About Me

After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, I have taken a leap into library media.
This blog chronicles my experiences making this transition and my learning in that process.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

When we talking about embedding something into existing curricula what do we mean?

When I describe something as embedded I mean that the content instruction or skill practice does not require a break from our regularly scheduled programming

What sometimes happens instead is that add-on lessons are developed by one team and handed to classroom teachers to deliver. The classroom teachers interrupt their planned unit to deliver a stand-alone lesson and then resume regular programming. Or, a member of the outside team -- perhaps a library media specialist or a tech integrator -- visits the class and interrupts the ongoing instruction and experience to insert the stand-alone lesson and then leaves.

This is not embedded instruction.

For the additional content to be embedded certain things have to happen first. Either the outside team has to understand the classroom curricula, content and standards (as well as their own) in order to enhance the learning experience with their own content and skills. Or, and better yet, the outside team (let's say a library media specialist) and the content team can co-plan the embedded experience. And, in a real ideal scenario, they also co-facilitate it.

I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with a new member of my PLN, Lauren Jones (@mrsjonesfhs), who is a high school English teacher on the west coast of the U.S. I am a library media specialist on the U.S. east coast. We are members of the same cohort in an EdTechTeam teacher leader course. We collaborated through a Google Hangout and Google Docs to create a lesson as part of her unit on satire in which students would also be examining and practicing good habits of online conduct. Notice that nowhere in the lesson materials do we use the phrase "digital citizenship" yet throughout the satire lesson students are reflecting on different people's online conduct and practicing digital interaction with their classmates.

This series of slides outlines the lesson step-by-step:

And here is a Google Form with questions to gather insight into the students' thinking and learning;

Lauren is excited to use this lesson with her students and has shared it with her colleagues. They may implement this lesson on their own or in collaboration with their school's library media and tech integration faculty. What is exciting to me is how authentic the students' digital citizenship experience will be!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Five lessons for teachers from a field hockey team

As you may know from a previous post, my daughter has begun her first year in college. She is a member of her university's field hockey team and this post is all about a recent team event and all the lessons I am deriving from her experience for my teaching.

Last Thursday was "team date night." Unlike team bonding events which include the whole team and are usually on campus, date night is for small groups of a few team members to head off campus together. Here is how date night unfolded:

My daughter and two of her teammates (one a sophomore and the other a junior) were assigned to go on their date. They were paired because they all play mid-field.

Lesson 1: When I, as the teacher, form groups, I should let the students know why I put them together. What is the value of their combined efforts to the anticipated product or collaboration goal? What strength or vision do I see in them, combined?

The first stop on their date was at the Dollar Tree to stock up on supplies for the tradition of decorating in the locker room. Then they went to a gourmet frozen yogurt shop to hangout, bond, and do their homework. That's right. The captains assigned homework.

Lesson 2: Admittedly, I struggle with this one since I don't believe in homework (which is another post entirely). So here are a couple of questions: was it really homework? Am I calling it homework because they had to do it without adult or leader supervision? It may be more like classwork in that it was assigned to be accomplished at a specific time as established by the team. That they were doing it together means it wasn't an isolated and isolating task; and I think it is important to understand the nature of the assignment, too. It wasn't unsupported repetition of a skill or something they were supposed to learn during organized practices.

Their task, while out on their date, was to come up with three ways the team could improve their pregame, locker room experience. Friday (the next day) the team had a pre-practice meeting scheduled during which each "date team" was to present their ideas to the whole team.

Lesson 3: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose (have they been reading Dan Pink?!) They were being asked to contribute to a goal that mattered to all them, both individually and collectively. Everyone had a reason to be invested and feel a measure of safety when brainstorming ideas. Each "date team" had complete autonomy in how and where to accomplish the task. They had complete license to be creative in their own ways. They were aware of the unique perspective they could bring to their ideation process because they knew why they had been paired with each other.

