Focus 2 Achieve

Innovate Create Educate

I blog on Brain-Based Learning, Metacognition, and Social-Emotional Learning. I am the author of "Crush School: Every Student's Guide To Killing It In The Classroom" which is a book that helps students understand how their brain processes information and learns. In the book, I explain why students can learn anything and give strategies on how to learn effectively.

The User's Manual To Design Thinking Your Teaching (Infographic)

I have a confession to make. I've become obsessed with Design Thinking. It's gotten to the point where I "Design Thinking" everything. How do I Design Thinking my lunch? How do I Design Thinking my classroom phone policy? How do I Design Thinking teaching?

Teaching? Yep. Let's do that.

What I love about Design Thinking is that it's flexible. There are teaching approaches out there that tell us what to do, but it makes more sense for every teacher to teach differently every year, because we each get different students.

Think about it. We don't treat all our friends and family the same. Our interactions with them are largely based on our experience of who they are and what makes them tick. Teaching is the same way. One size fits all approaches do not work.

The challenge is that, in the grand scheme of things, we only know our students for a short time. However, personalization of education is not a fad; it's a thing. So. let's use the Design Thinking Cycle (Empathy, Definition, Ideation, Prototyping, Testing) to improve Teaching, shall we?

Design Thinking Your Teaching

It's important to note that when designing and implementing the new lesson etc., you can go back and forth and jump around any and all of the 5 design thinking spaces as needed. And, the product is never truly finished. It can always be improved. Kind of like teaching.

You have the power to change the world. Use it often.

How To Empower Your Students' Learning TODAY (Infographic)

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.
— William Butler Yeats

I had a conversation with Jim the other day. He was frustrated that his students weren't understanding how to do a chemistry lab. He actually said: We make them too dependent. I think he's right, but perhaps the question we should be asking is:

How do we help our students become independent learners?


What can we, the teachers do to empower them to learn independently TODAY?

3 Before Me

I recently chatted with a couple of teacher tweeps @MitchIsFair and @WilsonAtOCDSB who use a version of the 3 Before Me strategy in their classrooms. After many threats and much arm twisting, they gave me the thumbs up to steal and put my own twist on what they do. And though the strategy has been around, I am forever grateful for all the learning and growth I experience as a result of my PLN. You guys rock!

The basic idea of 3 Before Me is to empower students to seek answers to questions and solutions to problems in three independent ways before asking the teacher. As it is impossible for students to put us in their backpacks or even contact us 24/7, it is our duty to help them become independent learners capable of learning on their own.

So, from now on whenever my students are learning, I'll promote inquiry and independence by asking them to seek their own answers and solutions. I'll ask them to collaborate with their own Crew first. If unsuccessful, they can spread their wings and seek help from the Crowd, or someone outside their group. Additionally, they'll access the World Wide Web, or the Cyberspace for help before seeking mine.

Check out the infographic below for a visual classroom aid in promoting 3 Before Me and how you can hold students accountable.

3 before me

I know many are tempted to answer email questions late into the night, but for sanity's sake we must say no. Plus, it's gonna be super weird when you hold Jon's or Sean's hand and walk him to his first college class 2-6 years from now. Just sayin'...

You have the power to change the world. Use it often.

BTW: My book Crush School, which contains many learning strategies that empower student independence is currently 25% off if you use the code UD8G3PYX - Get it for $11.95 instead of $15.95 for a limited time here.


Navigating Knowledge With Neurochemicals

Co-written with Teresa Gross | @teresagross625

I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.
— Dr. Seuss

The brain is the power that activates our thinking. When teachers become aware of how the brain processes information, they level up their teaching game. With this understanding, teachers are more likely to change their beliefs about learning and try new, often more effective approaches. But there’s more…

There’s Norepinephrine, Acetylcholine, and Dopamine (NAD). If those sound like some pretty trippy recreational drugs to you, it’s because they are. Well, kind of…

First, NAD is street legal and USADA approved, so you can and should use it with kids to enhance their performance. Second, you don’t need Walter White or Heisenberg to produce NAD in his top secret chemical laundry facility basement lab, because the human brain manufactures Norepinephrine, Acetylcholine, and Dopamine on its own. All you have to do is use your teaching to stimulate this (neuro)chemical production. You do this by being novel, active, and dynamic.

Be Novel

Whatever the topic or the concept is, find something new or cool about it. Wow the kids if possible with novel information, which stimulates norepinephrine release in the brain, in turn increasing student interest, alertness, attention, and memory formation. Their minds are nourished, nimble, and nifty!

