User Generated Education

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Posts Tagged ‘educational reform

ChatGPT with My Students

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I love educational technology. When technologies were first available online, I was an early adopter, and often got brutally criticized by administrators and colleagues in my K-6 settings for having students use the internet for research, use web tools, create webpages in wikis, and work virtually with schools in other states and countries (for example, see their work from 2008 at http://weewebwonders.pbworks.com/). Now, similar work is often seen as innovative by colleagues. Boy, have times thankfully changed, but I have not. I still am an early adopter of technologies in that I believe many can benefit students in their learning.

As many in education know, commentary about ChatGPT is appearing on the news, social media, and the internet. As I always do, I am exploring its use in my classes (elementary-level gifted education). This post describes its use in education from the perspectives of ChatGPT, itself, and from a handful of educators. Later, I describe and show the work of my students. I conclude with tools for detecting machine-generated text, and provide a parting shot.

General Ideas for Using ChatGPT in Education

ChatGPT, according to ChatGPT, is a variant of the GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) language model that has been specifically designed for generating human-like text for chatbot applications. GPT models are trained on large amounts of text data and are able to generate natural language text that is coherent and grammatically correct. ChatGPT is trained to generate text that is more conversational and appropriate for use in chatbot applications. It can be used to generate responses to user input, initiate conversations, and provide information and assistance to users in a chatbot setting.

According to ChatGPT, there are several potential ways that ChatGPT or similar language models could be used in education:

  • As a tutor or teaching assistant: ChatGPT could be used to provide personalized feedback and guidance to students, answering questions and providing explanations on a variety of educational topics.
  • For language learning: ChatGPT or similar models could be used to provide conversation practice and feedback to students learning a new language.
  • To generate personalized learning content: ChatGPT or similar models could be used to generate customized learning materials for students, such as practice problems or reading assignments.
  • To facilitate collaborative learning: ChatGPT or similar models could be used to facilitate discussions and collaboration among students, providing prompts and guidance for group projects and assignments.

Here are some guides created by educators, Torrey Trust and Andrew Herft, for using ChatGPT in educational settings. They include uses for teachers such as creating lesson plans and assessments as well as how students can use it:

ChatGPT in the K-12 Setting

When specifically asked how ChatGPT can be used by K-12 students, it reported the following:

K-12 students can use ChatGPT in a variety of ways to enhance their learning experience. Some examples include:

  • Asking ChatGPT to explain a difficult concept or topic
  • Using ChatGPT to generate practice questions and answers for studying
  • Asking ChatGPT to summarize a text or article
  • Using ChatGPT to generate creative writing prompts
  • Asking ChatGPT to help with homework by answering questions or providing explanations
  • Using ChatGPT to improve reading comprehension by asking questions about a text
  • Creating interactive quizzes and games to make learning more engaging

It also (thankfully) provided a disclaimer: It’s important to note that while ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for K-12 students, it should not be used as a substitute for a teacher or other educational professional. A teacher can help to provide guidance, feedback, and structure to the learning process.

Matt Miller of Ditch the Textbook also discussed uses of ChatGPT in K-12 education:

More detailed explanations of these can be found in ChatGPT, Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence in Education.

ChatGPT Can Support Students’ Social Emotional Learning

Students and teachers may benefit from asking and discovered various ways it could assist someone with social and emotional skills. It gave helpful answers to all the questions below, and when asked to “regenerate the response” was able to provide additional quality responses. It can be very helpful for anyone who has a difficult time in social situations, is nervous about making friends, is conflicted about how to handle a particular situation.

  • What are some questions I could ask a new friend?
  • What advice do you have for someone starting a new school and wanting to make friends?
  • What are some suggestions for how to say no if a friend asks to copy my homework?
  • What are suggestions to explain to someone what they said or did hurt my feelings?
  • What are small talk suggestions at a party?
  • I am nervous about my test tomorrow; can you give me some relaxation strategies?
  • I want to motivate my group members to help with our project; what are some suggestions to help motivate them?
  • I made the soccer team, but my best friend didn’t make it, I feel bad and don’t know what to do. Do you have any suggestions?
  • I want to practice being kind in the new year. What are some specific ways I can show kindness to others? (ChatGPT to Your Classroom-your-classroom/).

Testing ChatGPT with My Students

In his blog post, ChatGPT, Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence in Education, Matt proposed that maybe ChatCPT should be blocked until the end of the school year because, “We need some space. Some time. A little room to ponder, to sit with all of this. To talk to other educators about what they think. To talk to students and to parents.” For me, the best way to find out about the functionality and effectiveness of any potential classroom-based educational technology is to have students test it out for themselves, so that is what I did with my 4th-6th graders.

I think it is important to be intentional when any educator or I use any type of educational technology. I get frustrated when I see conference presentations about 50 educational technologies in 50 minutes. It becomes about the tool rather than about the pedagogy. When using educational technology in the classroom, instructional goals should be established beyond just learning about the tool. As such, when I asked students to explore ChatGPT, I had two purposes in mind, (1) To be critical consumers of online tools, and (2) To increase their joy of the written word.

They were given the following task:

  • Test out ChatGPT with two of the following
    • A Piece of Your Own Writing
    • Favorite Book
    • Favorite Song
    • Current News Story
    • Historical Event
    • (My students ended up using it to create a written piece to go with an image generated by DALL·E 2, a new AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language.)
  • For each, try to
    • Create a rap or rock song.
    • Write a three act play, TV show, or movie. Specify the characters.
    • Create a fairy tale.
    • Write a limerick.
    • Create a newscast.
    • Create a holiday.
    • Create a commercial.
    • Make a joke.
    • Get feedback.
  • Rules
    • No violence.
    • No fighting characters.
    • Focus on the positive and kindness.

Students then wrote a blog post that included their results as well as reflections on the following questions:

  • Did it produce desirable results? If so, to what degree? If not, why?
  • What did you like best?
  • Do you think it will lose its novelty? Why or Why not?
  • How can it help you learn better?
  • Why shouldn’t it ever be used in school?

