Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#Edcamp Online: Edcamping Beyond Time, Space, and Place with #Unhangouts

Despite what you hear in the press, teachers are pretty amazing people.

Last week, 100 teachers hopped online on a Saturday, to dialogue about teaching and learning with
each other. Using a tool created by MIT Media Lab called Unhangouts, the results were spectacular.

Here are a few of the highlights:

1) An Amazing Schedule Creator FINALLY!
Grif Peterson (of MIT genius) found a great tool called the "Question Tool Instance Chooser." While the name isn't exactly exciting, the functionality is! Essentially, anyone can go to the site, post a question/session, and others can vote on it. No logging in, no muss, no fuss. It worked PERFECTLY for us on Saturday. Here's a sample of the schedule board from Saturday's event:

2) Fewer Technical Issues, Better Conversations
The team at MIT made some significant improvements to their Unhangout platform this year. 100 people were easily able to float from session to session. Although there were a few people with access issues, the number of issues was minor compared to last year. This meant that there were better conversations and discussions about teaching and learning. Many sessions generated shared notes which were then tweeted and distributed to everyone. Great work!

3) New Faces!
One of the things that made this event so exciting was the sheer number of new faces! Many of the folks on the organizing team were new to the event, and many of the participants were new to Edcamp. It was great to see folks learn about the Edcamp community even if their local town hadn't hosted an Edcamp yet. (Yes, we had Ryan from Ghana on hand too!) Truly, learning has transcended time, space, and place!

As the Edcamp Foundation continues to grapple with innovative ways to connect educators, it's clear that Unhangouts and the MIT team have pushed our thinking with this tool. We are really running out of excuses to NOT learn from each other. You know!??!

Happy Edcamping!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Exploratory Learning in Physical Spaces - The Sequel

A few weeks ago, I shared my experience touring the Q?rius area of the Natural History Museum. Well, I'm back at it again with some insights on the new media creation center at Ritenour High School in St. Louis, MO.

I was at Ritenour for the EdSurge Admin Summit last week, and we began our day with student-led tours of the new learning space. Although the space was amazing, it was the ownership and professionalism of the student tour guides that was most impressive.

Without further ado, here are my field notes!

Main Collaboration Space

Field Note #1: Spaces without a clear "front" make it harder for didactic pedagogy to happen.
As you can see from the photo, the main area for the media center is adorned with wall-to-wall whiteboards and filled with rolling furniture. When I entered the space, there was music playing, students working in small groups, and a teacher somewhere amidst the learning. It was hard to tell who the teacher was in the room. This was partly due to the fact that it was unclear to EVERYONE where the front of the room was. How strategic!

Ritenour Radio Studio

Field Note #2: Professional equipment evokes professional behavior and pride.
My adept student tour guide took us to the radio studio within the media creation space. It was clear that the radio station was much more than an academic exercise; the entire town listened to the station. After announcing that they were the only high school in the state to have an FCC regulated station, my student guide went on to describe the type of programming. "We're always learning what people like," he said. He went on to describe how they change their approaches based on what their student listeners request.  Sounds like someone who's "college and career ready" to me!

"Work in Progress" TV Studio

Field Note #3: Evolution matters.
The dreams that students had for the space outpaced the current funding. To that end, there were several images near the television studio showing mock-ups of what the space would look like after the funds were raised. Not only did this give students a high level of ownership, but it also directly taught students that progress over time was critical to success. Everyone recognized the value of identifying a "work-in-progress" as compared to "good enough."

The spaces we design deeply affect the learning experiences we have. Let's be intentional. Nice work, Ritenour.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Survival vs. Investment Mindset


Just the word creates a series of emotions: fear, anxiety, stress....

And if we're striving for survival, we're not actually thriving. Instead we're searching for a solution for the next fire, or crisis, or immediate need.

In schools, we often operate at the survival level. Consider these questions:

  • Are you just trying to get through the day/week/month?
  • Do others drive your work or do you drive your work?
  • Do you forget the goals you set because you're just SO BUSY?

Operating in a way where survival dominates your time actually changes your brain. Consider this research from Scarcity by Mullainathan and Eldar:
When scarcity captures our attention, it changes how we think—whether it is at the level of milliseconds, hours, or days and weeks. By staying top of mind, it affects what we notice, how we weigh our choices, how we deliberate, and ultimately what we decide and how we behave. 
Clearly, this does not support the innovation and time needed to be successful. If our lives are dominated with the things in front of our face, then we'll never be able to change the systems that shape our lives. In essence, external stimuli will drive our outcomes in the world.

However, all is not lost. When it comes to survival, we often have a choice. The alternative to "survival mode" is "investment mode."

When you invest, you spend time on long range items that will likely pay off down the line. I consider these to be "loose bets" that will alleviate survival stresses down the line. Spending your time on investment behaviors allows you to minimize stress and the desperate need for survival over time.

