Thursday, April 26, 2012

Word Press + Buddy Press = Experiment

I’ve developed an online learning space that is powered by WordPress, BuddyPress, and a number of plug ins. I’m about halfway through a free, 3 week course that I hosted in the space on rubrics. Here are my initial thoughts/ideas thus far.

I really like the social aspect of the space. I like that there is a stream of activity where users can post photos, text, and links. (think Twitter) I’m just concerned that people aren’t using it spontaneously. Perhaps the community needs to be larger for this to happen. Perhaps it is because people are not used to being social in online learning spaces, and this behavior must be explicitly modeled at first. I’m not sure.

I found the people in the course (between 8-10 folks) to be energetic and responsive in the synchronous sessions. The synchronous sessions are weekly, and they are 30 minutes in length. This seems to strike a good balance between providing connection and respecting everyone’s time.

I need a better system for managing documents and assignments. Right now I’m using a Google Doc editor, but I need a file storage place within each group. That would allow me to provide clearer file/resource access to everyone. Ideas welcome!

So far, I’m pleased with the space, and I find it much more friendly that more traditional LMS systems. I have a lot to learn, but I’m slowly making progress! Comments and suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Being Strategic: 3 Clear Actions

My job offers me the opportunity to watch all different types of teachers and instructional leaders at work. Some of them are much more strategic than others-- and the results are AMPLIFIED. Here's what I've noticed about people who not only "get things done" BUT ALSO "get things done purposefully."

  1. They make time for important dialogue. Leaders wo aren't strategic are always "too busy" to engage in difficult conversations about the trajectory of instruction in their schools and classrooms. Strategic leaders set aside time and eliminate distractions.
  2. They communicate clearly and in a timely manner. Leaders who are not strategic often pepper their teachers or students with last minute requests. This creates a culture of unnecessary urgency. Strategic leaders "plant seeds" long before a request is made, creating a culture where "not knowing" just doesn't cut it!
  3. Strategic leaders ask questions often. Leaders who aren't strategic are always providing directives for missives to "fix" the latest problem or crisis. Strategic leaders aren't reactionary -- they're introspective. They ask questions of their students and staff often, giving them the tools they need to move the organization forward.
CC Photo Credit: No Going Back by Mariano Kemp

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Materials from My Social Learning Summit Session

Today I presented "Making Learning Environments Brain Friendly" to a diverse group of educators across the country. As always, I learned something from the expertise in the room and I had lots of fun. Thank you to everyone who participated! Recordings of the sessions will be available in a few days. I'll be sure to amend them to this post. Thanks!

As promised, here is my slide deck:

Also, here is a list of tools shared by the participants in the SMACKDOWN at the end of the session:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Closing the Teaching Gap

Although I don't normally write book reviews on this blog, I thought that many of my readers would be HIGHLY interested in this title.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to reformat a series of professional development modules for digital distribution. All in all, I wasn't very pleased with my work. I just couldn't get it right.

In an effort to help me reframe my thinking, I received a book recommendation from a brilliant colleague. The book was called Closing the Teaching Gap: Coaching for Instructional Leaders by Donald Bartalo. It perfectly modeled my intended objective: sharing research in a digestible way that including empowering activities that could be done with minimal preparation/legwork.

The book is very easy to read, and it covers several different lenses through which to view instructional leadership. The book sends the message that a school leader or teacher leader must place a high priority on getting into classrooms, learning more about effective teaching, and giving teachers opportunities to learn from each other. Although I was already familiar with most of the research cited in the book, I enjoyed the presentation and framework provided specifically for school leaders.

Each chapter begins with a provocative quote and ends with a protocol that you can use with either your staff or a group of colleagues. Each chapter also contains voices from the field, practical measurement tools, and ideas from practicing leaders in the field.

One of my favorite parts of the book was on p. 44. Donald presents short vignettes about how different learning paradigms frame teachers' beliefs about instruction and pedagogy. I think if teachers saw these vignettes they would recognize pieces of themselves, both good and bad. Seeing yourself in a new way leads to change--> which is exactly where we are trying to go!

I recommend this book if you are a school leader trying to share your vision and learn with colleagues. It will certainly spur ideas for summer retreats and learning activities! It certainly helped me reframe how to package content for school leaders in an effective, enjoyable way!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Social Learning Summit: Making Online Learning Environments "Brain Friendly"

Please join me online for the FREE Social Learning Summit on April 21, 2012. My session will be called "Making Online Learning Environments Brain Friendly."

Who: YOU
What: Making Online Learning Environments Brain Friendly via the Social Learning Summit
Where: Online (at this link)
When: Saturday, April 21, 2012 from 9:30am-10:30am EST
Why: Because it's FREE!

Here's the entire session description:
This session will begin with a quick review of the research and several tips to enhance your online learning classroom in ways that maximize student engagement and retention. This session will also include examples from several different teachers using several different online platforms. Finally, it will share several tools you can use in your online class regardless of the format your school uses. The session will end with an interactive SMACKDOWN of favorite apps for teaching in online spaces.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is Edcamp Flipped PD?

