"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill, Author The Great Story World Mix-Up, co-creator #whatisschool

Read the books I write with my children.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

#Whatisschool Thursday March 16, 7 PM EDT
Turning Students Into Global Digital Citizens

For the first time in history nearly half the world’s population is under the age of 26.  While that might not seem significant to you to future governments, economies and the environment this shift can have far reaching implications.  Why?  Because only some segments of the population are keeping pace with the rapid technological development transforming our world.  How people collaborate, invent and work together in the future will have a profound effect on future generations.

Carl Sagan once defined an ideal citizenry as people “...with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.”  Change that to define the ideal global digital citizen and you might add ethical connection and contribution, the ability to leverage technology on a global scale, and fostering community through compassion.  And since students today have a duo existence both in the technological world being created and the physical world we reside in, the ability to be a global digital citizen is crucial.

So how can we ensure that there is balance and that ALL students grow up with the opportunity to use their talents to shape the future?  Who will make the rules that govern how technology is used and how reality is blended?  Will it be for the common good or the enrichment of an elite few?

Join me Laura Hill (@candylandcaper) and Craig Kemp (@mrkempnz) March 16, 7PM EDT as #whatisschool explores ways to educate students to be Global Digital Citizens.

Questions #whatisschool March 16, 2017

1) How can we use technology to connect students with community on the local and global scale?
2) What roles can we create in the classroom to foster skills like project and digital management to build student’s capabilities?
3) How can we use technology to help students form their own critical, ethical questions and research solutions to real world problems?
4) How can we assist students in building Student Learning Networks (SNLs) that allow them to assess and realize their ideas?
5) What strategies can we use to help students become independent, collaborative learners?
6) How can we use our roles as educators, parents and leaders to work with students to build our global digital skills together?

Chat times for around the world are:
Thursday 4pm Pacific Time
Thursday 6pm Central Time
Thursday 7pm EDT
Thursday 11pm GMT
Friday 7am Singapore/WA (Perth) Time
Friday 9am AEST

Please Support The Arts www.laurahillbooks.com

Contemporary Art In Education Focus

Digital Painting

As an artist I have worked in many mediums, oils, watercolor, acrylics, pen and ink as well as video and graphic design.  But I am currently finding my stride as a digital painter.  Digital painting can be crude but in my case it allows me to apply my fine art background quickly and easily anywhere I am. I can express my ideas as I have them, revise and finish with the art printed on canvass or poster.  Many of you have asked how I create me paintings.  Here is a brief "how to" of the creation of the piece "Misty Veil Of Re-birth" which was part of a 31 Night Challenge hosted by notorious American Painter Michael Bell.  This painting was complete in several hours.

Motivating Students With “Secret Writing”

by Laura Hill
Previously posted as a guest blog for the amazing @mrkempnz, an education "must follow" on twitter.

Motivating students can be tough.  I talk to thousands of students during the school year and consistently I find that as the students get older they become more cynical about writing.  I think the reason for this is two-fold; on one hand they are less bold about their writing due to experiences that have shaken their confidence like failed tests or poor presentations, on the other hand, they just aren’t motivated.  Since I can’t change their past experiences I try to concentrate on creating a new perspective. So how do you motivate students to write? 

I use many methodologies based on PBL and inquiry learning to get students going, but the most motivating factor I have found is in “secret writing.”  Secret writing isn’t a singular thing it’s more of a realization, an idea that exemplifies what writing is really all about.  This is how it works.

When I stand in front of a large group of students the first thing I typically discuss with them are chocolate chip cookies. Not the store bought kind, but rich chewy chocolaty home made ones that melt in your mouth and stick to your fingertips.  And since most students like chocolate chip cookies it’s not too hard to get them to rattle off the ingredients to make a batch-flour, sugar, water, salt, butter, baking powder, eggs and chocolate chips.  I create a mock batch of cookies letting them cook until someone says “ding!” To the student’s surprise our pretend batch of cookies is usually a disgusting mess.  This is because no one bothered to tell me how much of each ingredient to put in.  Secret writing.