Here is a slide deck of their work that they posted on their Fan school blogs (note: I instructed them to indicate that the images and text were generated by AI:

A summary of my students comments about using ChatGPT at school:

  • ChatGPT should not be used in school because then kids will use it instead of writing themselves, which defeats the purpose of practicing to write, a skill that is vital in later life.
  • On the other hand, it could help me learn proper grammar and advanced words.
  • It can help you learn by giving you examples and thoughts.
  • The results were very desirable because it was very good grammar and a realistic image, I rate it a ten.
  • I think this website will help me learn better by including proficient and highly advanced words.
  • I think ChatGPT should never be used in school because it takes no work other than typing a few words into a search bar and then you push a button and the website does all the work for you.
  • I think a reason why you should not use this for school work is because you will get in trouble.
  • I like it because it is so cool the way that it creates a story just by describing something.
  • I think you shouldn’t use AI at school because you are basically cheating. 

I then asked students to create a pledge for using ChatGPT for work related to school:


Detecting Machine-Generated Text

Teachers, rightfully, are fearful of the potential for students to cheat using ChatGPT to generate essays, homework assignments, etc. To help offset this problem, apps and tools are being develop to help detect

  •  GPTZero.me rolled out their new model that includes sentence highlighting and much faster processing. GPTZero now highlights sentences for you that are more likely to have been written by AI, a key feature that teachers have been requesting. File uploads have been added You can upload a PDF, docx, or txt file where GPTZero will read the text and detect AI plagiarism!
  • AI Writing Check is a free service developed by Quill.org and CommonLit.org to enable educators to check if a piece of writing submitted by a student was written by the AI tool ChatGPT. This algorithm is designed to detect AI-generated writing. We estimate, based on testing with 15k essays, that this tool is accurate 80-90% of the time. For this reason, we’d like to encourage teachers to exercise caution when using this tool to detect academic dishonesty. AI Writing Check is a stopgap tool measure for educators to use this school year until more advanced AI detection tools are made widely available.
  • Giant Language Model Test Room (or GLTR) is another tool that can be used to predict if casual portions of text have been written with AI. To use GLTR, a piece of text simply copy and pasted into the input box and anaylze is hit to generate a report.

Parting Shot

Many of the same fear and arguments that are being leveraged against ChatGPT in education settings have been leveraged against other technologies in the past. Wikipedia is one of those examples. I loved it when it first came out, but I knew lots of teachers who banned Wikipedia in their classrooms.

“Big-picture, AI will cause a shift students will deal with for the rest of their lives. They’ll wrestle with questions of humanity, questions of obsolescence, ethical questions. Let’s [teachers] help them with this” (http://ditch.link/ai via @jmattmiller).

The presence of disruptive technologies like ChatGPT should cause us to reflect on our learning goals, outcomes, and assessments, and determine whether we should change them in response, wall off the technology, or change the technology itself to better support our intended outcomes. We should not let our existing approaches remain simply because this is the way we have always done them. We should also not ruin what is great about writing in the name of preventing cheating. We could make students hand-write papers in class and lose the opportunity to think creatively and edit for clarity. Instead, we should double down on our goal of making sure that students become effective written and oral communicators. For better or worse, these technologies are part of the future of our world. We need to teach our students if it is appropriate to use them, and, if so, how and when to work alongside them effectively (Advice and responses from faculty on ChatGPT and A.I.-assisted writing)

These technology-driven disruptions will not be smooth, even if they can make us better off in the long run. Among the worst things we could do would be to let the drawbacks of these technologies deny us their benefits. In addition, the net effect of these changes will not be felt equally, so we all had better improve our capacity for compassion soon. The impact of ChatGPT and similar tools on education and the workforce may not yet feel much different than the trends of recent decades, but the depth and breadth of the changes brought by AI tools is accelerating and may be something new entirely (With ChatGPT, Education May Never Be the Same). 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 22, 2023 at 9:37 pm

Student and Teacher Motivational Needs in the School Setting

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Motivation is not only important in its own right; it is also an important predictor of learning and achievement. Students who are more motivated to learn persist longer, produce higher quality effort, learn more deeply, and perform better in classes and on standardized tests. It’s commonsense, but it’s also reinforced by hundreds of studies (An Important Piece of the Student Motivation Puzzle).

The topic of teacher and student motivational needs is too often given tangential thought and discussion. I know that teachers, curriculum specialists, and administrators believe in its importance, but I rarely see it brought up in readings and professional development. I propose that it is at the core of learning and as such, needs to be forefront of all teaching and learning.

In addition to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, motivation theories of William Glasser, David McClelland, and Fredrick Herzberg have application to a school environment. Looking at theories of motivation can create a broader perspective as well as give educators additional ideas for meeting their own and their students’ needs. In this post, I discuss some of these motivational theories and propose an integration of these theories. This discussion is relevant for both teachers and students. If teachers aren’t getting their growth needs met, then it is very difficult for them to help their students get theirs met.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Note: When referencing Maslow, it is important to note and acknowledge that Maslow was heavily influenced by Blackfeet ideas but did not credit them for that influence. For articles that discuss this, see https://elink.io/p/9155b1f.

Every teacher I’ve met has studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs so I won’t include any detailed explanation as part of this discussion. As a review, I included some resources that follow:

Resources:

Take-Aways:

Almost all teachers know about Maslow and believe in the validity of this theory. A key point is that there are deficit and growth needs. I believe that most schools do a great job insuring that students’ (and teachers’) deficit needs are met. Most students would say that they aren’t hungry (due to free and reduced programs), have a roof over their heads, enough light, and a chair to sit on. Even though there are still too many exceptions, most would also say that they don’t feel unsafe by peers or teachers. Too many teachers and students, though, would say that school doesn’t address their growth needs; that they don’t spend enough, or even any, time pursuing personal interests and talents.

Willian Glasser’s 5 Basic Needs


William Glasser’s theory isn’t studied or discussed as much as it was a decade or two ago. He identified basic motivation needs: Survival, Belonging, Power, Freedom, and Fun. Survival and Belonging are similar to those identified by Maslow but Power, Freedom, and Fun are different and are important in the discussion of student and teacher motivators.

