Make learners conform to the room, or make the room conform to the learning? #EdSpace


That’s what a small can of chalkboard paint cost at a hardware store nearby. With several cans of chalkboard paint and a few cans of whiteboard paint, a lower school teacher transformed the learning environment for the student learners coming to her soon.

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Instead of students “getting in trouble” for writing on the desks, Miss F altered the typical “classroom” environment so that desk writing was not only permissible, but encouraged and fun.

For 1st graders. Learning to write and express themselves through writing.

When the student learners gathered in the room for the first time, during a recent orientation day, there was much writing and drawing on desks! They owned their learning environment with those acts of defiance turned and transformed into acts of creativity.

And should the student learners tire of sitting, there are standing-level desks and exercise balls to bounce on while one learns. A far cry from “Sit still!”

What an act of transformation. To reverse the typical paradigm. Instead of expecting students to bear the lion’s share of conforming to the rules of the room, the rules of the room were re-conformed to promote the desired dispositions and learning explorations of the student learners!

And with such a flip in conformity expectations, transformations are made possible. And deep relationships forged.

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Recent, incredible resources on space re-design:

“8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom,” Edutopia, August 6, 2013, by David Bill (@DavidSBill) and The Third Teacher+ (@TheThirdTeacher)

Darn it. It’s my blog, and I’ll write if I want to!

It’s happened again. An acquaintance of mine told me that I was writing too much on my blog. She said that I was annoying her with how much I post. If you have been a regular reader of It’s About Learning, you may remember that I have written about this before. In fact, similar feedback from another friend played a part in me starting the “CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60” series.

Such feedback – that I write too much – puts me in an interesting space. I try to be a poster child for practices of empathy. I often fail, but I constantly and continuously try to grow as an empathic thinker and doer. I can appreciate what someone is saying when they tell me that I annoy them with how much I post some days. Often I struggle to keep up with my own reading. However, there is something much deeper and richer happening within me.

I think back to my most influential and supportive and encouraging teachers. They ALL encouraged me to write more. Now, on particular pieces of writing, they all provided me with periodic feedback about taking away and reducing my writing on a particular piece. But in total, they ALL encouraged me to write more. They said that writing is thinking. They taught me that those who write regularly develop a better sense of what they think and understand. They provided me with insight that daily writing is like daily exercise – we grow stronger from the regular routine of writing and thinking daily.

I cannot imagine telling a student of mine that they are writing too much as a total practice. I cannot imagine getting to peek into the journaling and sketching of a writer – of a thinker – and telling her that she is writing and sketching and thinking too much.

My most influential teachers wanted me to be a lifelong learner and thinker. Mrs. Webb, Mrs. Fuller, Mr. Brewbaker, Dr. Butters, Dr. Cook, and Dr. Pajares – they all encouraged me to draw, write, sketch, journal, try, fail, try again, reiterate, prototype, and construct meaning.

So, I’m going to keep writing and sharing at the pace that I feel is appropriate for my thinking. I hope that doesn’t make me stubborn or obnoxious. I pray it does not make me seem non-empathetic. But I have a lot to learn in my second half of life. I have a lot of thinking to do. I have a lot of doing to think. I have to keep writing. I desperately want to be one of the solutions finders. To contribute to that team. I’m going to keep pushing.

If you are experiencing a filter issue, then I am happy to help in other ways. I have some experience and learning to share about how to manage a vigorous reading stream. But, I’m not going to slow down my writing and thinking. I’m mostly writing for my own thinking and learning. But I do it “out loud” so that my nodes of thinking might connect with those of others. Even when I receive no comments, I find the writing incredibly helpful to my thinking and understanding. But…when I receive even one comment on my blog, something magic happens. I get stretched, encouraged, challenged, and supported. I get feedback, pushback, and reciprocal questioning.

And I grow.

I’m gonna keep growing. I’m gonna keep writing. I’m gonna keep thinking and trying to understand. And I’m here to help if I can about how people filter and control the flow at their end of the faucet. But I’m gonna keep water in the pipes for those who want to open the flow.

Assigning myself a learning challenge…CHANGEd: What If…60-60-60 #0

Last week, at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference, someone I deeply respect and admire essentially expressed to me that I blog too much. She told me that I, and a few other educational bloggers, overwhelm her with too many posts in a particular period of time. That comment has been bouncing around in my mind since that post-session conversation last week.

