July 14

“Sam,” or Differentiated Learning in #PBL

In my Meliora social studies class last year, I had a student I’ll call “Sam.” A bright eighth-grader, some of his ability to learn is impeded by a variety of sensory issues, and by his tendency to get distracted.

Since the students conduct two major research projects during the year, I invest significant time early in the year developing research and media literacy skills. We talk about the attributes that make one source reliable and another not. We discuss how to deal with situations where different sources have conflicting information. And so on. As part of that learning process, and throughout the year, I ask the students to conduct online research activities, and to share their findings.

The first time I asked Sam and his classmates to carry out one such task, he lost his composure because he felt overwhelmed. He was familiar with using books and other print resources, but was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with using the Internet and online databases for this kind of work, especially in a dynamic, “do it now” environment.

To complicate matters, Sam had arrived in class with a relatively black and white view of the world, and was disconcerted when I asked questions that challenged this rigid perspective. Over a period of several weeks, I communicated with his mother a number of times, working with her to identify ways to make Sam more comfortable with these open-ended kinds of tasks.

I recognized building trust was key, as is the case for all students. They need to feel we are supporting them, that they are in a safe place where they can exhibit uncertainty and can make mistakes as we challenge them to stretch and further develop their capabilities.

They need to feel we are supporting them, that they are in a safe place where they can exhibit uncertainty and can make mistakes as we challenge them to stretch and further develop their capabilities.

One breakthrough in this regard took place early in the school year, when I discovered Sam is rabid about statistics. I had given two assignments comparing characteristics between several Asian countries and the United States. One was a land mass analysis, the other related to human populations. Sam arrived in class rattling off detailed information, along with the results of several other analyses he had independently conducted. Taking note of this, I sought other opportunities to infuse statistical research and analysis into assignments and discussions, as it provided one way to grab his attention and encourage him to look more deeply into topics. By asking him to lead in-class research related to statistical data, I repeatedly validated that he is a capable student. I also used these opportunities to broaden and deepen his critical thinking, asking more complex questions as his skills improved.

Over time, Sam became more comfortable and more confident, especially in his ability to truly listen, and in his ability to clearly articulate his point of view. He discovered for himself there are many viewpoints, that not everything is “right” or “wrong,” that we can respect others even when we disagree with them.

Zone of Proximal Development by Dcoetzee is licensed under CC BY, via Wikimedia Commons

This example illustrates one of the great liberating qualities of PBL. We can differentiate learning using our understanding of our students, providing voice and choice which allows the students to start within their (comfort) zone of proximal development. From there, we can challenge them to dig deeper or wider, or to learn a new method, steadily expanding that zone.

In a discussion with Sam’s mother during the second semester, she practically glowed as she spoke of his academic growth, especially his improved critical thinking. She chuckled as she said, “when he looks at Wikipedia articles now, he criticizes them for the inaccuracies he finds.” Bravo, Sam. And, bravo PBL!

 

July 14

“Primitive Art” – a #CLMOOC 2017 Reflection

We are wrapping up the first formal week of #CLMOOC 2017, where we were optionally (after all, everything in CLMOOC is optional) invited to add an introduction in Flipgrid. Flipgrid is a video-only platform, and my CLMOOC colleagues have used a variety of methods to introduce themselves; some funny, some serious, some silent.

I had the idea to create a video that emulates an old-style flip book, so went searching for a tool to use. I found FlipAnim, which seemed quite straightforward, a web-based app which had a short learning curve. The first (disappointing) thing I discovered is there is no “erase” or “undo” capability. The only way to remove mistakes is by deleting the whole “page.” The second “problem” with this tool is that the drawing is done using one’s computer mouse.

Even though I am left-handed, I have always used a right-handed mouse (maybe for the same reason I still use right-handed scissors – lack of availability when I first started using the tool?). When I was faced with the prospect of applying my atrocious right-handed drawing-with-a-mouse skills, along with the can’t-undo-mistakes reality, I sighed and considered finding a different app.

