Life Long Learning – For Real

IF Hancock Question

Hancock County student got an opportunity to ask questions and explore topics in more depth.

(Louisville, KY) – At the annual IDEAFESTIVAL, students not only witnessed adults engaging in life long learning, but were able to engage, explore, experience and challenge ideas, positions and assumed truths for themselves.  They consumed knowledge on topics outside the classroom and awakened their child like curiosity in an adult, real-world setting.

IDEAFESTIVAL is a four-day event, which brings together speakers to help participants engage in the excitement of exploring new topics and looking at old issues in novel ways.  Subjects range across a wide spectrum of art, science, business, social responsibility, emotion, medicine, space, history and live performances.  This mingling of diverse topics is designed to push participants to think differently.

Or as organizers of the event say, “Stay Curious.  Embrace the danger of new ideas.”

While most participants are adults, event sponsors have made a number of passes available to Kentucky high school students.  Their attendance has become an important element in the mix of people and energy for the event.   It has provided high school students a one of a kind learning opportunity.

IF iLead Students

iLead Academy students blend in with the art at Kentucky Center for the Arts.

According to iLead Academy educator, Kirk Brooks, this was not only a chance for students to see that learning takes place outside the classroom, but a rare opportunity to learn right along side adults.  We used to learn through apprenticeships with adults, but now we mostly put students with their peers and many learning opportunities are lost.   Mr. Brooks also finds it interesting that when students are placed in an adult environment like this, they tend to step up their thinking and engagement.

Students used different words to describe their IDEAFESTIVAL experience, many as, “Truly an eye opening experience.”  It is interesting to hear their comments and see the subjects that peak their interest.

“… It’s amazing to be able to take a day and learn about things you otherwise wouldn’t have been interested in and to listen to people speak so passionately and with such intelligence…”  – Allie, senior

“… Listening to the speakers was truly inspiring and they taught me things that I can use in my daily life.  Forgiveness and taking advantage of opportunities were some of the important concepts I took away.” Hope, junior

IF Stage

Host, Kris Kimel, leads the popular question and answer session after each presentation.

“… speakers were very open minded and aware of the people and situations around them. …  many doors have been opened in my mind to be able to accomplish the same …” Cayden, sophomore

“… Learning about new topics without being limited by school curriculum and other standardized barriers is more refreshing than words can express. Intelligent conversation always follows the presentations. … thankful for my experiences at IDEAFESTIVAL, and truly hope that I may attend again.” Kayl, sophomore

“… loved being in an environment that encouraged eccentricity in ways of thinking and solving problems, especially in a society that encourages abiding to the norm … every speaker made me question things I thought I already knew… “ Dylan, junior

“… allowed you to form your own thoughts about the subject while sharing theirs. If they had a program in schools similar to that of IDEAFESTIVAL, maybe kids wouldn’t feel like the world is black and white…” MaHayla, junior

“… has given me the opportunity to see into fields of study that I wouldn’t have previously imagined.” Alex, junior

“The IDEAFESTIVAL has always been an invigorating way to learn and discover. … has certainly taken away unique perspectives that will be a part of my life forever.” Cade, junior

Every year I try to guess which speaker will be the most interesting to students.  I am always wrong.  As educators,, we talk a great deal about creating life long learners.   The IDEAFESTIVAL in Louisville each fall, is a prime display of this pursuit.  I hope you and your students get the chance to experience this opportunity.

Videos from past events are available on the IDEAFESTIVAL website.


Professional Level Performance is the Result of Professional Level Practice.


People who get better at any skill, do so through carefully designed purposeful practice. Purposeful practice focuses students on their learning zone, and develops a life-long learning attitude-a different way of learning.
We had the  opportunity to work with small groups of students in recent Governor’s School for the Arts, photography ArtShops. The challenge was, how do you help the students improve their skills in just a few hours? More importantly how do you enable the students to take this short workshop experience and run with it the rest of their lives?
The four step design of our  GSA ArtShops target the goal of purposeful practice . Let’s consider the details.
Establishing Current Capability
The first step in designing purposeful practice was to identify specific skills the students needed to take better photos. Our students brought portfolios of their current work for evaluation. We set benchmarks of where the students were so we could decide where we wanted to take them.

Setting Goals
Three learning zones were considered when designing the student goals.
  1. Goals that were already mastered would have been in the student’s comfort zone.
  2. Goals too challenging would have put the students in their panic zone.
  3. Knowing where the benchmarks were, we set some goals just beyond their current performance levels. This was that magical zone where students push forward and learn best. Their learning zone.

With our goals in mind we introduced a discussion of concepts in lighting, composition, camera angles, leading lines, etc., that the students could use to improve their photography.

Our “Basic Photography” video, and Keynote presentation (a Powerpoint version is also available) can be downloaded.

Hands on practice
The students were given a photographic assignment in their learning zone. We asked them to produce purposeful images, using the concepts and techniques we discussed. They were asked to be prepared to show their techniques later in a critique session. We accompanied them during their hands on practice, looking for teaching moments. This way we could observe and identify points of difficulty, gently providing guidance.