Power: Power is a sense of em­powerment, worthiness, self-efficacy, and achievement, and an outer sense of being heard and respected and feeling competent and attaining recog­nition. Power in a school setting may be defined by the stu­dent’s (and teacher’s) ability to make choices and be an equal contribu­tor in learning. Students (and teachers) want activities to be relevant and to bring them competence and pride.

Freedom: Freedom is the need for independence and autonomy; the ability to make choices, to create, to explore, and to express oneself freely; to have sufficient space, to move around, and to feel unrestricted in determining choices and free will. To achieve this, students (and teachers) need indepen­dence, options, choices, autonomy, and liberty in both physical and psychological aspects. Ideally, it will include having the freedom to create, having time to generate one’s own thoughts, and sharing what’s been have created in the context of learning.

Fun: Fun is the psychological need for enjoyment-the desire to enjoy a job, to have a sense of humor, to engage in a hobby, to have interests, and to feel excitement about a work project or leisure time activity. Having fun includes experiencing enjoyment, pleasure, relaxation, laughter, and learning. In addition, the combination of laughing and learning can maximize the relationship that educators have with students.

(Source: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249832861_Our_Five_Basic_Needs)

Resources:

McClellands’ Learning Needs Theory


Resources:

In his research, Mclelland states that people have three primary needs: need for achievement, need for affiliation, and a need for power.

Need For Affiliation: The need for affiliation is a need to have positive social relationships with other people. These are your classic extroverts who love the company of others. Everyone has some need for affiliation, but for many, this is a high need. For people who need affiliation, the task is not essential to them. Instead, people who need affiliation respond to situations in which people depend on them. For students, this can be situations such as group projects and or team sports. Nothing can cripple high affiliated people then isolation. In addition, students who have a low need for affiliation will equally cause issues if they are always expected to socialize and be a part of the group.

Need for Achievement: The need for achievement is how strongly a person wants to have success at completing a task. High-achieving people feel a personal responsibility when they are expected to do something. High achievement people like to take on projects that have a moderate success rate. In other words, high achievement individuals hate something that is too easy but equally loose motivation for suicide tasks that have a low success rate. High achievers also have a desire for feedback. This is because they want to know if they have achieved success.

Need for Power: The need for power is a need to control, which means to influence other people. McClelland indicates two types of power, and these are personal power and social power. Personal power is a power to control others and is often political with a secret agenda. Social power is also seeking to influence others but to achieve the goals of the group or organization (Source: https://educationalresearchtechniques.com/2021/02/03/learned-needs-theory-and-students/) .

Note: Both Glasser and McClelland discuss the power need. Glasser’s explanation and description makes more sense to me in terms of this discussion.

Key Take-Aways from Glasser’s and McClelland’s Theories

There is some overlap of these two theories. Schools often work toward helping students develop a sense of affiliation and belonging especially after the pandemic with a greater focus on implementing social emotional learning. This is less so for power and freedom needs. I love that Glasser included fun. Sadly, way too often there is an emphasis on compliance within schools which is the antithesis of power and freedom – sometimes it is also the antithesis of fun and play.

Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory


This is a good overview. It includes a comparison to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Resources:

Frederick Herzberg, a behavioral scientist, proposed a two-factor theory or the motivator-hygiene theory. There are some job factors that result in satisfaction while there are other job factors that prevent dissatisfaction. The opposite of “Satisfaction” is “No satisfaction” and the opposite of “Dissatisfaction” is “No Dissatisfaction.

Hygiene factors are those job factors which are essential for existence of motivation at workplace. These do not lead to positive satisfaction for long-term. But if these factors are absent/if these factors are non-existant at workplace, then they lead to dissatisfaction. Hygiene factors are also called as dissatisfiers or maintenance factors as they are required to avoid dissatisfaction. These factors describe the job environment/scenario. The hygiene factors symbolized the physiological needs which the individuals wanted and expected to be fulfilled. 

The hygiene factors cannot be regarded as motivators. The motivational factors yield positive satisfaction. These factors are inherent to work. These factors motivate the employees for a superior performance.These factors are called satisfiers. These are factors involved in performing the job. Employees find these factors intrinsically rewarding. (Source: https://www.managementstudyguide.com/herzbergs-theory-motivation.htm)

Take Aways:

This theory was developed with a business setting in mind. The two factor model can be applied to a school setting, too. When teachers and students have their survival and safety needs met (Herzberg’s hygiene factors), they may not be dissatisfied with the school but that doesn’t mean they are satisfied it. The goal of every teacher and administrator should be to create motivator-based factors and an environment whereby every teacher and student is motivated to be there and learn; where everyone in the school setting has the potential to be quite satisfied with their roles and jobs.

Student and Teacher Needs Ladder Framework

As someone who has been passionate about and studied human motivation for decades, I propose an integration of these motivational theories. I developed this framework to put a greater emphasis on growth and actualization needs in the school environment. A ladder and steps are used as the metaphor as I prefer a more physical-oriented depiction than a hierarchy or pyramid, which is difficult to impossible to climb. Including both a ladder and steps symbolizes that there are multiple ways to climb to high levels. (Note: This framework is appropriate for grades 2nd/3rd up.)

It has the following characteristics:

  1. The overall goal is to intentionally bring self-directed, self=determined, and joyful learning into the school environment.
  2. Experiencing as state of flow and student-centered learning are important aspects of motivation and increase as one goes up the ladder of needs. For more about flow, see What did you do in school today? and Flow – A Measure of Student Engagement.
  3. The needs ladder is split into safety and growth needs with a greater break down and emphasis on growth needs. I believe as Herzberg does in a two factor model. If student and teacher safety needs are met, then they are not dissatisfied with school but they aren’t satisfied with it either. Schools, as I’ve mentioned, typically do a good job with addressing needs. I believe it is now time to put a greater focus on growth needs so that both teachers and students are motivated, satisfied, and happy with their schools.
  4. This differs from Maslow’s model in that teachers and students can and will move up and down the ladder depending on the situation and class setting.
  • Basic Survival
    • Students and teachers have a safe physical environment and are fed if they are experiencing food insecurity. When school is unsafe for these students, their motivation is survival on a day-to-day basis.
  • Extrinsically-Motivated Compliance
    • Student and teacher needs are centered around avoiding punishment and/or receiving rewards, or because it is the expectation. It might be all both teachers and students know as compliance has been the expectation through their school careers. Motivation is strictly based on extrinsic elements.
  • Physically and Emotionally Safe with Peers, Teachers, and Staff
  • Connection to School Community
    • This is the transition from safety needs to growth needs. For some teachers and students, it is solidly a growth need, connection to peers and other school personnel meets core growth needs. For others, it helps to create a safe place but it may not personally meet growth needs.
    • The underlying core need is Affiliation, Love & Belonging – The need for affiliation and to love and belong includes the need for relationships, social connections, to give and receive affection and to feel part of a group.
  • Engagement and Excitement
    • Student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education (https://www.edglossary.org/student-engagement/).
    • The core underlying need is Fun. The need for fun is the need to find pleasure, to play and to laugh.
    • There is potential to experience flow and joy.
  • Empowerment
    • Empowerment is the “process by which individuals and groups gain power, access to resources and control over their own lives. In doing so, they gain the ability to achieve their highest personal and collective aspirations and goals” (Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 1998, p. 91 as cited in What is “empowerment” in education?).
    • The underlying core need is Power. To be powerful is to achieve, to be competent, to be skilled, to be recognized for our achievements and skill, and have a sense of self worth.
    • Empowerment occurs when teachers and students are given choice. John Spencer’s video provides some good suggestion 10 Ways to Empower Students With Choice.
    • A flow state is typically experienced; joy may or may not be present.
  • Intrinsically-Motivated Mastery
    • Motivation stems from internal sources – the increased self-esteem, Confidence and recognition that comes from successful performance (Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutatgogy – a Continuum and Comparison).
    • The underlying core need is Power. To be powerful is to achieve, to be competent, to be skilled, to be recognized for our achievements and skill, and have a sense of self worth.
    • This can occur through teaching self-directed strategies. It can be mastery of content or of a skill, or in the case of the teacher, learning and successfully teaching new content or skill. It may be interest-driven or not. For example, I have a student who often expresses a disdain for math, yet he prides himself on being able to get correct answers of his math problems.
    • Flow State is evident and observable. Joy may or may not be present and observable.
  • Actualization of Interest and Talents
    • Motivation, not only comes from being able to pursue their own interests and develop their own talents, but through developing self-efficacy, knowing how to learn, embracing creativity along with the ability to use these qualities in novel as well as familiar situations and working with others will be he thing that takes place (Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutatgogy – a Continuum and Comparison).
    • The core underlying need is Freedom, the need for independence, autonomy, to have choices and to be able to take control of the direction of one’s life while at school.
    • This can be facilitated through self-determined strategies. The goal is not only for students but for teachers whereby they have the permission, space, resources, and time to pursue their own self-determined learning and teaching
    • A flow state and joy are evident and observable, almost palatable.

The higher levels of Intrinsically-Driven Mastery and Actualization of Interests and Talents can be facilitated through self-directed/andragogy and self-determined/heutagogy teaching and learning strategies respectively.

Resources to Learn More About Self-Directed/Andragogy and Self-Determined/Heutagogy Teaching and Learning Strategies

Needs for BIPOC Students

It is important to add to this discussion a special note about addressing the human needs of BIPOC students. Here are some suggestions as identified by BMEsTalk (Black Male Educators):

  • Allow what you know about each individual to inform your expectations and attitudes towards them. Who they are as a singular person, as part of their culture, and where they’re at developmentally. See the whole being they are. 
  • This is a powerful position to take! Every teacher should desire to become familiar with the experiences of BIPOC students so they’re more aware of the unique challenges they face. As an educator, this knowledge can be shared, and racial equity can be advanced. 
  • Give BIPOC students safe and brave spaces to share difficult topics such as racial inequality, bias, and social injustice. You are being invited into a world that is not your own. You can learn so much from your students to further a racially equitable future for them and the students around them. 
  • As their current significant influence in their lives, educators should reinforce and redirect the language and conversation to model support for a student sharing their Black or BIPOC experience. When difficult topics arise during class time, you or your students may feel uncomfortable. Lean into the discomfort. Beyond the discomfort lies the opportunity to learn and educate more on these crucial issues. (https://bmestalk.com/social-emotional-learning-for-black-students/)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 3, 2023 at 1:31 am

The Joy of Watching a Lesson Come Alive

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Number one on my love list of teaching is spending time with my fantastic students. High on my list is also my love of designing and creating learning activities for my students. I get such joy in seeing my designs come to life in the hands of my learners. Recently, I designed a pinball machine using a pizza box, Strawbees, Makedo screws, and an optional micro:bit scoreboard. The full directions can be found at: https://www.instructables.com/Cardboard-Pinball-Machine-Using-a-Pizza-Box-Strawb/.

I got to test my new learning activity with my summer campers during my Toy Making camp. As is usual, when kids get to jump in and try the activity out for themselves, they far exceeded my vision and expectations for it.



As I observed the campers making the pinball machine, I found such joy in witnessing:

  • 100% engagement. All students were actively and joyfully engaged. It reinforced my belief that there is a human need to create. I wrote about this in The Magic of Making: The Human Need to Create.
  • Their creativity. I was in awe about the directions they took with this; how much they added their selves to the base project.
  • Their ability to create the project without direct instruction. About half of them were able to just fly with it without my assistance; by just studying my prototype.
  • Their eyes light up when their projects worked as they envisioned them.
  • Their interest in their peers’ projects.
  • How valuable experiential learning is. I wrote about this in The Imperative of Experiential and Hands On Learning:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 3, 2022 at 11:27 pm

The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain by Annie Murphy Paul (A Guide for Educators)

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As an educator who . . . began my career as an outdoor and experiential-based counselor; loves and studies educational trends; and teaches elementary students, and pre-service and in-service teachers; I believe good teachers naturally do what’s best for their students. This is in spite of (all meanings intended) of the multiple, and often conflicting and changing mandates placed on them.

