Sunday, February 24, 2013

(Digital) Creative Spaces and Common Core

Image by ToGaWandering


Critical Thinking. 


These four C's of the Common Core Standards are of course important for success in and out of the classroom and the workplace. School systems have always been spaces where creative minds can come together to teach and learn with each other, but I think with the push for these 4 C's and the other vitally important skills we hope every child has throughout their school and life that its time to look to the digital creative spaces where these 4 C's can occur. Social media like Twitter, blogging, Pinterest, Facebook, and many other tools can take a classroom limited by the minds held within its walls and connect it to an almost infinite amount of people, places, ideas, and resources.

Steven Johnson talks about this in his book Where Great Ideas Come From. Johnson discusses that "good ideas normally come from the collision of smaller hunches, so that they form something bigger than themselves" but historically the most important and recurring theme around these collisions of hunches, he says, is a creative space. Johnson takes a look at the advent of coffee houses during the Age of Enlightenment, the frequenting of Parisian Cafes, and we already know that schools and universities are creative spaces for minds to meet, but digital creative spaces are too often overlooked.

Social media created these digital creative spaces that we need for education as well as all other aspects of our lives. Only three of my students are connected on Twitter for various reasons, but since the four of us follow each other I caught a conversation they had the other day in which one girl asked another about a science fair idea at which point a high-school student in Oregon who follows this student told her a great idea for a science fair in which they could work together to do a comparison based on the experiment done in different locations and they will facilitate all their updates as to their experiment on Twitter - brilliant! These students were communicating their own creative ideas for the science fair and came up with a unique way to collaborate together to create this science project.

A second example was with the digital tool Skype. Skype Education has a project called Mystery Skype, where classes around the world voluntarily sign up to have a Skype call with each other and guess the class' location. (For more information on this check Pernille Ripp's blog post here) In it's most simple form though Mystery Skype has students using digital or non-digital resources from globes and maps to Google Maps and search engines. The students collaborate together to decipher clues, use critical thinking skills, and all the while they are communicating with each other and students in classrooms around the world.

Digital media can provide endless creative spaces that allow for anyone to build ideas and collaborate until ideas become reality. We can't ignore these tools anymore, as Steven Johnson says, "Chance favors the connected mind."

See below for a short RSA-style preview of Johnson's book:

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(Digital) Creative Spaces and Common Core by Anthony Pascoe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Being (not) Anonymous

I recently read Growing Up in a World of Anonymous, an article by Peter DeWitt. In his article he focused on two main points:
(1) Anger infused comments
(2) The effect on students of not being a role model in voicing your opinion online or anywhere else and proudly displaying your name. DeWitt explains in detail that most anonymous posts come from people that
"will post comments of negativity as though they have nothing better to do than find the worst things they can say about the writer, the topic or society in general." He also brings up the negative effect this will have on children, and students. They see their role models (parents, teachers, etc.) pseudo-participating in a topic they are interested in and assume it is the best way to participate. In this sense Dewitt describes it as "a pack mentality where one person inspires the next to write something more awful"

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. DeWitt that we need to set better examples so I want to expand his argument and relate it to my own experiences. I currently lead a five (5) course Educational Technology Endorsement for teachers in my district which includes twenty-five (25) teachers and about (10) principals and five (5) central office administrators. The first course was advanced computer applications and introduced blogging for the first time to all but one participant who had been maintaining a class blog for two (2) years. When I did a survey on the course after, I only received three (3) choices out of four (4) as follows:
  • Loved it, I can see blogging as a valuable tool for my students and myself! (0%)
  •  Neutral (35%)
  • I will more than likely not use this is the future. (40%)
  • I see no purpose to blogging in my professional or personal. (25%)
Additionally on the optional "What part of this course would you change?" I had six people (17%) recommend removing the blogging portion. Additionally out of 35 participants, only eleven made their blogs public. These were, to say the least, very disappointing results.

