Monday, November 26, 2018

Talking to our Kids About their Mental Health & the Difficult Topic of Suicide

I frequently listen to the Live Inspired podcast with John O' Leary, usually while on a run or a long drive. John is a great speaker with an inspirational story having survived severe burns in an accident as a child. He is an international keynote speaker who has spoken to our staff and also comes to share his story with our high school students. On his podcast, he interviews all sorts of individuals and digs into their background and story, beliefs and mission. Sometimes the topics are fun and other times they are heavy. This podcast was one of the harder topics but worth hearing:

Parenting can bring great joy as well as be very hard. Sometimes the difficulties can happen in the blink of an eye, and at other times things gradually develop and take place over an extended period of time. For Sue Klebold, mother of one of the Columbine High School shooters on April 20, 1999, her life changed in a moment. In this podcast she talks about that moment and what has happened since, as well as gives advice to parents on how to talk with our kids about their mental health and the difficult topic of suicide. After years of dealing with her own grief and guilt, Sue is dedicating her time to help others and suicide awareness. Below are some direct quotes and notes that I took while listening:

  • Ask your kids to tell you something about themselves that no one understands and causes them pain. When your kids answer, don’t correct it or fix it. Instead say, "Tell me more." We as parents want to fix it. We have a tendency to try and fix things. We want our kids to be happy. We put that burden on her kids to be happy, and our kids tell us things that I try to show that they are happy. 
  • When our kids have bad days and a parent we tell them, "Well, I think you’re pretty" or "I think you’re smart," it negates their feelings. Telling them "When I was a teenager I felt that way, too, it will go away" or "It will get better" moves them away from the opportunity to talk about their feelings.
  • We need to ask our kids whether they ever feel so bad or so awful that they would hurt themselves or don’t want to live. Especially in today’s society, we need to ask these questions. And then not tell them that "It will get better, they have so much to be happy about." Instead we need to seek out help for them, get them counseling, help them deal with their feelings--don’t freak out--stay calm, stay focused on our love and our care.
  • The National Suicide Hotline has an online chat free for kids which is a less threatening way than telling them you’re going to haul them off and send them to a counselor. Their phone number is 1-800-273-talk.
  • Researchers examining the brains of people who committed suicide found that they have increased levels of serotonin but their receptors in the frontal lobe of the brain are not receiving it.
  • In 78% of mass shootings the shooter is suicidal, so Sue is working to bring awareness to suicide and get more people helping those who are hurting and intervening.
  • She mentioned that "the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train."
  • We should practice gratitude for all the things to be thankful for in this country.
  • Self care is important.
  • Serving others is a gift we give to ourselves.
  • It’s wrong to assume that people who commit suicide don’t love those around them. The suicidal pull is strong. One colleague who considered suicide told Sue she was thinking the things and people she loves would be better off without her.
Sue encourages us to parent differently. I found her thoughts and tips to be very beneficial. In this high tech age when kids are often sharing their thoughts and feelings with others through social media and technology--but often not their parents--it is ever more important for us to have frequent conversations with our children about difficult topics and monitor their mental health. Spending time with them and strengthening our relationships with our children is so important. Read more notes from this interview as well as a link to the entire podcast recording. Also, on a related note, you may be interested in reading research about the connection between bullying, cyberbullying, and adolescent suicide.

Related posts:

Monday, November 19, 2018

Two Years Focusing on Gratitude

A picture I took this fall on a run, thankful for the gorgeous fall colors.
For over two years I have recorded three things a day for which I'm thankful. I first started this habit after attending a workshop that stressed the importance on focusing on the good things in our lives. This was emphasized as a way to not let negative events dictate our mood, our outlook and affect our interactions with others. The highlights and gratitudes I record are often events of the day, highlights, interactions with my family and others, or sometimes just something memorable I don't want to forget. I'm finding that the older I get, the more important it is to record these things! Research has found that we tend to remember negative things more than positive, which is yet another reason to record these.

Two years ago when I first wrote about this my wife and four kids participated by recording their own gratitudes daily for three weeks. We incorporated this as part of our time with one another at dinner. We found this to be a great conversation starter and way to get everyone to reflect upon their day, share highlights, and appreciate the good things that happen in our lives. It's also a great way to help our kids practice listening, taking turns, being polite, and builds relationship with one another as we learn more about each person. We did all of this without technology in use during our meal and believe in being where our feet are, something we still strive to do not just at the dinner table but also at other times, too, such as in the car and when hanging out with one another.

With Thanksgiving this week in the United States, many of us will have a day off to spend time with our family and friends and reflect on things for which we are grateful. I encourage you to extend this practice beyond the day and incorporate gratitude as part of your daily routine. I believe I'm a better person after two years of this practice. On a related note, as educators it can be helpful to remind ourselves of the good things happening around us so we don't burn out focusing on the negatives--thanks to my colleague and Tech Coach Rachel Studnicka for pointing out this article about that.

