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

Storify

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.
—DONELLA MEADOWS, THE GLOBAL CITIZEN
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.
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I’m alive and well professionally but my blog has been dormant

Graded High School Blog

The 2012 – 13 school year has been a fantastic one for me professionally. You wouldn’t know if from looking at my blog. The main reason that Creative Tension has been dormant is that I have been focused on curating the Graded High School Blog this entire year. I’m pleased to announce that we had 103 posts and over 11,500 hits. While our primary audience is the Graded community, the Graded stories reached a worldwide audience. The concept is that the HS Blog is “where the Graded high school community shares information and ideas on education.” This has been an excellent first step to creating a venue for members of the community to share stories about learning at Graded. With the school year over it’s an excellent archive for school community members to look back on the year.

While we also have the traditional weekly newsletter that is sent out to parents each week this blog has received more viewers, given community members the chance to comment and develop a dialogue, provided the community with timely information, and opened up our school to a more global community. We have tried to limit the number of posts that are just informational in terms of upcoming events and instead tried to focus on student and teacher learning. I look forward to building on what has been done this year and improving in the following ways.

  1. Increase the number of authors. Aside from my posts, there were a handful of others who contributed during the year. I hope that we can create a culture where teachers, students and parents will contribute whenever something happens. By reminding community members that the posts don’t have to be lengthy and that they can include photos, text, audio and videos I hope that we can increase authorship. While I’ve spent a considerable amount of time curating this blog, I look forward to it becoming a place where the community shares stories.
  2. Increase the number of comments that readers contribute. Aside from a somewhat controversial post on the changes to our grade weighting policy (6) and a post asking students to comment on a draft of our self-study Executive Summary (14), there were very few comments submitted. Hopefully we’ll continue encouraging people to comment and it may require more provocative topics.
  3. Increase viewership – I’ve been promoting the blog through e-mails to the community, links in our weekly newsletter, announcements at meetings, and Facebook and Twitter announcements. Hopefully it will help to increase the number of subscribers so that they get announcements whenever new posts are made. We have a ways to go to catch our the Talonline Blog that is student focused. They have had over 78,000 views.
Image from Flickr by martin.canchola

It’s now time for me to get back to blogging and sharing the learning that I’ve been doing throughout the year. It’s certainly been a productive one for me.

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.

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.

 

What I learned during the 20ª Maratona Pão de Açúcar Relay

On Sunday, September 16th eighty six members of the Graded community participated in the 20ª Maratona Pão de Açúcar. It was a phenomenal community event despite the temperature reaching 33 degrees Celsius. The relay format meant that teams of either 8, 4 or 2 completed a full marathon. I’m happy to report that all fourteen teams finished the race. One of our teachers, single handedly recruited teachers, students, parents, staff members and administrators to participate in the race. With so much happening at Graded this year the timing for the event was perfect. All 86 of us were able to go out successfully complete a physically challenging task and then celebrate our accomplishment.

During my portion of the race I started thinking about how this event compares to the year that we are having at school. At Graded, like all other schools, we work extremely hard every year, but for some reason this year seems to be supercharged. Our continuous improvement efforts on curriculum development and implementation, assessment practices, implementing a 1 to 1 laptop program in the high school, completing our AdvancED self study and the IB Diploma Program 5-year review, plus hosting the Global Issues Network Conference of the Americas, Innovate 2013, and all of the other normal day to day stuff is wearing us out (OK, just looking at the list is enough to make anyone hyperventilate).

Here is what I came up with.

1. Each one of us wants to do our best to support the team effort – The marathon format is interesting because you are running for yourself and for you team. This means that you want to do your best so that the team can succeed. While a few people considered pulling out before the race due to injuries, lack of training, other conflicts, in doing so, the team would have been let down. On the flip side, others trained extensively so that they would contribute to the team’s success. In true team spirit, everyone followed through to ensure that the team would be succeed. Each person took the responsibility seriously and was committed to the team.

The same holds true for our day to day work at Graded. As professionals we understand our responsibilities to the team of teachers, students, parents, and administrators. We know that it’s not just about what we do as individuals. It’s about our work with the entire community. There is pressure on us, as educators, to provide students with the best learning experiences possible. This means not only doing so in the classroom but also in the many extracurricular, athletic, and community service activities. Unlike the race, our work just isn’t one Sunday out of the year, which means that we’re striving to be on top of our games from August through June.

2. Every individual’s level of preparation varied – First, when people signed up for the race in August, everyone was at a different level of readiness.  The training approaches and the amount of time that individuals devoted to preparation varied greatly. Many of the students who are on athletic teams relied on the practices with their teams. I think that these students found that the practices and training were sufficient for the 5k race, but not enough for the 10k distance. Some individuals dedicated a significant amount of time preparing for the race, while others did very little and then gutted it out to the finish. As far as I know, group training did not happen due to our busy schedules. This meant that the overall majority of the training happened individually. Those who set goals for individual or team times had to tailor their training accordingly.

