Please Share My Passion For Education!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

iPads for Autism: Students Changing the World

iPads for Autism: Students Changing the World

"Everyone wins when we all join together"

Joining together a Community:iPads for Autism

During our most recent unit we explored whether technology has been good for society.  We had a number of experts come in to discuss the pros and cons of technology.  Obviously technology has brought forth millions of innovations that have made our life better, but it was interesting to see some of the negatives that come with technology such as loss of local jobs, a decrease in person-person communication, and fewer people exercising as much as they should be.

At the end of the project we decided to focus on one particular benefit that technology provides:  iPads for students with autism.  Over the course of a week the Communities program at Oshkosh North High School brought in experts in the form of therapists, autism teachers, counselors, parents and siblings of children with autism, and others.

Our class learned a LOT about autism and how it affects people who have it.  We learned a lot about what a spectrum disorder is and what the different levels of the spectrum mean.  We also learned a lot about how technology, specifically iPads, could help children with autism to learn and live better lives.  There are many apps that exist for children with autism to use that help with communication, expression, organization, learning to overcome stressful situations, and many more.  After talking with the experts, and those who have lived with children with autism, it became clear that iPads could greatly improve the quality of life for those who received iPads.

For our project we partnered with our local Mid-Morning Kiwanis club.  They were doing an "iPads for Autism" program and had already secured 10 iPads for students with autism.  The problem, however, is that there were still 20 children still on the list.  Many students and teachers agreed that we would love to have the ability to pull out the money and fund the purchase of these iPads, but this was obviously not possible.  We decided, though, that we could make a difference and help out this cause.

The students planned a fundraiser in which they will run a raffle at the biggest varsity basketball game of the year:  crosstown rivals, Oshkosh North vs. Oshkosh West.  The students began brainstorming and filled the boards with excellent ideas.  It was official.  Our Communities students were bound to make a difference and help out this cause.

We recently wrapped up the prepare and plan phase and fulfilled some solid work days of the action phase.  There were 13 different groups that all had different responsibilities ranging from advertising, contacting radio/television/newspaper, planning the raffle, calling local sponsors for donations towards the raffle, a t-shirt designing group, another group that reached out to partner with the other high school (Oshkosh West) in town to help out.  The group chose the theme "Two Teams, One Community" because of the need for us to put our differences aside in trying to help our community.

This blog post is simply an update on one of the most magnificent projects I have seen.  Students are extremely passionate, hardworking, eager to learn, and eager to make a positive impact in the world.  This is ComPassion Based Learning, interdisciplinary, differentiated, Project Based Learning and education at their finest.  This is all while inspiring students to be altruistic, learn 21st century skills, and learn about how to organize and execute events.  The future is bright!  These students are amazing!!!

This is a video that the students put together as an introduction for the "WHY" behind the cause.  They have more specific ones created for local showing, some for in-game announcements, radio advertisements, etc... 

Our staff has always believed that if you give students the opportunities, resources, and support to change the world, they will do amazing things.  I have never felt more confident about that then I am right now!

Communities at Oshkosh North High School
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Please reply with any questions, thoughts, suggestions, opinions, or ways that you would like to get involved.

Please visit our website at:

Follow us on Twitter:  @communitiesonhs

ComPassion Based Learning -

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Do not be an umbrella to the sun.

We live in a world in which we have an endless amount of problems including pollution, diseases, depression, and the extinction of many species.  We also have an incredible amount of BRILLIANT minds sitting in our classrooms every day doing worksheets, writing down notes about irrelevant information that they are not yet excited to learn, following lab recipes, and disliking it all.  Why?  If the goal if conformity and obedience, I can see why the system is set up this way, but even that isn't working.  I believe that most schools would say that they goal is to TEACH students and prepare them for their futures.

Wake Up!

Kill two birds with one stone.

Try this:


= (equals)


Empower these students.  Allow them to reach their potential and prove to you what they are capable of.  Over the course of the past four years I have seen some absolutely incredible learning going on while students are working with community partners (experts & authentic audiences), in the community, in order to make the community a better place.  When students can sense the authenticity and relevance they reach that level of "FLOW" which Csikszentmihalyi has so eloquently written about.  In the end, when students finally understand they are capable of having a positive impact on the community, city, state, nation, world......their eyes open up and a whole new world is revealed.  They matter.  They realize they can change the world, and it is addicting. 

