Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Path of Your Heart

I love Tracy Chapman's song "All that you have is your soul. " I love her voice and her words:
"Don't be tempted by the shiny apple, don't you eat of a better fruit. Hunger only for a taste of justice; hunger only for a world of truth. Cause all that you have is your soul.
As I reflect on TEDxDenverEd, what keeps coming to the forefront of my mind is this:
The most important thing you bring to teaching is your soul.
Your soul is your passion, your love for the world, your caring for students and for learning, your desire to share with others. Your passion may not be all that you have, but it's the fuel. Without passion you are an empty shell.

Many things touched me at TED last night. Even though I'm "edtechworkshop," I resonated most with the non-techie speakers- inspiring educators like Brian Crosby, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, Earthsea, and Dafna Michaelson. I was heartened by the environmental message that, thank goodness, was showcased on the TED stage with equal or greater importance than futuristic tech (5000 days to get it together, people!!!!!)

The two women who spoke as Earthsea, Pandora and Zakiya really struck a chord with me as they talked about weaving your passions into your work, walking your unique path because only you can do what YOU are supposed to be doing in this life. Was it a sign that they are from the Bay Area and showed a video from Hunter's Point, where my own path as an educator began?

Another of the speakers....and I apologize for not remembering who said exactly what. (I'm finishing this post several days later, talks are not yet posted online and I didn't take any notes during the show)....anyway, another of the speakers referred to "islands" of good teaching but asked the poignant question, "Is the ocean supporting the island?"
Sadly, in my experience, the island often has to fight for it's right not to become the ocean.

Why is it so hard to speak the truth, walk the path, be who we truly are? This is a personal struggle for me, and I feel that I do a somewhat decent job of staying one step ahead of the ocean. But I have had at least 10 jobs in 18 years, and I often feel worried. I am different- too opinionated, too passionate. I see things differently than most of those around me, and it is for this reason that I identify with the island/ocean analogy.

Finally, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel...wow. She is more than a decade younger than I, but I would like to be like her when I grow up. (that's a little nod to Adora Svitak -- watch her TED talk, she's
awesome!) I am in awe of Sarah Elizabeth Ippel's fierce determination. This is a woman who trusted her instincts and followed her heart, despite being laughed at and negated over and over again. She submitted her proposal to start the Academy for Global Citizenship 3 times before it was finally approved by the board, and I loved what she said after she submitted in year 3 and was waiting for the response. "I was waiting and thinking, 'Am I going to have to
wait another whole year before I can try again?'" She had no intention of failing, no intention of quitting. She believed in herself, even when the establishment, "the ocean" repeatedly told her no. How many of us have this kind of confidence?

I recently filled out a feedback form about TEDxDenverEd. I summed up my feelings about the night by contrasting how I felt after TEDx with how I feel when watching mainstream media. I find myself feeling hopeless in the face of television news that showcases problems, but rarely solutions or reality shows that glorify excessive over-consumption and mediocrity. After TEDx, I felt hopeful again, inspired. I hope to be able to tap into those feelings in order to keep focused on my own path, to fortify me as I push back that ocean.

A few thoughts after TED

TEDxDenverEd- An amazing, inspiring night-

1. Be hopeful. Humans are amazing!
2. Weave your passions into your work. Your path is unique- own it. Be courageous, audacious, don't take no for an answer.
3. Solve problems. Collaborate with others to solve problems. Empower the kids to solve their own problems.
4. We only have about 5,000 days left to make serious headway with solving environmental problems before it will be TOO LATE.

I needed this. I had been feeling hopeless; now I feel hopeful. I haven't been doing nearly enough in my job or in my life. I must do more.
I am very inspired by what I saw, heard and experienced tonight. Thank you, TED!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lifelong Kindergarten- Keeping Imagination & Creativity in the Learning Process

Mitchell Resnick, MIT's Lifelong Kindergarten

I decided to take my notes from this session in wordle.

Other posts I've written about LLK and Scratch:

some about playful learning:

and a great article from The Creative Educator (excellent magazine) on Iconic Pattern Play

Top 10 Components of Effective Technology Leadership

Chris O'Neal- trains principals at University of Virginia

italics are my thoughts...
the room is PACKED. We are packed in so tight I can't drink my coffee...
skoodad....(introducing guy works for them)???
He is apologizing for not having paper handouts, this is the first time he hasn't made paper handouts. That, alone, is making me question whether I am in the right place.

