I’m beat, but delightfully so. Deep learning is hard work. Designing an ecosystem in which others can learn deeply is even tougher. Teachers know this. I mean, pick your favorite food. Then eat five heaping plates of it. Back to back. If someone treated me to a week of epic seafood meals prepared by skilled chefs, I’d eat big every day. You don’t get that opportunity very often. Well… we did that (again), and I’m tired. Next week I’ll revel in quiet solitude, no doubt reflecting on the intense social learning of the past week. This week was EdWeek.
EdWeekSJSD is but one small construct of the larger vision of professional development in our district. Sometimes in a large learning organization you design PD events where everyone sees, hears, and performs the same thing. You have to. There are times when we all need to be on the same crucial page. We need a core of common language around learning. We need a common vision at some level, and we need norms around the central mission of our schools.
Yet, like the students we serve, teachers are all individuals with differing needs and aptitudes. We could never meet the needs of 11,000 highly individual learners with a team of 900 identically-trained educators. In subscribing to that belief, on some level you must be willing to design constructs of learning that cater to these differences. EdWeek is one of those constructs. EdWeekSJSD is a series of day-long explorations into innovative and creative approaches to learning in a modern classroom. For more detail on the structure and happenings of this week, see the wiki from the past two years, as well as an explanatory post, There’s No Week Like EdWeek, I did last year in anticipation of our first experience of this type.
Thanks are in order:
We have so many thanks to give for the success of the past week. For one, if you were there at all, thank you. Trading in an off-contract day of basking in the summer sun is admirable. If you showed up at all, I salute you. Thank you for making all of the planning and preparation worthwhile. If you showed up for all five days, I am deeply humbled by your professional commitment and love of learning and sharing. I could go on and on about each of the past five days. The new things I learned, the collaboration I witnessed, and the open and public sharing that was done. Many of those details already exist online in reflective posts by my colleagues. Do me this favor, please post links to your work in the comments below, and I will embed those directly in a future edit to this post. For sharing in a collective reflection of this week, I thank you. I’ve already read many of these posts, and I couldn’t possibly detail those days any better. Nice work, Mike.
Digital writing matters
Troy Hicks, author of The Digital Writing Workshop, and Because Digital Writing Matters, took us on an exploration of the broader meaning of literacy on day one. Troy challenged us to see literacy as not only the ability to make deep meaning from reading and writing text, but other forms of rich media as well. For me, he drove home the point that literacy instruction in the classroom of today must make efficient and creative use of the many forms of media that blanket our lives like never before in our history.
Silvia, I thank you again
Joining us again this year, Silvia Tolisano reminded us that any approach to innovation with technology must begin with a focus on learning first, followed by careful selection of modern tools to do the job. She pushed us to consider uses of technology beyond the automation of substitution of current tasks. We both share the belief that using technology to maintain the classroom status quo is a prohibitively expensive proposition. What is beyond mere “integration” of digital tools? Using them to transform learning events into something that would not have been possible otherwise. A wiki that includes resources addressed that day gives you an idea of the broad scope and detail of those explorations. We’ll certainly soon be seeing some amplified classroom experiences for our children.
Learning to be
Our next two leaders were neighbors from the North. Darren Kuropatwa joined us this year from Winnipeg. I deeply admire approaches to learning that are multimodal and which feature rich instances of story. I especially appreciate these things when they arise from a career of motivating students to study mathematics in this way. He’s the math teacher I always wanted. He challenged us to create an environment where students aren’t merely doing math, or history, or science. The set of resources Darren thoughtfully planned to support our day is found here. He deftly made the case for empowering students to be… a mathematician, a historian, a scientist, a writer. Thank you, Darren.
The seriousness of silliness and play
Dean Shareski made a return trip from Saskatchewan to Joetown this year with his fun and serious allwrappedintoone approach to learning and exploring media and ideas. You can’t spend professional time with Dean without making things. Experimentation and play was the theme of the day. We created artifacts, quickly, shared them widely, and debated where the learning lies within each. Check out the seven different forms of exploration from our day together. You can’t attend a session like this without re-examining your classroom tone, nor without acquiring new lenses for seeing the seriousness inherent within play and exploration. Dean- again, many thanks.