An Edcamp is defined as free, democratic, participant-driven professional development for teachers (via the Edcamp wiki). However, there has been some discussion about viewing Edcamps as "flipped PD."

"Flipped PD" involves gaining content, resources, or methods on your own using texts, multimedia, and audio resources. Then, when you come to the learning session, you spend time discussing, debating, and developing your thoughts with colleagues. It's sort of like a book club, but the resources are more vast and the conversations are more fluid.

I think that Edcamps fit the "flipped PD" model to some degree. Teachers certainly cannot arrive at an Edcamp "empty." They are filled with classroom experiences and professional learning. However, do Edcamp organizers have any idea what participants bring to the table as they plan the event?

No. But that's the whole point.

I believe an Edcamp is "flipped PD," but not in a way that guarantees specific outcomes or skills. It is "flipped PD" in that professionals are constantly learning from their practice.

The dynamic, responsive nature of an Edcamp is what makes it exciting. It's also what makes it hard to control and hard to measure.

Personally, I see "flipped PD" in it's purest form as a more quantified, structured approach than Edcamp. But hey, I'm still figuring all this out.

What do you think?

CC Photo Credit: IMG_9763 by Shutterpal

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What Does Viral Learning Look Like?

When I work with teachers and students, I want the learning to be VIRAL. No, this doesn't mean that I want anyone to develop unsightly pox or muscle soreness.

In short, I want learning to spread.

But, what are the conditions that create viral learning? Well, I've had some experience with this over the past two years via the Edcamp phenomenon. 101 events in two years? Crazy. Based on my meager experience, it seems that there are a few elements which are conducive to viral learning.

  1. Connectedness - People need to feel a connection with the people, experts, or colleagues in their learning spaces. It often helps if professional linkages are bolstered with social experiences. If I'm your friend, then I care about what you think. I check in with you more often, and I am likely to re-share ideas and information you find interesting. Do I value you?
  2. Welcoming to Noobies- There are often people just on the fringe of a group or idea. How are these people treated? Are they welcomed and encouraged? Or are they treated like outsiders? If your learning group or idea is easily accessible to those who are not yet involved, viral learning is much more likely to occur. Is there an access point?
  3. Humor/Positivity/Fun- Is the idea, learning or experience positive in some way? Do learners leave feeling that they have accomplished something? Is there even an element of fun that permeates the content? People persist when they enjoy things. Ensuring that people engage in both professional and social ways builds learning that lasts and spreads. (NOTE: There are certainly some learning experiences that are valuable but NOT fun. I realize this. It's just that those types of experiences are less likely to spread.) Do I like doing this?
  4. Frequent Feedback- Are there methods for people to receive feedback on what they are learning? Are there ways for them to measure their progress or quantify their results? When people learn, they want to receive confirmation that they are on the "right track." Building opportunities for talking, sharing, and measuring can help the learning to be considered effective. People share results. How do I know if I'm doing this right?
How can you build the elements of viral learning into your interactions with teachers and students? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

CC Photo Credit: Chikungunya Virus by AJC1

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Prioritizing Opportunities: Too Much of a Good Thing

Every day I am bombarded with messages from friends and colleagues. Often, the tweets, emails and calls offer me opportunities for collaboration, continued learning, and  reflection. Many of the requests, projects, and ideas are enticing: They are things that I WANT to do. Sometimes, successfully implementing a personal mission (or school mission or institutional mission) requires leaders to choose from the things that they WANT to do. It's more than just making time for what's important. It's making tough decisions to determine which activities are MOST beneficial.

You don't have to write every blog post, participate in every discussion on Twitter, or join every organizing team. Instead, make conscious decisions about the activities that best fulfill your personal mission. Time is a finite resource. Value it, and make it work FOR you.

We are sipping from a firehose of information and connection. Don't drown!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Difference Between a Novice and an Expert

What defines the difference between a novice and an expert? Fact recall and content knowledge? 

Probably not.

A research study documented in How People Learn explored how two sets of people handled historical information. The first group, accomplished historians, hailed from many different universities and many different specializations. The second group, AP US History students, had spent the last several months carefully preparing for the advanced placement exam.

Although the AP US history students scored much higher on an exam of basic facts, they were not able to distinguish between competing claims or see patterns between events and concepts.

Consider the following quote from How People Learn:

What does this mean for teachers?
  1. Spend less time focusing on content acquisition. In today's "on demand" world, there is a limited need to memorize aimless facts or figures.
  2. Spend more time helping students craft powerful stories and themes that connect events within and between disciplines. For example, how is loyalty expressed in the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the progression of scientific discovery?
  3. Spiral your curriculum around big ideas and transfer goals. For example, how does the concept of identity change as you explore different periods of classical literature? By continuing to envelope new content into students' big ideas and enduring understandings, they will be better prepared to use their knowledge beyond the classroom.

Let's build classrooms of experts.


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