Autonomy vs. Collaboration: Are they Exclusive of Each Other?

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of Daniel Pink, and his book Drive. If you haven’t read it yet, I repost a great animated summary at the end of this post. Using a lot of current research, Pink makes a case for autonomy being an integral part of motivation. The other two parts: mastery, and purpose.

I’m also a big fan of collaboration, and in todays world of sharing everything openly, its also really important. The summer issue of the Harvard Business Review is all about collaboration. In the book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Stephen Johnson, he makes a very clear point that great individual a-ha moments are rare and that it’s often the confluence of two or more ideas that lead to game changing innovations. There’s a great quick animation of this as well (posted below).

My personal answer to the question posed in the title of this post is, NO!

A large percentage of our faculty just finished a summer institute at our school that was organized by our school leaders. I can truly say, that I left feeling more excited, motivated, and inspired of the potential that our school has to continue growing. If the aim was to begin cultivating a community of professional learners with growth mindsets who are both autonomous AND collaborative, the institute was an incredible success. Another underlying principle is that everything we do promotes the same kind of purpose, relevance, and collaboration for students.

How was this done? By finding the strengths within each individual, yet creating a safe, trusting environment to share these. By making the purpose a clear and shared one. And by promoting mastery. It was hard work, but work everyone was so eager to do because it had meaning. It wasn’t busy work. Aside from that, the institute was run using a variety of effective models of instruction. That kind of modeling is key for inspiration and the transfer of effective teaching practices into the classroom.

If you’ve read the book Switch: How to Change Things When Things are Hard by the Heath Brothers, the way to do this is to find a way to motivate both our emotional and rational minds, and set a clear path for how this will be done. I sense the beginning of purposeful changes happening at our school this year, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Atlanta Public Schools Open Amid a Testing Scandal – NYTimes.com

Atlanta Public Schools Open Amid a Testing Scandal – NYTimes.com.

This article from todays NYTimes is alarming, but not all that surprising to me. What is really being assessed when tests create so much anxiety and pressure on students, parents, teachers, and administrators?

As a teacher, I’ve gone from worrying about how well my students do, to actually focusing on their mistakes. Mistakes actually provide you with a lot more information. Being able to analyze kids’ errors helps me understand and reflect on what I need to change. When I look at a test item, and see that more than half of my class got the item incorrect, it’s a good place to start asking myself why.

Unfortunately, standardized tests are good for expediency, but not always good for learning. The wrong answer doesn’t always provide enough insight. Take 2-digit subtraction with regrouping (borrowing), for example. If a child got the answer wrong, was it due to a misunderstanding of place value, did the child have a directionality issue, did they miss a step in the algorithm, did they simply add by mistake. A good standardized test may include incorrect answers that reveal some of the reasons, but not necessarily all. The only way to know for sure is to observe a child doing the problem and then asking them to explain what they did and why. It’s amazing the kind of insight you can gain from a few simple questions. Furthermore, with a test that provides four possible answers there’s a good chance your student had no clue, but guessed correctly. The correct answer provides very little information.

The other problem with some of the standardized tests out there, is the timeliness of the test-makers correcting and returning the results. By the time many schools get them back, it’s well past the point that they can inform the teacher with something useful about what they can change. With NCLB (No Child Left Behind) and RTTT (Race to the Top), the focus of test scores often becomes, “How did we do?” rather than “What can we learn from this?”

Many test companies are going to computer testing, which I think is great in terms of timeliness, but I wonder how kids 7 and under will do with a mouse. I’d rather the little ones touch their answers on a touch screen, but I suppose a mouse isn’t that far removed from filling in bubbles with a pencil.

This news story isn’t the first of its kind, but I hope it helps change the kind of pressure and anxiety that these tests can place on everyone involved. I’m not opposed to standardized tests; I think there’s a place for them. We have to keep asking, though, what are these tests actually testing and how can they help us be more effective. I hope that the policy makers behind NCLB and RTTT can learn from their mistakes and make student assessment something that’s actually FOR students and teachers rather than an assessment OF them.

I have one other minor criticism about these tests: they create a mindset of having only one right answer to a problem. While this may be true for a test item, we know that innovation comes from thinking outside the bubble and entertaining many possible solutions to more complex problems. By all means use standardized tests, but also include student interviews, their own reflections and assessments, observations, and the myriad of other assessment tools available.

A New Culture of Teaching

I recently finished a book called A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown. The book, was recommended by the independent schools Special Interest Group at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. It’s a fairly quick read that had several themes resonate with me.

As the title of the book suggests, the culture of learning is changing, and as teachers we have to think about teaching differently. Apple computers coined the term ‘Think Different.’ and over a decade later, teachers are starting to make those changes. Great teachers have always been those that teach kids to learn, but according to the authors, the context of in which learning takes place has changed due to technology. The authors use the ‘teach a man to fish’ phrase as an example of that shifting context: What if fishing is unsustainable and the supply of fish is depleted? What if the water’s polluted? We need to know how to ask those kinds of questions, grapple with them, share, collaborate, and try to come up with solutions.

Vinnie Vrotney, who hosted a book club twitter chat tonight of A New Culture of Learning has a great post on his blog reflecting about delving into blogs 5 years ago, and how five of his colleagues are now sharing their summer reflections via blogs.

I only began fooling around with twitter in February to try to follow a couple of colleagues and others attending the NAIS conference in D.C. I had no idea what hashtags were, or what @ signs meant. I had attended the conference the prior year, when I started this blog, and was eager to participate (albeit remotely), and was beginning to learn how twitter fit into all of this.

Did I take a class or read a manual about twitter? Nope. I’m still learning how to use it: I even failed tonight, forgetting to put #isedchat in one of my tweets. I also had to leave the chat early as I had other plans, but a transcript of the chat was posted afterwards. For those who want to reflect a little longer and deeper, each week, Vinnie Vrotney will post a prompt on the Independent School NING in order to continue the conversation asynchronously. The book talk will also include a synchronous web conference with one of the authors of the book: John Seely Brown.

What do some of those things in the previous paragraph mean? NING? #isedchat? I could explain in another post, or you could be resourceful and find out. I think one of my jobs as an educator is not only to inspire my students to be resourceful, but to encourage my colleagues to do the same. It’s a mindset.

This mindset is cultivated by learning through others, sharing, asking questions, knowing, making, playing, taking risks and learning to fail.

