Framing Your Environment

A while back someone asked this question on Twitter:

How do you frame your environment with resources to help students learn? Is it an enabling environment? What does it enable students to do?

Other times, I have seen people asking:

How do we arrange our classrooms or what kind of physical spaces do learners of today need?

In thinking about the optimal environment for learning, I am not sure we need to be thinking physical spaces. In fact, Will Richardson states, in the blog, A New Era Of Learning.

In networked, global classrooms, we learn in ways that physical-space classrooms can’t offer. We’re self-directed, inquiry- and passion-based learners who are finding our own teachers and classmates, writing our own curriculum, and learning anytime, anywhere, with anyone. It’s a learning environment that looks little like what happens in physical space classrooms

I’m thinking we need to be talking and working with the emotional environment–about the trust and support we seek out and provide ourselves for our own learning opportunities, and how we do that.

Look at these two examples from adults about the power of the people with whom they interact and what they count on in those interactions:

The Follis Files–space for a newish teacher to collect and reflect and, Tania Sheko’s Brave New World.

Will has recently been writing and sharing about Allan Collins’ and Richard Halverson’s new book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology. He describes how they note that access to technology has the potential to change education as we know it.

They frame a compelling case that we are entering a third era of learning, one of lifelong learning that is replacing universal schooling, which replaced apprenticeship. And they argue that the “seeds of a new education system” are already taking root, one that builds on the potential of technology that will ultimately leave schools with a “narrower role” in learning.

Will goes on to cite Collins and Halverson as suggesting that

despite the growth of access to technology in classrooms over the last 10 years, schools rarely allow technology’s transformative potential out of the box. In general, schools either condemn the technology, focusing on risks rather than rewards, or they co-opt it, using it in ways that leave fundamental curriculum and pedagogy unchanged, or, finally, they marginalize it, allowing teachers to create “boutique” programs but never changing “the very fabric of education.”

I agree. I think we have so underutilized the potential of the technology in our classrooms–sometimes because we simply can’t think out of the box, sometimes because we don’t know what will happen and perhaps are afraid (or unwilling) to lose that control, sometimes because the network or computer isn’t set up to be user friendly, and part of it may be that people don’t have a picture in their minds as to how it could work or could look. Not only have we not used technology to transform education,I think many of us haven’t opened up our schools, our classrooms and our own minds to transformational learning in any kind of structured way, so that we can begin painting those pictures for ourselves and others. We have absolutely got to start having the open conversations mentioned here, and open our minds to transformational learning for ourselves, sharing how we go about that–then think how we can support our students in building those experiences.

Perhaps all teachers should experience unfettered learning…perhaps all teachers should decide upon something to learn and design their own assessment and develop their own path instead of following the “one size fits all” PD lemmings.  How well would this go over with your teachers, principals, and school boards?  If we don’t have confidence our adults can do this AND our adults don’t have experience doing it, how can we possibly move in that direction with students? Teachers have been conditioned to rely on someone else (principal or district) to provide PD when, in reality, we should and could provide our own.  Maybe it’s less about a “digital divide” and more about a “learning divide.”

Will speaks to that equity issue in his blog post as well, citing,

older students will be more and more able to carve out their own educational experiences, whether these are online classes, games, technical certification programs, or something else. Halverson and Collins warn that this raises huge concerns around equity and social behavior.

How are you framing YOUR learning environment? How do you do it for your students?  is it equitable?  is it equitable in a transformative way?


Sparks of Learning

Recently I have read a series of other people’s posts and websites that have helped me realize  that we, as teachers, often sit down, roll over and play dead when we should be questioning, expressing our opinions, trying new ways in our classrooms and sharing with our peers. WE are the experts in our jobs and we should be educating parents, students and our administrators NOT to expect the same thing we have always seen or done in schools.

I have NEVER had a parent say  to me, “I don’t want my child learning the topics s/he is interested  in and learning to read and write in real contexts.”

