The Last Two Weeks: Getting it onto the Page

It’s been an interesting three weeks in which I’ve had the opportunity to learn from several “edulebrities,” and my head is just about full.  It came to a boiling point today during Diana Laufenberg’s “Embracing Failure” session at the NJECC Conference when I realized that some of the ideas we were sharing had appeared in several of the other experiences over the last three weeks.

So what follows below are a few ideas that I’ve decided to put out here in raw form.  The three conferences I was able to attend, NJASCD Annual Conference, TeachMeetNJ, and the NJECC Conference, all pushed me to think deeply and collaboratively, as all the notes were taken with groups of people.

TeachMeet NJ

Harkness Method.

This was shared by David Korfhage who teachers History at Montclair Kimberley Academy.  I had heard of the Harkness Method, but David did a wonderful job explaining how he employs it.  It reminded me of Socratic Seminars, but less structured.
•    arranged desks in a circle (ideally a big table).
•    once the discussion is going is to let the students drive the discussion (at least 80%).
•    teachers need to be comfortable with silence.

Lyn Hilt.  Lyn, who is someone I have followed on twitter for a while, really impressed me with her stories about changing professional development within her building.  She described how she employed Atlassian’s idea of “FedEx Days” at her school during one of the scheduled Professional Development Days.  If you’re not familiar with this idea, essentially she gave her staff the day to work on whatever they wanted to, but at the end of the day, they had to present their idea and the work they did to their colleagues.


From Linda Darling-Hammond:
On Testing culture and the cult of one right answer:

  • “There’s a lot of scrimmages, but not a lot of games.”  This is due to feedback.
  • Feedback needs to be given not only the “scorable” aspects of learning, but also on how to problem solve.
  • Kids never become habitual in their capacity to become competent–meaning that they don’t see themselves as able to solve things well.
  • once kids take on ownership of the bad side “I’m not good at…” then it is very difficult to remove them.
  • It’s less threatening to not do their homework, than to do it and get it wrong for fixed mindset.

ON Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset:

  • is intelligence fixed?  Or is it elastic?
  • Two types of kids get trapped by a fixed mindset:
    • GT kids.
    • kids that figure things out quickly early on.
  • There is no correlation between when your kid learns to read and how well they read later on.
  • Great teachers move kids out of a fixed mindset into a growth mindset.

PDA: Professional Development Academy

  • to ready teachers to lead and ensure the success of a professional learning community.

The district created an academy focused on keeping a cohort of teachers together for one year, and provided them with resources, time, and consistent support outside of the classroom.  Interesting piece they did to establish the continuity between the program: long-term subs were matched with teachers so that they began to understand the functions of the individual classrooms.


Diana Laufenberg keynoted the conference and really struck a chord with me regarding her use of improvisation with students and her desire to put them in real spaces and let them do meaningful work.  Diana has a unique ability to trust that the students she teaches will rise to the challenges she gives to them without smothering their thinking or tainting it with her own ideas.

  • Diana is talking about change as meaning incompetence in what we already did.  I love framing it this way
  • I really like how she used the term “mourn the loss,” when referring to asking teachers to change what they do.  They must first mourn the loss of the old.
  • School trains them to be less curious.  Let’s flip that around.  We are natural explorers.
  • The idea of teaching improvisation as a skill
  • We need to change our classrooms into spaces that are less us more them, where there voices are heard and honored.
  • Another great piece from SLA: their LMS designed for reflection was outstanding.  Each space allows kids to not only turn in assignments, but also reflect on them in public.
  • Let’s teach failure.  Not how to do it, but rather, what to do once it happens.

Big Ideas, Like Minds

A few days back, Alex Ragone posted this via twitter (I just don’t feel comfortable saying “tweeted”):

Working on technology vision for students and faculty. We really need to look big picture and design curric to match that. Not so now.

I’ve never met Alex face-to-face, only through a twitter request that landed me in his professional development workshop last year, but his thinking in 140 characters or less gave me an idea: Alex lives in New Jersey, so do I.  His thought made me think about what we’ve been working on in our locale regarding the same issues.  How do you design curriculum so that your pedagogy and technology are in harmony to the point where we don’t talk about technology as an isolated event that happens in the lab or is viewed as a separate bullet point in a curriculum document?

My response was simple

@alexragone would love to get a skype session about curricular vision with a few of us from NJ.

Those simple connections led us to including Bill Stites, Dan Sutherland, and Barry Bachenheimer in the conversation via a collaborative planning document and a skype conversation.  In our daily jobs as administrators, tech coordinators, and teachers, we often get mired in the issues that bog us down: supplies that don’t arrive, inter-departmental squabbles, crab-bucket culture, etc.  Having the opportunity to engage our minds in this form of big-picture play keeps us free, keeps us from the feeling that we are running through mud.

We hatched a plan and pitched the idea to the annual NJECC Conference on March 17-20 at Montclair State University.  Here’s the plan:

This conversation will address the following essential questions:  What does the student experience in a classroom look like when the curriculum is integrated with technology that they use?  What support structures need to be in place for this classroom to exist?  For the experiences to exist?
Bring your curriculum design question and we’ll help you develop it for the dynamic needs of today’s and tomorrow’s students.
We’ll demonstrate successful classroom practices using social networking, online course management systems, global and local collaboration,  and online writing to create audience for your students.

It hasn’t been accepted as of yet, but if it does, and you are in the tri-state area, please come join us.  There will be four of us leading this workshop in a hands-on format.  We are hoping for a lot of small group discussion and creation of solutions for participants.  One phrase I remember uttering during our skype planning session was that I wanted each of us to remember the key elements from the best conference workshop we’ve ever been to, and I want us to re-create them here.  We need to teach this one in the manner with which we would want to learn it.  For me, that’s conversation and sharing among participants.