Then I thought better of it, and simply drew. I accepted that the result would be “primitive” at best. And discovered it was so liberating to play! I was relaxed and reckless as I created my crude facsimile of a girl with wild hair, and as I hand-wrote, er mouse-wrote my “credits.” Yes, the result is primitive, but it was such fun!

This experience ties in with the Twitter chats we had a few days ago, where a number of us acknowledged we feel we aren’t artists, that we are “bad” at art.

Our perception that we are not “artists” usually starts at a young age, oftentimes as the result of a classroom experience. My absolute favorite example of using a positive, iterative process to improve work comes in the form of “Austin’s Butterfly,” from Expeditionary Learning’s Ron Berger. In this process, instead of telling students their work is “bad” or “good,” peers offer “kind, specific and helpful” feedback. If you haven’t watched this video, DO! It provides such a superb example of how first-grader Austin steadily improves his work based on peer feedback, and how closely his final product resembles the photograph he was using as his model.

Confidence in the ability to continuously improve one’s work is a characteristic identified in Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindsets. It is interesting that many of us who participated in the CLMOOC Twitter chats demonstrated a fixed mindset regarding our artistic ability.

As we explored this discomfort and feelings of inadequacy further, we talked about the need to “play” with art, to have fun. Algot Runeman reminded us periodically how we need to treat ourselves more kindly, and to continue practicing. To allow ourselves to “stumble,” and to measure progress over time.

The point about the importance of play is well-argued in Stuart Brown, MD’s book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. As he says, “[p]lay is a state of mind, rather than activity” (p. 60). He further states “the impulse to create art is a result of the play impulse… art and culture are something that the brain actively creates because it benefits us…” (p. 60).

Now, I’m off to color.

 

 

April 30

Rhizomes

I have been wrestling with the many out-of-control #rhizomes in the garden. Ferns are my current nemesis, as they are encroaching on the hostas and astilbes nearby, boldly erupting right in the middle of them. Since some of my PLN are rhizomatic learning zealots, I have dabbled in trying to understand that learning theory, and its parallels to rhizomes in nature.

My approach to gardening is fairly lackadaisical. I do not coddle the plants, nor play music to them. In general, I pay attention to what kind of lighting environment they need (sun? shade? some of both?) and in the heat of summer, I soak them, using the same method as for the lawn grass, “heavily at infrequent intervals,” which helps them develop a deep root system. Beyond that, I have faith the plants will thrive.

Maybe students would benefit from these same conditions. Maybe we need to provide them with a positive, nurturing environment combined with high expectations for their success and see what happens. John Hattie places “teacher estimates of achievement” as the largest factor which contributes to student learning and achievement. Instead of hovering and intervening at the first sign of struggle, we need to let students dig deep, help them develop a growth mindset. We need to teach them that failure is normal and acceptable, something from which we learn.

The one thing I do not do infuse into my garden is any form of chemical toxins. No chemical fertilizers, no chemical pesticides. As I pondered the “toxins” commonly found in school environments, the first thing that came to mind is the ongoing focus on student, and by extension, teacher success based on standardized achievement tests. In a 2014 survey, the NEA found 45 percent of surveyed teachers “have considered quitting because of standardized testing.”

As if to echo my thoughts, in this Sir Ken Robinson chat, he states “…certainly by the time they are in secondary school many kids are disengaged, bored by what’s happening, and far too often suffer from stress and end up leaving the system entirely…” Robinson thinks these have been long-term problems in schools, but “they’ve been made very much worse… by the emphasis on competition and standardization…The US for example, has spent billions of dollars literally on commercial testing programs for the past 15 years and seen no improvement to speak of… It’s based on a false premise… that education is in some ways still an impersonal process, that it can be improved by standardizing and removing the human factor …”

Robinson then makes an analogy to industrialized agriculture, and how pesticides were introduced, “because these systems for the most part were deprived of the natural process of self-protection, so pesticides were needed to keep away pests and so on, and to protect the crops. Now, it kind of worked, except that it’s destroying the environment, it’s polluting water systems, and it’s eroding topsoil…” He then describes how organic farmers “…promote diversity, they look at the health and ecology of the whole system, but the emphasis is on the soil. If you get the soil right, the plants will grow and be healthy. And, these are sustainable and natural processes. … we’ve lost sight of the natural processes of teaching and learning, and in doing that we’ve eroded the culture of education, the culture of learning… He finishes by positing that we need to “create optimum conditions in schools where [students] want to learn…”

…we’ve lost sight of the natural processes of teaching and learning, and in doing that we’ve eroded the culture of education, the culture of learning…

So, as I continue to dig rhizomes out of my garden, I will simultaneously think of ways to nurture the spread of student rhizomes through the use of high-quality #PBL, which incorporates relevant, real-world and authentic teaching and learning.

