Thursday, December 20, 2012

11 Things I Think I Know About Teaching Without a Textbook

My daughter enjoying my mom's spaghetti
Several years ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to cook. I began, as many do, by following recipes. I would find a recipe that I wanted to try, buy the ingredients listed at the top, and faithfully try to reenact the process of the original cook who took the time to write the recipe down. I had varying degrees of success depending on whether I fully understood the techniques, whether I knew how to find the best ingredients, and whether I appreciated the importance of how the timing of the steps played out in actual preparation. Often, I was disappointed with my inability to cook spaghetti from my mom's recipe and end up with the spaghetti experience I have always had at her house. Why wasn't it working? I did everything that was called for on the card with the right ingredients and in the right order. What the what?

Then, a friend bought me an amazing book for my birthday. Ironically, this "cook book" was titled How to Cook Without a Book. The premise of the book is simple. You won't learn to make biscuits like your grandma makes by following her recipe. You learn to make those biscuits by understanding cooking, by experimenting in the kitchen until you know(can feel) what the proper ratio is between wet and dry ingredients. My mom makes amazing spaghetti every time, not because of her fidelity to a set of instructions, but because of her deep knowledge of what making good spaghetti looks, feels, smells and tastes like. No notecard, no cook book, no Food Network.

I say all of this as a way to introduce the topic of teaching beyond the textbook. Since our district went 1:1, we've had as our goal the move from a reliance on print-based textbooks to more digital resources. The reasons are many, including cost, student engagement, and portability. One of our reasons, though, is to help free teachers from the proscriptive nature of textbooks. I've written before about how textbooks can easily become the curriculum, instead of merely supporting the curriculum. This happens because, like recipes in cooking take the place of really understanding cooking for some cooks, textbooks and standardized curricula can take the place of really understanding teaching and lesson design for some teachers. On the one hand, textbooks and curriculum maps help to guarantee a minimum level of success at content delivery, but on the other hand, they can remove the incentive to move beyond the mechanics of teaching to the mastery of teaching.

As with cooks, teachers fall on a long continuum of skill level that is affected by resources, training, experience, and tools. Few teachers begin at the level of master teacher, just as few cooks begin at the level of master chef. To help them grow, we provide teachers with classroom "recipes" that they can implement, but young teachers soon find that even though they are using the lesson plan that they remember their favorite teacher used so effectively, they aren't getting the same results. It takes them a little while, but most realize that if they want to have the same results as their favorite teacher, they need to learn to teach, not by following a recipe day after day, but by experimenting with teaching to learn the fundamentals that allow master teachers to teach without the recipe. Once that happens, the textbook ceases to be an instruction manual, and instead becomes a source for inspiration among many sources of inspiration.

So that is my hope for teaching: that we will move beyond the textbook and curriculum map and begin to fill our classrooms with teachers who can enter a marketplace of resources and intuitively know how to bring them together to design amazing learning as good as my mom's spaghetti. All it takes is a shift in perspective from teacher as delivery system (think fast food) to teacher as experience builder (think fine dining).  To that end, these are some of the lessons I've learned beyond the recipe. I share them for those teachers who are ready to get to the good spaghetti:
  1. Expect and accept failure as part of learning- We all burn the cookies. The key is to have a healthy attitude toward mess-ups. What can you learn from the failure that helps you to find success in the future? Nothing is gained without risk, and risk means a higher incidence of failure. 
  2. Learn to trust your instincts- A big part of moving away from the formula is trusting yourself when you sense that things aren't going well, or when you sense that you're on the verge of something awesome. In the kitchen, if you look at the recipe and think, "that can't be right," your taste and experience is urging you to improvise and try something else instead. Why not go with that? Also, when you have a moment of inspiration, you may decide that this recipe would be awesome if you just added coriander. You're probably right, so add that coriander. If you're wrong, see #1. Your instincts will get even better with time.
  3. Put the book in its place- A textbook is like a book of recipes in that it can be followed to the letter. Experienced educators put it together just like experienced cooks put cook books together. But those educators aren't in your room working with your content ingredients to create delicious learning for your kids. You are. Let the textbook serve as inspiration for your own skills. Use the ingredients it provides, but realize that they are only a small portion of the pantry of ingredients that you can bring to bear in the learning you design.
  4. Don't limit yourself to the same resources you've always had- The content resources that are available to teachers today are so much more diverse and interesting than the ones you grew up with. Learn to seek out the perfect ingredients by continuously adding new ones to your pantry. If you've never used online videos or particular web tools in your classes, learn about them so that when the day comes that you feel your lesson "needs something," you'll know just what to reach for.
  5. Keep your resources organized- Develop a system for storing and sorting your digital resources, so that you will always have them at hand when you need them. Learn to curate your resources in digital spaces that you create so that you will not have to waste time searching for the resource that you haven't used since last year. A well-stocked and well-organized pantry is a master chef's best friend.
  6. Use only the freshest resources- Digital resources, like print resources, can become stale and uninspiring. There are always newer, more engaging, more interactive resources to be found. That's really the advantage of moving away from a system in which resources are only renewed every 5-7 years. Don't believe me? Compare the smell of cinnamon that you just bought to the smell of cinnamon that's been in the cabinet for 5 years. Just sayin'.
  7. Find and frequent the best marketplaces for resources- The textbook is the superstore. Yes, everything is there, but what are you compromising? Meanwhile, there are all kinds of great online resource providers who offer niche products that are perfect for your work, but you have to look in so many places to get what you need. The key is balance. Find the high-quality providers who offer a wide enough selection that they will continuously be of use while not offering so much variety that you have to wander for hours to find what you need. Once you know the best markets for you, your shopping trips will get easier each time you go looking for new resources.
  8. Replicating success comes from understanding the goal, not repeating the process- All kinds of elements affect how a lesson will go on any given day in any given class. What works like a charm in 3rd period, may just as easily tank in 4th period. The key is to understand where you want to end up, and use your resources and creativity to get there no matter what the circumstances are. Repeating the same process in all locations and circumstances for all audiences will get you the educational equivalent of a fast food burger. 
  9. Borrow and share with other teachers as much as possible- One way that cooks grow is by learning from other cooks. The way that we all become better is by sharing our recipes and resources. That's where we get best practices. From finding successful strategies that work in multiple learning spaces. The more people who experiment with a recipe, the more examples we have for how it can be varied and improved on.
  10. Ask for feedback and be reflective- One way that a cook knows how successful he has been is by reading the reviews and learning from them. Collect the formal and informal data that your students provide regarding a lesson, and use that information to help you understand your clientele. Then, apply that knowledge while also understanding that today's clientele won't be tomorrow's. In any case, never blame the customer for not liking the food. Work to make the food better.
  11. Teach your kids to cook for themselves- Really successful master teachers eventually come to the realization that learning is a matter of personal taste. Every child learns differently, and any lesson you concoct will fall short with at least a few of your kids. Better to let them design their own learning by mixing up the ingredients to their own taste. It will mean more to them if they at least get to help by choosing the recipe, working the mixer, and taste-testing at the end. Yes, they will start with ice cream, peanut butter and pretzel soup, but over time their tastes and skills will lead them to create their own amazing spaghetti recipe that isn't exactly like Mom's, but that is just as good.
If you have other advice for teachers who are moving beyond the textbook, I hope you will share it with them in the comments below. We're all better when we share our experience. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Print to Digital Resources for Biology Teachers