While they were eating yogurt and brainstorming their ideas, they received a Snapchat message from the captains. "Please send pictures of where you are and what you are doing."

Lesson 4: Accountability and celebration. I was so interested in this and pressed my daughter for more information. "It wasn't that they didn't trust us," she said. "When we checked in, they sent us back a 'good job!' message." The captains let the team members know they were interested in how they were doing -- not just what they were doing. And the dates were excited to share their process and progress. It was a celebration. And the documenting of it allowed for fun reporting back at the team meeting on Friday.

While on their dates, they also received a message instructing them to watch their step when they returned to their dorm rooms. Here is why: the captains were part of the fun, too! Outside of each players room was a muffin tin liner with an egg cracked in it. Next to the egg cup was a note that said: "Let's Yolk Mt. Holyoke" (their opponent in that weekend's game). Sending the team off campus meant they could distribute their items without being caught. I asked my daughter what everyone did with the eggs, and she said, "I don't know about everyone, but one of my friends walked right to the dorm kitchen, scrambled it, and ate it!"

Lesson 5: Be an active participant! Anything I ask my students to do, I should be doing myself.

My daughter has joined a wonderful community: one that is challenging, accepting, supportive, and creative. They focus on the individual, the collective and the relationships that bind and bond them. I want my students' families to know that same is true about their children in my class!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Empowered by design thinking

As the new school year begins, I have a concern. I am not concerned about the new course I am teaching or the new students I will soon meet. I am not concerned about inclement weather and the forecast for a snowy winter interfering with our learning mojo.

I’m concerned about buzzwords.

More specifically, I am concerned that a tenet of learning, a foundational principle for how I understand my role as an educator, will be reduced to a buzzword. What is that word?

Design Thinking.

OK, that is two words. And those two words represent the mindset from which I approach planning, collaborating, teaching, relationship-building, and my ongoing learning. Being an educator with this mindset helps me embrace and empower what I value most in my colleagues, students, and myself: creative possibilities.

When I was a social studies teacher working with students in an American Government course we would discuss what makes us human. As we set about to examine how and why the founding generation established our systems of government, we wondered: what sets us apart from the kingdom of animals co-existing in prides, packs, gaggles, herds or any other animal collective? Students had all sorts of thoughts about what makes us human, what defines our humanity. Some of those ideas were dark, like cruelty. But most were breathtakingly optimistic.

To be human, they decided, was to be curious. Not the kind of curiosity that killed the cat. Instead, unbridled wonderment. To be human is to have an imaginative capacity that inspires others to join together in pursuit of ambitious quests, to persevere against odds and obstacles, to new frontiers of exploration, discovery, and action. Why do humans do this? Because as we benefit from the very nature of those who preceded us, we are bound to serve a greater good, to meet challenges with solutions, to make a bright future for those who come next.

And that, in a nutshell, is design thinking. Design thinkers see problems as opportunities. Constraints only fuel more unusual and untried solutions. Design thinkers have empathy for the many different points of view surrounding the problem they are trying to solve. They design, prototype, and redesign to create a more perfect solution, to improve the lives of people in their schools and communities small and large.

The best part of design thinking is that anyone can do it. Anyone.

Building this capacity in ourselves, in our colleagues, and in our students is an essential component of future-ready skill development. When Google plans for the evolution of its products and the development of new ones, they think about and empathize with what they call “the next billion users”. They aren’t planning for now, they are planning for a future they can only imagine. Consider, for a moment, who those next billion users are and what their experiences have been. Think, for example, about vocabulary we use for which they have no context, words that are meaningless to them. Words like: clockwise, desktop computer, MP3 player, pay phone, gasoline-powered engine, and more. How is their navigation of the world via a handheld device that gives them access to all the world’s information, organized and made useful, an essential component to how they will learn, communicate, and contribute?

Now consider the issues and challenges that face the next billion users’ local and global communities. As their educators, we have accepted the challenge of equipping them with the skills and habits of mind they will need to jump into the void and tackle those challenges. They will suffer defeat. Some of their setbacks will be heartbreaking. And they will be resilient. They will persevere in tearing down obstacles. They will push limits and defy odds. They have no choice. The world needs them.