Equity of Access- we can't solve the equity of access issue in students' homes, but we MUST solve the issue during the school day. (Covey-- area of influence, area of control. work on those things that are within your control)
In 2010 kids using technology as a reward for finishing work is educational malpractice.
Every kid in every class must have the same access, not just to the equipment, but to the experiences.

Understanding and Using Data-
Lots of schools make (expensive) decisions based on superficial data (ie: student survey "strongly agree....strongly disagree). need to dig deeper into the data before making decisions.

Effective Professional Development-
What is effective professional development? (good question, even at ISTE, not all sessions are created equal!) He is talking about customizing pd for different grade levels. (I don't think that's necessarily the right approach. I agree about differentiating, but I don't know that just focusing on different grade levels is the answer. I personally, after Educon and EdubloggerCon and my learning style which thrives on interaction, have a hard time sitting in a 100 degree lecture and just listening.....I guess that is the point of blogging and twittering for me.)

"Walk the walk~Talk the talk"-- Model what you want
Leaders use the technology themselves, make it look easy

for vision prioritizing
then paste into wordle, very quick way to bring everyone's ideas together to reshape the vision

Reward Growth- recognize and reward when people are trying to move out of their comfort zones.

Genuine Reflection- most education professionals do not reflect in meaningful ways. We need to reflect after professional development, not just ooh, I want that cool thing. Allow time for refection and encourage others to reflect. What is the one thing I am pulling from this session that I am going to DO? (again, the power of blogging....it is a good start, no?)

Student-driven technology - let the kids do the tech stuff. takes some of the pressure off the teachers.

PLN- get one.

It appears that I missed one of the 10 components of effective technology leadership; I only recorded nine. What do you think #10 should be?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Stories We Tell -EduBloggerCon #2

What stories do we tell about education? What stories are broken? What new stories are emerging?
What's "true?"

Old story- The teacher has to know everything.
New story- We all learn from each other. Everyone can be a teacher.

I like "stories we tell" as a way of thinking about what is happening in schools/education.

Old story- all learning takes place in the 4 walls of the school building, School year based on agricultural calendar
New story- Learning is participatory, learning can happen anywhere you are, learning is creative.
Old story- If you aren't attentive when the info is given, you lose.
New story- People learn at different times of the day, in different ways.

Old story -Learning is linear and subjects are separate.

What story or stories do we have to tell about technology in education?
Can our system of education truly adjust or will there be a whole new system that will emerge?

the story about one-to-one laptops is that they're not working... ?? (I hadn't heard this)

Old story -Learning is neat, quiet orderly
New story- Learning is messy!

Old story Curriculum focused on knowledge of information (ie: everyone should know the parts of a flower)
New story learning how to learn

competing stories.
Technology doesn't improve instruction, teachers improve instruction.

New story - Learning is social.

Should the "new stories" be mandated? J. Alba- how to we move toward a paradigm shift large-scale? must be mandated and supported. and a movement away from testing as assessment.
Kevin- Not mandated, invited, inspired-- meet teachers on the front porch with their stories

What can we take away from this that has value? Knowing that these are stories...As humans we identify with stories as a way to explain things but stories change. We are going through a period where we are redefining the way things work because of the internet.

Book recommendation from Kevin Honeycutt- Don't Think of an Elephant

Building Your Brand Online

Simple K-12

do you see yourself as a mini-biz? Scott Mcleod....how do you market yourself in a way that reaches people outside of the space you are operating in? brand/marketing helps reach more people.
have to find a personal voice
there is worth in having a brand as a teacher-Scott Mcleod

hiring committee- we looked for people's online presence
- important for employment

Carol Broos- sees a lot in college, wants to see more in K-12
wherever you participate online you are creating a brand, a lot of people haven't consciously worked on creating their brand yet.

How to transition to a new personal brand? move content to ebooks and link to it

keeping "selves" separate ie: having a separate facebook page for personal contacts, a professional brand that is only professional
schools have a fear of social media, need to teach kids how to use it , create brands, represent selves. (Yup, so true)
time commitment, get out of it what you put into it.

What is your goal?
different goals for different people.
many agree that you don't need to necessarily have a goal

How to get districts, schools, classrooms to use twitter?
See EdTechLeader's twitter resources for teachers.

how to increase presence with the blog, using all the pieces to build your brand (twitter, blog, etc). Go to every social networking platform and secure your brand. Even if you don't think you want to use it, secure it. Also think about securing social media sites for your school, even if you're not using them yet.

namechk.com - to check for availability of your name across sites

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Postcards from ISTE

I'm getting so excited for ISTE.