Now batting cleanup:
Diana Laufenberg. Diana brought the perspective of a powerfully creative teacher into our little meeting room… and allowed us to swim around in it for a day. During the first half of the day, teachers found the tables turned as they took a reflective trip through what it feels like to be a student in her classroom. Diana helped us close out the week with a close examination of the architecture of and for learning she builds into her classroom. We also explored the benefits of participatory learning in a technology-savvy way and the crucial role of failure in any approach to learning. I’d be shocked if there was a single attendee who didn’t secretly wish to have experienced a government classroom that felt the way our room felt today. Thank you dearly, Diana.
Learners AND facilitators
Participating the entire week, and helping to facilitate it is a monster. You want to dig in and explore every single challenge. And yet, your role is also to help support a diverse room full of teachers with different needs. Just a short year ago, I was the lone instructional technology specialist in the room. With a massive bloom from four to fourteen 1:1 schools, we now have a real team to tackle our district’s burgeoning needs in this area. I can’t tell you how good that feels. We are gelling as a team in short order, and will have much to offer both individually and collectively as the coming year unfolds. Participate, facilitate, participate, facilitate. Focus on the task. Bounce about the room. Support. Comfort. Archive everything. Knowing just how difficult this is fills me full of appreciation of the work of Melissa Corey, Terri Johnson, and Jennifer Gatz. You were great this week, it wouldn’t have worked without you.
They just kept coming back. Just over one hundred teachers, coaches and administrators took part in the week’s festivities. An untold number lurked along via Twitter, Ustream, or Today’s Meet. A total of 38 participated in even more than one event. A few came back… every. single. day. What if you took them all to a conference like ISTE, and assuming the experience was equal to such a conference, (which is severely lowballing it) think about what that would cost. Do the math. Of the 38 repeat customers, 11 completed the full meal deal. Other than those of us who were participant/facilitators, there were six die-hards. Mike Dial, Cindy Faucett, Erin Nash, Mandi Tolen, Jason Tolen, and Chantelle Schwope attended EdWeek in its entirety… all five days from 8am to 3pm. Epic. That is not easy. I have homeland knowledge of the fact that one of these folks was also simultaneously juggling two online graduate courses.
Opt-in professional learning, off-contract and in the summer. I begged for this two years ago. Not everyone believed this would fly. It was possible that no one would attend. It works if the design is right. Thanks to Dr. Dial’s trust and willingness to carve out a chunk of resources, it finally happened for the first time a year ago. This past week, EdWeekSJSD happened again; a hypodermic shot of innovation and creativity in an increasingly standardized world. Like I said, I’m beat, but delightfully so.
*”Twins” by Jon Smith via Creative Commons on Flickr
*The remainder were taken by either Jaime Dial or I.
We’re off once again. Trying to contact me, or one of my little band of students, in the coming week will be next to impossible. We’ll be completely off the grid. We’ll be far from the pace that guides us in this country today. We’ll be far from conducting “school” in any traditional fashion. And we’ll be completely immersed. Completely immersed in the sea. Completely immersed in one of the most delicate ecosystems left on the planet. Completely immersed in learning.
You cannot know a coral reef from the dusty pages of a book. You cannot know a reef from a sleek and shiny laptop. To know the reef, you must enter the reef. And that is exactly what we’ll be doing until we return a week from now. Wish us safety and luck. Wish us blue skies. Wish the wind to gently nudge our sailboats to the next patch of coral. Wish my students the experience of their young lives.
Since I began writing this blog in 2008, the time between adventures with my Marine Biology students seems… compressed. It seems like we just returned from one of our Bahamian field studies. I’m pretty sure that’s a sign that I’m not getting any younger. Nor are my nerves any less frayed. I now spend a massive chunk of my days behind the screen of a computer, and that wears on you a bit at some level.
