Badges and the Role They May Play

Tonight I had the unique experience of listening in as Steve Hargadon from the Future of Education, interviewed Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, with the focus being a joint venture between Mozilla, HASTAC, and the McArthur Foundation.  The Open Badges Project is an idea based on lending credence and credibility to the learning that takes place outside of traditional learning spaces, and providing a means for people to illustrate their competencies outside getting a diploma.

It’s an intriguing idea that relies heavily on a slew of other elements.  For example, the issuers of such badges would have to do so based on very defined characteristics.  Meaning that those badges that were most difficult to get would carry the most reputational weight.  My first question upon entering the Blackboard room was centered on the actual types of tasks or projects one would have to do to earn a badge?  Since Mozilla is a partner in this, my first inclination was that one would have to contribute in some capacity to a project like those that Mozilla participates in.

Surman confirmed that, saying that Mozilla looks at this to help infuse web skills into the populace.  However, he did say that depending on the issuer, the task may be tech-based, but it may also be based on much softer skills.  The participants, and the dialogue that paralleled Steve’s interview, were fantastic, and several ideas for incorporation into educational settings percolated.  Among them were:

  • creating badges for skills not measured by the standardized curriculum
  • using badges on student and teacher portfolios to demonstrate mastery of non-traditional competencies.

Also, questions abounded about the significance of several existing “badge” type systems in education including things like Google Certified Teachers, Apple Distinguished Educators, or DEN Stars.  Did these qualify as badges under the model that Mozilla, et al, are working on?

It’s a wait and see now with the project being in the early stages, but my guess is that you’ll see much more of this discussion, especially within progressive education circles.  I know I am going to play with this idea as well.

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Please Tell Me Where the Tipping Point Is.

In late October, I was fortunate enough to participate in TechLearning Magazine’s Northeast TechForum in Tarrytown, NY. This marked the fourth year that I’ve been associated with the conference either as an attendee or a presenter.  Each year tells me a dynamically different story about what is happening in our schools here in the Northeast.  Each year someone new comes into the conference and turns it on its ear in some capacity.

My presentation, Admin 2.0, was in the afternoon, which gave me all morning to catch up with friends and peek in on some of the sessions that were going on.  In each of the sessions, there was a recurrent theme among the crowd: their computers were really small, and a good percentage of the machines lacked full keyboards.  The proliferation of eReaders, smartphones, and iPads especially astounded me.  Later in the day, as I entered the room where I was slated to present, there they were again: iPads and Kindles, and small little machines stretched across the cloth-covered tables.

Had I missed something?  Was there an iPad tree in the lobby that I neglected to pluck?  Were my eyes deceiving me, clouded by geeklust for the latest gear from Cupertino?

Indeed, no shrub or gadget-crush was present, they were really everywhere.  I left the conference with a head full of steam to find out if the price had dropped or there was a deal to be had for educators.  What I found was not a price drop, nor an educator discount, but rather more information to add to the turmoil that’s been surrounding the real work I do in my district.

Publishing is upside down right now, in all forms.  Magazines and newspapers are struggling to remake themselves into viable options that readers and consumers still feel they need, and education publishers are beginning to feel that pinch as well.  In a recent article at Xplana, Rob Reynolds spoke about what he feels are “Nine Important Trends in the Evolution of Digital Textbooks and E-learning Content”

  • The increased disaggregation of content and the breaking up of the traditional textbook model
  • A proliferation of e-content and e-learning apps that support content disaggregation and new product models
  • A merging of the current rental market and the e-textbook market
  • A wide range of license/subscription models designed to respond to consumer demands around price and ownership
  • The growth of Open Education Resource (OER) repositories
  • The development of a common XML format for e-textbooks, shared by all publishers and educational technology players
  • The importance of devices and branded devices
  • The development of e-commerce and new product ecosystems that challenge the traditional college bookstore
  • A move from evolution to innovation and revolution