I start to clue students in with a story about the many years I spent working as a television producer.  They are always surprised when I describe the amount of writing that goes on before a shot is laid to film.  Storyboards, set design, lighting, scripting, costumes…you get the picture, secret writing.  I start to relate this to everything they are interested in from cartoons to sports plays, instructions for massive
Lego structures to video games.

Now, if you’ve never written a video game or iPad app you probably don’t realize that these are some of the most complex ideas to put to paper. This is because games are based on rules making it necessary to write a reaction for every possible action while following the game’s strategy.  This is on top of writing about the setting, characters, costumes, dialogue and backstory.

At this point I have the student’s attention, I can almost hear them thinking, so I tell them to look around.  Secret writing is on their shirts, shoes, notebooks; it’s on signs, billboards and posters.  Even more can be found on books, smart boards and on candy bar wrappers. We are literally immersed in secret writing!  All done by people just like them.  This is when their eyes begin to spark. 

When students realize that writing is at the core of almost everything they do it takes on a whole new meaning that is personal.  This is really important because today’s students aren’t going to have the opportunity to avoid writing. They are part of a culture that is living a personal public narrative and the people who are best able to tell their story are the ones who are going to be heard.

We are in an amazing moment, experiencing a shift in social perspective, where we see for the first time some very young people having an impact on the global stage.  They are writing books, championing social good, making films, publishing scientific theory and soon they will be creating technology; it’s just a matter of time and opportunity.  And they are talking to peers around the world.  You have a chance to play a huge part in this.  By creating a culture of writers, thinkers and inventors in your classroom you are giving your students the ability to share their ideas with people around the world.   The kids are up for it, in fact they are more than ready for it, and who knows?  You may be inspiring a student who will one day change the world.

Laura Hill is an author and producer known for helping children find their voice and talents through creative arts and technology. To find out how you can bring her writing programs to your school email Laura Hill or tweet @candylandcaper. 

Art as Inspiration #whatisschool

Last night at #whatisschool we shared ways to bring your creativity to the classroom.  My whole life has revolved around creative expression and its application to art, movies, television, publishing and most recently education.  As my own daughters move through the scholastic system during this amazing time of upheaval and technological revolution I continually find them, and myself, straddling a line between old and new ways of teaching, learning and expression.  What I am finding is both are needed and necessary to inspire, create and to get great ideas into the world.  Thank you ALL for your inspiration last night #whatisschool, especially my co-host @shift paradigm who also is exploring his own truth through creative expression.  I encourage you all to take a moment to pause today, close your eyes and consider what inspires you.  That one moment of quiet may give you insight and inspiration that will spread like wildfire to those you influence today.  Please support the arts and the dreamers who let their secret thoughts out of their heads for all the world to love, hate, cheer and reject.  It tales strength and it helps us grow as individuals and transformers in our communities.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why I Write With Children

by Laura Hill

“Everyone says the sky is blue but I know its purple and orange and pink.  I’ve met dogs that can talk and seen diamonds wash ashore because I see what’s there, not what I’ve been told too.” –Laura Hill

When my daughters first asked me to help them write a book I thought, ghads! how do I do that.  I was working under deadline to finish an article for a magazine and I didn’t want to stop.  But Ava and Kayla kept asking me and when children are persistent you know that it’s important.  We brainstormed for three months to write King Arthur and the Werewolves of Camelot, which is the second book in the series but the first one we wrote.  Ava, who was five made up the character of Jilly, a fairytale expert who could solve any magical mystery.  Kayla was 8 and much more mature, she wrote about Penelope a real world minded girl who solved her problems like puzzles with science and logic.

Now, five books later, Ava and Kayla have become experts at story writing and illustration, researching and fleshing out their own story lines that we all collaborate on.  I am left with the task of pulling it all together. It’s been a lot of work but has come with many perks. Ava and Kayla have gotten to meet some of their favorite authors, they have been on a TV talk show, attended big book conventions in NYC and learned the ropes of publishing as well as web design and promotion.

But I think the best thing that’s happened to us is that together we pull this off.  We win together, we lose together and we bring our knowledge and inspiration to children in schools all across America.  We know that if we can follow our dreams and do this, other children can too!  And we are happy our books make other people smile.

