Daily Habits

Steve Brophy has been digging into the art of deliberate habits lately, whether it be having a clear morning routine, 750 word and setting up his workspace to nullify distraction. During the recent episode of Design and Play he posed the question:

What are the daily habits that you do as a learner?

This got me thinking. I have spoken about the process involved in learning and the tools I depend upon, but never thought about the daily activities which help me as a learner.

Combing the Curation

A few years ago, Doug Belshaw wrote a post, ‘Curate or be Curated‘. In it he reflected on the rise of algorithms in curtailing and constraining the content that we consume. Although I do not subscribe to several newspaper subscriptions, I use Feedly which captures posts from over two hundred blogs (see my list here). I will be honest, I used to read everything, now I skim first then check out those pieces that catch my interest – I am human. If the posts are too long I send them to Pocket. I then either save them to Diigo or capture specific aspects in a Wikity card. In addition to this, I have a number of newsletters and summaries that are sent to me via email (this is something I have reflected on elsewhere).

Lurking and Listening

Another habit that I do every day is be actively open to interesting ideas. Curiosity breeds curiosity. In part I pick up some of this perspective from the blogs I read, but I think that it also comes from engaging in the world around. David Culberhouse describes this as spending time at the idea well. This might involve chatting with people at lunch or asking clarifying questions of others. I think that this is why I love professional development sessions and conferences so much. It isn’t always the intended learning opportunities, but the often ‘hidden’ incidental learning at the periphery.

Thoughtfully Thinking

Michael Harris talks about the theory of loose parts, which focuses on the importance of changing environment to foster independent thinking.

Nature is an infinite source of loose parts, whereas the office or the living room, being made by people, is limited.

Where possible I try and to make sure that I get some sort of thinking time each day. A few moments where I stop doing what I am doing and do something different. This might involve going for a walk or listening to music. Warren Berger describes this as ‘Time Out’ in his book A More Beautiful Question. This is something that Pearman and Brophy also touch upon in the podcast. What is important is disrupting the flow of things.


So they are some of habits that I keep. I am not sure that I am as deliberate as Brophy, however they work for me. What it does leave me thinking is how this compares with the learning environment in school? So what about you? What are your habits? As always, comments welcome.


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Getting Work Done

This post is in responses to the Edublogs Club prompt associated with classroom or office spaces. I am not sure I have that much to say in regards to the aesthetics of open planned working environment. However, I do have some thoughts on the digital spaces which I use to ‘get work done’.


As I have discussed elsewhere, my one word this year is communication. This has many facets, such as clarity of meaning, consistently responding, working collaboratively, adjusting to context and being transparent. It is something pertinent to my current job as an integration coach.

One particular challenge that I have found since transferring from the classroom into a more administrative role has been the importance of being organised. Often with the classroom there is a certain structure provided by way of classes, students and timetables. Bianca Hewes provides a useful example of this in her post on staying organised. Although I have had experience outside of the classroom before managing reports, timetables and daily organisation, most of these things had clear and consistent expectations too. I may have had my calendars and spreadsheets. However, the workflow was seemingly pre-defined by the wider organisation.  My new role is different.

Although I am hired as a coach with the focus on supporting schools with the integration of technology, this support takes many forms. So far I have developed material to support the implementation of Digital Learning Technologies, organised material around Communities of Practice, help organise Stories of Practice, as well as created various presentations. What is different about leading various projects is that they each have unique tasks and timelines. The challenge then is managing everything. Two strategies I have used to communicate this work in an open and transparent manner are Kanban and the Priority Matrix.

Kanban

A means of project management, Kanban is an agile way of organising tasks. In its most basic form it involves three columns: to do, doing and done. However, there are many different iterations. Often Kanban is done using sticky notes in a public space. However, Trello provides a useful digital form. I started out using personal boards, but have since moved to progressively involving the wider team. What I like about Trello is the means of bringing together various documents, checklists and notes in the one space. In addition to this, there are options of organising things using categories or allocating people to specific cards or tasks.

Decision Matrix

Also known as the Eisenhower Method, the Decision Matrix is designed to use time on what is important. The matrix is split into four quadrants:

Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

As a means of organising each week, I usually list the various tasks that are on the go and use the categories to prioritise. While I also add anything else in as the week pans out. I do this using Google Slides as it allows me to link to further information, such as a Doc or a Trello Card. I find this useful for not only planning ahead, but also for being accountable in looking back at what I have done over time.


