Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Golden Circle - All About the Why

I went to a great college. Here is the link:

I learned many things at this college. I learned all of the educational jargon that I was going to need. I was taught about reverse design and the socio-political issues surrounding education policy in the United States. I learned an immense canon of literature which it was a pleasure to sift and gnaw my way through. I learned how to finance an education and how to survive on my own. In total, I became a culturally sensitive, rigorous individual with the technical know-how to conquer the teaching world. And we were different from other graduates around the country, our Dean even stated at our graduation, "We are branding you." I entered the working world with a bizarre confidence in the "tools" infused within me. There was something they couldn't teach me with bills, projects, student teaching or lectures, however.

And this was/is:

The Golden Circle of self. The dream within the "how" and "what". The fallacy beneath all of my higher education was that I was doing it for "them", for the "kids", not just for myself and, in the grand dance of life, there is something inherently missing from that equation.

My pedagogy teacher was confident she had given us all the tools we needed to become great teachers armed for impact. What she didn't know was that she couldn't possibly have that power, just as I cannot claim to have it either. I should mention that this is the same teacher who gave me a C- on a very fun sample lesson I gave to my class because I did not link my instruction to one the chapters she had assigned us to read.

(I did learn something from her, though. After she gave me that low grade, I told her she was full of sh** in an email and she reported me to the Dean of Students. I ended up apologizing to her, which I was glad to do - I learned a little something called "tact".)

School cannot teach you "why", the "why" is personal, it is sacred.

What is truly great about a "why" is that, like your heart or brain or lungs, we all have one. We all have beating, thinking, and breathing organs within us driving the rest of our bodies to fulfill the most necessary functions and maintain our lives.

A "why" does this as well. And it is very similar to the heart or lungs in that the function becomes lost, becomes involuntary - it pitters away from our consciousness. The heart continues to beat although we don't continually thinking of it. Our thoughts drift from "why" to "how", then "how" to "what" just as blood flows from the heart to cells and produces action. Our drive to live expresses itself in the rhythmic beating of our hearts and expansions of our lungs, not the 6 miles we promised ourselves to run (I'm going, I swear, just gotta stretch). What if our unconscious functions all centered on this "how" or "what" instead of maintaining a strong beating heart? We would drop dead.

The human essence cannot give energy to a "how" or "what" - only the "why". A strong flow of oxygen rich blood promotes a stronger action, it gives the energy which makes movement possible. The "why" makes everything else possible and the astounding thing is that it can be contagious. Remaining firmly centered on a "why" centers those around you as well (or infuriates them :) which can be equally educational).

In education and much of life, the "what" holds the reigns. My teacher gave me a C- because she looked only at the "what" and the "how" of my sample lesson. "What did he do?" "How did he implement this?", she forgot that learning, that teaching is actually fun.

The further away we get from the "why", the smaller the "why" gets and the larger the "what" gets. I didn't quit smoking until I had a "why", I had tried all the "whats" already.

Imagine a blender.


It sits there, a beautiful piece of machinery. In your freezer, there waits a frozen mango and a pint of ice cream and they can become the most wonderful smoothie which has ever passed your lips. Let's break this down a bit.

The "what" is the smoothie - delicious and creamy, nutritious and satisfying.


The "how" is the blender itself. But what is the "why"?

Is it the electric socket? Is it the power company which produces the power delivered to that socket?


The "why" is you. You will do anything and everything to taste that sweet, creamy smoothie. If the power goes out, you will still have that smoothie. You will get a spoon or a rock and chop that mango up and mash it all into a smoothie and you will have achieved your "what".

The "why" is your desire, your hunger for that smoothie.

You don't need the smoothie. You could eat crackers. You want that smoothie and it is that want which becomes desire and creates it. The blender is powered by more than amps - it is powered by your desire. Stay true to your desire and you will get that smoothie.
A teacher helps students make that smoothie. A teacher keeps the student in touch with the "why" so that that smoothie gets made. We teachers have a tendency to ask for a taste of our students' smoothies, but they don't want to share. Well, fair enough.

Can you start with a "what" - sure. chances are, however that that "what" is there because your "why" is unconsciously beating.

My "why"? - I'm not telling, but I think you can guess.

My "what" - a fun, rigorous classroom that challenges every person who steps foot in my door. In reality, though, I can do none of this, it is an individual meditation for each of my students.

The further away from the "why" we get, the smaller and more disconnected it becomes - the further away from bliss and success we go.

Focus on the "what" and the "how" in education becomes indoctrination. And indoctrination is not cool.