While I recognize that this shift to a different form of learning requires more than just a catalog of resources, I hope that by finding these resources, I will help to contribute to our progress in that direction by at least removing the argument that these resources don't exist, or that teachers don't know where they are.

My fourth shot at this was to curate a collection of Biology resources into the LiveBinder below. This is a work in progress, so if you are a Biology teacher and you see a glaring problem with this collection in terms of inclusion or omission, I hope you will help me make this binder even better by making recommendations below. I appreciate any feedback. Also, you might be interested in my Digital Resources for US HistoryDigital Resources for World History, and Digital Resources for Chemistry posts/binders.

photo credit: Kaptain Kobold via photopin cc

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lessons from WDW #7: Social Media

I've been thinking a lot about how schools can better use social media to reach out to the community, improve learning, and celebrate success. If your schools are like ours, you are just beginning to scratch the surface of social media as it pertains to your daily work. As with anything, in the beginning, we are taking tentative steps. We want to run to catch up, but we don't want to fall. Meanwhile the rest of the world is liking, plussing and retweeting away.

I think it is important that we enter this fray for a few reasons: 1. We need to speak for ourselves. If we don't tell our own stories, someone else will. Badly. 2. Open communication is good. Misunderstandings happen when people fail to communicate well. Anything that helps us communicate more often to a wider audience is a win. 3. We need to be where the world is. It strikes me as arrogant that we expect the world to come to us on our terms for information instead of us taking it to them on theirs. 4. Social media enables a dialog among stakeholders instead of the one-way communication of many school communications. It allows us to be a community, rather than an institution.

I was reminded recently that our struggle to be part of this new, more personal form of communication has it's parallels in the business world. While I have plenty of stories of personal interactions with corporations enabled by social media, I also get frustrated when a company I do business with fails to treat me as an individual, as a person, and to respond to me personally when I reach out. My expectations for service are much higher now because some companies have done that well, and the ones who have not caught up are suffering from my raised expectations.

Given how far behind most schools are compared to the business community in terms of enabling customer service via online accessibility and social media, I suspect that we are suffering from the same raised expectations of the community. The people we serve expect a higher and higher level of personal attention, and we should be providing that (I would argue) even more than other industries. The personal touch matters. People want to know they are heard. They want to know that their thoughts and concerns count. People want to be more than just a number, a score, or a dollar amount.

I happen to believe that in education, we want that to be so even if we don't always stick the landing when we are given the opportunity to prove it. Social media represents an opportunity to show how focused on individuals we can be (if we do it well), or it represents another opportunity to affirm the conviction that schools are factories built for efficiency, rather than individuality (if we don't do it right). I'd like us to do this right.

That is why I was excited to see this post from the Disney Institute blog. I know from personal experience that Disney does customer service better than anyone. Every interaction with Disney is an invitation to a relationship with the brand, a community. Disney is constantly reaching out to interact with me by offering chat windows on their website, by asking me to complete surveys online, via the phone, and at the parks, and by creating all sorts of online communities and social media outlets that I can access. I knew that if I could find insight into Disney's approach to social media, I would likely gain good strategies to apply to a school or teacher's use of social media.

Based on their 5 pieces of advice, these are my thoughts for education:

  1. Continuously Listen- I'm glad this is number 1. I think a lot of people see social media as just a place to broadcast information. Of course, schools and teachers can use social media to share information with the community, but they should also make it easy for the community to comment back. We should be listening to those comments (positive and negative) and responding quickly to them so that people know that we care and are trying to build the best experience for everyone. If we aren't listening, we let the conversation go on without us, and worse, we are missing an opportunity to learn and to improve what we do.
  2. Quality Interaction- Disney makes a point that social media is an opportunity to really interact with our community. That level of personal interaction enables us to grow our relationships within our community. It also gives us a chance to better understand our community, so that we can always be sure that our message is tailored to them. The best way to reach our audience is to understand them, and the best way to understand them, is to get to know them.
  3. Provide a Helping Hand- There is no avoiding the fact that people will occasionally not be happy with "our brand" and social media is a place where they feel that they can have the most impact with their complaints. This is true. But the best way to deal with that is not to get defensive or argue with them in the social arena. Understand that their frustrations are real, well-founded or not. If you want to win in social media, address the problem. Help the frustrated feel heard. Show the public that you care that people have a good experience with you. Your greatest detractors can become your greatest advocates when you work to serve others and build community.
  4. Give Your Customers the Spotlight- Remember, social media isn't just about your voice. It is about our voices. Allow people to bring their own voice to your message. If you have a consistent message, people will promote that message for you because they want to be part of the community you are building. Let them. Find members of your social community who are good advocates for the work you are doing, and shine a light on them. For schools, this may mean the community. For teachers, it may mean students or parents.
  5. Transparency- The beauty of social media is that it is an open forum. People want to get to know your school or your class or you as a teacher or principal. If what you are doing on social media is honest and useful and well-intended, you do not have to be perfect. The community you build will be invested in its own success (and in yours). 