For those of us in K-12 education, the shift to eBooks or iPads or any straying from our traditional reliance on textbook publishers is cause for alarm–not in the sense that we don’t welcome them, but in the sense that we have budgets due (in New Jersey they are due really soon).  So what I want to know, and I want someone out on the internets to tell me is have I missed the tipping point?  When I look at the needs of my departments this year, should I be looking away from the reliance on paperbacks and textbooks, tradition be damned?  Or is it still too early?  If I really buy into what Reynolds is talking about, or what Lisa wrote about just a few days ago, why would I waste one more taxpayer dollar on a medium that will soon be outplayed by really, I mean really, inexpensive technology and distribution systems?

This situation, as I’ve described it, leaves a lot to be considered in terms of both the physical infrastructure (is your building equipped with universal wireless access for students and faculty to download all of these snazzy eBooks and apps), and intellectual infrastructure (is your staff and school community ready to take the leap into what many traditionalists–look at the comments on Lisa’s last post–would believe is the great demise of the American attention span).

Just for giggles, before I sat down to write this initial idea down after TechForum, I called up Cushing Academy.  Remember them?  The private school that cleared out much of its book collection in its library in favor of Kindles? A few quick stats:

  • 100 Kindles available to students
  • only three ever gave them issues and had to be sent back
  • they can’t keep them out of the hands of students
  • titles are constantly added via multiple school-based Amazon accounts
  • they don’t regret the decision (at least the librarian I spoke to).

Something to think about as we all build our budgets–is it time to make the switch?

Image Credit: http://i.imgur.com/IVA1N.jpg

More of This, Please

I read Eric Langhorst’s blog, I’ll confess, not for the great history links he sends out, but for ideas about how I would run my my own classroom.  In one of his latest posts/podcasts, Eric talks about how his class skyped in author Pat Hughes to talk about her work (and it magically fit right into what they were studying–imagine the serendipity!).  If you know how to use skype, you understand how simple and easy it is to use.  My mother uses it.  My kids can almost use it now.  It’s simple to pick up. After our impromptu conference with Shelly Blake-Plock last week, I began thinking about why we don’t bring others into our classrooms this way more often.  It’s not all that crazy to plan–anytime I have done one, it originated from an idea, that led to an email, that became a brainstorm for a date and time, and then some quick tech set-up.  Voila.  Instant access to smarter, more interesting people (choose your interviews wisely). The next level then becomes something like this once you’ve become more established: This was taken from Silvia Tolisano who uses htis with her students to help them engage more fully in the many conversations they have with people from around the world.  I’ve said this before in this space, and Sylvia characterizes it nicely here, but we need to be outsourcing more of what we do to our students.  By creating all of these opportunities for student learning out of one phone call (augmented with video, of course), Sylvia and others who do this sort of thing, have given students the opportunity to explore something more than just the history book or primary source documents.  The teachers who do this sort of thing are creating avenues for curiosity and exploration.  And that’s something we need to be doing more of.

Side note: if you get the chance, check out Silvia’s flickr visuals.  They are the bees knees.

Quite a Slate

This coming Saturday I will be riding the rails to the Upper West Side for TEDxNYED, a conference not officially affiliated with the groundbreaking TED Conference held yearly.  I’ve had all sorts of travel restrictions this year due to the budget constraints being placed on us by both the state offices and our own offices, which was the sole reason I wasn’t able to attend EduCon this year, so missing this one would have been unbearable.

The conference is organized in the format popularized by TED–short, 20-minute maximum length talks detailing the passion of the individual. This is coming at a really great time for me as well, as we are heading into the time of year where creativity and resourcefulness are key.  An infusion of new ideas and energy is sorely needed.