So that is me. That is how I get work done. So what about you? Do you have any suggestions for me? How do you get work done? As always, comments welcome.


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Fluency, Feedback and a Search for Authenticity with @TouchCastEDU


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Whether it be Peter DeWitt’s work associated with flipping meetings, Brad Gustafson’s #30SecondTake Podcast or Steve Brophy’s Digital Leaders reflections, TouchCast is one of those apps that keeps popping up here and there. An iPad application, it allows you to not only easily record, but through the use of a green screen, add your own settings and backgrounds. In addition to this, it has a great teleprompter which helps alleviate the problem of not quite looking at the camera, as well as helping with pace and fluency.

More recently, Peter DeWitt wrote about the TouchCast Studio in a Box. This includes a green screen, a microphone and a range of clamps and handles. I recently purchased this unsure exactly what I was going to use it for. Ironically, it has become one of the most sort after things at school.

During Term One, my intervention students were given the task of recording an A Current Affair style show. Only working with them once a week using just one iPad, I decided to set up the screen on the whiteboard with an eye on adding some sort of authenticity to their presentations, as well as the opportunity to work on pace and fluency. After typing up the scripts (some used the voice typing function in Google Docs), students recorded their presentations. What was amazing was the amount of students who asked if they could come back during the break to re-record their videos, a by-product of recording.

On the back of this success, I got different groups to record various summaries and reflections using the studio backdrop. Today, one of my students asked if we could set the screen up to record their stories. It was not what I had planned, but I went with it. What was good was that the need to record added a sense of urgency to the lesson. So instead of wasting time chatting, students quickly finished off their stories and lined up to record. What stood out was the amount of respect they had for each other, especially when providing feedback. I am not sure if it is the fact that half of them attest to having their own YouTube channels, but they seem to value the process of recording even if the product does not necessarily get published for a wider audience.

Moving forward, I see so many possibilities for TouchCast. There are various options and functions that I haven’t even touched upon. At the very least, I imagine recording a class of presentations in front of the green screen as they are given, speaking to a document or making a collaborative production combining different parts.

Recently, I stumbled upon Emilie Garwitz share an activity she did with her kindergarten students where the class used the green screen to explore the beach:

Sometimes we are only limited by our own imagination. So what about you? Have you used TouchCast before? What did you use it for? As always, comments welcome.


For a fantastic example of what is possible using TouchCast, I recommend checking out Brad Gustafson’s #30SecondTake Podcast:

Also this series from Steve Brophy:

Steve has also developed his own guide stepping through the process involved in creating your own TV studio.


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Collaboration, Autonomy and a Culture of Thinking (SITJAR)


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Today, I received notification that a case study I wrote for a special edition of the Southern Institute of Technology Journal of Applied Research (SITJAR) has been published. I feel a little out of my league. However, heutagogy is one of those topics that seems to go beyond leagues. Thanks as always to Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon.

You can read my paper below, enjoy.


Abstract

Personal growth is often sacrificed at the expense of organisation reform. The modern challenge in creating more effective workplaces is providing meaningful time, space and opportunity for self- directed learning. A part of this change is fostering a culture of thinking. This is explored through a case study, reflecting on the co-creation of a conference presentation. This is not used as a representation of the how it is to be done, but of the complexities associated with collaborative learning. For there are many different models and methods for achieving the desired outcome of autonomous learning. Whether it be TeachMeets, Twitter chats or staff driven meetings, what is important is that learning is disciplined.

Introduction

Like the students we teach, teachers too have areas of interests that they often never get a chance to unpack, passions that never get explored, ideas that never properly get thought out. Although many discuss the benefits of Genius Hour for students, there is often little time, space and support for anything like this for teachers. Instead, meetings and professional development is often defined by perceived objective needs, rather than focusing on personal growth. As Matthew Kraft and John Papay explain,

We tend to ascribe teachers’ career decisions to the students they teach rather than the conditions in which they work. We treat teachers as if their effectiveness is mostly fixed, always portable, and independent of school context. As a result, we rarely complement personnel reforms with organizational reforms that could benefit both teachers and students. (Kraft & Papay, 2015).

