What happens when…


Shared on Flickr by Toni F. Mestres

Students come to school to check Facebook and go home to learn?

The structures meant to enable in fact block?

Students love to learn but hate being taught?

Twitter is a more responsive teacher?

The connections happen in spaces that are banned in school?

Students band together to write their own textbook in a Google doc, while the outdated textbook is used in class?

The mandated channels are empty and the flow is out in the open?

Students stay up late to work on their interests and come to school to rest?

Students see school as corrupt but are told to conform?

The top down is vapid and the flattened is full?

Students have much to say but no voice?

Activities that empower are seen as antisocial?

Students stop asking questions to buy right answers?

Talents are left to rot, while compliance is gilded?

Student confuse learning with hoop jumping?

Our informal learning becomes more vital than our formal?


What happens???

“Infotention” and self regulation with a side of marshmallow.

I really should be photocopying outlines or completing some other equally riveting task, but I can’t quite drag myself away from an idea that has been festering inside all summer.

Last year my students (Grade 12 students who are deeply entrenched in the protocols of playing school) and I transitioned our teacher centered classroom to a student focused and driven dynamic (which I call a Flipped Classroom, but some have issues with this name, but that is another post). This progression provided me new insights about my students and their learning. Some observations were heartening, inspiring and reassuring; I interacted with students who cared deeply about their learning, the world around them and were full of curiosity and creativity.


I also saw aspects of school, student behaviour and learning that made me feel that I was not meeting the needs of my students. This bothered me, got under my skin, and burrowed in, driving me to look for clues and search out solutions.
What were the initial observations that troubled me?
I saw students who were:

  • Shut down and disconnected from school and learning.
  • Immobilized with fear of failure and had in some cases, had extreme anxiety pertaining to expectations around academic performance.
  • Texting, Facebooking, and/or Tweeting out of boredom in most of their classes (and during most of the class, no joke here) and still meeting ALL expectations (in fact these were some of the top students).
  • Texting, Facebooking, etc. but unable to regulate their attention and were struggling in school as a consequence. This was true both in my class where technology was welcome and when I observed them in other classes where tech was strictly forbidden. Many of these students were able to identify the problem, but did not have the means to self regulate their tech use.
  • Looking to be externally regulated (micromanaged) all the time and did not know how to direct themselves, their time, and their energies.

During the school year I did not have the opportunity to go beyond this initial observation phase. As a consequence, I felt that the biology curriculum alone was not meeting students’ most pressing and challenging needs. In fact the roadblocks many were facing were preventing them from engaging with the biology curriculum in the first place. Whereas in the past I have would ranted in frustration about cell phones, I saw the problem not as the cell phone. That was not the problem. The problem was students lacked skills needed to self regulate their tech use, their learning and control their attention.

I did not know exactly how, nor did I have a full picture of the implications. I needed time and information.

So what did I come up with?
From reading and Twitter trolling:

  • Self control and self-regulation are highly related to success in school (life?). Many students struggle with these basic skills at some point. In fact Dr. Stuart Shanker says: “self-control is as important and possibly more important than IQ for how well a child does in school”  He explains further:“Self-regulation serves as a lens for understanding a child, his (her) individual strengths and the areas that need work, and thus as a lens for understanding what we hope to accomplish in our teaching practices.
  • Attention is a tool. I need to work with my students (and myself) to identify, develop, and strengthen this tool, especially in this era of supreme distraction. Harold Rheingold explains it perfectly when he says in his book Net Smart:
    “the most important filter is a function of (the) brain, not my PC. ONLY you can know your goals and only you can determine which stimuli are relevant at any moment.”
  • Regular and authentic practice. I need to work with students on a daily basis to become self regulators and monitor their attentions in relation to their goals. Harold Rhienhold calls this attention “infotention”and explains further:
    “you can experience immediate benefits in small ways to exercise mindfulness regarding your attention online. In this realm taking some control, even if it is a baby step, is far better than passively letting your attention be grabbed without reflection. Growing evidence indicates consistent exercise can strengthen self-control of attention.”
  • Provide students with tools (attention, mindfulness, self-control), spaces (a classroom with various seating options and microenvironments) and opportunities, so they can develop ways to cope. Instead of suppressing and smothering behaviors (such as obsessive texting) work with students to understand and identify these behaviors so they are able act accordingly. Develop their skills so they do not rely on me to tell them how to behave, when to sit, stand, walk, talk etc., like automated robots. They need to “own it”.  I need to help them own it.
  • Foster, develop and grow an authentic thriving, self-sustaining community of learners. A community where they feel “safe” so they can be honest (I am bored, I am not learning, I don’t get it, I am having a hard time focussing today). A community in which they feel safe to try new activities and trust that they will not be punished.

As I head back into the classroom, I am not 100% sure on how we will become a self-sustaining community of self-regulating learners, and I still have more to figure out…but I am sure that is where we are headed.

NOW you can have your marshmallows!!


Harold Rhiengold describes his book.

CEA article on self-regulation.

More on self-regulation.

20% Time: Time to imagine, tinker, and create, no strings attached.