Here’s the schedule of speakers for the day:

10:00am PARTICIPATION

Andy Carvin
Michael Wesch
Henry Jenkins

BREAK

11:30am OPENNESS

David Wiley
Neeru Khosla
Lawrence Lessig

LUNCH

2:00pm MEDIA

TED Talk
Jay Rosen
Jeff Jarvis

BREAK

3:10pm NETWORKS

TED Talk
Gina Bianchini
George Siemens

BREAK

4:30pm ACTION

Dan Cohen
Amy Bruckman
Dan Meyer
Chris Lehmann

There are individuals on this list from whom I have stolen mightily, and from whom I hope to pull some more insight this weekend.  I’ve designed slides based on Dan Meyer’s advice, discussed school structure based on Chris Lehmann‘s ideas, created curriculum from the ideas of George Siemens, and used Michael Wesch’s videos in front of more audiences than I care to remember.

After having sat through a session with Alan November today that, although re-affirming for the group I came with, contained nothing in the way of new, motivating ideas.  I am really looking to Saturday for that to happen.  Hope to see some of you there.

Mobile Phones, They Just Won’t Go Away

For the last few days, I have been party to three separate conversations about mobile phones and schools, and in the conversations, the only common denominators have been the shoulder shrugs that each conversation has ended in.
The use, or in some cases the possession of, a cellular phone in a classroom is often times a material disruption to the learning process.  Let’s face that right off the bat.  Yes, we can do some truly amazing things with any cellular phone within the classroom, but from a management situation, even those teachers who truly get it when it comes to relevance and utility of mobile computing are irked by students constantly turning their wrists or sliding their keypads out to check for texts.  And we cannot blame students for that either; what do most of us do at the precise moment our phone either rings, dings, buzzes or whispers?  We reach for it.  We are overridden with curiosity, not to answer it, but just to see who it trying to capture our attention.  Imagine what that feels like to an adolescent struggling with identity, peer acceptance, and societal norms?  Yeah, I am reaching for that phone too.
Those that I work with, a group of very forward thinking educators, often struggle with the use of mobile phones in the classroom for different reasons.  They tend to see it as a situation where there are other solutions that work better or just as good as would the use of a cellular device.  My thinking in these situations is always centered on trying to find that sweet spot, that activity or learning experience that could not be done better than if everyone was using their mobile device.  I don’t do this because I am some crusader for cell phones, but rather because I think they have leverage.  Paul Allison tweeted about writing with cell phones tonight after asking students to do some independent reading for thirty minutes and then check in via their cell phones:
I just love stopping and asking students to write with their phones. They have such a warm response, like “Oh, of course I can do that!”
For me then, it becomes clear where they have their use, and not for everyone, nor every situation.  But think about what Paul did with his students.  He didn’t ask them to interrupt the flow of their reading to take out pencil and paper and craft a response to a packet question, and he didn’t ask them to open up a laptop or move to a computer and find the discussion page on the wiki for that book and add an entry.  He asked them to do what they probably wanted to do anyway: send someone a text about what they were doing.
Flow.  Sense.
I don’t have the full details of what Paul was trying to carry out with his lesson, but if his intent was to engage students in reading and then have them reflect, then re-engage with the reading, doing it through that medium makes sense.
Our mindsets,  our infrastructure, and out pedagogy have a long way to move before we massively adapt to the use of cellular phones in classrooms, and I am beginning to see that its due mainly to our adult sensibilities about usage.  Our habits speak a different language, as we have very similar habits to our students, but our grip on how we should behave with cell phones is still strong.  Renny Gleeson, in his brief TED Talk, shows how we as a society have not yet normed our usages with our phones:

As we look at the inclusion (or as some would say, intrusion) of cell phones into our classrooms, we have to center on Gleeson’s point: are they making us more human?  Or, as Allison’s example more aptly shows, are they becoming invisible?

Accidental Theme Day

I heard the phrase “disruptive innovation” 23 times today. For a good portion of the day it was all I talked about. It took a raucous, yet fresh perspective on our use of technology in schools by Gary Stager to counterbalance it.

