Personal Learning Networks

Who has influenced you lately?

For some reason I have had the good fortune of being influenced by some brilliant, talented and dedicated individuals these past few months. While I’ve only scratched the surface of their work, I find their work to be inspirational.  Our students, at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School have been fortunate to hear Jeff Shinabarger, Kitti Murray, and Terence Lester tell their stories. Jeff is the founder of Plywood People, which is here in Atlanta, and Kitti and Terence have worked closely with Jeff to build their organizations. My wife and I were fortunate to meet met Len and Georgia Morris this summer while we were visiting Martha’s Vineyard. All are passionate and impactful “engaged citizen leaders”.

Jeff Shinabarger



Jeff Shinabarger spoke at the Class of 2016 Graduation Ceremony and each member of the graduating class received a copy of his book, More or Less, Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity. I love their slogan, “Better is Possible”. After reading Jeff’s book I am conducting an experiment to determine “what is enough in your [my] life.” My three takeaways from the book were:

  • We can lead richer and fulfilling lives if we determine what is essential for our living.
  • “The good life is not found in luxury; rather it is found in a life that enhances the life of another human.””
  • I must continue to develop an understanding of individuals who are different than me. I must walk in their shoes. This understanding can totally change my mindset.

Kitti Murray

Kitti Murray is a social entrepreneur and the founder of Refuge Coffee. She spoke to our students earlier in the year and Kitti and her team participated on this year’s fuse16 conference. After working with Kitti’s team to develop solutions to how they can better integrate members of the Clarkston and greater Atlanta communities I am obsessed with learning more about the Clarkston community. The weekend after fuse I traveled out there to explore the neighborhood. Within two square blocks there are probably 12 different markets. I can only imagine that each market caters to different ethnic groups. I felt like I was overseas again, except I wasn’t sure which country I was visiting. I’m also reading Dave Eggers book What is the What. I’m also having conversations with colleagues on how our students can learn from Clarkston residents.

Terence Lester

Terence is the founder of Love Beyond Walls. Terence shared his story with our students and his team also participated in fuse16. I’ve been fascinated by how Terence walks in the shoes of others to better understand their world. He lived on top of a bus for 30 days to raise money to buy a bus that has been transformed into a mobile makeover salon, lived for a week on the streets, and he is preparing to call attention to poverty in this country through MAP16. Terence, and volunteers will be walking 648 miles from Atlanta to Washington D.C. I hope to participate in MAP16 and a group of MVPS students is preparing to promote and recruit participants for the event.

Len and Georgia

Len and Georgia Morris haven’t spoken to MVPS students…yet. The two are the founders of Media Voices for Children. Meeting Len and Georgia was an added bonus to our trip to Martha’s Vineyard. For over 20 years the two have been on a mission to protect human rights for children. They have documented poverty and human rights abuses in countries around the world (including the U.S.). Len was the 2012 recipient of the Iqbal Masih Award from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“This award recognizes the life’s work of Len Morris in raising public awareness about the plight of working children around the globe,” Ms. Polaski said. “His films and advocacy highlight child labor, hunger in Africa and homeless child laborers.”

Below are the trailers for each of their three films.

I look forward to learning more from Len and Georgia and finding ways to connect them with our students.

Amazing Summer of Learning

This summer I have had three amazing learning experiences that were each very different, yet they connect to our mission at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. Here is my first pass at a brief overview of the takeaways.

Traverse Conference at the Watershed School in Boulder, CO

MVPS Team at Traverse16

The MVPS Team (minus Bo Adams) at Traverse 16

Storify from Traverse

Using the local environment for learning – Right from the start we were working with John Weiss from Human Design to consult on their Social Action Machine Project. Starting out on a non-educational project was the perfect way to get the creative juices flowing. This was also a reminder that we need to search for projects for our students that are outside the realm of our walls.

Baking human into everything you do. John Weiss

Project-based learningNicole Martin and I joined the Integrating Disciplines Through Real-World Learning session. We were immediately put on a bus and traveled to visit the site of a 6th grade project that involved ecology, economics, government, sociology and many other disciplines. After the group listed their community problems Nicole and I latched on to transportation and traffic in our area. More to come later on our ideas for a schoolwide project on this problem.

Disciplines legitimize each other.