In response to my request that for everyone's professional growth (optional) they should make their blogs public,  I received the following comments from first year teachers to 26 year veterans:
"I don't feel comfortable letting the whole world read my blog, what if I say the wrong thing?"

"I'm new to this whole blogging thing, I don't want to embarrass myself"
I attempted to explain that many blog posts come up as blunders and many more come up successfully helping the blogger to articulate something about their passions in such a way that they grow professionally and/or personally.

In response though, I decided to not push or require any more than 2 or 3 blogs a course, but I will not remove them because I see huge opportunists to help facilitate a great tool to help teachers reflect, when most are not reflecting more than is required on lesson plan templates.

Additionally, although open for change, our Commissioner of Education takes a pragmatic view of blogging when I requested to do a PD on it at a state-wide meeting.
"I just don't want individuals to use it as a place to share their pet peeve but rather as a professional forum to improve the quality of education." - Dr. Sablan, COE.
A prudent contention for blogging, but if we don't try we will never know. Additionally if we set up a system as mentioned in Dean Shareski's Huffinton Post article How to Make Better Teachers it will provide a safe forum that also holds teacher's accountable for overly negative comments:
""Hire a teacher, give them a blog. Get them to subscribe to at least five other teachers in the district as well as five other great teachers from around the globe. Have their principal and a few central office people to subscribe to the blog and five other teachers as well. Require them to write at least once a week on their practice. Get conversations going right from the get go. Watch teachers get better."
Even thought this system might not actually happen for a few years in my district and a lot of trial and error by me and the participants of the endorsement classes. I will keep blogging and have other blog in the remaining courses and tweeting directly to our hash-tag #psstech, especially with posts where leaders bear some of tough moments such as when Dr. Cook blogged about Where is My Leadership Mojo and How Will I Get it Back?. To show that errors, mistakes, and fears are just good to get out in a reflective way to grow and learn from as are successes.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kids Need Structure

I recently watched Colin Powell's TED talk, and while I don't agree with everything he said, I do agree that "Kids Need Structure," as his talk was so aptly titled.

"I spend a lot of time with youth groups, and I say to people, 'When does the education process begin?' We're always talking about, 'Let's fix the schools. Let's do more for our teachers. Let's put more computers in our schools. Let's get it all online.' That isn't the whole answer. It's part of the answer. But the real answer begins with bringing a child to the school with structure in that child's heart and soul to begin with."

There is a post by Justin Tarte called Technology is not the answer... in which he discusses a metaphor for education as a house. Tarte says technology is the house, but without a solid foundation the house won't last. Structure is the foundation in education, students have to be able to adapt to different structures to help prepare for the real world, to build their homes. I think public schools with different teachers, buildings, campuses, etc. provide this exposure to structure that students need.

"And I also had this extended network. Children need a network. Children need to be part of a tribe, a family, a community."

Schools provide this social network, this need, that General Powell discussed in his talk. I teach online, I take courses online, I am months away from a Master's degree in educational technology, but I still know the social value of deep interpersonal networks that very few institutions other than face-to-face schools can provide. The structure and routines of schools can help reduce learning anxiety in students to manageable levels, and allow them to explore learning and personal growth in a safe environment.

As General Powell says, "every child ought to have a good start in life," and schools are the best way to do this.
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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Intrinsic Blog-ivation

I have never blogged for more than a few months at a time before (only as long as a course required me to sadly), so this will be my first attempt at maintaining a blog consistently and more importantly for the right reasons. During a lesson last week in my college success class at a local college we brainstormed intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivators for the things we do in life.

The students' list was pretty standard with extrinsic being connected to money, power, grades (or a degree), belief in luck, chance, or fate, and overall a results-based mindset. On the other hand, intrinsic led us to discuss motivators such as enjoyment, personal or professional growth, belief in self-control and hard work, and overall process-based mindset.

As we discussed some activities that provide the different motivators I realized that I had blogged before only for extrinsic reasons. These reasons were often thinly veiled, such as an assignment for a course, but I realized that I wanted (and needed) to find the intrinsic motivation that so many other professionals had found in blogging as a reflective and collaborative tool. When I decided a few days ago to start a new blog I began researching what some of the most important connections in my professional learning network were saying about their own blogging experiences.

