Monday, December 16, 2013

Flow: Your Brain at Play

"Play is the highest form of research." - Albert Einstein

I've always been intrigued by how we learned. Why can some learn so much effortlessly, while others struggle to make minimal gains? One thing I've learned through my own experiences is that learning through play is just about as hyper-efficient as you can get. When the learner is in a state of "flow" (which is often the case during play, amazing things can happen.

What is flow? Flow is a mental state of mind in which the individual is fully immersed in whatever task they are undertaking. Their focus is razor sharp and most importantly they are having FUN! state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. They are fully absorbed in the act! This is where the magic of play happens! If you don't believe me, take a loooooooong hard look at your child the next time they are entranced by their video game or other whimsical endeavor (whimsical is my "word of the day")...take a gander at some sports obsessed family member glued to the final seconds of the games...the examples abound. You'll see flow and recognize flow because you've likely experienced it yourself many times before.

Check out the article below. It offers some great information on how you get the most learning out of play, and honestly, would you rather that your learning experiences be boring? Make the most of every moment. Learn and play. =)

How to Create Learning Through Play -

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Giving of Oneself: Recent Adventures Promoting Family Engagement!!!

One thing that I've tried to make sure I do over the course of the last year has been to make sure that I don't take on too much. Yeah...that is not always successful, but I've gotten to a point now where the next 
eight months are finally looking manageable and that is great news! Whether it's families of children with special needs, foster and adoptive families, families of children considered to be at-risk kids, or the culturally diverse community of families and learners right here in the Metro Atlanta area, there is always something to do (and nothing says it can't be FUN)! Below is a letter I wrote for the Aspen Institute on behalf of Univision Atlanta Community Affairs. They have been an absolute amazing resource to me and have allowed me to connect with other likehearted and passionate peopl. The reason I am sharing it is to hammer home a point It is a point I am always happy to be reminded of myself during the course of life. We often think we are blessing others when in fact WE are the ones being blessed.....

To whom it may concern,

I recently had the pleasure of partnering with Univision Atlanta Community Affairs, through a partnership with Gwinnett Public County Schools and Univision’s educational efforts. Their sincerest intention is to benefit Latino families and students as they aspire to reach heights limited only by their imagination and the possibilities of potential. Through this association, I was privileged to take part in several panels, as well as appear in a television segment, all focused on the multiple facets of education. These were each meant to offer guidance and information to families urgently striving to help their children achieve sustained academic and life-long success. 

It was through this purposeful partnership that I was able to also discover and collaborate with the educational endeavors of other Univision partners like HOPE (the Hispanic Organization Promoting Education) and The LAA (The Latin American Association). These memorable occasions over the last few months have provided me with unique outreach opportunities that I have used to affect families in ways I never thought possible. These goal-oriented relationships have already proven themselves to be invaluable and there are two particular instances that I would love to share with you.

The first involved the family of one of my very own students from almost a decade ago who had viewed an education focused program on Univision. My appearance during this segment encouraged them to contact me resulting in us all reuniting during a recent visit to our school. I was in awestruck wonder looking at the young man before me that had once been a student in my elementary class. They both shared with me that he was participating in what is called the STEM Targeted Educational Program (STEP Academy), a program designed for at-risk, over-aged eighth-grade students that allows them to complete multiple grades worth of course work in just one school year.  

If he was successful in completing this program, he would transition to 10th grade and remain on track to graduate with his peers. What a blessing I had standing right before me in the form of a chance to aid one of my very own former students and his mother. I asked them if they had time for an impromptu workshop on becoming a more efficient learner, since I was certain they would both enjoy and benefit from the experience. Not only was this the perfect example of a teachable moment, but it warmed my heart to be THE teacher fortunate enough to provide it. I expect wonderful things from this young man and I am appreciative of the unforeseen opportunity I was given to be involved in his academic journey once again. 