I speak in a lot of schools during the year and often times my daughters join me.  When we first arrive at a school we are excited and nervous. So are the students, neither of us knows what to expect.  But we break the ice using our imagination, and sometimes a microphone, to make fireworks explode and birds fly across the room. Then we begin to talk about how we write our books. 

The enthusiasm is contagious but sometimes, in the older grades, the cynicism is palpable too.  But as the conversation develops with humor and self-effacing confessions the atmosphere begins to change.  Slowly the children start to see that we aren’t talking at them about what we have done and we aren’t telling them what they should do.  We are giving them a formula to get their great ideas out into the world, just like we did. 

You can almost hear a click as their eyes light up when they make this connection.  To see my daughters present an author visit is too see themselves reflected on stage.  And we tell them, if we can do this, you can too.

I’ve talked to thousands of children across the United States.  The number one thing they want is for you to believe in them.  We give them confidence that their dreams are possible, and courage to make them come true.  And we do one other thing, we believe that their ideas are great.  This is a hard thing to do.

If I had not really listened to my daughter’s ideas conceding the lead when their concepts were better, we would not have this book series.  If they had not trusted me guiding them through revisions, pitches and press they wouldn’t be the kids they are today.  It takes a lot of vision, guts and trust to work together.

And that’s the thought I would leave you with.  When teachers and parents ask me how I write with kids I would say set up an environment of trust and mutual respect then the stories just flow.  Sure I use lots of techniques to coax higher thinking but the basis is you.  You are the only one who can teach them to take a chance on their own great ideas, and the one who can help them get those ideas into the world.

Laura Hill is an author and producer known for helping children find their voice and talents through creative arts and technology. To find out how you can bring her writing programs to your school email Laura Hill or tweet @candylandcaper. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why Shared Experience Is Crucial To Creative Writing With Students

by Laura Hill

Recently, I've had the opportunity to be involved in chats regarding the evolution of modern education. The focus of many of these conversations are the changes happening in schools through the introduction of technology, and it's creating a lot of excitement. One idea that keeps resurfacing is the shift in student experience from knowledge acquisition to creative expression of thoughts and ideas.  This got me thinking.

As an author,  illustrator and speaker I am creating for public audiences all the time.  The process never begins with methodology though it often ends there.  It starts with an idea that is followed by an experience. 

In my new book, The Boy Who Cried Sea Monster, I needed to find out what it would feel like to be lost on a deserted beach.  And since I write the series with my daughters Ava and Kayla, who are 8 and 11, we headed out to a remote location called Pirate's Cove with no food or water to find out.

 During our two hour walk we explored the shore noting how the light played on the waves and colored the sand in shallow waters.  We worried about how the tide washed away our path becoming so high we couldn't go back the way we had come. We took pictures of the contours of the cliffs and ran our fingers over the smooth sides of driftwood that had been bleached white in the sun.  

We shivered in icy waters, sand grating between our toes and spread our arms to the wind that whipped over sand dunes rising five stories high to meet the sky.  The smell of salt and brine hung thickly around us and we breathed it in deeply through parched lips, wishing for the relief of a sip of fresh water.  By the time we were done we felt ready to write from the perspective of two children lost in a strange land at the edge of the sea.

Back at the studio we continued our exploration sharing experiences and perspective while sitting at a huge table covered with butcher block paper. This is our "think tank" where we can write, doodle and record all our ideas.  We were surprised to find that each of us had a very different take on what had happened on our walk.  For us that's a good thing as it brings our heroes, Penelope the science girl and Jilly the magic lover, to life in unique ways.

So what's the point?

In my work I do a lot of creative writing with students.  What I often find is they are frozen by the rules of writing, spending more time trying to fit their ideas into a model than letting them flow.  This makes writing hard.

I use many methodologies to loosen students up, creating equalizing shared experiences, that I feel produce richer writing results than culling from memories, which can be very two dimensional like a photograph.  The detail is there but it is not rich.

Achieving a richer experience doesn't have to be a hard thing.  One visiting workshop I like to do in schools involves staging a sour lemon eating contest. If you've never tried to suck on a lemon wedge longer than your friend, let me tell you it's a very powerful experience.  When students write about this experience they all have different points of view.  Some like it, some hate it, but more importantly they begin to describe the experience from their unique perspective.  This is where the creation magic happens!