Some may wonder what kind of ‘deep learning’ can happen from an hour long chat where participants can only use 140 characters or less per tweet. Aren’t those just soundbites from like-minded people? Well remember, we did read a book, tonights tweets included polite counterpoints, and also led me to read an interesting blog post on Scientific America called, “The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience.” There will be further reflection each week on the book, a web conference with one of the authors, and one can read transcripts of interviews of the authors like one by Steve Denning from a Forbes column on leadership named ‘Rethink.’

I hope to post more thoughts on this book, but want to end with this: Vinnie Vrotney, the person I mentioned earlier who led the chat tonight is not just a random educator I follow, but an inspiring educator I’ve actually met face to face. That meeting wouldn’t likely have occurred if I didn’t have a twitter account.

Quote of the Day

Quote

I just stumbled across this today and really liked it.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Alvin Toffler

When Toffler published FutureShock in 1970, he predicted that change would accelerate in way that would leave most in some sort of culture shock. If you think back to 1970 (my birth year), things have indeed changed, and that change continues to accelerate. Many of us, however, aren’t really facing that culture shock. Why not? It’s because most of us who can learn, unlearn, and relearn, can adapt to that change. Just think about how home video has changed in that time: From the introduction of Betamax in ’75 and VHS in ’76 to Blue Ray DVDs in the mid 2000s to digital streaming from the cloud. There are some VCRs that have been flashing 12:00 since they were first plugged in. Nonetheless, the advancements are pretty amazing for less than 40 years, and great if we can all learn how to adapt to the new technology. It’s also important to teach kids of all kinds how to adapt.

Great Professional Development Resource

It’s been a couple of weeks since I was at the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference, and my head is still full of resources and information. Today, I got an email from them with a few statistics about this year’s conference.

“More than 17,850 educators and exhibit personnel attended ISTE 2011, held in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Convention Center June 26-29. Conference highlights included:

  • 13,336 registered attendees
  • 4,562 exhibit personnel
  • Dozens of workshops with more than 2,611 tickets sold
  • An exhibit hall the size of 5.5 football fields featuring 1,423 booths and 501 companies
  • 149 registered journalists from around the globe
  • 1,025 attendees sent more than 3,000 letters to the U.S. Congress
  • Among the attendees were 1,152 presenters and 940 international attendees from 63 countries”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was daunting. Also in that email though, was a link to their ‘white paper’ on Coaching. ISTE’s webpage summarizes the details of the paper like this:
    • Situation: Effective use of technology is essential for teaching and learning in a global, digital age.
    • Problem: Many teachers do not know how to design and support technology-rich learning environments.
    • Solution: Coaching, combined with communities of learning, is a highly effective job-embedded professional development model
    • Result: Teachers experience technology as an effective tool for professional learning and develop the skills to powerfully use technology to improve student learning.
The paper’s content highlights include:
    • Introduction to three coaching models that provide highly effective professional development
    • 10 tips for leveraging technology, coaching, and community
    • 5 key benefits that result from the integration of technology, coaching, and community
    • Introduction to the NETS×C
You can download the whole paper here. It’s really a great read for all teachers/administrators who are trying to make changes in tech to better enhance student learning.

Best PD for Teaching IS Teaching

It’s been a while since I’ve taught during the summer, but this one particular program I started at yesterday intrigued me. First, the objectives of the classes were not written the way  State Standards or Core Curricula are written. For example, one of the objectives in one of the classes I’m teaching is for the student to ‘explore the different ways to employ creativity techniques in the development of a new invention.’ Second the classes are 90 minutes long which really allow for project/problem-based learning activities. Third, these are all multi-aged classes, so I’m seeing kids from ages 5 to 12 throughout the day. Not having committees, faculty meetings, regular email communication with parents, homework to assign, and unbelievable amounts of autonomy to reach or adapt these objectives to the actual kids I’m teaching, I have had time to play with, use, and have kids use technology in the class already. Finally, the program is only three weeks long, so there’s a lot of interesting thought that goes into planning out the courses. There are a lot of books about regular classrooms and how important it is to set the tone and expectations for kids in the first 6 weeks. I’ve only got three!

One can read and see examples of project/problem-based learning, but until you have a solid 90 minute block and figure out how to utilize that time best to suit the needs of the kids, it’s just a theory. By nature of the schools I’ve worked in, I haven’t taught a multi-aged class in over a decade. It’s been a lot of fun (and it’s only been my second day on the job). I am also loving the objectives being so open-ended and relevant to kids’ lives. While objectives for basic skills can be and are appropriate, it is evident that these kids are getting basic skills instruction and practice as part of their project/problem-based objective. Just thinking about the ‘real-world’ product that kids will create as a final assessment has been fun for me. Making the material relevant to them now, not someday in the future increases their motivation incredibly.

Professional Development can happen in so many ways. We can have workshops, attend conferences, teach other teachers, or coach, but in my mind, I think the best way to become a better teacher is to keep trying new ways to teach and adapt to your students.

In our own schools, it is possible for us to develop professional development like this. According to Douglas B. Reeves in his book Transfroming Professional Development into Student Results, he notes that not only does a school have to have vision for this kind of PD, but also implementation. Without implementation, the vision “not only fails to achieve the intended objectives but also engenders cynicism and distrust.”

Reeves also criticizes most schools for what he calls “Institutional Multitasking,” and that we need to FOCUS: Focus on teaching, curriculum, assessment, and leadership. Darling-Hammond and Richardson (2009) stated that the largest effects in teacher improvement were found for programs offering between 30 and 100 hours over 6 to 12 months. We’d have to use all our faculty meetings and in-service days throughout the year just on one topic to reach that goal. So what is one of the biggest factors in supporting this kind of PD? The schedule. Marzano (2009) notes that school “leaders must be the architects of systems and schedules.”

Finally, Reeves talks about recognizing our biases and being willing to fail. “School leaders have a particular responsibility to respect research integrity, particularly when a teacher-researhcer expresses disappointment that a planned intervention was ineffective.” Teachers have to get over their fear of being wrong or making mistakes. It’s how we learn.

This summer job that I’ve got is a great one. Including the work I’m doing prepping for each class, I’m spending about 105 hours. That definitely puts me in Darling-Hammond’s range. Unfortunately, it’s not over 6 to 12 months. The systems and schedules for the next school year, may determine how effective our school’s PD is. I will have to build in my own to maintain what I’m currently learning.

We had a guest speaker talk about the campus's Green initiatives. These kids are examining native and invasive species on the campus's wetlands.

Is Cursive Obsolete?