Remember the best part of design thinking? Anyone can do it. I was so fortunate to take a deep dive into the processes of discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, and evolution that underpin the design thinking process when I worked with and learned from the Future Design School at the Google Innovator Academy. Learning to think this way, to fall in love with problems and see every challenge as an opportunity, and then to apply my energy to the steps inherent in designing solutions has transformed how I work with students and my colleagues from how I plan lessons to how I facilitate meetings and write curriculum.

In fact, one of the latest resources created by the Future Design School is a curriculum series for elementary, middle, and upper grades. The grade specific, modular programs are mapped to relevant standards and can be implemented across disciplines; the carefully crafted curricula keep student interests at the forefront. Each course contains: videos, assessment, slide decks, a robust, teacher's guide, handouts to deliver exceptional learning experiences for all students. They are a tremendously supportive resource for educators experienced in design thinking and those just getting started with this approach. Create a classroom culture that empowers students to solve-real world problems!

What will you empower your students to do?

Friday, August 31, 2018

Playing the Long Game

This year I am playing a long game when it comes to building partnerships with my colleagues and expanding design thinking pedagogy. I had an opportunity to offer a PD spark to the faculty at my school and chose to focus on the question of how might we shift how we think about what we do so that we are teaching the students in the room, so that we are acutely in tune with who they are?

We began with a brainstorm in AnswerGarden of the best possible outcomes of "group work". Here is the word cloud they created:

Next I asked my colleagues to turn and talk about the obstacles that interfere with students achieving those outcomes. When I asked them to share with the whole group, here is what they said:

  • "they don't get along"
  • "indifference"
  • "they change topics rather than staying on one topic and delving into that"
  • "they socialize"

At this point I invited my colleagues to go on a journey with a group of students. We watched a video of students engaged in group work. While watching, I asked my colleagues to look for instances of the positive outcomes being achieved, interference by any of the obstacles, and any unanticipated outcomes or occurrences. I explained that as the students in the video were working, things get a little heated. I promised to do my best to hit pause before the expletives started flying.

Thanks to Micah Shippee there is a clean version of this video with subtitles, so if you choose to use this with students you don't have to worry about the language.

Embedded here is the video version that I showed by colleagues. I stopped it at 1:38.

Now, full disclosure: I would have avoided all profanity if I had stopped at 1:37. I purposely used the explicit version and let it play until the first bleepable word before hitting pause. I did that for two reasons:

  1. the dropping of the f-bomb is an indication of a change in tactic
  2. it got a laugh from a room full of teachers who had just sat through an hour of blood-borne pathogens and other required training

After the video I asked if they agreed it was group work. They did. And we talked about all of the successful elements ( with evidence drawn from what they could see and hear) and how the obstacles emerged and, in some cases, were overcome. And then we wondered together about how to make our classrooms the kind of environments that promote that kind of collaboration. What we discussed is summarized in this slide:

The next day I surreptitiously delivered a small maker kit to each department's work room. Each kit had the same craft materials and one piece of a little bit. They looked like this:

 Each kit was accompanied by this note: 
 The Science department has already submitted their animal! When all submissions have been received, I will display them in Library with a sheet of paper listing the directions for the project, anyone passing through the library will be invited to post stickers on the sheet corresponding to their favorite animal or the one they think best represents the department that created it. They will be invited to write feedback on a post-it and leave it with the animal. Based on those votes, I will announce "the winner". That department will receive the "Leeroy Jenkins Collaboration Award" -- a costume warrior helmet.
They will be able to proudly display the helmet in their workroom for the rest of the month. While in possession of the helmet, they can decorate, adorn or build it out in anyway they see fit. At the start of next month, I will announce a new challenge. The winner of that challenge will be the new keeper of the helmet, and so on. My goal: together we learn to make, we have fun, we practice pedagogy, we take safe risks, we celebrate each other's creativity, and we build a culture of innovation. It is only Day 2 of this long game. Stay tuned for updates!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Off-to-college packing list

In the spirit of the content of this post, I am attempting to author it entirely from my pixel 2 phone! And because I struggle to type on a phone, I'm using voice tools.

