#GTASYD 2014 – Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds

Image via Suan Yeo taken on 24 Sep 2014
Over last few days I attended Google Teachers Academy in Sydney. There has been a change to proceedings this year with +No Tosh taking control, bringing a Design Thinking approach to the table. The focus has moved away from creating a group Google ninjas to supporting change and reform in education. 
 
At the heart of it all is the notion of moonshots. Heralding from John F. Kennedy’s declaration that ‘we will land on the moon‘, a moonshot is an idea both with its feet on the ground, but its heads in the clouds. That is both practical and ideal. One of those dreams that people say are too hard, which we however choose to be bothered by.
 

 
Inspired by +Daniel Donahoo‘s keynote at ICTEV13, the challenge I arrived with was how do we engage the school community in meaningful dialogue in order to transform our practises to build a better tomorrow. However, I was also mindful of holding onto my idea lightly. Our first activity was to workshop our ideas in our group. My group was made up of +Riss Leung, +Michelle Wong, +Juliet Revell, +Jordan Grant and +Kim Martin, while our mentor was +Chris Betcher. What came out of those discussions was that when it comes to change there are three key stakeholders in the village: students, staff and parents. 
Having already been through a process of trying to evolve teacher pedagogy via the introduction of the Ultranet, it was decided that this is not going to be a fertile space to focus on. On the other hand, it was thought that focusing on students is too often limited to a few random classes taught and becomes more like an oasis in the desert, rather than a massive wave of change. It was therefore decided that the stakeholder most left out of discussions and with the strongest voice of change are parents. This wasn’t what I had really expected. However, on reflection of all my immersions, it occurred to me that parents were often either absent or left out of the conversation. Merely told what the change will be, with little effort to explain why.
I was then faced with one of those Matrix moments where I had to make a decision. Would I position myself with cultural shift and pedagogical change, something that I am really passionate about and feel really comfortable with, or focus on engaging with change outside of the classroom, in particular parental and community engagement, something that I neither feel comfortable nor confident with. I made the decision to focus on community engagement for to me moonshots are not about being safe and comfortable, rather it is the opposite. As I suggest to my own students, find the learning that makes you feel most uncomfortable and go there.
Through this process, I ended up in small a group with +Kim Martin and +Ben Gallagher trying to unpack what exactly was the challenge associated with engaging with the wider community. We did this using hexagonal thinking. This involved writing down all of the concepts associated with the topic. We then took in turns at stringing all those ideas together, whilst at the same time opening ourselves up to critique and feedback. After a few goes we eventually came up with an agreed understanding which we recorded:

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/15373330315

 

After this we returned to our original groups and worked through the ‘How Might We’ task. This involves completing a prompt: how might we ACTION WHAT for WHOM in order to CHANGE SOMETHING. The purpose of this was to come up with a clearer guide for our moonshot. After several revisions, I came up with:

How Might We ENGAGE PARENTS in a CULTURAL SHIFT to make RELATIONSHIPS and CONNECTIONS the focus of learning?

The focus on connections and relationships came out of my immersions with just about everyone stating that the purpose of education was relational, yet the reality in our classrooms is so often far from that.
 
From there I brainstormed a range of ideas and possibilities to solve this problem. I finally decided that the focus needed to be on engaging parents by not only inviting them into classrooms, but actually engaging them in meaningful action and including them in the classroom. For too often parents are invited in to help with menial tasks, such as photocopying or laminating. However, we fail to entrust them with a meaningful voice. This lack of agency subsequently leaves them both disempowered and on the outer. In some respect the first person that we need to buy in when it comes to schooling are parents.
 
My moonshot then is about going beyond parent teacher interviews, beyond grandparent morning teas once a year, beyond attending information evenings once a year and beyond simply signing readers. It is not only about getting parents involved in the classroom, but about giving them the opportunity to add value to what is going on. I left feeling that a part of the solution was getting parents into the classroom, but after further thought I think that it needs to be something more. I think that the first step is actually finding out who our parents are and what skills that they may have to give back to the community. For teachers are far from the only voice able to give back to the community, a point that I made in reference to PLN’s and listening to everyone.
I have read and heard a lot of criticism of late about the Google Certified Teacher program. For me not only was it an opportunity to work with people that I had never met before, but the possibility to challenge my ways of thinking. In the end, being a Google Certified Teacher is not a certificate, it is not something done, rather it is something that you do. It is a mindset, it is a way of approaching problems, a belief that we can change the world with that change starting at one.
 