March 28

Just Let Go!

Earlier this year, my teen students were reading Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Some of them had embraced the rhythm of the epic poem, and were quite enjoying it. Others were stymied by the flow and vocabulary, and were not enjoying it at all.

To guide our in-class discussion, we use a Literature Circle protocol. Students are assigned a role (which changes each week), conduct their investigations outside of class, and bring their findings to discuss with their classmates. The students lead; I only jump in when I feel a point needs further analysis or elaboration.

On this particular day, in the middle of our discussion, the group headed off on a wild tangent. One of the students suggested writing another Beowulf story, with some twists to the characterization. From there, others joined in, and the intensity continued to rise. Ideas ran amok and included everything from Beowulf being gay and marrying King Hrothgar to Grendel’s mother killing Beowulf, and a whole lot of other derivations.

This discussion went on for some time, and included a lot of laughter and off-the-wall thinking. At one point, I was telling myself, “You need to get control back.” Fortunately, my wiser self stepped in and said, “Are you crazy? This is the best thinking they have done all year!”

I was reminded how important it is to be flexible, to savor those times when students are totally engaged in a process, and just let go! Deeper learning is the result.

February 10

So what are 21st century skills?

Recently, I tweeted an excerpt from an article written by Graham Brown-Martin, who founded Learning without Frontiers and published Learning Reimagined in 2015. Brown-Martin’s essential argument is that we need to understand 21st century challenges in order to know what skills are required, and he identifies a number of these challenges, including climate change, growing inequality, and an ageing population. His summation is “we have the option of educating for conflict & war or educating for peace & unity.”

Part of GameShift’s response to my tweet caught my attention. They asked “So what are 21st century skills?”

As I reflected on GameShift’s question, the word that came to mind was “adaptability.” We cannot presently identify all of tomorrow’s challenges. Global dynamics are in a constant state of flux, and we are more aware of this than any other point in history, due to the quantity of and rapidity with which information (whether true or false) is dispersed. To add to this sense of chaos, people are changing jobs 10-15 times during their lifetime.

Tony Wagner’s work, which examines education through the lens of skills business leaders are looking for, echoes my thinking, as “agility and adaptability” are listed among his Seven Survival Skills. How then do we develop adaptability in students? By offering them an authentic learning environment in which they create solutions to real-world problems. Project-based learning (PBL) is a methodology that provides such authentic, real-world learning. Exemplified in BIE’s model, it can be applied to virtually any problem or challenge.

Project-based learning (PBL) is a methodology that provides such authentic, real-world learning. Exemplified in BIE’s model, it can be applied to virtually any problem or challenge.

Just as in the real world, application of PBL begins with identifying and framing a complex problem or question, for which students are asked to create potential solutions. Integral to the methodology, they use design thinking to define, test and either discard or refine their designs in an iterative process.

We also see the 4Cs of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication woven into the structure of a PBL project. Solutions are often developed in a collaborative team. The team members are required to communicate with each other, often with experts on the subject, and with a public audience, to whom they present their products, their evidence of learning. Designing solutions to the complex problem or question requires critical thinking, in order to truly understand the challenge, and to research, analyze, and synthesize information needed to develop a solution. Likewise, creative thought, effort, and oftentimes failure are integral to the process of solution design and development.

Our schools and classrooms need to be as adaptable as our learners are going to need to be, or as Sam Seidel says, we need to “keep it real.” PBL is a winning way to get us there.