The question that remains then is how might we build a culture of thinking that fosters autonomy in order to create a more effective workplaces?

Learning to Learn by Learning

One of the essential ingredients to teacher growth and autonomy is collaboration. David Weinberger makes the point that, through networks and the inextricable abundance of knowledge, “the smartest person in the room is the room” (Weinberger, 2011, p.12). This does not mean that simply being in the room is enough. For being a part of the room we are challenged to engage with others to build both physical and digital networks that make us all smarter. This involves, what Mike Wesch describes as, going from being knowledgeable to being knowledge-able (Wesch, 2009).

A case study of such learning is the collaborative development with Steve Brophy of a presentation for Digital Learning and Teaching in Victoria 2014 Conference. As teachers we often talk about collaboration, yet either avoid doing it or never quite commit to the process. Some may work with a partner teacher or in a team, but how many go beyond this? When do we step out of the comfort zone and the walls of our schools, to truly collaborate in the creation of a project or a problem? Immersing ourselves in what David Price describes as ‘self-determined peer learning’ (Price, 2014, p. 115)>

Having spoken about the power of tools like Google Apps for Education (Davis, 2014a) to support and strengthen collaboration, communication and personalised learning, I realised that what was needed to take the next step was to actually do it. Mindful of taking the easy path of simply working  with a colleague from my own school, I sort out someone different who I could co-create with, but to also be knowledge-able through the use of various tools to actually collaboratively co-create a presentation from scratch.

Brophy and I initially met online. A modern trend. The Ed Tech Crew podcast ran a Google Hangout at the end of 2013 focusing on the question: what advice would you give a new teacher just appointed as an ICT coordinator? (Richards & Branson, 2013) I put down my thoughts in a post (Davis, 2013), Brophy commented and wrote a response of his own (Brophy, 2014). It was these two perspectives, different in some ways, but the same in others, that brought us together.

From that point we built up a connection online – on Twitter, in the margins of a document, within blog posts, via email – growing and evolving the conversation each step of the way. For example, Brophy set me the 11 question blog challenge (Davis, 2014b), which he had already taken the time to complete himself (Brophy, 2014b). We met face-to-face for the first time when we both presented at a Teachmeet at the start of 2014.

What clicked in regards to working with Brophy was that although we teach in different sectors, coming from different education backgrounds, we shared an undeniable passion – student learning and how technology can support and enhance this, or as Bill Ferriter would have it, “make it more doable.” (Ferriter, 2014, p.14) We therefore put forward our proposal for the 2014 Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria Conference around the topic of ‘voices in education’. Interestingly, once the submissions were accepted, those wishing to present, were encouraged to connect and collaborate with other members in the stream, rather than work in isolation.

In regards to planning and collaborating, it was rather ad hoc. A few comments in an email, brainstorming using a Google Doc, catching up via a Google Hangout, building our presentation using OneNote. Most importantly though, there were compromises at each step along the way. This was not necessarily about either being right or wrong, but about fusing own ideas with those we had collected along the way. So often presentations are planned with only our own thoughts in mind. Although we may have ideas about our intended audience, nothing can really replace the human element associated with engaging with someone else in dialogue.

In regards to the substance of our actual presentation, I put forward the idea of dividing it into Primary and Secondary. However, as things unfolded, this seemed counter-intuitive, for voices are not or should not be constrained by age. So after much discussion we came upon the idea of focusing on the different forms of connections that occur when it comes to voices in and out of the classroom. We identified three different categories:

  • Students communicating and collaborating with each other,
  • Students and teachers in dialogue about learning,
  • Teachers connecting as a part of lifelong learners.

A part of the decision for this was Brophy’s work in regards to Digital Leaders. (Brophy, 2014a; Jackson, 2014). This focus on students having a voice of their own really needed to take some pride of place, especially as much of my thoughts had been focusing on the engagement between students and teachers.