The second, and most recent occasion, came as a husband and wife approached me at school, smiles broadly displayed across their face. The mother asked if I had a free moment and I gleefully offered her as much time as she needed. She began telling me how much she had enjoyed my workshop and what a pleasure it was to speak to me now. This left me puzzled. I had just completed a school workshop that very Wednesday and I was surprised that I could not remember either of their faces. Noting my confusion, they told me that they had seen me present at a workshop during the Latin American Association’s 14th annual Latino Youth Conference at Emory University. They had been looking forward to following up with me at Kanoheda since they also have a child enrolled here as well as a child in high school. 

They were relatively new additions to our school family. My collaboration with the combined educational efforts of these incredible community resources yet again proved to be a boon as it allowed me to make contact with a family that I may not have otherwise been able to reach so soon. They mentioned a desire to do even more for both of their children (music to my ears) and supplement the knowledge they had already received. I was able to immediately provide them with the additional support they needed as well as get them connected with several of the upcoming learning events scheduled at our school. The familiarity with this family, afforded to me through the previous work of these amazing educational partnerships, allowed me to provide support ideally suited to benefit both of their children, despite the disparity in their age. Once again, I was graced with an unanticipated blessing through the amazing collaboration in which I have been able to take part.

Since that first meeting at our school, I’ve had the pleasure of being in communication with this family on many occasions, with each instance heralded first by huge smiles on each of our faces. I could not have dreamed of a more astonishing way to begin a prosperous educational partnership with a new family or rekindle an existing one. These powerful individual examples are the result of a broad and purposeful focus on providing the support our families need to stay engaged in the education of their children and help every single one to fulfill the promise that is within them. 

As a teacher, I am so excited by the impactful prospects for educational support that I have now discovered through Univision Atlanta and their educational partners. Furthermore as a fellow parent, I am deeply stirred and eternally grateful for what is being done for the community of families and learners I am honored to serve. I wish you success beyond measure with this marvelous endeavor. Through these efforts, you have allowed me to experience triumphs firsthand that I had never before envisioned possible. For that I am profoundly thankful.

Angel Rodriguez

I'll close this post by saying I have LOVED my life of teaching, fostering, and most importantly...parenting. =)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Learning to Learn: Helping Parents Understand Cognitive Assets

This is one of my favorite subjects to talk about…helping learners become better learners. This is a true “big picture” strategy because if you become a better learner, you’ll improve in EVERYTHING, and that provides cognitive mental return on our learning investment.

I’ve mentioned in other posts how intelligence is dynamic. This is something every parent needs to understand. There is nothing static about a learner’s potential. There never comes a point where you can say “well, that’s it…job well done…you’ve learned all you’re gonna learn!” The human brain is malleable. Simply stated, when you put your brain to work, it physically upgrades. It doesn’t fill up, rather it physically changes its structure. As the parent of two children with special needs, this is particularly uplifting. They may not learn as fast or as easily, but a world of discovery is still open to them.

This is a fact that I constantly repeat to them. You don’t keep this type of info to yourself. My kids are fully aware of their own struggles, but understanding how learning happens has given them a leg up on equipping themselves with the means to persevere. What do I equip them with you may be asking? Cognitive assets…the simple strategies and practices that make them more efficient THINKERS!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Four Ingredients of Family Engagement: 4 simple steps to effective involvement

A while back I wrote about the four types of activities make up family involvement and engagement. These are often referred to as ingredients in the Hoover-Dempsey and Sadler Model of parental involvement. I just love the insight that this model has been able to provide me and I've done all I can to share this amazing information with other educators as well as apply it with parents. The way they refer to ingredients really got my mind wandering (don't wait up...who knows where my daydreams will take me). It kind of reminded me of know, from the Food Network. In this show they open up a basket of ingredients and you are forced to make due with what you've got. Actually just "making due" won't get you far at all. You need to produce something amazing! The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this show really is just like effective parent involvement.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Angel Rodriguez Presenting at the 2014 Statewide Family Engagement Conference

I just found out today that I will be presenting at the 2014 Statewide Family Engagement Conference for the GADOE in Athens, GA! 

This is what I was sent earlier today...