January 23

Once Upon a Time…

 

Writing is such a mysterious art. As an adult, I still find it to be so. I have flashbacks to a high school composition teacher who never offered feedback on the creativity of a piece, but provided plenty of criticism on mechanics. Maybe it was then I concluded I could not write well.

In rebellion, or more accurately because it is good practice, I focus on writing as a process, where perfecting mechanics is just part of the final editing process, and where good storytelling is the most important thrust. Since many students get stuck when trying to write, feeling they don’t know where to start, or that their writing is stilted, or… I want them to embrace a “just do it” attitude. Each week, we (yes, that includes me) free write. I suggest that the students focus on some aspect of their semester-long writing project, but invite them to write about whatever they wish.

Writer, Writing, Paper, Letter, Author, Business, Text by Ramdlon is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

To augment this idea of writing just to write, of allowing the imagination to wander, I recently had the students work in groups of three. Using a story starter, each group wrote a collaborative story in a shared Google document. The rules were pretty simple, they could not delete anything another student wrote (but could embellish the other students’ work), and they had 20 minutes to work.

The results were great fun (examples below, story starters in bold), and the students had a blast. I will use variations this activity on a regular basis!

Clorox Bleach products by Adina Firestone is licensed under CC 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) 

The harder she scratched away at her forearm, the quicker the flesh fell away. From outside the containment unit, Dr. Elana Miles and Dr. Mark Rustenburg watched in dismay as the young girl grimaced in discomfort as the virus ate through her skin like acid. Isabelle regretted drinking that bleach for a dare man her friends sucked so much she screamed in pain once more ‘I could have at least tried to make it taste better’ she thought sadly the doctors were still watching with confused looks on their faces as she continued to scratch and scream while rolling around on the floor . They had no idea that Basicly bleachcould do that to a person, especially since Basicly bleach is basic (like omg starbucks), not acidic. All the Basicly bleach ever wanted was a friend, but the Basicly bleach ate through Isabelle’s stomach just as quick as the Basicly bleachate through all of its other friends. “How many more friends must suffer!!??’ the Basicly bleach cried. The Basicly bleach™’s dad left when the  Basicly bleach was young, and the Basicly bleach had been searching for a family and friends ever since, but life is hard for Basicly bleach. Isabelle started screaming even louder which alarmed more doctors and soon the room was packed with doctors but none of them knew what to do suddenly Mojojojo walked thru the door with an antidote. One of the doctors said “quick use it!” and Mojojojo then looked at the doctors with the most evilest grin you would have ever seen  and said “oh I’m not gonna use it!” and his smile became very large and wide and he drank the antidote and jumped out the window onto his pet eagle! But unfortunately the eagle was crushed under his weight, making his escape maneuver a total waste. Thankfully he had stored his backup elephant in the parking garage under the hospital It’s a good thing Duff duffman showed up then, as he regularly carried bleach antidote in his toolbelt (bc DUH). But being the clumsy oaf he is he tripped and stabbed himself on a charm from one of the nurses crocs (EVIL CROCS) Isabella was becoming more and more skinless as the hero failed to deliver an antidote withering in pain she became a puddle of acid on the ground. “We can still save her!” said one of the doctors “No, We tried all we could. She’s in peace now (eh kinda)” said Dr. Mark Rustenburg Isabelle’s grieving family scooped her up into a BIOHAZARD container and carried her home her friends were caught and arrested along with Mojojojo.

*no animals were harmed in the making of this story , well except the eagle he’s deader than a doorknob but hey the elephant’s ok still well kinda he was sold to Ringling brother circus and they mistreat their animals but he’s still alive and that’s the whole point*

plane sky clouds airplane travel flight trip by Rzh_edits is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

When you are as rich as I am, it is easy to live an adventurous life. Just yesterday I took off on the company jet and went to Hong Kong. I had just gotten off when Madam Hoo, my cousin’s half sister’s older brother’s wife, grabbed my ear, she was a very short woman with silvery white hair and surprising strength for women far..far in her eighties. She said, “Oh Sonny boy, I never realized you’d visit me again! After that last visit…” she trailed off. Yes, that last visit was…strange to put it bluntly… I got banned from her favorite restaurant… and you’re gonna laugh because it’s so stupid and really I shouldn’t have been banned because it wasn’t my fault and I don’t know why it was a big deal…Because I tripped the waiter and spilled chicken and dumplings  all over a customer’s face, who had just gotten up from a table after proposing to his girlfriend. The restaurant froze…The owner of the restaurant came out and told me and Madam Hoo to kindly leave and don’t come back. I boarded my plane home that same day. It’s their fault for using such cheap plates and waitresses/waiters on roller skates is such a gimmick! It isn’t the 50’s anymore!!

