Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An Egyptian Puzzle - Fire Up Inquiry in Your Classroom

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at eduIMPACT about redesigning professional learning. As the SCOE family was one of the groups of people that welcomed me with open arms when I arrived in the Bay last year, going there is like "going home."

So, when Judith Martin walked up to me with an amazing piece of history in her hands, I was overjoyed and overwhelmed. Since Judith knows I love Egypt (and hope to visit one day!) she shared this picture of her Great Aunt from World War I in Egypt:

We also know that her Great Aunt received some accolades for her work in World War I. Check out those here:

As you can see, we only have a few of the facts in this amazing, real story. However, this certainly makes a tantalizing mystery for kids to solve as they return to school in September.

Here are some angles to this inquiry starter:
  • Use creative writing to explain these artifacts.
  • Use research to write "the real story" about these artifacts.
  • Use research to determine why this photo was taken (as saved) for all of these years.

Judith and I would love to crack the code on this mystery. Are there any classrooms out there willing to help? We'd love to Skype with you and share what we know!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Edcamp Model - A Book/Fundraiser for the Edcamp Foundation

Calling all Edcampers!

The Edcamp Foundation has some very exciting news! The Edcamp Model is now available for pre-order for 10 dollars.

The books are expected to be shipped on August 19th, and we couldn't be more excited about this vehicle for teaching others about the Edcamp model.

Here's what you can expect from the text:

  • A practical "how-to" guide for organizing both regional Edcamps and Edcamps at your school
  • Some documentation on the impact that Edcamp has had on teacher and student learning
  • Research that can help convince a school leader to have an Edcamp
Every penny of profit will go to funding Edcamp events. 
So, not only do you get to own an awesome book, but you also get to make a huge impact on Edcampers worldwide. 

And of course, here's what some #eduamazing people had to say about the book:

Peter DeWitt
"In this era of accountability, educators feel as though professional development is something being done to them, and then Kristen Swanson and the Edcamp Foundation came along. Edcamps are exciting, engaging unconferences that put the learning back into the hands of educators, and in this book Kristen Swanson provides step-by-step directions so educators can create their own in their building, district, county or state. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to put the professional in professional development."

Tom Whitby
"This book, written by members of The Edcamp Foundation, is a first-hand account of the Edcamp model for professional development from the people who were with it from the very beginning. Dr. Swanson’s insights into how the Edcamp Model meets the needs of educators in their pursuit of personalized learning for professional development is founded in the experience of designing and supporting Edcamps since the very first one in Philadelphia. She provides the information necessary for any educator to plan, execute, and reap the benefits of this most relevant form of personal, professional development for educators in a profession that relies heavily on relevance in order to be effective in a fast paced, rapidly changing culture. This book provides simple and intelligent answers to: why Edcamps work, how they are effective, and how to deliver one to a district or school. This is a book for teachers and administrators alike."

Robert Dillon
"The leadership of Kristen Swanson and her collaborate professional network has nurtured a growing community of learners through the power of the Edcamp model. This book provides the energy, urgency, and resources to continue to spread Edcamp-style learning into classrooms, schools, districts, and collaborative networks around the country. Anyone looking to take control of their learning, lead next generation adult learning, or build new energy surrounding the ways that kids learn each day should make this book a part of their learning today. Kristen writes in a way that all can access and provides step-by-step ways to make Edcamp-style professional development in all learning spaces a success."

Vicki Day
"Swanson outlines a new kind of professional development that is sure to revolutionize how educators improve their craft. This step-by-step blueprint for success demonstrates PD that is remarkably simple and brilliant. I don't know an educator who won't love The EdCamp Model."
Mark Barnes, Education Consultant and Corwin Author, Teaching the iStudent
"This book is the ultimate "how-to" guide to plan and design your own Edcamp, whether it be within your district or in your region. It gives you "how to's", guidance on getting organizer's feedback, and data on the successes of the Edcamp models. It is a "must" for all leaders who are in the process or idea stage of organizing and running a successful Edcamp. This needs to be on your shelf!"

Dr. Chris McGee
"Professional development today is in intensive care. Trainings and workshops are boring and lifeless. What professional development needs is a jolt. Edcamps are the defibrillators that are going to bring professional development back to life. Kristen Swanson and the Edcamp Foundation have authored an amazing resource to put a charge into your professional learning. Use this amazing resource to put learning into the hands of those most affected--the teachers. No more life support, no more boring meetings. Edcamps are shockingly awesome!"

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ready, Fire, Aim - An Important Note About Leadership

On Target by viZZZual.com, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

"Ready, fire, aim" is the more fruitful sequence if we want to take a linear snapshot of an organization undergoing major reform. Ready is important; there has to be some notion of direction, but it is killing to bog down the process with vision, mission, and strategic planning before you know enough about dynamic reality. Fire is action and inquiry where skills, clarity, and learning are fostered. Aim is crystallizing new beliefs, formulating mission and vision statements, and focusing strategic planning. Vision and strategic planning come later. ~Michael Fullan in Change Forces

This quote from Fullan reminds us that, while planning is critical, it can also be a direct impediment to action. Over the past year, I've been working closely with a group of volunteers to think about teaching and learning. Although all of us care deeply about this work, I believe we've become embroiled in endless planning. To be frank, there's so much "ready" that we've never actually "fired."

How does this happen? 
How do passionate, smart, individuals become paralyzed by their own ideas?

There are likely many ways that this phenomenon can occur, but my reflections on my own experiences helped me identify 3 clear signs that you're stuck in a ceaseless "ready" mode.