With that said, I was excited to hear Annie Murphy Paul discuss her new book, The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain, at toddle TIES.

Over many years of elementary school, high school, and even college and graduate school, we’re never explicitly taught to think outside the brain; we’re not shown how to employ our bodies and spaces and relationships in the service of intelligent thought. Yet this instruction is available if we know where to look; our teachers are the artists and scientists and authors who have figured out these methods for themselves, and the researchers who are, at last, making these methods the object of study. For humans these [methods] include, most notably, the feelings and movements of our bodies; the physical spaces in which we learn and work; and the other minds with which we interact—our classmates, colleagues, teachers, supervisors, friends. (https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Outside-Brain-Annie-Murphy/dp/0544947665)

From The Harvard Book Store:

The Extended Mind outlines the research behind this exciting new vision of human ability, exploring the findings of neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and examining the practices of educators, managers, and leaders who are already reaping the benefits of thinking outside the brain. She excavates the untold history of how artists, scientists, and authors—from Jackson Pollock to Jonas Salk to Robert Caro—have used mental extensions to solve problems, make discoveries, and create new works.

What we need to do, says acclaimed science writer Annie Murphy Paul, is think outside the brain. A host of “extra-neural” resources—the feelings and movements of our bodies, the physical spaces in which we learn and work, and the minds of those around us— can help us focus more intently, comprehend more deeply, and create more imaginatively.

In this book, she proposes a series of strategies that for me reflect best practices in education and ones that I typically use with my students (of all ages) on a regular basis. As mentioned earlier, I believe good educators often naturally integrate these practices in their classrooms:

(Note: It should be “Interoceptive“)

created by Cindy Blackburn

Here is an written summary of these keys points and strategies:

Source: https://jenniferlouden.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Paul.THE-EXTENDED-MIND.list-of-takeaways.pdf

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 13, 2022 at 4:47 pm

Top Five Blog Posts During 2021

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I love to blog. I do so for several reasons. First, it provides me with a means for reflecting on my teaching practices as well as having a written and often graphic record of my pratices. Second, my biography includes the statement, “I believe one of the roles and responsibilities of the modern educator is to share resources, lessons, ideas, thoughts, and opinions.” Blogging and Tweeting allow me to do so.

Here are the top five blog of 2021.

Number One: Virtual Team Building Activities

This is not surprising given all of the remote learning in K-Higher Education especially in the beginning of 2021. I was happy to see that educators looked for team building activities to use with their classes.

Number Two: The Importance of Civics Education

This actually surprised me. As I mentioned in the blog post, I was never that found of civics and politics but given the events of the past couple years, I have come to believe that all kids need civics education throughout their K-12 education. So I was excited to see this as number two.

Number Three: Morning Meetings, Check-Ins, and Social-Emotional Learning

This wasn’t surprising. This is an old post – from August, 2012. It always gets good traffic which is exciting to me as I believe that morning meetings can be powerful in elementary education environments.

Number Four: Emotional Check-Ins in a Teaching Webinar

As with the Virtual Team Building Activities, this wasn’t surprising given all of the remote learning during 2021. All of the activities described in this blog post focused on social emotional learning (SEL). One “good” thing that came from COVID is a greater focus on SEL in traditional educational settings. I always believed in its importance so I am thrilled it is gaining more acceptance.

Number Five: Approaching Marginalized Populations from an Asset Rather Than a Deficit Model of Education

This is also an older post. Out my top five, I was most excited to see this one. My work history includes teaching and counseling marginalized children and youth. Needless to say, the movement towards anti-racist education this past year has made me more hopeful that this can be achieved one day (although I understand it will take a lot work and a major overhaul of our traditional and archaic education systems).

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 28, 2021 at 11:15 pm

Watching Them Learn

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I have been very intentional in the public school teaching jobs I have chosen. First I was a PE teacher, now I am a gifted education teacher. I chose these jobs because I believe in active, hands-on, and joyful learning. I love being able to provide them with learning experiences not based on preparing them for toxic tests, but on how humans learn naturally outside of school settings. I also base many of my learning activities on my belief on the need for humans to create which I discuss more in The Magic of Making: The Human Need to Create:

The conclusion I came up with is that the human need to create is innate; and that too many people, starting during their childhood public education, stop creating. When they are given the opportunity, permission/invitation, materials, and methods, they fully embrace making and creating.

  • I love watching them go through all of the crafty materials trying to find the right ones for their projects.
  • I love watching them try to figure out how everything fits together in their projects.
  • I love watching them struggle to get something to work that matches their mind’s eye, and the joy they experience when they do.
  • I love watching how fully engaged they become in their learning, how they get into a flow, and how nothing else exists in the world.
  • I love watching how when I give them a math challenge, the students gather around the interactive Smartboard in order to solve the challenge.
  • I love watching how the collaborative projects build friendships, and the joy they feel in just being with one another. They ask to spend lunch together in my classroom. They ask to come to school on days off.
  • I love watching the pride that shows on their faces when their projects are completed.

I have the best job in the world. I get to have a front row seat to witness these beautiful human beings do what they are supposed to do – LEARN – really learn.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 17, 2021 at 7:12 pm

Student Choice and Voice Can Equal the Best Day Ever

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As is true for a lot of progressive educators, I have a belief in and attempt to practice the implementation of student voice and choice:

Sometimes this means fully letting go of the reins so learners become completely self-directed. I had the privilege of witnessing this in action one afternoon last week. I use the word, “witness,” as it was totally due to the actions of one student.

As I do every Thursday, I “pulled-out” 4th-6th graders for gifted and talented services. During the morning they built and experimented with Wiggle Bots. One of the students, Sean, also began experimenting with some of the materials in an attempt to build a toy bow (out of skewers) and arrow (out of jumbo straws). I asked him to focus on making his Wiggle Bot but told him he could continue his experimentation during lunch (they voluntarily spend lunch with me on Thursdays). They stay with me after lunch for an hour+. I do math challenges with them during those times. Sean asked if he could continue to work on fine tuning his bow and arrow instead. Then, the other kids asked if they could do so, too. Being a learner-centric educator, who values student choice and voice, I said, “Sure, go for it.”