This idea between survival and investment comes from Daniel Yoo, the founder of Goalbook, and I find it to be an incredibly helpful frame.

Let me give you an example. I write. A lot. I often cite blogs, quotes, and whitepapers in my writing. When in survival mode (and up against a deadline), I search for the research I needed and save links on a digital sticky note which are then saved in unsearchable stacks on my desktop. Clearly, this process (although quick) does not build a sustainable set of resources I can easily access later.

So instead of surviving via digital sticky notes, I spent an afternoon investing in the creation of a tagging system in Evernote. This tagging system allowed me to file, save, and search all the quotes I find and use. Although building this system took a bit of time, it's saved me hours in time over the last few months.

Microdecisions either focus on SURVIVAL or INVESTMENT. Being cognizant of these choices can make the difference when it comes to innovation. Innovation can't happen in survival mode. So, invest - each day and every day - to build the infrastructure for innovation.

How will you invest?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Exploratory Learning Realized in Physical Spaces

Often, the design of a space will greatly influence the things that you actually do in that space. For example, I've seen that the mere arrangement of chairs in an Edcamp session actually dictates how much different people will interact during the learning.

So, I've become fascinated by the ways that space, items, and furniture can influence the types of informal learning and social interactions that occur organically in a space. To be clear, I see this as less of a "classroom upgrade" and more of a "using public spaces well."

Last week during my trip to D.C., I spent some time with Richard Efthim from the Smithsonian exploring the Q?rius section of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. As always, the conversation with Rich is stimulating, constructive, and exciting. However, I was intrigued by the design of the space and how it facilitated the exact types of interactions in which we engaged.

Here are a few "field notes" from my trip. These are likely directly relevant to any learning space you are curating in your life.

Field Note #1: Clear lines of sight across all areas of the space create curiosity.
As you can see from the photo below, you can peer into almost every area of the space with a clear line of sight. This allows you to feel both safe and curious about all of the other things that are going on within the space. It's inviting and interesting, spawning free movement across all areas of the space.

Field Note #2: Flexible furniture creates a feeling of empowerment.
All of the fixtures in this section of the space are on rolling castors. This allows the furniture to be moved very easily by almost anyone. Such flexibility allows small groups to carve out spaces or to use the furniture to adjust the space as needed. Putting the people, not the furniture, in control fosters an ethos of empowerment.

Field Note #3: Creating a system for digital records creates the ability to reflect later.
One element of the Q?rius learning space is that people can create a digital field book of their experiences. As they collect different experiences, they can record them using photos, text, and videos either on their mobile devices or at stations around the perimeter. This permanent record (which reminds me of a Twitter feed at an Edcamp) allows people to revisit their learning and increase metacognition.
Being intentional about spaces and places can change the interactions and learnings that evolve over time. How will you change your surroundings to support the types of learning required in today's world?

Friday, October 3, 2014

GUEST POST: Tom Mullaney Shares His Journey

NOTE: This is a guest post from Tom Mullaney, one of my colleagues at SDST. He's embarking on his journey into edtech and making some serious changes in his classroom this year. Read on to hear his thoughts about a great resource. You should also check out his blog, Sustainable Teaching.

You Taught It. Let John Green Review It.

Would you like someone to review and re-reach history concepts you taught your high school students? Of course you do! What if I add a few qualifications for the person doing the reviewing? What if I insist that the person is a New York Times bestselling author and has credibility with your students? And that the person has to use images and animation and that he has to do it for free? Impossible?

Meet John Green.

Called the “teen-whisperer” by The New Yorker and the voice of a generation of teens by The Economist Intelligent Life, John Green has written four New York Times bestselling books, one of which, The Fault in Our Stars, became a hit movie in June 2014. Many of my students are fans of Green’s books.

I have only read The Fault in Our Stars (and saw the movie) but I like John Green mostly because he reviews the material I taught and expect students to master.

John Green’s Crash Course (YouTube channel, link includes a video) is an invaluable tool to help students review. Crash Course includes content about Literature, Psychology, Chemistry, Ecology and Biology but this post will focus on his videos about US History and World History.

I used the US History videos to teach my 10th and 11th grade students this past school year. There are 49 videos from life in America before exploration through to President Obama. Each video runs 10 to 15 minutes so a lot of material is covered. “Covered” is not a great word choice. Green uses great images, animation and his wit to engage viewers.  With honors students, I like to play each video to the class and pause at strategic moments to discuss. For academic students I use Google Forms to provide a scaffold. I watch each video and make questions about things I want the students to take from the video. The questions are mostly lower level fact and detail questions meant to cement understanding, however, they can set up deeper questions for the students when they complete the video.

I have started to watch and design questions for Green’s World History videos for my 8th and 9th grade students for the next school year.  I was disappointed to find that some of these videos include some off-color references to things I would not want to show students as their teacher. Green made the World History set before he made the US History set. My guess is that he had some teacher complaints and stopped doing it because I did not have this problem with the US History videos.