What I end up with is twenty different students and twenty experiences all with common threads yet completely unique. Students find it is easy to write because there is so much to talk about;  the smell of the lemons, the taste, the texture.  How the brightly colored, sweet smelling fruits were so pleasant until they were popped into the mouth. The student's emotions are fresh; feelings of fear and the exaggeration of the experience of sucking on a  lemon, the feeling of determination to stay the course until the end. 

I help students express their experience using one of several methods presented electronically or in more traditional forms as each adds value and develops different skill sets. The feedback is amazing and students are surprised at how their peers viewed the same experience so differently.

This type of creation from shared experience echoes the mindset of a technologically integrated society working together to create solutions.

When I began writing a very smart agent named Donald Maass told me that you can't convey your thoughts without knowing the details of that which you write about. I learned the same thing as an art student at Parson's School Of Design where the first lesson was to draw what you see, not what you think you see. 

A healthy shift in mindset is a good thing. Technology lets us choose to use our minds to create and to share ideas in exciting new ways.  And though I use technology often in my work I also use pencils, paper and paint just as frequently.  In the end, however we express it, what we can't replace is the experience of "doing" that makes our writing rich and expressive, a point I believe we should think deeply and often about when discussing creative writing with students.  

It's easier to write about a field of flowers covered in dew when you've plunged your hand into a bucket of fresh cut blooms. It's easier and more believable to write a villain when you've stood in his shoes, acting out what he would say and do.  So why would we hand students a blank sheet and ask them to create without giving them the opportunity to explore?  

It's something to think about.

Laura Hill is an author and producer known for helping children find their voice and talents through creative arts and technology. To find out how you can bring her writing programs to your school email Laura Hill or tweet @candylandcaper. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Technology In The Classroom.

by Laura Hill

Recently I was asked to speak about the use of technology in the classroom. The audience, a group of educators; some who had integrated tech into their class, others who wanted to and many who were still skeptical of the value it would add.  As I reflected on the message I wanted to share my thoughts turned towards the students, children like my daughters who would be the first digital natives to graduate and enter the workforce. What skills would I want then to have mastered? Which ones would they need and which would fall short? What part of their education would gain the most value by focusing on technology in the classroom?

I was somewhat surprised to realize I didn’t know. Sure, I recognize the value of robotics and coding as new economy skills and have enriched my children with opportunities to develop these skills.  I also see the advantages that a global classroom adds.  My youngest has jumped into several of my international chats, done assignments and interacted with educators in other countries via Google hangouts.  Still this didn’t answer the question for me, what do they need in class? After much reflection, here are my thoughts.

Technology is a tool that right now has a lot of sizzle. It’s exciting to imaging the possibilities it adds to teaching methods, student engagement and voice. However, once you get by the sizzle, it is easy to find yourself lost in a sea of apps, programs and subscription businesses models.  I think the first step in using technology is to decide the purpose that would best suit your class, your teaching team or school community and the greater community the school is part of.  Ask yourself these questions:

What am I hoping to accomplish by integrating technology?

Do the skills used in the technologies I am choosing serve the students beyond this application?

What are student benefits beyond mastering this technology?

I asked myself these questions and came up with the following:

Global Classrooms
The benefit of establishing a global classroom that allows students to interact with their local community as well as peers and teachers from around the world received high marks. In a global society that will value the voice of those who know how to make themselves heard we are doing a disservice to students if we do not teach them how to interact with others to solve problems, share ideas and get feedback.  The beauty of theses technologies, including Skype and Google hangouts, is they are easy to engage and feel natural in use.  Google also provides the wider opportunity of sharing portfolios, videos, pictures and shared documents on a common platform to further enhance the experience.

Coding, Creation and Robotics
In creation, the building process has changed and now products are being created directly by the idea generators without going through the process of idea->investment->manufacturing.  Crowd sourcing funds, personal creation and push button distribution to a wide audience of millions allows anyone with a great idea to get it into the world.  These basic building blocks allow students to be thought leaders, inventors, creators and need to be part of the learning process. 

Social Media
Creating an internal or external account in which students can interact with peers and teachers 24/7 is crucial and mimics the way adults are using these platforms to work together.  Students who are able to use learning networks to increase their skills, get feedback and support for their ideas will be much more successful when they leave the classroom.