This year, I will be wearing a new hat at the conference- that of ISTE2010 blogger/tweeter for Tech4Learning. It is a wonderful opportunity on so many levels. I only hope I can do justice to the task of sharing all the amazing things that will be happening.
In the old days (when I was a kid), people sent postcards. I remember when my parents or grandparents would travel. They usually arrived home about a week before the postcard arrived.

Tech4Learning has recently introduced a web-based version of Pixie called (what else?) Wixie.
You can use Wixie to create a digital postcard from ISTE that can be shared immediately. Here is mine:

If you're going to be at ISTE, stop by booth #526 to make yours.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Workbook Agita

Another school year has ended, and once again I am having agita (cool word from a book I am reading, blogger says no such word, but I like it)....anyway having agita as I go through my daughter's big bag of workbooks.
Here are my issues-
1. The workbooks are expensive. Parents are required to buy a workbook for every subject, including a series of workbooks for Hebrew.
2. The workbooks are by-and-large unused. Some of them have only a few pages that have been used.
3. I would prefer for my child to use more authentic tools and materials to learn many of the skills presented in these workbooks. (Boy it took a lot of restraint for me to write that nice sentence. I wanted to just write "Workbooks suck" but I held back.)
4. I hate waste. The books are just used enough that it's hard to find an incoming 3rd grade student who would take them. I certainly don't think my daughter will want to spend her summer answering contrived workbook questions about random paragraphs. I might as well just throw some dollar bills into the recycling bin at the start of each school year, and skip the whole charade.

Every year now I have questioned the reasoning behind having parents spend a lot of money buying workbooks that won't be used. I have not yet received an acceptable answer.
I wish the teachers would have the courage to order only the one or two workbooks they really plan to use. I am ok with my daughter practicing D'Nealian handwriting with a workbook (one of the only books that got used). Who knows if cursive writing will be of use to her in the future, but she enjoys it, and that is fine with me.

If each parent took half the money they would normally spend on workbooks and donated it to a class fund, the teacher could buy lots of real books for children to read and lots of other useful and authentic materials for the classroom.
After 3 years of buying school books, I have spent almost as much money as it would cost to buy my child a macbook, which she would love and could use for a long time, something that would kill those workbooks.

Our school seems to be moving in a new direction. We will be reading Curriculum 21 as a staff this summer and working on upgrading our content, curriculum and assessments. I particularly don't understand the decision to make parents purchase these wasteful and expensive books, year after year. We must not only talk the talk, we must walk the walk. We must take time, at the end of each day and the end of each year, to ask what is working and what is not?
We must have the courage to be real, to let go of the old and to change. If not now, when?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Trust a Teacher

Perk up your listening ears and you will notice that everyone has an opinion about teachers. Parents have strong viewpoints on which teachers are "good" at their child's school though Parent A and Parent B might strongly disagree on which teacher is the best.
Politicians are forever searching for a way to measure good teaching. Should good teaching be rewarded with better pay? How, then, will we measure good teaching? And, of course, bad teachers should be forced from the classroom!

I purposely use the vague and almost meaningless words "good" and "bad" to introduce the idea that perhaps we need to look at teaching and teachers through a different lens.
What I think it boils down to, in the most basic way, is relationship. Teaching is one half of a relationship.
The teacher-student relationship is archetypal. It is certainly not dependent on a classroom or a school. As I think deeply about teachers and teaching and what I consider to be a good teacher, I keep coming back to trust. As a student (or a parent of a student) I must give over a certain amount of trust to the teacher. This is what, I believe, is being eroded with our personal and societal preoccupations with measuring and quantifying teaching.

As a teacher, you must earn your student's trust. You must commit to do the hard work necessary to be worthy of that trust. You must reinvent yourself, your practice, your lessons, your knowledge. You must deeply understand the way in which each class and every student is unique. To be a true teacher is to want to be in relationship with students, to realize that you teach human beings, not subject matter.

On the flip side, teachers are also special and unique. Teachers are not machines. We are not robots. We can not be expected to talk alike, work alike, manage classrooms alike, have the same notions of what is most important for our students.

As a student and a parent I have my ideas of what good teaching looks like, sounds like, and feels like to me. I also try to remind myself to put these expectations aside, to trust a teacher who may, in many ways, differ from my ideal of a good teacher. Each caring teacher imparts a different lesson.