Photo via +Anthony Speranza
https://twitter.com/anthsperanza/status/514663305672024065/photo/1


I have created a short form to gather different perspectives, I would dearly love your thoughts to add to my perspective:


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What the Twitter Are You On About?

I have been asked by many teachers about how to go about getting connected and how to make the most out of Twitter. However, this overlooks one of the most important steps, actually joining a medium like Twitter in the first place. So I created this basic document as a guide:



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Whose Idea is it Anyway?



In today’s day and age it seems strange to be talking about the ownership of ideas. That’s not yours, that’s mine. Really, can one person hold an idea and what is actually achieved by that?
 
For example, if someone comes up with a similar idea, aren’t we benefited by having a conversation with that person or group about how we could make both ideas awesome, rather than deciding which idea is more valid?
 
Although some love the glitz and glory that comes with being the one behind the great idea, to give an idea life sometimes we need to relinquish some of that control, we need to hold it lightly, allow for different perspectives and provide others a meaningful voice in the discussion.
 
A lone nut who keeps an idea to themselves is oddly enough still a lone nut. For in the end, it takes a village and sometimes the most important thing we can do is let it go.

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A low down model, used by a little old lady just once a week to blog about …

 
I’m not exactly sure how it happened or whether it matters, but somehow I’ve found myself in the middle of another online course. I must admit that I’ve had a few failures of late in regards to participation, so it will be interesting to see how I go.
 
Organised by Alan Levine, Howard Rheingold and Jim Groom, Connected Courses is a course revolving around facilitating online learning. I am really interested in this being a part of the TL21C program currently being offered by DEECD, which not only supports teachers in grappling with some of the challenges associated with 21st century learning and teaching, but also what it means to be a connected educator. 
 
One of the challenges that I am really interested in exploring is how to syndicate all of the different posts and activities relating to the program. Although applications like Tagboard or Paper.li allow you to curate hashtags and feeds, they have their limitations, whether it be when they are published or what they show. What I am interested in is a feed which is constantly change, bringing in informatio from a range of spaces, including blogs, tweets, bookmarks and Google+ posts.
 
In addition to this, I am really interested in owning my own space. I have been considering purchasing my own domain for a while, but have come to the realisation that maybe I need to go all the way. Maybe, to borrow the analogy that has been bandied around quite a bit, I have borrowed my parent’s car for long enough and it’s time to buy my own and start maxing it out. 
 
I was always under the impression that creating a space would require a complicated knowledge of coding. However, what Jim Groom has helped with is the simplicity of using CPanel to install open source platforms like WordPress or Known. Although this means that I am more open to some risks and I may need to apply a bit more effort, so what, life was never meant to be easy and if it is then maybe it’s not really learning.
 

 
So it’s time, this little granny who posts once a week or so about this and that is stepping out. I am not exactly sure what is ahead of me and that is what makes it all so exciting.
 
@jimgroom @mrkrndvs it’s a low down model, used by a little old lady just once a week to blog about …
— Alan Levine (@cogdog) September 19, 2014

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Ask and You Shall Receive – A Reflection on Personalised Professional Development

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/15133211880
 
I was left challenged recently by a post from +Dean Shareski who questioned the focus of conferences on ideas and instead argued that we should be looking for connections. He made the statement that “if you leave with one or two people you can continue to learn with you’ve done well.” This has been my goal of late, to create a space where people can connect, rather than provide a list of links and ideas.
 
At Melbourne Google Summit, I felt I did this by creating an activity where participants collaboratively curated a guide of how to introduce Google Apps in order to make learning and teaching more doable. A point that +Bill Ferriter suggests when he states, “technology lowers barriers, making the kinds of higher order learning experiences that matter infinitely more doable.”

 

To me change isn’t just about bringing in Google Apps and enforcing it on everyone from above, it is just as much about the small ideas that help others buy-in to the benefits in going Google. I therefore thought that if we bring together the collective knowledge of the room that those there would not only have a great resource to take back to their schools, but a range of connections to continue learning with. For as +David Weinberger puts it, “The smartest person in the room is the room.”
 
What eventuated though as I roamed the room was that I ended up helping people with a myriad of other problems, from having two accounts linked to the one email account, how to use Google Groups to make sharing easier and downloading the new Google Slides app on iPad. This was awesome, for just as we need to be open as learners to new opportunities and connections, so to as teachers do we need to be open to adjusting the focus based on the situation at hand. However, would this have been the case if those in the room were not willing to raise their hand and admit that there is something that they don’t know? Admit that something isn’t necessarily working the way that it is meant to?
 