One of the most hard-hitting bloggers in education that I know is Joe Bower from Alberta, Canada. Joe has inspired me to fight against the mediocre status quo that has gripped so many schools today. Joe Bower wrote a reflective post titled My Three Years of Blogging and Tweeting where he said "I have developed a network of people that I trust and respect. These connections fuel my learning." This is the biggest reason I need to maintain a blog. I have gone almost two years learning and growing by reading the blogs of Joe Bower and many others; it is time to step out of my circle of comfort, reflect on my teaching and learning, and grow exponentially as an educator and learner. You can read Joe's blog at For the Love of Learning and follow him on twitter here.

Another professional I follow on blogger and twitter is Dean Shareski. In a Huffington Post blog post titled How to Make Better Teachers Dean summed it up in one word - blogging. Dean discusses the benefits of blogging, both financially (free!) and more importantly from a professional growth standpoint. He terms it as being a "Reflective Practitioner" - which I agree with. A lot of teachers, including myself, could strive a lot harder to be more reflective. You can read Dean's blog at Ideas and Thoughts: Learning Stuff Since 1964 and I highly recommend you follow him on twitter here.

I think the biggest obstacle in my mind, second to the fear of reflecting publicly, is the amount of time it takes to reflect and blog substantively. George Couros, a Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division, recently wrote a post titled Another Reason to Blog; Proactive through Reflection where he responded to the notion of not having enough time.
"My response has been that reflection is part of your work. It is important that you make it part of your day, as it should be a part of your student’s day.  We cannot just continue to dump information into our (and our student’s) brains without giving or making time to reflect.  It is essential that there is creation and connection along with consumption."
You can read more of George's posts at his blog Principal of Change and follow his twitter posts here.

The first educational blogger I ever read was Steve Wheeler at his blog titled Learning with 'e's, and I have been a devoted reader ever since. On his post, Seven Reasons Teachers Should Blog, Steve sums up many of my motivators as a life-long learner looking to start blogging more; these reasons are: reflection, crystallizing your thinking, interaction with new audiences, creating personal momentum, generating valuable feedback, using creativity, and raising your game as a professional. Steve writes often and truthfully, baring his thoughts and thought processes openly for examination and conversation, he has inspired me since I read his blog the first time. In addition to reading his blog, Steve's Twitter account is a wealth of good conversation about nearly any topic related to education, follow him here (yes - his Twitter name is @timbuckteeth).

Finally, there are two principals I have just recently discovered and begun to follow and I am almost distraught that I didn't find these two leaders earlier on - thank goodness for blog archives. Justin Tarte, a principal in Union R-XI School District, wrote a post called 10 Reasons to Get Educators Blogging on his blog Life of an Educator which is actually five reasons to read blogs and five reasons to create a blog. This post was one of the many I have read that helped give me the push to start a blog for the right reasons and hopefully stick with it. Follow Justin on twitter here.

The other principal, Eric Sheninger at Milford High School in New Jersey, writes his blog at A Principal's Reflections. During my search for blogger's reflections on blogging I found Time Well Spent on Eric's blog and in this post his open reasoning and links to both pro-bloggers and those against blogging shows how committed he is to provided a balanced argument for blogging and social media as a whole in his life, his school, and for others in education. Follow Eric on Twitter here.

These are but a few of the many, many people I learn from on Twitter and through blogs. One of the most exciting things about these social media outlets is that anytime I am ready to learn more and to grow as an individual and a professional all I have to do is commit a few minutes of my time to read and reflect on content put out (for free!) by some of the most inspirational leaders in education today.

This blog will be my attempt to show the world that I am ready to grow as an educator and a leader. I hope that others can learn along with me in my journey of Learning to Be a Leader.

Please comment and subscribe to this blog so that I reach the fullest potential of this tool. Follow me on Twitter here.

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