Dear Mr. Rodriguez -

Thank you for your interest in the 2014 Statewide Family Engagement Conference.  We had a large number of quality proposal applications to choose from, which made the committee's task very difficult.  

I'm just gonna be real. At this point, I'm thinking the news isn't going to be good. "Large number of quality proposals"..."this was a difficult task"... OH NO!!! I think the 2014 Statewide Family Engagement Conference is breaking up with me!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Helping Your Child Build a Better Brain for Math (K-12)

I just got the opportunity to video my math workshop and share many cognitive and academic strategies for success. Not only will I be able to share it with more parents, but it will also give me the chance to really examine where I could improve by reflecting on my performance as a speaker. WOW, do I have room to improve. This is not a bad thing mind you. I really love finding ways that I can continue to develop strengths or discovering weaknesses that I can shore up and manage. Reflecting on our practices and learning from our experiences can be invaluable for any learner and I am no different. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Whirlwind Year! Talking a TON about Parental Engagement!!!

I've read often about how bloggers start with a whirlwind of activity, only to then drift off...

I just wanted to let my friends following me know that it has been the opposite. I've desperately wanted to return to blogging  consistently, but things have been BANANAS (but in a good way...not the kind of bananas that got too ripe are now only good for banana bread). I just wanted to fill you in before I got back in the saddle with what will hopefully be great content on the blog for you to use and enjoy.

I've been so humbled and honored by recent opportunities. First I was able to do a radio interview regarding parent involvement on Atlanta's first Spanish language radio station. Then came a tv spot on Telemundo Atlanta on the first day of school this year.

If that wasn't enough, I got a chance to take part in a TV education series on Univision a few weeks later, and NOW I've been asked to participate in town hall meeting on Univision, sharing my passion about parental involvement, as one of about five experts on various fields related to education from around the state!!! 

This has been an amazing year and I'm so glad for every chance I've gotten to reach out to even more parents! I'm waiting on your call're just down the road and I've got some open spots left on my schedule. :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Interview for GCPS-TV on Parent Engagement!

I've had some great opportunities to encourage parents during several interviews over the last few months. Each has been in Spanish, my second language. I just got the chance to finally do an interview in English! more worries about possibly inventing a word due to limited Spanish vocabulary, although I've been known to invent a few in English as well (just less likely)! 

Please let me know what you think! =)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Blessings of Serving Others

Magic Moments That Come From Serving Others: Sharing a Happy Memory

Lessons we never expect
Many years ago I was interpreting for a family attending a school I worked at. They were one of many families that I've helped along the way, yet I never saw them again. I had hoped that someday I would get the chance to help them again, but you just never know for sure in these circumstances. You just do as you can and try to be at peace. This post is just my experience with one of those situations that ended up coming around full circle...a family I meant in one brief moment...a moment that lasted longer than I ever thought it would.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Supporting Families Affected by #FAS: A NEW partnership between Emory University and NOFAS Georgia!

Department of Psychiatry,
Behavioral Science and Pediatrics
“What lies behind us & what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” 
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I find it so surreal. I almost cannot believe this is happening, but it is and it's only going to get better. Our meeting at Emory went great!! Tracy and I are so happy in our role of strengthening NOFAS Georgia (National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). We are even more honored to take part in a new partnership between NOFAS Georgia and Emory University that will allow us to offer support for families affected by ‪#‎FASD‬! Our hope is to quickly begin work in the Metro Atlanta area and then expand this network of support throughout the state so we can impact as many lives as possible!

Before now, NOFAS Georgia has held on by a string, thanks to the herculean efforts of Melissa Cook (a parent volunteer facing the same challenges as us) and the folks at Emory University. Tracy and I have joined Melissa, and the three of us have pledged ourselves to lead a parent initiative, through NOFAS Georgia, that will offer families in our state the support they so desperately need. Great things start from humble beginnings. Our goals are very modest...we just want to change the world!!! I just love a good fight. That's just me...challenge accepted!!!