To me, the overall message is that we create social media spaces, not with ourselves in mind, but with others in mind. We want our students, their parents and the community to value who we are and what we do. In order for that to happen, we need to be of value to them. Social media gives us the opportunity to learn how to be of better value to our community as well as the opportunity to demonstrate that value daily in very personal ways. We ignore this opportunity at our peril.

I'd love to know your thoughts on this topic. How do you use social media as an educator? What lessons have you learned in the process? Also, what examples do you have of good or bad social media experiences with companies or schools?

photo credit: Will Lion via photopin cc

Friday, December 14, 2012

Print to Digital Resources for Chemistry Teachers

While I recognize that this shift to a different form of learning requires more than just a catalog of resources, I hope that by finding these resources, I will help to contribute to our progress in that direction by at least removing the argument that these resources don't exist, or that teachers don't know where they are.

My third shot at this was to curate a collection of Chemistry resources into the LiveBinder below. This is a work in progress, so if you are a Chemistry teacher and you see a glaring problem with this collection in terms of inclusion or omission, I hope you will help me make this binder even better by making recommendations below. I appreciate any feedback. Also, if you are a History teacher, you might be interested in my Digital Resources for US History and Digital Resources for World History posts/binders.

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Seriously Amazing- Another Cool Place to Play

I love it when I run across websites that are self-directed and full of engaging content. To me these digital playgrounds are a much better way to learn content than through a standardized curriculum. Thanks to @kylepace, I came across Seriously Amazing from the Smithsonian. I invite you to click the link and spend some time remembering what it's like to learn because you want to. Happy Exploring!

P.S. If you are looking for some other great places to play, check out this post: 5 Pretty Cool Places to Play

Print to Digital Resources for World History Teachers

While I recognize that this shift to a different form of learning requires more than just a catalog of resources, I hope that by finding these resources, I will help to contribute to our progress in that direction by at least removing the argument that these resources don't exist, or that teachers don't know where they are.

My second shot at this was to curate a collection of World History resources into the LiveBinder below. This is a work in progress, so if you are a World History teacher and you see a glaring problem with this collection in terms of inclusion or omission, I hope you will help me make this binder even better by making recommendations below. I appreciate any feedback. Also, if you are a US History teacher, you might be interested in my Digital Resources for US History post/binder.

photo credit: Dunechaser via photopin cc

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Print to Digital Resources for US History Teachers

I'm starting a new project in which I am trying to identify the online resources that can take the place of a traditional textbook. My purpose is to help teachers find high-quality resources for building learning experiences as we move into a more student-centered, connected and digital classroom environment. I hope to help teachers feel that they can comfortably let go of the textbook as the centerpiece of classroom content, and move to a more diverse set of viable content sources.

While I recognize that this shift to a different form of learning requires more than just a catalog of resources, I hope that by finding these resources, I will help to contribute to our progress in that direction by at least removing the argument that these resources don't exist, or that teachers don't know where they are.

My first shot at this was to curate a collection of US History Resources into the LiveBinder below. This is a work in progress, so if you are a US History teacher and you see a glaring problem with this collection in terms of inclusion or omission, I hope you will help me make this binder even better by making recommendations below. I appreciate any feedback.

photo credit: Vintaga Posters via photopin cc

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

11 Things I Think I know About Digital Citizenship

As far as I can tell, one of the big missing pieces in technology integration in the classroom is related to teaching digital citizenship. It's almost as if educators are so befuddled by what this conversation might look like, that they choose to ignore the topic altogether rather than go down a path that may be difficult or unpredictable.

Of course the problem with this is that without a healthy conversation about digital citizenship, schools are leaving the door open for all kinds of struggles and embarrassing moments. It's like those commercials that advertise how to talk to your kids about drugs or sex. We need to be less worried about being awkward and more concerned with making sure we are honest and open. The fact that we have the conversation is more critical than the style points we earn in the process.

So, in the interest of moving toward a better, and more inclusive conversation about digital citizenship in education, I offer you a few of my own observations about this topic. I hope that these observations will help put the subject in perspective and will serve as a starting point for future conversations:

  1. It's about the citizenship- Okay, first off, I've encountered a lot of teachers who have suggested that teaching digital citizenship is just one more thing on their plate. This confuses me because even before social media and the Internet, I always understood that part of my job as a teacher was to give kids social feedback, to help them see when they were making bad choices, and to intervene when I felt they were putting themselves or others at risk. Of course, back then, I was just teaching citizenship. I was helping students to navigate their lives. Somehow because an online life involves technology, we balk at the citizenship talk. Maybe we fear not understanding the technology part, but the reality is that we understand what good and safe behavior looks like, and we are capable of being honest with kids when we think they are making mistakes. Digital citizenship is just citizenship in a digital environment, so if you see a student bullying or being bullied online, react the same way you would to bullying on the playground. If a student Tweets something in appropriate about your student teacher, respond the way you would if you heard the student say the same thing loudly in the middle of the cafeteria. And if a student is using technology to pirate music without paying for it, confront them in the same way you would if you found out they were stealing CDs from Walmart. It's about the behavior, not the tool.
  2. If you're unsure, ask questions- One of the great things about being adult learners is that we know there isn't any content we can't master. If I'm not sure if what a student is doing is good online behavior, I can always find out. There are lots of gray areas when it comes to rules and best practices related to new media, and it can seem like the Internet is a the Wild West when it comes to what is okay, but the reality is that most of the big questions have been answered or are being discussed. For example, is it okay if my student borrows a CD from a friend and copies the songs to his iTunes? Even if I don't know the answer, I can ask the question. I might turn to experts, or I might begin the conversation with my student. The ethical boundaries of taking digital music are worth exploring, even if I haven't got a hard and fast answer.
  3. Students need help thinking about their digital footprint- We know that students have not fully formed the parts of their brains that allow them to realistically consider the consequences of their actions (whether online or otherwise). They don't fully realize how everything they share online becomes a part of their history. So, if they share a compromising photo or post something that reflects poorly on their character, they don't fully understand how far that post can travel, how profoundly it can affect their reputation, or how long it can live online. If they choose an email name that represents them in a negative light, they don't fully appreciate how important it is not to use that email in professional contexts. Or if they share vital bits of personal information via a social network, they don't necessarily understand that the information can be gathered to compromise their safety or privacy. 
  4. These conversations have to be ongoing- Like anything, we learn digital citizenship via practice and ongoing discussion. It is never enough to give kids a document to read, a webquest to complete, or a lecture to listen to, and expect that they will own the learning, get the message, or even care about the topic. Digital citizenship discussions have to happen in every class throughout the year as learning opportunities arise. The lessons will be more relevant in context, and the discussions will help to illuminate this complex topic over time.
  5. We also need to reassess what we mean by "on task" in a connected classroom- Along with that, helping students to use technology well means putting the work into students' hands, but that also means helping them to learn to make good decisions about being productive with technology. Even so, we should be more flexible in our definitions about productivity. Students who are getting their work done in a highly digital environment, may also be highly connected, and learning how to negotiate an open work environment means not automatically shutting down all technology just because a student is online chatting with people outside of the classroom. Learning to teach and learn in a connected classroom requires a lot of active discussions and feedback.
  6. Most people care whether or not they are perceived as good people- As a result, the easiest hook for these types of conversations is to invite kids to take a moral stand. If they understand that the choices they make help to define them as a person, very few will stand up in favor of cruelty, indecency, or criminality. Students may be very protective of their rights and autonomy, but they are also very protective of justice and fairness. Helping students see that their online actions can have a negative impact on others can be a way to change students' minds about choices they make.
  7. One benefit to technology is that it provides us a digital record- Unlike in years past, when bad citizenship was hard to prove, students today provide us with very clear evidence of bad choices. If a student sends another student an inappropriate text, we now have that text to use as a discussion starter. If a student writes something rude in an online class discussion, we have a record of that behavior. While the evidence is handy and makes it easier to prove when a child has made a poor choice, it also forces us to confront choices that might have been let go in the past. Personally, I think this is a good thing, but it does mean that we need to learn to use these experiences as teachable moments, rather than just punishable offenses.
  8. Educators need to be in the trenches- I have a whole bunch of reasons why educators should all be using social networks, should all be texting, and should all be using the collaborative and communicative power of the Internet, but for our purposes, I'll limit it to two: First, we need to be in these spaces because we will help to bring order to spaces that otherwise will be governed by a "Lord of the Flies" mentality. Our very presence will help to curb the wilder behaviors that we've been warned about. Second, we need to be in these spaces so that we can model positive digital behavior. I am not suggesting that we all create Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts so that we can friend and follow all of our students. There are reasonable cautions against entering those environments on the kids' terms. We need to be there, so that we understand how these environments work, and so that we can help our students understand them and use them well for their future. 
  9. We don't need to be the police- That said, I also think that we can afford to give kids their own space to be who they are outside of our presence. I don't think that we need to actively search every students' profile for any hint of impropriety. It is entirely possible for adults and kids to interact differently from one another depending on their audience/social group. I really don't want to know all of the things my son and his friends say to one another online or via text. If I had suspicions, I would do my due diligence and look, but until I do, I recognize that part of learning to be a good digital citizen is practicing on your own. When things come up that raise a red flag, we talk. What I don't know, I can let go.
  10. We have to be good models- I know that it can be a bit intimidating to try to understand copyright law as it applies to education and online publishing, but we have to do everything in our power to help students understand that they should respect the intellectual property and creativity of others. That means finding ways to blog, post, and tweet in ways that don't infringe on the rights of others. We also have to help students understand that there are responsible ways for how we engage with others online. That means making good choices about what we share online and how we engage others in conversation online. We also have to model how to be productive using technology, so that students see ways that technology can enable the learning that we do, rather than simply serve as a distraction.
  11. There are standards to help us have these conversations- One of the things that can help us have conversations about digital citizenship is a shared understanding of what our responsibilities are as teachers and learners in the digital age. Fortunately for us, that work has already been done. The International Society for Technology in Education has created a collection of National Educational Technology Standards that are separately defined for administrators, teachers, students and coaches. These standards are easy to understand, and are vertically aligned. While it is not enough to just hand these standards to a person and expect them to live them, having these standards makes launching conversations easier and helps to clarify the issues related to teaching and learning with technology.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lessons from WDW #6: Storytelling

I'm really interested in the notion that good leaders are good storytellers. I first came across this idea in a #DThink chat that I participated in. Later, this post on the Disney Institute Blog fleshed out this idea further for me. This feels true to me because in order to effectively lead, you need to be able to win the hearts and minds of the people you would wish to lead. Carrots and sticks will only get you so far in this regard, and extrinsic incentives certainly won't work for the sustained amount of time that it takes to lead a group to change.

Change is difficult, and quite naturally we resist it even when confronted with an objectively clear need for change. Some people resist change actively by pushing back on changes to their environment or workflow. Other people resist change passively by refusing to do anything more than act compliantly. This passive resistance is worse because all it requires is a willingness to be disengaged. Moving a group of people who won't even engage in the conversation is extremely difficult and requires a gifted leader who can draw people into a vision for success

To me, this is where storytelling comes in. We are all narrative creatures by nature. We enjoy good stories and tend to identify ourselves with the heroes of those stories. We paint ourselves as the heroes of our own stories as well. Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry know just how to appeal to our desire for stories that satisfy our basic drives and for characters in whom we can see ourselves. Indeed, the stories they tell all follow a very familiar formula that can be boiled down to moving from a state of chaos, unrealized potential or brokenness to a state of order, realized potential or perfection. These stories appeal to our need to make a difference, achieve justice and live happily ever after.