My daughter will be leaving for her freshman year in college in about 10 days. Needless to say, we have been busy preparing everything she might need to bring with her. As we have been perusing the back-to-school shelves in various stores, something dawned on me. Most of what I packed to take with me to my freshman year in college back in 1986, has been replaced for my daughter, in 2018, by her smartphone.

Some of these things that she does not need to pack are obvious. She doesn't need a touch-tone landline. Nor does she need a flashlight, or an address book, or envelopes and stamps. Some of the things she doesn't need are a bit nostalgic. For instance, she doesn't need a push pin cork board or a white board to hang on her dorm door. Who will stop by to write a message on her door when they can just send her a Snapchat?

The more I thought about what she didn't need, the list became more and more interesting. Is there really any use any longer in your dorm room for a television or a calculator? She has never owned a stereo so she won't bring that. And her headphones no longer keep her tethered to her music source. She doesn't need a checkbook or even a physical credit card or debit card. Ostensibly, she could Google pay or Apple pay her way through any necessary transactions. She certainly doesn't need a printer. Go paperless. And, I can imagine the day when she wouldn't even need a laptop.

Now the question arises, what does she need that I would never have thought of bringing with me because, in all likelihood, it didn't even exist? Likely, a bunch of portable chargers. And a complement of cords and different adapters to be sure that all of her devices can charge on the fly. It is on those devices that she will access the services to which the she subscribes and the databases her university provides, because she won't have magazines delivered to her mailbox and will have less need (any need?) for textbooks. Do college students even have mailboxes anymore?

So the question that I am now asking not just as a parent but as an educator is this: how are her professors and her university prepared to engage with her in this learning journey because she is not, and really never has, lived in an analog world? And when we engage with our K-12 students, how are we preparing them for their unknown future? How will we nurture the habits of mind of innovation, problem solving, entrepreneurship? How will we contribute to the development of empathetic, global citizens? How will we encourage and cultivate the flexible thinking necessary to adapt to and thrive in this rapidly changing world? (Please share your thoughts in response to these questions in the comments!)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Making Converts

For several weeks it felt like spring would never happen. It was cold and dreary. We were having snow days in April and the year kept getting longer. Finally, the sun came out, the air warmed, and it started to feel like the year was winding down. There was prom. Now the seniors are leaving for internship. The exam schedule has been published. And that is either coinciding with or maybe causing a shift in the thinking of a few of my colleagues. This is what I am hearing:

- They need to do project.

- The seniors should do something fun before they go.

- They are checking out; I need a way to hook them back in.

And, then, a couple of them asked: can you explain that makerspace to me again?

Of course! YES! I would love to! And then I put some pipe cleaners in their hand while we talk.

This week I have been working with a Social Studies teacher in two of her classes and with an English teacher colleague in two of her classes - both pairs of classes are a mixture of juniors and seniors.

Today was the project due date for the Social Studies classes and here is how the teacher described what happened:

"We had a board game day today and the class broke into groups to play each of the games. And I did what you said, I told everyone they couldn't play their own game because one test of the effectiveness of the game was whether or not someone could follow the directions and understand how to play without them there to explain it all. And they didn't want to leave their games! They were so proud of them, they wanted to be sure that everyone else really appreciated and understood them." And then she added, "Remember that kid I told you about who still owes me so much work from last quarter? The one who never does any of the assignments? He made the coolest board game! He refused to leave his game. Flat out refused. And I let him stay so he could have that pride in what he had done."