I am so happy I did! They played with the continual improvement of their straw arrows; iterated through testing, and modifying them; and tried out different materials for their tips and tails in an effort to create increased distance and accuracy . . . again with little intervention from me. They went outside to test their work, and later, to play games with their arrows that they made up – most notably one that mimicked the video game Among Us. Seeing such joy in their social interactions warmed my heart. I know how important allowing for social time is for this age group especially after last year’s isolation due to remote learning – just as important or even more important than content area instruction.

I witnessed their creativity, innovation, flow, positive social interactions, excitement, engagement, and joy during this student-driven activity. Sean was visibly very excited that not only was he successful in making his bow and arrow, but more so that the other students followed his lead to participate in these learning activities that he initiated. The pride I saw in him was what prompted me to write this post. I was so happy with him and for him. One student even said at the end of the day, “This was the best day I ever had at school,” and this came from a student who absolutely loves and excels at school. When I heard the student state this, I jumped with joy. It wasn’t due to anything I did. It was only that I stepped back and let the students take over their learning.

I’ve discussed that one of my goals in my classroom is to create the conditions for having students experience and express that they had the best day ever:

During this particular afternoon, I believe the following occurred:

  • Built on learner interests and passions
  • Used whole body and hands-on learning
  • Allowed learners to work with others if they choose
  • Encouraged and acknowledge a broad range of emotions
  • Celebrated both effort and success
  • Respected the process – let go of the need to create the best day ever

My reflection is that I believe I typically do a good job of giving voice and choice but it is often within a more structured STEM, STEAM, maker education activities (see my book, Learning in the Making, for more information about this). I’d like to figure out more ways to “follow the child” like they do in Montessori environments. I have a lot of craft and STEM materials accessible in my classroom. I need to try out the suggestion made by Sean that day, “We should spend an afternoon just exploring, playing with, and creating things using these materials.”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 3, 2021 at 9:35 pm

Offering Electives to Elementary Students

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Electives, as we all know, are classes that students choose to take. Electives are typically chosen based on interests, passions, a need to learn something new, and/or because of future goals. It is not clear to me why elementary students are rarely offered elective courses.

In addition to empowering practical skills, electives can help students find hidden talents or passions. In fact, several studies show that students are more likely to get a degree or major in a course they took as an elective. Electives offer options that allow individuals to seek out interests. Being able to choose a class is huge, and this tends to keep kids motivated to learn (Beyond the Classroom: Electives in school — essential or entertaining?).

Other benefits of electives include:

  • They honor student voice and choice. Obviously, the act of allowing students to choose desirable electives gives them both voice and choice. Electives should also be designed so the types of activities offered to students embrace their voice and choice.
  • Given that students select their electives, they become interest and passion driven.
  • They are self-differentiating. First, the act of selecting electives of personal choice can be considered differentiation by interest. Second, within the electives themselves, students choose to work on personal projects that are often based on both their ability levels and interest levels.
  • They are authentic and relevant. The types of elective offered should mimic the types of activities used by professionals in a related career field. Students will then see what they do during their electives as having real world applications.
  • Electives assist students in seeing the big picture of the content being studied. By showing them the types of learning activities that will be part of the elective, they get to see more of the big picture of the elective; the smaller pieces of the bigger elective topic. I never understood why elementary students aren’t shown the bigger picture of a lesson, unit, or course. At least, college, and some high school, students are given a syllabus which tells them what they will learn during the course.
  • Because elective classes offered to elementary students should be STEM/STEAM process based, they have the potential situate historically underserved and disenfranchised young people to be more competitive with more privileged youth in college. The types of electives offered to the students assist them in developing the “21st century” skills of creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration as well as the ability to persevere, iterate, ask for help, and see themselves as capable learners. It gives them the extra boost that many of the more privileged youth get through their extra-curricular activities.

I am a lifelong learner. I have a very strong need to learn new things. Summers give me the opportunity to learn new things that I can offer to my students during the following school year This summer was no exception. I learned about artificial intelligence, e-textiles, and hydroponics. Now, I can offer these new things as well as some others related interests and passions as electives this coming school year

I have the privilege of teaching gifted elementary students at a few Title 1 schools. I understand that I have more freedom than the classroom teacher to develop and teach my own curriculum. I see my students for two 2-hour blocks during the week. So I plan to explain to them that they can choose two to three electives per semester. The selection of electives is up to them. This year I prepared the following slideshow to show my students the electives from which they can choose. (Note: I know that teachers have to teach to so many standards and use district mandated curriculums. I still believe they can carve out some time during the week to offer electives. I think students have a lot to gain to see their teachers teaching about their personal interests and passions. They get to see their teachers actually being lifelong learners and the benefits it entails.)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 9, 2021 at 12:02 am

Reimagining Education: A Call for Action

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Many of us have been discussing educational reform for decades. Given the unprecedented time of COVID19 and its effect on education, it is a perfect time to revisit and reimagine the purpose, operations, and skills related to a powerful education. Some of the issues that have emerged and are still emerging include: the social emotional health of learners, a realization that students aren’t able to be independent and self-directed learning, and an awareness of inequities that exist in the United States. It has become blatantly obvious that students can’t learn effectively at home – especially without teacher direction throughout the school day.

It’s a perfect time for educators to reimagine an education they wish they had during their own school years so that their learners can have such an education.

Here is what I propose that should be components of a reformed/re-formed education:

  • Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency
  • Learner Voice and Choice
  • Just-In-Time Learning
  • Whole Person Learning
  • Educator as a Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities
  • Interest-Based Affinity Groups
  • Use of the Learner’s Community
  • Vigorous, Authentic Tasks
  • Executive Function Skills Development
  • A Focus on Social Emotional Health
  • Anti-Racist Awareness and Actions

Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency

Learners of all ages beginning in 2nd or 3rd grade can engage in self-determined and self-driven learning where they are not only deciding the direction of their learning journey, but also producing content that adds value and worth to related content areas and fields of study.