“The change we are in the middle of isn’t minor and it isn’t optional”
 Clay Shirky

Summer is the time to imagine the bold classroom of your teacher dreams. One idea I had tucked away to re-examine was the “Google 20% time to tinker” idea that I first read about in Dan Pink’s book “Drive“.

I had seen Phil McIntosh (@mistermcintosh ) tweet that he was trying it.

Our conversation continued and Phil tweeted out a link to an article about “20% Time” in his classroom at the middle school setting. ( Personal Learning and Creation Time in Middle School )

At ISTE I heard of and seen many concrete example of students creating and making amazing and tangible projects (for lack of a better word).

I heard Gray Stager (@garystager ) talk about how students need to be creators and makers (think of Maker’s Faire, see CNN clip or think of Caine’s Arcade). I also listened to discussions on how we flip Bloom’s taxonomy might be need some flipping see inverted bloom’s taxonomy.

I was inspired to find a way to get my students making. 🙂

Many teachers who teach content laden courses are trapped in a deeply rooted pervasive belief  that students have to know ALL (of the content) before they can DO anything.  I know this because I was there!!

“The future belongs to a different kind of person,” Dan Pink says. “Designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers — creative and empathetic right-brain thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn’t.”

So the plan I have so far is to give students 20% of class time (2 classes/month) to create, invent, or make “something”.

No regurgitated research projects, essays, or information based posters.

I would some show examples of projects (High Tech High Projects Science Leadership Academy Capstones and Inquiry). I would discuss with students the real world value of creating (MIT Media Lab) and build some community held criteria, but I really wish for students to own the time and to treasure what they feel passionate about.

I also feel that giving students time gives them the message: I trust you and I know you can do great things.

Questions I still have:
1. What if students “waste” this time ?  (students already “waste” time and maybe this would inspire them to be invested ?)
2. Any assessment tied to this? So far I am thinking no.
3. What do students need to show or share at the end of this process?
4. Do I offer students a list of possible activities? (again I am thinking no)
5. What if students really do not want to do this?

What do you think? Have I forgotten anything?

Is it realistic that students find a passion to connect to in this time?

Other resources:
1. Huffington Post Article – Pursue Passion: Demand Google 20% Time at School
2. Blog post by teacher AJ Juliani – The 20% Project (like Google) in My Classroom
. Thinkfinity Community – Would you ever try Implementing Google’s 20% Time?
. Google’s 80/20 – Adopted at a New Jersey School – 

Do you dispense class time, like food pellets to lab rats, portioned and universal? I did.

Do you control time and dispense it in perfectly portioned pellets of time, as you would food to a lab rat? Implying they somehow can’t manage the consumable themselves?

“Come on hurry up!” “Let’s go people!”

“We need to move on!” “Finish up!”

“Let’s put that away and get out……….” “10 minutes to finish up.”
100 hours and over 150 PLO’s (prescribed learning outcomes) to evenly distribute over the minutes, the hours and the seconds, like icing to spread carefully over a cake.

What if learning can’t be evenly distributed over time?
Last semester as I went all in with the flip classroom, asynchronous learning triggered a mini break down for me. I had managed students’ time, believing that I could thereby manage their learning.

After many internal struggles, I had several epiphanies around time management:

1. Students who appear the “busiest” in class are often masters at looking busy, but not necessarily masters of their learning.

2. Each student has an ebb and flow to their learning.

3. Students require varying amounts of time on topics, and the time does not always relate to the difficulty of the topic.

4. Students have an excellent awareness of topics that they struggle with. Given the time and opportunity they will choose to address these problems.

5. Students learn in spurts and starts. Many have ALL at once learning when many topics all fit together for them at one time.

6. Students will change their habit of procrastination given the time (and sometimes it is a long time!) and space to reflect, misstep and try again. Some will repeat this cycle several times.

7. Some students need to find the edge of their capabilities to experience growth.

Some of the changes that have developed in our Flipped Class:

1. Re-wrote learning outcomes into “I can” statements for students. Folding smaller outcomes (like chocolate chips into batter) into larger standards that represent the enduring understandings. I did this before my time management epiphany but it helped me to “let go”.

1. Students are presented with a pot-pourri of learning materials along with a list the of  possible activities (think of a delectable description sheet in a box of chocolates!) with an optimal deadline (expiry date). Students select activities to do and in which order. We still run class labs and activities, but not all students must do every single one every single time. (for example if a student is still struggling with a previous unit their time maybe better spent on that). We still do community building activities as a group.

2. I have backed off nagging kids to get stuff done and from micromanaging their time. This was and still is very hard for me. I remind myself daily to refrain from these old habits.

3. I wait for students to ask for help (most of the time) Giving students control of their time signals that I trust them to be in charge of their learning.

4. Students use learning journals on a daily basis.  

5. Less defined separation between “homework” and “school work”. Instead the focus is on learning. If students don’t watch videos for “homework” (although most do), oh well. If students have a down or off day in class, again, oh well. Don’t we all?

6. All learning outcomes are “on the table” all semester.

7. I have meaningful and continuous conversations with students each class. This is equally hard in what it reveals as it rewarding.

Do you package your own learning into neat containers of time?

Who controls time in your classroom?