March 25

Communities, connections, and storytelling

My (virtual) colleague Kevin Hodgson alerted me to this #netnarr post by Laura Ritchie, in which Laura asks and seeks to answer the question, “How do we connect with the wider community across the globe?” I was fascinated by Jonathan Worth’s responses to Laura’s questions, as he analyzes online networks and communities.

I was particularly struck by Jonathan’s statement that “everyone’s got a story, you’ve just got to enable them to tell it.” This reminded me of ethnographic research I conducted as part of the 2017 Community Works Institute. We spent one afternoon strolling through the compact Vermont town of Winooski, once home to thriving woolen mills. After the mills closed in the mid-1950s, the town saw an economic decline for two decades. In the 1980s, the mills were converted to commercial and residential spaces, which helped revitalize the town.

The most startling trivia about Winooski is that in 1980 there was serious consideration of covering the town in a geodesic dome to make winters more tolerable for the residents! I doubt I would have ever stumbled across this fascinating information without engaging in this walkabout.

As we sauntered through the town, we observed, remarked upon, and snapped photos of the various architectural styles. We loitered in the community center, seeking to understand the “vibe” and interests of the town. We entered various shops and gathered stories from the shopkeepers. We talked to people on the streets. Some were residents, some were visiting from elsewhere.

One of the questions our facilitator asked after we reconvened was, “How did you reciprocate with the people who answered your questions?” The answer was simple, and a bit of an ah-ha for me, “By listening to their stories.”

The importance of storytelling within communities is summarized in this 2017 Time magazine article. A study that was done among a hunter-gatherer population in the Philippines concluded that “‘[s]torytelling is a costly behavior… requiring an input of time and energy into practice, performance and cognitive processing.’ But the payoff for making such an effort is big: When the investigators looked at family groups within the 18 camps, they found that skilled storytellers had, on average, .53 more living children than other people.”

Everyone’s got a story, you’ve just got to enable them to tell it. ~ Jonathan Worth

We all have stories to tell. One of the best ways we can honor our students and build trust with them is by actively seeking to hear and understand their stories.


Winooski Woolen Mill

February 3

(Human) Connections

Yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook that her brother had just passed away from a massive heart attack. She said she debated before posting, as she intentionally estranged herself from him when her oldest child was born 20-odd years ago, because she did not want her brother influencing her children.

As I read her post, I felt sad on many fronts. Sad for this middle-aged man who was in such pain that he used substances to numb himself. Sad for my friend because she had to make a very tough decision all those years ago. Further sadness for her because I am sure she loved her brother, so she has been grieving his loss for decades.

I also asked myself what her purpose was for posting this history and loss in such a public way? I concluded that she, like all of us, seeks human connection, and she is reaching out for support.

individuals with the lowest level of involvement in social relationships are more likely to die than those with greater involvement

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a branch of the National Institutes of Health, says studies consistently show that “individuals with the lowest level of involvement in social relationships are more likely to die than those with greater involvement” and that this holds true “even when socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and other variables that might influence mortality, were taken into account.”

Human connections are just as important in the workplace as they are in purely social settings. Which brings me to Professional Learning Networks. I am grateful for the many other educators I have the privilege of connecting with, especially those I’ve “met” as the result of my participation in the Connected Learning MOOC.

My friend Sarah knit me a hat (and a Christmas ornament!) and helps me better understand what is happening in the UK. Karen faithfully corresponds, and has offered sage advice on more than one occasion. Daniel keeps up the fight against inequality by bridging the divide between those in need and those who can provide tutoring and mentoring services. Kevin abundantly shares information useful for improving my practice, and is always ready to lend a helping hand. Sheri, like me, loves project-based learning (PBL), and offers great insights, both directly and indirectly, into how I can become a better practitioner. Terry’s dissident thinking and reflection require me to think and reflect more deeply. Kim’s lovely photos make me yearn to return to southern California. Susan is another PBL geek who offers authentic critique of my work, and her fabulous art continually delights me. Wendy informs me how hot it is down under as we are freezing here, and creates (along with several others listed here!) magical music. Ron inspires me with his writing of children’s stories, which he does in addition to his “day job” of designing medical education. Simon is another who provokes me to think more deeply, and to aspire to learn all the cool things that can be done with digital art tools.

These are but the tip of the iceberg of my many PLN connections. If you’re not included here, it is because I ran out of time. Thank you all!