I have NEVER had a parent say  to me, “I don’t believe you can see what my child knows and doesn’t know about reading and writing by looking at their writing (blog, wiki, etc.)  as they read and write in real ways.”

I have NEVER had a principal say to me, “Your students are so animated and alive with excitement about learning every time I come into your room. PLEASE STOP MAKING THEM  FEEL THAT WAY!”

You see, I began as a primary teacher.  I became a primary teacher because a saleslady discriminated against me as a child, and when it happened, I decided right then and there I would grow up and work with children and NEVER treat them the way that  saleslady treated me. I am not the only one who has had a childhood experience shape their views about education.

As  a primary teacher, one constantly has to be teaching social skills and showing students HOW to learn. In the primary grades, it is all about processes–learning to read using many strategies, looking for patterns and relationships in math and numbers in our world, doing science as scientists do,  studying history through stories and books, and writing about what we were studying.

I am NOT a cog.

I NEVER believed in being a widget myself.  I have never believed in producing my students as widgets. I refuse to believe that teachers are SUPPOSED to be widgets or create them.  (Read The Widget Effect for more info.)

I recently had a friend share that her son had told her he believed “teachers were people who were unable to get jobs as dictators.”

I am not a dictator, either.

I believe, instead, we DO need to be cheerleaders at times and that we need to also be important to our students–which means we need to cultivate a caring, respectful relationship.

I believe we know what is best for our students and that we buckle under to pressure NOT to do that, in the name of standardized tests, raising state test scores, time  issues, access problems,  and a myriad of other things that interfere with us following OUR passions.

I’m not going to roll over and play dead anymore. I am not going to sit by quietly while my Board of Supervisors and school board make budget cuts that will kill some of the best parts of our world class school system.  I am not going to watch programs be decimated by the economy without a fight.

I am going to become a gladiator for my kids, for my colleagues and for myself.

I am going make sure EVERYTHING  I do looks, feels and sounds like who I am as an educator–an advocate for the children.  I am going to do so with all of my heart and in ways that impact upon others’ hearts, so that they too will feel the call of leading the learning in ways that matter in our division and in our world.

I am going to share my kids’ passions with our school board–with our money guardians–and with my students’ parents.  I am also going to share their words  and their ideas as they share them with the world as to what they want THEIR school to look like and be.

Will you join me and follow your heart in your classroom, your school, your interactions with students?  Will you plan a lesson or series of interactions for tomorrow that will light a fire in some reluctant student and help them want to come back?  Then, will you share that lesson, that idea, that spark with a colleague to ignite them as well?

Let’s BE the experts and begin to lead from the heart, from the classroom, from the base as we build a quality way of doing business that does NOT kill curiosity, wonder and willingness to problem solve and figure things out. Let’s build that love of  learning we all dreamed about when we first began OUR trek into the world of school.  Let’s make sure the people who make the decisions that impact our very essence understand the effect their decisions have upon our future. . and our students’ future.

Monitoring Wikis

I have had elementary students on wikispaces wikis for 3 years now. Over those 3 years, I have learned much about how to work the system to most thoroughly  monitor everything the kids do–creating or making changes on pages, wiki-mailing one another and participating in discussions on other students’ pages. Recently several people in my county have asked for help, and so I tweeted out an older page I had created with some tips and tricks. There you can find a sample parent note and a permission form.  Then, several folks in my PLN had comments or questions, so I thought I’d share what I do here.

First, for those of you new to wikis, (or unfamiliar with creating web pages or sites), let me give a fairly easy analogy.  Each wiki is sort of like a folder–it is a central place where the owner or organizer can add different sections, much as a folder can hold only a few or many papers.  The wiki is the container, and the pages created on that wiki are all inside of that container.  (It’s like a folder that has papers inside.)  What I typically do for my classes is create a group wiki, and give each kid their own separate wiki, and then connect those by listing each student on the main wiki. I then link that student name to that specific child’s wiki. So I nest the names of other folders within the main folder–or wikis connected to the main wiki. (See William’s wiki–he has clearly named the lists he has connected to in his navigation pane.) For example, under his cluster map is a list of the pages he has created, under that is a list of links (webpages) he likes, and then a list of school wikis and then other student wikis.