The next point of discussion was around the actual presentation. In hindsight, I fretted so much about who would say what and when, as well as what should go in the visual presentation. This is taken for granted when you present by yourself for in a traditional lecture style presentation you say everything. However, when you work with someone else it isn’t so simple. The irony about the presentation was that so often plans were often dispersed in an effort to respond to the moment. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to stick to the slides, because somehow that is the way it has to be, even though that way is often a concoction in itself. The other thing to be said is that the slides for the presentation also allows people to engage with the presentation in their own time, in their own way. I sometimes feel that this is a better way of thinking about them.

The best aspect about working collaboratively was that by the time we presented we knew each others thoughts and ideas so well that it meant there was something that one of us overlooked then the other could simply jump in and elaborate. This was best demonstrated in our shortened TeachMeet style presentation, where instead of delivering a summary of what we had already presented earlier in the day, we instead decided to go with the flow. The space was relaxed with beanbags and only a few people, therefore it seemed wrong to do an overly formal presentation. Focusing on the three different situations, we bounced ideas off each other and those in the audience.

What stands out about the case in focus is that much of it occurred both online and outside of regular school hours. This is all well and good, but the question that remains is how we make such practise sustainable? How might we support teachers in taking more ownership over their own learning?

Culture of Thinking

In Ron Ritchhart’s book on creating a culture of thinking, he touches on three essential beliefs: (i) non-direction, (ii) pressing for thinking and (iii) supporting autonomy.(Ritchhart, 2015, p.218) The case study presented covers each in its own way. However, what is important is that there are many different models and means for achieving this mix.

As I search back through the links I have collected over time, I find teachers and administrators exploring models for learning, each touching on these elements. In a post about enlivening whole school professional development days, Edna Sackson talks about empowering teacher voice by giving them all a chance to present, rather than simply bringing in outside providers. (Sackson, 2014) Inspired by the work of Daniel Pink, Chris Wejr shares how he incorporated time for teachers to tinker into the day by providing them release. (Wejr, 2013) While reflecting on learning about Little Bits, Jackie Gerstein unpacks the importance of educators openly being lead learners. (Gerstein, 2015) Taking a different stance, Tom Whitby wonders with the rise of unconferences, whether the traditional conferences are relevant anymore? (Whitby, 2014) Discussing much the same point, David Price touches on potential of different models of self-determined learning, such as TeachMeet events and Twitter Chats, which are threatening traditional models of learning. (Price, 2014) While unpacking the conventional workshop, Chris Kenyon demonstrates how using a heutagogical approach learners can be supported in developing their own solutions. (Kenyon, 2014)

What each of these examples demonstrates is that there is not one model that fits every context and nor should there be. Every situation is unique and has its own needs and requirements. Beyond actually incorporating such opportunities within schools, the challenge moving forward seems to be how to best recognise such opportunities in more formal environments? How might we, as Will Richardson asks, transition from master knowers to master learners? (Richardson, 2015). The one guarantee is that no matter what model is implemented, learning must be disciplined.

References

Brophy, S. (2013). Reflections of an lLearning coordinator. transformative LEARNING. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from https://stevebrophy.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/reflections-of-an-elearning- coordinator/ 

Brophy, S. (2014a). Digital Leaders. transformative LEARNING. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from https://stevebrophy.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/digital-leaders/

Brophy, S. (2014b). 11 questions. transformative LEARNING. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from https://stevebrophy.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/11-questions/

Davis, A. (2013). I was just appointed ICT co-ordinator, Now What?. Read Write Respond. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://readwriterespond.com/?p=118

Davis, A. (2014a). In search of one tool to rule them all. Read write respond. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://readwriterespond.com/?p=109

Davis, A. (2014b). 22 Questions …. Read write respond. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://readwriterespond.com/?p=95

Ferriter, B. (2014). Do we REALLY need to do new things in new ways?. The tempered radical. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://blog.williamferriter.com/2014/04/27/do-we-really-need- to-do-new-things-in-new-ways/

Gerstein, J. (2015). Educator as lead learner: Learning littleBits. User generated education. Retrieved 31 May 2015, from https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/educator-as-lead-learner-learning- littlebits/

Jackson, N. (2014). OzDLs | digital leaders Australia – Empowering young people with technology.Ozdls.com. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://www.ozdls.com/

