Dear #PLN, you changed me

Dear #PLN,

We have been hanging out together for over 3 years now. There are some things I thought you should know.
At first you overwhelmed me and it was awkward. I was not sure what to say and you had so much to say. I watched and listened to figure you out.
I remember thinking: “How do you express yourself like that?! WOW!”
I remember thinking: “I am going to have to get up pretty early to read ALL THOSE important ideas!”
And for a time I did.
I was amazed and bewitched…there was so much going on…all this time elapsed and I hadn’t know about you! #sadness
I was overwhelmed and amazed by how much you knew, how much you thought…how intensely and deeply you cared.
I fell for your range of interests, your openness to the unknown, and your drive to keep moving.
OK. I more than fell for you.

Beyond infatuation, your presence impacted my learning, my heart, and my perspective on life. I don’t mean in a trite and superficial way. I mean in a deep profound way. You changed me. 

Tweet by tweet, you invited me to trade in my cynicism for hope. Like poker chips in a game you’ve invested way too much in, I didn’t want to give my chips up. “They are all I have!” I thought, but somehow you convinced me. So all in I went, gave away every last chip and traded in on bold, loud and glorious hope.

You shared your learning, your thoughts, and your dreams out in the open. You made me understand through example how I could be strong and vulnerable, at the same time. You helped me discover that when I put myself out there, no matter how scary or uncomfortable it feels, real connection happens. Regardless of distance, nationality or subject matter, we are all in “this” together.

You made me ravenous to learn, to keep up, and to know what you knew. But not in a competitive or measurable way. Not in a way to be like just like you. You let me know I could find my way, on my own, in my own time. You said: “you are capable and sure, don’t doubt yourself, just go.” You left tracks of your thinking for me to use as clues so I didn’t get lost. You left space beside your tracks for me to make my own way, my own path. You expanded my thought horizons beyond my imagination; you showed me glimpses of what was out there and beyond. You made me want to make my own path there. You let me want it for myself.

You allowed me the space and time to discover I love to write, to think, and to create. You said: “go ahead take a risk, try something new, I’ll wait for you, I’ll encourage you, I’ll celebrate with you.”

But the biggest gift you gave me, which simultaneously breaks my heart and glues the pieces back together, is you made me want to start all over again.  You made me wish more than anything, that I could start my career, my learning journey, all over again…but with you.

Love,

me

Can we quantify learning?

“The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road. Indeed, most of the scandals and misbehavior that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts.”
― Daniel H. PinkDrive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Last year I had 2 pivotal experiences: the first related to my own learning and the second to the learning of students I was working with.

In January 2013 I began, with 1000’s of other learners from around the world, #etmooc. I won’t call it a course because it wasn’t. It was a strange and fabulous journey. For a start, there were no specific goals to the event. Other people also thought it unusual as evidenced by this Tweet:

We were invited to create and declare publicly our own. Unusual (for me) but OK. I would give it a try and trust this seemingly ambiguous learning process. At the start, the wide open empty black space ahead gave me anxiety. Literally. I felt as a fish on the dock; floundering to survive in an unnatural environment. I floundered on and through.

There was no grand end or culminating moment of achievement. No certificate, no exam. In fact, it was…quiet.

Until.

Something happened, something shifted below and within. A massive boulder, that was lodged between me as a pseudo-learner (primed to follow instructions, take notes, please others, meet expectations) and the authentic learner from my childhood, moved. The trapped forgotten learner slowly but determinedly seeped out, as smoke might, through this narrow but open space. At first, she was faint, transparent and vacuous, not definable or consistent, a friendly ghost who haunted occasionally. Slowly, she grew bones, skin, a heart and became a fully embodied person…again. Re-connected to the flow of learning from long ago; joyful, no questions asked, intoxicatingly open…

The black faded to brilliant colours. The quiet tuned to a loud exuberant symphony. My fear devoured by a ferocious insatiable appetite.

Everything toppled upside down.