Not that I minded the term’s dominance, rather, I thought it was about time that more influential people are ringing that bell. Tools are great when placed in meaningful context and supported by educators who know how and when to leverage them, and at conferences like FETC, the tools tend to dominate the subject matter of the sessions. Whether it’s a teacher that is proud to show off the methodology he or she has created around that tool, or it’s a vendor marketing that tool to new audiences, the majority do not appeal to me. Those sessions that did dealt with school change. Throughout the course of the day, I was able to learn from Curtis Johnson, one of the co-authors of Disrupting ClassDr. Chris DedeIan Jukes, and Stager in sessions aimed squarely at the very meaning of what we do in school.

Curtis explained to his crowd that we would be hard-pressed to find an “industry” or model more ripe for disruptive innovation than the educational system is right now. He pointed to several factors that made this so, and used them in opposition:

Old Assumptions Emerging Realities
Knowledge is scarce, hard to access
knowledge readily available
subjects-courses-sequence
multi-dimensional learning
improvement by command
crucial role of motivation
students learn same way/same time
kids more different than ever
Standardization-batch processing
radical personalization

My first thoughts, and I dropped them into our group notes, were of customization. Available to us now are the tools to really customize learning for large numbers of students. What we are lacking is the thought and the vision to realize it. I am speaking of my immediate situation when I say this; there are numerous conversations I have had with others, and some I have initiated, around this idea that our students need choice in what they are learning, yet, what steps have I taken to make sure they get it? My thoughts as I go forward this year are directed at trying to find ways to scale this for the students we need to serve better.

Chris Dede made me want to be a better presenter. His content was impeccable, as was his demeanor in front of a room of nearly two-hundred people. He was calm, witty, and extremely gracious with his time. His story, which wound itself around the theme of disruptive innovation throughout, dealt with some more of the pressing issues that we deal with in public education, namely those of engagement and accountability. Dede spoke about the need for their to be quantifiable data for our teachers to analyze if they are to assess students progress according to the standards they are held to. When looking at the MUVE he showed calledEcoMUVE which he and a team of scientists are designing for the Cambridge Public Schools, he remarked about how because the servers store student activity as events, there is so much information about what the students are doing, and in many cases that data is in the form of snapshots taken, notes written, and questions asked and answered.

Working with teachers as often as I do, I see the assessment piece as one that will be a tough nut to crack if we are going to bring customized education to each of our students. We need to rethink the notion that assessment is an end product. Dede showed us that while the students immerse themselves in the pond in EcoMUVE (literally and figuratively), they may disengage on occasion. The game, much like other games on the market today, contains an Easter Egg of sorts. On a given date, the students return to the pond and find that all of the fish have died. The task than becomes somewhat of a CSI:Pond. Since the server catches everything they do within the environment, teachers can choose a variety of ways to assess their progress in the task: notes they enter as they investigate, snapshots of plant and animal life and its possible link to the dying fish.

In light of the current discord in New Jersey regarding our governor and his stance on the public education teachers union, theNJEA, a few things from the day stood out rather clearly.  I asked Curtis Johnson what he thought of the situation in New Jersey whereby unions are being blamed for the slow pace of change in education.  His thoughts were fantastic.  What if unions, he asked, decided to come out in support of these changes and made their own models for how it could happen?  What if, instead of being blamed for the problems in education, they presented their own disruptive innovations?

Food for thought.

Next: Jukes to Stager in one afternoon.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs: Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World

On my desk yesterday sat an unwrapped copy from of Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ latest book “Curriculum 21 Essential Education for a Changing World” my monthly gift from ASCD. In all honesty, I immediately balk at most things labeled with the ordinal number “21” as a result of its saturated use in educational circles these days. Rarely does a memo leave the offices in Trenton without mention of this initiative or that program designed to incorporate the 21st Century in some manner.

I am just a little over the term, that’s all.

Being that today is a day of airports and the requisite time-suck that they, and the airlines, put you through, I knew that I’d have time to get through some of the book on the way down. My intent was to use some of it as a springboard for FETC, as some of the themes presented are concurrent with some of my aims at the conference.