I spent almost every day over the past summer and given up almost every lunch hour and free time I have ever had to help students with projects that they are going above and beyond on, just because they have that desire to learn, innovate, and make a difference.

Give it a try.  You will not be disappointed.

Oliver Schinkten
Communities at Oshkosh North High School
Twitter:  @schink10

You Are Free! Run!

To whom it may concern:

When explaining to students that you are going to give them 20% time, which we call Compassion Based Learning, you would think that they would be filled with joy.  Essentially, you are telling them that they are going to have about 20% of their week to learn about a topic that they are passionate about.  Do not worry about an assignment, concrete directions, seats in rows, sage on the stage, etc...  Students constantly express their frustration with these confines of traditional schooling.  For this reason, shouldn't they be excited to bolt out of the gate once they are allowed to begin?  Surprisingly, the answer is NO for many of them.  One reason is that many do not understand how to come up with questions on their own and be self-directed enough to investigate the topic.

I have also been absolutely shocked over the past 4 years at the number of students unable to determine something which they are passionate about!  This blew my mind.  I have about 100 things I am passionate about and my only difficulty is trying to narrow them down.  I think of friends that I have and feel as if they all have things they are passionate about.  Why are there so many students who do not have a passion?  In my opinion, the answer is ....... School.  I have had the opportunity to sit down and talk at length with many of these students.  I have found the following to be a common thread:

  • They wake up, go to school, go to practice or club, get home in time to eat, do homework for a couple hours, and then go to bed.
  • They have been told in every class they have had since they were five years old, exactly what they should be doing, how they should be doing it, and eventually whether or not they obtained the correct answer.
  • Nobody has ever asked them what they are passionate about.

This seems like a GIANT RED FLAG 
We have a problem!!!!!!!!

At what point do we consider the fact that maybe the extreme lack of engagement students have in their classes, the high drop out rates in high school and college, the high suicide rates, etc, may be caused by the education system in the first place.

At what point doesn't it become more important to realize that these are young human beings that we are teaching and that we owe it to them to help "find themselves" and their passions and give them time to enjoy them.  If I approached most of my friends and told them that they had to put in more hours after working hard at their 8-hour job, they would laugh, yet we have students going to school for 8 hours, practice for 2+ hours, working, and then doing an excessive amount of homework.

At what point doesn't it become more important to nurture students and give them a chance to grow, while just being a "Kid" instead of cramming more equations, facts, and pointless books down their throats?  At constantly evaluating them on how "intelligent" they are using useless testing methods that test one type of intelligence (and not even well).

We have a group of kids in our room.  These kids all have feelings and futures.  They all possessed a curious and creative mind at one point.  Please, do not drain this out of them and create a culture of obedient robots who do not understand their purpose or passions in life. 

Oliver Schinkten
ComPassion Based Learning
Communities at Oshkosh North High School

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Armed & Dangerously Awesome

"When you give students the proper tools, it is amazing what they can build"


Over the past year I have been absolutely honored to be in the presence of brilliance and innovation.  I have watched people interview 75 veterans from World War II, the Vietnam War, and Korean War.  They recorded these interviews, edited the videos into stories, and gave DVD's to the respective families to honor those who fought for our country.  I, then, watched this group of people organize, set-up, run, and emcee a "Veterans Event" which had about 300 people in attendance.  The event was well ran and well organized.  The program brought about laughter and brought about tears.

I watched a group of people, certain they could change the world, organize, design, fund raise, plan, and begin building a 48-foot long "hoop house" that will eventually become a sustainable Aquaponic STEM Learning Center (the best in the nation according to this group).  They will provide educational tours while raising fish and growing vegetables 12-months a year for the community to enjoy.

I watched these people become enthusiastically engaged in the presidential election.  They raised awareness and spread the word about the importance of voting by holding signs on street corners, talking on radio stations, and on television stations.  I saw this group design, write, organize, and create a public website,, which explained the history and relevance of the issues concerning the debates and election.  This was all done by doing research and working hard to create an unbiased and nonpartisan message that would simply educate voters on the issues and allow them to make their own decisions.  The website generated over 27,000 views.