Simultaneously to this personal renaissance, I was working with a group of students in a non-traditional way. We meet when and how we could. It was sporadic. We spent a lot of time in conversation about learning. Again unusual, but…Ok. During times apart we Google doc-ed, texted and Facebook messaged in groups. And of course some students were more involved than others. But what emerged was a very peculiar thing; I saw students begin to take up topics and projects on their own and of their own choosing. I began to see them differentiate themselves for themselves. For example one group took it upon themselves to write a poem and turn it into a video…over the summer.  Another took it upon herself to raise funds and sign up for a 2 week leadership camp.  I saw students who wanted to continue to learn, continue to connect and continue to make meaning for themselves but together. Strange, strange, very strange. Over the summer students contacted me to ask if we could continue to work on our plans and projects yet “the course” had ended in June. This fall students asked if we could meet on Sundays to continue to co-construct our understanding around our work on digital leadership, citizenship and learning.

____________________________

Meanwhile.

We rip learning, with its long rooted tendrils, still growing, tentative and twined, and clinically drop it on our stark metal scales to measure and quantify it without a glance upwards into the soul of who it belongs to.  We then haphazardly slap a number on it, as a bar of soap gets stickered with a price tag at the dollar store.  The heaving disembodied mound is returned to the owner: “Here, here, here is your learning, back.”

65%

Do we really wonder why, then, the person who gave birth of themselves, of their humanness…do not want it back?

Do not rush to put this ripped, torn and damaged piece of them, back into to their own schema?

When we have the audacity (and I did) to tell students that this process will in fact help them in the future, but meanwhile, they see their souls leaking outwards, a visible puddle, on the floor. And they hear the crushing sound of their own curiosity being ground in gears of the system. Are we not telling them, don’t trust yourself, your inner voice, don’t listen to who you know you are and who you want to be. Instead rely on…us.
The boulder. Rolls into place. The passage closed and blocked. Slowly, we forget. Slowly the subterranean learner is asphyxiated and becomes comatose.

****

While it may be possible to quantify a course, a laundry list of items to “learn”, a finite set of skills, that end, are finite, are helpful externally to the person (like crutches may help you with a broken leg) to maneuver the system….

I wonder with increasing uncertainty and frequency: can quantify learning?

Instead learning:

  • Is created within space and the opportunity to choose.
  • Is something vital, integrated and contextualized within being human.
  • Is not just something reserved for “geeks” but as normal, essential and integral to life as breathing.
  • Is not containable to books, institutions, courses or academics.
  • Has a language that is owned and created by the learner.
  • Is vastly complicated and marbled throughout our humanness, connected and influenced by our emotions, our experiences, our dreams, beyond and outside of anything that can be quantified.

____________________________________

“… the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it.”

                                                John Holt

 

 

What matters as I close the door

So last weekend I packed up my classroom. To be able to put 22 years into boxes just seems wrong. My classroom space is a place I love deeply; love being in, love puttering around, love sharing with my kids.

And I guess this has been “my problem’ this past week. I carted the boxes home and piled them up in our den. But there they sat all week. What do I do with them? Does the stuff (as hubby pointed out to me several times) have any purpose? Will I ever even use any of it?

But that is not the point. The point is. That’s all I’ve got to take with me.

As I step away and shut the door. It is not the binders; I did or did not get perfectly organized. Nor is it the review packs for the exam that I did or did not finally format perfectly. Nor even is the biology that I did or did not teach.

No, none of that rushes through my mind. Instead what I see, hear and feel are the moments with my kids.

I see Tina, my fearless paddling partner sea kayaking in Belize.

I see Kelly and Kenny getting “lost” out paddling the Broken Islands.

I hear Lori’s letter to me.

I hear Lindsay’s heartfelt speech about her outdoor Ed experience for the Miss Tail competition.

I feel hugging Emily at her grad party.

I hear Freya’s laughing fit as we try to record our video.

I hear Peter’s sea-gull impression in the middle of the night Kokanee Glacier cabin.

I feel the heartbreaking goodbyes and python like hugs.

I hear my class singing together, while we hold hands, at the end of our time together.

I see the rain forest habitat we built as a class.

I hear the conversation with Jeff outside in the cold about his mother.