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As you set up a wikispace for your class, think through how much you want to monitor, how you’ll use the space, and how you want your students to interact. The way you organize the space will DEFINITELY impact how the students support and talk to each other.

I typically set up the students with accounts on wikispaces, as it is extremely easy.  Simply create a list of student names and accompanying passwords in a spreadsheet and upload it as you  use the “usercreator” in the “manage wiki” area. I typically name the student logins with their first name and our school initials–paulacres would be mine, for example. Then I create the passwords all the same to begin with so that logging in for the first time is easy.

As I create the student accounts, I attach MY email to each one. I use a trick that works with a gmail account so that every single wikimail the kids send comes to MY email account. The trick is this:  each student email is mygmailname+studentname@gmail.com.  So, if I had a child named Drew, and my gmail account is whiteclass@gmail.com) the email I attach to the drewcres account is whiteclass+drewcres@gmail.com.  (Google mail does not recognize whatever comes after the +symbol, but it still sends that mail to MY account.) Then, I set up my gmail account to be forwarded to my school account and also set up a rule to send all wikispaces messages to a folder on my computer so it does NOT stay in my school account OR my gmail account and they are all located in one folder that I can read with or without internet access. As they come in, it shows who is sending the wikimail AND who the wikimail is addressed to, so I have a clear record of who sends and receives the mail.

I spend some up front time creating each student wiki and setting up the main page for accessing each one (such as the Crozet 5th math page).  Since I create it, I then have the ability to accept or deny other members of this wiki. I begin by inviting the named student to the wiki and making him or her an organizer so they can do the same, and they have the ability to change the appearance of their wiki.

At the top of the wiki is a tab called notify me.  As the teacher, I want to be notified of ALL changes on the entire wiki, so I make sure I set it so that I get notified of ALL changes in both the discussion tab and on the pages, wiki-wide. Make sure you don’t select JUST the changes on the home page as you create each student wiki.

When I introduce wikis to the students and have them login the first time, I give them certain rules AND also have them change certain settings on their wiki.

First, we all go to the account settings together, and

1. they select the correct time zone,

2. change the setting about wikimail to “ONLY allow private messages from other members of wikis I belong to

3. change email private messages to YES

4. change email monitored changes to YES.

With those settings, as the teacher, I get notified of every change made and every email written and sent.

Secondly, I tell them the following things:

1. This wiki is set up under the umbrella of you as a student at Crozet Elementary School so any rule in place here at school is in place with the wiki–appropriate behavior, language and courtesy.  Using t he wiki or wikimail, you are a representative of Crozet School and you have to make sure anything you do will be okay with your parents, your teacher and the principal.

2. EVERY single email you send or receive comes into my email box, so know I have a record of every single thing you read and write.  Make sure you are being an appropraite representative of Crozet Elementary school.

3. I show them the history tab (on the wiki I created to house the links to their wiki) so they clearly see every change I made and the time stamp.  I tell them this is a feature in every wiki page, so they can never do anything without a record being kept. I explain it as a safety feature for them–so if someone claims they messed up their page, the history can show they did not.

4. I tell them they can never delete an email they send or receive.  They are to archive EVERYTHING. Again, this is for THEIR safety, so that if they are accused of sending a nasty email, I can show the accuser they did not. (I remind them here I will also have copies in my mailbox.)

5. I also say that if I EVER find they have deleted an email, they will be off wikispaces immediately, (since I can no longer tell parents they have followed the rules without exception.)

With the freedom I give them to create their own pages, they WANT to be on wikispaces, so I have had very few problems with any child NOT following my rules. I HAVE had two children (including my own grandson) call me at home almost in tears letting me know they accidentally deleted a wikimail and apologizing profusely and begging NOT to be kicked out of their wiki.

Now the cautions.

I put no students on wikispaces without a signed parent permission.

I go over the rules numerous times, and have kids repeat them back to me. They also know they are to follow our school and county AUP rules as they work on their wikis.

