There’s nothing better than a pot of chili on a cold winter night. And there’s nothing better than a batch of hot cornbread muffins alongside. Those were my thoughts after I came home from a late night of meetings yesterday. The temperatures were hovering around 20°, I had ground meat and chili beans at the ready. What could go wrong?
And as I mixed cornmeal and flour with a beaten egg, I realized my folly. We were out of milk. A gallon of white and a quart of chocolate appear on my doorstep every Tuesday morning.1 So here I was on a Monday night with chili simmering on the stove, cornbread half mixed and no milk. Grr.
I put on my coat, grumbling about having to get out after just getting home, when my dear husband said, “You know, we still have some chocolate milk…”
“Yes,” I patiently2 replied, “but I’m making cornbread.”
“So, why not use chocolate milk?”
“Um..” I sighed before replying, “because I’m making cornbread.”
“And what’s the worst that could happen?”
I paused. What was the worst that could happen?
So, out came the chocolate milk. And into the mix it went. The muffins looked odd going into the tins. Cornbread isn’t supposed to be chalky brown. Muffins aren’t supposed to look so….un-cornbreadly.
After 20 minutes, I took them out of the oven, ready to toss them straight into the trash after taking the first bite. But…
They were wonderful.3
So maybe making cornbread muffins isn’t supposed to be a life lesson. But sometimes we get so stuck in the way things are supposed to be done, that we forget to question our assumptions. We forget to listen to the voices who gently ask us to do so. And sometimes, that means we miss out on something special.
Where are the places you should be questioning your assumptions? And how can you make sure to do so every now and then?
For the past 3 years, the New Media Consortium, along with CoSN and ISTE, has worked to identify trends in education and learning in their annual Horizon Report. This year, as in last year’s report, Game Based Learning has made the list of trends to be adopted in two to three years. Games, both digital and analog, are great ways for students to practice skills while learning social skills such as cooperation and teamwork. But playing games is only half of the learning equation. What can students discover when they’re challenged to design their own games?
To promote this thought, PBS is participating in the STEM Video Game Challenge, a contest where students have the opportunity to design and create their own video games for learning. For students just starting, or for teachers wanting to bring the contest into their classrooms, the PBSKids STEM Challenge site includes video interviews with game designers as well as a link to the registration site. The contest ends March 12, so there’s still plenty of time to register and join in the fun. And if you’re a teacher who wants to try your hand at designing the next great learning game, there’s even a category for you.1
To kick off the fun, we’re hosting a Twitter party this Thursday! I’ll be a panelist during the PBS Twitter Party on Thursday, January 19 between 7:00-8:30 PM mountain time2 to discuss the PBSKids STEM Challenge. You’ll find me there (@milobo), joined by hosts @teachmama, @techsavvymama, @pbskids, @pbsteachers and a host of other panelists. You can follow the entire stream by using the Twitter hashtag #PBSKidsSC. We’ll be giving away some pretty cool prizes to participants in the chat,3, so make sure to RSVP using this link.
I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with the fine folks at PBS on a few projects over the years, and this is one I’m happy to help promote and publicize.4 I think this project is one that has great potential for moving students and teachers beyond the role of consumer to the role of designer. Think about encouraging your students to join in the fun!
- Anyone interested in teaming up to try? [↩]
- that’s 9:00-10:30 PM for all you East coast folks [↩]
- including a Kindle! [↩]
- In the interests of full disclosure, you should know that PBS is providing me compensation for my participation in the Twitter event, but the comments I’ve made here about the event and the contest are all my own. In my opinion, I owe them twice as much for getting me out of my slump and making me want to write again. [↩]
Every year for the past 17 years, somewhere in rural Arkansas and Louisiana, a school librarian has received a box of assorted children’s books from an anonymous donor with a bookplate attached to the inside cover of each book. The names on the bookplates are those who deserve to be remembered and honored, but who will never see a statue or building or even a plaque erected in public in their memory. Family and friends I miss to this day. A student gone too soon. My hope is that the small gesture of a book given in love and memory will make a difference to someone. While it might not be an endowment or a building, it feels good to know that somewhere a child will keep the memory of that person alive.