I see April’s quilt she assembled from each of our self-constructed patches.

There are many, many moments.

And these moments are what I try to gather up with me as I go.

None of it, none of it…has one bit to do with curriculum, tests, or marks.

Each cherished second is about connections. Yes teaching is a hard job. But what is so hard is not the work, it is the letting go of these children you love and the tiny little holes they leave in your heart. Holes in my heart, that get filled again the following year but never exactly in the same way.

As I go to my new place and I lay out my wooden bowl from Ricky, my clay pot from Jen, my treasured wooden dolphin from my sea kayakers, I feel a sharp pang of pain; I don’t know if this is right, I don’t know if this is my place. It is hard to let go. So very hard and I have kept them, the moments, at bay. The boxes siting all week, untouched, unpacked and ignored.

This morning I got up to finally face them, forced by the arrival of house guests, I see them all. All my kids and our moments together, most laughing, but shared tears, stories, gossip sessions, shared dreams and yes even fights. My boxes so unequal to them. My boxes not representing any of it.

I am ready for change, I am. I am full of excitement for what lies ahead.

I just need to take stock of my gifts, see them again, and savour them again.

I close the door for the last time. Lights out.

________________________________________

In August I begin work with our District’s Instructional Leadership Team (see I am moving!)

 

 

These are real people.

Last week I had the opportunity to meet f2f some amazing people who preciously I had only meet virtually.

A mere virtual community…

 

canflip crewThese are real people!

And if you are reading this you probably know, it is not either or. It is not a virtual network OR a real one. It is both. My so called virtual network is also a very real one. People that I have been collaborating with online for over 2 years are people who show up in “real life”, our paths cross and connections are strengthened. We share stories, ideas and family photos. And maybe it sounds “cheesy” but I do love the cheese…but we are a community; real, palpable, vital, connected and interdependent. This year #canflip13, our second annual Flipped Class conference, was more than anything for me, a celebration of our community of co-learners.

But my object here, is not to convince you of the blurred lines between the online and real world. My query here is how do I describe, explain, or show people who have not experienced an online community, the incredible value of it? It is possible to do so with words or does a person have to experience it first hand to appreciate the transformative power of it? Is it through sharing real life examples of real people who I now know? Is it by offering opportunities for people to connect themselves? Yes I go to Twitter for information infusion and inspiration, but why I love Twitter, love it, is because of the people there. People who I know, trust and how each of these connections created windows of change into my once isolated and often lonely classroom (inspiration from Chris Wejr’s slides Windows of Change). Each connection a lovely glimmer of light shining in and signaling change this way!

If learning is a social activity with sharing as a key component and teachers are to be lead learners, can we argue that to change we need to learn and to learn we need to connect?

How do we invite teachers to create windows in their classroom walls to allow for connections?
How do we change the closed-door culture and make it the norm to connect and communicate to the outside world during school day?
How do encourage being connected as a “normal” teacher skill, similar to lesson planning?

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. 

                                                                 Bernard of Chartres

FB

3 Tools to Connect Your Classroom in Under 3 Minutes.

Are you short on time? Or maybe you’re just short? Or maybe like me…you are BOTH. 🙂

When I first started to digitally connect with my students 3 years ago, I tried a class Facebook group. At the time I pretty much kept it a secret as I was not sure how it would be perceived by other teachers (I did run it by my principal). The response and feedback I got from students was so positive and the interactions so beneficial, I was enticed to try other forms of digital connection.

Below is a quick video I made to share at our staff meeting. I used Pow Toons to showcase another video making tool that is fun for both teachers and students alike. If you don’t have time to watch the video highlights are provided below.

3 Tools to Connect Your Classroom.

1. Facebook Groups.

FB

Don’t have Facebook?  You make the group and do not have to friend students. To start a group you need to add one person who is your friend (I always add my daughter and then once the group is up and running she exits). No problem get a student to make the group for you.

I post daily reminders, pictures from class, documents and links of interest.

Students will ask questions and other students will usually beat me in answering and that’s magic!

