in design.  The idea came from an amalgam of several posts and articles I read this morning related to helping others, sharing joy, and building community, along with my terrible lack of graphic design skill.  I have the ideas, but not the chops to bring them to life beautifully like Heather and Michelle H. can.

So, here we go!  If you’re an aspiring designer and you’d like to help bring designs to life that will be used to fund philanthropic efforts related to kids and community, I’d love to hear from you!  It is in the lifting up of others that we will raise the water level for all.

If you’re interested in knowing more, drop me a line at michelle@futuredevelopmentgroup.com!

shirt_womens Maker T-shirt Build the Future

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Willing Suspension of Disbelief…In Education https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/willing-suspension-of-disbelief-in-education/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/willing-suspension-of-disbelief-in-education/#respond Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:41:48 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4479 Interesting phrase, isn’t it?  Unless you’re a fiction writer or a movie producer, chances are you haven’t heard this phrase before.  Willing suspension of disbelief is defined as a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.

I hadn’t heard this phrase until a couple of years ago when I came across author and TED speaker, Mac Barnett’s TED Talk: Why a good book is a secret door.  It was this TED Talk which inspired me to think differently about places of learning.  Why couldn’t they, too, serve as a secret door; to one’s own self, and a wide open universe of possibility?  As it turns out, they can.

I used this concept to imagine and create the first free access makerspace in our region…and this crazy thing happened: it became a secret door to amazing learning experiences and community growth.  Being in the space causes a certain shift to happen, and while you’re there, you feel like anything is possible.  Anything.  Learning is different…joyful, intriguing, and energizing.  In that room, there’s an entirely new and untapped world of possibility.

Several weeks ago, Deputy Probation Chief Mike Coley and I presented at the reMAKE Education Summit, put on by our amazing friends at the Sonoma County Office of Education.  We shared the nuts and bolts of how we created a makerspace in the Tehama County Juvenile Justice Center and while we were sharing, Mike said something that, until that moment, I was unaware of.  He said, “There are only three inches of concrete separating the makerspace from the rest of juvenile hall, and I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, but when we cross that threshold, everything is different, in a really good way.”  He went on to explain it further saying, “Once we’re in the makerspace, everyone recognizes this is a place to be inspired, creative, and collaborative.”  The students who spend time in there tell us that they don’t normally speak to each other much in the other areas of the facility, but they do in the makerspace.  In working on projects, they get to observe others’ work, and in the process, they realize they have more in common than they ever knew before.  One student said, “I like to draw, and I never realized how many other kids in here liked the same things until we were all doing them in the makerspace, together.”

Mike adds a few more observations about what happens when kids and adults cross the threshold:

  • Non-judgmental: One of the basic expectations of the makerspace is to be respectful.  This is often a difficult task with juveniles who are incarcerated.
  • Non biased: In a juvenile hall, the youth often feel they have something to prove to each other, or even themselves.  These things dissipate.
  • Desire to learn or just make: The kids have time to experiment with what they are capable of doing in an environment they are comfortable in.
  • Connection with peers or other adults: The makerspace provides an environment that fosters openness and understanding between juveniles and adults, and especially adults wearing badges who are sometimes considered the enemy.

The normal hierarchy and dynamics that exist inside of a locked detention facility fall away; stepping across that threshold is like stepping into freedom.  Not in the standard sense of the word, but in the sense that everyone’s minds are free.  They are free to explore and create, and to see beyond their current reality into the possibility of a different life, something better.  Everyone is willing to suspend disbelief and that willing suspension allows remarkable things to happen.

Inside the makerspace at juvenile hall, we’re all just human beings, on the same level, exploring interesting things, helping each other, and feeling a true sense of joy in the process.  One of the students who has been there to experience it since the first day of operation told me yesterday that, “in the makerspace, I feel free.  I feel happy.  And I feel like I’ve learned things in here that I can use to create a life for myself, a real future.”  For many incarcerated youth, the makerspace gives them an opportunity to see a future they never thought was possible for “people like them.”