Kenyon, C. (2014). One way of introducing heutagogy. In L. Blaschke, C. Kenyon & S. Hase, Experiences in self-determined learning (1st ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Kraft, M., & Papay, J. (2015). Developing workplaces where teachers stay, improve, and succeed. Shanker Institute. Retrieved 30 May 2015, from http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/developing-workplaces-where-teachers-stay-improve- and-succeed

Price, D. (2014). Heutagogy and social communities of practice: Will self-determined learning re- write the script for educators?. In L. Blaschke, C. Kenyon & S. Hase, Experiences in self- determined learning (1st ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Richards, T., & Branson, D. (2013). Xmas Google Hangout. Edtechcrew. Retrieved 30 May 2015, from http://edtechcrew.net/podcast/ed-tech-crew-238-xmas-google-hangout

Richardson, W. (2015). From master teacher to master learner. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.

Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sackson, E. (2014). Personalised learning for teachers…. What Ed said. Retrieved 23 May 2015, from https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/personalised-learning-for-teachers/

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts ere everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Wejr, C. (2013). Creating time for teachers to tinker with ideas #RSCON4 | The Wejr Board. Chriswejr.com. Retrieved 31 May 2015, from http://chriswejr.com/2013/10/05/creating-time-for-teachers-to-tinker-with-ideas-rscon4

Wesch, M. (2009). From knowlegable to knowledge-able: learning in new media environments. The Academic Commons. Retrieved 31 May 2015, from http://www.academiccommons.org/2014/09/09/from-knowledgable-to-knowledge-able- learning-in-new-media-environments/

Whitby, T. (2014). Are education conferences relevant?. My Island View. Retrieved 31 May 2015, from https://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/are-education-conferences-relevant/


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Ten Step Program to Being Connected; or Getting Connected for Dummies


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I recently presented a session at DigiCon15 about Becoming a More Connected Educator. To provide a voice for those listening, I created a Google Form asking a few questions of those in attendance, such as how they are connected, what are the biggest challenges and any questions they may have. There were a few that I addressed at the end of the session, including moving beyond sound bites and giving back. However, one question that alluded me was a ‘get connected’ for dummies. So here goes, my 10 step process to becoming connected or as requested, a getting connected for dummies:

Work Out Why

Too often people are told, sign up to Twitter and get connected. Not only does being connected not simply equal signing up to a platform, but it misses why we might do it in the first place. In part, my initial reason was wondering what impact sharing and being open might have for learning. Although being open is still at the heart of my reason why, I would argue that now it is less about wonder and more about action, that is, how might we use the possibilities enabled through networked learning to build ‘smart rooms’ that consciously make possible new ideas and beginnings.

Grow a PLN

There are too many posts out there that discuss personalised or professional learning networks as something that can magically be done. Follow these people and hey presto you are connected. As I have discussed before, PLN’s are better thought of organically, a rhizome, with no central root system and no central belief system. Instead, there is one connection leading to another. This being said, the strength of a PLN is often deemed by how we nurture and grow it. Andrew Marcinek and Lyn Hilt reflect upon our role in regards to the health of our PLN and the need to continually reinvent it. One of the challenges is where you choose to spend your time and further your connections. For many it seems to be Twitter, others it is Google+, for some it is in spaces like Edmodo, while there are those whose connections are fostered between blogs. At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Some possible starting points are to participate in a Twitter chat, join a community on Google+, join in a blogging challenge like #youredustory or go to a teachmeet or an edcamp.

Find Your Tribe

One of the keys to connecting online is finding your communit(ies). So many of my early connections were based on a sort of convenient hypocrisy. My room was made up of people I had grown up with, went to school with or worked with. Often such connections become about sharing stories about this or that, but not necessarily common interests and passions. What can be hard is that there is not necessarily a directory of tribes, rather it is something relational and discovered by listening and engaging online. It needs to be noted though, that sometimes finding your tribe might actually mean standing up, leading and connecting people around a cause.

Surround Yourself with People who Scare You

On the TER Podcast, Cameron Paterson spoke about finding someone who scares you to be a mentor. I suggest taking this a step further, I suggest surrounding yourself with people who scare you. Often we start out meeting people at conferences or following people who seem to have similar interests. The next step is actively seeking out new connections. This does not mean that you need to automatically openly engage with these people, but instead tuning in and critically evaluating the various ideas and arguments. David White describes this as elegant lurking, where the purpose is to assess credibility of those involved within the discourse.