I watched this group speak to elementary and middle school student, win grants that they wrote, work together with community partners to learn more about sustainability, implement innovative vermicomposting systems, work endless hours to execute a creative fundraiser for autism that raised awareness and money, execute a great clothing drive and a successful food drive.  I saw students design and carry out a creative "1 for 5" campaign which raised money for people without proper nutrition.  I saw this group speak in front of large groups of community members, on panels with college professors, in front of school board members, with administrators, and more.  I saw this group test the local water quality for factors such as pH, DO, turbidity, nitrates, and phosphates in order to identify any problems.  

I saw this group of people do all of these things, and much, much, much more over the past year.  The most amazing part is that this group of people was composed of 14, 15, and 16 year old students.  These students learned all of their social studies, science, literacy, and leadership content through authentic projects with authentic audiences.  They worked with community members, businesses, and organizations within the community, in order to make the community a better place.

21st Century Skills

During this time I saw an amazing amount of growth with regards to knowledge, its application, 21st century skills, and the desire to make a difference.  This was not by random luck, however.  It took a culture change that only the students could decide to change and it took a lot of intentional instruction on 21st Century Skills.  We read books by Dale Carnegie, watched TED Talks, read articles, followed the news, etc...  Another important factor was the well thought out, easy to apply, straightforward teaching of 21st Century Skills.  This was done using the most wonderful educational resource that I have ever seen in my teaching career (and I have read a plethora of books).  The first day I saw this book I opened it up to skim a few pages and IMMEDIATELY fell in love.  I will always remember page "6" as the page that changed the way I view education and life.  After that there were a ton of other pages that had an equal impact.  They not only outlined all of the necessary 21st Century Skills (including collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creative thinking), but the book did so in a very easy-to-understand, relevant, and applicable manner.

Since that day, I have told many, many, many teachers about this book.  Some ask how I can afford to waste time teaching these skills when there is so much content we have to teach.  Every time that I hear this, I cringe.  My response is that they "we can't afford not to teach these skills to our students" as they are the foundation of learning.  Once you use this book it all becomes clear.  You realize that students are not only learning for a test or quiz so that they can forget about it a week later, but they are learning for the sake of making a positive difference in the world.  Instantly learning become RELEVANT.  Instantly learning becomes AUTHENTIC.  Instantly learning becomes FUN.  Instantly learning becomes EASIER. 

In order to teach our students to "Learn how to Learn" order to prepare our students for a world in which all of the technology, most of the jobs, and much of the information will be different 10 years from order to help our students reach their order to empower our students and allow them to take ownership of their order to help our students change the world......we owe it to them to teach these skills using this book.

This book is titled INQUIRE which was written by Rob King and Thoughtful Learning and published by Zaner-Bloser.  It is the best book and most valuable resource that I have ever seen in my life and the reason I am more optimistic about the future of education.  I strongly believe that every student, parent, teacher, administrator, business, person on this planet should read it from cover to cover and benefit from the important message and immense knowledge that it delivers.  
I am so happy to be speaking in St. Louis about this book tomorrow, and in Minneapolis in November.  I am not speaking because it is an opportunity for me to make any money or to serve some selfish purpose.  I am excited to speak about this book because it STUDENTS ACROSS THE WORLD deserve to have this book in their hands.  I believe that this book will be one of the catalysts in educational reform and will be a driving force behind creating some ready-for-action and altruistic generations of people that will have the necessary tools to face the issues of tomorrow.  This is a mission that I have dedicated my life to.

I love this book.  Honestly.  I love it.

Equip your students with the necessary tools to succeed, clear obstacles from their path, get out of their way, push them to innovate, pick them up when they fall, and be there to celebrate when they change the world.

Throw away the worksheets.  Create assessments that allow students to use technology.  Convince students to ask "why" as if they were two years old again.  Help them understand they can change the world.  Give them constant feedback.  Believe!


Oliver Schinkten
Co-founder of Communities at ONHS
and Compassion-Based Learning

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Problem With This Generation of Students

"I can't believe that one day this generation is going to be leading us"
                                               -  exact quote by many teachers I know

Over and over and over I have heard teachers complain about "this generation of students" that are currently in our schools.  Many people will be quick to tell you that:
     *  They just don't care
     *  They are irresponsible
     *  They have no work ethic
     *  They are lazy
     *  They do not realize what a great privilege their education is

After hearing this a hundred times, I decided to spend more time trying to answer this question:  "What is the problem with this generation of students"?