Ironically, for quite some time, this colleague and I have been discussing the nature of innovation, especially innovation in schools, and we agree that habits of questioning, experimenting, sharing/networking, and practicing are essential, necessary, iterative components to innovation. Among other purposes, I see my blog as a means to raise questions, experiment with ideas, practice ideation, and share/network with other educational thinkers and doers. During my brief blogging history, I have experienced periods of rapid ideation, and I have experienced periods of slump…frozen-fingers-on-the-keyboard. I imagine a frequency diagram of my blogging would be fairly sinusoidal, with some moments of high frequency and some moments of low frequency. So, maybe I do have some responsibility to monitor more carefully the idea-rich moments and my desire to share. I wonder what his responsibility is to develop a comfortable method for tracking the blogs that she likes to follow.

On another line-of-flight thought, I really like daily blogs like the 3six5 and edu180atl, but these daily collectives restrict their authors to a certain number of words in each post. And I really like the concept and practice of 50-word mini-sagas, too. Hmmm….

As I have continued to ruminate on my colleague’s comment, my love of short dailies, and my appreciation for a well-turned mini-saga, I have made myself more aware of others’ blogging practices, especially one blogger that I hope to emulate – Seth Godin. Particularly since the collegial comment last week, I have paid even more attention to the fact that Seth Godin blogs almost everyday, and he packs a lot of punch into brief, concise packages of posts.

So, in the spirit of learning out loud and learning in public, I have issued myself a learning challenge. I am going to try to synthesize a few of the contemplations summarized above, and I will attempt to do the following – I will post 60 ideas for educational change in the form of “what if” questions, I will do so for 60 days straight, and I will constrain my posts to around 60 words each (and maybe an image, an embedded TED talk, etc.).

I am thinking that I might set 60 drafts to autopost at a certain time each day. As I find a few minutes, I will enliven the template with an idea each day. Each post will start with the title, “CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60 #X.” I plan to insert at the beginning of each post the logo that I designed for fun this morning. And I’ll add a new category to house just these 60 posts. More scaffolding may evolve along the way, but that’s my basic framework for now.

I imagine that I will strike out and fail miserably on a few days. I hope that I will hit a few homeruns in 60 days and 60 attempts. What I know for sure – I will learn from the experiment. I dream of helping others to learn and inspiring others to do. After the 60 days, I cannot wait to revisit with my admired and respected colleague – we’ll have so much to talk about.

See you tomorrow for “CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60 #1.” It’s already in the hopper!

“Fallor ergo sum” – St. Augustine, 1200 years prior to Descartes

Do we structure school in such a way that we truly promote and achieve that intricate balance between: 1) wanting to know and to understand and 2) keeping perspective that we have to be wrong quite a bit in order to gain deep knowledge and understanding?

By the time you are 9 years old, you have already learned, first of all, that people who get stuff wrong are lazy, irresponsible dimwits, and, second of all, that the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes. We learn these really bad lessons really well. And a lot of us…deal with them by just becoming perfect little A students…perfectionists…overachievers. – Kathryn Schulz, On being wrong TED Talk, near 7:00 mark, March 2011 (emphasis added)

Is the secret to great success never to be wrong? Of course not! I cannot imagine that even one teacher of children (or adults, for that matter) truly believes that we define “the successful” as those people who always get the right answer, or even as those who tend to get the right answer. Or do we? How do we view our “A students” versus our “C students? Perhaps I have my head in the sand. I don’t think so, though. Yet, I wonder if we people who help to structure the workings of school are ensuring that the fundamental pillars of school reflect this basic principle:

I thought this one thing was going to happen, and then something else happened instead. – Kathryn Schulz quoting Ira Glass of This American Life, On being wrong TED Talk, near 14:00 mark, March 2011

Do we overly penalize learners for their mistakes? Does the traditional, typical school currency – grades – serve best those at the core of the instructional-learning exchange? Do we allow for “returns” to be made after a transaction, or are “all sales final?” Do we allow for enough “do overs,” prototypes, iterative attempts, and second chances? Do we model our classrooms and learning spaces on the real-life tendency for all of us humans to be great mistake makers as we risk to know and to understand our world? Do we facilitate learners growing from “white belts” to “black belts” by awarding them with an average – “a grey belt?” As educators, do we understand the 10,000 hour theory? Are our scope and sequences reflectively cognizant of the 10,000 hour theory? Do we tend to sort and label, or do we tend to recognize that mistakes come with regret that should be embraced if we hope to grow from our errors?