The power of a compelling story can inspire people to action (or reflection) with more force than a mountain of irrefutable data. Paint me a picture of a better world that I can believe in (even if i can't see it), and I will work tirelessly to get there despite the rocks in the road because I become part of the story of the people who strove to get there. Fail to inspire me with the story of our work, and I feel disconnected from the work. Yes, it's my job, but it's not my life. Realism sets in, and frankly, nothing of consequence will come from a room full of realists.

Good storytellers can keep the eyes of the people they lead focused on the promise of the story, rather than the difficulties of the process. In doing so, they reap the benefits of a motivated team committed to a shared goal instead of a group of skeptical individuals whose focus is divided and potentially fractious. Good leaders invite those they lead to align their aspirations and passion to the story of the work. Good leaders invite others to co-author the story of their shared succes by creating a story that is clear enough to capture the imagination, but undefined enough to allow others to become characters in the unfolding story.

Note that the storyteller does not impose a story of change. The story is not what makes the change. Rather, it is the story that inspires the listener to believe in his or her own power to affect change. In education, no system can ever be imposed on teachers and students that will create real, important and lasting change. That sort of change happens when a shared narrative of change takes hold of the imaginations of teachers, learners, and the community, and then empowers everyone to contribute to that narrative.

The power of a good storyteller can, of course, be used for ill. History is full of great storytellers who so enthralled their followers that they were able to take them down dark paths, and we do well to remember that when we assess the stories of the places we work, worship and play. But we also need to be able to suspend our disbelief enough to let ourselves become "part of the story." If we are so shut off from possibility that we can't be inspired, then our skepticism becomes our expectation, and we will never outperform the status quo. If we are too afraid or too jaded to believe in our own power to affect change, then our narrative becomes one of hopelessness and futility, and our work becomes drudgery. A great storyteller can weave a narrative that will re-ignite a person's belief in their own power to make a difference. A great storyteller can create a message of hope that mobilizes listeners to work harder than they ever have because they want to be part of the story that brought that message to life.

In this sense, storytelling becomes part of the leader's role as culture-maker. The most functional of working environments are ones in which there is a clear culture that invites everyone to care about the success of the work. A positive culture is reinforced by its stories. We convey our values through stories. We learn lessons through stories. We caution those new to a culture through stories that have consequences for the protagonists, but we also offer the promise of the next chapter that will include new contributions from new contributors. When our leaders are great storytellers, they invite us to see ourselves as heros in stories that matter.

photo credit: andy castro via photopin cc

Friday, December 7, 2012

12 Days of Dreaming

My friend, Brett (@Mr_Brett_Clark) started a really cool series of posts over at his blog, Education Dreamer. The series is the 12 Days of Dreaming, and he turned the blog over to 12 bloggers to share their individual dreams for education. I was honored to be among those bloggers, and I hope you will read my post, but more importantly, I hope you will read all of the posts and share your thoughts in the comments.

I'd also invite you to write your own dream for education and share it with the world. I found the process to be a good reminder of why I do the work that I do, and I love hearing the passion of other educators as well. As we prepare ourselves for the end of this semester and the beginning of the next, time to reflect on our purpose and our work is time well spent.

I hope you check it out:) Cheers!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's the Value of Social Media to Teachers and Students?

NOTE: I really would like to hear from you if you have a story about how you or your students use social media to enhance learning. Your comments are appreciated:)

I'm finding myself in more and more conversations in which I am defending social media in the classroom. I am grateful for the opportunity because for a while, the words "social media" would end a discussion about technology in the classroom before it began. Passionate, well-meaning educators refused to even consider social media as a topic of discussion, and would quickly change the subject, citing concerns about privacy, disruption, student safety, and liability, as well as stories about wildly inappropriate student behavior via social media.

All of these were (and are) valid concerns, and the response they triggered to resist acknowledging social media as part of the educational landscape was an understandable one (even if it was unrealistic).

What made the situation worse was that even if I could find someone who would entertain the notion of social media in the classroom, the examples of successful use of social media for education were few and far between, so finding enough examples to support an argument was often difficult over the last few years.

Even worse than that, because the adults who often help kids find their way in new social environments  (teachers and parents) were unfamiliar with and unwilling to enter into these social spaces, the kids who were entering into them in droves lacked guidance and made choices that only confirmed the fears of the adults who would block, ban, and shut down social media (if this were possible).

Clearly, carrying the banner for Facebook in the classroom made for a lonely parade in the beginning.

This year has been different, though. Suddenly, there are all kinds of resources that have been curated on how to use social media in all kinds of classrooms. We have more than enough success stories to show the positive side of social media in education, and the stigma of words like "Facebook" and "Twitter" seems less of a barrier for discussion. I realize that doesn't mean that the case has been made, but there is enough critical mass to at least expand the conversation beyond the early adopters whose tech-cred seems to limit their persuasive powers. "Sure, he uses Twitter in class, but I'm not 'techie' like that."

I had an enlightening conversation with a colleague today that helped me to get a sense of where we are now. She said, "I was afraid of the idea. Now I'm wary about the change, but I'm interested in learning more. What puts me off is a bunch of techies using language that I don't understand like 'crowd-sourcing.' What invites me in are examples of how social media can help kids learn more and do it better." This came about when another colleague shared how her daughter's journalism class is able to pull together photos for yearbook spreads by tweeting out a need for pictures from a particular event. Now a spread that would have taken days, can be done in hours. That's what we were missing before. Those kinds of stories from all kinds of teachers.

So I'm interested in finding better ways to make the case through great anecdotal stories of how real teachers are using social media in classes to make learning better. I'm interested in finding those stories that make it obvious to anyone that social media has a role to play in learning. I want to build a library of real, boots-on-the-ground, non-techie examples of what learning via social media looks like. I'd love to hear from teachers, principals, sponsors, and especially kids, so that I can begin to tell this story better, and we can all get past the discussion of whether social media has a place in learning and move on to the discussion of how we can best use social media to enhance learning. I welcome your comments and ideas below.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Twitter for Teachers

This post was originally posted at the ICATS 30-Day eLearning Challenge. Twitter is my ultimate learning playground and I hope this post helps some find their way into this form of learning.

