Tag Archives: A Beautiful Question

Innovation and Technology

Innovation and technology.  

In recent years, these two terms have been more relevant in education than ever before. The world around us is rapidly changing and we have to keep up to live in it. With that being said, education has to change too.

Education is often underrated and seen as not as important; honestly, think about a teacher’s salary. We can’t give up on education and how it is truly the future of our world. So keeping this shift in mind, it is essential as educators to continue making changes and innovate learning and teaching.

imgresInnovation means to make changes to something that already exists by adding to it or introducing new methods, products or ideas. Education has been around forever, but because our world is changing, teachers and administrators have to change and innovate too.

Education has already begun it’s shift. As I embark on my second year of teaching this fall, I have had the opportunity to see it in two ways. The traditional classroom and community learning spaces. Hillel Day School has innovated the way they teach by remodeling the school to fit the needs of its students. We have created community spaces where multiple classes can be going on at once in addition to flexible seating and co-teaching.

However, there is another piece to this puzzle. Technology. According to Koehler and Mishra, “We would argue that almost everything that is artificial—the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the pencils we use to scribble notes, and the computers we use to browse the Web—is technology, whether low tech or high tech” (2009).

technology-662833_960_720Just like education, technology has been around forever. We might not have thought a book is considered a technology, but it is. And now, we are becoming more high tech and it is being pushed into education. But we have to be careful.

“The next wave of education innovation won’t come from dumping technology on the problem. Instead, it will come from deeply engaging with people and empowering them to make learning all their own” (Crichton 2015). This quote is from the article entitled, “Searching for the Next Wave of Education Innovation,” which discusses the importance of finding a balance between new and old education and what is vital for students both young and old to actually learn.

Technology doesn’t replace all of our problems. Giving a student an iPad to use won’t teach him how to do write a literary analysis essay. We have to give kids the right tools to enhance their learning, that’s TPACK.

Crichton says, “At the same time though, we need to be shifting our culture about what the ideal form of education might be. Academic knowledge needs to be complemented with practical learning, a mix that can be customized to each student’s needs” (2015). This is the balance. Unfortunately, this won’t come easy to teachers and administrators. We may fail and that’s okay. As long as we get up and continue to learn from our mistakes we fail forward towards more success. Warren Berger says you should be “giving yourself permission to think big” (2014). By thinking big we can allow ourselves to take risks.

Innovation and technology in education aren’t easy concepts to grasp, but educators must be willing to make changes and feel uncomfortable because this school year and next school year will not be the same.

How will you use innovation and technology in education?  

Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Crichton, D. (2015). Searching For The Next Wave Of Education Innovation. Retrieved July 25, 2016, from https://techcrunch.com/2015/06/27/education-next-wave/

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). Too cool for school? No way! Learning and leading with technology. Link to article: “Too Cool for School” EJ839143  

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My Red Bookshelf

Building a bookshelf seemed easy when I first came up with the idea. I am good at building things, I like to build and put things together. My friends call me when they buy something from Target or Ikea and have me come over to build it for them.

But this was a different story. Starting with a 4ft by 8ft piece of wood was not something familiar to me. My bookshelf came out just the way I envisioned it, but I did have some hiccups along the way.

Here’s what happened. I first started to put the pieces together only to realize the wood wasn’t cut right. I think the template I used called for 1” plywood and I had ¾”. Oops. I remixed and was pleased to realize that Khalid, my new friend at Home Depot, had cut extra wood for me. These extra pieces saved my bookshelf. I was able to use those to create the shelves and the top. It ended up working perfectly.

I also learned how to use a power drill more efficiently and change a drill bit. That was tedious. Who knew you couldn’t just drill a screw into a piece of wood? You have to drill a pilot hole first. Each time I needed to use a screw, I had to use the pilot hole drill bit first, then switch to use the one for the screw. This was what frustrated me the most; if I didn’t have to continuously switch the drill bit, I could have gotten it done in half the time.

By using my network of resources, it allowed me to realize how many great tools are out there to utilize. You might have to sort through the bad ones to find a good one, but there are so many people who are doing the same thing as you.  

After reflecting on this project, I am really proud of myself. Working through problems is what makes you better. Learn from mistakes and from splitting wood because each time you get better and better.

Similar to A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, the more beautiful questions you ask the better outcome you will have. You will be more creative, innovative and be able to solve problems in a way that makes you think deeper about the answer (2014).

I feel like through this process, I was able to create and innovate. I had to remix many times to ensure my bookshelf would come out looking good and usable. In my head, I asked many questions about how to better improve my project.