Madam Hoo shook her head. “It’s alright though. I’m not mad and I’m sure we’ll find another restaurant so you can spill the food on a waitress…” she meant it to be funny but I wasn’t laughing. Madam Hoo was a comedian back when the USO was huge, she wanted to turn her life around and stop sitting around, Madam Hoo loved traveling, so she knows about each and every country and the primary food they eat.. I smiled. “Yep.” Madam Hoo said back, “Alright, lets start your adventure!” For Madam Hoo’s age, she was a surprising blast of energy, I always loved her as a kid, and still do. We try to talk a lot, but it doesn’t work out sometimes, She is like a big sister. Even though she’s about 60 years older and I’m pretty sure 60 years is a big age difference for siblings, but it doesn’t matter, That’s what we always said. The first place she takes me is a weird clothing shop, It’s where everyone goes her age to find trends and stuff, they had emoji pillows and chairs shaped like hands and books the size of a fingernail, I was confused but Madam Hoo as usual was dazed and just so.. “Here!” She exclaimed “Look at this! Look at This! It’s Chinese Yuan! Have you seen it before?” “I had chinese yuan, because I couldn’t buy anything without it, I went to a shady currency exchange booth at the airport and the machine ate my money. I asked Airport Security to see if they could fix it, they did, Chinese Yuan’s conversion rate is terrible. I have 34K (5,000 USD) in Chinese Yuan in my wallet, which is a boatload, I figured you could never have enough especially for plane fares. I was shocked how cheap everything was, I never realized how different it was getting it from the source, Made In China never really made a difference, I wasn’t patriotic to anyone, So I didn’t care about buying Made In Somewhere not china. I told Madam Hoo, I was hungry, she was so excited, she was like, try this place it’s called “KFC”, I told her that was everywhere, nonetheless, we still went. They had extra spicy chicken that was not native to the US, I almost couldn’t take it! Madam Hoo smirked jokingly, “That’s what they all do”. The chicken tasted weird, It wasn’t rubbery like each and every other time I HAD to eat KFC, It was better, I was weirded out, I told her, “Chicken isn’t like this in the USA!” she replied, “Better, right?” I replied with a simple Yes. She said, “That’s because it’s geese meat!” I almost hurled, “I have to go to the bathroom”, you already know what happened next..

(passport pages 18-19) by Jon Rawlinson is licensed under CC 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) 

When they inspected Lesley Olson’s passport, she never expected they would let her through security so easily. The young woman had already prepared an arsenal of excuses to try to worm her way through. After a curt nod from the blue-eyed guard, she raced to join the flock of business-type sheep as they boarded their plane to London, England.   It was going to be a long trip, made longer by her seating companions;  one an over-perfumed woman with more Botox than personality and the other a loud, prematurely balding man in a cheap suit. The man spent more than half the time on the place complaining on his phone, while the woman made what could be a disgusted face if she still had the nerves left to do so.   Lesley arrived in London 8 hours later, and not a moment too soon.  Even though she was tired she had to stay alert. She was infamous enough to have half way across the world she had people who wanted her dead, ruthless fiends who would destroy everything in their way.   It was her decision to move to London that probably saved her family. Nothing ever seemed to change, no matter where she was in the world. Weaving his way through the sea of people flooding the airport, the bald man had been moving ever closer to Lesley since they had disembarked from the gate. He watched Lesley closely, never letting her slip from his sight, and never getting too close lest he risk being noticed. Lesley was on edge, and had every right considering the past two weeks and quickly recognized that the man had the same blue eyes the guard had at the gate.  Thinking of him more she realized they shared a facial structure, and it was at that moment that she felt her blood run cold.  She was allowed on that plane for a reason.  Exiting the airport and heading to her waiting cab, that reason climbed in beside her and gave her the most disgusting smile she’d ever seen.  “Hey there.” he hissed in a voice more snake than man. It was then that he held up his phone and showed her the picture of her slaughtered family, with the news headline.  