Be Active

Show them you care! Walk around and interact with your students as they are learning. Ask them questions and comment on their product. Being actively involved will stimulate acetylcholine release in the brain, which is a neuromodulator responsible for better focus and motivation. Students are more attentive, their minds more able, and as a result they assimilate knowledge more effectively.

Be Dynamic

Make it fun! Change your tone of voice, be animated while discussing concepts, smile, joke, and have fun teaching. If that’s not your style, fake it till you make it. Dynamic teaching stimulates dopamine release, which helps with motivation, persistence, and memory formation. Dazzle your students, so they can be more disciplined and driven to succeed.

Have Fun aka Summary

Teaching and learning can be fun. And why shouldn’t they be? The neat thing about NAD is that when you talk about novel things, are actively involved, and teach dynamically, Norepinephrine, Acetylcholine, and Dopamine are released in your brain as well. You literally feel excited, focused, and happy!

Check out this amazing NAD Sketchnote by Teresa Gross that summarizes the post visually.

NAD Sketchnote.jpeg

So don’t get mad. Use NAD and your students will be glad. Is that so bad?

You have the power to change the world. Use it often.

Priming Your Students For Creativity (A Mind Control Infographic)

There is nothing wrong with your screen. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. I am controlling the image. I control the horizontal and I control the vertical. I can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next 10 minutes, sit quietly and I will control all that you see and perceive. You're a subject in my experiment. You're about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.

Follow the directions below carefully.

  1. Imagine you are Picasso, Elizabeth I, Michelangelo, Maya Angelou, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Jackie Kennedy, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams or whoever that one extraordinary person you aspire most to be like is. Imagine what their life is/was like. How do they look? What clothes are they wearing? Where are they? What world changing thing are they doing right now? Are you inspired?
  2. Imagine that you are surrounded by plants and flowers. Stand up and walk toward them. Focus on them. If something has been on your mind today, forget about it. Forget about everything. Let your mind wonder. How do you feel now?
  3. Think about a big goal you have. Conjure up images associated with it; the more the better. Think of words that represent it; the more the better. Is there a phrase or two or a quote it brings to mind? If you have not made one before, but are compelled right now, step away and do it. Grab a big sheet of paper, put your goal down in the center, gather the images, write down the words and phrases and quotes, and connect them to the goal. If you've ever created a mind map such as this you know the feeling. It's important to look at it often.

It's also important to control your students' minds without them knowing it.

Priming Students For Creativity Infographic

Alter the environment. Imagine it. Model it. Help students achieve the right mindset first so they will be more creative later. Abracadabra!

You have the power to change the world. Use it often.

Culturally Responsive Teaching In A Starbucks Classroom

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom.
— Paulo Freire

Are we the Educators or the Oppressors?

Managing not Leading. Micromanaging. Controlling. Suffocating. Sound familiar?

Our Students? Our Future.

Our Students? Spokes in the One Size Fits All Creativity Killing Machine.

Is this what status quo education boils down to and must be?

I hope not, but the question must be asked:

What Are We Doing Intentionally To Make School And Our Students' Lives Beyond Better?

Check out the infographic below to see how Starbucks (Flexible Seating) Classrooms serve all students better.

culturally responsive teaching in a flexible seating classroom

Starbucksing, or going from traditional to flexible seating in middle school or high school, will not cure all the ills of the American Educational System on its own, but it's a great start if we commit to changing our teaching and pedagogy along with it. It is a message to the learner that class is about to be different. But the novelty and innovation have to become the new normal to sustain the momentum. One can't simply throw up a PowerPoint on the screen and have students copy from slides as they've always done. Worksheets and other regurgitation devices are no good either. You must plan for students to create and they must create.

That's important, because we're in danger of releasing into the world another generation of young people programmed to follow orders and maintain the status quo. A familiar world, in which creativity and innovation are reserved for the few, who despite our schooling system's best efforts to the contrary, gain the education and skills necessary to change the world for the better. Ask yourself: Why can't more people be innovators? Then, act to change it. This, not teaching a subject, is an educator's job.

I thought converting my high school chemistry classroom into a cafe style flexible seating room, would be a leap into the future. I was wrong. I could have made that move ten years ago and it would have been the right time for it, because the future is now and we have to seize it, adapt to it, and make it better for our students. They are ready. Are you?

You have the power to change lives. Use it often.