The first thing I did was reflect on my personal experiences with teaching these students every day for the past 12 years.  This wasn't very good evidence to support this theory, however, because the majority of students that I have met have been wonderful people with kind hearts and great abilities.  A few years ago I decided to give up some of my "power" in the classroom in an effort to provide more autonomy and purpose for my students.  I wanted to know more about them.  I wanted to know what they were passionate about.  I wanted to know what they wanted to be when they got older.  I wanted to know how they defined success.  After taking in all of this feedback, I decided to begin doing 20-time, or passion-based learning.  I allowed the students to choose whatever topic they wanted to study and then gave them 20% of their school week in my classroom to learn more about this topic.  The time was structured and intentional.  I was assessing 21st century skills such as communication, research, collaboration, creativity, self-directedness, etc....  Wow!  The students really stepped up and made me realize that I had made the best decision in my teaching career.  I saw previously disengaged students staying after school to work on their projects and later present to the class with a high degree of passion.  I saw "A" students that truly believed that the sky was the limit and took their learning to another level.

The saddest discover, however, was the fact that about 25% of students did not know what their passions were.  They were not passionate about anything that they could learn about.  Didn't they have a favorite animal?  A job they desired?  A skill?  The more I talked with these students the more it became clear that this was not their fault.  They have never been asked what they like at school.  They have never asked what they would like to learn about.  When I talked to them about autonomy and self-directedness, they seemed confused and as if I was tricking them.  I wasn't.  I really wanted to know what they cared about......and after discussing this for a while, most came up with a topic.

This got me thinking.  What if I encouraged every student to take their passion and try to make a positive contribution to the world with it?  This could involve creating an awareness campaign, doing a fundraiser, talking to young students about it, writing a book, etc....  The sky would be the limit.  Although I imagined the students groaning, because this meant more work, I was wrong.  I told students about it and they were excited.  For once, they felt as if they "mattered" and that they were empowered to make a positive impact on the world.  I found that when students were given some time, resources, and trust.....they were actually pretty inquisitive and passionate about learning and being altruistic.  This generation didn't really seem to be the problem.

So what was the problem?
  * are students sick and tired of sitting in rows, taking notes, and doing worksheets?
  * are students having a hard time seeing the relevance between their education and their life?'
  * do students lack a feeling of ownership in their education?
  * do students want to "make a difference" but feel caged-in at school.

In my opinion it is a combination of these and other factors.  I did some research and came across an article with the following fact:

When surveyed, 84% of students from this generation believed that it was their responsibility to do social good.

My advice......Let them!  Find them resources, clear obstacles from their path, let them change the world.  I have seen it happening now for a couple years and it is amazing!!!  Please do not underestimate this generation until you have truly given them a chance.

COMPASSION-BASED LEARNING.  Read about it.  At least give it a try.  

Oliver Schinkten
ComPassion Based Learning

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Let It Grow!

This post is written by Arin Kress. Arin is a 5th grade teacher in Grove City, OH who is a strong supporter of Compassion Based Learning.

The Lorax is a classic Dr. Seuss book made into a 2012 movie. I have watched it numerous times and without fail, the same lines stand out to me. The song at the end, Let it Grow, holds a great metaphor for how I see the current state of Compassion Based Learning.

Please pay attention to each character in the following three minute video:

Ted Wiggins- The visionary, the boundary pusher, the 'ideas guy.'
Is this you? Do you say: "Things AREN'T Perfect - They're only going to get worse unless WE DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Unless we change our ways!  And we can start by planting THIS."

The seed-  For this post I'm focusing on 'Compassion Based Learning' but I'm sure you could interpret it differently! 
Compassion based learning is student led and compassion driven. The students are given the TIME and RESOURCES to cultivate their ideas. I have seen compassion based learning first hand, and it's something that I want to continue to plant within my students!

