EdWeekSJSD: A Litany of Thanks

The calm after the storm

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 CoreyTerri Johnson, and Jennifer Gatz. You were great this week, it wouldn’t have worked without you.

The die-hards

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 DialCindy FaucettErin NashMandi TolenJason 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.



Another Thousand “Whoa” Moments

Defining whoa

A whoa moment is somewhat akin to the recently ubiquitous aha moment. And yet, there are important differences. Trolling online definitions of the “aha” moment generally returns descriptions of sudden comprehension or the “flash of insight related to a problem.” If I could be trusted to launch my own five-cent definition, I’d loft the “whoa” moment for your consideration. Allow me to stitch together a few words in defense (offense?) of such an idea…

whoa moment |wō|

Informal in usage. Used to indicate a scope of reactions to a learning experience ranging from basic cognitive connection and mild surprise to profound respect and awe. Often uttered momentarily due to a lack of ability to define an experience at the time. Whoa moments often spur deeper future connections and learning along the original topic.

Some of these moments are certainly cerebral, but many others seem to originate deep within the limbic system. I challenge you to justify that sort of experience in today’s rather narrow description of learning. Benjamin Bloom roughly hammered out the Affective Domain of learning over fifty years ago. The affective domain is the domain of attitudes, motivation, and valuation of learning. As we move toward a more “national” definition of what should be learned, we rarely ever touch on anything beyond the cognitive domain. Even within the cognitive domain, consensus is tough to find. But really, when you can stuff so much of the cognitive domain into multiple guess questions, why bother with the rest? Characterizing the rest is just so… hard.

I’d suggest that whoa moments (beyond those of Bill & Ted fame) put the fringes of the affective domain, the elements of valuing… into something we can touch, taste, and marvel over. I’m not here today to hammer out a treatise on the whoa moment, and the value of immersion and authenticity in education. While that might be a worthwhile future endeavor, today I came here to share a bit of our recent Marine Biology field study on Andros Island in The Bahamas. This program was conceived back in 1999 and I have written about it here several times in the recent past. This was our seventeenth field study over the past twelve years, and like each of them, taught us all more than our share for one week.


Finding a rare snow white hermit crab married to a bleached out mollusk shell, watching a lowly flatworm attack and kill a nimble crab, exploring a multitude of minute creatures in a natural reef nursery, finding a completely new and hidden crack into the chilly belly of the Earth (the locale of which is too good to mention in detail here)…  are all just a few of the subtly epic moments that were experienced during a week abroad and in the field this past April.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you aim for whoa in every single granular learning objective that falls within your curriculum. And I’m certainly not suggesting that learning out-of-doors, in the field, suits every academic pursuit. I don’t think it has to happen everywhere, but I do believe it has to happen. Somewhere.


The world is an amazing place, and we live in amazing times. Big moments are all around us. Get on it.


There’s No Week Like EdWeek

Play along?

Repeat the title in your head a few times. Did you get an odd desire to click your heels together? If so, it would be understandable. If you truly believe in the sentiment that “there’s no place like home,” then you would be directly channeling one of the main themes of this post. What might the others be? Personally, I love to travel, but I also love home-field advantage. Also: I love to learn. Follow below as I briefly highlight an exciting upcoming week of learning for local educators… one that even includes a day where folks from our wider region are invited to share in an informal exchange that is commonly referred to as an unconference. But first, if you’re local, you’d better click over to the Edweek SJSD wiki. Open slots are going fast.

Not in kansas anymore...


Our district is currently in a very interesting place and time. We have a couple of building-level initiatives that have readied staff and students for the creation of a 1:1 ecosystem. The essence of that reality is one where the entire community is equipped with a laptop and empowered to utilize digital tools to transform learning in ways we cannot currently deliver. By this time next year, we will likely have 1:1 schools representing all three levels (elementary, middle, high). While we no doubt still need a certain amount of boot-camp type catch up to do in support of those plans, we also have early-adopters and innovators to support at a different level. Much in the same way we now expect it for our children, we owe it to our staff to provide differentiated opportunities for learning and development. Consider this week a squirt of gasoline onto the fires of those staff members ready to push forward with innovation at this time.

EdWeek SJSD - nashworld

Format is everything

Can opt-in PD work in the Summer? We’re betting it can and will with this format. In fact, a couple of the sessions are already nearly full, and the others are filling up fast. And all this for a week in June? Wait: don’t they know this event is still two months away? Don’t these educators know that Summer break will have already begun by that time? It seems as if we have some people anxious for this type of experience with these sort of session leaders. More on our four guests later. So what’s so great about the format?

In short: everything. Think back to the last conference you attended. Walking into your room, finding a place to sit, and doing just that… sitting for an hour or ninety minutes before packing your things, getting up… and walking to the next room to do the same. In that typical format, real transfer of learning is hard to come by. After a few hours it can all start to blur together. That approach certainly can work for some things, but for many types of deep learning, you have to be very disciplined to emerge from the typical conference with anything close to “deep learning.” Finally, what about logistics? Sure, air travel to far away cities can be exciting and fun, but have you priced what it takes to send a couple of people to a conference several states away? Registration, airfare, room & board, etc. Imagine sending a couple hundred people to the same conference. Impossible.


If you’re a Dad like me, yet another three day weekend away from my adorable females is a tough sell at times. So, we decided to bring the conference home to Saint Joseph. There’s something to be said for sleeping in your own bed. There’s also something to be said for learning in the same room for an entire day, from the same gifted leader. In fact, there’s something to be said for actually experiencing and interacting in the learning event, as opposed to merely seeing or hearing about it. And what about being in the same room with 60 of your local district colleagues, all experiencing something new, in depth, and then having a huge body of future collaborators emerge from the room at 3:00pm? Finally, there is also something be said for the economics of it all. Several hundred district educators to the same conference? Good luck trying it any other way.

The week at a glance

Rather than spell it all out here again, I’ll be smart and point you to the EdWeek wiki. Be sure to check out the day-long sessions listed by date/session leader over in the right sidebar. Clicking those will land you on a page for each session complete with bio, and as time goes by, more and more information about the session for that day. In short, four friends I have learned much from in the past will be visiting us that week.  I have interacted and shared with them both digitally and face to face, in conference sessions and informally. I really can’t wait to introduce them to you, and you to them.

Karl Fisch will be coming to us from Colorado, and kicking off the week for us on Monday. Skipping for a moment to Wednesday, we will have Silvia Tolisano in from Florida. Thursday brings another Coloradoan in Michael Wacker, and our week will be wrapped up on Friday with a visit by Dean Shareski from Saskatchewan, Canada. The wildcard of the week, is Tuesday. On Tuesday, we will be holding a local unconference in the Early Childhood section of the Webster Learning Center. That might just be the most different day of all in terms of overall format (in some ways). Please read my description of the day and try to imagine it in your head. After attending a similar event this past Autumn, I had several teachers ask, “why can’t we do this back home in our own district?” My reply:  “we can.” And so we will. I think you’ll like it. In fact, due to the fact that this day could easily accomodate more participants, we will soon be opening up this day to our regional friends. You know who you are, right?

So, go…  check out the schedule, see what you can attend, and register online. Other than the unconference, all sessions will be capped at 60 participants in order to make sure the sessions have the setup required for truly active learning. I, for one, can’t wait.

EdWeek SJSD - nashworld


*”Not in Kansas anymore…” by DrStarbuck on Flickr.
*”Presentations.” by peruisay on Flickr.