I was concerned that I would be unable to use some of his videos until a colleague suggested Drag On Tape. This is a fantastic tool that allows you to cut YouTube videos. Take a look at a World History video I clipped using this tool.

I will end with an idea from a colleague. As it is a “Crash Course” Green can not speak in depth about much of what he covers. My colleague had a great idea to have students take individual events from a single Crash Course video and make crash course videos that go in-depth about topics covered in the video. This great idea is the next way I plan to incorporate Crash Course into instruction.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Don't Kick the Can on Innovation: Why "Preparing Kids for Higher Ed" Doesn't Work

I'll admit it. I have really crazy ideas sometimes. When it comes to creating authentic learning experiences for kids, I'll try just about anything. Whether it's running a dry cleaning business, creating a catering company, or improving the way FEMA delivers flood relief, nothing is off limits.

However, I'm frequently confronted with resistance to these large, meaningful projects. And the resistance doesn't come from kids. Instead, it comes from adults.

The line goes something like this --
"We have to prepare them for college. If they don't learn how to write essays, how will they survive?"

But, new research from the Gallup Purdue Index Report shows that all those essays aren't exactly working. After studying more than 30,000 college graduates across the U.S., the report found that there were factors related to deep learning that were also predictors of workplace engagement and career success. However, most colleges aren't doing a great job of providing those experiences.

Consider the chart below:

Only 6% of all the college graduates had long projects, internships, and extracurriculars?


Given that those three factors are directly related to workplace engagement and career success, I'd say that "preparing kids for college" may not cut it.

So, let's stop preparing kids for college. Let's prepare kids for life. And, that just might require some crazy ideas.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why We Attend Edcamp

Note: This is cross posted at www.edcamp.org and cowritten by 2 fabulous ladies.....

Edcamp Philly 2014
Photo From Kevin Jarrett

We Edcamp because…
-we are learners first, teachers second.
-we care about kids.
-we embrace a growth mindset, and we want to model this for our students.
-we know adults need social learning.
-we believe educators are the best change agents for schools.
-we are empowered.

We Edcamp because we are learners first, teachers second.
Remember the first time you saw a child “get it?” That “a-ha” moment is a prized possession for every teacher. You know, that moment when a student finds his/her passion, hooks on to an enlightening idea, or engages in a topic with such astute critical thinking that he/she becomes an expert.

For Edcamp organizers, this is the same way we feel when we meet teachers excited by an Edcamp for the first time. In 2010, the “a-ha” moment arrived when educators realized that, much like students, we can take ownership of our own professional learning. The Edcamp “a-ha” has been repeated over 550 times in dozens of countries.

We Edcamp because we care about kids.
The world is changing. Fast. Learning used to be isolated and linear. Today, however, modern technology has fashioned a learning environment with boundless access to information and people. In short, learning has become connected. The ways that we were taught (way back when) won’t cut it for our kids.

We care about kids and know learning has to change for them. Edcamps help us to discuss the shifts that are needed, experiment alongside other practitioners, and share stories of best practice.

We Edcamp because we embrace a growth mindset.
Learning is never finished. Edcamps allow us to find other like-minded educators to build lifelong learning communities. Edcamp helps educators feel that they are not alone in the journey of teaching. Through edcamps, we find educators igniting their passion, finding enlightening ideas, and engaging in topics as the experts they are. There’s always more to learn and more to improve.

We Edcamp because we know adults need social learning.
We learn better together. The strong bonds that form at an Edcamp continue through many different venues, both face-to-face and online. Twitter chats and blog posts all document the “long tail” learning sparked by Edcamp events. Often, Edcamp events are the beginning of both the friendship and the conversation. We consider our fellow Edcampers our friends.

We Edcamp because we believe educators are the best change agents for schools.
The growth of edcamp has been, in our opinions, astounding! But the expanding numbers aren’t necessarily something to cheer about. While it is amazing to see a network of educators interested in taking charge of their personal learning, the growth is also indicative of the need to “disrupt” the current system of professional development. Open registration for all provides for partnerships and collaboration that would not exist in singular district or school-based professional development. The blank schedule board allows for relevant topics and ideas to surface for the day’s conversation. The law of two feet gives educators the power to determine what meets their learning needs for the day. The current system of professional development still applaudes “sitting and getting.” Sitting and getting information and credits, all of which are determined by the standards of someone else. Teachers are clearly hungry for more, and as a result we should use edcamps as a vehicle for more. Educators must be change agents. Edcamps are a vehicle for that change. It’s intrinsic.

We Edcamp because we are empowered.
Edcamps empower educators to be both learners and experts. They encourage them to take control of their situation and improve their practice. They put kids and teachers first, not sponsors or credits or any other extrinsic reward.

Edcamps are about learning for learning’s sake. That’s the magic. Edcamp empowers.


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