I know some teachers prefer Edmodo to Facebook but I find with senior students Facebook can’t be beat. I should say, I do not demand students join the group or Facebook, it is just another place they can access class reminders and updates, but not the only place.

2. Class Twitter Account

I have a separate account just to Tweet out class information, daily reminders and answer quick questions. This year, I invited parents to follow this account as well, as a way to keep up to date on class activities .

Use Future Tweets if you don’t want to manually Tweet updates and reminders each day.

3. You Tube Channel

Don’t have your own videos to share? No problem! There are so many amazing videos available videos on You Tube, why not have them collected all in one place? Again if you don’t have time for this consider giving this project to a student.

My You Tube channel is here.

Not sure how to make a channel? You tube has a great Help Center

What’s your favorite way to connect your students?

Is equity an issue in the flipped classroom?

One of the common criticisms of the Flipped Classroom is the issue of equity. The argument goes something like this: the flipped classroom disadvantages students who lack access to technology at home or who live in confined conditions where viewing a video might be difficult. The argument, like dandelions in spring, is plentiful and easy to find.

According to Wikipedia, educational “equity deals with accommodating and meeting the specific needs of specific individuals. Such needs-based accommodation will not result in equal treatment of all students.” Let’s take a look at examples of inequity in education and go deeper into the story. Note that for the purpose of accuracy I will stick to the specifics of senior secondary classes, as this is where I work and have extensive firsthand knowledge about that situation.

Currently students in senior secondary courses are assigned homework on a regular basis.
This is a fact. 
As an example, take my daughter who is in Grade 11. She has on average 1 to 2 hours of homework on a weeknight. On weekends she might have 5 to 6 hours if she has a major assignment or a test to study for. My daughter is lucky (she might disagree); she has 2 teachers at home who actively support her when she does school work at home. She usually sits at the kitchen table and if she hits a hurdle, needs help editing, or wants a hand studying, one of us is available to help. Often times she does homework with friends, both virtually and face to face, many times homework assignments are a collective effort.

She has support on 2 fronts, that as a classroom teacher, I cannot guarantee or provide to all my students; supportive parents and peers. The variable in this scenario is access to people; the resource that makes my daughter’s situation unequal to some other students is people and not technology.

The flipped classroom has afforded me the ability to be available and supportive to more students, in more ways and in more places than previously. Not all students watch the videos at home, but some do. Some students watch videos in class with a friend during ‘flex time’ (student directed time in class). Some students choose to come to class early and watch videos when class is quiet, some watch the videos on the way to school on the bus and some students decide they will not watch videos at all. The point is, they can choose to watch videos when and where appropriate or not all.

Students have different needs, schedules and preferences for learning modalities. There is not a one size fits all solution to providing equity.

The lack of access to technology or space at home is perhaps one variable that determines whether education is an equitable one. Equity is not about providing the exact same education for every student. Equity is about determining what each student needs to be successful and providing those conditions. Technology is a variable I can make up for, by offering alternative times and places, to access videos. But what I cannot provide alternatives for is the availability of a caring, invested and supportive adult who is committed to student’s success. I choose to make the most of my face to face time with my students, some who need significant support with the content, some who need someone to talk to, and some who need me very little.
I am not implying that I was not a caring teacher beforehand. But before, I did not have the ability or means to differentiate for each student, it WAS one size fits all. And if you do not understand this, I am sorry, but you need to get yourself to a high school ASAP and sit down with some students and teachers and find out what is actually going on.

The flipped classroom is more equitable to more students than the education I was able to provide previously. Equity comes in degrees.  Finding one example of inequity, does not make the overall situation less equitable. Do situations of inequity still remain in the flipped classroom? Of course, some students show up without breakfast for goodness sake. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am able to tailor my support more specifically than I could before. AND I am able to meet the demands of my curriculum, ALL at the same time.

Can school compensate for parental support and involvement in school? Can school compensate for the social group that a student is part of?

How can we make school more equitable for more students more of the time? And what about other sources of inequity that student’s experience on a regular basis? What would make the examples below more equitable? Would access to teacher videos perhaps provide equity?