Many other posts I've made related to having a healthy balance in our lives around our use of technology can help you spend more time in gratitude and relationship with family and friends. Check them out:

Monday, November 12, 2018

Minnetonka’s Coding Program for Every K-5 Student Now Assessed on Report Cards

Now in its fifth year, our Tonka<codes> program continues to teach every K-5 student in Minnetonka Public Schools about computer science fundamentals. In kindergarten, teachers use Bee Bots to help students learn the basics. Beginning in first grade, students use the lessons and curriculum on and work their way through self-paced lessons that teach them about coding and computer science. Students can work collaboratively to help one another figure out what can sometimes be quite complex skills. even incorporates lessons on pair programming to emphasize the skills for working together when coding. Coding helps our students become better problem solvers and think critically, in addition to teaching them important fundamental skills for their future. Unplugged lessons are taught at all grade levels, which are non tech-based whole group activities that teach students fundamentals of coding, sequencing, computer science and more. Because of our language immersion program, coding lessons are taught in the students’ instructional language (English, Chinese, or Spanish).

Last year Tonka<codes> lead teachers from each elementary school worked with media specialists and Tonka<code> lead Andrea Hoffmann to figure out how to assess students’ coding skills. They used Human Centered Design and small groups of teachers each analyzed the CSTA Standards for grade levels 1-5 and identified the standards that aligned with the curriculum. Beginning this year, teachers will assign a coding grade on the report card for students in grade 1-5. In Minnetonka, elementary students receive a B (Beginning), D (Developing), or S (Secure) as their letter grades. The fourth grade report card for coding is shown below. Students will receive a grade based upon their successful completion of lessons for both first and second semester. Lessons that meet the corresponding grade level standards have been identified and teachers follow a scope and sequence to ensure that students progress through the curriculum.

Semester 1:
Lessons 10-14, including unplugged lesson Dice Race
CSTA Standards:
1B-AP-08 - Compare and refine multiple algorithms for the same task and determine which is the most appropriate.
1B-AP-11 - Decompose (break down) problems into smaller, manageable subproblems to facilitate the program development process.

Semester 2:
Lessons 15-20, including unplugged lesson Songwriting
CSTA Standards:
1B-AP-08 - Compare and refine multiple algorithms for the same task and determine which is the most appropriate.
1B-AP-11 - Decompose (break down) problems into smaller, manageable subproblems to facilitate the program development process.
1B-AP-12 - Modify, remix or incorporate portions of an existing program into one's own work, to develop something new or add more advanced features.

This semester is the first time that teachers will formally identify students’ progress on our coding curriculum. In the past we have had teachers self-report progress teaching the curriculum, but not identified students’ achievement. Now we will be able to look at this data overall as a district and identify successes and points of struggle.

In addition to instruction by classroom teachers, Media Specialists teach the unplugged coding lessons for all students in grades 1-5 which are part of the Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship curriculum. First graders learn about going places safely and digital footprints. Second graders learn about cyberbullying. Third graders learn about being a good digital citizen. Fourth graders learn about private and personal information. Fifth graders learn about the power of words (cyberbullying). In addition to these lessons media specialists also support the Hour of Code week in December and teach and support the fundamentals of computer science lesson to grades K-5. Examples of computer science lessons include directional coding, how the internet works, and the parts of a computer.

To help teachers continue to learn about coding, we continue to offer training opportunities offer training opportunities for our teachers to learn more about coding as well as our maker spaces during the summer. This summer was no different and we had both face to face and online training options. Elementary coding offerings included:
  • Grades 1-5
  • Hub, Deep Dive: Grades K-1, Grade 2-3, or Grades 4-5 
  • Sphero:The Power of a Sphero
  • Sphero: Digging Deeper
  • TinkerCAD & 3D Printing 
Besides using Bee Bots and, Minnetonka students experience a wide variety of experiences to learn to coed. We continue to use Tynker, Kodable, Scratch, Swift Playgrounds, Finch Robots, Lightbots and more. Each of these experiences are part of the Minnetonka Framework for Teaching and Learning, helping students with critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, the use of technology and more. Some related posts and videos to learn more about coding in Minnetonka Schools are listed below:

Monday, November 5, 2018

Fifth Graders Creating AR/VR Experiences to Enhance Learning

Today I stopped by the Minnewashta Elementary after school VR/AR club. About twelve fifth grade students meet weekly for six weeks to learn and experiment with augmented reality and virtual reality tools with the teacher, Joy Curran. When I was there, students were learning to use a program to create augmented reality scenes and stories using an iPad or Chromebook. Some were creating multiple scenes together in order to end up with a choose-your-own-adventure story. They were testing their creations by loading them onto an iPhone to hold up and see their AR character in action. 

Last year, Joy Curran and Heather Baker were awarded a Teacher Grant from the Minnetonka Schools Foundation to purchase virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) equipment for students to use in the classroom. The video above showcases some of these tools in use. 

In previous weeks of the club, Joy had students create their own 360 degree virtual reality tours using Google Tour Creator.  To do this, "students chose a country they wanted to explore and created their own VR tours using imagery from Google’s Street View. They learned how to add sound, embed photos, and add points of interest to their scenes.  Then they went on a virtual field trip and viewed each other’s completed tours in our VR headsets." Finished tours can be viewed with or without headsets.

Merge cubes is another example of an AR tool students have tried out in the club. We continue to encourage all our teachers to try out more AR and VR tools, such as Google Expeditions (see related posts below). It will be exciting to see what students create as they have more time using these tools!