The book is laid out in an interesting format, in that Jacobs is the editor, but the first four chapters are hers. Following her are chapters from: Stephen Wilmarth, Vivien Stewart, Tim Tyson (of Mabry Middle School fame), Frank W. Baker (who is also creating a ton of great content over that the Making Curriculum Pop Ning), Daivd Niguidula, Jaimie Cloud, Alan November, Bill Sheskey, Aurther Costa and Bena Kallick.

Since this is mid-flight, and I am nowhere near through the entire book, I thought I’d start with some reactions to the first chapter authored by Jacobs. The thrid through fourth chapters dealing with the structural change to schools and curriculum at the systems level, also Jacobs’ chapters, I’d like to treat on their own, especially after some of the sessions I plan on attending tomorrow.

“The good old days are still good enough.”

In chapter one, I enjoyed the three myths that she believes need addressing when talking about school reform, especially curricular reform. The first myth is a sentiment anyone involved in moving schools and districts forward encounters on a daily basis. Very much the same as the TTWWADI mentality, this one extends beyond schools typically and into the community that surrounds it. There are methodologies that are timeless in education, and there are those that are fleeting. Without careful examination and experimentation with these ideas, we lose the ability to know what works best in given situations. Schools or communities, Jacobs states, are “shackled by memories,” and many times paralyzed by the insecurity of change.

“We’re better off if we all think alike–and not too much.”

The second myth addresses what Jacobs calls “America’s love/hate relationship with being educated.” The myth, is as unsettling as it is hilarious. The glorification of the self-made man who rises out of poverty with little or no formal education to millionaire status is revered among the general population of the United States. Jacobs points to Susan Jacoby’s “The Age of American Unreason,” here with its examination of the fracturing of American discourse into factional discord, whereby thinkers surround themselves with those who share their own ideas. This for is evidenced by the consistent battle between the viewers of Fox News and those of every other major media outlet. We now have the ability and what’s worse, the desire to surround ourselves, rather insulate ourselves with those who think like us. What is missing and necessary in any future of curricular change, according to Jacobs, is a return to active, open discourse between factional thinkers. We were founded amid chaos, and our students need to understand that disagreement is not disloyalty.

“Too much creativity is dangerous–and the arts are frills”

Even though we have much data showing the correlation between study of the arts and music and future academic success, as a society we marginalize the study of these disciplines in times of extreme panic or budget shortfall. Jacobs looks to Dan Pink to help characterize the future skill-set of the 21st Century worker (ugh, I used it as an adjective). Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as this: an original thought or idea that has merit. In that capacity it cannot be limited to the realm of arts and music. We don’t have innovation fields like accounting unless there is someone who sits in his or her chair and conceives of a whole new way to crunch numbers and manipulate their trade. Eliminating or denigrating arts as “frills” does a complete disservice to the students we teach today who will become tomorrow’s leaders.

ASCD: From Two Angles

ascd1

I just stopped into the Convention Center here to pick up my media kit, and I immediately noticed a big shift from last year’s conference in New Orleans: tech.  Flat screens, laptops, live streaming of sessions, and a dedicated Technology Corridor (that’s going to be a separate post).  All things that had they been here last year, I wouldn’t have stuck out so much sitting all by myself in session rooms because the only viable electrical outlets for people with laptops were on the fringes of sessions.

Seriously, there is a decided effort on the part of ASCD to be visible, to pull in “21st Century Skills,” a word that the world has claimed as its buzzword du jour, and if you look through the session descriptions, there is a huge focus on these topics:

  • Visual Literacy and infusion of Visual Art into the classroom
  • Using assessment wisely to allow students to show they understand
  • Web 2.0 and its use in the classroom
  • 21st Century Skills and their broad definition

Over the last few days, I’ve spent some time looking at the sessions that immediately call out to me as valuable in what I do on a daily basis.  If you’ve been following some of the thoughts here lately, especially the dialogue between Scott McLeod and on a recent links post, you’ll understand that there has to be a marriage between teaching “soft skills,” and making sure content knowledge is sufficiently understood.  There is a balance we need to strive for in our work over the next few years in curriculum writing.  Scott really hit it here in this reference:

In Built to Last, Collins & Porras describe how visionary organizations do not “oppress themselves with … the ‘Tyranny of the OR'” (i.e., citizenship preparation v. employment preparation) but instead “liberate themselves with the ‘Genius of the AND.'” As they note, yin and yang are “both at the same time, all of the time.” Why is this so hard for educators to do?