Entrepreneurship – We learned about Startup Weekend, a program for teenagers that is held in cities around the country. Our task was to study the organic food market and pitch a start up. The highlight was our visit to a Whole Foods. We observed and interviewed shoppers in the store. We got a taste of immersing ourselves in the research and empathy process.

Consultivations – Our students are so much more capable than what we typically give them credit for and Meghan Cureton presented how our Innovation Diploma students consulted with an organization on the design of a pocket park. Here’s an article from a local newspaper explaining what the students accomplished.

fuse 16 at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Refuge Coffee fuse16

fuse16 work with Refuge Coffee

The goals for participants were:

  • Make an impact in an issue alongside several Atlanta nonprofits
  • Learn design thinking as a practitioner, rather than in a “classroom” setting
  • Model the possibilities and opportunities for doing school differently


The best part of the entire experience was learning the DEEPDT process while working with Refuge Coffee. Refuge is an amazing social business that strives to create community for Clarkston residents. In doing so the company also allows for newly immigrated refugees to earn a living wage and develop skills, including English language. Clarkston has the reputation for being the most diverse square mile in the world. The learning was fantastic and the relationships that we built with the Refuge team were moving.

Pioneer Lab with Education Reimagined in Washington D.C.

PioneerLab Text

Pioneer Lab in Washington D.C.

Imagine a network of educators and organizations that is focused on transforming education by creating a new paradigm. This is what Education Reimagined is trying to do by organizing educators from around the country to participate in their Pioneer Labs. I was invited to attend the second session of training to prepare for a September gathering. The learning was two fold:

Education Reimagined has created a vision, a new paradigm, for the for the future of education that is Learner Centered and the five elements are listed below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 9.36.50 PM

The second piece of learning was around the change process. It’s fascinating to understand how extremely difficult it is for people to move from one paradigm to another. The most telling example was how medical professionals believed, for 2000 years, that bloodletting was the only way to cure diseases. It took new scientific knowledge and extensive research for medical professionals to shift this paradigm.

Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental
process that you are hardly aware of its
existence, until you try to communicate with
someone with a different paradigm.
What does this new paradigm mean?
The learner-centered paradigm changes our very view of learners themselves.
Learners are seen and known as wondrous, curious individuals with vast capabilities and limitless potential. This paradigm recognizes that learning is a lifelong
pursuit and that our natural excitement and eagerness to discover and learn
should be fostered throughout our lives, particularly in our earliest years. Thus,
in this paradigm, learners are active participants in their learning as they gradu-
ally become owners of it, and learning itself is seen as an engaging and exciting
process. Each child’s interests, passions, dreams, skills, and needs shape his or
her learning experience and drive the commitments and actions of the adults and
communities supporting him or her. (“A Transformational Vision for Education in
the US.” Education Reimagined, 2015. Page 5.)
Learner-centered education isn’t the newest way to “do” education. Nor is it a new
“to do” list or set of activities to add onto your work. Because it is a paradigm shift, it
actually offers a new worldview and demands a mindset shift. It becomes a new way
to…well, be. And, that changes everything.
I look forward to participating in this important work.
WOW! These were all inspiring experiences and they have helped me grow as an educator.

As educators, we can learn from the Jeremy Lin story

Jeremy Lin on the cover of GQ Magazine

I have been wanting to write this post since I read this New York Times article, entitled, “The Evolution of a Point Guard” in February. Now that I have some time over the holidays I’m able to finish this post up. The article describes the 18 month transformation of Jeremy Lin. Since then Lin signed a 3-year, $25 million contract with the Houston Rockets. This makes his story even more legendary. As an educator, I find the story to be inspirational.   The article by Howard Beck explains how Jeremy Lin went from being undrafted and cut twice in two weeks to an NBA superstar. Over 18 months and hundreds of hours working with assistant coaches, Jeremy Lin, reworked his jump shot, bulked up his body, strengthened his legs and developed a “sharper view” of the court. He did this through deliberative practice and hard work.

Howard states, “What scouts saw in the spring of 2010 was a smart passer with a flawed jump shot and a thin frame, who might not have the strength and athleticism to defend, create his own shot or finish at the rim in the N.B.A.”  While the article highlights his “perseverance, hard work and self-belief”, I was inspired by the entire story because it was a team approach. Lin was certainly dedicated but without the help and support of coaches and trainers, his success would not have been possible. For me there were three important takeaways.