It won’t be long before the students you are teaching enter the workforce and change the nature of technology use simply by being part of the education industry.

It has always been my prediction that we have less than ten years before this time comes.  This notion was cemented two days ago when I spoke to an undergrad student who was commenting on an amazing social studies program his high school instructor had run. She had charged the class with using a Simms creation model to build a city.  Every detail needed to be explained and used to solve one of the city’s many problems including energy resources, layout, domestic areas and profitability of industry and downtown areas.  It was evident from this young scholar’s enthusiasm that he would implement this type of teaching method when he got his degree.
You have the chance now to decided how to use technology to better your students and your scholastic community. Don’t let your classroom be one that creates a generation of “lost” students who lack the skills leaving your charge to compete and lead in the workforce that is developing now.  I know it may seem daunting, but the support is there. You no longer have to be the expert, just open the door and see where technology leads you.

-Laura Hill

Laura Hill is the co-creator of #whatisschool, a highly acclaimed international twitter chat that creates a forum for educators to examine and re-imagine the changing role of education. She is an author who writes the Great Story World Mix-Up chapter book series with her own children and speaks to students about how they can play a role in the new economy by getting their ideas out of their heads and into the world.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fearless Teaching: Failing Your Way To Success

by Laura Hill

Yesterday my daughter came home from school glum. She is a good student and very social so I was surprised by the long face.  When I questioned her she pulled out her math test. “I bombed my test,” she said, handing it to me.

Bombing a test is not a big thing. As you get older you realize you will fail in many things before you succeed.  Tony Hawk tried 12 times before he stuck a 900 at the X Games in San Francisco.  J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by dozens of publishers before being printed.  Michael Jordan was cut from his HS basketball team.  Thomas Edison claimed he never once made a discovery, instead working lines of logic until they reached their natural end, discarding the failures and trying again. 

He failed all the time, but he never gave up.

When my daughters and I write our Great Story World Mix-Up books it can take anywhere from a few days to six months to pen a manuscript.  Before that we spend weeks in group brainstorming sessions coming up with story arcs.  Many of the plot lines we develop are discarded, not because the ideas are bad, they just weren’t the best ones to move the story forward.

Our bad mistakes don’t end there.  I do a whole program on how we turn bad art into beautiful illustrations, reworking and rethinking each one until we feel a picture is just right.  Once we’ve got the story and the pictures together we still aren’t done because our editor hands us revisions that can be as simple as spelling errors or more extensive like suggestions on whole passages.  I have gone through manuscripts and scrapped entire chapters after putting them aside for a few months to gain perspective.

When I tell this to students they are really surprised.

I think students have a misconception that everything they do has to be successful. I’ve often wondered if this is due to the culture of instant gratification and overnight celebrity we live in, or if there is something more.  The focus on high stakes testing and measured learning has its place but maybe we are hampering a higher thought process that could lead students to even greater success.

If you aren’t willing to fail you will probably never succeed. 

I think that’s an important message to send to students.  I do a workshop where the project has no outcome, building a structure collaboratively only to tear it down or watch it fall apart.  Students are really surprised that I have them plan, problem solve and create to no end. The post project talk is about what worked, what failed and how we can co-op the best parts into an even greater creation.  The project is about the process, not the product.

I think if  students were less worried about failing they would be willing to take more risks, ask surprising questions and test theories that had never been tried before. This is the type of thinking that’s responsible for the amazing advances in technology and innovation we see today.  You have the opportunity to create a fearless culture in your classroom encouraging students to use new tools, technology and learning processes to explore and re-explore the world around them.  And that’s what will lead to higher thinking and change.

Today, educators are not just pillars of knowledge; they are leaders in teaching thought and building confidence so students can blow us away with their ideas.  After my daughter’s failure we talked and I realized she bombed the test because she didn’t ask for help, she was afraid not understanding would be perceived as failure.  I discussed this with her teacher and on the next test she was the only one to get 100% right.  Not because she was smarter, but because her teacher had build up her confidence and opened a path to dialogue that was unthreatening.