I’d like to find some examples here at ASCD that show me this is happening, or at least show ways in which I can move forward to help teachers create learning environments that are innovative for students and teachers alike, yet provide a solid academic foundation for the future.  As I have said before, it never was an Either/Or.

The second major focus I have this weekend is to leave here with more actionable content which I am taking to mean both teaching strategy and assessment strategy.  When I work with teachers, especially in light of all the buzz about the influx of creativity and innovation ideas into the NJCCCS, they often ask me how they are supposed to teach these skills.  The sessions I have chosen center around giving teachers strategies for stretching student minds within their content areas.  In my own personal practice, I always fall back on the Kagan Structures and other forms of cooperative learning (and it just so happens, Kagan is presenting on Sunday).  With that creativity in how we approach teaching, I’d like to explore some innovation in how we assess our students.

Be sure to pick up the twitter feed also, which you can find here and here.

School. Different.

Beginning on March 23rd, I will be leading a discussion with teachers and administrators in my district about ourselves and our professions, but most importantly, about our students and how they learn.  What I want to know is this: are we teaching with their learning in mind?

Here is the description I gave for the workshop:

In this conversation we will examine our goals as educators in the face of a rapidly changing climate in American education.   We’ll look closely at the shifts that need to occur in our profession and the very question of what it means to be well-educated today.  Each group will meet three times: one online session, and two face-to-face sessions.

Essential Questions:
•    Who are the students you want leaving your classroom every day?
•    What do you hope they know how to do with that they’ve learned?
•    What do you hope they care about?

Essential Understandings:

School should be less about preparation for life and more about life itself.
-John Dewey

We must connect our students with information, people and real world contexts that will inspire and engage them throughout their curriculum.

We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting.  Knowledge is a process, not a product.

-Jerome Bruner

When our students know how to evaluate media and make sense of its complex messages, they are better able to use it as information for learning.

Our rapidly changing society, both nationally and globally, demands a change in the way we view education and the teaching profession.

This idea was originally inspired and adapted from Jeff Plaman’s LrNing site where he has gathered international educators from around the world to participate in an online class centered around the movements and changes that our students and the profession of teaching is undergoing.  I asked him if I could modify it slightly for my district and he was all for it.

In looking at television lately, I caught this commercial, or should I say, it caught me:

I look at that and I contrast it with Doyle’s recent post regarding his school’s motto: “Learn to Live.”  Are we teaching our students to live?  Are we teaching them the skills to be wise?  Do they have the moral skill to know when to make the exception to the rule?

Oh, I worry some time that we get bogged down in the minutiae of this standard and that standard, and this score and that score, and we forsake the true goals of education: learning to live well.

Remembering That It’s Slippery

Winter Trail

A rare occasion, it is, that I run in the middle of the day, especially during the week.  So on Friday at midday, this was my scene, and it felt a little like cheating.

In recent days here in the eastern part of the country, we’ve been plagued by ice storms and sub-freezing temperatures.  Snow covered paths, while beautiful, disguise what lies below, and the moment I stepped forward onto the trail, it became an exercise in balance and timing.  Light feet, short strides, quick decisions–and no certainty that each step would pay off.

Friday morning, I was privileged to present at the Classroom 2.0 Learning Institute to a group of teachers and administrators about collaboration.  Erica Hartman and I talked about the hows and why’s of collaboration in the classroom and in curriculum development.  There were strands set up for this conference: basic, intermediate, and advanced, and Erica and I conducted a hands-on workshop in the intermediate strand to a group of about 40 people.