Our Family's Story:
The girl that stole our hearts
My wife and I actually talked about adoption on our first date. We knew from the beginning that we had found a similar spirit in each other. I sincerely believe that divine providence lead our lives in that very direction. Our hearts led us first to become foster parents. I was an educator, with a particular love for early childhood education and Tracy would be a stay at home mom. We had been prayerful and saw this as the role we were meant to fulfill. We still wanted to adopt someday, but we put that on hold to answer the call of serving children and families in need. We went through the training, orientation, and evaluation that goes into becoming foster parents and soon had our very first placement. God blessed us with Aniah!

I held her in my she holds my heart in hers.
Aniah's birth mother had tried to do the right thing. She attempted to curb her drug use during pregnancy, but tragically turned to consuming greater amounts of alcohol instead. Aniah weighed a little over two lbs when she was born prematurely. We could cradle her in a single hand. Thankfully due to the close relationship we formed with her birth mother, we were made aware of so many details regarding the pregnancy. Aniah will struggle with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) her entire life. FASD is often referred to as the invisible disability. Thankfully, we knew what we were up against. This knowledge can be a unique blessing for any child suffering with FASD and we were determined to make the most of it. 

What is FASD?
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a group of conditions that can occur when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. FASD is a disability that lasts a lifetime.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sept. 9th is now Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day in Georgia!

Georgia NOFAS (National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) is set to start moving mountains! September 9th is now ‪#‎FASD‬ Awareness Day thanks to the efforts my friend Melissa Cook (the author of this proclamation signed by our Governor) and her efforts on behalf of families dealing with FASD! So glad to be part of this revitalized GA NOFAS team, that includes the smart and talented Tracy Rodriguez! 

The effects of FASD have had a huge impact on our family. I've been blessed with so much information that has helped us and now we just want to offer our support to others. Once upon a time, I would have thought that despite my good intentions, my efforts wouldn't really make that much of a difference. I'm so glad to have left that thinking far behind me where it belongs. Wayne Gretzky was quoted as saying "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I'm not sure how much we will be able to accomplish, but I truly believe the three of us are going to be getting a lot done. I am POSITIVE that it will be more than we ever expected, especially if we had just convinced ourselves not to act! This is just the beginning!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Feeding Your Brain AND Body: Our Family's Journey

**This is a guest post by a VERY special guest poster...Tracy Rodriguez!!! I am hoping she will accept a very low paying position as a regular commentator on nutrition and clean eating here at WiseLearners! Welcome Tracy!

Feeding our children well is so important for the development of their bodies and brains. When I say "well", I don't mean what taste good. What I mean is food packed with nutrition and healthy fats. I use to think I fed my family well. The boxes of food said things like "whole grain", "all natural", "fat free", "multigrain" and a whole host of other labels that are misleading. It turns out that I wasn't feeding my family well at all because I wasn't feeding them actual food. I'd like to share with you a little about how we went from eating processed products to real food. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The 4 types of parental involvement: Is there such a thing as too much?

Is that even a serious question?

When it comes to limits on parental involvement, I believe honestly that there is NO LIMIT at all! In fact, give me all you got! Where things seem to go wrong comes from the focus we sometimes place on some types of involvement to the exclusion of others. I don’t think we do this on purpose, but the effects are deleterious. This is where that sense of hopelessness first begins with parents that are so desperate to help their children, yet feel lost in regards to how and where to begin.  This may not make me popular, but teachers often do make this situation worse without even meaning to. Let me break it down the how and why.

3 Superpowers Your Kids Can Possess

BunnyGirl, IronRunt, and FrankenBro
Superheroes are cool!
Wouldn't it be great if we had super powers? I love superheroes, in fact my kids are pretty darned convinced that I may be one (and who am I to dissuade them). I think this is where my fascination with learning and the brain first started. Here you have these larger than life characters that are just beyond extraordinary! Some had superpowers that you just can't ever dream of duplicating, but others LEARNED how to become awesome! In fact, it is their brain that makes them truly standout! That's within OUR reach!