1. Recognizing the potential in each student – Coaches along the way recognized that Jeremy had the potential to be a talented player in the NBA. Lin was known for getting into the paint off the drive and being able to see the floor well. These were two key skills that are essential for point guards and the coaches felt that he could build upon these areas of strength.

2. Clearly identifying the skills, knowledge and attributes that students need to improve on – For Lin, he and his coaches determined that his real issues came from not being strong enough to maintain balance and direction and he lacked the strength to explode and raise up into the air when getting into the lane; his ability to shoot the outside jump shot; and his ability to read different situations and then deliver the correct pass. It was in these areas that Lin spent hours on the court, and in the weight and film rooms working on. He was deliberate in his approach to improving and the coaches helped him monitor his performance along the way.

3. Finding the right people and/or resources to support individual students –  Lin worked with several NBA coaches and each one had their specialty areas. He found a Bay area high school coach to help him with his shooting and he sought out strength coaches to help him develop the right types of muscle mass. There wasn’t one individual who helped him develop in all of these areas. He relied on specialists who had access to the appropriate knowledge, expertise, and resources.

When these three things happen the results can certainly be powerful and transformational for all parties involved.

How do groups work in your learning environment?

Fairly early on in this MOOC we had to form teams. I’m very interested in how this process works because it seems quite different than how we typically assign groups in the classroom. Note that I used the term “assign”.

Below is detailed information on the assignment, team formation and suggestions for teams. Are you using any of these during your team or group work? Do you provide the groups/teams with detailed information? Can the kids self -select? Are the students coached on selecting teams based on interest and complementary skills and knowledge?

The Following information was taken from the Designing a New Learning Environment, Professor Paul Kim, Stanford University

  • There is no deadline to form a Team, but it is an important step to complete so that you can begin meeting, working, and innovating together!
  • Anyone may create a team. When you create a team you are the Team Leader.
  • The Team Leader can add new members by contacting classmates and asking them for their registered email addresses.
  • When creating a Team, use detailed descriptions and information so that others will be able to thoughtfully consider whether your Project idea and interests may be a good match.
  • If you have started a Team and are looking for members, you should use the Students menu (under Community) to find recruit your classmates.
  • If you are looking for a Team to join, you should use Teams menu (under Community) to search for different teams. Use the contact button on the team page to contact all Team Members the Team Leader to join the team. Every time somebody invites you to their Team, you will receive a new invitation under your Conversations, Team notifications tab. That message contains links to accept or reject an invitation.
    • Team formation has a very open dynamic, at any point you can decide to leave a Team and join a new one, without penality. The Team Leader can decide to remove inactive or uncooperative members from the Team. (In that case the member will receive a team notification about this decision, and if you think that the Team Leader has made a mistake, you can appeal Team Leader’s decision. If half of Team Members agree with you; you will be added back as a member of the Team. If a Team Leader chooses to leave his/her Team, he/she can assign Team Leadership to another user. Continuity among Team Members will be important to successful execution of the Team Project, however all users have the option to switch a Team that is not a good fit for them.
    • The recommended Team size is 4-7 people.
    • You may only be a member of one Team at a time.
    • One of most important variables in Team composition is shared passion about the project idea / topic area. We suggest that Teams be made up of people with a range of backgrounds and technical skills, but ultimately a shared interest in the idea is what will support project momentum and involvement. It is useful to think about geographical considerations in a variety of ways: if you are considering an educational innovation for primary education in Tanzania, for example, it would be very useful to have a team member from, or knowledgeable Tanzania, to help inform analysis of needs, barriers, implementation, and sustainability. However, geographical considerations, such as time difference, may also come to play when collaborating or scheduling Team Member tasks. We encourage you to think and be transparent about these in terms of what is important for your project and for your working style, while also demonstrating the flexibility and generosity of spirit that will help us grow from each other’s perspectives and experiences.