I need this week like my students need this week. Right now, I need to be off the grid. I need to step away from bits and bytes. I need to, wait… swim… away from the grind of rapidly moving an entire district into a 1-to-1 learning ecosystem. I need to swim to a place where I can think. I need to find renewed perspective. I’m betting I can do just that on a coral reef. I’ve done it before. In 1998 a similar experience helped me to understand not only the planet, but myself a little better. Here’s hoping the coming week does the same for a new crop of eager students…
…eat a pizza prepared by Geoffrey Zakarian wielding an Easy Bake oven, than one prepared by, uhhh… damn near anyone else using a $1000 oven.
Maybe that’s important, maybe it’s not. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what business this post has on my blog. Perhaps nothing. I’m open to that.
*For “Home Made Mini Pizza, Cooked” by Yortw on Flickr Via CC, & for…
*Allowing me to ask questions… even when they don’t carry a question mark. According to Michael Wesch, this is something only a human can do.
*For the clarity to write my shortest-ever blog post.
In my time as a teacher, I have tried purposefully to connect my students to experts beyond the walls of our classroom. When I began as a teacher in 1991, this was a pretty difficult task compared to today. Contacting local experts in biology or conservation took going out of the way to recruit the efforts of kind, caring professionals who were willing to share their experience with my students and I. Today, it can happen almost accidentally. Today, a few extra steps can flip the equation to a reality where talented individuals can find you. While balancing a myriad of responsibilities in the classroom of today, this shift in reality can be a transformational one… helping to bring relevance and authenticity to the lives of students.
Allow me to quickly switch to the issue at hand, and then wrap up my case by the end. Today, I bring you yet another opportunity to assist the education of students in Missouri, from wherever you may be. Cutting to the chase, a talented and giving artist from the state of Florida recently contacted my students and I with the offer to contribute an a work of art to help my students pay for the fees of a field study on the coral reefs of Andros Island, in the Bahamas.
Connecting to art
Cheryl Ferrari is a passionate artist and a giving person. My students and I are quite happy tonight to announce an opportunity for you to own an amazing piece of art while making a donation to hardworking students who are doing extra work on their own time to learn about something they are interested in. On Friday, I will be able to add an actual photo of the actual work. It is an beautiful and massive 36×24 inch print on canvas. Not only was the work donated at an approximate value of from $2000 to $3000… but the framing was donated by a local company. J. Franklin Gallery of St. Joseph donated the $400 framing.
Clicking the “buy now” button above will allow you to enter a credit card via PayPal from wherever you may be… to an SJSD account to earn a chance to win the print. This is essentially a donation where 100% of the funds go toward a rich educational experience for my students. We are offering each chance at $5, and three chances for $10. The raffle will take place on the night of March 28th, the eve of our upcoming field study in The Exuma Cays.
You see, I take the idea of being a public educator rather literally. In short: whenever and wherever possible, I pull open a window of transparency allowing a peek into the work we are doing. Softening the walls of the classroom in this way has brought us many powerful connections over time. Cheryl Ferrari is a Florida resident who grew up snorkeling and diving on Florida’s coral reefs when they were vibrant and healthy. She no longer dives today, and relies on photographs from those who do as inspiration for her work.
Cheryl messaged me via Flickr in April complimenting the work we are doing in chronicling the life (and sadly, death) of coral reefs today. She kindly asked permission to reference our work, and three months later, she messaged again with the image you see above. We could clearly see the elements of the painting that were inspired by photographs we have taken and shared. After more conversation on the details of our program, she offered to donate a limited-edition print to help student offset the costs of the field study portion of the course. And really, though you can’t quite tell it here, this connection has almost left me speechless at times.
Connecting to science
Since 2000, we have had authors join our discussions of their works. We have had the Center for Biological Diversity request photos for use in a formal federal petition to list two Caribbean corals as threatened, and eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act. (it worked, by the way) We have had a former student of this program now with a Ph.D. and working on national marine policy, rejoin our community from time to time, as one of our informal teachers. We have had students live blog hurricane landfalls from the gulf, and report back from their work in fisheries from Dutch Harbor, Maine. And on and on. I’m certain I’d leave someone out if I tried to name them all.
