Strengths Based Approach for Teens


I am curious about something. 

Recently I took the Strengths Finder assessment. Wow. Powerful experience. Of course, validation of who I am is cool. For some reason, it made me feel good that a computer test could tell me what I really already knew about myself. But, it has done something else. I’ve really started focusing so much more on doing what I already do. Now, I seem to be doing it more. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve actually smiled to myself when I do something that is in line with one of my strengths. It’s like I’m taking a little daily dose of me and the side effects are pretty cool.

This sounds exactly like something teenagers should do. Imagine a world where teenagers see what’s great about themselves and constantly searching for things to do that they are good at doing that made them smile every day. Little too hard to imagine? Probably. Such a shift could push our world off is axis.  Let’s think smaller.

I’m imagining a school where that happens. What if every student in an entire school took the Strengths Finder assessment, learned more about themselves AND all of their classmates, and were provided opportunities to practice using their strengths in their school and community. What if students discussed contributions in their project based learning groups based on what they know of their own strengths? What if the basketball team, Key Club officers, band members, and the soccer team knew one another’s skills and abilities but also knew one another’s personal strengths? What could be accomplished then? Now, that’s not too big to imagine, is it?

Must figure out how to make this happen.  We only need about $6,000. Ideas?

21st Century Technology Showcase

puzzleTalladega County Presents its Fourth Annual
21st Century Interactive Technology Showcase
Putting it All Together
Thursday, April 14, 2011
8:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.


Technology Showcase

Teachers from every school in the district participate in technology training designed by other Talladega County teachers and administrators. These teachers choose three students to help demonstrate how technology has impacted learning in their classroom at the April Showcase. These teachers and their students will demonstrate how they have used technology to learn. Sample lessons, projects, photos, and other artifacts help guests see what learning with technology is like in today’s classrooms in Talladega County.

Project Based Learning Showcase

Schools throughout Talladega County have embraced project based learning (PBL) – a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks. Superior PBL projects will be on display at this year’s showcase. Students will be on hand to explain how the PBL process impacts their learning.

21st Century Learning Lab

Talladega County’s 21st Century Technology Initiative leaders and mentors will present a “Learning Lab” for guests and students at this year’s showcase. Students will assume the role of “teacher” in the learning lab, demonstrating and guiding others in the use of dozens of exciting web tools. The Learning Lab will be located under the tent in the very middle of the showcase floor.

Fitness Arcade

Does physical education have a role in a Technology Showcase? “Wii” believe the answer is YES! Learn more about how digital games are impacting wellness training and physical education. The Fitness Arcade will be located on the stage in the CHS Performing Arts and Sports Arena.

Presentation Competition

Students from each school will have an opportunity compete in a 21st competition focused on presentation skills. Divisions are Grades 3-5; Grades 6-8; Grades 9-10; Grades 11-12. Students will prepare a 4-8 minute presentation answering one or all of the following questions: What do I learn? How do I learn? Why do I learn? Each school team may consist of 3 or 4 members and scored based on a presentation rubric. The competition will take place at CHS on the day of the showcase and be closed to the public, but winners will be announced at the Awards Ceremony at 1:00 p.m.

To learn more about Talladega County’s technology initative, visit their TCBOE wiki.

Education Week’s 21st Century Teaching Series

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edweek webinar21st Century Teaching Series: Use Digital Tools Effectively to Enhance Student Learning

Technology is transforming the way we approach everything, including how we teach. This 21st Century Teaching webinar series will help you integrate innovative skills with critical subject matter—writing and math—and provide ways to create effective assessments under this new paradigm.

New Directions in Classroom Assessment

It’s a common adage that assessment drives learning. But for educators striving to integrate skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving, and digital communication into their instruction, how should assessment change? In this webinar, two recognized authorities on 21st-century teaching will discuss best practices on how teachers can create assessments that both reinforce and evaluate students’ learning in abstract and transformative academic skills. Presentations will explore advancements in assessment tools as well as offer practical examples of evaluations of student projects.

Join us for this Education Week webinar on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, 4 p.m. E.T.

Hogwarts – A Study in Project Based Learning

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homeMillions of school-age children throughout the world would do most anything for the chance to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The school has some pretty awesome selling features: “Houses” that are like families, feasts and food to satisfy every appetite, dungeons, corridors, staircases, and bathrooms with mystery and intrigue, and quidditch.  Life at Hogwarts is never dull.  Any school-age boy or girl could appreciate that.  But what about the school part? Kids at Hogwarts seem to be engaged in learning.  They are motivated and seem to enjoy (or at least accept the challenge of) solving complex problems.  They almost always work in pairs or groups.  It’s social learning at the highest level – in the classroom, on the Quidditch pitch, for the House Cup, and in life.  When Hogwarts was created in Orlando, Florida, kids everywhere were thrilled they could actually visit this magical place.  But I have a better idea. Why don’t we bring some of this magic to our kids?  What if schools took a page from the Harry Potter books and reinvented themselves with the best features of this magical learning environment?  What sort of schools might we have then? Let’s imagine such a place…..

Classes at Hogwarts are different

  • Herbology is taught in one of the many school greenhouses – among the plants.
  • Care of Magical Creatures and Flying lessons are taught outdoors – on the school grounds.
  • Astronomy class meets at midnight in the topmost tower at Hogwarts.
  • Classes vary in structure and length.  Some classes are larger with students from varying houses and some are “doubles,” which means the class lasts twice as long as a normal class.  Some classes have a “theory” portion, with the “practical” portion at another scheduled time.
  • Some “classes” are offered to learn skills needed in life.  (i.e. apparition)
  • Students might not have a scheduled place to be at certain times during the day.

