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!

Engineered To Grow

Henry Hunt

(Jackson, Kentucky) – Cathy McCune had her students designing and building Hydroponic systems in Breathitt County.  While she originally thought this would be a good way for students to observe grow systems, the project blossomed in to a full fledged learning experience.  Student teams researched possible systems.  Designed their own systems.  Presented their concepts in a classroom competition.  Drew up specifications, constructed, ran, failed, and tried again.

It is amazing what a little plastic pipe, water and imagination can become.  We sat down with Mrs. McCune to discuss the project and student learning.



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.





Enhance Learning with Worms and Turnips

Henry Hunt

Worms and turnips are pretty hot topics these days at Pikeville Elementary School in Pikeville, Ky.  The primary school students are raising worms so they can enhance their turnip crop, because they love eating turnips.

Teacher, Traci Tackett engaged students in a conversation on energy; which led to how food is shipped; which led to talk of gardening; which ended up to be several raised beds, and related projects at the school.  The Plant it for the Planet project is now an important part of the education process.  Teachers find it easier to introduce concepts in Anatomy, Biology, Math, Botany, Soil, Food, and Chemistry once students needed to know information for their garden.

The school, and delighted parents, also discovered their children loved carrots, turnips, mustard greens, lettuce and broccoli once they tasted the fruits of their labor.

When students are challenged they work harder.  When students are physically and emotionally attached to their work, learning accelerates.  When students have a context and need for math it becomes a useful subject…to them.

Learn more about the Pikeville Plant it for the Planet program at website. There is an on-sight and virtual workshop for parents and teachers April 30th.  You can register at the website.  You can also learn more about gardening at

Listen to Mrs. Tackett outline the program, and her professional mentor for this project, Cathy Rehmeyer, talk about her experience with the project.


Pikeville Elementary Plant it for the Planet (Traci Tackett)


Plant it for the Planet Program Mentor (Cathy Rehmeyer)





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