For those who haven't ventured very far into the Twitterverse, the micro-blogging service Twitter can seem as though it's only purpose is to give people a platform for over-sharing ("Eating a cheeseburger at The Pub with my buddy @TechECoach") or to give snarky people a place to amuse themselves ("Flip-flops in 40 degree weather? #Genius #YourToesArentCuteIfTheyFallOff") or to give obsessive fans a place to gush about their latest passion ("Check out this pic of #LadyGaga taken at an #Arbys! Link").

Yes, this stuff exists on Twitter, but those who have gone deeper with this tool have discovered that Twitter has a lot to offer educators in terms of making connections with students and parents, collaborating with and learning from colleagues, and extending and enhancing learning.

Another complaint from those new to Twitter is how foreign the language seems with all of those symbols and abbreviations in each tweet. If this is off-putting to you, you may want to check out this link to help you get started. Learning just a few basics can make Tweets much easier to understand:

Twitter in Plain English
Twitter in 60 Seconds
Twitterholics Ultimate Guide to All Things Twitter
Mom This Is How Twitter Works

Twitter in Education

As more and more educators join Twitter, the number of ideas for using Twitter in schools grows. A simple Google search for Twitter in Education will bring up many resources worth exploring, and I encourage you to do so, but for those of you who are short on time, here are a few resources to get you started:

60 Inspiring Examples of Twitter in the Classroom
100 ways to Use Twitter in Education
28 Simple Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom
100 Twitter Tips for Teachers

Some of my favorite examples of uses for Twitter in education include:
  1. Using Twitter as a backchannel for live discussions around an event. For example, students live tweeting to a hashtag during the Presidential Debate.
  2. Crowd-sourcing resources to a Twitter handle. For example having the student body tweet pictures of school events to the journalism department Twitter account.
  3. Using Twitter to find answers. For example, creating a Google survey and tweeting it out to collect responses from the world.
  4. Learning the art of brevity. For example, having students tweet book summaries, main ideas or short poems to share.
  5. Promoting the great things that are going on in class or school. Example, having a class hashtag or school account as a resource for parents to get updates or learn about your class/school.
And my absolute favorite use for Twitter is as a personalized method of professional development. I use Twitter to learn in several ways. First, I follow as many great educators as I can. I find that the educator Twitter community is full of people discovering and sharing great digital resources and teaching ideas. So, really, I am putting the Twitter community to work for me. The resources they share come to me pre-vetted by fellow teachers. Also, I like that I can pop onto Twitter at anytime and find something worth investigating because sometimes I only have a few minutes to spare, but I can use that time well by learning something new. Of course, I also do my best to share great resources that I find for others on Twitter.

Second, I learn by taking part in formal Twitter chats. There are several Twitter chats that happen weekly that really push my thinking and learning. It's nice to know that not only do I have local colleagues with whom I can learn and collaborate, I also have a world-wide community of educators who are dealing with the same issues that I am.

Finally, I learn via Twitter by engaging in direct conversations with great teachers who I otherwise wouldn't be connected. The Twitter education community has a very positive and welcoming culture that makes reaching out to someone I've never met easy and rewarding. I can honestly say I've had meaningful conversations with education leaders that I would otherwise have to pay a lot of money to see in an impersonal setting at a conference. I also know that if I tweet out a question to my followers, I will likely find someone who will tweet me back with an answer. The power of this personal learning network constantly amazes me.

Your Challenge

Take a few minutes to explore the links above. If you don't already have a Twitter account, start one, and try following a few people. Here is a link to some recommendations. You might also look at an education hashtag like #edchat or #INelearn.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Leading with the NETS

I gave a talk today at CELL 2012. Basically, I contend that The ISTE NETS standards are an excellent starting point for shifting learning for the Digital Age. I really think that the work we need to do in the years ahead have to begin with confronting our own fears and misunderstandings about teaching and learning and the role that technology can play in magnifying the best things we do in the classroom.

Here are the resources that I shared:



Friday, November 9, 2012

My Ten Most Viewed LiveBinders

I'm a big fan of using LiveBinders to curate and share web resources. The more I've been at it, the easier it becomes to find and share the right resource when a teacher needs it. I was reminded of this today because I ended up sharing three different binders with colleagues within the span of a half-hour, each of which spoke to a different project or problem that needed to be solved.

I share these pretty regularly, but thought I might take a moment to share the binders that seem to get the most attention. I hope you find them useful:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Review- Preschool Gems

In the interest of full-disclosure, I offered to review the book Preschool Gems: Love, Death, Magic and Other Surprising Treasures from the Mouths of BabesIn return, the author, Leslie McCollom, arranged to have a review copy sent to me. I've followed Leslie's Twitter feed @preschoolgems for over a year now, and I was excited to have the opportunity to see her work collected into a book.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." -Pablo Picasso

When I was in college, I wanted to become a poet. That is, until I found this weird little book titled Miracles: Poems by Children of the English- Speaking World. Whatever shot I had at pursuing a career in poetry was broken the day I opened that book because I was confronted with a clear sense of the gap between the simple, visceral imagery of children and the muddied, entangled language in my own work.

Kids are less-nuanced, but their language goes right to the heart of experience. I think this is because, for them, experience is so immediate. Over time, my ability to feel (and therefore write) like a child had been educated out of me. For a poet, this is a problem. Now I realize, I approached this equation in the wrong way. One does not become a poet. One remains a poet. I did not. I became a teacher instead. Now I try not to educate the artists out of children.

I mention all of this by way of introducing Leslie McCollom's delightful book, Preschool Gems: Love, Death, Magic and Other Surprising Treasures from the Mouths of Babes. This book is another stunning reminder of how powerfully creative and clear children's minds can be. I'm so jealous.