As I learn from doing, just like kids do, I was able to make something out of nothing that shows evidence of perseverance, determination and creativity.

Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

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My Dream Space

By following Berger’s flow of questioning, I can rethink how I want my classroom to look (2014).

Why does my classroom need to be redesigned?

Empathize: Room 105 needs a makeover. Although the construction is being done at Hillel Day School, this is what I want my classroom to look like. Right now, it’s a box. It’s boring, the space feels contained, it’s dull and outdated. There is a chalkboard. This isn’t the 90’s any more, we can upgrade.  When moving into my classroom, I made it bright and colorful to look visually appealing to my students. But I wonder if my students would have been more successful in a redesigned space.IMG_8838 Define: My classroom is small and I don’t have enough money to make changes myself. I want to create a space allowing creativity and idea generation. But how can I create this environment that can please my administration while allowing my students to coexist with one another as different learners?

According to Barrett, Zhang, Moffat and Kobbacy, students perform better based on multiple factors including color, choice, complexity, flexibility, connection, and light (2013). I have to redesign my classroom with these factors in mind.

What if I take away standard desks and create flexible seating?

Ideate: What do my students need? They need to be able to move around and be comfortable in the classroom. To learn best, they need the flexibility and choice of modular seating. I want wheels.

“Allow students time and space to choose what they want to do — their choices will illuminate their individual strengths” (Mau, O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi, Peterson 2010). This reflects the concept of multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner. Giving students the choice, I can expand their creativity and collaboration in addition to letting them grow and feel comfortable.

Changing the way the room is set up allows for a sense of veja du. This concept spoken about by Punya Mishra makes the familiar seem strange (2008). My students and I know this classroom, but when it is transformed they won’t feel the same way. I want to remix the space and make it a more successful learning environment.

How can I make this happen?

Prototype: If I had the unlimited budget and ability to transform my classroom this is what it would look like as designed on SketchUp.Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 2.35.42 PM
The walls and floor are painted with warm colors just as Barrett, Zhang, Moffat and Kobbacy suggested (2013). I have two dry erase boards on either side of the SmartBoard. I added cubbies to serve as storage for both myself and my students. Underneath the quote is a painted dry erase wall. The other wall is filled with windows allowing natural light to shine through.

I chose to have multiple options for students’ seating arrangements. There are three pods with stools and chairs. These are all on wheels to accommodate for students who need to wiggle and give me the ability to rearrange the tables. By having this option, students can work individually or in groups without the hassle of dragging a desk across the room. I have chosen to also have a high top table where students can sit or stand. In addition, there is a couch with small tables for a laptop or paperwork. These different seating options can be comfortable for all students as they get the choice to decide where they work best.

Click here to view a 3D model of my redesigned classroom.

Test: My vision for the new classroom might not be successful. But testing it out in phases can give me the knowledge to decide if it will work. I can bring in new types of chairs for kids to sit in and bring in a high top table. Students can play around through trial and error to see where they are most successful.

Right now, the space I have redesigned is small and might not be able to accommodate my big visions. Another implication is I might miss more open space for students to gather and move more fluidly throughout the room. If I were able to expand the space, I would feel more comfortable teaching here.

I want my students to have the flexibility to make connections with one another. By having the opportunity to redesign my classroom, I have seen how there are many factors to consider and each detail can make all the difference.

How would you redesign your classroom?

Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016

Mau, B., O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi, & Peterson. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. New York: Abrams.

Mishra, P. (2008, August 4). Véjà du for the first time ever! Retrieved from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/2008/08/04/veja-du-for-the-first-time-ever/


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Everything isn’t always as it seems

Have you ever zoomed in on a camera lens to take a picture? Zoomed out? Was it a different picture or was it the same?

camera-lens-240966_960_720Zooming in or out can give us a new, fresh perspective. For most of us, our days are spent in the same way. Waking up, eating breakfast, going to work, coming home for dinner, spending time with family and then going to sleep. This cycle may repeat day after day. But what happens when you take a step back and look at those repeated day to day activities from a new point of view.

Déjà vu means “the feeling that you have already experienced something that is actually happening for the first time” (Merriam Webster). This concept is something I experience all the time. “I’ve been here before.” “This looks too familiar.” “This happened in my dream.” “Déjà vu.”

Without taking a new perspective, our lives become déjà vu. So when we flip flop that concept to make the familiar seem strange; we create a concept called véjà du. As defined by Punya Mishra, “véjà du experience is about looking at a familiar situation but with fresh eyes, as if you’ve never seen it before” (2008).