That's when I told her a story about a group of girls in her class who had worked together on their project. They did all of their work in the classroom until the very last project work day. On that day my colleague, their teacher, was out. To get away from the sub, the students decided to work in The Garage (our makerspace). When they arrived they asked me, "what are we supposed to do?" I put pipe cleaners in their hands and replied "Well, what do you need?" They said they needed a spinner and playing pieces. So I asked: "Well, what should the pieces look like or represent?"

You know where this is going... those pipe cleaners were quickly bent into a prototype of the animal shapes they needed. I directed them to our bins of supplies and recyclables and they looked at me with open mouths; "Has this been here all year?!" they asked. I nodded. They grabbed each others arms and exclaimed: "Can we come here during a free and just make stuff?" I told them, "Of, course!" To which they responded: "This makes me so happy!"

I couldn't join their class for project sharing day because my English colleague brought her classes to The Garage for their first full-period making session. This project is the culmination of their study of Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle. Last week, I introduced the project to them with this discussion of unattainable dreams, symbols, and the relationship between artists and their audience.

Less than a minute into class she leaned over and said, "Oh! This is amazing. I am so glad you are getting pictures of this! Should I take some, too?" Here is what was so amazing. Complete and total engagement in selecting the only required element of their project: a piece of glass. The students were sharing and comparing. Discussing the merits of clear vs. translucent glass. Shape and texture were important, too. Then I delivered a 3-minute orientation to the space, listing a variety of materials from pom poms to old "steampunk" hardware and ended with: "If you are thinking about a material you can't find, just ask." That's it. They were off!

Once they had been planning, designing, and experimenting for about 10 minutes, I approached a small
group who were intently debating the best way to attach two parts of a project. I asked what problem they were trying to solve and they showed me and launched into an explanation of the merits of the different solutions they were entertaining. Their English teacher approached and looked over my shoulder, and the students entirely shifted gears. "Don't worry, don't worry!" they said. "It's going to be good. You're gonna like it. There is a good reason for what we are doing. I promise: we are working."

My colleague pulled me away from them and asked, "Did you see that? Did you see what just happened? As soon as I walked over it became all about the grade, about reassuring me they were making something I would like. This is entirely different than when you come to our classroom. Our roles here are totally different. But they are thinking so intently and in such different ways. I mean, look at them! Some of these kids checked out weeks ago and now they are so engaged I can't even talk to them!"

The best observation came next:

"You need to come to one of our department meetings at the very beginning of the year next year and tell everyone about this. And then people like me will back you up. I know you told us about it at a meeting earlier this year, but we didn't get it. But now there are more of us to help people get it."

I will gratefully accept an opportunity to discuss making with them. And, next time, I will bring pipe cleaners!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

What started as a proposal to present at a conference became this blog post

Print tabloid journalism was one-way information distribution. No matter how much the headlines yelled at passersby from the newsstand, they couldn’t yell back. Standing in the grocery checkout line, all you can do is scan the all-caps headlines yelling at you from the pages and passively receive their messages. To dispute the claim that Elvis fathered an alien love child, required that you purchase the journal, write a letter, stuff it in an envelope, find the address in the journal, address and stamp the letter, deliver it to a mailbox… Right. It wasn’t going to happen because it likely wasn't worth it. Digital delivery of and access to information happens at an ever accelerating pace, and we can and do respond, instantly, from anywhere, at any time. The limits of time, place, and access imposed on us by in-real-life civic participation sometimes also serve to temper our contributions to these discussions. So how do we foster productive, thoughtful, effective engagement in digital communities?