I first discovered Leslie McCollum via Twitter when someone I follow retweeted one of her amazing @preschoolgems tweets. I should explain that Leslie had the remarkable insight to realize that the preschoolers she teaches say magical things worthy of sharing with the world, so she shares them. In her own words, Leslie started Preschool Gems "because every time I forgot one of their dazzling quotes, it felt like a precious jewel had slipped through my fingers." I am grateful that she decided to do something about that, and her book is the result of her insight and stewardship.

In form, the book is a curated collection of some of the best quotes from her Twitter feed, organized into topics like "Having a Body," "Love and Friendship," and "Make Believe." I've struggled with how to share the power of this book without stealing from the reader the delight of enjoying each quote in context, so I'm going to give just ten reasons why I love this book, each with a single accompanying quote:
  1. I love this book because kids' logic accepts no prisoners, and refuses to be bullied by cold, hard facts: "You wanna know how I know fairies are real? Because I'm a fairy."
  2. I love this book because kids understand that we are more than our physical selves: "I've got the prettiest silly that you've ever seen."
  3. I love this book because kids speak cruel truths via amazing metaphors: "When wolves die they turn into dogs."
  4. I love this book because kids aren't limited to the classifications we learn in school: "You know what happens when you put feet and arms together? Feetarms."
  5. I love this book because kids recognize the magic in all of us: "I'm just a guy with pixie dust."
  6. I love this book because kids make complicated human motivations uncomplicated: "I had an accident. I did it on purpose."
  7. I love this book because kids know the power of Zen riddles: "OK, you guys are never gonna guess this so I'm just gonna tell you: basketball candies."
  8. I love this book because kids know what matters: "I don't care about time-outs. I only care about my life."
  9. I love this book because kids have a healthy sense of their own greatness: "You should be aware of my pretty moves."
  10. I love this book because it gives me hope: "Some teachers get littler and littler till they're kids."
I truly recommend this book (as well as Leslie's Twitter feed) as a restorative for those times when you know in your heart that the grown-up world is making things unnecessarily complicated and boring. Perhaps it will bring you philosophical clarity. Perhaps it will connect you with your inner-magic. Perhaps it will remind you about what and who matter in your your world. At minimum, you'll laugh a lot and get a bit littler in the process.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

iMovie Basics

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been working with some 6th-graders to create election videos for a Project-Based Learning unit that was designed by one of our CODE teachers. I've been thrilled to see the level of engagement in these classes. I will write a blog later that shares some of my impressions of this learning, but as I go, I'm sharing some of the resources that I've been creating for the kids. This post is simply to share the basic how-to screencasts I created to help my video editing team kids as they begin construction their commercials.

Here are the videos:

While these were made with the kiddos in mind, I hope that they have value for you as well.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Lessons from WDW 5: Setting

This is part five in a series in which I explore the question: What elements of the Disney culture could be applied to educational design.

As usual, I'm taking my inspiration for this post from a post that I read at The Disney Institute Blog titled "The Magic of Setting." The gist of that post was the question, "what does your setting say about your business?" Or to translate into my educational focus, "what does your school or classroom setting say about the learning you will do there?"

I like this question because it's easy to tell when you are in an educational setting that has been purposefully designed versus one that has come into being through institutional inertia. To me, a thoughtfully designed setting speaks volumes about how engaged the leaders in that building or classroom are in the experience they hope to create for their students. I like a classroom design that leaves no question about what the focus of the work is, who is doing the work, how the work will be done, and what values are celebrated culturally. 

 Every element of the setting matters and can send a message to a student, employee or visitor that will affect that person's level of engagement in the space. When someone walks into your classroom or school for the first time, they are looking for ways in which they feel they belong. They are looking to see if they are valued and represented. They are looking to see if they will be interested, surprised, inspired and challenged. They are looking for evidence that they will be allowed to be themselves. In many cases, they are looking for a way in which you will prove their expectations wrong. 

What does the furniture in your room say about your class? What does the organization of the room say about the work you will be doing? How often does this change? What is on the walls, on the shelves, in the closets? How clean is the room? What value messages are on the walls, what is their tone, and where are they located? What is the color palette? What are the images? Is there music? If so, what is the tone, and who does it speak to? Where is the focus of the room? If there are tools, supplies or equipment, how accessible are they? Are there clear messages that direct visitors and participants on how to engage? If so, who wrote them? What is the tone? Whose interests are reflected in the decor? All of these questions (and so many more) can lead an observer to draw conclusions about your learning space and their place in it.

I should mention that the same is true for virtual learning spaces. 

One of the comments on the Disney Institute post raised the point that it is entirely possible for someone to have an incredibly well-designed setting and still offer a less-than-satisfactory experience (think of the theme restaurant with bland fare vs. the hole-in-the-wall dive with amazing food). To this I reply that I agree that setting is no substitute for a quality experience, but evidence of thoughtful planning can set the tone for your first interactions. This is important when you are trying to create a positive experience from scratch. The setting gets them there, and the experience keeps them coming back. How many people will not take the risk to buy-in from the beginning if they don't feel comfortable with the space?

Ultimately, the choices we make when we design our spaces have the power to support the experiences we hope our students have. If we create an inviting space that reinforces our values, we are more likely to be successful in creating those experiences because we are more likely to get our students to contribute to the experience, rather than detract from it. If we say we value collaboration, creativity or scholarship, we should be designing spaces that support those values. Then we should be designing learning experiences that incorporate those values. If we do both of those things, we will encourage those values in our students. If, however, we only do one or the other, the dissonance we create between setting and experience can undercut our ability to fully engage our students in the learning.

So I ask you, what does your classroom or school say about the learning you want people to do there? 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

12 Tips for Creating Classroom Videos

I'm working with a class of 6th grade students on shooting campaign commercials. For many, this will be their first attempt at making videos, so I've been cobbling together some advice as they go about the work. Ahead of shooting, they've already been storyboarding their video so that they will know exactly what they want to shoot. Our next step is to actually shoot the raw footage that will be edited into their final product. We're meeting today to talk about that process and to preview the editing process. This is the advice I'm going to start with:

Advice for the "Shot"

1. Remember the Rule of Thirds

Photographers and videographers refer to the "rule of thirds" to describe the points in an image that are the most vital and where one should place the action or subject of the shot. Imagine the grid to the right superimposed over an image. The red intersections of the lines are the points at which the important parts of the image should reside. You can see this in action when you look at professional photos in a magazine or when you watch television or movies.