In the news this week, Indiana’s Department of Education announced that schools would no longer need to teach cursive penmanship in schools. They would, however, let schools decide for themselves. It’s part of the common-core curriculum to phase out cursive in favor of digital skills. I disagree.

According to the WSJ, which has a good piece on writing in cursive, it’s still an important and relevant skill. It’s even good for aging adults and helps with learning, memory, and ideation. Ironically, the article cites a study in favor of cursive writing from Indiana University.

There are several debates going on.

One is that teachers who do believe in cursive, have certain preferences as to what ‘style’ of cursive is being taught. Now that, to me, is simply a debate about aesthetic preferences. We do no write in the same script Thomas Jefferson did when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

The second debate is whether or not cursive writing itself is irrelevant. Some educators believe it should go the way of the dodo bird. Others, like me, believe it should be taught. I have no problems with children reverting back to printing later on.

For struggling writers, cursive allows them to be more fluent and thus lets their ideas flow on the page more readily. If you integrate penmanship with other literacy activities, the formation of letters really does make a difference in the way kids retain information. Even in a one-to-one laptop school, teachers ask children to write a lot by hand (journals, responses to prompts, note taking, etc.). My school is not a one-to-one school, and I don’t think it needs to be. Pre-K students do not need their own devices. The ‘worry’ about kids not being able to type is a silly one. I didn’t learn how to type until I was in college (yes, I know I didn’t need it in the era I grew up), but with a simple software tool, I taught myself and was typing about 90 words a minute in two weeks.

Sure, I barely use cursive now. Emails, these blog posts, report cards, texting, etc. are all part of today’s reality. And it depends on the situation. On my laptop, I’ll type. But even on my Ipad, I prefer using a stylus and taking notes by hand, even though my cursive (once beautiful) is barely legible.

Kids will drop cursive writing if they see its need go away , but that’s not the point. It’s what they’re learning simultaneously when engaged in learning cursive. Purposeful formation of letters has to have some intrinsic value, let alone stimulate all kinds of connections in the brain. When, for example, do we stop teaching kids how to tell time on an analog clock? Even though I haven’t worn a watch in the past 6 to 7 years, I hope the answer is never. If nothing else, reading dials is an important skill.

Will a simple handwritten note look like hieroglyphics to the next generation?

What Exactly is Culture?

I was very lucky years ago when I attended my first symphony. I was taught beforehand not to applaud between movements. It’s just not done. During the performance, however, a few poor souls clapped in between movements. Rather than use that opportunity to teach them something I had only learned earlier that day, I swear a hundred heads shot backwards and fired daggers out of their eyes. The first time I went to a jazz club, I had no idea what the expected culture would be, but the people I was with encouraged me to participate and interact where appropriate. There are many different cultures in this world. Many whose manners would seem opposite to what we were taught. I’ve noticed that there are cultures that are inclusive and those, usually originating from societies with class-systems built in, that are exclusive. What then, is the culture of your school?

Cover of the summer issue of Independent School

In the summer issue of Independent School, Hugh Jebson and Carlo Delito write in an article titled ‘Trust, Accountability, Autonomy: Building a Teacher Driven Professional Development Model’

“We believe the strongest and most effective models — those that promote professional growth and outstanding teaching and learning — are found in schools where there is a shared sense of ownership for student outcomes. The culture in these schools is one of trust among the various constituents, where accountability is embraced and autonomy supported.”

Another article from the same issue discusses the culture of collaboration. Alexis Wiggins writes,

“I think we can — and must — do better. Independent schools pride themselves on providing a top-notch education, but the dirty secret is that they often produce smart, interesting, capable students because they admit smart, interesting, capable students. It isn’t enough to be a passionate, knowledgeable teacher. There are very knowledgeable and passionate teachers who aren’t actually effective at helping students learn. We need to constantly think about the quality of education we’re providing overall, not just what we are each doing in our classrooms.”

So what’s the culture in my school? Is it an inclusive or exclusive one? Is it one that fosters collaboration? Our constituents include students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, and the greater community. Can we define that culture and make everyone feel included? Do we teach someone how to eat rice with chopsticks or laugh at them trying?

 

 

8 Failures (Other Things I Learned) at ISTE

Yesterday, I stumbled across a great ed. blog post yesterday titled “11 Mistakes I Made at #ISTE11”  from the blog Finding Ways for All Kids to Flourish (great blog by the way). I think it’s very powerful to see teachers/educators/administrators as vulnerable and willing to reflect on mistakes in order to learn. All too often the idea of risk and failure are part of a schools’ values, and we expect our students to put themselves out there. As adults, however, we sometimes forget or fear to do the same, let alone acknowledge them. Anyway, inspired by that post here are 8 more things learned (failed) at ISTE this past week.

8 ) Book early. Registration begins in September even though the conference is at the end of June. Housing through ISTE’s block of rooms at nearby hotels begins in November. This year, when I booked in May, hotels in town were sold out (except the Ritz Carlton – the per diem rate wouldn’t even come close to the rates they wanted) and I had to slog it in from an airport hotel each day. These airport hotels were at capacity, either occupied by ISTE attendees or pilots/flight attendants. In fact, I’m going to see if I can find a hotel in San Diego with a cancelable rate for next year’s conference.

7) Bring as small a computer as possible. For the Bring Your Own Laptop (BYOL) sessions, lugging a 15 inch or larger laptop with you all day makes the portable device seem less portable. My ipad worked for the remaining two days just fine.

6) Have cash and credit cards. Meals on a flight can only be paid with credit cards. You can only use cash to pay for Philly train fare.

5) Plan your meals – The first full day of the conference when one of the concurrent sessions ended at noon, it seemed like over 10,000 people swarmed out of the convention center at once to find lunch. There were lines everywhere you looked. Decided on a later lunch during the next break – you could eat anywhere.

4) Don’t try and do everything. You can’t!

3) Meet more people. I met some incredible people, but need to be more outgoing and meet even more. Many of those I met were incredibly passionate, resourceful educators so willing to share everything.

2) Attend more informal sessions by vendors. Even though I could barely decide what to attend during some sessions, vendors like Microsoft, Google, Adobe, SMARTboard, etc. were all offering specific sessions in the exhibit hall on how to use their tools for your class/school. The few I caught were great.

1) Don’t go it alone. I was encouraged to ask another from my school to go, but after two said they couldn’t, I stopped asking. It was May, and it was a crazy time to be asking people to extend their school year by attending a conference. Maybe I can go again next year since it’s on the west coast and bring a team. If given the green light, I will plan much earlier.