Getting Started with Your Team:

    • Start communicating about your Team Project idea. Complete and maintain your Team Profile with an up-to-date (brief) Project Description (these may start simply as general interests, and may change or evolve over time).
    • Every Team has a Team Journal. You should feel free to write on it about your Team activities, post pictures of your meetings or collaboration strategies, and write about your new ideas or progress for the Team Project. The Journal can also be used as a discussion tool. Your classmates will be able to follow your team blog and receive updates.

Team Project:

    • Teams will design a new educational technology or learning environment catering to 21st century environments and learners. Designs should include interaction activities and learning support features in ways that are effective and appropriate for today’s computing and communication devices, and that consider the classroom, school, and community ecosystem in which it will operate.
    • Presentation of your design should include details about the users, environment, and educational objectives of your design (the “who? what? when? where? why? and how?” questions).
    • Your presentation should also address how your designed innovation would implemented and sustained, including considerations about idiosyncrasies with various learning devices (e.g., web, iOS, mobile devices, and Mac/PC) and infrastructure requirements (e.g., cellular network, wi-fi, Bluetooth).
    • Your team should create and defend a business model (non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid) for the launch and scale up their solution.
    • You will not need to conduct an actual needs analysis or develop an actually functioning technology or solution. You may describe a hypothetical solution in detail through text, visual mock-ups, and prototypes.
    • Additional consideration will be given to teams that come up with system feature ideas presenting meaningful learning interaction and performance analytics.


    • The Final Team Project will undergo the official Peer Review process.
    • The broad criteria for Final Team Project Evaluation (these will be addressed further later in the course):

1) Creativity and originality of the system design (Is the design substantially distinguishable from existing and conventional solutions?);
2) Educationally sound (Does the design promote higher order learning or generate learnable moments?);
3) Engagement and interactivity (Is the design engaging and interactive for the learner?);
4) Accessibility (Is the design accessible for people with disabilities or for people living in underserved communities?)
5) Scalability and sustainability (How sound is the implementation plan and business model?)

    • At the end of the course, you will also be evaluated by your other Team Members on your contribution to the Team efforts and Team Project. In addition to your Assignments, this peer evaluation will affect your Rank in the course.

Intellectual Property and Confidentiality Considerations:

    • Some of the major goals of this course are to instill the mindset for thinking about innovations aimed at improving education, and to create a space for developing those ideas into thoughtful designs. We would like you to continue to develop your work and Projects beyond this course into the real world. The Intellectual Property rights relating to your Individual Assignments, Team Assignments, Journal entries, and other materials created by you remain with you (and with the Co-Creators for Team Assignments and Jointly Authored Works)–they are not Stanford’s, not Venture Lab’s, and not Dr. Paul Kim’s.
  • At the same time, this space is public to others in the course–all Journal and Forum posts, as well as all Assignments will be visible to all others enrolled in the course. Viewing and learning from each other’s discussions and work products will expose us to new ways of approaching different problems and will help us develop a more critical eye for the benefits and limitations of technology solutions. Because all projects are shared with other DNLE-ers (strictly for educational purposes), an idea or product requiring strict confidentiality or formal business agreements would not be a good candidate for a Final Team Project. Please consider this when creating or joining a team.

Learning from my first MOOC Experience: I’m taking a course from Stanford!

A colleague of mine and I are taking “Designing a New Learning Environment” course taught by Paul Kim, Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean, School of Education, Stanford University. I have no idea how many thousands of students there are but I’m looking forward to the experience. The course is a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) which theoretically sounds really cool.

I signed up before I read the MOOC Guide.

“The effect of a MOOC is not to be taken lightly! Many of the participants who went through a MOOC experience have had a powerful learning experience which in some cases resulted in strong personal or professional projects with impact. On the other hand the drop-out rate in a non-credited MOOC is high and some participants simply do not like the approach of a MOOC for it has specific dynamics. The diversity in appreciations and feelings is not new: the playground felt like a mental warzone to some and a great adventure to others.”

The topic is of interest to me and if it works I will be able to:

After the completion of this course, students will be able to:

  •  Identify advantages, disadvantages, limitations, and potentials of at least 10 interactive learning models and solutions.
  • Describe how online communication, collaboration, and visualization technology play a role in the behavioral, cognitive, constructivist, and social dimensions of learning.
  • Describe the major components and processes involved in development of interactive education systems.
  • Communicate rationales of learning technology design approaches through team-oriented collaborations.
  • Evaluate the value of ideas, principles, and techniques used in educational media or systems.