Cy- A wallflower. Quiet. Unassuming
Someone who sees what's happening but isn't necessarily leading the charge for change. However, when asked for his opinion - he's willing to speak up! Is this you? Do you quietly observe the ebb and flow of the tide within your school? Are you willing to give your opinion when asked? I love that Cy's stance receives the best look of anyone in the entire movie.
Utter confusion! 

But Cy sees the potential and he says: "Let It Grow"

Dan and Rose- Parents - Concerned for their child's well-being. Their son IS glowing, so I would hope they would step in!
They want something new. They want a change. They want what's best for their son... Do you have parents like this in your school? I'm sure you do! How do you treat them? Do you join forces together and say:  "Let is Grow"?

Marie represents the students - the kids.
Sometimes kids can see the obvious answer in the front of them that adults are too distracted to see. We need to listen to what the kids saying and not saying!  We need to pay attention to silence or a lack of excitement from the students.......Marie says "Let it Grow"

Grammy Norma-  Old and wise. Been around the block, but her experience shows that she has seen that sometimes what happens is complete asinine! (Who would PAY for AIR?)
Veteran teachers can offer another perspective and are not ALWAYS set in their ways! We need to listen to the wise...she says "Let it Grow!"

O'Hare- The Doubter, Naysayer, Negative Personality.....He laughs at change and innovation! He tries to bring others down....

He is greedy and wants things his way. He says "Let it Die!"

Then all the townspeople join together in harmony to sing "Let it Grow!" as O'Hare has a rocket strapped to his head and is launched out of sight!

Don't you wish we could do the same to all the doubters, naysayers, and negative personalities around us. Don't you wish that the entire community could come together to squash the negativity that surrounds us! Don't you wish we could all join together and sing:

"Let it grow
Let it grow
You can't reap what you don't sow
It's just one tiny seed
But it's all we really need
It's time to banish all your greed
We say let it grow!"

This is what Compassion Based Learning is all about. As educators we MUST plant the seeds and allow for trees to grow.

Last week I started an after school program for students at my school. Nearly FIFTY 5th and 6th grade students signed up to stay after school every other Thursday for two hours for the entire year! I advertised with a 60 second video and sent home one flyer. And I still got fifty responses!

The students are begging to make a difference! I had several kids approach me in the days leading up to the first meeting asking if they could choose their topic! I had kids give me pages of handwritten brainstorming BEFORE the first meeting. I had a student give me a book of brainstorming the next day after the meeting. And yes, these are 10 and 11 year olds I'm talking about! Imagine the impact we can have on students of all ages if we just give them TIME and RESOURCES!

This is compassion based learning.

At our first meeting the seeds were planted and honestly, I don't know in what direction the trees will grow. The only thing I know is that SOMETHING will grow. SOMETHING will come out of this program. SOMETHING potentially life changing could occur. All we need to do is give students TIME and RESOURCES and just like trees, their passions will flourish and beauty will result. 

I would encourage you to bring compassion based learning to your school in your own way. It may be in the form of Genius Hour, that has more of a compassion driven angle as compared to a passion driven angle. It may be in the form of a one day event like Dot Day. It may be something that you try to do on a monthly basis. Try to infuse your curriculum with compassion driven work and try your best to:

Be a Cy and leave others confused!
Be an educator who works with the Dans and Roses to make sure students are growing and not glowing.
Be an educator who listens to the Maries because children sometimes have the best ideas!
Be a Grammy Norma and point out when things are asinine!
Be the big dude who launches negativity into next week!

And finally

Be TED- Don't be afraid to bring compassion based learning to your community.  Plant the seed. Give it time and resources and mainly LET IT GROW!

If you would like to learn more about the after school program I started, please check out the PSI Choose2Matter blog at:

Also, feel free to look at my professional blog, Hate Chalk: and don't hesitate to contact me on Twitter if you have any questions. (@ArinKress)

I will leave you with one final quote from The Lorax:
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it's not!" Good luck!

Thanks for reading,
Arin Kress

Saturday, August 10, 2013

62% is a Scary Statistic!

I have conducted a poll over the past few years in which I asked my classes which Option they would rather have be a reality:

Option A:  They receive an "A" in class, but learn nothing

Option B:  They receive a "C" in class, but learn a LOT

62% of the students have chosen Option A.  The most common responses are that "I need a good grade to help get me into college" and "my parents would be happy".