1. Students who are not able to physically be in class for extended periods due to health issues, where course materials are only made available in class.
2. Students who work after school out of financial necessity and struggle to keep up with sleep, let alone homework.
3. Students who are involved with high level athletic programs, train early every day, travel regularly for games or competitions and miss class on a regular basis.
4. Students who live in remote communities where the teacher for a senior academic course is not an expert in the subject matter and struggles to provide adequate materials for the course.
5. Students who live in remote communities where the course they need to enter university is not offered at their school, due to class size considerations.
6. Students who are taking a provincially examinable course (Science 10, Socials Studies 11) where the teacher does not provide review materials or cover the entire course.

Are classroom situations 100% equitable or not at all? Or are there degrees of equity along a spectrum?

There is inequity in school, of that I am certain.
What specific actions can we take today to make conditions equitable for more students?

Writing Standards for the Knowledge Age.


I began writing standards in the summer of 2011; I took the provincially mandated curriculum and re-wrote learning outcomes into ‘I can’ statements to describe what students should be able to do. For example, for the Cell Unit in Biology 12, the standards I created were:

Level

Standard

Core A1. I can recognize and explain the function of cell organelles.
Core A2. I can write, work with, and explain the balanced chemical equation for cellular respiration.
Advanced A3. I can relate the role of organelles to the specialization of cells in various organs of the body
Advanced A4. I can explain how the endomembrane system works to produce and export products.

For comparison purposes the original learning outcomes for this unit are included at the end this blog. As I began to work with standards I have to admit I had a number of long-standing assumptions about student learning.

Some of my OLD assumptions were:

1. Curriculum as ladder. The curriculum was a ladder that students needed to climb and only some would make it to the top. The bottom rungs were the knowledge pieces that needed to be mastered to reach the top rungs, which were the application, synthesis and creation ones. And if you ask just about any high school content teacher they will generally tell you: students must master ALL the knowledge pieces BEFORE attempting higher order understanding and application. Others have considered the implications of this point of view, see Scott McLeod’s Do students need to learn lower-level factual and procedural knowledge before they can do higher-order thinking?

2. Penalty for slow start. Early lack of success in the course was a reliable predictor for student’s overall ability to challenge the course (The course was like a ladder as well; if the student did not start climbing early and do so continuously, the student could not make it to the top).

3. All standards must be in play. Students needed to master every single standard; all standards had value and relevance to the overall fabric of the course.

4. Only goals related to the individual mattered. Success or lack thereof was all about student’s capabilities as an individual.

***

Over the last 4 semesters (2 years), standards have produced pointed conversations, observations and reflections for both students and me around the process of learning. These opportunities revealed trends that did not match my original assumptions.

Observations that contradicted my long-held assumptions were:

1. Mastery of knowledge pieces not needed for creating big picture understandings.
This is not to say knowledge is not important or unnecessary!

When presented with a big picture that had relevance and significance, students on their own, reached for relevant knowledge pieces when and where appropriate. For example, students were asked to consider different organs of the body and relate the cell structures to the function of that organ; they had to create ‘stories’ about the organs’ life. When students built story like schema they independently selected and placed relevant knowledge pieces into their schema. The act of weaving the knowledge into a larger schema gave roots to the knowledge pieces; the pieces were imbedded into a vibrant medium, not lying inert in a useless heap in short-term memory. The creating of big schema created questions (empty spaces) that were meaningful and held by the student which allowed them to place content pieces into the empty spots.

In the cell unit mentioned above, I would traditionally begin with mastery of the functions for all the organelles (Standard A1 in the table above) and THEN progress onto understanding how the organelles worked together as a team to make products inside of cells. By the time student had waded through all the minutiae, many had already lost sight of the big picture (why are we studying cells? how are cells relevant to the study of the human body? how do cells work as a unit?). The student might master PLO A1 but the cognitive load of doing so was so great that when they tried to apply this knowledge the student was trapped in a maze of unrelated trivia. Moreover none of these individual pieces had relevance to the student (unless the student had significant prior knowledge).