Another 8 Things Learned at ISTE

The final day of ISTE came fast and furious. To squeeze in more sessions, the breaks were shorter and there was no shortage of information overload. The ending keynote was given by the principal of the Philadelphia Science Leadership Academy (a public school working in partnership with the Franklin Institute), Chris Lehmann. Before he was introduced on stage, we were given three bits of advice: 1) Get it out of your brain (write about it, blog or old-style journaling), but organize and put it all somewhere; 2) Don’t wait to get started (try some of those new tools, reflect on how you’d use it with your class/school, etc.); 3) Share! I plan to do more sharing, but for now, here are 8 things I learned today.

8) I’d love to come back to ISTE and have others from my school to share the experience. It’s in San Diego next year, which might make this more feasible. Perhaps partnerships with nearby public schools.

7) We should take no greater pleasure than seeing our students eclipse us. (Paraphrased from Lehmann’s keynote.

6) The great lie of education is to tell kids, “You might need it some day.” Make it relevant. If they need to know it now, they will be motivated to do it now.

5) I understand resources cost money, but some companies are selling devices that no smart teacher would use if they knew the much much cheaper alternatives out there. There are document cameras at our school that cost over $600 (I won’t say who this vendor was). I found one for $75 from the company iPevo. Apart from no light source it’s a great simple to use document camera. The company had a booth and the people there were extremely helpful. When I asked about light source when lights are off, they offered a couple of solutions – one) a cheap desk lamp; 2) a small flashlight and some zip ties; 3) the exposure mode in the software (something new I learned). They were more about, “How can this tool help your kids,” and less about “buy this version now. It’s improved.” I know, different sales tactics, but if you start your pitch with my students, I will be more inclined to take the time to listen.

image from ipevo site

4) Jobs that are facilitated by tech are growing. Design, architecture, engineering, science, and in fact most jobs of the future will depend on the creative class (current trends, Daniel Pink, Richard Florida). Technology facilitates creativity. Those that can be replaced by tech will and should be (i.e. online math tutors in India for fractions of the cost). You cannot compete with price. This includes teachers who don’t see themselves as creative and aren’t learning when to use tech to facilitate teaching/learning. A teacher needs to matter to a student. If you look at Dale’s Learning Cone from 1968 or Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956), they still hold true for how we learn and how important it is to focus as in the case of Dale’s Cone (the bottom) and in the case of Bloom’s Taxonomy (the top). With Bloom’s you cannot do the top if you don’t have the skills below it.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Dale's Learning ConeModified Blooms Taxonmy

3) A cartoon I saw that I loved had a boss yelling at an employee, “Get back to the cubical and start thinking outside the box!”

2) More early literacy resources at Readilicious (again, thanks to all presenters for posting their links, resources, etc.)

1) Don’t give your kids the answers. Let them grapple with it, predict, apply, be resourceful. A good metaphor was the horror movie: If there is a real intense scene and someone tells you, “don’t worry, the cops will arrive just in the nick of time,” that experience is lost. That is the same for kids’ learning. If you TELL them rather than let them DISCOVER it, you have just spoiled their learning experience/opportunity.

What an incredible 3.5 days! I have never before been this overloaded with information. Still the bottom line is this: No matter how much tech is out there. No matter how extensive your PLN is, you have to remember it’s all about relationships. The response you received from a question you tweeted didn’t come from a google algorithm. It came from an actual person. What a great experience to have met some of the actual people in my extended PLN. It’d be great to find educators public and independent elementary teachers who tweet locally. I’ll leave you with this: I am smart. My colleagues, students, parents of students, are collectively much smarter. My PLN is brilliant!

I will continue to share bits and pieces review the resources I’ve learned about and talk about a great book I’m almost through called The New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the  Imagination for a World in Constant Change  by John Seely Brown. The independent school group at ISTE has chosen this book as a summer book club book, and they’ve got the author to agree to a web chat sometime between mid-August and early September depending on the author’s schedule. I’m more than half-way through. It’s quick easy and thought provoking. If you’re a twitter user, Vinnie Vrotney will be hosting an #isedchat on July 21st. More details to follow.

If you’re interested on Chris Lehmann’s talk, you can get an idea of his philosophy through his TEDxPhilly talk.

8 Things I Learned Today

One of the sessions at ISTE that I attended was called Google to the Max: The Power User’s Guide by Dr. Howie Di Blasi. The title was not an understatement. After a nice introduction where he talked about 8 things he learned today, the speaker powered through example after example of incredible ways to utilize the free tools available through google that kids and teachers can use. One simply has to be creative. Thank goodness those resources and examples will be posted tomorrow, so I could sit back an actually learn a few things. Here are 8 of the many things I learned today.

8 ) There are so many resources out there that it’s extremely hard to sift through them all. Thank goodness others are sharing the wealth. An example, would be from a session I attended today called Resources for Emergent Literacy Teachers by Boni Hamilton. Here is her resource page on early literacy alone. Of these resources, I really liked the reading assessment database which gathers all available reading assessments for preK to 3rd grade, groups them into either criterion referenced or norm referenced assessments, tells you how much they cost, and what these assessments do and do not test. For example, you can see on the chart that the DIBELS assessment, one of the tools we use at our school, is a free resource that assesses reading comprehension (through retells), decoding, cipher knowledge, phoneme awareness, and letter knowledge (depending on the grade). What it doesn’t assess is language comprehension, background knowledge, linguistic knowledge, phonology, syntax, semantics, lexical knowledge, alphabetic principle, and concepts about print.  Depending on the age of your kids, you would look to other assessments then, to glean more information about the other areas or reading.

7) Collaborative writing is interesting, and I participated in a demonstration this morning using the tool MixedInk. This would have a lot of potential for teachers who want to create a shared document on school policies, beliefs about education philosophies, or other subject areas. Having said that, I tried a shared google doc with our faculty this year, but did not get any participation. I also think peer editing works for older kids and that younger kids aren’t ready to ‘critique’ their peers’ work without it becoming a popularity contest. Some teachers say they assign code names to their students, so only the teacher knows, but in the end many shared theirs with each other. I would also find it difficult to have 8 year olds deciding which of the different sources is best. The fact that this tool allows users to rate others worries me too.

6) I’ve never seen so many ed Tech vendors gathered in one space. You can tell who the big players are as their ‘booths’ look like full-blown stores. What’s even better is that many have their own sessions – and they’re good. Here’s an example. What I liked was that you obtained their schedule by snapping a QR code with your smart phone. No paper. It’s a tech conference. I do not want fliers, pamphlets, or google logo beach balls. As it is, the conference program is over 200 pages. I will however claim an ipad if my name is drawn – so far, no luck.