It occurred to me afterwards in reflection that just as it is important to leave a conference with one or two new connections, I feel that it also important to come away with a small win, a solution to a conundrum that has really been bugging you. Something personal, something important to you and your situation. This is especially the case at a technology conference where what is on offer is only the tip of the iceberg to the potential of what is possible. The big challenge then is asking, for it is only if you ask shall you receive.
 
For those interested, here are the slides to my presentation:
 

Introducing Google Apps One Win at a Time – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
 
While here is a link to the awesome presentation that those in attendance made: Introducing Google Apps – A Crowd Sourced Guide

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Celebrating Innovation, Both Big and Small

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Cea.: http://flickr.com/photos/centralasian/5433404872 
I was challenged today with the question: where will innovation be in five years time? With schools creating strategic plans, it was something being considered. What should be the goal, the aim and drive for the coming years. My thoughts jumped to ideas such as:
I could go on and in some respects I’d be repeating much of what I stated in my post on educational dreaming.
 
What was interesting though was that midst all this technological bliss, I was queried about the dependency on technology to drive innovation. +Sam Irwin asked:

@mrkrndvs does it have to involve technology to be innovative?
— Sam Irwin (@samjirwin) September 11, 2014

I must admit, I hadn’t thought of it like that. Of course it doesn’t, but how often do we start such conversations with the assumption that it does. To me, this was an interesting case of what +Clive Thompson describes as ‘thinking out loud’ in his book Smarter Than You Think. That is, the process where in sharing thoughts openly we gain access to a plethora of ideas inherent within the wider network of learners. As Thompson states, “Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” This public audience not only encourages clarity and perspective, but it more often than not leads to a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.
 
This all got me wondering about innovation and how we often associate it, not only with technology, but with wholesale change. If we stop and consider the definition of what it means to innovate, you soon realise that it is not about size. As the Oxford Dictionary describes, to innovate is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.” It seems fair to say that there are many habits and practises which are established by both individuals and small groups. Does this emphasis then on the big risk overlooking the small? How often are we missing the innovation and change that occurs each and every day everywhere?
 
 
For example, let’s think about teaching. There are many ways to improve practise in the classroom. Some possibilities include a focus on learning data, whether it be results or feedback, to identify specific areas for improvement and development in regards to pedagogy. Another possibility is a review of the structure of spaces and what sort of learning is being made possible. What is significant about such changes is that the onus is not just on the school or the team, but on the individual.
 
In addition to teachers, students too can demonstrate innovation and improvement in what they do themselves. This could be the choices that they make in regards to their work or it maybe taking ownership over certain aspects of learning, whether it be their own or as a part of a group. Although we may not be able to directly implement many such changes, basically because they are not our decisions to be made, it is possible to make them more possible and plausible by creating a learning environment that allows for them.
 
The easy answer is too often to push all these changes on staff and students under the banner of whole school change. However, this not only denies differences, but more often than not takes away any sense of agency from the individuals in question. Just as students come to us with a breadth of ability, so to do teachers. The one answer fits all approach often denies the fact that each and everyone of us is at a different stage of the journey and it is there that we must start. +Dan Donahoo best summed up this dilemma in his keynote at #ICTEV13 where he stated that ‘it takes a village’. This means that when we implement the idea, if it is still the same at the end as it was at start then we haven’t really listened. At the heart of all change and innovation is a dialogue with a wider sense of community and at the heart of dialogue is compromise.
 
In a recent session on instructional learning, Muffy Hand made a comment that really struck me, “teachers are the most important resource in every school.” Maybe then instead of always simply focusing on the big changes, we need to celebrate the smaller changes made by those at the coal face. Instead of waiting for the next piece of software or engaging initiative to be the cure to all our supposed problems, we need to reflect upon our own established practises with the questions: what am I doing and is best for the situation at hand. An interesting tool for stimulating such a discussion either individually or as a group is +Richard Olsen‘s Modern Learning Canvas. For although we maybe great, taking the next step towards excellence will be different for all of us.

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Learning to Learn by Learning – a Reflection on a Collaborative Project

In a post a few months ago I mused on the idea of providing time for teachers to tinker and explore. My feelings were that like the students we teach, we too all have areas of interests that we never quite get a chance to unpack. I was reminded of this again recently by +Edna Sackson who spoke about enlivening a professional development day by empowering the voices of the staff at her school and giving them a chance to present, rather than simply bringing in outside providers. Although I have experienced this to some degree in regards to ICT at my school, where we ran a session where various staff provided different sessions, I have never really heard of it been offered as a whole school initiative. I was therefore left wondering, why don’t more staff share and collaborate, whether online or off?
 
