Learning in our times and discovering curriculum: two reflections from Richardson’s ISTE Ignite presentation

This blog will not hereafter be a list of habits that I’m building; however, I will mention one little habit that I’ve decided to take up: do something with everything.

I attended the Lausanne Laptop Institute in Memphis in mid July.  It shaped up to be a fantastic few days of learning and expanding my PLN.  However, by the end of the first day I was a bit frustrated with the amount of “sit and get” that attendees were subjected to.  Rather than stew, I decided to practice a new habit.  I decided to take at least one thing away from each session.  Sometimes it had little to do with the session.  During one session on do’s and don’t’s of technology, I took one word that was mentioned during the presentation (“habitat”) and tweeted/brainstormed (tweetstormed?) about a potential course that revolves around a student’s habitat.  During another session the presenter quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I wrote down that quote because I thought that my homeroom boys might benefit from hearing it and thinking about it.

Now, one might think that vowing to “do something with everything” might lead to a firehose of “stuff.”  Not really, as long as you’re content that something might include grasping an idea, chewing on it for a few minutes, long enough for it to stick in your memory, dumping it, then going on with your day.  You never know when that little chemical pulse in your bright join another to form a neural network, and idea, an inspiration, a movement…

So, in the spirit of doing something with everything, I came across Will Richardson’s Ignite presentation from ISTE.  There are a whole bunch of somethings in this presentation, but I call dibs on two:

Something #1: “This is an amazing time to be a learner in this world.”

Amen.  We are at a point where technology has caught up with know-how has caught up with technology.  (Not a typo…I’ll explain).  First, there was technology that only few knew about and even fewer were able to use.  Then as knowledge and understanding increased among the laity, technology began an outward ripple to bring user experience to EVERY level of technological comfort.  I think that ripple has now extended to every user that WANTS to use these technologies.  (Hold-outs remain, but you know what they say about horses and water…)

So, TED, MIT, and millions more make compelling content public, connectivity is the default setting for most canonized technologies, and technological easy and embellishment are in a “sweet spot.” (A techno-rube can develop very slick product with a modicum of time and know-how.)

An amazing time to be a learner indeed.  So why is each and every teacher out there NOT actively engaged in making their learning public?  Blog, microblog, wiki, webpage, whatever!  Just get out there, share what you’re learning, what interests you, and make connections.  Who knows how it might affect your teaching, your learning, or your life?

Something #2: “Stop delivering curriculum.  Curriculum is everywhere.  It’s not ours to deliver.”

I just might scrawl this on my desk when I go back to school in August.  If I allowed my students to discover their own reason for speaking a second language, what might that look like?  How might that affect buy-in?  And how might buy-in affect the effectiveness their learning the so-called “important stuff?”  I suspect this will be the subject of a future post.

The Tiered Technology Toolkit #li12

Today I attended Elizabeth Helfant’s “1:1 for Everyone” session at the Lausanne Laptop Institute 2012 #li12.  We talked a great deal about the content, pedagogy, and technology needs that may be addressed alongside a school’s decision to go 1:1.  A common (or not-s0-common) practice is to create a “canon of  technology” for the whole school.  It’s a great idea!  However, I suspect that the messaging often comes across as “The powers-that-be have deemed permissible the following applications:….”

What if, rather than a “list of sanctioned and supported technology,” we created a tiered technology toolkit?

  • Tier 1: “In order to be employed here, you must know these.”–This would include your classroom management software, email platform, and grade reporting mechanism.  This should include VERY few applications (those that you need in order get done the bare minimum with and for your students).  These need to be few in number because you want the emphasis not to be on what they must learn; rather on what they may learn.
  • Tier 2: “Try to learn two of these applications…”–We want to encourage exploration, experimentation among our faculty.  So rather than mandate and limit opportunities, present them as…opportunities!
  • Tier 3: “We (the school) lift you up as a leader-learner if you integrate some of the following into your teaching practice.”–We need to celebrate those who venture into the unknown, who’s choice of technology leans toward the surrender of “sit n’ get” learning, an emphasis on student content creation.  Put those wonderful web 2.0 tools in this category that put students in the driver’s seat.

Creating a tiered technology toolkit makes sense for many reasons:

  • It limits the firehose of websites, software and apps.
  • It allows the school to benchmark technology literacy for faculty and students.
  • It gives faculty an idea of how and to what extent they can stretch their own learning.
  • It allows interest-driven networks to grow organically among faculty.

In search of school-wide Essential Learnings/Questions

The purpose of this post is two-fold:

  1. see title–that pretty much explains it
  2. I hope to expand my learning network, so feel free to comment if you subscribe to this blog, but by all means SHARE THIS with your own network!  I’d love to meet the people that make my people so darn interesting.

Here’s the task:

Imagine that for some reason a school decided to eliminate content-specific departmental structures.  Rather than learning Art, Science, and Spanish, students learn a set of core skills and content that will prepare them for the next levels of learning, a life of citizenship, a successful career, and a life worthy of the investment of time living it.

What do you consider the essential learnings or essential questions that students would explore throughout their academic studies?

Whether you’re an educator, a parent, whether you work in public sector, private sector, or don’t work at all, I’d love to have your input.

Comment below, reply to others’ comments, challenge me and others, combine ideas.  Have fun.  I hope it’s not just me and the crickets…

If a tree falls in the classroom…

My school’s vision statement calls for “schedules and spaces that fit learning.” This weekend I came across this sculpture hewn out of a former pine tree. The barred owls were kind enough to hoot an idea to me.

When a tree falls on campus, or when it is determined that one must be felled, we cut it down to the stump, grind the stump, and landscape over the scar left behind. What if we leave the stump and ask students to make some decisions?

Is the space right for a piece of “natural” furniture? Or a sculpture? And if so, what must be done to the stump to ward off rot? What physical and chemical processes does a dead tree undergo? At the very least we have two courses of study integrating here, and that’s just what the barred owls and I have come up with…

Any other ideas? Comments and ideas are welcome, because I’m going to begin harassing people at school shortly.

By the way, I’m posting from the WordPress iPhone app for the first time, so if something doesn’t look right, that’s why.

Hoo should decide what to do when a tree falls on campus? Students, that’s hoo!!

Formatively assessing Shakespeare

As a student of writing, this young man was given a chance to revise and republish his work…but where are the results??

This morning I’m finishing up Imagine: How Creativity Works by Johah Lehrer.  After talking about the creative process, the neuroscience of creativity, the importance of divergence and convergence in the creative process, and the relationship between cities and creative behavior, he finishes by talking about Shakespeare.  He argues that, yes, Shakespeare’s work exists “for all time” (quoting Ben Jonson).  However, Shakespeare could have only produced what he produced by living in his own time, that the conditions were ripe for a Shakespeare.  Then he mentions one of the conditions of creativity (freedom of speech) that made me wink directly at my book.  After quoting a passage fromKing Lear, Lehrer writes:

These are the lines of a fearless writer.  Shakespeare knew that even if his plays did manage to offend the queen’s censors, he probably wouldn’t be thrown into a dungeon…Instead, his punishment would be literary; he might be asked to revise the play in the next version, or cut the offending lines from the printed edition.  This forgiving attitude encouraged playwrights to take creative risks…

Shakespeare was a beneficiary of formative assessment.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a2/Shakespeare.jpg