Critical review
Feedback was so important as we reviewed the work that the students produced. More importantly, the review included how to continue improving the images. Where to get help and what to do next.
Specific questions helped the students analyze what they saw in the images. What do you like? What captures your attention? Were specific compositional/lighting techniques used to create the images? Where do your eyes focus? Is there a mood captured? How will you use what you have observed in this image to improve your future images?
At this point, the students began to design their own purposeful practice. We stressed a model of deliberate, highly structured practice, with specific goals for each student to take with them. The discussions were carefully guided to enable the students to become “their own best critic”.
See images created by our GSA students on our FaceBook page.

Review of purposeful practice
Purposeful practice starts by identifying what you want to accomplish.
Set goals that are just beyond current performance levels.This is your learning zone.
Don’t work in your comfort zone, or your panic zone.
Work in your learning zone until you master the goals.
Seek feedback from experts. Blogs, podcasts, videos, classes, coaching, etc.,  are great sources.
Be your own best critic.
Never give up! Be a life long learner!

Hands-In Learning

Henry Hunt

(Pikeville, Kentucky) – You can see the process unfolding when a child’s mind is operating – when they are learning to think.  You can read it on their face; see it in the interaction with their classmate; watch their body move differently; and feel the heat coming from genuine, THINKING.

Traci Tackett’s Pikeville Elementary students are “all in” with their hands, brains and stomachs when it comes to their School Fall & Winter Garden Program.  We had a chance to see students in action building homes to attract pollinators, enriching their soil and learning how to think.  I don’t always subscribe to the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the images below may help you experience the student’s learning journey.

IMG_3611Teacher, Mrs. Tackett, and Cathy Rehmeyer, project mentor, recently shared their experience creating School Fall & Winter Gardens during an online workshop.Watch the video for several tips to get your school up and running so students can enjoy the education and dietary benefits.

These bright and engaged students worked with Mrs. Tackett as she led them through a whiteboard session on worm reproduction and pollinators.  They knew they needed pollinators for their school garden to flourish.  They discussed the basics of why plants needed pollination.  They listed potential plant pollinators.  A list of pros and cons of Honey Bees and Mason Bees drew conversation and debate as students started to connect concepts.

Wheels were turning as students broke in to groups to attack the main activities for today – collecting worm castings and constructing Mason Bee houses.

According to the students, collecting castings is simple, and to most, fun.  You just open your worm farm and separate the worms from the dirt-like castings (poop).  Put the castings in a can so you can mix it in the soil to help the garden grow.  Put the worms back in the farm so they can make more castings and more worms.  Or as one young man said, “…it is kind of simple; they eat, they poop.  They make more worms.  That’s about it.”

IMG_3617The second main task of the day involved power tools, so you know it has to be good.  Under the supervision of Mrs. Tackett and district technology administrator, Neil Arnett, students carefully drilled holes in the blocks of wood where the Mason Bees would put their larvae and small amounts of nectar.  Hung near the school garden these small homes will help attract Mason Bees to pollinate their crop.

Mason Bees were selected primarily because they don’t tend to sting.  According to Mrs. Tackett, they also tend to be “messy” and thus prolific pollinators.  One of the students commented during the session comparing Honey and Mason Bees that they would not want to be a Mason Bee, “…because they don’t live as long as Honey Bees.”

I bring this up not just to get a laugh on how funny kids can be, but more importantly to illustrate the level of detail students were absorbing, thinking and drawing conclusions.

When asked what he would tell his mom and dad about this project he said, “I would tell them I would rather do this than study in our classroom.  This is more hands-on experience and class is just learning out of a book.  It is more fun…then reading a book and I learn twice as much as just reading that book.  The book gives the main details, but none of the smaller details…it may tell you that agriculture is planting a garden, but it is not going to tell you, you have to have pollinators … and get into the small details.”

I am not here to argue the merits or role of books (they are good), but I do want to use this to illustrate the excitement and value students place on experience.

At Pikeville Elementary they are hands-in and minds-on with the process.


Today At School, We Traveled To Mars, And Saved The Earth.

Henry Hunt

(Hazard, Kentucky) – Three teams from Clay County Middle School visited the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky at Hazard recently as part of the Kentucky Space Movie Project.  Students from Sheryl Bowling’s Multi Media class had created short science fiction movies and were visiting the campus in Hazard to showcase their movies and participate in space engineering based projects.

Over the last few months, students developed a concept, wrote, directed, acted in, shot and edited their films.  The project helped the students work on their writing skills and learn more about engineering and space related science.  They identified “teamwork” as the thing they learned the most.  In order to complete the project they had to communicate and work together like never before.

In addition to seeing their movies projected on the big screen at Hazard Community and Technical College, the students worked to solve several engineering challenges organized by Challenger Learning Center’s Joe Collins.  Using an array of materials, the student teams had a limited time to design, construct, test and report on machines they built to accomplish specific goals.  One mission was to move a nuclear bomb (soda can) to a safe area without touching the bomb with their hands.  Another was to build a tower to hold power sources at least six inches apart.  Still another had students launch a projectile twenty-five feet across the room to hit an incoming asteroid (coffee can).

Yes, they hit the asteroid.  We have video to prove it.  Also take a few minutes to watch the science fiction movies.  Kentucky Space Movie Project.

So these students used their imagination to travel and explore our universe.  Then just for fun they stopped an incoming asteroid in order to save the world.  After watching these young people interact, think, test, fail and make corrections, I feel a little safer about the earth’s future.