With the work that we, as educators are doing this year the same holds true for preparation. We’re all at different levels of expertise in our knowledge of the curriculum, assessment practices, and the integration of technology to enhance learning and there are a variety of plans in play.  As a school, we have tried to embed as much professional development related to these areas into our work. But, just as the athletes learned, we’re learning that there is a  need for some of us to seek additional learning opportunities to take us to another level. We also struggle with finding time to get groups together for collaborative planning and learning. This is where technology can really help us through the connections that we can make with our Graded colleagues and educators from around the world. We’re all working diligently to grow as educators and we’ve set our goals with steps that we are planning to take throughout the year.

3. During the race, people took different approaches – It was fun to watch different personalities come out during the race. Some runners were vocal about cheering the teams on while others were quiet and focused. Many were quiet because they were nervous. I remember seeing one colleagues twice on the course and he was in his own world with his headphones and music on. There were others who were loud and vocal whenever a Graded runner passed by. It didn’t really matter which type of person you were, we all knew that we were in this together. We certainly did not take silence to mean that you weren’t being supportive of the other members in the group. It’s just the state of mind that the individual was in at the time.

The same holds true for our work this year. Personalities come out naturally when working together and with over a 140 faculty members, we find that each person handles things differently. We have our cheerleaders, our work horses, our shy types and the middle of the road ones. The key is making sure that we all are respectful of our differences and to find ways to let each other know that we support each others work.

4. The race was tough – It’s safe to say that just about everyone was challenged by the event. Even the fittest runners had to deal with the heat, the crowd and the desire to run a fast pace. The work was hard and there were some who weren’t sure that they would finish. All of us had to cut back on our pace and some had to walk. Even our best runner had a slower than normal time and was wiped out by the end of his leg.

This is true with our work this year as well. The work is certainly difficult for all of us. We are working to grow and change our practices which is never easy. Recently I referred to this EDS commercial where the airplane builders are building the plane while flying. We’re trying to keep up with the normal day to day things while planning ahead for the future. We all feel stretched to thin and we’re not doing our job well. Some of us even question why we are trying to do so much in a short amount of time. Just about all of us have to walk occasionally to catch our breath and even those who are at the top of their profession realize that the work is not easy.

5. The post race celebration was important – After the race we met for brunch at a nearby restaurant. Forget the fact that we were really hungry, the importance of this was that we were able to celebrate our accomplishments. The medals were proudly worn and the stories were flowing. Everyone was smiling, laughing and enjoying that post race high. It was a wonderful way to end the event.

We realize that we need to find more time to celebrate our successes through stories.  This should be done even though the race isn’t over yet. I envision us celebrating after the visiting team comes for our self-study accreditation visit in April. It may not feel like it now, but we will certainly have much to celebrate at that time. We may not be wearing medals but there will be special stories to share and laughs to be had.

What would your perfect conference look like?

Image In October, we enthusiastically agreed to join forces with Lausanne Collegiate, The American School of Bombay and Frankfurt International School as a member of the Laptop Institute team. January 19 – 21, 2013 Graded will host the Innovate 2013 Conference. Since then we have had a blast working to plan a meaningful learning experience for all participants. We started by determining a name and a theme and then took ideas from some of the best conferences that member of the planning group had attended. We considered The Laptop Institute, ASB Unplugged, Learning 2.011, K12 Online Conference, Educon 2.4, and a few others.

Our committee still has a long way to go as we strive to break the conference mold but we are excited about the direction that we’re heading. Below is our current stance on our learning structures.

Innovate 2013 Learning Structures

In an effort to combat the Education Myths That Shape Conferences, Innovate 2013 is committed to providing a variety of learning structures to support participants in investigating innovation and planning for transfer in ways that are powerful for them personally.

Two-hour Open Space Slot: Open Space Technology was created in the mid-1980s by organizational consultant Harrison Owen when he discovered that people attending his conferences loved the coffee breaks better than the formal presentations and plenary sessions. This block of time is designed to hand over the conference to participants to determine what kinds of dialogue need to happen that we at Innovate 2013 missed in our planning.

Cohort meetings:  Scheduled three times throughout the conference, cohorts are a group of 20 – 25 individuals that gather regularly to exchange ideas, reflect on learning and create connections that result in meaningful, personalized outcomes from the conference. Organized and focused by a facilitator, participants are encouraged to choose into a cohort that best defines where their driving question about educational innovation may reside. This learning structure is designed for participants to build a plan for taking learning back to their organizations.

Cohort strands to choose from include:

  • Leadership
  • Instructional Technology Facilitators
  • The People Behind the Scenes: Infrastructure
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Differentiation/Special Needs
  • Assessment
  • NCTE Twenty-First Century Literacies
  • The Arts
  • Collaboration in local and global communities
  • Physical Education
  • Student

90 minute workshops and three-hour institutes: We invite YOU, our participants, to share your work and ideas with everyone by presenting at the conference. Come and share how you or your school are integrating technology in the classroom, challenging the status quo, or pursuing strategies that place students in the center.  Share your experiences launching and implementing a 1-to-1 program, utilizing digital tools to support assessment practices, building collaborative communities, or examining strategies that add to the dialogue of educational innovation.

We’d love to hear your ideas on what makes a conference valuable for your own learning. If you had the chance to plan your own conference, what would it look like?

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.