July 21

Connected Learning MOOC (#CLMOOC) Make Cycle #6 – The 5-Image Story

The theme of the final week of #CLMOOC 2014 is “the 5-image story.” As I browsed the examples provided by the CLMOOC team, I began to ponder how authors decide on the stories they are going to tell, regardless of the tools they use. I know for myself, the story needs to reflect something about myself; things/people I value, ideas that intrigue me, pursuits I enjoy, etc.

So, for my “big” 5-image story project, I decided to reflect an activity that has been integral to my life for the past several years. My 15-year-old son has become serious in his pursuit of basketball. Once a “dabbler,” he now plays with a travel league, and spends time off-season improving his skills and conditioning. He and I have spent hundreds of hours on the road, attending practices, games, and tournaments.

I have never played team sports, and am clueless about many of them. I know something about basketball, at least the basic rules. The nuances… not so much. So, I began this journey with my son as an observer and sometime cheerleader. I still fill those two roles, but have also acquired a better understanding of the game, and have established some fine friendships with other parents.

Therefore, I felt that highlighting basketball would reflect a portion of my everyday life, my love for and support of my son, and a sport that is relatively prominent in the landscape of our country.

basketball collage

Interestingly, I posted this collage of five photos in the #CLMOOC community, and the universal response was that my photo story emphasizes the vertical aspects of basketball. Wow! I did not consciously focus on this, so maybe my “mind’s eye” was guiding me?

In verbal terms, I was identifying some components of a basketball game: the huddle, the tip-off, individuality, moving the ball around the court, victory. I was trying to identify the dichotomy of individuals seeking to differentiate themselves, whilst also contributing their unique capabilities to a team effort.

In some respects, I find this illustration parallels the American culture. We identify with this nebulous ideal of “American,” including flag-waving and cheering on our favorite sports teams, while simultaneously asserting our right to be individuals, with divergent values and goals.

As I evolved my collage of five still photos into a more fluid story, I encountered the frustration of technology-that-does-some-good-things-but-not-others. I first tried ThingLink, but quickly became frustrated. I need to consult with my CLMOOC compatriots to figure this out. Maybe the lesson for me as an educator is to ensure I have a basic understanding of any of the tools I ask my students to use.

Then, I turned to Zeega. Initially, I was under-impressed, but continued to experiment. I figured out I could superimpose audio using Soundcloud, and that I could use Flickr images and Giphy .gifs to enhance my story. The chosen elements are layers that can be added, removed, and “faded out” with a few keystrokes. After a bit of a learning curve, I began to get the hang of the tool, and started to have fun.

The beauty of the many technology tools available to even the novice user is that there is instant feedback on one’s creation. I went through several iterations of adding elements, deciding I liked them (or not), then modifying my Zeega to correctly reflect the story I wished to tell. I chose and discarded elements with abandon. This was not a methodical figure-it-all-out-and-put-it-together, but rather a free-flowing trial-and-error approach.

My final result (http://zeega.com/167226) is not “perfect,” but overall it depicts my most important ideas about the sport of basketball. I would love to hear your reactions!

July 20

Connected Learning MOOC (#CLMOOC) Make Cycle #5 – “Light”

One of the challenges for this  week’s #CLMOOC make cycle was to add a (made-up) constellation to a group “sky.” The project, initiated by Kevin Hodgson, consisted of two parts; designing and adding the constellation to a map, and writing a myth to explain the constellation. I hemmed and hawed around all week, thinking about how to combine some traditional myth(s) with what CLMOOC is all about – using creativity, imagination, and play as components of learning.

I easily concluded that Raven would be my mythological character. In Norse mythology, Odin has two ravens, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory). They act as his attendants, and fly around the world, delivering information and gathering other information to report back to Odin. Many Native American tribes depict Raven as a creation and trickster god. This includes the Haida Indians, who are indigenous to southeast Alaska, where I grew up. Among other things, they attribute Raven with creating all the objects we see in the sky.

I also knew I wanted to intertwine the reasons we CLMOOOCers are spending our summer writing, making, and tinkering into my story. When I eventually sat down to actually write, the words came easily. I spent very little time editing, because I liked the result. My muse had spoken.

However, and here I get to the crux of this post. After I had submitted my story for the public to see, I began the harsh self-critique. Maybe I should have put a comma here, or used a different vocabulary word there. I quickly stopped, and asked myself: “Does the story portray what you wanted to say?” (Yes.) “Would changes in mechanics or using synonyms REALLY change the meaning of the story?” (No.)

My tendency to negative self-talk is rooted in a childhood where I was incapable of meeting my mother’s exacting standards. A deep-rooted “I’m not good enough” developed, and decades later still has the power to dis-empower me, if I let it. I am quite sure I am not the only person on this planet that has ingrained saboteurs of this type. Some of our students fall into this category.