These connections have transformed our classroom time and time again. It is this sort of real transformation that makes expenditures of modern technology worth the cost. Join us in some way. Take a chance on owning a bit of our story, and thanks so much in advance, from all of my students and I, for donating to such a relevant and authentic cause in the lives of kids.
In 2007, a then virtual-only colleague asked whether it was, “okay to be a technologically illiterate teacher?” NETS-T provides one standardized, big-picture perspective. Many others speak of new literacies unleashed by the reach of the Internet. A few have mentioned “big shifts” that define the changes and challenges to educators in rather recent history. At the other end of the spectrum, the Edu-Twittersphere offers up a litany of “gotta be using” tools on a nightly basis. Here’s the problem from where I see it: we have a gap.
On Sunday, the 29th, I’m leading a session at Educon 2.4 to drag a room of interested educators into that gap to poke around for 90 minutes or so. It’s like this: to the typical classroom teacher, things like “new literacies” and cultural shifts are pretty stratospheric. That’s not a value judgement in any way- it’s just the way I see it in my experiences working with teachers. In defense of teachers, it is quite possible that this career has never been more challenging than it is today. But if you’re reading this blog, you likely aware of this fact already.
In 2012, there is much chatter in social spaces that are loosely-tied by educators. Collections of teachers joined by technological tendrils tend to spout the virtues of every new digital tool to hit cyberspace. So many of these startups seem to vault into the limelight in no time flat, each in turn destined to set the educational world right again. Hype travels fast in a world devoid of complexity and nuance. Take Twitter for example. Twitter has been co-opted by educators in what is perhaps one of the most productive uses of its potential to date. That said, the media always affects the message, and 140 characters leaves much nuance at the door. Sure, you can hyperlink to meatier reflections, but that isn’t the norm.
So what do we discuss on the Twitter? More often than not: tools. We all get value out of the “head’s up” links on Twitter to new and interesting digital applications that -on the surface- promise innovation. And yet, I’d argue that tip-offs to shiny apps do little on their own to advance our understanding of the effects of this communications revolution. Who knows, perhaps we’re not meant to grasp the breadth and depth of a revolution in its very midst? Personally, I think education has to make an attempt to fly the ship while installing more effective wings. To ignore the challenge is to allow children fly a plane alone- and with untested wings. Life moves too fast and recent changes seem too profound I do know this: digital tools won’t educate a child any more than a hammer will build a house. Think of it this way: what does a carpenter need to know, and be able to do in 2012? And if you’re an administrator, perhaps you’d better think like a contractor. Yes, the metaphor is a mess, but it’s worth the ride. Take it…
Think of it this way: what does a carpenter need to know, and be able to do in 2012?
So that’s it? Pin the standards to your chest and guess… or chase each and every new app to debut? Is that the life of an enlightened educator in 2012? I doubt it. And yet, I’m also pretty certain that the classic ostrich pose in these times won’t cut it either. I’m betting a solid path to improvement is to be found within the gap. I was once a somewhat “reluctant technologist.” I never wanted to be seen as an evangelist of shiny gadgets. Now, I’m proud to say that I live my professional life within that gap. I spend my days helping teachers connect tools and processes to concepts, and sometimes rather lofty instructional goals and ideals. I work with principals and building administrators in seeing the big picture of how instruction can look. It is my role to assure that solid instruction leads the way in any implementation of technology… as opposed to gadgets.
So what exactly is this “gap,” if indeed it does exist? Well, that’s just it. That gap is why I decided to attempt to frame this question. It is also why I intend to leave my opinions out of this preview, as well as the framing of the question to begin my session.
One thing I do know: the room that day will be full of smart, passionate educators with varied knowledge and experiences. I already know what I have experienced. I want to learn more. I want input, and I don’t want that input clouded in any way by my own ideas at the outset. I want to walk away from Philly with either a disrupted or a clarified vision. Either way, it will help me refine, in at least some small way, what I do on a daily basis. It will shape how I think, what I plan, how I talk, and what I do in the months to come. A conference where the presenters themselves come to learn? That is pretty big from where I sit. Come to Educon. Join us. Come to my session, and let’s chat. Thanks again, Chris and team, for doing it this way…