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Rethinking Coding Education

I downloaded an app called Grasshopper to learn some coding skills.

I know the best way to learn something is to have a project to code. This app makes a little project, and in an effort to make it accessible makes it totally inmemorable.

The project is to make a Gabonese Flag. That’s cool, but the setup is for me to just tap the functions that I will need to make the different colors.

I think for teaching kids to code, we need to expose them to coding a small project so they can have a quick win.

As with most things in education, I don’t think mass deployments of technology is going to be the answer.

To me, the answer is taking time with kids and someone who knows what they are doing to help coach a student to their success.

So, what does this look like?

A person who knows what they are doing asks kids what kinds of things they would like to build. Let’s say they want to make a game. The person who knows what they are doing sets the kids up for success by giving them parameters and ideas they can actually accomplish.

She challenges the kids’ ideas and gets them to go smaller and within a scope that they can see success.

She also points them to resources that will help them accomplish that task, and gives them a playground to make those ideas come to life, and be shared with someone else.

Once the kids have that small success, they can be energized about learning something that is challenging and complex.

Does something like this exist already?


How My Son Overcame His School Anxiety Without Drugs, Counseling, Or Fighting.

My wife told me she just couldn't do it anymore. "It's too hard," she said. "Every time I drop him off, the tears, the yelling, and the crying. I just can't take him to school anymore. We've got to figure something out."

We had talked about different things, from counseling to medication to other options.

For the time being, our solution was that I would drop him off at school. For some reason, his reactions to his anxiety seemed to be less when dad dropped him off.

Any parent who has experienced this knows how difficult it is to deal with the intensity of the emotions on a daily basis.

This was especially challenging for me, because I struggled with this as well. All the way until I was 19, any new change was especially difficult. My heart broke for him every day, because I knew how powerless he felt.

When he started kindergarten, we were living on a small island in the gulf of Alaska, and the community didn’t have the resources to offer a lot of help.

We did all kinds of things to try and help, meditation apps, calming techniques, praying, blessings, and more, and nothing really seemed to work.

When we moved to Fairbanks, we were ready to get more serious, but then he took care of this himself.

Before I get to what actually happened, let me back up a bit.

I read a book when I was 21 called “Write it down. Make it Happen.” Actually, I think I just read the first chapter or so. That was all I needed. It talks about the power of writing things down to make them come to fruition.

Well, I wrote down a bunch of goals that I wanted to accomplish when I turned 30, and guess what? I accomplished them all.

I’ve been a big believer in goals for a long time, and this really solidified what I knew.

So, I decided to start setting goals with my family each week. My four kids would set their own goals every week, and my wife and I would set our goals. We share them with each other and track them on a piece of paper.

Eventually, that has now grown into yearly and monthly goals we set with each other, and help hold each other accountable.

Back to my son. We had set goals as a family for a couple years, and after we moved to Fairbanks, he started taking an interest in setting meaningful goals for himself.

It started with little goals.

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We are pretty strict that we don’t tell the kids what goals they should set, but rather help them set their own goals.

So, my son spent some time setting little goals like play with certain toys each day, or do his chores when he first got up, or play Minecraft.

Then, one day, it happened.

“My goal this week is to go to school without complaining.”

My wife and I looked at each other in stunned silence. For over two years, this had been a battle, and now, he was saying he wasn’t going to complain.

We played it cool, and said, “Good goal. Let’s see how it goes.”

Honestly, we didn’t think he would do it.

But sure enough, he got out of the car on Monday, without a single complaint. And each day after that, he has done the same.

I’m not going to lie, having some AMAZING teachers who really cared about him and helped him has been a really powerful experience. But the thing that really made the difference has been him setting his own goal to be in control of his life.

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    1000 true fans of your school

    There is a popular phrase used in the digital marketing world that relates to having all you ever need. The idea is that if you get 1000 true fans, 1000 people who will support you, you will be able to live a good life, provide for your family, and serve a small group that is big enough to support you.

    Today, on Seth Godin’s podcast, Akimbo, he talks about how large business (Heinz and Proctor & Gamble, for example) are struggling because what they are built on is no longer possible. Companies are not selling to average people anymore. People are filtering out what they don’t want and companies need to be adaptive to this new way of doing business.

    This is just as true in the education field. Think about your school. How many students are in it right now? What if you had 1000 raving fans of your school that were beating down your door to enroll? What if you had 1000 raving families who wanted their children to go to no other school than your own?

    There is real opportunity for developing this in education. If schools can manage to promote themselves in a way that says “You 1000 people, please join us!” They will likely find those 1000 people.

    Our real problem right now is that we too often see ourselves as just another school. People come to our school because that is their boundary. This is not the case with magnet, charter, and private schools. They need to differentiate themselves in some way to make it so people want to come to them!

    And it is high time for all schools to take this approach. Why would someone want to come to your school?


    Respecting our Differences, Rather than Erasing our Differences

    This year, for spring break, my wife and I are redoing our kitchen.

    There are some things that I really want to learn how to do, and will spend hours studying so that I can understand them better. (Technology and leadership.)

    Then, there are some things that I can learn, and learn quickly. (How to lay vinyl flooring.)

    Then, there are some things where I can understand in principle how to do it, but I cannot ever do it "right." (How to hang cabinets, sew, and tie knots.)

    A big part of our education system is broken, and I believe that it is in part broken because of this exact problem that I am learning this week.

    Everyone has different skill sets, talents, passions, abilities, life experiences, and dispositions.

    Rather than respecting and honoring those differences, we seek to make everyone the same.

    We really need to find a way to make respect our differences, rather than erase our differences.


    Worth it.

    I was talking to a disheartened student today. He was really down because of his grades.

    They were bad.

    I talked with him and he was still down. I told him I was proud of him for a decision he made earlier that day because it showed he had integrity, even when others didn’t want him to make that choice.

    I got him working with our student learning coach, and checked in after about 30 minutes.

    He was chipper and happy.

    I asked what changed.

    He said, “I guess it is just that people saw me for who I was on the inside, not just the outside.”

    What we do with kids matters.


    My Testimony for Alaska State Legislature

    My name is Jethro Jones, resident in Fairbanks and school principal in Alaska for the last five years. My whole time in Alaska I have seen budget cuts and had to lay off great, excited, young teachers. It’s hard to find people to teach our kids in Alaska. And harder still with budget cuts looming. While the PFD may be important it should not be a choice between funding public education or cutting education by 25% in order to pay for the PFD. Please honor the commitment made last year to continue forward funding education at high levels so we can meet the needs of our students, the future.

    It’s not hard to write a few sentences to advocate for education.


    Sharing Ideas

    Sharing ideas is important.

    When you share an idea, it can take on a life of its own.

    When you share an idea, other people can add to it or take away from it.

    This happened to me last week, when I asked a colleague for feedback, and she gave me something even better than what I was planning.

    It's amazing.


    Over initiatived

    There is an ancient proverb, some attribute to the Russians, others to the Chinese:

    “He who chases two rabbits catches none!”

    When deciding what our focuses are in school, we need to narrow it down as much as we can.

    One focus.

    At my school, everything serves personalizing learning. If we’re not doing that, we shouldn’t be spending time on it.

    Sometimes, we have to do other things, but everything that I am doing is focused on that one objective.