My own self-reflection was a strong reminder of how useful structured self-reflection is for students. It gives them a framework for evaluating their own work in a positive, supportive way. Instead of nitpicking the small details (that others may not even notice), how does the whole appear? If the student is not satisfied, based upon an assessment process, it is time for a revision cycle. If overall, the product is pleasing, let the rest go. Perfection does not exist, and if perfection is our goal, we will simply end up in modes of paralysis and procrastination.

My story:

Corvus Cogitandum

In the beginning all children were curious about the world around them. They explored with all their senses, and developed great knowledge and understanding. They were surrounded by supportive adults and older children who encouraged them, and gently guided them. Then, a pseudo-wise man declared, “Ah, I have a better idea. Let us treat all children identically, and seat them in rows, and impart knowledge by droning on for hours.” And, it was so.
Initially, the pseudo-wise man’s plan worked well. Children grew up with a common understanding of events, and dates, and formulas. The identical graduates marched off to their identical jobs in identical places of employment. The sky was dark.
Then, one day, the rebel RAVEN plopped himself in the midst of a chemistry classroom. “What IS this?,” he squawked. “Where is imagination, and creativity, and individuality?” He grabbed the mound of phosphorous resting on the teacher’s desk, exploded through the roof, scattering the material in the sky. Thus began the first light of the stars.
The next day, many people discussed this startling event. Some of them, despite the naysaying tongues, began to nod their heads, and to think more about the light. The illumination created cheeriness and positive energy, and they wondered how to ignite it even further.
So, they gathered the children, and led them to the maker lab. The children began combining all sorts of materials and ideas. Some of these experiments resulted in big explosions, and dust all around. Some fizzled into forgotten-ness. But, one day, a group was inspired to create a great ball of gases. RAVEN carried it high into the sky, and the sun began to illuminate each part of the earth for half of the day.
Some makers were frustrated, as they wanted some form of brightness for those middle-of-the-night hours when their tinkering powers were at their peak. So, they created an object that could reflect the sun. RAVEN carried it to the heavens, and placed it in just the right location. Thus, the moon was born.
More and more people saw the light, both adults and children, and began imagining creations of their own. RAVEN visited these brave, hearty souls and soared into the heavens with their inventions of galaxies, and black holes, and dark energy.
Some of the boldest souls gathered together to participate in #CLMOOC, where all are connected. No idea is too large or too small, and LIGHT abounds.
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July 7

Connected Learning MOOC (#CLMOOC) Make Cycle #3 – “Games”

The #CLMOOC theme this past week was “games.” Board games, electronic apps, word games, photo games… The reflection challenge participants received was: “What did you decide this week about yourself, about games, about learning, and about play?”

I love games. As a child, growing up in a large family, it was common for Monopoly, Risk, Yahtzee, etc. to be dragged out, since there were always other people to play with. We also played a lot of outdoor games – tag, hide-and-seek, softball, fox-and-geese (winter game in the snow – illustrated here).

My children have grown up in a much smaller nuclear family (fewer game-mates) and in a different time. Instead of board or card games, many of today’s children turn to video games, whether online multi-player games, or stand-alone games. I sometimes try to coax them into playing an “old school” game, but am often unsuccessful.

Games serve many interests, “winning” being only one of them. Through game play, young children learn concepts such as taking turns, their colors, and being a gracious loser (that is so hard when you are 4, or 5, or for some, 45!). Older children, when faced with strategy games, chess being a classic example, develop deeper thinking skills, as they have to identify and execute moves that build their advantage.

In the current age, “games” often refer to video games. The debate as to their relative worth for kids’ development is ongoing, and probably will never be definitively agreed upon. Via one of Kevin Hodgson’s posts, I found this MindShift article entitled The Literacy of Gaming: What Kids Learn From Playing. The author states categorically that we adults need to enter the video gaming world. He says “Not learning how to play games would be akin to talking about ‘The Lord of the Flies’ without having learned to read.” He further states we need to connect these games to books, movies, TV and the real world inhabited by our students. Furthermore, when we encourage students to discuss and analyze games with their peers, we help them enlarge their perspective and ideas.

Many of us are aware of Minecraft, an open world sandbox game that has taken the tween world by storm. Over the past couple of years, it has also entered the education world, seen as a tool that helps develop problem-solving and collaboration skills. The education version also provides the teacher with a lot of control over the game play and the worlds the students use. I found this description of a teacher’s experience enlightening.