Support Others and Give Back to the Community

Although it is fine to observe from a distance, at some point communities thrive on participation. As David Weinberger points out, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” Too often people get caught up in the ‘original’ trap, feeling that they themselves have nothing new to say or add. However, being in the room can mean different things to different people. I think that Steve Brophy puts it best when he made the call to “be the connection that gives others a voice.” To me, giving back is about participating, being someone’s +1, paying it forward, attributing ideas where possible. Putting his spin on this, Seth Godin says in Tribes that the challenge is, “to help your tribe sing, whatever form that song takes.”

Create a Place For People to Find You

Online, it is important to own your identify before someone else does. Anne Mirtschin talks about creating a digital badge, incorporating three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. In addition to this, it can be useful to guide people to a splash page, such as About.me, which brings together all our different spaces online. Some alternatives to this include pointing to a personal blog or a Linkedin account. Although trust within online spaces can be a difficult, by at least being open about who we are and what we might stand for at least helps build trust and deeper connections.

Have More Meaningful Conversations

In a recent post, Dean Shareski lamented on the lack of depth to many of the conversations he finds online. He reminisced on the ‘raw and natural tone’ that was prevalent when he was drawn to blogging ten years ago. Although idle chatter may be the glue which unites us, Shareski suggests that our challenge is to use this social capital to ‘provoke deeper, more interesting ideas’. For some this has meant moving conversations to more private mediums as Voxer and Slack. While others have taken to creating podcasts and web shows as a space for deeper conversations. Although Peter Skillen maybe right in saying that no wisdom can come be found in one-line, however it can be the stimulus for further thought.

Curate the Chaos

Heather Bailie suggests that in regards to digital literacies our focus has moved from the traditional idea of read, write and react, to a focus on being able to create, curate and contemplate. For me, creation is the means that we use to collect information. Many find all their resources via various social media platforms, however, there are other means of engaging with ideas, such as Nuzzel, Flipboard, Zite, Paper.Li, Feedly and Tagboard. Such platforms offer their own means of aggregating information. The next step is making sense of it all. In regards to social bookmarking, there are many different possibilities, whether it be Evernote, Delicious, Scoop.it, Pinterest or Diigo. For a more extensive list curation tools, see Christopher Pappas’ post.

Make Stuff Worth Stealing

I think that Doug Belshaw puts it best when he says, “Remixing, re-appropriation and riffing off other people’s work just seems to be part of what we do as human beings.” A step beyond engaging online, whether it be providing your perspective or adding a comment, is making stuff worth stealing. Instead of worrying about how much money could be made or how people might use ideas, Austin Kleon suggests we need to, “do good work and share it with people.” In his book Open, David Price touches on four key values which he sees as being integral to the 21st century: sharing, being open, giving things away for free and trusting others. A great example of such communities of sharing, riffing and giving away are cMOOCs like the CLMOOC, Connected Courses and Rhizomatic Learning.

Be a Lead Learner

How can we really say that students and learning at the heart of the classroom if we ourselves are not learners ourselves? Jackie Gerstein argues that we should not only be leaders when it comes to learning, but actively modelling the process by continually articulating our understandings and experiences. Gerstein provides a model to support this iterative process, focusing on prototyping, testing, failing and tweaking. Blogs or vlogs can be a useful means for not only documenting this process, but also gaining precious feedback and perspectives to support growth and improvement.


I am sure that there is more to it than what I have touched on here and like Tom Whitby, I wonder why we still need to continue to talk about such topics as PLN’s. However, we are all at different points in our learning. So what about you, where are you at? Is there something that you would add to or elaborate? As always, comments are welcome. For it takes a village and that village includes you.

Getting Connected for Dummies (1)
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#makeschoolsdifferent


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I have seen Scott McLeod’s #makeschoolsdifferent meme gradually spread over the last few months. It has been interesting reading the different ideas that people suggest. Even though I had been challenged, I didn’t feel the need to respond. When Steve Brophy tagged me in his contribution, my interest was piqued. However, it was the crude response from Greg Ashman and Tom Bennett on Twitter which really got me thinking. I don’t mind being wrong or having debate about education, but I cannot stand when people kill a discussion before it has even started.