Here’s a panoramic picture taken at the top of Mount Masada in Israel at sunrise.  Looking at the whole thing you see a dynamic view of the Dead Sea and the sun rising over Jordan. What happens when you only look at one small part of that picture? You don’t see the sunrise anymore, you may see adults taking photos of something, but you might not be able to tell what it is. I know this photo, I took this photo. But when you only allow me to look at one piece of it; it becomes unfamiliar.


“Sutton has argued that if we train ourselves to look at the world around us through a vuja de lens, it can open up a range of new possibilities–fresh questions to ask, ideas to pursue, challenges to tackle, all previously unnoticed because they were camouflaged in overly familiar surroundings” (Berger 2014).

That’s what we have to do with education.

We, as educators, must sometimes be unfamiliar with things. We have to take a risk and take a step back to look at ideas and concepts like it is the first time. Perhaps like our students do. In turn, this will allow us to grab the attention of our students and engage them in a new way. Allow them to be creative and embrace inquiry.

We might be holding our students back if we don’t have them look at things from a different angle or someone else’s shoes.

IMG_1001During the Explorers unit this year, my 5th graders had a passport. We did different activities to research specific explorers, we created a scavenger hunt around the school and looked at things from a new perspective. One of the activities was to draw the object I had chosen from their point of view and write what they saw. My students thought this was absurd. For 10 minutes, they had to look at my Camelbak waterbottle. But when the timer went off, each 5th grader noticed something different. Those students know I don’t go anywhere in the school without that water bottle; they know it’s dark blue and they know it’s a Camelbak. But they didn’t realize the details because they never had to.

With this lesson, I showed my students how it’s important to look at the small things in life because it can change your viewpoint. Now, maybe a water bottle isn’t the best example; however, they did realize things aren’t always as they seem.

“The trick is to be able to see them [beautiful questions], which may require stepping back, shifting perspective, exercising your powers of vuja de” (Berger 2014). Berger suggests to come up with beautiful questions. It might not be clear at first, but we don’t have to search for them. They are often right in front of us. This is the same as finding a new way to teach a lesson, innovate a product or changing the way you brush your teeth.

The answers are there for us, we just have to take a step back, zoom out and look at something with veja du.

Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Déjà vu [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved July 13, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/d%C3%A9j%C3%A0%20vu

Mishra, P. (2008, August 4). Véjà du for the first time ever! Retrieved from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/2008/08/04/veja-du-for-the-first-time-ever/

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Be ‘That’ Guy

We ask questions all the time, whether we know it or not. Our minds are constantly racing and we are always looking for better solutions to things we already have. Or how to make something better.

Berger cites Gopnik and mentions we stop questioning at a young age because “…we [educators] start teaching too much too soon, … we’re inadvertently cutting off paths of inquiry and exploration that kids might otherwise pursue on their own” (Berger, 2014). It’s important to stay curious, stay a questioner. When teachers push information on kids, they lose out on the potential to be more creative and come up with solutions on their own.

We need to erase the stigma of being ‘that guy’ in a room full of people asking a question as the annoying one. Really, they are the smart ones who want everyone else to dig deeper and be more successful.

Cloud 3.pngThe process of solving problems isn’t simple. There are many ways to go about finding solutions to our everyday problems, problems that are recurring or even problems that don’t seem feasible to fix. Berger suggests a specific method to ask questions to solve difficult problems; it’s the WHY, WHAT IF and HOW process (Berger 2014)

What If is about imagining and How is about doing, the initial Why stage has to do with seeing and understanding (Berger, 2014).

So why does this work? By asking questions this way, you move into a vicious, or not so vicious, cycle of questioning. You start to answer a question with another question and so on until you find the ‘best bad solution.’

How can we use this in everyday life? Here’s an example.

The shift at Hillel Day School is flexible learning spaces and learning communities. My 5th and 6th grade hallway is being remodeled as I write this. (To see an update, click here). My students and colleagues have never had to learn or teach in this type of space before. We are all new to it and the start of the year is filled with unknowns. All we can go off of are blueprints. We have an ill-structured problem with no right solution.

When the Head of School first said renovations were about to begin, the questions started to surface.

Why will students work better in this environment? Why can’t each subject area be assigned a space in our learning community? Why do we have to make this shift? Why do I have to move out of my classroom, I just moved into it? Why does it have to be that way?

These questions aren’t easy to answer. But I realized after reading this book we were already following Berger’s process.

What if each teacher decides their learning space for the block depending on their lesson? What if we have flexible seating so students can choose to sit in their best work environment? What if we have a teacher in charge of our learning community to keep everything in order? What if students vandalize the school property? What if we create norms? What if teachers and students don’t follow them?

