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Summer 2020 Book List for Teachers

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Hi friends, and welcome to episode 1 of the EdTech Classroom Podcast. I’m so happy that you’re here with me today, and I hope we can grow and learn together as 21st century educators.

I’m a teacher, edtech coach, online business owner, and coffee-fueled design-thinker. I am passionate about education technology, project-based learning, and innovative learning models.

I started EdTech Classroom to empower teachers across the world to use technology in effective, thoughtful, and meaningful ways in their classrooms. Now I have to say that I just love the idea of being able to harness innovation and creativity in my classroom. This mindset embodies so much of what I do, explore, study, and create. I spend so much of my time thinking about the ways that we can use technology to empower teachers, rather than replace them. 

My teacher friends have heard me say this time and time again, but in many ways, students are currently living and learning in an out-dated, industrial model of education. Instead, I argue, as do so many others in the edtech community, that we should be setting students up with the critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills necessary to be successful in the 21st century. 

So thanks for joining me today – that’s a little bit about who I am – and I can’t wait to share something I’ve created for all of you: the EdTech Classroom Summer 2020 Book List for Teachers.

At the time of this recording, we are living in a world that is blistered with problems. It’s June 2020, and over the past few days, there have been mass protests across the U.S. as a result of the murder of George Floyd, and more largely, centuries of police brutality and racism in this country.

We are also in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic. Over the past few months, students across the world have been learning from their homes, instead of schools, in an attempt to flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19. Teachers have been tasked with teaching their students – as young as preschool-age – from a computer screen. This is a big ask for teachers, especially ones working with limited tech resources or who have extenuating circumstances at home.

Now- distance teaching should not be confused with online learning. Teachers and students aren’t just teaching and learning remotely, but instead, our teachers and students are emergency remote teaching and learning. Teachers didn’t have time to plan meaningful online lessons, and you know that expression that it’s a marathon not a sprint? I think for many teachers and students this experience has felt like sprinting a marathon. 

Now that it’s June and many schools in the U.S. are now on summer break, we can finally take a deep breath. If you’re a teacher, administrator, parent, or educator listening right now – you did it. It’s okay to feel relieved that this period of emergency remote teaching is over, and I hope that all of you can find the time to rest, relax, and recharge this summer. I hope you all find time and space for more deep breaths before we launch back into uncertainty this fall.

For me, rest and reflection takes form in many different ways. I’m a bookworm – an avid, avid reader. Authors like Cheryl Strayed, Cleo Wade, Roxane Gay, and Jia Tolentino have changed and rocked my world. This summer, however, I’ve found myself gravitating toward books that look at the education system with a critical lens. I’ve always been a fan of pedagogy. I love learning about learning. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to read if you just need time to chill, lay on the couch, watch Netflix, or spend time outdoors this summer. I totally get that. As soon as I’m done recording, you’ll find me on the couch sandwiched between a bowl of popcorn and maaaaybe a glass of wine.

In all seriousness,  I’ve found through some conversations with teachers and administrators lately that more and more people are looking for books that talk about topics like creativity in education, progressive education, project based learning, solutionary schools, the list goes on. I find that reading a couple of books over the summer helps me stay inspired and motivated to work in the field of education. I also think that this summer, given the uncertainty of what education will look like in the fall, it’s a great time to take ownership over your own professional development.

I’ve rounded up a list of the 6 books that I think will resonate with teachers the most during the context that we are currently living in. So without further ado, let’s dive into the EdTech Classroom 2020 Summer Book List.

1. What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith

If you haven’t read What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith, I’m going to need you to stop doing everything you are doing right now, and read this book. Well… maybe finish this episode first, but then drop everything and read it.

From the back of the book:

“During the 2016 school year, innovation expert Ted Dintersmith took an unprecedented trip across America, visiting two-hundred schools across all fifty states. He set out to deliver a message about the urgent need to reimagine education to prepare students for the career and citizenship demands of an increasingly-innovative world. And that he did. 

But his trip turned into something more. All across the country, he met innovative teachers creating learning experiences where children learn joyously as they develop purpose, essential competencies, agency, and deep knowledge. These remarkable teachers – doing extraordinary things in ordinary circumstances – offer a vision of what school could be and the model for achieving it. But even more, What School Could Be inspires us with an aspirational view of education that gives our country a fighting chance to revive the American dream and preserve our democracy” (Dintersmith, 2018).