While we have lectures to watch, assignments to complete and discussion forums to contribute to, our major assessment is a team project that is due at the end of the semester.

Let’s see how this learning experience goes.


How much are you willing to expose yourself?

ImageOn my recent trip to New York I happened to see the Naked Cowboy in action. He seemed very comfortable in only his hat, underwear and boots and he was putting on quite a show. He’s obviously quite the extrovert and performer and I could not help but think about how comfortable he was exposing himself to thousands of strangers. It got me thinking about how much I’m willing to expose about myself online with blogging and social networking tools. While I may have been timid in the past, I actually find myself becoming more comfortable exposing myself online. My thinking is that it will offer a wider audience some insight into my thinking and personal life.
Let me test out a few scenarios for comment.
1. Friending Colleagues on Facebook – I still remember reading in First Break All the Rules by Buckingham and Coffman that questions #5 is “Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?” As a principal what do you think about friending others from your school on Facebook? Do you see it as a way to learn more about your co-workers and a way to let them into your life? Or, do you see it as a risk?
2. Sharing The Work of Your School on a Blog – Doug Johnson’s guidelines for blogging have always seemed reasonable to me. He suggests that you…
  • Write assuming your boss is reading.
  • Gripe globally; praise locally.
  • Write for edited publications.
  • Write out of goodness.
How much are you willing to share about the work that is going on at your school? Are you only willing to share the positives while you keep the negative issues and conflicts internal?
3. Posting Photos and Media Online for the World to See – This Thursday we’re offering a parent workshop on digital footprints and we’re talking quite a bit about what types of photos and videos we will post online. I recently traveled with a student group to do community service and I was anxious to share photos online via Flickr or some other tool. How do you view the sharing of school related media online?
4. Sharing Your Personal Life Online – If you’re on Facebook how much of your personal life are you willing to share? Does your stance on this have anything to do with your school community? For example, will you post photos of you with alcohol? Are you careful about the language that you use?
Going through the process of determining how much you want to expose yourself can be exciting and scary at the same time. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone in trying to figure out the right level of exposure. I for one don’t plan on parading around in my underwear online but I may be seen in my swimsuit at the beach.

Why everyone raves about Educon 2.4

Photo by assorted stuff

I had the pleasure of attending Educon 2.4 this weekend at the Philadelphia Science and Leadership Academy (SLA) and I was not disappointed. I went because I’m passionate about conversations on learning in today’s world and to gather ideas on how to organize a first-class learning experience. Graded will be hosting the Innovate 2013 Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil January 19 – 21, 2013 and our planning is underway. So, why is Educon such a great learning experience for participants?

  • SLA truly is a special place where all members of the community have a common vision and they are focused on learning in today’s environment. There is a solid foundation in place and they are continually working on improvement. The learning is connected to today’s world, students work on real life problems, they create for a larger audience, and the community is tight. They are walking the walk.
  • Educon attracts educators who are passionate about their work to make teaching and learning relevant for today’s students. The presenters are excellent and the participants take the conversations to a higher level. Everyone can be challenged during the weekend. Pretty amazing that so many leaders in this field attend since everyone pays their own way.
  • The two panels were on Innovation and they brought in a diverse group of experts to present. The fact that the first six weren’t educators was plus. Imagine hearing from the following people.
    • Dan Barcay – Lead Software Engineer, Google Earth
    • Alex Gilliam – founder, Public Workshop
    • Zoe Strauss – artist, photographer, innovator.
    • C. J. Taylor – Professor, U. Penn GRASP Robotics Lab
    • Phoenix Wang – Co-Founder, Startl
    • Moderated by Dr. Frederic Bertley – Vice President of the Center for Innovation in Science Learning, The Franklin Institute

This type of opening was much better than having one person as a keynote.

  • The structure provided participants with 90 minute sessions and time in between sessions for conversations. Friday was an excellent time for visiting the school and starting up conversations.
  • Participants were eager to meet new faces and to develop relationships. This is not a conference for those who want to sit alone at lunch. You have to be prepared to mingle with new friends.

I have to thank the SLA Gang for creating this wonderful learning experience and we hope that the  Innovate 2013 Conference can offer South American educators a similar experience.