This is a problem.  My ultimate dream is the day when students work hard in the classroom because they want to learn.....not because they need the "good grade" to get into a college or because they need to keep their parents off of their case.

Why does this problem exist?  Is it because the students do not really care about learning the material we are making them learn?  I actually wouldn't blame them.  It seems that over three-quarters of the facts and content we teach students is irrelevant information that will have no impact on the students' future success.

Is it because of the way we teach it?  I am not sure.  How do you teach it?  How do other teachers in your school teach it?

I am confident that by the end of every year I have changed the culture in my class to some degree.  I feel that I do motivate students to want to learn, but I do not come anywhere near eliminating the problem that exists, in which students are playing the "Game of School" instead of actually trying to learn.

  •  Do your students work for grades or for the learning?
  • What % of the content you teach could you look your students in the eyes and honestly tell them the reason it is important, for their future success, to know this.
  • If your students were not required to attend your class, how many students would actually be there?
  • How much autonomy do you give your students?

I believe that if we start believing in our students more, teaching them to "learn how to learn" rather than the facts that we make them memorize, that you can easily revolutionize your learning.  Give students some choice.  Give students some autonomy.  Stand beside them and help them "change the world" instead of throwing them in the brick box called the classroom and bogging them down with meaningless worksheets and boring lectures.

ComPassion Based Learning, as well as Genius Hour and 20-Time are great ways to start doing this right away.  Treat your students like geniuses and you may just be surprised that they actually are geniuses.

Don't make your students stay average.  Let them thrive!!!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Failing Forward!

Don't be afraid to fail. Don't waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It's OK to fail. If you're not failing, you're not growing.
                    -  H. Stanley Judd

I am concerned that not enough of the classrooms around the world have created a culture in which it is acceptable to fail at something.  We have heard all of the stories before about Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Michael Jordan, and on and on and on, in which they failed repeatedly, but kept persevering until they were successful.  In the classroom I have noticed that the students who are least likely to "think outside the box" or "take a risk" or "try to pull of something extraordinary" are often our brightest students with the best grade point averages.  Why is this?  

What is failing?  Ask any student and they will tell you that it is an "F".  These students can certainly not afford to have an "F" on their report card and although they may be able to recover from one "F" during a semester, they might not be able to get back up an "A".  This might put them at a disadvantage from getting a scholarship, getting into the college they want to go to, or getting the job they want.  Why would they possibly risk it?  This is a problem!!!!

Whose fault is this?  I do not think that it is the students' fault.  In fact, I think that the educational world has created a system that is ultra-dependent on an "end product" that is graded.  If that end product is not excellent, the student receives a lower grade and the entire class moves on to the next topic.  I don't blame students for being cautious.  Sir Kenneth Robinson explained it best when he said that we teach kids that "there is one correct answer, and it is at the back of the book".  Students are often handed a packet of worksheets that have right or wrong answers.  On projects, students are often handed rubrics that grade them in a "cookie-cutter" fashion on certain components of the final product.  The students MUST create a good end product within the given time limit.  This does not foster creativity!  This does not foster an environment in which students are willing to take risks.

I have often said that if Thomas Edison was following rubrics we would all be reading next to really nice looking candles.  If Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest artists of all times, was using a rubric, he would have been given an "F".  This is concerning!

Who are the innovators of the future?  Who can possibly risk trying to be one of the innovators that take a chance and change the future?  It seems now that it would be someone who resists our education system, a system which causes tunnel-vision in the land of creativity and risk.  Or, it may be someone who is supported by an organization like Google who asks their employees to take chances and supports them in doing so.

Why wouldn't schools be doing this more often?  How can they?  I have no idea why we are not pushing students to achieve at their highest levels.  I believe that this would be easy to do if we would simply:

Grade the process, not the end product.  If grading the end product, give time for making adjustments to elements that failed. Have students reflect and learn from their mistakes.

I would love to make a rule in my class that "If you don't fail.....YOU FAIL".  I want students to take a risk on their projects.  I want them to shoot for the moon.  I want them to try something new.  If things go wrong, make adjustments and try to improve it the best you can.  This is the real world of innovation and success.  In fact, if everything goes as planned, I would question whether or not they set their goal high enough.  Maybe they should lose some "points" if they did not.