I believe that this book provides insight that applies to not only schools as we know them, but these ideas can also be extended to the possibility of continued distributed learning. We don’t know what next school year will look like, and this book will help you think outside the box with concrete examples of ways teachers are already reimagining education.

What I love about this book is that Dintersmith isn’t interested in doing things better. Instead, he’s arguing that we need to be doing better things. 

So what exactly does doing better things look like? Dintersmith argues that students learn and thrive in environments that allow them to develop the following principles:

  • Purpose: Students attack challenges they know to be important, so that they can develop solutions that make their world better.
  • Essentials: Students acquire the skill sets and mind-sets needed in an increasingly innovative world.
  • Agency: Students own their learning, becoming self-directed intrinsically motivated adults.
  • Knowledge: What students learn is deep and retained, enabling them to create, to make, to teach others.

And I’ll end this book review with a quote from the book that gives me chills every time: “Once someone sees what schools could be, there’s no turning back” (Dintersmith, 2018)

Link to purchase.

2. Thinking at Every Desk: Four Simple Skills to Transform Your Classroom by Derek Cabrera and Laura Colosi

From the back of the book: 

“Designed to transform teaching practice, this book provides the tools to understand thinking patterns and how learning actually happens, empowers kids to explore new ways of building knowledge, and allows teachers to structure learning in the most meaningful way possible” (Cabrera & Colosi, 2012).

I picked this book for a number of reasons, but one really stands out. Right now, we are living in a world with problems that are so far out of our control. Students are desperate for agency. Systems thinking is critical to helping students develop agency, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with systems thinking, it’s basically a way of thinking and analysis that looks at how different parts in a system relate, and how these interconnected parts are also part of a larger whole or system, which is also a part of another system, and so on and so forth.

The authors of this book believe in the power of systems thinking in the classroom, and advocate for these four underlying principles, referred to as DSRP:

  • Distinctions: Students make distinctions between things
  • Systems: Students organize things into systems of parts and wholes
  • Relationships: Students relate things to each other
  • Perspectives: Everyone does these things from different perspectives

For some more insight into what this means, I’m going to read a short excerpt from the book:

“We live in a fast-paced, globalized world where knowledge is growing and changing at a rate we can’t keep up with. Our schools need to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist, that will use technology not yet invented, to solve unknown problems in a society we can only imagine. In this 21st century, students need not only to know the content knowledge covered in school, they also will need to know how to think… Thinking is not important just in schools but also for our businesses and our country as a whole” (Cabrera & Colosi, 2012).

This framework can be used in your classroom, both physical and virtual, and I’d recommend the book if you’re looking for a quick-read and an introduction to DSRP or systems thinking. I will say, however, that if you’re looking for a book with concrete takeaways and specific classroom examples, I’d recommend checking out one of the other books on this list.

Link to purchase.

3. Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play by Mitchel Resnick

From the back of the book:

“In kindergartens these days, children spend more time with math worksheets and phonics flashcards than building blocks and finger paint. Kindergarten is becoming more like the rest of school. In Lifelong Kindergarten, learning expert Mitchel Resnick argues for exactly the opposite: the rest of school (even the rest of life) should be more like kindergarten. Drawing on experiences from more than thirty years at MIT’s Media Lab, Resnick discusses new technologies and strategies for engaging young people in creative learning experiences. He tells stories of how children are programming their own games, stories, and inventions, and collaborating through remixing, crowdsourcing, and large-scale group projects. To thrive in today’s fast-changing world, people of all ages must learn to think and act creatively – and the best way to do that is by focusing more on imagining, creating, playing, sharing, and reflecting, just as children do in traditional kindergartens” (Resnick, 2017).

Mitch Resnick is the creator of Scratch Programming Language and the Lifelong Kindergarten Lab, and is a professor at MIT. I love this book because Resnick so firmly declares that kindergarten is the best invention of all time, and I couldn’t agree more. Resnick’s four P’s of creative learning – projects, passion, peers, and play – act as a framework that you can implement in your classroom, regardless of what grade you teach, today.

As Resnick writes, this book “draw[s] on stories and lessons from these projects to explore both the why and the how of creative thinking–building the case for why creative thinking is so important in today’s world, and sharing strategies for how to help young people develop as creative thinkers.”