If we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best and if we love people and we don’t want to hurt them or loose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets…the point it to not hate ourselves for having them….We need to learn to love the flawed imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly; it reminds us that we know we can do better. – Kathryn Schulz, Don’t regret regret TED Talk, near 16:00 mark, November 2011

An Intro at the Conclusion

This morning, I had planned to work on my resume. It needs some updating, and I need a job, so I thought this morning would provide me a good opportunity to revise and edit my curriculum vitae. As I awoke from sleep, I even seemed to have some revision ideas on my mind. But then another thing happened instead.

As I sat to enjoy those first sips of morning coffee, I decided to check my Feeddler app – my way of organizing and reading my Google RSS Reader. In the queue was a new TED talk from Kathryn Schulz, the “wrongologist.” I love her work, so I thought I would watch her latest published talk while waking up with my coffee. Then, I would get to “work” on my resume. But then another thing happened instead. I was reminded of this powerful blog post by friend, colleague, and former student Peyten Dobbs. And I remembered the This American Life episode that I listened to during my Saturday afternoon walk with my dog Lucy.

I felt I had important threads dangling loosely in the wind of my thinking. I wondered if writing a bit would help me ground and weave some of those threads together. I puzzled over Peyten’s feelings expressed in her blog post, and I empathized about my own similar feelings from being a perfectionist-bent student of old.

So…do I now have all of these mysteries about grades and being wrong “all figured out?” No. But I am further down the path than I was when I awoke. Do I have revisions completed for my resume? No. If I were to need to “turn in” my resume to a teacher for grading, I fear I would receive an F or an incomplete. Yet, I engaged in some lifelong learning this morning about the nature of being wrong, the nature of regrets, and the structure of schools. I learned. But for that I will receive no formal grade. I may later regret that I don’t have a revised copy of my resume ready on Sunday, December 4. That’s okay. My regrets remind me that I can do better. And I tend to engage in super efforts to learn and grow and get better. Where does that go on my resume?

Connecting Ideas – Action, Traction, Reaction

In Synergy, a non-departmentalized, non-graded, transdisciplinary, community-issues-problem-solving course, we use blogging as a means to communicate and collaborate on ideas as well as to reflect and to revise thinking.

Currently we offer our learners an Action-Traction-Reaction prompt to spur their thinking, reflection, and writing.

One of our learners offers this reflection that connects his thinking about his team’s project with the ideas from Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize Wish:

Relating Jamie Oliver’s Prize Wish to my Project

Posted on November 17, 2011

Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef, wished to educate every child about food as a use of his TED prize. I’ve known about his fight against obesity and eating right since learning about his TV show in 6th grade, so this wish makes sense to me. He’s creating a

Strong, sustainable movement

to educate every child about food.

The core of this action is to create a movement. This core action could be applied to my project, because in my project we are trying to get people to clean up after themselves, and stop cutting in line. Both of those problems are just bad examples that people have seen and copied. Creating a movement would create new standards in the community for cleanliness in the lunchroom, and could reverse the bad examples in place there.

For Jamie’s wish, he wants to create an online community and also a movement. He said

The grassroots movement must also challenge corporate America to support meaningful programs that will change the culture of junk food.

I didn’t know what a grassroots movement is, so I looked it up. I came up with this. “A grassroots movement (often referenced in the context of a political movement) is one driven by the politics of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures.”

For Jamie’s project, he is relying on creating a following, that would create the foundation for his project and help spread the message. But he also would like to create traveling kitchens and a traveling food theater to make his project entertaining and interactive. From my perspective, the traction for this project is based on two components: people and interaction. This is a good formula for other projects who are looking to gain traction in a community. You draw the people in with interaction, and then rely on them to feel passionate and spread the word.

In the comment section of the article, many people were eager to partner with Jamie’s project to support and help organize his ideas. I think that the biggest way to attract reaction like this, is to be backed by TED! But the other large factor is that he’s addressing a large problem and is presenting a sound project plan. Creating this plan is an easy thing to do in Synergy to make sure our projects look attractive in the eyes of the administrators inside and outside of Westminster. If our projects only look half-baked, they won’t attract support.

“Grassroots.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

[Permission to post obtained from student and student’s parent.]

Do we write to read and learn what we are thinking?  Do we prototype, seek feedback, and revise?  How do we connect our thinking to the ideas of others?

Shouldn’t we practice?

[Cross-posted at Experiments in Learning by Doing]