Perhaps we could debate the notion that digital citizenship (not the behaviors, but the state of being connected) is a choice. After all, being born (as I was) in the United States by default conferred citizenship status upon me. But digital citizenry required me to make a choice to join a community (actual, multiple communities) and agree to their standards of conduct. Even though I periodically self-impose a digital citizenry hiatus upon myself, I can’t imagine this as a permanent state of being. Whether we distinguish ourselves from our children, our students, or a younger generation as digital immigrants vs. digital natives, joining a digital citizenry is, to some extent and at least at some point, a choice. If we choose to be and to educate digital citizens we must hone a new and complex skill set. We must:
  • Develop graphicacy: the ability to unpack images that blend data, text, and iconography
  • Think like fact-checkers: triangulate the information we consume to verify its origin, purpose, and accuracy
  • Understand our own bias: know when our bias prevents us from critically seeing someone else’s and inclines us to confuse opinion with evidence
  • Empathize: understanding and accepting the hopes, fears, and other motivating factors in another person’s life is essential to building constructive dialogue
  • Employ emotional intelligence: recognize when an emotional response to something is suppressing our ability to speak or write with measure. 

Consider Dylan Marron starting a podcast of phone calls with the people who leave hate comments on his videos. Marron’s conversations help him and his detractors build empathy with one another. Marron invites people who posted rather hateful comments to and about him to discuss their opinions with him. He doesn't seek to convert, only to understand them. In return, they reflexively dial down their vitriol in favor of a reasonable exchange of ideas. Proving that agreeing to disagree can be an acceptable and productive outcome to dialogue.

We could make Dylan Marron's life a little easier (although that might rob him of an incredible podcast) because it is possible to teach our students to engage in effective digital dialogue. Empathy and emotional intelligence, combined with media literacy are the keys to healthy digital citizens and productive digital community interactions. Kristin Mattson writes convincingly and authoritatively about how to foster a networker's mindset and build students' effective digital communication skills through guided practice unpacking digital conversations that scaffolds to the ultimate goal: positive and productive digital agency.

A couple of months ago I was fortunate to work with a group of students at my school piloting the anti-cyberbullying curriculum designed by the Trust and Safety group at Google in partnership with media production company, Harmony Labs. The key to the effectiveness of this curriculum is that all the material is delivered via virtual reality. By immersing themselves in the scenarios they are going to discuss, actually becoming a part of the scene, students are drawn to certain characters in the video they are watching. They are likely also put off by or dislike characters. And they can be guided to watch and follow a certain character as a story unfolds seeing the action as that person sees it. Again, it's all about empathy. All of the videos are accessible on YouTube via the phones students carry in their pockets and the virtual reality experience is made possible with a Google Cardboard. I like the symmetry of using the power of media access provided by their phones to teach them to use their phones (and all they can access via them) to conduct themselves wisely.

This experience with the anti-cyberbullying curriculum reminded me of Anna Deavere Smith's TED performance: Four American Characters. When I was a history teacher I used her talk in my US History classes to show students why primary sources mattered to understanding history. "Look what she is doing," I used to say to my students, "spending so much time with a person that she can become that person. That is what primary sources do for you. If you can wrestle with them and unpack them, they return you to a place a in time to live a moment the way a real person experienced it." After I discovered this 2005 TED talk, I started building living tableaux with my students. I would present them with an iconic historical photograph and let them work in teams to pose one another in order to replicate the action of the photo. Then, they worked together to unpack the image we had reconstructed in order to understand the motivations of the people depicted. We would consider how the image we were examining was distributed, what voice the subjects of the image had in its making and distribution, and what we need to keep in mind as viewers of this snapshot of a moment in time composed by someone else with his/her/their own purpose or agenda. Finally, we compared the historical image to a very current one to illustrate the challenge in applying these skills to media that incites a visceral response and inclines viewers to unsavory, hateful, or otherwise nonconstructive posts. Or inhibits viewers from engaging in dialogue about posts that are hateful, discriminatory, or in some way offensive. (For more on this methodology, see this post.)

That's empathy.What Deavere did, what Marron does, what we must do as educators, is provide our students as many ways as we can, to develop empathy with the subjects of their studies, with the authors of the information they consume; so that they can compose their reactions (whether those reactions are research papers or social media comments and posts) from a place of insight into the motives and experiences of the original author and self-awareness about what their digital relationship with that person is and can be.

So, given that this started as a conference proposal, would you attend this workshop?