So, stirred into action, here is my contribution:

  • Homework is the answer to getting stuff done. Everyone has some piece of writing that influences them and leaves a mark. For me it was a piece written by Michael Carr-Gregg on educating boys. In it he makes a few points, but the point that stuck was that we should give less homework. Too often homework is decided by hours, rather than purpose. In addition to this, some feel that if they are not giving homework then they are not doing their job. There is little evidence that homework is at all helpful, especially in primary school. I think that if we are to have homework, it should be creative and passion based, rather than menial repetitive tasks.
  • Arbituary word counts and set structures help students become better writing. I have yet to meet anyone who writes blogs using TEEL. When I write, I focus on why, rather than how I am going about it. I will never forget the lesson that Dr. John Wiltshire taught me in University. Worried about whether I was including the write stuff in the essay, he explained that the word essay derives from French in which it means ‘your say’. This has stuck with me. In addition to this, I think that it is important to celebrate the process, just as much as the product. Literacy is something that we continually do, not something done and dusted.
  • Getting students to monotonously make their thinking visible turns them into better readers. How many adults do you know who use sticky notes or write endless notes in the books that they read? Those who come to mind are often either studying or reading with a particular purpose in mind. I am the first to encourage following up with narratives in the margin, but when this is forced, we risk turning the process into some sort of scientific surgery. Daniel Pennac touches on some of these issues in his book, The Rights of the Reader.
  • Standardised tests provide meaningful feedback. I am not sure you will find anyone who will argue with you that feedback needs to be targeted, specific and timely. How then can there be any good achieved by providing students with feedback six months after the fact. In addition to that, how useful is it? I am with Jason Borton here in saying that tests like NAPLAN provide trend data at best. While if we are to believe Robert Randall, as he stated in The Age, that NAPLAN should be treated being just like any other day, the question remains why one random day is then broadcast on a website as a barometre for how schools are going. A point made by Adam Lavers on Episode 30 of 2 Regular Teachers.
  • Presentation evenings and school newsletters constitute a dialogue. I left #GTASYD last year with the challenge: How might we engage parents in a cultural shift to make relationships and connections the focus of learning? From all my immersion work, I found that the story that came through was that parents were often told, but never actually engaged with. Instead of blaming parents for not turning up or getting involved, we need to make it irresistibly engaging for them to. A large part of this is encapsulated in what David Price calls ‘SOFT‘, that is a culture of sharing, openness, being free and trusting. If education is to truly change then parents need to be at the heart of.

When I think about each of these changes, they are based on my own experiences. I am not saying that this is the same for each school in every context. If you have something to add, a suggestion about how such changes could happen or a point of criticism and concern, then I would love to know. For one thing must never be forgotten, it takes a village.

I challenge Jon Andrews (@jca_1975), Eric Jensen (@jentzly), Riss Leung (@rissl), Ross Halliday (@FizzicalEd) and Bec Spink (@becspink)


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Breaking Out of the Bubble


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

This weeks topic for #youredustory is how will you grow the conversation so that we bring more people and perspectives along the journey?


It is so easy to get caught up on the argument about echo chambers and engaging with a wider audience. In an interview with the Ed Tech Crew, Dan Donahoo suggested following those you disagree with in order to maintain perspective, while Steve Brophy argues that we should act act as +1’s as we amplify the voices of others who may not be within the community. My concern is that focusing on WHAT associated with connections overlooks the most important question, why. For as Weinberger asserts, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” I think that it is not the echo chambers and silos of information which is at fault, rather it is the mindset of those connecting. The conversation therefore grows when we support others in coming to their own understanding of why however long that may take.


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Just Make – Documenting Play and Exploration in Robotics


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

I have been wondering for a while about all the hype around the Reggio Emila Approach, an early childhood program that focuses on relationships, documentation, project work, personal expression and active listening. Initially my attention was sparked by Dan Donahoo’s keynote for ICTEV13 Conference and the notion of the digital village. More recently, Cameron Paterson piqued my interest. Firstly, with a post about the links between Project Zero and Reggio Emilia through his discussion of the book Visable Learners. Then more recently in a post exploring the use of documentation in the Secondary classroom. I have been left thinking about what Reggio might offer my own teaching practises.