1. When everyone comes together to discuss the topic at hand, no one remembers what happened at the last meeting.
This is a clear sign that you're stuck in "ready" mode. This is because no one actually moves forward with action items between meetings. Instead, everyone implicitly believes that attending the meeting is the actual work. (Uh, not so much...)

2. People are chronically afraid of what others will think when action is taken.
Leadership requires taking risks. Sometimes, these risks will not go as smoothly or perfectly as everyone would like. In fact, any deep change will likely cause some serious feelings of loss among the masses. However, real change requires everyone involved to experience a bit of discomfort. Constantly wondering "what others will think" is a strong sign that you're not doing as much as you could.

3. The group lacks internal trust or support structures.
Taking action can be scary. Really scary. Immense trust is needed between all of the members of a group to weather the difficult times of change. If members of a group don't trust each other, then most of the time will be spent attempting to prevent each other from making decisions or taking action. Of all three signs here, this one is the most draining and difficult to remedy. However, without trust it's unlikely that you'll ever accomplish ANYTHING. PERIOD.

As you go into the upcoming school year, be on the lookout for these signs. If you sense these signs may exist in your grade level or department teams, share Fullan's quote with the team at the beginning of the year. Simply naming the problem is often the first step towards a real fix.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Unleashing Student Superpowers on Classroom 2.0 - Recording Link

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining Hadley Ferguson on Classroom 2.0 LIVE! Peggy George was a wonderful host, and the audience was filled with rockstars such as Paula Naugle.

Although you can only scratch the surface in 45 minutes when it comes to student superpowers and learner empowerment, Hadley and I did our best to share the key elements of each superpower for 21st century learners.

If you're interested in checking out the entire session, you can watch it here:

Also, Peggy put together a LiveBinder of all the links and resources shared during the session here.

Are you planning to turn your students into superheroes this year? 
I'd love to hear how!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

School World vs. Real World: A Great New Whitepaper from @GAllenTC

Lunch at a predetermined time with no food in between...

No control over when you do different activities during the day...

Entrance exams and counselors who help us "decide" what we're qualified to learn...

Have lunch and snacks whenever you want...

Organize your day around your strengths and talents...

Determine what you want to learn, learn it, and WOW your team....

Are our school systems today really preparing students for the REAL WORLD?

In a recent whitepaper, my colleague and researcher Gayle Allen explores the differences between the school world and real world. The real world is one of abundance. Conversely, she argues, the school world is one of scarcity. We need to escape the scarcity mindset (limited content, tools, courses, teachers, etc) to help our schools become more relevant. (Read the entire whitepaper here!)

To me, this task has incredible urgency. Many of the rules that we create in schools exist for many reasons. However, these same rules can often be changed with a bit of buy-in and creativity. So, as we stare down the exciting prospect of another year, what rule will you change to make schools more REAL WORLD?

Even choosing one rule could make a big difference! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scatterplot Brainstorm - A Great Technique to Vet New Ideas

Let's face it; all ideas are NOT created equal.

Choosing what we will NOT do is just as important as choosing what we will do.

Therefore, after the dust settles from a furious group-brainstorm, it's absolutely necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff. (That's a Pennsylvania-way of saying that a bit of filtering has to happen!)

However, deciding which ideas "make the cut" can be tricky and team members' feelings are often involved. No one wants to see that their idea was not selected. No one ESPECIALLY wants to feel like they had a "bad" idea.

Often, choosing ideas can leave a negative vibe in the room. If done very poorly, it can even inhibit future brainstorming sessions.

But don't despair! By using specific protocols that emphasize analysis, you can arrive at meaningful decisions without injuring the morale of the group.

Last week, I had the pleasure of learning a few new team-thinking techniques from Paul Gould at the Maya Institute. Here's how he suggested to manage the idea selection process:

See? This process helps you analyze ideas without making judgments about the people who created them. It also helps to give structured feedback to everyone in the room. By simply observing where all the post-its end up on the matrix, you learn what the group values and believes is possible.

Hope this helps!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Perceived Costs of Saying “I Don’t Know”

I was recently reading Think Like a Freak from Levitt and Dubner. The text seeks to describe the kinds of analytical thinking that made the duo famous, including their ability to offer unconventional wisdom on topics from sumo wrestling to crime rates.

In the beginning of the book, the authors cite the inability to admit the unknown as a critical barrier to innovative thinking. They take an interesting look at the incentives behind this common adult behavior, saying:

“If the consequences of pretending to know can be so damaging, why do people keep doing it? That’s easy: in most cases, the cost of saying ‘I don’t know’ is higher than the cost of being wrong – at least for the individual.”

Levitt and Dubner go on to say that there are rarely consequences for incorrect predictions, especially those from experts in the field. To me, this intuitively makes sense. There are few (if any) prediction police squads out there. Therefore, as adults, we’re highly incentivized to offer an opinion, idea, or prediction. Not only do we look “smart” in the moment, but also we rarely incur negative effects later on.

Given this incentive against innovation in our systems, how can we be intentional to honor and celebrate every “I don’t know” that’s uttered by our educators and learners?

What if we clapped, celebrated, and offered kahoots for every “I don’t know” that we hear as leaders?

What if we shared weekly awards for problem-solving humility in our schools?

What if we actually used the open air created by the phrase “I don’t know” to find different solutions to our problems?

Saying “I don’t know” is the first step to innovation. 
Just make sure it’s followed up by iterative action that leads to fresh solutions.


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