Our questions won’t be answered until the start of the school year. But I’m already predicting our next set of questions.

How will we negotiate our shared spaces? How can we hold students accountable for their actions when there are no classrooms? How is this even going to work?

This track of questions begins to find potential solutions to my school’s problem. It seems like it might be helpful for us to find how to best utilize our learning community. There are no answers yet, but each question gets me thinking about another question; another why, another what if, another how.

Why will this environment help our students achieve our goals of creativity?

Ken Robinson suggests schools kill creativity. He says schools should promote inquiry and cultivate an atmosphere that embraces the unknown (TED Talk, 2006).

Our goal at Hillel is to empower students with creativity and allow them to express themselves. Do we have the answer with our learning community?

As I return to school in the fall, I plan to suggest using this structure with my colleagues to solve our ill-structured problem and be ‘that guy.’

How will we find the ‘best bad answer?’group-of-hand

Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

TED Talk. (2006, February). Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? Retrieved July 10, 2016, from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

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Make, Maker, Making

Maker. Ever heard of it? That is, until a year ago when I was introduced to the “Maker Movement” at Hillel Day School.

What is a maker? A maker is an adult or child that creates something. An adult or child who is defined as a maker can collaborate, discover, build, tinker and most importantly, play. But what does making have to do with education?


MAET students brainstormed the definition of these four new concepts.

The maker culture is growing rapidly. It is becoming a way to express creativity and community (Halverson, Sheridan 2014). So, along with this explosion comes makerspaces. A makerspace is a workshop where there is no right or wrong. It is an exploratory toolbox that allows for makers to thrive and bring their innovative ideas to life.

“Learning through making reaches across the divide between formal and informal learning; pushing us to think more expansively about where and how learning happens” (Halverson, Sheridan 2014). This informal type of learning allows for students to have the flexibility they crave. Students are showing this through projects that spark interest on a different level.


Hillel Day School’s Makerspace

Skeptics may believe that learning isn’t going on when students have the freedom to make. However, I encourage them to step into a makerspace when students are working. They will quickly see how even though so many activities are going on, students are engaged. Students are working toward a goal and trying to solve a problem. Each student that enters a makerspace will feel empowered that they have the ability to play and create.

Keep Calm

As humans, we are curious. We question what’s around us. Even though we may stop after age five, we still ask questions in our heads and inquire. Fear of asking the wrong question or having the wrong answer stands in our way of asking more questions (Berger 2014). It is important as educators and questioners ourselves to promote curiosity and inquiry. Making can encourage us to continue questioning aloud.

“In a sense, we’re all ‘makers’ now, or, at least, we would do well to think of ourselves that way. Whether or not we were ever properly taught how to question, we can develop the skill now, on our own, in our own spaces” (Berger 2014). Seeing yourself as a maker allows you to ask questions even more. We can question topics that don’t make sense to us. We can question the tools around us. We can ask a question to answer with another question. We have the power to make, by asking the world a simple question.


A 6th grade student learning how to use a drill press for the first time during the Shark Tank Unit.

Hillel Day School’s makerspace has tools that students in kindergarten through eighth grade can use; once properly trained. When first starting at Hillel, I didn’t know how to utilize this place. I didn’t know that students in 6th grade could use a drill press or 3rd graders could safely use a hot glue gun or even 8th graders could fluently use 3D software to print on the MakerBot. This was new to me, but it was exciting.

Not until October did my colleagues and I find a way to pull tools from the space for a project. We simulated Shark Tank. Just like ABC’s hit show, we had students ask a question. What is a problem they see in their lives? How can they improve upon it? After extensive research on the background of their existing product, students began to work in the makerspace to make their product better. Each work day, I couldn’t direct my attention to one student. I had kids working at a drill press, students using a 3D pen, exacto knives were in use; kids were painting, students were cutting styrofoam with a hot wire cutter and so on. I had makers.

At first, I didn’t think my students were learning anything. But after talking with them one-on-one and hearing them present their pitches to a panel of judges, and getting ‘offers’ from investors, I was certain they learned. Through this experience, it taught students how to be successful people in the world; not just people who can memorize. As Berger said, “these are the kids who will have the skills to rise to the top.”


These 6th graders invented a car that ran on both solar power and gasoline. “Investors” offered over $1 Million.

This teaching was extremely informal. I guided students with focus questions, but I had to sit back and let them figure things out. This unit opened my eyes to the power of making and how students can take an idea and bring it to life.

What beautiful question do you have? I bet it can change the world.

Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Halverson, E.R. & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495-465. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0T9DOVhrGV7S21ZWDljUGNpeHc/view

All photos taken or created by Emily Sherbin

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