From time to time I hear the question, "Will computers replace teachers?" With good software and instructional media, can't I learn whatever I want to learn without a teacher? Good instructional design (designed by humans!) is an excellent way to reach learners. However, learners are individuals and instructional software and materials can only reach so far into a learner's soul.
Will computers replace spouses? Will computers replace having children?
"Computers are magnificent tools for the realization of our dreams, but no machine can replace the human spark of compassion, love and understanding." -Louis Gerstner
A story-
Some years back I wanted to learn to play the guitar. I envisioned singing my favorite songs and strumming easily in accompaniment. It was difficult and frustrating to be a beginner, and I had to tap into everything I knew about being a learner.
First of all, I found a teacher. But after weeks of lessons, practice, chords and scales, I still couldn't play a song. I began to get antsy. I started to question my teacher.
When he finally taught me a song, it was not a song I chose, but a song he chose. I was beginning to really question whether I had the right teacher. Other friends with other teachers had learned to play songs early-on. Why was he making me suffer? Why did my first song have to be a difficult jazz song? Why, why, why???
Being a teacher myself, and one who reveres the teacher-student relationship, I calmed myself. Trust him, I thought. He is the teacher. You are the student. He is your guide; you must trust him. Finally he allowed me to choose a song. I chose "Here Comes the Sun" and boy, was I excited. I will tell you that no beginning guitar student has ever played such a complicated and lovely rendition of "Here Comes the Sun." Not just chords, my teacher taught me every note and nuance of the song. The proof came when I played for my friend, Scott, an extremely accomplished guitar player. Scott had been playing guitar for decades, and had not taken a lesson for many years. When he heard his beginner friend play "Here Comes the Sun," he requested my teacher's phone number.

The other day a friend told me she was interested in trying yoga. I mentioned how much I like my studio, that she might want to try a class. She said she had a yoga program on her wii fit. Now, I have to admit I don't have a wii fit, so I don't speak from personal experience. But it seems to me that while a wii fit might be a decent tool for getting a little exercise, I have a hard time imagining how the wii fit could hold a candle to a real yoga teacher who sets the mood, imparts bits of wisdom, adjusts certain poses and guides the journey. I can't imagine the wii fit having a passion for yoga. I have trouble imagining a new student falling in love with yoga through the generic program that is created basically the same for everyone. I will take a real teacher over a machine any day of the week.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Off the Mat

This is my son, Jack.
Today was Jack's last day of Kindergarten.
Like any parent, I could go on and on about my son-- his talents, his unique attributes. Jack is smart, adventurous, strong and athletic, sensitive and kind, outgoing and friendly. He loves learning, has an incredible memory, is enamored with reading and writing, and craves constant mental stimulation.
He is also fidgety, impulsive and loud. He forgets to raise his hand. He "HAS TO SAY SOMETHING!" Not always welcome attributes in the classroom setting.

Although he was in a small class (only 8 students) at a private school, Jack struggled to fit in this year due to his impulsive behavior. Every day he came home with a number written in a folder, representing how many smiley-faces he received (or didn't get taken away) that day.

As Jack and I discussed his behavior, and why he might have lost a smiley that day, it became apparent to me that a lot of his troubles seemed to occur on the mat. Jack lost smileys for talking on the mat, scraping the mat, writing on the mat, etc. Once he even received an extra smiley for good behavior on the mat.

Our school, in general, seems to struggle to meet the needs of kids, like Jack, who don't seem to fit nicely into the box (ie: sit nicely on the mat). Put Jack in a tree and I think he would listen more attentively.
Look at the mat:
It even looks like a box.

I have just finished my fourth year of teaching at the same school Jack attends. I continue to grow and learn and am lucky to be in a place where I am able to evolve professionally. When I got into the field of educational technology it was sparked by my interest in what motivated students. As I started blogging and tweeting, I chose the name EdTech Workshop because, at the time I was thrilled by the new and exciting potential I was discovering as I became an expert in the field of technology integration.
Although I still believe tremendously in the potential it holds, technology in education is no longer new to me, and I find myself feeling a bit "boxed in" here at EdTech Workshop. I want to feel free as I work through my ideas about learning and life in a broader, more open space, as silly or arbitrary as that may sound.

I have taken the "tech" out of my job description. In honor of Jack and all children who don't fit into the mold of schooliness, I am calling my new blog "Off The Mat." This also reflects my growing commitment to my yoga practice, and my desire to explore how I can take that practice off the mat and into the rest of my life.

There are a number of absolutely brilliant EdTech blogs out there. Instead of continuing to sing with the choir, I am ready to find and share my own true voice.

"What the world tells you is to be like everybody else. What the world needs for you to be is YOU." ~Ralph Marston