 You have the power, you have the tools, create a culture of fearless learning where failing to succeed is part of the project.  You’ll be surprised at the way your students respond and the brilliant ideas they come up with.
Laura Hill is an author and producer known for helping children find their voice and talents through creative arts and technology. To find out how you can bring her writing programs to your school email Laura Hill or tweet @candylandcaper. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Breaking The Mold, Flipped Writing

by Laura Hill

My 11 year-old daughter doesn't think she’s a good writer. This is despite the fact that she has co-written five children's fiction books and two non-fiction books as part of our Great Story World Mix-Up chapter book series.  This also goes against the sentiment of her teachers who say she has a strong original voice, and that of her friends who log onto her blogs to read posts about funny things that happen in school. So why does she think she’s a bad writer?

I have a little insight.  When my daughter gets a writing assignment she is completely focused on fitting her idea into the model the teacher has provided. So if it’s a small moment about an adventure she is dead-set on writing about the most important small moment in the greatest adventure she has ever had.  As she thinks about the mounting choices she tends to talk to her friends, usually suggesting ways they can turn their small moments into great stories.  By the end of the period she has no idea what she is going to write about, is behind in the assignment and is frustrated.  

My daughter's writing problem is two-fold.  Her first problem is that she is a perfectionist and very hard on herself, a personality trait I am constantly puzzled by coming from a "mistakes are great" school of thought.  None of her ideas are good enough to turn into a story. I often remind her of how she helps her friends embellish their ideas, but for herself it just doesn't gel.

The second part of her writing problem is that she is trying to squeeze her idea into the model her teacher provided.  Is it a big idea, is it an adventure, does it have small moments, is it good enough?  It’s painful to hear her rattle off all the ideas she has rejected because in her mind they do not fit the assignment, when in reality they sit quite neatly within the parameters. 

My daughter is not unique. She is suffering from two of the biggest problems facing young writers today, the belief that their ideas aren't good enough and the thought that their ideas need to fit into a model.

Writing is tough enough. An innocent request like writing a small moment can be a huge task when a blank sheet of paper sits in front of you.  Here’s a question to ask yourself, do you remember what you had for dinner last Thursday?  Can you write about the meal, the setting, the dialogue at the table, the texture of the food, the smell and the feeling it elicited?  Maybe you can but chances are it would be tough.

Try this when starting your next writing project.  Instead of asking the students to work in a model give them each a big piece of paper, or roll one out to cover a group of desks.  Then ask them to these five questions, have them answer quickly drawing or writing down the first thing that comes to mind:

1) Jot down something you did this week.
2) Write or draw three things you remember about the experience.
3) Write or draw one sound, smell and feeling you associate with the experience.
4) Write down one thing that was said.
5) Draw a picture of the place where you had the experience.

What you have done is re-create a rich memory with a subject (1), action (2), senses (3), dialogue (4), and setting (5) for the student to pull ideas from. Now plug in your model by instructing the students to use this memory as a basis for writing a small moment, fairytale, narrative...you get the picture. 

Once students have a rich idea to write about they can easily concentrate on the form.

You’ll be surprised at how quickly your students advance their writing once they have the basis of the story down.  Most stories aren’t grown in a single brain pop, our books certainly aren’t. Instead they are woven like a rich tapestry full of many colored threads with different textures that create the layers of the story. By having the students write the idea quickly without worrying about spelling and form helps shape a stronger story premise full of rich detail, and chances are since they are already thinking about action, senses, narrative and setting, they will add more, effortlessly, with your guidance.

My co-authors
Expressive and powerful writing may be the singular most important thing a student can learn today as they live their personal narrative live, on-line, in front of a global audience.  It permeates technological creation in gaming and programming, explains scientific and mathematical discoveries and communicates the most integral cultural aspects of who we are to a world populace that sees no barriers.

By teaching children to organize their thoughts quickly, efficiently and richly, you are teaching them to express their ideas in a way that will be heard. And who knows, that one student voice may be the one that sparks the next great innovation.  You’ll never know if you don’t try.  I’m counting on you, so are my daughters, so are your students.

Laura Hill is an author and producer best known for helping children find their voice and talents through creative arts and technology. To find out how you can bring her writing programs to your school email Laura Hill or tweet @candylandcaper.