 
A point of collaboration that I have been involved in this year was the development of a conference presentation with +Steve Brophy. As teachers we often talk about collaboration, yet either avoid doing it or never quite commit ourselves to process. Some may work with a partner teacher or as a part of a team, but how many go beyond this, stepping out of the comfort zone, and the walls of their school, to truly collaborate in the creation of a whole project?
 
Having spoken about the power of tools like Google Apps for Education to support and strengthen collaboration and communication, I decided that what I really needed to do to take the next step was to stop preaching and actually get out there and actually model it. I really wanted to work with someone in not only presenting a range of tools that make collaboration more possible, but I wanted to use those tools to actually collaborate and create a presentation from scratch.
 
The first time I met Brophy was online. The +Ed Tech Crew 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? I put down my thoughts in a post, Steve commented and wrote a response of his own. It was these two perspectives, different in some ways, but the same in others, that brought us together.
 
Since then we have built up a connection online – on Twitter, in the margins of a document, within blog posts themselves, via a few emails – growing and evolving the conversation each step of the way. For example, Steve set me the 11 question blog challenge, which he had already taken the time to complete himself. We were lucky enough to meet face-to-face when we both presented at Teachmeet at the Pub in February.
 
What I think clicked in regards to working with Brophy was that although we teach in different sectors, coming from different 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‘. We therefore decided to put forward a proposal for the +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. However, we already were.
 
In regards to planning and collaborating, it was all pretty ad hoc. A few comments in an email, brainstorming using a Google Doc, catching up via a Google Hangout, building our presentation using OneNote (click for PDF). 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 our ideas together. So often I feel that we plan presentations with only our own thoughts in mind. Although we may have an idea of 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 dialogue 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. This focus on students having a voice of there 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.
 

Listening to Voices – FULL PRESENTATION – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
 
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 as 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 are often dispersed in an effort to capture the moment. This is exactly what happened and I feel that it worked well. 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 also allow 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 with someone was that by the time we presented we knew each others thoughts and ideas so well that it meant that if there was something that one of us overlooked then the other could simply jump in and ellaborate. This was best demonstrated in our shortened presentation for the Scootle Lounge, where instead of delivering a summary of what we had already done 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 instead bounced ideas off each other and those in the audience, for surely that is what voice and expression should actually be about?
 
After growing our presentation together, the challenge we set for others was to reach out and connect, whether it is online or face to face. Contribute, collaborate and be open to new perspectives and be prepared to be inspired and grow as a learner.
 
So, how have you collaborated? What did you learn? What is it that holds you back? Feel free to share below.

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Surely Presentations Are More than Just a PowerPoint?

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Chris Pirillo: http://flickr.com/photos/lockergnome/6258696195
In the last few weeks, many of my students have been grappling with the creation of digital products. Even though I more often than not leave the decision up to them as to what medium they choose to use, too often they arrive at the same conclusion – Microsoft PowerPoint. Now I am not saying that using PowerPoint is wrong, I just question the why it is always the first choice.
 
This wondering got me thinking about how we have arrived at such a situation. My feeling is that the students are often rushed in regards to choosing the medium for their presentsations and given little scope or encouragement to branch out. I love +Michelle Meracis‘ phrase ‘student voice, student choice’. Yet for too many, in sticking with PowerPoint, this supposed choice is reduced to ‘images and text‘ as +Corrie Barclay warns.
 
I think that this perceived lack of choice is sometimes brought about by teachers who themselves feel uncomfortable about offering different options and only model one way. I was really encouraged by a recent post from Barclay ‘1 iPad, 1 Task, 15 Ways‘. In it he outlined what he saw as some of the options available for a particular assignment his students were completing. The reality is that there are always alternatives, I guess the challenge is being aware of them.
 
Coming back to my point about PowerPoint, here then are three simple alternatives to the traditional presentation:
 

Haiku Deck

Initially built for the iPad, but now accessible in the browser, Haiku Deck allows you to create highly visual presentations by quickly access Creative Commons images. Sadly, the appropriate use of images is too often overlooked in and out of the classroom in my opinion as for many it involves too much effort. Anything then that simplifies this process is only a good thing.
 