5) Tech Ed. does not belong to the young teachers. It belongs to those motivated to learn. I would say most here are over 40. Neither age nor gender seemed to play a factor in tech ed. Except that during the purely elementary school sessions I attended – males are still grossly underrepresented. Using tech in education is a mindset.

4) I love infographics. I attended a great session with Kathy Schrock. Again…resource/info overload. Thank goodness for a site she put together for this presentation with all the links.

3) Administrators need to play, explore, use technology to teach (hold meetings, reflect, share resources, engage in PD, blog, etc.) as well as teachers and students to really make change happen as better decisions on the type and implementation of tech is more likely to happen. This message was repeated by several presenters.

2) Tech seems designed to bring out the problem solvers in us. Let it bring out the problem solvers in kids. Kids in second grade or younger should work in pairs when on a computer. It’s not simply the tech that’s helping them learn different literacies, but the conversation they’re having with each other is even more important for development.

1) People from Philly are direct. Walking through the massive maze-like conference an attendee asked one of the security workers for directions. After giving him directions, the attendee started walking the wrong way. The security agent rolled her eyes, yelled at the gentleman and said, “Sir, did you hear anything I said? It’s that way.” As he reversed direction, she threw her arms up in the air and in a voice loud enough for all to hear she continued, “That’s a man for you!” I felt for the poor guy, but was so glad it wasn’t me.

Rubik's Cube solver made of Lego - I really liked this.

Mixing Work and Play

Philadelphia's City Hall (taken from the main entrance to the ISTE conference)

After three full days of fun in NYC, I arrived in Philadelphia this afternoon for the ISTE conference (my first). It’s overwhelming. For someone who is distracted by shiny objects easily, there’s so much to do and see here, Times Square would be considered tame. The opening Keynote tonight was John Medina (author of Brain Rules) who gave a different and thought provoking talk from the one I saw him give last year. I felt lucky that I got there in time. The largest conference room at the convention center (and it’s massive) couldn’t accommodate the attendees. I learned later that there was a large screen where people who were turned away from the conference room gathered to watch the keynote. I also learned that the sound didn’t work. Well, that’s the first lesson everyone should learn about tech: it doesn’t always work. Despite the hiccup, I have to give ISTE credit for having an app for this conference that has the entire program (it’s massive too) available at your fingertips.

Later, I joined a large group of independent school educators for dinner. I met people from New Orleans and Michigan, and people in that group came from as far away as Australia. It was an interesting coincidence that I ended up sitting next to a large group of teachers from a middle/high school that’s less than a 10 minute drive away from where I teach: Seattle Academy. I also noted that most schools sent their tech teachers, tech directors, CTOs, etc. Classroom and subject teachers, apart from me and the seven or eight from SAAS, were not well represented. How are schools going to get teachers to change and arrive at their own aha moments if they don’t send classroom teachers? I’m not a big networker, but I learn from others all the time. One of the best ways to do that is to read, see, hear, what others are doing (whether they be the teacher down the hall, or one halfway around the world). Another thing I noted was the age group. Technology and education isn’t an age thing. I’m 41, and I would assess myself among one of the youngest in the group.

Finally, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned about technology over the past few years, it’s learning how to turn it off and be present in the moment. I’m going to try and share as much as I learn here, but my posts and tweets will come either at the end of the day or between posts. There was a administrator at this dinner who is dedicated to maintaining 4 blogs on education. I’ll do my best to keep up with this one.

Play

 

Last week, I posted a TED talk about the importance of play. If you watched the talk, the speaker said we have an education “that values rote learning, memorization and standardization, and devalues self-expression, self-exploration,questioning, creativity and play.” Play is universal, promotes creativity, mastery, and purpose. Current research in neuroscience supports this. The New York Times reported last week that principals are finally re-evaluating homework. At work, play includes going out with coworkers for lunch, doing something you love, being autonomous, and not being a prisoner to a schedule. Some of those things are beyond most teachers’ control. Ask a teacher when was the last time she went out for lunch with a coworker (even on professional days, the trend seems to be that most teachers are working through lunch). I’m lucky, since I love my job (lunches and schedules aside). It allows for some autonomy and creativity, gives me a sense of purpose, and I get to laugh with the kids a lot.

Of course, teaching has the perk of summer break. So what I have done these first three days of summer break? Spent it at work. Something I’ve been meaning to do for the past 10 years is organize materials better and purge old stuff (belonging to previous teachers) that could be better used somewhere else. Well, I almost did it, but I feel good enough that I can leave the room alone until August. Now, I can go play. Before the ISTE conference that begins Sunday night in Philly, I will get to spend some time in NYC and do some of the other things I love: seeing a couple of shows, trying new places to eat, discovering new neighborhoods, and some art.

In the meantime, the ISTE conference is shaping up to be overwhelming. I’m trying to narrow down my choices and just to give you an example, here are my already pared down choices for the concurrent session number 5 on Monday (there are twelve – some are two hours long). Yes, I managed to narrow that one down to seven. Maybe since it’s a tech conference, I’ll use a randomizer app on my phone. I wish I were more decisive.

4:15-5:15pm

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Assessing Students Using Web 2.0 Tools [Concurrent Session; Lecture]
Location: PACC 107B
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4:15-5:15pm

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Integrating Digital Citizenship in a Web 2.0 World [Concurrent Session; Lecture]
Location: PACC 126A
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4:15-5:15pm

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A Leadership Framework and Instrument for Technology Innovation in Schools [Research Paper; Roundtable]
Location: PACC 105B, Table 3
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4:15-5:15pm

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Separating Truth from Fiction: Information Literacy for Elementary Students [Concurrent Session; Model Lesson]
Location: PACC 119A
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4:15-5:15pm

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Beyond Literacy to Information Fluency in the Age of InfoWhelm [Concurrent Session; Spotlight]
Location: PACC Grand Ballroom B
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4:15-5:15pm

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The Information Fluency Classroom in Action [Concurrent Session; Model Lesson]
Location: PACC 119B
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4:15-5:15pm

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Plan for Integrating 21st Century Skills in the Elementary Classroom [Research Paper; Roundtable]
Location: PACC 105B, Table 1

There are of course all kinds of other meetings in between, 3 keynotes, exhibits, demonstrations, people to meet, and for a fee, there are even evening workshops. Hopefully, I’ll be able to fit in a historical sight or two like Independence Hall, and write about some of the resources and learning I’m doing. As overwhelming as this conference appears, I’m very excited and can’t wait.