Today, I learned that a talented and respected teacher in our district passed away unexpectedly. She wasn’t world famous. She didn’t have an audience of thousands in the Edutech world. But, she was, undoubtedly, a superstar. In a world where we so often hear what’s wrong with teaching, Kirsten was a shining example of what’s best in the profession. Her compassion and passion and ability to lead her students as well as her fellow teachers in growth and learning were unparalleled. She deserves to be remembered as such for years to come. I’ll make sure her name will find its way onto a bookplate in a library somewhere soon.
Her family is asking for donations to a scholarship fund for aspiring teachers. I can’t think of a better way to honor her excellence than to inspire a young teacher to follow in her footsteps. Perhaps you’ll join me in donating a few dollars there. If not for Kirsten, then in honor of someone who made a difference to you.
As I’ve started each school year since I began teaching 20-ish years ago,1 I stopped and spent a little while reflecting on the year that came before and set goals for what I hoped to accomplish before the next May rolls around. These days, I’ve got the advantage of working on a great team with Bud and Kyle as we set our collective goals for the year.
There’s something about the process of negotiating through dozens of possible priorities to center on the essentials that appeals to me. For one, goal setting gives purpose to the work. Each action and task become part of a larger vision of what we’d like to accomplish. Conversely, goals also serve as reminders of what’s not essential. Sometimes2 the day-to-day work that consumes my time leads me no nearer to meeting the goals we’ve set. Having a set of goals to refer to when I’m bogged down in minutia allows me to either confirm I’m working on the right things or rethink where I should be spending my time.
Collective goal setting holds even more importance. As Kyle joined Bud and I this year, our time spent setting goals became an opportunity to orient all of us to our role in the district. The act of negotiating and articulating our individual priorities in a way that we could all agree on led to a better understanding of how we would work as a team.
However, as important as the goals seem, they’re not the most important part. Goals are only as visionary as the actions you take to make them true.
All too often, folks (including me) spend time talking about what needs fixing, but don’t spend enough time talking about what they’re doing to make it better. From the news media to our political leaders, it’s become the norm to give the largest slice of attention to those who point out the flaws in education. To those with lofty goals and deep pockets for promoting them. Why? Do we truly value the pundits more than the practitioner?
I’d like to think that’s not the case.
In a meeting today that included representation from technology to curriculum to student services, we spent time looking at achievement data for the district and answering the question “How can you and your department make a difference?” It would be easy to brush off a low achievement score as the problem of another department, but ultimately we’re all responsible for turning the tide in education. Not just by confirming the diagnosis, but by offering to be a part of the cure.
To help recenter my own priorities, I’m going to focus more of my thinking and writing3 on actions. The things I’m seeing and hearing and trying that make a difference. The actions that make the goals become a reality. The folks who are in the middle of making it happen.
I’m hoping to find opportunities to ask, “What will you do to make a difference?” when I hear someone share what’s wrong with education. I’m hoping to ask myself that question more often too.
I won’t claim to have the answers, but I’ll offer to share what I learn along the way. I hope you’ll do the same. It seems a worthy goal for us all.
- It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. Most of the time, I still feel like I’m still learning what it means to be a teacher. (Which, I think, is the way it should be.) [↩]
- and for me lately, more often than I’d like [↩]
- A good friend has reminded me often lately that I’ve got things to write about. I owe him thanks for continuing to remind me even when I protested. [↩]
is pages long.
The words roll off the screen,
and scroll beyond the heavens
to your eyes, to your breath,
to your thoughts, to your dreams.
To your soul, to my soul,
to my heart.
is oceans deep.
Words never imagined exist side by side
where they create truths just beyond your comprehension
your world, your mind,
my past, my future.
Our life, our love.
is a shell.
There’s been a lot of attention paid lately to the resources being provided by Salman Khan and the Khan Academy.1 Salman talks about the epiphany he had when remotely tutoring family members and how perhaps his videos could replace the lectures happening in classrooms across the country. As Salman says:
“Our goal is to use technology to humanize, not just in Los Altos, but on a global scale, what’s happening in education. And actually, that kind of brings an interesting point. A lot of the effort in humanizing the classroom is focused on student-to-teacher ratios. In our mind, the relevant metric is student-to-valuable-human-time- with-the-teacher ratio. So in a traditional model, most of the teacher’s time is spent giving lectures and grading and whatnot. Maybe five percent of their time is actually sitting next to students and actually working with them. Now 100 percent of their time is. So once again, using technology, not just flipping the classroom, you’re humanizing the classroom, I’d argue, by a factor of five or 10.”