I recommend this book for anyone who has a kid, cares about kids, cares about learning and creativity. I recommend this book to administrators. Teachers. Adults who love learning. Adults who want to love learning. And anyone and everyone who is even the slightest bit intrigued about the role of tech in children and young people’s lives.

Link to purchase.

4. Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein

From the back of the book: 

“Every day brings a new chance to connect with your most difficult students and inspire them with relentless kindness and encouragement. Many are used to adults giving up on them, but with restorative practice, you can stop punishing your students and empower them to be accountable for their actions” (Maynard & Weinstein, 2019).

Now what I love about this book, which makes it a little different from the others, is that you can read the book today, and implement immediate changes in your classroom tomorrow. This book is actionable. It isn’t filled with theory or pie-in-the-sky ideas. It gives an example of an event, and gives you step-by-step instructions on how to respond. 

This book has helped me so much with classroom management and with implementing restorative justice practices in my classroom. This book has taught me how to build a culture of empathy in my classroom, enhance communication and collaboration with my students, and encourage reflection on behaviors and ways to discuss impactful change.

I recommend this book to teachers who are looking to change what discipline looks like at their school or in their classroom.

Link to purchase.

5. Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools by Tom Little and Katherine Ellison

This book might be most applicable for teachers or administrators working in independent schools, but nonetheless it has great takeaways for those interested in progressive education in general.

From the book jacket: 

“The longtime head of Park Day School, Tom Little embarked on a tour of 43 progressive schools across the country. In this book, his life’s work, he interweaves his teaching experience, the knowledge he gleaned from his trip, and the history of Progressive Education. As Little and Katherine Ellison reveal, these educators and schools invigorate learning and promote inquisitiveness by allowing the curriculum to grow organically out of children’s questions–whether they lead to studying the senses, working on a farm, or re-creating a desert ecosystem in the classroom.

We see curious students draw on information across disciplines to think in imaginative yet practical ways, like in a ‘Mini-Maker Faire’ or designing and building a chair from scratch. Becoming good citizens was another one of Little’s goals. He believed in the need for students to learn how to become advocates for themselves, from setting rules on the playground to engaging in issues of social justice in the wider community” (Little & Ellison, 2015).

This book also has some wonderful anecdotes about the power of technology, which seems timely given that many schools will be adopting a blended learning model next year. This book gives concrete examples on how teachers at progressive schools across the country are incorporating creativity, student voice and choice, and critical thinking into their classrooms. 

As mentioned, I do want to point out that the majority of the schools listed in this book are private schools that charge tuition, often at very high price points. For this reason, if you choose to read this book, please keep in mind that some of these schools have implemented expensive changes and programs that are not feasible for every school to adopt. Despite this, these examples do shed light onto ways that we can reimagine schools through a lens of progressive education. Progressive doesn’t have to be synonymous with expensive, and this book can stretch us to reimagine what learning looks like in our classrooms.

Link to purchase.

6. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

From the back of the book:

“Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as ‘brave and bold,’ this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that ‘we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.’ By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a ‘call to action” (Alexander, 2010).

Just a week ago, George Floyd was brutally murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Issues of racism and police brutality in this country have existed for hundreds of years, and as teachers, it is our responsibility to educate not only our students, but ourselves. We are largely responsible for shaping the future of this country. We teach students who will one day grow up to be politicians, police officers, activists, writers, lawyers – the people who make big decisions in this country.

It is not enough to just “not be racist.” We need to be anti-racist, and it’s important for non-Black folks, like myself, to educate ourselves on the history of systemic oppression, racism, and discrimination in this country. This summer, I’ll be reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. I hope you’ll join me.

Link to purchase.

This concludes EdTech Classroom’s Summer 2020 Book List for Teachers. I came up with this list to inspire teachers, spark discussion, and share the words that have shaped and changed my classroom for the better. If you’d like to connect, follow me on Instagram @edtechclass or send me an email at myedtechclassroom@gmail.com. Seriously I’m not kidding – if you want to chat about these books, please email me. I’d love to connect. Let’s be friends.

Until then, make sure you visit back here next week. I’ll be posting new podcast episodes every Tuesday – in honor of my favorite weekly holiday Tech Tuesday – we’ll cover topics like project-based learning, distance learning lesson plan ideas, and so, so, SO much more. 

Thank you so much for listening to this podcast, and I’ll see you again next week on Tech Tuesday. Bye friends!

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