The prompts came from LetterPile, this list.

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January 8

Weather or Not

This week’s NWP iAnthology challenge, presented by Kim Douillard, is to think of #weather and how it impacts our photography. As one who is living in the Midwest (Chicago suburbs), weather this time of year can be pretty severe and bleak. As it is today:

I went out this afternoon to look for interesting shots of this prairie country I’ve lived in for sixteen years, and which will never be “home.” It’s too flat and boring for my liking; give me mountains and oceans any day.

One thing I have observed, having lived in a variety of climates, is that the sky is what most helps identify which season we are in. The ones below were all taken mid-afternoon, with #nofilter. The sun is already making a descent. There is a certain chill to the shades of blue.

For the past six months or so, I have made a concerted effort to relish, rather than complain about the weather. Especially since I really, really hate winter. Today’s photography exercise helped me see some of the beauty of this stark time of year. It reminded me of a recent New York Times travel article entitled “David Foster Wallace’s Peaceful Prairie,” which describes Foster Wallace’s enjoyment of the Illinois prairie country. The article quotes from the opening paragraph of Foster Wallace’s posthumously-published novel The Pale King, “Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of cirrus so high they cast no shadow.” The sun was more lemonade than ale today, but the big sky was certainly there.

 

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January 1

#clmooc #2016bestnine photo review

To wrap up 2016, Kim Douillard challenged the #clmooc community to curate #2016bestnine photos. I’m not an avid Instagram user, so the collage the app created (below) was collected from a small selection of the photos I took this year. My phone also exploded this fall, so I lost a bunch of photos, including the Mt Hood shot.

Nonetheless, Instagram and I agree on some of the themes I explored during the year. As part of the #clmooc #silentsunday thread, I look for subjects that represent my surroundings and my interests.

The first photo (collage) I chose is of my son tipping off at a basketball game. He played competitive travel basketball for five years, and this summer decided to abandon the sport. Part of me still grieves, because he is a talented player, and I feel like he is walking away from something which has much to offer him, and to which he has much to offer. I also developed friendships with many of the other parents, and think the loss of those hours sitting on bleachers in solidarity with them is what I miss most.

This next shot grosses some people out :-). An orb spider in his/her domain. Spiders creep me out as well, but nonetheless they are magnificent beings, and (as Ms. Frizzle informs us all) beneficial for eradicating other insects.

I love the defiance of this leaf, standing up in the grass.

These next two were taken this fall, in the same area. I love the symmetry of the two paragliders, and the study in light and shadows and reflections.


After a glorious, mild autumn, we were abruptly shocked into winter with the first snow. The accumulation of heavy, wet snow provides a magnificent frame for the tree branches and decorative crab apples.

Perhaps my favorite shot of the year is this self-portrait taken as a fluke. In this blog post, I describe the circumstances, and the subsequent analysis and connections related to it.

To cap it off, I selected these two shots of lights. The first is soft, the glow of candles in a darkened room. The second is more dramatic, part of a light and sound show presented by the Morton Arboretum in the Chicago area.

  

Thanks, Kim for inciting me to think about the photos I took this year, and what they mean to me.

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November 29

2016 #CLMOOC #DigiWrimo #AltCV

As I mused about creating this season’s #AltCV, a recent interaction with #CLMOOC friend Stephanie Loomis came to mind. She was wrapping up a project related to social media profile pictures (you’ll have to ask her for the details!) and messaged me with some questions. She asked me for my interpretation of the following Facebook profile picture:

farm-profile-picture

To which I responded:

stephanie-2

I hadn’t consciously analyzed the photo before posting it as my profile picture. However, when Stephanie asked me what it represented, I came up with my description easily, with very little thought. So, the analysis and interpretation were already there, just at a subconscious level.