Nearing the End

It’s that bitter-sweet time of year again, where I am so proud of my students’ accomplishments: their risk, failures, successes, and in all the ways they’ve learned and grown. No matter how exciting it is to see kids move on to the next grade, it’s also an incredibly emotional time. Next week, we have our fifth graders graduate and move on to various middle schools. Despite it being close to the end, it’s an amazingly busy time for everyone, including students. As teachers, we only have a certain amount of time with them, and then it’s over. We have to make each moment count. One thing a few of us do this time of year is have students reflect on their growth and create portfolios of some of the work they’ve done through the year and then share these with their parents. I like this for several reasons:

1) The kids take ownership of the evaluation process.

2) Both students and parents can see, through the actual work of their children, what they can and cannot do.

3) Through the students’ reflection of their work, parents can start a conversation about effort, motivation, future goals, etc.

4) Kids can convey so much when they talk about their work and we can learn so much from them.

5) It provides evidence of work and learning, that letter grades can’t. (Even written narratives have their limits)

6) It is rigorous work.

7) Students are highly motivated to show off their work.

Speaking of reflections, I haven’t been able to keep up with the Ralph Waldo Emerson inspired reflection per day. Instead, I’ll just copy the next 4 quotes below, not even mention the prompts, and write one reflection.

Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would I say to the person I’m going to be five years from now? Wherever you end up, be it the same place because you love it, or  trying something new because you believe you can make a larger positive impact, stay true to yourself and your beliefs about education. Make sure, however, those beliefs are informed. Don’t base them solely on data you can neatly fit on a spreadsheet, nor simply because ‘it has always been done this way. ‘Don’t base those beliefs just because you have a ‘feeling’ about them. Use data, feelings, and even tradition as starting points, but use the evidence you see in front of you. Do what you think is right because you believe it is the right thing to do, not because you are told to do it. Always remember Emerson’s quote, “Imitation is Suicide.” Lead. Don’t follow. 

What is the Point of Learning?

Several weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend a TEDx event at Eastside Prep. Several speakers really spoke not only about what’s wrong with much of our education system (that would be too easy to do). They also spoke of changes that would enhance learning – the real kind of learning where you take risks, sometimes fail, but persevere until you get it. The reward is intrinsic. The value and motivation comes from the learning itself. For example, changing the schedule to allow for longer deeper inquiry or assessment without grades. Honestly, if I was evaluated on a grading system rather than through goal setting, feedback, and reflection, I wouldn’t do it. So why do we do this with kids in middle, high, and even some elementary schools? I’m glad people are motivated to put on events TEDx events focused around education. There’s another TED education event in this area, TEDxOverlake (How People Learn,) happening on June 18.

This week, the videos of these talks were posted, and I wanted to highlight a couple of speakers that addressed the above in different but concrete and passionate ways. The first is by Shawn Cornally, a high school math and science teacher called The Future of Education Without Coercion (you should also check out his blog, ThinkThankThunk.

The second is the talk by Dr. Tae whom I wrote about a few weeks back. His talk was titled: Can Skateboarding Save Our Schools?

If you’ve read Daniel Pink’s Drive, read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, seen the movie Race to Nowhere, or heard Sir Ken Robinson speak or read his book The Element, a very similar theme emerges in all of them.

Blogging Heads 15 Tips

Recently, my head of school suggested that he was almost ready to take a leap and start blogging. He just needed a little nudge. Hopefully this post will help.

Here are just a few tips:

1) Decide on purpose: to share what you’ve read both to teachers and parents, to share resources, to highlight your school, to be reflective and tell stories about the realities of school life, for personal professional development, to take a risk, to learn, etc.

2) Keep it related to education. – I’ve heard that nobody wants to read about what you had for lunch (unless of course it somehow relates to school).

3) Not everyone will like what you have to say (or care) – that’s okay, some will.

4) Keep it professional: don’t name anyone unless they don’t mind; I’ve learned that “transparency” is not the same thing as “say anything”; if you mention another school, do so because you like what they’re doing;

5) It’s okay to comment on issues and write your opinions: some issues are going to cause disagreement – that’s good, as long as the discourse is civil

6) First, read some other blogs written by Heads and Principals: Here are a few suggestions of Independent School Heads to start (there are other independent school blogging Heads and plenty of great public school ones that I’ll share another time):

21k12 (I like palindromes) – by Jonathan Martin: Head of School at St. Gregory’s in Tuscon
Peak Experiences - by Michael Ebling: Head of PK to 9th grade Summit School in Winston-Salem
Compass Point - by Josie Holford: Head of Poughkeepskie Day School

These three hosted a session called “Blogging Heads” at the last NAIS conference in DC, which I followed remotely. You can read a summary of their panel discussion here.

7) You don’t have to write every day.

8. It’s a way to responsibly model an authentic medium that many of our students will or already use.

9) You may reach people well beyond our own school community.

10) Think of it as a discipline that motivates you: for some that’s running, gardening, knitting, volunteering – do it because you want to

11) Like those other disciplines mentioned above, don’t do it for extrinsic rewards. The intrinsic rewards should be good enough.

12) Don’t always expect comments or replies.

13) Don’t expect all your teachers to blog. Do encourage them to be reflective about their practice – whatever form that may be. Blogging is not part of a teacher’s job. It’s just one of many ways to share.

14) Realize that sometimes, you have to stop, and even though you set out to write 15 tips, sometimes 14 will do.

A nudge was asked for. The  book Nudge is a book about the psychology of choices.

The philosophy called libertarian paternalism is what the authors of the book say works best in designing choice architecture.
I’m just a teacher who likes to think about education and share what I’m thinking: I’m not a philosopher, psychologist, or even a Head of School. To blog or not to blog? I’ll keep you posted.

Learning to Read and Reading to Learn: Where does One End and the other Begin? #isedchat

Do you ever get something completely different out of a book after multiple readings?

There was a conversation at our school recently about “reading to learn” and “learning to read.” When does that tipping point happen? Or does it? After thinking about it a bit, I realized, at least for me, both those things are life long endeavors.

Just a couple of summers ago when I took several Spanish courses (something completely new to me), I was asked to read out loud in front of the class. I was so concerned with pronunciation – the phonics and fluency of the language, that there was no room in my brain to also comprehend what I was reading. At that moment, it was easy to empathize with some of my struggling second grade readers.