 

January 14

Work Spaces, aka the classrooms we teach in, Part 2 of 2

A “squat, ugly, sprawling” 200,000 square foot structure, Building 20 was designed in a day and built on the MIT campus almost as fast in 1943, to house the Radiation Laboratory, a secret project during World War II. Tim Harford’s story of Building 20 resonates strongly with me.

Just the breadth of ideas that were incubated in Building 20 is mind-boggling. “It was the birthplace of the world’s’ first commercial atomic clock. One of the earliest particle accelerators was also constructed there. The iconic stop-motion photographs of a bullet passing through an apple were taken in Building 20 by Harold Edgerton. It was home to MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club, a wellspring of hacker culture… Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle revolutionized linguistics in Building 20… a young electrical engineer named Amar Bose, dissatisfied with a piece of hi-fi equipment he had purchased, wandered … [Building 20] acoustics lab. There, he revolutionized the speaker and established the Bose Corporation.” [p 94]

One of Harford’s central assertions in Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives is that, in general, our society values tidiness and aesthetic beauty, yet the evidence points to those characteristics as putting a major damper on creativity. He identifies several characteristics of Building 20 that made it so effective, none of which have to do with tidiness.

The disorganized labyrinth that constituted the space was inhabited by a motley assortment of departments and saw frequent re-configurations of the space. Harford states, “[t]his absurdly inefficient way of organizing a building meant that people were constantly getting lost and wandering into places they didn’t intend to go.” [p 96]

“If you ask the veterans of MIT what a creative space looks like, one building comes to symbolize all that’s best at the university… it was known only as Building 20… squat, ugly, sprawling structure… “ [p 92] ~  Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford

This last phrase immediately takes my mind to the Connected Learning MOOC (#CLMooc), an online collaborative community that I participate in. Each summer, this community defines a series of “makes” that participants are invited to engage in.

The makes have caused me to tear my hair out on more than one occasion. Not because someone is dictating what I need to accomplish (quite the opposite), but because I become intrigued by the challenge, and stretch myself to try new tools and technologies. Collaborators in the community act both as mentors and students.

I often encounter #failure, and have to alter my approach, or even totally start over. Additionally, the whole process is often #messy, less than “perfect,” and oh, so much fun! “Making” also broadens my view, and deepens my belief in “failure” as a great teacher.

Harford ends his ode to Building 20 by saying, “… the building’s inhabitants felt confident that they had the authority… to make changes, even messy changes.” [p 98]

Which brings us back to the ownership and agency piece I touched on in my last post. As a #PBL educator, I am accustomed to a lot of chaos. Some of the most creative ideas students have had stemmed from tangential and somewhat off-topic discussions. There has been trial-and-error. And frustration. And disagreement. And, yes, failure. These are all #realworld situations the students are learning to navigate and manage.

Do I ever want to intervene? Yes. And I do on occasion. It is most often the student(s) who request my help, but I also intervene at other time when I feel it is necessary. I don’t offer a solution, but rather ask open-ended questions that refocus the students’ thinking on what they are trying to achieve.

Although my classroom is not Building 20, it is nonetheless developing 21st century skills, including collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and (better) communication. In other words, #Meliora students are learning what the #realworld is all about.

January 1

Gists

There was a lot of chatter going on in my Twitter feed this morning, beginning with my friend Terry’s post “Let the Adjacency Begin: MYOB, Brightsiders!” Terry helpfully details his process for creating his short video. Sarah jumped into the conversation with her own “MYOB,” complete with details of her process. On the surface, one could declare that the two processes were different. However, in effect the processes are quite similar, it is just that the tools used were different. Kevin (as he is wont to do), decided to out-clever everyone and remixed Terry’s work with some additions.

In the meantime, in an adjacent conversation, Terry and I discussed real-life situations related to his post about this article, which describes some ways in which education and relevant learning are currently poles apart. After some yakking back and forth, and intertwined contributions from Ron and Sheri, Terry posted a #smallpoem about “précis” and “gist.”

I haven’t done much in the mix/remix arena for awhile, so decided to make my own creation, using pieces of Terry’s poem. My process:

  1. Upload an image to Canva.
  2. Add some text to the image.
  3. Download the result.
  4. Remove the text from the image and add some other, placing them in a different location.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times.
  6. Import the similar-yet-different-images into Movie Maker.
  7. Add some animations.
  8. Find free music to add.
  9. Publish.
  10. Upload to YouTube.
  11. Embed in this post.