Hearing stories like this from Mike and the kids has profoundly impacted my understanding of this work, and continues to deepen my dedication to seeing that all kids have access to learning that allows them to see more possibility, beyond the normal constraints of the reality in which they currently live.  Seeing more options beyond the status quo is the first step in creating a new reality; one in which every precious human being is able to find their passion and live the life of their dreams.  I believe in these kids just as much as I believe in the amazing colleagues I get to work with every day and it is that belief that will help them to believe in themselves.

Most people don’t allow themselves to think beyond their current reality.  Doing so seems frivolous, out of reach, or irresponsible.  Having hope for something that may never come travels hand-in-hand with the fear that it may only lead to disappointment.  I’ve heard these words from lots of people along my path.  “You’re crazy for quitting your ‘good job.'” or “You’re really putting yourself out there, what if you fail?  I could never bear that feeling.”

I say if you’re committed to doing something really big with your life, then failure is a natural part of that reality.  And when you do fail?  Do it spectacularly!  Fail where people can see you, and then also let them see you get back up and continue on, smarter, stronger, and better because of the challenges you’ve experienced-and conquered.  I ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book I just published, and it failed.  Although I raised more than $22,000, I didn’t get one red cent because I didn’t reach the goal.  Did that stop me from writing the book?  No.  Did it stop the book from being successful?  No.  Did it teach me a lot about what it means to fail publicly and spectacularly?  Yes.  And because of that, failure is no longer a scary demon that haunts my ideas.  It’s just a normal little piece of being human.

My Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to create change in our system that leads to every single young person in our country having the opportunity to experience joyful education that allows them to find and pursue their dreams.  I believe this is possible, for every kid, and I will work tirelessly to bring that completely crazy idea to life.

Many thanks…

There are several people out there in the world, whom I’ve never met, and who have never met me, but have inspired me to see things differently and to see that there is a whole universe of possibility that exists right under our noses and all we have to do to make that possibility become reality is to suspend our normal filters, suspend our disbelief just enough to broaden our options.  Thank you Mac Barnett for being one of those people!

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Education’s Three Forks in the Road https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/educations-three-forks-in-the-road/ https://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/educations-three-forks-in-the-road/#respond Thu, 11 Aug 2016 15:27:03 +0000 http://www.futuredevelopmentgroup.com/?p=4464 We are excited to announce that the book is just about to launch!  As we do our final polish over the next two days – yes, that’s right, TWO days away – we thought you’d enjoy the excerpt below, from the 180 days of lessons and activities chapter.

There are three forks in the road…

One is the fork you travel because you have to, because someone in charge tells you that is the fork you take.

The second is the fork you take because someone in charge tells you it is good for you, and you want to do “what is good for you.”

Most kids in school today travel on one of the first two forks in the road.  If they can’t find a way to fit in there, sadly, many leave the road all together, only to find more challenges and struggles.  Maker education offers all kids a third fork in the road.  A choice that brings the full glory of meaningful learning into focus for every single child, regardless of ability, social background, gender or ethnicity.

The third is the fork you take because you are curious, or it is your passion, and you are personally and intrinsically motivated to travel that path, seeking out discovery.  Discovery of yourself.  Discovery of the world around you.  Discovery of your passions and talents and how to turn those things into a future.

There is a huge difference between forcing students to show up to school, do their homework, learn the things they’ll be tested on, and creating an environment conducive of allowing students to find their own motivation for learning.  It’s time to make the third fork in the road available and accessible to all through maker education.

Daniel Pink talks about this in his book DRIVE, Sir Ken Robinson touches on it in his book The Element, Simon Sinek talks about it in his book Start with Why as well as his TED Talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  Seth Godin talks about it, in essence, in all of his work.

The activities, structure, and processes in 180 Days of Making are all about allowing students to see their own personal third fork in the road and empowering them to walk it.

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