I just finished reading aloud The Secret Garden to my class (a book I hadn’t read in a few years), but having read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and hearing her speak about it a couple of years ago,  one of the that story’s themes – growth –  took on new meaning. I was also moved because of seeing a colleague recently step out of his wheelchair as did a character in The Secret Garden. Even in another book I read every year to my class, The Tale of Despereaux, I found more light and more dark than I had in the past. It’s pretty clear that the author of Despereaux, Kate diCamillo did not name one of the characters Chiaroscuro arbitrarily.

And when I read new research in education and come across new terms and phrases, or read statistics with more scrutiny, I am continuing to ‘learn to read’ as I ‘read to learn.’

So to answer my my own question – at least for me, they are both lifelong pursuits. Now the question remains, how do we teach both these things at every level of school while respecting and validating everyone’s perspective? Reading is so much more than a skill.

Persistance to Mastery (Using Skateboarding as an Analogy for Learning)

I attended an incredible event at TEDxEastsidePrep today. The topic was: Evolution of Instruction: Inquiry, Innovation, Identity and it exceeded my expectations.  I tweeted a couple of nuggets I got from each presenter and I wonder if that will encourage teachers to take a risk with twitter as a learning tool.

There’s an overwhelming amount of great things to share, and perhaps I’ll write about all of it.  One speaker, Dr. Tae was off the charts. A physics professor and avid skateboarder, he talked about what has been a common theme at our school: Learning by making mistakes. He walked through a trick he wanted to learn by showing us a shortened video of his progression. He got it on his 58th try. That meant he FAILED 57 times. There was no physical incentive for this trick other than the accomplishment of the act itself. There were no letter grades (an F for his first attempt, maybe a C+ near the middle). He only had a clear goal, persistance, practice and hard work. How are our children learning? Are their learning tasks as relavent, engaging, and clear to them? Do they persist or do they give up easily? All extremely good questions to ask oneself and their students.

Here’s a video on Dr. Tae’s blog that gives you an idea of what he means when he says we need to build a new culture of teaching and learning. The end of the school year is upon us and it’s a fairly busy time, but I hope to share one nugget from all the speakers.

Learning From Mistakes

Following up on my last post, I wrote that as adults, in order to learn, we too must take risks, fail, and then learn from them. There’s no point in fearing the risks, nor in failing without learning.

Well, this week included several risks for me as well as blunders. Hopefully, I will learn from these and move forward stronger and more resolved. Making mistakes or failure is difficult for most adults, and I am no exception, but I put myself out there, and know there are lessons to be learned. Let’s hope I learn them quickly. As mentioned in my last post, there’s value in being wrong sometimes, you just have to recognize it and move forward with your next iteration.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation don’t care if a project of theirs fails, so long as they have some sort of data that they can learn from. Obviously, they’d like the project to succeed, but it’s clear they have a culture of learning embedded into their organization and that’s what’s important.

Apple computers had the Newton – remember that? If you don’t, it was because it was, in short, a failure. That didn’t stop them, did it. Below’s another one. I think they learned from this.

What Can One Little Person Do?

A couple of days before our spring break, our whole school went to Seward Park (a large Seattle park) as we had done for the past three years to steward a portion that we had committed to. Many teachers and I agree that it is one of our favorite days (even though this year it was very cold, muddy, and wet), as it brings the school together as a community to take responsibility in our civic duties. In the past, we had been charged of a few duties including the removal of invasive species, but this year there were no more to remove. I would definitely call that measurable progress. Our sole job was to plant and mulch trees for the future of the park. The kids enjoyed nature walks, outdoor games, and of course tree planting. Although, my favorite part of that day comes at the end, when the entire school forms a bucket brigade to deliver mulch from the main park road to the region of the park where trucks simply can’t get to. If you want a scene of a whole school working together with a common goal – the image of kindergarteners to fifth graders continuously handing each other buckets of mulch with teachers, administrators, and parents interspersed throughout that chain, is a very good example of one.

What I love about service learning is the ability for kids to see that one little person can indeed make an impact in the world (we had a coin drive for solar cookers in Chad earlier in the year – an idea from our fifth graders), or even in their own city. We also go to a local organization to help package food for those in need, not to mention the various ways kids help around their classroom and campus.

The planting of trees struck a chord with me as our Kinder and 2nd grade classes attended the Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of The Man Who Planted Trees today. It’s a great story (albeit fabricated) about how one person can make a positive impact in the world. The Seattle Times was enchanted in their review. So was a parent in her parent review from Seattle’s Child magazine.

When we got back to class today, some children asked if were a true story, I read them the afterword to the book, which admits that its protagonist was in fact a work of fiction. I’m sure Oprah would have fun with this story. I also mentioned, however, that there are still plenty of examples of people who make a difference with the small but powerfully positive things they do. Jane Goodall, is one living example. Harriet Tubman another example from history. Then I then tried to link the play they attended to their own experience of planting trees a few weeks ago in the park as well as the recent planting they did in their school garden plot. I could physically see the bodies of many of the kids change taking pride in what they had done a few weeks ago.

Sometimes these coincidences just happen. This field trip was booked almost a year ago, with no idea what date we would get, whether the show would be any good, or how well it would tie in with our school’s theme of sustainability. While the story is magnificent, the book is a little dry for second graders. The Puppet State Theatre Company from Edinburgh that brought this production to Seattle, had the children hanging on every word. Aside being a wonderful piece of theater, being able to connect this story with the work the kids did a just before break was a really nice serendipitous teaching moment..

There’s a nice  service learning article  that appeared in the connected principals blog a couple of weeks ago that echo some of what I’ve said here.

Kids can have such a positive impact with the little things they do, I feel very lucky to be part of a school that gives them many opportunities to do so.

Learning to Turn Tech Off

One of the things I hope to achieve with my students is to learn how to use technology as a tool to enhance learning. To be responsible, kids need to learn how to moderate their usage so that Technology doesn’t become a crutch. Moderation is important in all aspects of life. As I begin my spring break, I am looking forward to shutting down work, tech, blogging, Facebook, and twitter. I will attempt to read fiction and guidebooks and save the educational journals for my return. I have left my laptop at home, but have my iPad. My goal is to give my brain a break and enjoy the physical world around me, savoring each moment.

I look forward to resuming my post in about a week. Thanks to all my readers.