Here’s his talk titled, “Let’s use video to reinvent education”
About 90 years ahead of the Khan Academy, Thomas Edison was making related arguments about the ability of film to replace much of the teaching done in schools.
“Film teaching will be done without any books whatsoever The only text-books needed will be for the teacher’s own use. The films will serve as guideposts to these teacher instruction books, not the books as guides to the films. The pupils will learn everything there is to learn, in every grade from the lowest to the highest. The long years now spent in cramming indigestible knowledge down unwilling young throats and in examining young minds on subjects which they can never learn under the present system will be cut down marvelously, waste will be eliminated, and the youth of every land will at last become actually educated. By making every classroom and every assembly hall a movie show, 100 per cent, attendance will be assured. Why, you won’t be able to keep boys and girls away from school then. They’ll get there ahead of time and scramble for good seats, and they’ll stay late, begging to see some of the films over again. I’d like to be a boy again when film teaching becomes universal.”
Here’s the source of that excerpt.
On the surface, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these assumptions. But at the same time there’s the implicit conclusion that the delivery of content is what learning is made of.
Media can’t recreate the community of school. The best things that happen in classrooms have nothing to do with the delivery of a lecture or the viewing of a video or the solving of problem sets. The best things that happen in classrooms have kids and teachers working through things together.2 Kids talking and writing and learning in community with one another. The delivery of facts is the smallest part of learning.
I like the concept of providing content for students to individualize and personalize their learning. But I worry when the thinking is that simply providing a set of media resources, even when they’re linked to data tools will somehow make students into learners. The magic of learning happens when students are connected to content in a way that motivates them to want to learn more. No video can bring about that change.
Change requires that we be willing to rethink not only the delivery of content, but also what we have students and teachers do with that content. Change requires that our assessments value the use of content, not the acquisition of content.
Change requires that we acknowledge there’s more to learning than access to information and then spend time and money figuring out those bits too.
I’m just digging in to Jim Knight’s newest book, Unmistakable Impact. Already I’m hooked. The book resonates with the gentle reminder that in order to change education for the better, we must work as partners from a place of mutual respect.
Here’s a quote I want to remember and think on further as I think about how to build good learning experiences for teachers:
“Professional learning that dehumanizes its participants carries the seeds of its own failure. When a select few do the thinking for others, when people are forced to comply with outside pressure with little or no input, when teachers asking genuine questions are labeled resisters, when leaders act without a true understanding of teachers’ day-to-day classroom experiences, these dehumanizing practices severely damage teacher morale.”
Lately, I’ve been exploring ways to make the interactions I have with teachers in technology professional development offerings more about the partnership and less about the push of information. We’ve developed a frame for that kind of work as part of our district Digital Learning Collaborative, but there are still some tweaks and adjustments I want to think through, especially in the classes I teach in support of the DLC. Technology professional development classes can tend to be heavy how-to sessions and that’s got me thinking about what I can do differently. I’m exploring how to enhance the standard training model and make it into a more reflective and personal experience while still conveying enough information to help people move forward.
Four things I’m working on as I revise the PD classes I teach:
1. Providing opportunities for personal reflection and group feedback into multiple points of a session.
2. Developing session takeaways (the handouts and such) in a way that the final collection is personalized for each individual.
3. Building in the opportunity for participants to create an action plan that answers what they’ll do with what they learn.
4. Framing courses around central questions in teaching rather than functions of a particular piece of hardware or software.
My hope is that by revising sessions with these 4 things in mind, I’ll be modeling the process of learning as a conversation focused on meaning-building rather than a transference focused on fact-acquisition. I’m also hoping it’ll provide better opportunities for teachers to come together in a way that humanizes and values their experiences.
It’s going to take some time to redo things, but I’m thinking it’s important. It’s also going to mean rethinking what’s essential in a course so that the time spent on each element isn’t rushed.
As I develop and try new things, I’ll share them here. I’d be interested in how you’re rethinking technology professional development too.
In 2004, I came to understand what it feels like.1
The day after Hurricane Ivan was the worst. We knew it would be bad, but didn’t know what to expect. The drive home that usually took 30 minutes took us most of a day because many of the bridges and roads were washed away. We parked several blocks from our street and walked over rubble, over debris, over the bits and pieces that used to be the lives and memories of our friends and neighbors. We came home to a house, mostly roofed, mainly ruined, and started the task of dragging the soggy remains of our bottom floor to the curb.