Becoming a Connected Educator (TL21C) – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
 

Powtoon

An online platform, Powtoon allows you to create catchy animated videos with ease. With a wide range of images and icons, it often dragging items into the slide and then deciding how things will appear and for how long. In addition to this, there are a wide range of templates you can use as a starting point.
 

 

Adobe Voice

A free iPad app that Dale Pearce put me onto, Adobe Voice is both easy and effective. Like Haiku Deck, it provides access to a wide range of Creative Commons images and icons, as well as an array of themes. What makes it different though is that, like Microsoft Photo Story 3 for Windows, it provides a means for easily narrating various slides. The only issue I have is that the videos are housed within Adobe’s storage system, which can be a bit cumbersome.
 

 
 
For those who do wish to persist with PowerPoint, George Couros recently wrote a fantastic post outlining ten things to consider when creating a PowerPoint (and not animations). Another interesting resource I found was a presentation by Jesse Desjardins on Slideshare:
 
 
Although as I have suggested elsewhere that it takes more than an app to make a good presentation, the medium does at least have a part to play. So what presentation tool are you using or should I just give up the ghost and learn to love PowerPoint?

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Adding Ambiguity into the Learning Mix

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by CaptPiper: http://flickr.com/photos/piper/4249136849

One of my goals this year has been to move towards a more student-centred approach. Whether it be reducing the time spent on instruction or providing more meaningful tasks, I have sort to evolve my own practise. Often such conversations open up into talk about choice, authentic projects and placing students at the centre of discussions. However, a particular ingredient that I have added to my cocktail this year has been the focus on ambiguity.
 
Ambiguity can come in many shapes or forms. For me, it maybe leaving a project open for interpretation or providing a task where students are given a space to decide on various elements. In his book on digital literacy, Doug Belshaw wrote a fantastic explanation of ambiguity, influenced largely by William Empson’s book Seven Types of Ambiguity. For me, ambiguity has come in the form of narrative. My focus has been to move the focus away from what to focus on why. Although this feels like a long way from +Ewan McIntoshcall for students to find their own problems, it is at least a step towards a space where students can play and explore. I feel that at its origin all learning is ambiguous and messy. The biggest challenge is what we do with this.
This year has been a bit topsy turbo in regards to my allotments. I have had the opportunity to teach a wide range of subjects, including music, media studies, literacy intervention and business studies. Some of the challenges I have facilitated have included creating a yearbook and developing a performance based on space, not just content. However, the topic that I found most interesting was the use of 3D shapes with a group of Year 7 Numeracy Extension students.
 
I always find intervention and extension classes interesting. Unlike a traditional classroom where you maybe in charge of implementing the curriculum, I always feel a responsibility to not only provide support based on where students are at, as all teachers should, but also to sustain some sort of connection to what is occurring back in the classroom. Therefore, I always ask the usual teachers if there is anything that they would like me to cover? This term the students had been focusing on shape and measurement, I was therefore asked to explore surface area. 
One of the interesting things associated with extension classes is which pedagogical cocktail do you use. I made the decision to provide the students with a beginning, interested in where they would take it. I decided to use measurements associated with houses. So after brainstorming all the different forms of measurement associated with houses, I gave each student a net of a simple model house created using Foldify and asked them to choose a particular form of measurement to focus their investigation. I am going to be honest, I was a little nervous, but isn’t it amazing how with a little faith students can achieve amazing things.
 
Although I spoke to the students about surface area, I encouraged them to focus on any problem and said that I would support them with whatever they came up with. Some of the projects that students posed were:
  • how much paint would be needed to repaint the exterior
  • how much glass would be required to replace all the windows
  • how much wood would be required in making a staircase for a second story
  • how many tiles would be required to replace the roof
In addition to the problem, I told the students that they could use any measurements that they liked. If they wanted their house to be twenty meters wide then they needed to consider the height and whether it was still logical based on the model at hand.
What was great about all of the different problems was that each of these tasks was just as unfamiliar to me as it was to them. Unlike the situation that often arises in class where the learning at hand is relatively familiar to the teacher providing support and instruction, in handing over some sort of ownership and providing an element of ambiguity, the role of sage is truly compromised. What takes pride of place in such situations is learning.
Although +Ewan McIntosh makes the point the challenge of finding a problem is often the first decision taken away from students. I feel that providing the situation for them to develop their own problems is at least a step towards this. To me this is also a step towards what +Peter Skillen‘s calls Tinkering-Based Learning, where the focus is on exploration that leads to questions, rather than vice versa. 

So what has been an ingredient that you have added to your pedagogical cocktail this year and how has it turned out?

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