I’m All for Squishy Hands-On Learning

What should a five-year old know? This month’s Educational Leadership has a great article about trying to strike the balance between academic rigor and play in kindergarten. Many kindergartener teachers are moving to worksheets in order for their students to take something home to parents as evidence of learning. According to the article, there is also a much bigger emphasis on student performance and outcomes and a “rush to promote content achievement.” But what if we could do both? What if  we could integrate the natural curiosity of a child through play, and at the same time, develop important core concepts? The following TED talk is a fine example of how we can do just that. This video is less than five minutes long and shows how, using homemade play dough, you can turn little kids into electrical circuit designers.

If you like the video, you can get the recipes here.

Kahn – Flipping the Classroom

Of the TED talks given last week, this is the one of the ones I was anticipating the most. Human interaction is crucial to learning, but that interaction is just part of it. Can a robot or youtube video do my job? Only if I stand in front of the class the whole time and lecture. Sure, listening is an action, but doing something more interactive like student-student or student-teacher is a much more valuable use of their time. I had a few colleagues come back from the NAIS conference recently and really liked Sal Kahn both as a speaker and what he had to say. It really shifts the paradigm of traditional schooling, but as an educator, it also makes sense in many ways. I still need to explore Kahn Academy’s website and materials more thoroughly, but after this talk, I’m convinced I really need to. Best of all, it’s all free!

Go Dog Go!

Last week, in celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, our class read his book, Oh the Thinks You can Think. It’s a great book about unleashing your imagination and the unlimited possibilities that are all there in your mind. What’s even greater is the story of Dr. Seuss’ persistance (and luck) in publishing his first book which I first learned from a book a colleague gave me titled, Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from a Children’s Book written by Anita Silvey. I was reminded of Dr. Seuss’ story on her blog: Children’s Book-A-Day.

This weekend, I finished reading Poke the Box, by Seth Godin which is a book about taking initiative. It’s a book that basically says you have to do more than simply think thinks. It says you have to ship your product. It’s simple message reminded me more of P.D. Eastman’s book, Go Dog Go! which sums up the message nicely: Go! In Eastman’s book, he also shows that by putting yourself out there, you have a pretty big chance of being criticized and failing. If you don’t takes those risks, however, you won’t succeed.

“Do you like my hat?” says one dog to another throughout the book.

“I do not!” replies the other dog. This doesn’t stop the dog who asked the question from redesigning her hat over and over again. She takes the initiative to keep innovating. By the end of the book, he likes her hat. So Silvey is right. Everything you need to know, you can learn from a children’s book.

What prevents a lot of us from taking initiative? According to Godin: the fear of failing is one part of it. As educators, we want to instill the value of failing to learn in our kids. How can we do this without being risk takers ourselves? We can’t be completely foolish, or course, but as Godin puts it, we can’t wait for permission either.

TED talks are all about people who take initiative. The TED 2011 conference took place last week. While I look forward to learning about some of this year’s ideas when this year’s talks get posted, there are many talks being given in a TED movement called TEDx. These are independently organized events for those who think they have ‘ideas worth spreading.’ TEDxNYED took place yesterday featuring a diverse group of speakers. Its theme was: Empowering Innovation in Education. You could stream the all-day event live or view some of it later. There were a lot of calls to transform education using technology to engage the learner. The views varied among the speakers I watched, but one thing  they all seemed to be saying resonated with me having read Godin’s book: We need to engage our kids to take initiative, and to do that, we have to do so ourselves. There were a lot of people who suggested a flaw in the TEDx talks saying that they were all lectures. Godin would say to those people, start your own TED talk and make it more interactive. Don’t wait for someone else to make it happen.

Our school’s values statement includes: “We foster resilience and expect all to search and find, to fail and learn, to risk and succeed in a changing world.” According to Godin, taking initiative is an intentional act. We can schedule it. In fact, we’re trying this at our school. Wednesday March 23, after school, our faculty are all going to “start something.” Whatever that something is, I’m excited to find out what they did that afternoon. Poke The Box is a quick and good read.

I’ll end with this quote taken from Daniel Pink’s (author of Drive and a Whole New Mindreview of Poke the Box:

“Indeed, the message of this book is so profoundly simple and so simply profound, I can encapsulate it in a single word.

Go.

Don’t cogitate. Don’t ruminate. Don’t plan on getting started or wait for permission to begin.

Go.”

 

Tweachers

I am exceptionally lucky to work with very bright and capable colleagues who are willing to share what they know. Nonetheless, there is still a lot to learn elsewhere and a myriad of ways to do it. All the ed journals talk about growing your Personal Learning Network (PLN) and as a follow up to the NAIS conference, a few teachers in TX put out a webinar for free to teach teachers how to use twitter as a tool to do exactly that. It was a great workshop. I learned a whole lot. For example, you could follow tweets in foreign languages and have it translated instantly. Again, while there is no way to replace face to face interaction, if the online tools are dynamic and useful, one can learn a lot.

I’m fairly new to twitter, and finally got my feet wet to use it as tool to follow the NAIS conference. Social network sites are something I’ve dabbled with a few social network sites, but haven’t always found how they could be useful in my professional life. Besides, not everything about one’s personal life needs to be shared, nor do all the circles of people in my life cross.  Myspace was interesting, but it didn’t really stick for me and I’ve long since abandoned it. Facebook is good for sharing photos, keeping an up to date contact list, catching up with old friends and family you haven’t seen in a while, and is not really a professional tool for me.  Linked-in is really just a place to share your professional history, there’s some interactivity, but it’s limited. Yammer’s been working well as an in-house way of sharing at our school. Blogging is a nice way to communicate, but following all the blogs you enjoy reading for professional development, let alone the ones you read for pleasure, can sometimes be a daunting task.

Enter Twitter. Where you can ‘follow’ everyone from Bill Gates to Edutopia, or other teachers eager to share resources. You can follow a children’s book author or Daniel Pink. You can even search for tweets or follow certain terms that are of interest to you, like #edtech. Twitter’s been something I’ve been reluctant to get into, but sometimes getting ones feet wet,  is all it takes to see its value.

With just 140 characters, you can get through all the people or organizations you follow and only click on the links that interest you, if any. I spend a few minutes on it, click on a few articles I want to read and that’s it. Many of those articles are ones from ed journals that have crowded my inbox, and it’s been nice to unsubscribe and just follow them.

One thing someone mentioned in the webinar is to  follow people who have dissenting opinions. People naturally gravitate to like-minded folks, and it’s good to see things from multiple perspectives.

Anyway, I haven’t tweeted much apart from this blog tweeting each post. There’s much to learn and many resources which I’ll look at and share soon. And – I didn’t make up the word in my title.

The webinar was recorded, so if you’re inclined, you can view it here.