I struggle with preparing for hands-on workshops for many reasons.  Firstly because of the varying ability levels of the individuals in the room.  Some will not be able to log-in to accounts that they may or may not have, others will be have already heard of everything you are going to share, and still others may even just view this as a time to check in on email or do some online shopping.  As is the case in any classroom, meeting the needs of all three and keeping them engaged is the role of the facilitators.  Push too hard and we lose the neophytes, remediate too much and the more advanced users tune out, and fail to implicitly show value in what you are talking about and Amazon will receive record hits from whichever ISP you are using.

techforumny08002-001

It Begins with You.

The ice was thick in most spots, and the crunch below my feet that I was expecting didn’t happen as I moved from the trail head down the lonely corridor of the rail trail.  The ice had frozen into ridges around bicycle tire grooves and ATV tracks, and finding a safe line to place my feet in became increasingly difficult any time I tried to increase my speed.  Running in the center wasn’t working; several missteps and half-slides on the ice pushed me to choose the fringes of the path, where some grass was still emerging through the snow cover.  While uneven and full of hard crags, it was a safer choice at the moment, and I could navigate my way towards what the safer section of trail ahead.

The choice Erica and I made was simple: let’s speak with passion about what we do.  Let’s mention it all.  Let’s talk about why we use collaborative technologies with our students, colleagues, and extended network.  Let’s talk about our successes with enthusiasm, and our failures with the lens of reflection.  Let these people see that we made the choice to take risks in the classroom even in this high stakes environment.  And as we scanned the audience in the beginning of the session as they were filling out their “bell-ringer activity sheets designed to get them to know each other, I could sense all levels of preparedness: some struggling with the authentication of Montclair State’s Netriculate process, others finding our wiki with ease, and others pecking away on their Blackberry’s.  We asked them one question on the sheet that we felt truly aimed at where we wanted to go: if time, resources, money, school restrictions, etc. were not a restriction, what is one project you would like to do with your students?  We had them share their answers with two people in the room who they didn’t know.  From these, which we asked a few to share with the room, it was easy to begin to see where we needed to go with the session: provide multiple access points to projects that they wanted to work on and provide them with the ability to work from the fringes within their school environments.  We weren’t getting the sense that these teachers were going to be supported fully in trying to connect their students to the world.

A mile into the run, things began to change for me.  I’ve been back to running seriously for a month now, and certain physical elements are returning from a long sabbatical.  Ice beneath my feet was still a problem, but my feet weren’t.  My drive-train, if you will, was coming from my core, and I achieved the balance that comes with moving quickly and powerfully.  Like traveling at higher velocity on a bicycle leads to the ability to hold a cleaner line, my speed and power were adding to my body’s efforts to keep me upright.  I was moving in flow.

Teachers often wonder how to begin changing their methods without completely up-heaving the work they’ve done over the course of their careers.  It’s a valid concern for several reasons.  If it’s been done for a few years, there is good reason you are keeping it: it must be producing some desired result.  One of the first things we stressed in our session was the need to question why you were in the room.  Don’t use these tools for the sake of using these tools.  Look at the outcomes you want from your students and decide if these tools can take them there.  If not, find something else from your bag of tricks.  Secondly, as Dana pointed out in her week in review, students don’t always take to change the way we think they will, even if it involved technology.  Your big change may fail miserably.  What then?  And lastly, you need to be the driving force behind these changes.  We used the famous Gandhi quote:

Be the change you wish to see in others.

Erica and I moved the group through various examples and moved around the room as much as we could to help give ideas and connect people with projects and others in the room as best we could.  What we began noticing was momentum.  People were connecting; myths of collaborative projects only happening in 1:1 schools were being exposed and debunked, and teachers in districts that limited access to social media were talking about how they could circumvent their limitations both philosophically and physically.

I love running in winter.  The silence of it always brings together the disparate thoughts in my head.

Image Credit: “The Illuminated Crowd” from Humanoide’s Photostream.