I was also somewhat astounded by the similarities in Stephanie’s interpretation:

stephanie-3

She and I “know” each other only in virtual spaces. The photo spoke for itself.

As Stephanie and I chatted further, we explored the blurring of lines between “professional” and “personal” identities:

stephanie-1

stephanie-4

In reality, our professional and personal lives co-existed before social media. The difference was that on our resumes, and in presenting our “professional face,” we emphasized our skills and experience vis-à-vis the position we held, or wished to hold. We downplayed our personal lives, only divulging details to our closest colleagues.

Given we are holistic beings, this new era of transparency is refreshing. When we fracture ourselves into multiple personalities (Sybil anyone?), we are inauthentic. So here I stand. Strong, hopeful, and as documented in this 2014 #CLMOOC avatar, a warrior.

warrior-avatar

June 14

The Summer of Our Never-Ending Heat

I recently wrote about design thinking as demonstrated by a landscaping company. In another home-ownership scenario, I recently experienced what happens when there is a lack of systems  thinking, a close relative to design thinking.

Air condittioning image

When we turned our air conditioner on this year, the thermostat displayed a “call for service” message. Which we did, reaching out to a company that has done annual check-ups on both our furnace and air conditioner for several years.

The first technician who showed up, let’s call him Joe, followed typical steps. He looked at the thermostat, the central HVAC unit, and then proceeded outside to the air conditioner condenser unit. After a time, I observed him on the phone, where he stayed for a LONG time. After about two hours of effort, Joe informed us the circuit board to the condenser was faulty, and that he would need to order a new one.

His company then informed us they wanted to send a more experienced technician out, to make sure the point(s) of failure were correctly identified. The second technician, let’s call him Ethan, followed essentially the same steps as Joe, including the long telephone conversation. He then informed me that there were two possible points of failure, either the compressor or a blockage in the coolant line. He said he had been on the phone with the manufacturer, who had walked him through the diagnostic process. Furthermore, Ethan said, it was a unit that is rare in the industry, and quite frankly he thought we should use the manufacturer’s service people.

Summer is upon us, and still no air conditioning.

A phone call to a local service office for the manufacturer. A third technician, shall we call him Donovan. Same protocol as the other two. Donovan concludes it is the compressor that is faulty. His company orders one…

A week-long wait, and technician number four, whom we shall call André, proudly arrives with the compressor, installs it, then tests the system. It fails. André concludes the remaining failure is in the circuit board (remember what Joe had to say?), and his company orders one.

Summer is more fervently upon us, and still no air conditioning.

Harvey, technician number five, arrives bearing the circuit board. He cheerfully installs it, and turns the unit on. And promptly burns out the brand-new circuit board. Because the harness between the compressor and the circuit board is faulty.

Summer is hotter. Still no air conditioning.

Now, I know nothing about air conditioning units, and have only a conceptual understanding of the electrical side of things. So, I invite those of you who are savvy about the details to enlighten me. If my thinking is faulty in what I say in the rest of this post, call me on it!

Let’s ignore the process(es) Joe, Ethan and Donovan followed, and start with André. He has just installed a brand-new compressor. He has furthermore diagnosed a problem in an electrical component within the same overall system. Does it not make sense that he would want to ensure no other components have failures?

Air conditioning schematic

A systems thinking approach would have looked at “how the thing being studied interacts with the other constituents of the system.”

We all live and work within systems. Families, neighborhoods, professional communities, etc. As an educator, my teaching/learning environment is a system.

Our students also exist in a variety of systems, one of the most important being their school system. As the Waters Foundation states:

“It is a growing priority to encourage educators to develop and apply their own systems thinking capacity to teaching and learning. Our future depends on the preparation efforts of today. Children will need to have the skills and knowledge necessary to manage the complex problems they will ultimately inherit.”

In part two, I’ll explore systems and design thinking in a PBL environment.

Oh, yeah, when Harvey returned with (another) circuit board and a  new harness and installed them… the air conditioning system worked. Hurrah!