One of the things that stands out to me in regards to Reggio is the power of play and discovery. The idea of students driving their own projects and inquiry with the teacher providing a space and documenting the various experiences has a lot of potential. Although this could happen in any context, I saw a real opportunity through the teaching of robotics.

I felt particularly challenged by Steve Brophy in regards to letting go. In a post talking about developing a Makerspace, he explained that:

From a facilitator point of view, I purchased everything but opened nothing. I left the whole process to the kids and was constantly amazed by how much the kids would ask “are you sure we can do this?”

Although I had brought in inquiry in regards to wondering about robotics, I was still reluctant to let go of control of the building process. What I noticed in reflection was that for some students this was fine. They liked the structure that I provided. However, there were some that just wanted to explore and I was only inhibiting, rather than harnessing, this.

As I could find nothing in the AUSVels documents that specifically said students must be able to build and program a NXT Mindstorm robot, I decided instead to provide them with the requirement to ‘make’. What unravelled when I handed out the kits was amazing. Some started with instructions, others tested and tinkered. Some explored programming, others making. Some scrapped the instructions part way through, while others picked them up after some initial open explorations. Some walked around to check what other groups were doing, while others supported different groups with their questions and issues. Although I answered a few questions and found some missing parts, I just moved around and documented what the students were doing. All in all, most students demonstrated a depth of understanding and engagement at the end of the first session far beyond what I had ever seen before in a building session.

in a recent post about play, Tom Barrett suggested that:

It is not simply the timeless nature of immersive play but also the way that physical barriers, and even the rules of physics, become non-existent. They are changed, thwarted and ignored. Superpowers ON!

What was so exciting to observe in the lesson was seeing students enact the greatest superpower possible, the ability to not only learn together, but to in fact drive their own learning.


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The Best Thing Happening in My Network is the Network Itself

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by GustavoG: http://flickr.com/photos/gustavog/7367193

So it is Week 4 of the #youredustory challenge and the question this week is what is the best thing happening in your class/school/network. Again, for the second week running, I have been spurred on by the thoughts of Steve Brophy. In his post he suggested that the best is often based on context:

My one best thing changes depending on who I am working with, what I’m working on, the context and a long list of factors.

I would like to take this a step further and suggest that the best thing that is happening in my network is the network itself.

Borrowing from David Weinberger’s saying idea that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room’, I feel that the best thing happening is the network itself. Whether it be online associations, colleagues from nearby schools or those I connect with in person, I am continually inspired at the awesome things happening and the potential of others to go beyond the fixed ideas that we can unintentially confine them with. He did what, but … Or she is just a …

I think that ideas about ‘best and greatest’ are better understood as a way of seeing. More often than not there are great things happening all around us that we never seem to have the time to notice or the eyes to see.

Doug Belshaw wrote a post recently which really challenged my thinking. In it he spoke about our tendency to get bogged down in thinking about the way the world ought to be, instead of celebrating the way that it is. As much as we would like to think otherwise, change takes a lot of time. Patience is therefore needed by the bucket load and change to begin from within.


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Difference, Inspiration and New Eyes

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16140590198

I agree with Steve Brophy that this week’s question for #youredustory is loaded. How are you different to your favourite teacher? Two issues. Firstly, like with my students, I don’t have a favourite teacher. As I say to them, I love teaching all my students, even if it feels like I never quite find that spark in others, I will always strive to look for it. Secondly, asking how I am ‘different’ implies we are ever the same – a fixed mindset. In my view, we are all different, even to ourselves, and are all changing on a continual basis. I am not the same person as I was when I started teaching, let alone when I went to school. For example, I remember starting University with a love of history and the desire to share this with others, while I left with a desire to make the world a better place for tomorrow. Therefore, instead of focusing on differences, I think it is better to focus on those who have inspired me along the way. Although I could go through and make some attempt to name names and try and identify how exactly they have influenced and inspired, but I feel that this misses something. It would be a list that is never quite complete. Instead, it would be historical, a statement of time. See for example, my reflection on blogging. As Jack Welch stated, in his autobiography, “nearly everything I have done has been accomplished with other people”. Who those people of influence and inspiration are does not always matter, but always being open to the ideas of others does.


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