 

January 1

Goodreads Finisher!

Phew, I did it. Finished my 100th book of 2018 just a few minutes ago. Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, by Tim Harford, was a wonderful selection to end with. It was both different and broader in its scope than I expected.

I anticipated an analysis of messiness in the creative process, and how it leads to richer results. Harford does delve into that topic, and also explores a host of others. For example, how the German general Erwin (aka The Desert Fox) Rommel’s willingness to make “messy” tactical moves brought success. And how Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos’ willingness to “messily” sell what he didn’t have, and to buy toy merchandise at retail price from Toys R Us and Target to meet customer expectations, brought long-term success.

I felt particularly vindicated in the chapter that declares messy desks are actually more functional and efficient than tidy ones. Harford also substantiated my approach to finding emails, stating that “clicking through a[n email] folder tree took almost a minute, while simply searching took just 17 seconds.” [p. 240]

The final chapter of the book discusses a topic I’ve brooded about some. Entitled “Life,” it explores (among other things) the idea that “tidy” playgrounds are actually more dangerous, and far less effective at building positive human traits, than “messy” playgrounds which include things like fires, hand saws, and tons of rubbish.

A recommended read!

P.S. Online dating is a sham.

December 30

Books, Reading, and Nostalgia

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am sprinting to finish my 100-book Goodreads challenge for 2018. Last night, I was perusing my home’s bookshelves looking for a particular book (which I still haven’t located). In the process, my eyes swept over the shelves that contain remnants of the scads of books I read to/with my children when they were young.

Which brought on a bout of nostalgia. I read to my children practically from birth, and am always aghast when I encounter new parents who proclaim they will start reading to their child when s/he starts talking. I’m never quite sure what the right reaction is. I don’t want to “lecture” people and get their backs up, and at the same time my heart cries for those babies who are missing out. As a May 2017 Psychology Today article reports, “[r]eading to babies as young as six months of age leads to stronger vocabularies and better early literacy skills four years later…” In my mind, six months of age is still a late start!

[r]eading to babies as young as six months of age leads to stronger vocabularies and better early literacy skills four years later

My older son was a book lover from an early age. As I scanned our bookshelves, memories flooded back of sitting snuggled together reading book after book, him totally wrapt, begging for more. Shortly after revisiting this time in my life, I read Anna’s post on the Meditative Pace of ReadingHer musings relate to adult reading, particularly longform fiction. Knowing she has a newborn at home, I invite her to also start considering all those delightful stories she can share with her child!

Some that were favorites in my house:

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
Everything Dr Seuss
Everything Eric Carle
The Giving Tree (and his poetry books!), by Shel Silverstein
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion
Mr Gumpy’s Outing, by John Burningham
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
The Water Hole, by Graeme Base
Where the Wild Things Are (and many others!), by Maurice Sendak
White Rabbit’s Colors, by Alan Baker

December 30

Mentorship and #PBL

I am madly reading (reading madly?) in order to achieve my 2018 100-book goal that I set on Goodreads. I was in a 10-book deficit position a few days ago, and am pleased to report I have only four left. I must acknowledge I have made a couple of recent visits to the library looking for “skinny” books to make the task seem more realistic.

In the process, I also worked through a few books that have been on my “I need to read this” list for a while. One of them is Teach to Work, by Patty Alper. An accomplished businesswoman, Alper is also a board member of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, which promotes focused, project-based mentorship as a way to engage students and prepare them for real-world endeavors.

As I note in my Goodreads review, I rated this as a 3.5 because Alper devotes a fair portion of the book to anecdotal storytelling of student successes. The stories are admirable and encouraging, but offer the reader no specific guidance in achieving the same outcomes.

Fortunately, Alper redeems herself with an appendix at the end of the book, which is a “Mentor’s Resource Guide” of organizations that participate in student mentoring programs.

This book also served as validation that project-based teaching and learning, when focused on #realworld projects, is a magnificent way to engage students, and to help prepare them for adult life.

December 28

Rebooting a Consistent Writing Habit

I’m so pleased my #CLMOOC colleague Anna started a conversation about a 150-words-a-day writing challenge. I oftentimes imagine my CLMOOC colleagues to be “perfect,” consistently engaged in connected learning practices, including writing/blogging. In a sense, Anna’s admission of her “failure” was an invitation to (re-)develop the habit of writing consistently. 150 words a day seems achievable.