2. Learning not a linear process for all students.

Early lack of success did not predict lack of success in the course. Some students experienced long periods of no apparent growth or learning (I call it ‘flat line’ learning). Based on test results, conversations and observations, it looked like the student was not being successful in the course. However, all of a sudden (and sometimes months into the course) these students would have a breakthrough and master large amounts of the course all at once (I call it ‘all at once’ learning). In fact for some students it was the entire course in the last week of the semester, after several months of ‘flat line’ learning.

3. Prior knowledge and personal interests gives students different perspectives and working knowledge. All students do not need to know the exact same knowledge pieces to become experts.

When students acquired knowledge where interests and personal perspective took them, they would dig deeper into a specific topic. Rather than knowing many unrelated facts (example know every single organelle function) they discovered interconnected knowledge around their area of expertise and interest.

4. Individual learning did impact the success of the overall group; learning could benefit both the individual and the community.

When students worked as a collaborative group each member was able to offer their knowledge pieces to the group and allow for overall success of the group. That individual growth significantly and positively impacted the class community and as such should be recognized and made evident. As opposed to breeding a culture of ‘every human for themselves’ or ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, collaboration needs to be embraced as a viable and important way to succeed. Just as pieces of knowledge are inert when amassed in a random pile, students, their ideas and thoughts, are not inert vessels to be kept in isolation from one another. The culture of the room needs to encourage constant and consistent cross-pollination of ideas, thoughts and understandings.

When students worked as an interconnected team to co-construct meaningful schema around a topic, each learner brought their expertise and perspective to the table; individual success advantaged the group and vice-versa. The learning is enriched and extended because of the interactions that occur. Each learner does not need to know all the specific knowledge pieces to work collaboratively on solving a larger problem. Groups that were diverse were able to generate creative and unique schema over groups that were more homogeneous. Learning is then viewed as a process that occurs as collaboration occurs.

Based on these observations I decided to tinker with standards and their application once more to:

  • Fold smaller (Googlable) knowledge standards into the larger, power standards (knowledge pieces would be implied by the power standard) and reduce the overall number of standards presented to students even more. (For example in Unit A I reduced the standards to the 2 advanced ones).
  • Work with students to develop re-occurring schemas (big pictures or ‘stories’) for the course. Extend the curriculum to make it relevant to the student.
  • Let go of students knowing the same knowledge pieces and encourage specific knowledge to vary from student to student.
  • Encourage public collaboration at all points in the learning process.
  • Circle back through course several times (more than 5 times) and in several ways to activate and allow for multiple entry points for flat line learners.
  • Summative assessment at the end of course that allows students to show what they know and advantages their overall mark (any units that show improvement could completely replace old outdated evidence).
  • Provide daily opportunities for shared experiences that invite active participation and are low risk (no summative assessment, for ‘fun’). Exploration, creation and personal connection are upfront.
  • Daily and consistent focus (in terms of conversation, activities and fewer summative assessments) on the process of learning over and above the products.

Without educational alternatives that expand and diversify meaningful life options and pathways available to young people, we risk reinforcing an educational system that only serves the interests of elites, breeding a culture of competition for scarce opportunities.

                                                              Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design

___________________________________________________________

Further Inspirations:

Shelley Wright’s:  Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy

Larry Ferrlazzo’s:  The Best Resources For Helping Teachers Use Bloom’s Taxonomy In The Classroom

The Knowledge Age

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Original PLO’s – (Source www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/pdfs/sciences/2006biology1112.pdf)

Describe the following cell structures and their functions: cell membrane, cell wall, chloroplast, cytoskeleton, cytoplasm, Golgi bodies, lysosomes, mitochondria, nucleus (including nuclear pore, nucleolus, chromatin, nuclear envelope and chromosomes), ribosomes (polysomes), smooth and rough endoplasmic reticulum, vacuoles and vesicles

State the balanced chemical equation for cellular respiration.

Describe how the following organelles function to compartmentalize the cell and move materials through it: rough and smooth endoplasmic reticulum, vesicles, Golgi bodies, cell membrane

Identify cell structures depicted in diagrams and electron micrograph.