When we focus on the "what" (test scores), the "why" becomes an ignored post it which eventually falls and is lost under the fridge.

Here is my "why" mentor:
Pooh Bear has a very specific "why":


His "why" is so good that he doesn't even have to spell it right.

That's what we've got to remember, the "why" is so sweet.

Be cool.

I must give due intellectual credit to the TED speaker, Simon for his work on the concept of the Golden Circle. He applies the concept mainly to innovative companies like Apple and I took this concept and made it an educational philosophy of sorts. Click on his name to view his TED talk in its entirety.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Lesson in Survey Writing and Analysis

Aloha Teachers and Learning Enthusiasts!

I am in the middle of a really exciting I-Search project with my students. Instead of assigning a formal research paper (the concept of which is lost without some research background), I am trying to do an I-Search project in which my students produce their own research via a survey or interview and use this information to generate an analysis or start their own blogs. Below, you will find my final report/blog I am showing to my students today as an example and my survey below that (it's not very good). I'd also like to share my favorite new online resource that I use in my classroom:
Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world

Whether you like to keep up on cutting edge ideas or are looking for short informational videos from a variety of experts, this is the site for you (and it's not blocked by the DOE). Enjoy!

TED Video Survey Report

As a teacher, I am constantly looking for new media to engage my students and get them thinking. About 6 months ago, a friend of mine introduced me to TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design), a conference featuring some of the brightest minds in the world who give riveting and engaging presentations on the work that they do around the world. Although the talks range in subject matter from wingsuit jumpers to quantum physicists, one string runs through them all: they are all cutting edge. As a way to begin class, spur discussion, and engine constructed responses in my class, I have shown about 10 -12 different talks to my students. Since we have viewed many talks now, I decided that a student survey assessing what engages them in a TED video was appropriate. I also wanted to give my students an example of a survey so that they would better know how to create their own. The “TED Video Survey” as I called it, separated students by gender and asked them to choose between two videos I showed in the past months: Jane McGonigal: “Gaming can make a better world” and Adora Svitak: “What adults can learn from kids”. The results of this survey varied in a revealing and surprising manner. I found that several of my questions yielded irrelevant information which wasn’t really usable (I have learned much about writing an effective survey) so I didn’t use about half the information given and I reinterpreted an essay or open question. Instead of tracking the content of the open question, I tracked how much a student wrote in order to get an idea whether girls, when given an open question, will write more than boys or vice versa. To better report the findings, I separated the results by class periods giving some information on each body of students to help interpret and analyze this information.

Period 5

Total surveyed: 15
Males: 8
Females: 7

Opinions ran fairly parallel between the sexes in this class. 62% of males enjoyed McGonigal’s talk more than Svitak’s, and 71% of females preferred McGonigal’s with the remainder from both groups giving preference to Svitak. When given an open question on visual aids used in the presentations, 62% of males wrote a sentence or more compared with 85% of females. So far, so good.

Period 6

Total surveyed: 9
Males: 7
Females: 2

This small class made for some interesting statistics. 71% of boys preferred McGonigal’s talk, but neither of the girls surveyed did. 43% of boys wrote a sentence or more when prompted and 100% of girls did, in fact these girls wrote quite a bit about their choices. There is perhaps a pattern emerging.

Period 7

Total surveyed: 28
Males: 10
Females: 18

This is the only class I have in which the girls outnumber the boys. Of the 10 boys surveyed, 30% preferred McGonigal’s talk on the value of gaming while 70% liked Svitak’s talk about the value of listening to children. While the girls mirror the boys’ opinions, the numbers are skewed a bit more. Only 5% or one of the girls preferred McGonigal’s talk and 95% preferred Svitak. 20% of boys wrote a sentence or more and 55% of girls wrote a sentence or more.

So What?

After giving this survey and analyzing the results a bit, I wasn’t sure what I could make of it. Sure, I did learn what type of topic and speaker most of my students preferred, but this information varied a bit by class and I did prove that girls will often write more than boys for an open question, but I basically knew that before. What was most interesting to me as a teacher was how much the opinions varied from class-to-class and how contagious these opinions seemed to be within the class and within a gender group in that class. There seemed to be an opinion tipping point localized or contained within each class independent of the video’s content. In other words, when a certain number of girls liked one speaker, all of them then followed suit. For example, both girls in period 6 preferred Svitak’s talk and 95% or 17 out of 18 in period 7 did as well. The boys seemed to follow suit in period 7 too, with 70% preferring Svitak’s talk.