I find many excuses for my inconsistency. I’m too busy designing and finding resources for my next #PBL (project-based learning) class. As part of that effort, I investigate and learn to use relevant, #realworld technology tools so that I can incorporate them into the projects my Meliora teens develop.

Pondering Thinking Idea by chamaldo shared under a CC0 Creative Commons license.

Simultaneously, in the back of my mind I am often contemplating the possibilities of offering effective PBL courses in an online environment. When these musings come to the foreground, I wander down many rabbit holes pursuing ideas.

I’ve dabbled in becoming familiar with Appreciative Inquiry, and pondered ways it could be applied in education.

I’ve also been steadily working on completing some micro-credentials, including Google Certified Educator Level II. Preparing for the exam requires time and focus.

Then there is the large unfinished work of writing “something,” (it started as a blog post and has morphed into a much larger entity) to demystify the many variations on project-based learning methodologies.

At the end of the day, these are all excuses. One of my objectives as an educator is to reflect on my practice. And, in all honesty, reflexive writings are an effective tool to help clarify and find answers to my various contemplations.

Person Writing on Notebook by Tookapic shared under a CC0 Creative Commons license.

So, I’m in! Now I need to go discover what the dots are all about in #MoDigiWri.

January 13

It All Comes Down to Process

Over two years ago, some wise CLMOOC participants launched the “postcard project.” Like all things CLMOOC, this is a low-key initiative people can participate in (or not) at whatever level they would like. I have received stacks of #postcards from others, and have sent… far fewer. Since I am enthusiastic about the worth of postcards and the human connections they reinforce, I decided to put some #fierce (my #olw2018) focus on it.

In the last few days, I sent 59 postcards. And, I don’t even have writer’s cramp! Because I “cheated,” and used a digitally-based #process to make it more efficient. In December, I participated in “#decdoodle,” a CLMOOC pop-up that invited people to create a themed “doodle” each day of the month. Many of these I did in the form of a collage that I assembled in Canva. On purpose. With the intent of using them for postcards.

To further streamline the process, I used TouchNote to write personalized messages, address the postcards, and mail them.

Process applies to most everything we do in life. How we scramble eggs. Or tie shoes. Sometimes when we consider process-based methodologies for classroom teaching and learning, we feel hesitant or overwhelmed. My recommendation? Tackle the steps in small bites. Play with the concepts. You will “fail.” So what? Learn from the experience, revise your approach, and move on.

Plaid to the Bone” by David Goehring  shared under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 license.

December 15

“Pink,” or how technology is the means, not the end

For the month of December, we are “doodling” (broad definition) in #CLMOOC. Come join us! Yesterday’s theme was “pink.” While my brain was in idle mode, the thought drifted by, “What if I use Google to search for images in my drive that have pink in them?” I had no idea if it would work, but I typed the search “pink images” and voilá, a bunch of pink stuff popped up on the screen. An image of paper cranes, some of which have pink in them. Me wearing a beautiful knit hat made by my CLMOOC friend Sarah Honeychurch.  Images embedded in a CLMOOC activity from last summer called “Searching for Chalkboard Man,” the list goes on (and CLMOOC seems to to be prominently featured). A text document containing  references to “pink” also popped up.

 

Two lessons/reminders resulted from this experience. The first is to “just try things.” Some will work, some won’t (or not at first go), but that’s fine. There was absolutely no cost (okay, a few milliseconds of my time) and no pain in seeing whether Google could find my pink-containing images.

The second point is that using technology was not my goal; creating something interesting and related to “pink” was my goal. Google search helped me find material to integrate into my project. I used Microsoft Paint to crop the images and screenshots. Then I moved all the cropped pieces into Canva, where I produced my collage:

In project-based learning there is sometimes the misconception that #PBL = use-technology-to-make-something. Not so! Just as in the #realworld, technology is a tool which can augment the complexity or sophistication of some projects. Tasks like research and video editing are magnificently simplified and improved with tech tools. “Old-fashioned” tools such as paper, pencils, crayons, paintbrushes also create beautiful representations of pink (or anything else), as illustrated by these:

 Images, from left to right, created by Sheri Edwards, Susan Watson, and Clare Thomson.

I’m off to figure out how to represent “hidden.”

 

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