The methods used at Hogwarts for learning

  • Create potions in the dungeon.
  • Perform spells after learning the theory behind how the spell should work.
  • Students are tested with “anti-cheating” quills.  Thus, students know there is no way around actually learning material.
  • Students are given tests (theory and practical) throughout each course.  They are also tested twice toward the end of their school career. (O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s)
  • Memorizing the properties of various potion ingredients, the composition of specific potions, and practice preparing them.
  • Essays on the properties of potion ingredients. (and occasionally analyzing how a student’s practical assignment specifically went wrong and how to correct it)
  • When teachers insist on using old fashioned methods for learning, students create groups for teaching one another lessons and practice performing skills until proficient.  (i.e. Dumbledore’s Army and Defense Against the Dark Arts)

Sounds Like PBL to Me…

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking). (Buck Institute for Education)  While at Hogwarts, Harry and his friends were guided through this process in virtually every area of their development.  Complex questions, problems, and challenges were embedded in their learning targets.  The Hogwarts professors would probably laugh that we think collaboration, communication and critical thinking are “21st century” skills.  Certainly, these are not new to schools focused on an inquiry model.  So, why aren’t more schools trying this?

Project learning is very difficult.  Superior leadership and support are non-negotiables for creating such a school.  It takes amazing skill, determination, and dedication from the teachers.  The amount of training and development necessary for such a transformation can be costly.  But, the results are truly magical.  I’ve witnessed (and played a small role in) the transformation of a such a school.  Winterboro School has really gone from mundane to magical. I can’t wait to share more about what we’ve done in future posts.  But for now, chew on this.  What will happen to the students of our future if we don’t provide them with a meaningful purpose for learning?  If the Harry Potter books could impact young readers in such a profound way, could the same books inspire leaders to give students what they crave?

Maybe one day Hogwarts won’t be so special.   Our kids deserve to attend a school of magic every day.  Anyone know a spell for creating such a place?

Lessons from My Pool Turtle


Photo by Tim Nicholson; SCUBA Travel

What does it say about you when you can’t catch a turtle?  I’ve been wondering this the entire month of June. When we returned from our beach vacation at the beginning of the month, we discovered a new houseguest. This not-so-small creature has the biggest room at our place – our pool. We have an insanely big, key-shaped pool. It’s not like a housekey; it’s shaped more like one of those big, fat baby teething keys. So, the turtle picked a giant place to live, as pools go. We immediately tried to get him out with a net – no luck. He got away. It didn’t help that the pool was as clear as rootbeer. Now that we’ve dumped enough chemicals in the pool to blow up Childersburg, you’d think we could get him now that we can actually see him.  Alas, no. He seems to be home and I feel like the intruder! We keep pretending it’s not gross and that we’ll be able to get him out tomorrow.  Of course, my two boys think it’s cool. My youngest son is dying for a new dog, but seems to think the turtle will do in its stead, for now.

So, have I learned anything from my pool turtle? Maybe. Some problems are more complex than they seem. I’ve dedicated enormous amounts of time in my school district to helping teachers discover the imperative for a 21st century skills focus in education. While tremendous progress is being made (in fact, so much so that I almost feel guilty for saying this), so many teachers are like me trying to catch the turtle. They don’t really want it, don’t know how to “get” it, and not so creative in trying to really capture the concept. Just like me with the turtle, they don’t call for help. They have grown used to things and the accept how things are – even if instructional strategies are out of place and unsuccessful.

Turtles Will Be Turtles

Southerners really understand turtles. They are slow, methodical, loyal, and tough. It’s not always so obvious to others, but they are quite intelligent as well. Most southerners aren’t so concerned that others don’t “get” them. The wisdom I find in many of my colleagues is so practical and humane. They place so much more value and trust in people, not systems and institutions. They don’t really care to argue about esoteric matters.  Philosophy is a cereal box religion that make little sense to study. This is why it’s so hard to get them to act on new understanding about what students need in the classroom. It’s not just the old idea “that what worked for me…”  It’s much deeper. They just don’t care to think about it. People from other places might call my colleagues simple minded, but I don’t. It’s just not their style to think that way. So, how do I offer myself as a bridge? I have to do it their way. I have to speak about our needs in education from the southern perspective. We care so much more about raising “good younguns” than worrying about the outsourcing of opportunities for our youth in India. We want good jobs and kind people to run businesses in our communities more than we need to be on the cutting edge of new technologies, business, and politics. Rarely does the average southerner see the connection between what we want and what we need. Why? A thousand reasons. Our history, lack of leadership, our weather (yes, I have a theory on that), the sense of empowerment missing from our core set of beliefs about life. I can’t change all of that. In fact, I can’t change any of that. But I can engage others in a discussion of who we are, what we need, and how we can get it. I have to find a place in conversation to talk about the need for more collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity in our instruction. I need to be strategic with what I choose to discuss, understanding what people naturally care about and following that with new perspective and insight. My grandfather always used to say, “Jennifer, nobody cares about your sh** but you.”  Wise man. Even if it would work, why would I force my views on someone else? To work together toward common goals, we must discover for ourselves the purpose for our work. Thus, I have to do the work it will take to inspire others to think about the education of our children from new perspectives. I have to take the time to see where they are (difficult when they might be floating in murky water) and create a clear a path to them. Then I must encourage them to lift themselves out of the water. This is something I failed to do with my turtle. Lesson learned.

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