The learners in a self-directed learning environment where learner agency prevails:

  • Determine what they want to learn and develop their own learning plan for their learning, based on a broad range of desired outcomes.
  • Use their learning preferences and related technologies to decide how they will learn their material based on their own desired outcomes.
  • Form their own learning communities possibly using social networking tools suggested and/or set up by the educator. Possible networks, many with corresponding apps, include: Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, Instagram, TikTok, blogging sites, Youtube, and other social networks.
  • Utilize the expertise of educators and other members of their learning communities who can introduce content-related resources and suggest online tools that the learners could use to demonstrate and produce learning artifacts.
  • Demonstrate their learning through methods and means that work best for them. It could include blogging, creating photo essays, doing screencasts, making videos or podcasts, drawing, singing, dancing, etc.
  • Take the initiative to seek feedback about their work from educators and their peers. It is their choice to utilize that feedback or not.

Learner Choice and Voice

Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work. (Student Voice Leads to Student Choice)

Some strategies for giving learners voice and choice can be found in the following infographic:

Just-In-Time Learning

Currently, most schooling focuses on just-in-case teaching and learning. Students are asked to learn material throughout their schooling just-in-case they need it someday. I contend that after students learn the basics of reading, writing, and math, they are asked to learn way too much content that may never use.

Just-in-time learning is a concept that has become popularized in connection to organizational development. “Just-in-time learning is an approach to individual or organizational and development that promotes need-related training be readily available exactly when and how it is needed by the learner” (Just-In-Time Learning).

Kids (and adults) who need to access information in order to learn something or improve their performance – think video gaming, cooking, learning to play an instrument, fixing something, making something – often go directly to the Internet, most notably Youtube, to get some form of tutorial. This is just-in-time learning. Information is needed “then and there,” which motivates the learner to seek that information “then and there.”

In self-directed, interest-driven education, just-in-time learning becomes the norm. The educator, as truly the guide on the side, encourages and assists learners in engaging in just-in-time learning as a natural part of their learning process.

Whole Person Learning

As someone whose roots is in outdoor and experiential education, I believe a good learning experience engages the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social aspects of the learner. The focus becomes on helping educating the whole learner – not just their brain or intellect. Some have called this head, heart, and hand learning.

The 21st century is placing great demands on our students and educational system. To meet those demands, we recognize that educating the head (cognitive domain), exclusive of the heart and hand (affective and behavioral domains), is no longer educational best practice. It is the education of our students’ heads, hearts and hands that will genuinely prepare them for success in college, career and civic life. (Educating the Head, Heart, and Hand for the 21st Century)

Many researchers (Henting, 1997; Bruner, 2000; Stoll and Fink, 2000; Faultisch, 1999) believe, that quality education and successful education reforms can be achieved by changing the learning culture (with attention paid to the completeness and integrativity of a human being), especially in the context of lifelong learning which integrates all three domains of learning: cognitive (head), affective (heart) and psychomotor (hands). (“Head, Heart and Hands Learning”- A challenge for contemporary education)

Obviously to engage the head, heart, and hands, sitting at a desk won’t do it. Simply put, learners needed to move their bodies and have an emotional connection to the material to increase its stickiness.

Educator as the Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities

The educator, in a reformed model of education, steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

he educator’s role truly becomes that of guide-as-the-side, coach, resource-suggester, and cheerleader as learners create their own learning journey. The educator has more life experience, knows (hopefully) about the process of learning, and has more procedural knowledge about how to find, identify, and use informational resources and social networking for learning purposes. Not only, then, does the educator help steer students in some more productive directions, s/he models the process of self-determined learning increasing the students’ aptitude for this type of learning. Learners, themselves, then also become mentors, teachers, and model learning for one another sharing best practices and strategies for effective learning.

Interest-Based Affinity Groups

Young people often find their own interest based affinity groups online. These include kids gathering via Discord or Twitch.tv to discuss video games, marginalized youth finding others like them through social media, and even groups as specific as those who share their art anime with one another for feedback.

Interest-based, affinity groups groups have been described in the report, an agenda for RESEARCH AND DESIGN A research synthesis report of the Connected Learning Research Network:

The primary driver of participation for interest-driven activity is a sense of personal affinity, passion, and engagement. Learning in this mode is generally knowledge and expertise-driven, and evaluated by the metrics internal to the specific interest group, which can often be subcultural or quite different from what is valued by local peers or teachers.

If interest-based affinity groups are promoted in the educational setting, groups will naturally emerge as members interests emerge. They will be fluid as membership changes and members’ interests grow, evolve, and change. The groups would be mixed ages and genders where members act both as learners and as teachers. There would be situational teaching and learning.  This means that if someone has the knowledge or skills related to a certain area of learning, then that member emerges as the teacher regardless of age.  Contributions by all not only make everyone feel valued, the community as a whole will benefit.

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.

John Dewey, Education Philosopher in Early 20th Century

Use of the Learner’s Community

Schools tend to be separate from the community – often not physically but in its use of its resources. The educator as a tour guide of learning possibilities assists the learner in locating and utilizing their community including local businesses, museums, parks, social service agencies, historical associations but it can be as simple as the learners going outside to do a science, writing or art project. Learning in the community is a form of place-based learning:

Place-Based Education (PBE) is an approach to learning that takes advantage of geography to create authentic, meaningful and engaging
personalized learning for students. More specifically, Place-Based Education is defined as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.” (What is Place Based Learning)

For learners new to using their community as part of their learning process, the educator’s responsibility is to assist learners in both navigating through their communities and to identify community resources that can help with their learning process.

Vigorous and Authentic Learning Experiences

Providing authentic and vigorous learning experiences to all learners should be the highest prior for all administrators, curriculum developers, and teachers.

Authentic learning is learning designed to connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications; learning experiences should mirror the complexities and ambiguities of real life. Students work towards production of discourse, products, and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school; this is learning by doing approach (Authentic learning: what, why and how?).

In education, the term authentic learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications. The basic idea is that students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more motivated to learn new concepts and skills, and better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood if what they are learning mirrors real-life contexts, equips them with practical and useful skills, and addresses topics that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of school. For related discussions, see 21st century skills, relevance, and vigor (Authentic Learning).