For over a month, we had no electricity. For almost as long, we had no running water. We waited in lines for hours hoping to get gas, to get meals, to get help from someone, anyone, who might be able to help us get back a bit of normal.
The little things were the worst. Watching out-of-towners drive down the street, craning necks and taking pictures of our misery. Watching scavengers dig through the piles of the things we lost for bits they could resell to some unwitting soul. Watching one neighbor finally have enough and take a hatchet to the furniture and belongings growing mold in the yard so that the scavengers would finally go away for good. Living with the feeling that the rest of the world had moved on and forgotten about our suffering.
The little things were the best. Like the neighbor who ran an extension cord from his generator to our house so we could run a fan at night. Or the one who happened upon two bags of ice and shared one with us. And the nights of sitting outside, no lights save the stars, as we visited with friends and grilled the last of the semi-frozen remains from our collective kitchen freezers.
What I understand isn’t even remotely on the level of what Japan is facing now. The misery I lived can’t begin to compare.
So, I’ve done my part and donated to the Red Cross relief fund.2 Without their assistance, my life and the lives of my neighbors in the fall of 2004 would have been too much to bear. I want to make sure the care I was shown during the toughest time I could imagine will be given to others in need.
I hope you’ll consider doing the same.
The episode got me to thinking a lot about my priorities and the concept of time. It seems none of us have enough of it, but I’m trying not to use that as an excuse for neglecting the things that are important to me.
I like John Maxwell’s thoughts on time, especially the idea that time is more valuable than money. In John’s words: “People who use time correctly underscore their values with the time they spend.”1
I constantly remind myself to invest my time in the things that matter most, rather than the things that are easiest. It sounds like something that should be second nature, but when the choice between answering emails and buckling down to work on the online course resources I’m wanting to build for our district, it’s all too easy to choose the easy way out.
A couple of things I’m trying to do to make time more manageable:
- I’ve started to spend 20 minutes before I leave my house in the morning skimming through emails. I answer any that can be done quickly and flag any that need immediate attention. When I get to work, I work on the flagged emails and then ignore email until just before lunch. It sounds a bit silly to be so obsessive about not answering messages, but there are days when I’ll get 50 or more emails in a morning. I could easily spend all day there. That wouldn’t be a good thing.
- When I have something routine that must be done, I schedule it on my calendar. By putting small tasks on my calendar, even if it’s only a 15 minute block, I keep myself from thinking constantly about when they’ll get done while I’m working on other, bigger projects.
- At the start of the day, I write 3 things I hope to accomplish before I go home. The list stays on my desk in front of my computer so I’m constantly reminded of the things that are most worthy of my time that day. If I happen to get distracted by another pressing task, that list brings me back to my priorities.
- I tend to get distracted by Twitter when folks are posting good readings and links. I’ve started starring those as favorites in Twitter and using an iPad app called Social Reader2 to come back to those later in the evening when I’ve set aside time to read.
I’d be interested in hearing what tips and strategies others use to prioritize time. If you’ve got something that works, share it when you have a minute.
And in your spare time, give our podcast a listen.
Lately, I’ve noticed that lots of questions I get from teachers start something like this: “I hate to bother you….” or “This is probably a stupid question1, but….”
Said in a tone that implies that teachers shouldn’t have to ask. That by looking for someone to help, they’ve somehow shown an unacceptable weakness. That the questions aren’t worthy of asking.
So, I want to make sure that both the words that I use and the ways that I interact reflect one thing: I believe in you.
Ask questions. Try things. Know that it’s ok if they don’t go as you had planned. Learn from that experience. Share the good and the bad so others can benefit from your learning. Because what you discover is of value.
Don’t be worried when I ask questions instead of giving answers. Sometimes that’s my way of helping you see you already had the knowledge you needed to move ahead. Sometimes, it’s to make sure the question you ask is really the one that needs answering. And sometimes it’s because I’m learning too.
Invite me into your classroom now and then. I’m not there to evaluate, but to help. I miss interacting with students sometimes and when you allow me to work with you, even for a single class period, it helps me remember what’s important.
And never forget that I believe you have inside what it takes to be an excellent teacher. Even when you’re asking for help.
- or “silly thing to ask”, “something I should already know,” or one of many other ways of saying their question isn’t worth much. [↩]