I loved Gever Tulley's TED talk when he said that "Success is in the doing, and failure is celebrated and analyzed".  YES!  YES!  YES!  This is an important skill and an important message that we must help students realize.

This year in our program we had two very intelligent and hard working students decide to take on a project in our "Body Breaks Down"  unit.  They were able to take a disease/disorder that was meaningful to them, and they chose autism.  They wanted to learn more about autism, but also they wanted to do something about it that "mattered".  After meeting several times, they decided to do a project titled "Ornaments for Autism" in which they purchased a bunch of glass ornaments, paint, and brushes.  They decided to have an event in which kids and community members could come and paint a Holiday Ornament, which they could then keep.  Participants had to pay a small fee to cover costs, but the girls hoped to walk around, spread the word about autism and their mission, and then have people donate.  They wanted to raise money to give to a local autism foundation.  I believe they set their goal at $500.

Ornaments For Autism

These girls worked HARD!!!  They were constantly emailing, calling, planning and trying to make sure they had a time, location, plan, and enough volunteer help to pull the event off.  The girls quickly found out that this can be a tedious and grueling experience.  Soon, however, they had everything ready to go!

On the day of the "Ornaments for Autism" event we had an enormous snowstorm.  School was cancelled.  The girls did not know what to do.  They contacted me to find out if they should cancel the event.  I said that they should.  They wondered how.  I gave advice, but ultimately told them to solve the problem and let me know if there is anything that I can help with.  They made the proper calls, posted on social media websites and cancelled the event.

When we returned to school after Holiday Break the girls seemed heartbroken that their event fell through.  I felt a sense that they thought they had failed.  They didn't fail!  It was the weather. This was completely out of their control.  They decided that they wanted to persevere and still have the event.  After trying to line up a place to have it and promoting the event again, they ended up having the event.  The problem now, was that the event was taking place a couple weeks after Christmas.  Consequently the turnout at the event was low.  Not very many people ventured out to paint ornaments.  The girls were disappointed with the results.  In the end they had only raised $150.

I don't think a project like this would ever take place in a super traditional classroom, but if it did, what would it be graded on?  What grade would they receive?  They didn't even reach half of their set goal amount, did they FAIL?

In the girls' minds they thought that the product sort of failed.....  I COMPLETELY DISAGREE!

These two girls worked very HARD.  They learned about autism and the human body.  They improved a ton of 21st century skills including communicating, collaborating, critical thinking/problem solving, thinking creatively, planning an event, speaking in front of the entire staff to announce their project, etc... These students grew during this unit and it was very obvious.  They also learned a couple extremely important life lessons.  First, planning something is very difficult and takes a lot of organization, a lot of hard work, and a little luck.  One of them said "I will never walk into any event again without thinking...Wow!  Someone organized this event."  Most importantly they learned that:

They Matter!  They have the ability to make a difference!

These two girls donated $150 to the Autism Society of the Fox Valley..... this was $150 more than any other students that I know.  If every student in the U.S. averaged giving a $75 contribution to this society, our 55.5 million students would have contributed $4,162,500,000 (4.16 BILLION dollars).  

Our students can make a difference.  Please give them the opportunity.  Be there to support them and assist them in learning.  Be there to help pick them up when they fall.  Celebrate failure and analyze it.  Innovate and improve.  Your students will walk away better prepared for life, more confident, empowered, and respected.
The world will be a better place!

ComPassion Based Learning.  It will change education while changing the world!

Please contact me for if there is anything I can help with.  Please contact me with any questions, suggestions, comments!

Oliver Schinkten
Twitter:  @schink10

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rigorous Engagement for a Community of Learners

The following is a guest blog post by Starr Sackstein, one of my favorite education bloggers. Starr is an ELA/Journalism teacher in New York and true innovator and leader in the field of education. I am honored to have Starr's contributions to this blog as she is an extremely insightful educator who understands how to prepare students to be successful. The concepts Starr shares are important aspects of ComPassion-Based Learning, as she explains how to promote a culture of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as well as teaching them to become self-directed learners. Building this culture is a critical element in empowering students and allowing them to "make a difference".