As I reflect on games in general, I realize my attitude is that games and play are for kids. Games may emulate the adult world, but once we move into the adult world, we need to put games and play away and be “responsible adults.” I think this attitude has been detrimental to my effectiveness as a parent, teacher, person, and has also robbed me of much enjoyment! Although I do need to be a “responsible adult,” it does not follow that I need to put all fun needs aside. Helpguide.org informs me that “Playing… is a sure (and fun) way to fuel your imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities, and improve your mental health.”

My participation in the “game” theme of this week’s #CLMOOC activities also reinforced a  fact that took me many years to understand about myself, which is I love word games! I happily engaged in both the folding story activity Kevin Hodgson sparked, and the #15wordstory inspired by Scott Glass. Both activities required me to use creative thinking, and were a lot of fun! I’m liking learning to play games again.

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July 5

Never Judge

Never judge. I was recently talking to a friend whose family is struggling financially. Her husband was laid off from his job, and is having difficulty finding another one that combines his skills and interests. This friend is (by choice) not working, so I asked her why she doesn’t look for a job, to help ends meet. The answer she gave me was not at all what I expected.

She explained that at a job she had a few years ago, she felt undervalued. That experience dealt a long-term blow to her confidence. She often thinks of seeking out a job, but then backs away, because of her lack of confidence. She rattled off a long list of skills and experience she has, in a variety of work environments. While she understands on a logical level that she is “marketable,” the emotional impact of one experience in a negative work environment has paralyzed her.

This woman is in middle life. She raised a daughter as a single mother, while holding down a full-time job. Not only did she provide for her daughter materially, she instilled a positive attitude and confidence. That daughter is a grown woman who has a successful career and family life of her own, so the positive outcomes of my friend’s parenting are apparent. She has every right to feel accomplished. But, she doesn’t.

Given that the unkind or thoughtless words and actions of a manager have created this handicap in a mature adult’s life, just imagine what we  have the power to do in the lives of the children we work with. Every time we speak harshly, or diminish, or demean, we are creating negative effects that last well beyond the immediate situation.

Similarly, when we have students who have an attitude, or are trouble-makers, or any other negative adjective we can assign, we need to never judge. What has their life experience been to-date? How many times have other adults told them they are incapable, or worthless, or similar? Our job, as educators, is to develop all students’ abilities, regardless of the baggage they have arrived with.

We need to provide them with opportunities to grow. Regardless of how small and wilted they are when they arrive, we need to send them on to their next experience taller, straighter, and more vigorous. What are some ways we can do this?

Within the #PBL model, there are ample opportunities to demonstrate to students that we value them and their contributions.  The first, and perhaps most important aspect, is authenticity. As Sam Seidel says, “keep it real.” When we ask students  to investigate driving questions they can relate to, they become more engaged. At the same time, we send the message that we believe in their ability to find solutions to complex, messy, open-ended problems. Dayna Laur’s book Authentic Learning Experiences has specific ideas on how to develop projects that have real-world connections that are meaningful to students.

To underscore our confidence in students’ abilities, we need to offer “voice and choice,” giving the students a significant say in the kinds of products they will develop; in other words, the method they will use to demonstrate their understanding . This is a grand, and liberating, departure from the assignment of yore, “write a 500-word essay,” or “on a tri-fold board…”. This flexibility in product choice often results in students developing 21st-Century media and technology skills, such as website design, or video editing, and most certainly deeper research skills.

Project development is an iterative process. This is true in PBL, and equally true in the work world. No project is complete from A-Z without some revisions along the way. This is often challenging for students (and educators) to accept. In traditional education, there are “rights” and “wrongs,” and making a mistake is a negative. PBL assumes that the first iteration will have flaws, and challenges students to improve their work, often multiple times. Peer and teacher (facilitator) assessments identify what a student has done well, and what areas of his/her work could be improved. My hero in this area remains Ron Berger, the master facilitator who inspires students to create “beautiful work.”

Many students arrive at a point during their education where they have a fixed mindset, wherein they “believe that their traits are just givens. They have a certain amount of brains and talent and nothing can change that. If they have a lot, they’re all set, but if they don’t… So people in this mindset worry about their traits and how adequate they are. They have something to prove to themselves and others.”  As students work through the iterative process of PBL, however, they begin to develop a growth mindset, where they “see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan—without years of passionate practice and learning.”

As a final reinforcement to students about the meaningfulness of their work, we need to seek a public audience. This audience serves a two-fold purpose. Firstly, many community members have a keen interest in fostering interest in the work they do. They are happy to act as consultants during the project development process. Secondly, community experts are enthused about attending a presentation of the work students have done, and often have insightful questions and feedback that further strengthen the point that students and their work are valuable.

The next time you have a “problem” student, never judge. Instead, use PBL to nurture that wilted plant into a strong, robust one that is prepared for the next challenge.


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