What value does this have for my instruction? I know now that I don’t have to win over all or even most of my students in order to sway opinion or motivate them. What I need to get is roughly half of them engaged and, for the most part, the rest will follow. However, the more diverse the opinion base, the more challenging and ineffective one or even two modes of instruction shall be. These surveys were given in quiet with no discussion or explanation, so overt peer pressure was not the cause. There seems to be an energy of agreement that pervades a classroom which I can profit by using. For instance, if only about half the students do an assignment or do well on an assessment or are willing to participate in an activity, what I should do instead of bemoaning those who have failed to perform is spotlight that half of the class who jumped in and swam.

To view the videos, go to or follow these links:

Adora Svitak
Jane McGonigal

Below is the survey I gave to my students, I’m sure you will notice several errors in the questions which would make the information difficult to track.

TED Video Survey

1. What is your gender?
Male or Female

2. What grade are you in?
9 10 11 12

3. Which video out of the two you watched did you find most interesting? (circle one)

Jane McGonigal; “Gaming can make a better world.”


Adora Svitak; “What adults can learn from kids.”

4.Out of the two videos you watched pick the one you found most interesting then rate it on a scale of 1-10(1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

5. On the video that you chose, what visual aid helped you remember the message?

6. Rate on a scale of 1-10, how did you find the video you didn’t choose interesting?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

7. What would be an interesting topic for you to hear about in a TED video?

8. On the video you didn’t choose, how could you improve it?
A. Visual Aid
B. More humorous
C. More interesting
D. Other _______________
E. All of the Above

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Cool Teacher


Let's do a quick comparison:

Here's Education Secretary Arne Duncan -

And here's, well, here you go -

Take a look at these two men and have a moment of pause. Ask yourself:

1. Who would I like to spend an afternoon with at the beach?

2. From which would I ask love advice?

3. Who is more likely to have been to an Aerosmith concert?

If you're me, the answers flowed off the tongue - Arne Duncan of course!

I hope you sense my slight sarcasm and perhaps, in a roundabout and somewhat incomprehensible logic, my point. Why can't a teacher be cool? At what point were we expected to hike up our pants and lock our butt muscles in angst? What I speak of is an infection in our totally cool country - the teacher martyr. These are the teachers who wear that "should" on their faces and intrude on every scrap of fun you might be having. Do they actually poop on your party? No, and that's the most frustrating part. The teacher martyr stresses you out as soon as you feel free. The teacher martyr was put in you while you were asleep in class many years ago.

Have you ever been having a wild time with your students when all of a sudden you lock up and bring on the kabash?

That's your inner teacher martyr. He believes that no good comes without pain and that pain is good.

Good news for you though cool teacher - that teacher martyr isn't real. He is the result of our addiction to control and fear of rejection. So, have a parting drink with your old pal the teacher martyr, bid him goodbye, "I'll sure miss you old chap." and cruise your way to the future.

But how do I become a cool teacher? Who will train me?

Young paduan, the force is in you, although it couldn't hurt to watch a couple episodes of Happy Days with Arne Duncan on mute.

The next time you feel that ache in your head, that unnatural loss of breath - breath, relax, and remember - everything is well, you are a cool teacher.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Just Got Over the "shoulds"! My heart beats again!

I was shopping for cliffs to jump off of . . .

On the Big Island of Hawaii, I have a lot of options for this action.

But then I went and got inspired again. Damn this cyclical life of ours. I wanted to quit!

What I didn't know amid my suicidal despondency over what seemed to be an ineffective teaching strategem, method, content, etc. is that "I" wasn't the problem, my students weren't the problem, the school wasn't the problem, furlough fridays weren't the problem, the aftereffects of disasterous Bush Administration policies weren't the problem - the problem was that I was still infected with "the shoulds"!

I should be teaching Lord of the Flies.

I should be receiving perfectly punctuated constructed responses.

I should be doing the most inspiring, hands-on activities everyday, all-the-time.

I should find a way to leave school at 3pm everyday.

I should stay afterschool until 5pm to plan the next day, everyday.

I should eat fewer hotpockets for lunch.

Should, should, should, should, shouuuullllllldy should should

Where did that damn word come from anyway . . .? Let's see, - ah! From the Old English "sc(e)olde" - another word for small.

Yes, "should" makes you feel small, small indeed. The word "should", although usually spoken with honorable intentions holds its meaning with the negative. If you "should" be doing something, that means that there is something that you are NOT doing. It's like a lollipop with frayed electrical wires cooked in. I'm sorry if that analogy doesn't work for you.

I had a "should" infection!

But no more! I realize that there is nothing I "should" be doing - all that counts is what I do right now, in the present. I now teach completely in the present.