Here is an example:

2. Think About Light

This is an easy mistake to make, but also an easy problem to avoid. Where the light sources are coming from will affect the quality of the shot. The most important thing for young people to avoid is backlighting a shot. A backlit shot is one in which the primary light in the shot is behind the subject of the shot. This creates a situation in which the subject is in shadow and cannot be seen clearly. The way to avoid this is to make sure that you have more light on the subject from behind the camera, and to avoid shooting directly toward a powerful light source like a window, the sun, or a bank of bright lights. To be fair, back lighting can be used to create positive effects as well. Here is a photo I took this year:

3. Think About the Background

It's easy to get so focused on the subject of the picture or video, that you forget about what is going on in the background. This is important to consider. In a video, if there is action in the background, it can distract the audience from what is happening in the foreground. Also, a better shot can often be created by just taking the time to think about what the "whole picture" includes. Are there items in the shot that could be avoided or removed? Is there a better background nearby that could enhance the shot. Think about what appears (or doesn't appear) in the background of a political ad.

Or think about the photo creepers that appear in the background of your vacation photos. It's better to think ahead to create a great shot, than to try to fix the distraction in editing later.

I have a great photo of my daughter playing in the ocean, but in the background behind her is another person whom I don't know and whom I wish wasn't there. I can Photoshop that person out, but it would have been better to have been conscious of the other person from the beginning.

4. Hold Still!

Nothing ruins a photo or makes a video look amateurish faster than unnecessary camera movement. The best thing to do when you want to have a really professional result is to use something like a tripod or monopod to stabilize the camera. Even when taking "on the fly" shots, you want to find a way to stabilize your shot, either by using a stationary object to lean against or by using your body to hold the camera as still as possible. When it is necessary to move the camera to follow some action, move as fluidly as possible, so that you can avoid the Blair Witch effect which can make some viewers nauseous.

5. Get the Shot You Want

There is a reason you see directors calling "cut" and then having the clicker slam down for a "Take 2." The first shot wasn't what the director wanted. By shooting until you get a perfect take, you end up with the product you want. Someone once told me that the difference between an amateur photographer and a professional photographer is about 300 photos. I believe it. And now that digital photo and video capture is as cheap and easy as it is, you can afford to take the time to get it right. I recommend that you start with an idea of what you want, take the time to get everything set up correctly, and then shoot the clip over again until you have what you imagined in the first place or something even better.

6. Be Kind to the Editors

If you are shooting video that will need to be edited together, build in some room for editing with each clip. Begin recording, then say something cool like "And Action..." Then, have everyone take a long pause before starting (imagine counting down from 3). Then film the clip. If it is a keeper, wait for another long pause before speaking, so that the camera person has time to stop recording. by putting a buffer at each end of the recording, you give video editors the room they need to make sure nothing is interfering with the content they want to use.

7. Consider B Roll

Have you ever seen one of those videos that begins with someone speaking on camera, but as they are speaking, the image changes from them to other images or video that illustrate their words? Those images and videos are called B Roll. Cutting to B Roll is effective for a couple of reasons. First of all, B Roll brings the person's words to life which helps the speaker to convey a message. Also, talking heads don't have the ability to hold an audience's attention for very long. By utilizing B Roll, the editor helps the audience stay engaged with what the speaker is saying. It's worth studying commercials to see how often the imagery changes. Typically, visual image changes will outnumber changes in audio content.

Here are a couple of ads that make good use of B Roll:

Advice for the Audio

8. Test the Audio Before Shooting

One of the fastest ways to spoil an otherwise great video is to burden it with bad audio. If the microphone doesn't pick up the subject's voice, if the sound is too loud or too fuzzy, or if the audio includes feedback, then your audience will quickly tune out. The best way to avoid these problems is to test your audio before you record. When using a microphone, the videographer can listen to the audio through headphones. If you are using built-in audio, do a test recording and listen to the results. In addition, if you notice audio conditions changing while recording, stop (when possible) and fix the problem before moving on.

9. Consider Your Audio Backdrop

Just as you should consider the visual background of a shot, you need to consider the audio background as well. When shooting in public, there are many audio variables. If you are filming next to a street, you can encounter traffic noise, for example. Good videographers work hard to anticipate and manage variables that might distract from the subject. Being conscious of these issues will make your video more professional. Also be aware that when your setting changes, the quality of the audio will change as well. This can be distracting particularly if there are a lot of changes or if those changes are dramatic. Some of this can be fixed in editing, but it is better to avoid the problem in the first place.

10. Enhance the Mood

The mood of your video can definitely be enhanced with the right music and sound effects. When editing video, you can drop in royalty-free music to help the audience know what to feel while watching. The tone of voice of your subject matters as well. Think about the effect someone's voice has on an audience when they are excited, happy or angry.

Overall Advice 

11. Keep It Simple

As with cosmetics and PowerPoint slides, less is more. Even basic video editing tools today allow for a wide array of transitions, effects, and media options. But, just because you can use 40 different video transitions in a single 3-minute film, doesn't mean you should. I encourage you to say what you have to say as simply as possible. Save the fancy tricks for when they are really needed.

12. Be Reflective
Learning to create good videos takes practice. Each time you set out to make a video, you will learn something new because you will have a new message, purpose and audience. You can speed up the learning process by taking the time to collect feedback and think about how you would improve the work next time. Also, watch TV and movies with a critical eye for learning. How do professionals do what you want to do?

What is Your Advice?

I'd love to know what advice you would give these amazing kids as they embark on their first videos. Please feel free to comment and add to this list. Thanks!

To see a related post on iMovie Basics go here.

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