The bottom line, in my perspective, is that learners view their experiences as having relevancy to their own lives, that they address their interests and needs. The following graphic shows some of the benefits of authentic and vigorous learning.

Executive Function Skills Development

Most educators would agree that a purpose of education is to assist learners in developing life skills which will translate to their lives outside of the school setting.  These include goal setting, organizational skills, time management, and strategies to learn new things.  They are skills or ability sets that are important for students to learn any content area knowledge.  These are often discussed in the context of executive functions:

In their book, “Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents,” Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD state “These [executive function] skills help us create a picture or goal, a path to that goal, and the resources we need along the way”(p 2).  They identify 10 types of executive function skills that work together; namely: Sustaining attention, shifting attention, inhibiting impulses, initiating activity, planning and organization, organization of materials, time management, working memory and emotional control http://kooltools4students.weebly.com/at-and-executive-functioning.html

Most young people, themselves, would note there are skills that could assist them in being more successful in both school and out of school settings.   Most would agree that organization skills, goals setting, and time management are relevant to other areas of their lives.

Executive functions and self-regulating skills development should be part of the school curriculum regardless of the age and demographics of the student body.  Using and teaching these skills often have the advantage of becoming intrinsically motivated and self-directed as well as often making sense to students as something that has meaning and relevancy.

Here are some additional resources to assist learners in developing their executive function skills:

A Focus on Social Emotional Learning

It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That’s where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the process of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.

Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills leads to reduced violence and aggression among children, higher academic achievement, and an improved ability to function in schools and in the workplace. Students who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. (Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?)

Here are some resources for bringing social emotional learning into the school and into the classroom:

Anti-Racism Awareness and Actions

When you’re essentially [teaching] a kid to be anti-racist, you’re deliberately encouraging them to talk about race and Racism. You’re deliberately teaching them that all the racial groups are equals. You’re deliberately showing them, yes, there are different colors and there are different cultures. And we should value them all equally.

It’s important for parents and for educators to be intentional about preparing our young people for the world that they are inheriting and living in. To not talk about it is a disservice to all young people. So not just black students who need to learn about their blackness and their history, but white students as well and nonblack people of color need to know our country’s history and talk explicitly about it.(How Can Parents Make Their Kids Understand How To Be Anti-Racist?)

Some anti-racist learning activities can be found at:

Parting Shot

Educational stakeholders such as administrators, educators, parents, and community members might look at this or a similar list of proposed educational reform actions, and say, “This is unrealistic. It can’t be done.” To them I say, “None of you expected the changes that COVID19 would force upon you and your students/children, but you made those changes. Not all have been successful, but most were successful to some degree. It demonstrates, though, that significant change is possible when all stakeholders work together.”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 13, 2020 at 11:03 pm

A Beautiful Boy

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During Fall 2020, I taught gifted education at the high school on our south-side. The south-side is known for its low income housing and its primarily Hispanic population. As an itinerant gifted education teacher, I work at several schools. Our district has extremes of schools – high income communities at one extreme, that have the characteristics of private schools, to the other extreme of Title 1 schools with 100% free and reduced lunch programs. I choose to work at these schools. For three years previously, I taught at Title 1 K-6 schools. I wanted to give high school a try. I really wanted it to work but it ended up being too difficult for me. I realized I can better serve younger students. Too many of my students (noting that they were identified as gifted) have mentally and intellectually checked out of school and were flunking many of their classes. Their emotional needs were too vast and deep to be able to concentrate on their academics. For example, I spent an afternoon with two 9th grade gifted girls who were my caseload, one had gotten into trouble for missing for two days. She had been holed up with a 19 year old guy who wouldn’t take her home. They told me stories about their lives that were absolutely heartbreaking – sexual abuse as children, abusive foster care homes, a father in jail for murdering someone, their own sexual promiscuity and drug use.

This leads me to a beautiful boy, Ivan. He was in a STEM class I taught that one semester. He showed up . . . sometimes. At one point, he was gone for a few weeks. I checked to see why and found it he was in juvenile detention. He was on probation (I am not sure why). Because he skipped school, he broke his probation and was put in juvie. He told me that he got in trouble in middle school due to anger problems, but all I saw was a kind, gentle and soft spoken young man. He told me about only living with an older brother because his mother lived in a town up north with “some guy.” He also told me he thought a lot about what was going on in the world and spent time on the internet looking up these things he thought about.

Although he rarely did work in my class, spending most of his time on his cell phone finding and listening to music, I really, really liked him. I couldn’t help but light up when he walked into the classroom, which was typically late. There was something special about him. I missed him when he was in juvie for two weeks, so much so that when he returned to school and my classroom, I yelled hooray, jumped up, and gave him a big side hug. He smiled at me with his big, bright smile and gave me a big side hug back.

Even with a label of gifted, school met none of his needs. He was only interested in writing and performing rap. He wrote, recorded, and published one of his songs onto an online music platform (I now wish I knew which one). I asked him to play it for me during class. I loved it. His eyes shined with joy and pride when he told me about it and even more so when the other students in the class and I listened to it. Such a beautiful boy!

He was such a beautiful boy. I used past tense, “was,” because this past week we got an email from the high school principal that Ivan was murdered due to gun violence.

I have spent the week wondering. I wonder if the schools better addressed his passion for music with his days spent at school writing lyrics, composing music, and recording and publishing his rap songs – maybe he would have been in a recording studio rather than roaming the streets in the very early morning hours. I wonder what would have been different if the schools focused more in his social-emotional needs than on his academics. I wonder what would have been different if the schools better addressed the socio-cultural factors and hardships that he faced everyday – maybe the cycle of violence and poverty could have been broken. Finally, I wonder what kind of man Ivan would have turned out to be since he was such a beautiful boy (young man).

Parting Shot: I sent the high school principal the photo of Ivan that I took of him working on an Arduino (bottom of post). She sent the news my photo. I guess they asked her for one. It was my final gift to him – being able to show him to the world as engaged in a school project; showing him at his best – I have a hunch there are possibly no other photos like this of him. RIP, Ivan – you really did rock!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 18, 2020 at 2:53 pm

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