I recommend following Starr's blog at:  and following her on Twitter @mssackstein

Rigorous Engagement for a Community of Learners
by Starr Sackstein, NBTC
World Journalism Prep School, NY
 Students in my AP class work in groups to create modern day comic strips of scenes from Hamlet. I assigned the scene and they did the rest. How they want to present, how they want to create, completely up to them. As you can see in the picture, kids aren't in seats, but working wherever it works for their groups.

Some may say that it takes a room full of type-A kids completely motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic prizes to create a community of learners.

I say, we can create engaged community by supporting authentic choices to share responsibility for learning in a classroom for all kids, all the time.

Shake off your image of traditional classrooms: desks in rows, kids silently working to signify engagement.

And now consider a noisy, multi-tiered room where kids are working on similar skills but are choosing the means through which they show what they know. They work alone or in pairs or groups, whichever suits the learning best.

It’s a little chaotic, but completely worth it.

Building a classroom like this takes some effort. First you have to reset norms and erase years of traditional learning.

As a teacher you need to consider that a quiet classroom is not necessarily a productive one. Productive noise shows real student engagement, so remind kids that you want them to participate and that will sometimes mean working in groups or alone, moving around, talking and/or using technology.

If learning is truly going to make an impact, they need to understand why they are learning what they are and have some kind of investment in it. So invite them to help make decisions about projects and class lessons and even what they read and who they work with.

A teacher who wants to be facilitating a truly rigorous environment maintains high, transparent standards and offers multiple ways and time for each student to meet them. Provide them with not only choice in content, but also choice of mode of presentation. Show them models and explore possibilities, most of all, make them hyper-aware of what they are doing.

Teach them about their learning. Let them rewrite standards. Let them set the goals and decide when they feel they have reached them. Support them through their authentic journey by making yourself available during class time and outside of class for conferences and answer questions like it’s your only job.

Realize that you don’t have to know everything they do; you just have to know how to support them in their pursuit of learning. Be honest and humble and learn with them, to truly be a part of the community.

A classroom that shares responsibility: takes risks together, pushes each other and creatively engages all kids, most of the time.

Not learning isn’t a choice.

If you see a child, not choosing to participate, engage them. Ask them why. Work with them to develop a strategy that works for them.

My Mixed Media class gave me a challenge at the start of last year. 10th graders with learning challenges from all over the spectrum. If it wasn’t an elective class, I would have had a second teacher in the room with me. To add insult to injury, my class was first period and many of them were repeaters. 32 students, almost all who didn’t want to be there.

“I didn’t choose this class. I’m not interested in journalism.”

At first, I ardently tried to follow my curriculum map to no avail. We talked about media and the messages that media conveys segueing into the presidential election which I was assured of that non of them were interested in.

By November, they all knew what was going on. They could all write news articles about political coverage and they were interested in who would win.

But it didn’t stop there. Then came Hurricane Sandy and the break in learning was hard to rebound from. But rather than stick to the program, I decided to take a visual approach moving into a photojournalism unit.

The kids responded to the visual - well, even better than expected. They did project after project and became really good at writing cutlines and creating compelling images to tell stories.

But the best success of the year was when I cut the reins completely. I told them that they would design their final projects: write the assignment, create the rubric by which they planned on being graded, do the assignment and then reflect on their learning based on the standards. If they completed this process, they could NOT, would NOT fail.

The whole room looked surprised, but took on the challenge not realizing that it was harder than it sounded. I knew it would be harder than anything I could create for them.

You can read about the whole process here.  (once on my website, you can see some of their work in different posts)

Overall, what the students produced far exceeded my expectations, even the kids who didn’t work all year.

Giving the students the opportunity to take control of their own learning paid off big time and despite our disagreements at the beginning of the year, almost unanimously, kids thanked me at the end, wishing they would have me again next year. This was a huge change from the beginning when the mass exodus tried to happen.

Human beings are inherently engaged when they have choices over what they do and the appropriate help to be successful. Give it a try. If you’d like my help, I’d love to collaborate.

 Students in my AP class work in groups to create modern day comic strips of scenes from Hamlet. I assigned the scene and they did the rest. How they want to present, how they want to create, completely up to them. As you can see in the picture, kids aren't in seats, but working wherever it works for their groups.