As they realize they can wikimail YOU, they will.  Be prepared to respond to (perhaps) frequent wikimails from kids, especially at the elementary level.  For me, that’s good–in our recent bout of 9 snow days in a 10 day period, I was in touch, at least several times, with 3/4 of the students currently in class with me.

Earlier, I said:

As you set up a wikispace for your class, think through how much you want to monitor, how you’ll use the space, and how you want your students to interact. The way you organize the space will DEFINITELY impact how the students support and talk to each other.”

The “how much you want to monitor” is crucial. I have over 50 kids with their own wikis. Many of those  kids create prolifically–so I spend some time EACH evening going through my email folder, checking out what they have done. By giving kids their own wikis, the amount of interaction may be reduced, in some ways. My goal, 1st semester, is to get them to be facile with creating pages.  2nd semester I push the collaboration and working together.

Please feel free to leave a message here if you want more support 1:1 or have more questions.

Big Paradigm Shifts

Several weeks ago, Matt Guthrie and I decided to pre-load #Edchat with entries on our blogs. Last week Chad Sansing and I did the same. They each call it the pregame show, so I’m going to begin to use that language as well. 🙂 In the conversation on my blog about grading, though, Matt Townsley stated that, “Allowing new evidence of learning to replace the old is a big paradigm shift.” Since then, I have been thinking about the big paradigm shifts we need to undergo to really change our schools.

I  lived Educon last weekend, participating in some amazing conversations.  I encourage you all to go to the Educon site and live through the conversations vicariously, and join in any way you can. I’ve also been exploring some Edutopia links (thanks to a tweet I read sometime this past week) and am also involved in an online eTeacher course through my county while I’ve basically been at home snowbound!

So I’ve had lots of time to think, reflect and the question I’ve been thinking about since Matt’s comment is

What are the big paradigm shifts that need to happen for education to be most meaningful for students?

In the past week or so, lots of people way smarter than me have put proposals out there based on Educon conversations or Twitter interactions or life experiences. Some of the suggestions I have seen include

  1. Teaching kids HOW to think, rather than “to think critically.” (Thanks to Kevin Washburn.)
  2. Students graduating with a resume rather than a transcript (Thanks to Ken Bernstein)
  3. The link between inquiry and care-Chris Lehmann’s reflection from Educon
  4. Teachers encouraging their students to evaluate them ( (Teacher Gets A Report Card from Deven Black)
  5. from a new hashtag #rbrc (rubric without the vowels)
  • Students designing assessments for learning
  • Students designing their own learning plans
  • Students creating rubrics
  • Students pursuing their passions and being taught how to do so (research, etc.)
  • Community supported inquiry–learning from each other

A visual from Kathy Sierra that I found from reading Pair-aDimes for Your Thoughts from David Truss

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Then, in my Edutopia reading, I saw this:

“Today’s students will enter a job market that values skills and abilities far different from the traditional workplace talents that so ably served their parents and grandparents. They must be able to crisply collect, synthesize, and analyze information, then conduct targeted research and work with others to employ that newfound knowledge. In essence, students must learn how to learn, while responding to endlessly changing technologies and social, economic, and global conditions.”

Okay, I don’t think the people I interact with on Twitter and #Edchat would argue too much with that statement. I think all the parts and pieces listed above it could fairly easily be included in learning experiences that allowed students to do the things listed in that quote. I also think about my student who clearly showed MY emphasis when she made a “Cool Math Words” page on her wiki–look at the first word.

So, I proposed the following question to #EdChat :

What should be the essential learnings that students get from attending school?

(and maybe “attending school” should be “our lessons” so it would read

“What should be the essential learnings our students get from our lessons?”)

I’d like to see what others think and what you’d add to that quote.

And, beyond that, what would lessons look like if we designed them so that they clearly showed what we value in education?

Wondering, Questioning and Learning

red sky at morningred sky at morning

Red Sky at Morning, Sailors Take Warning. . . Red Sky at Night, Sailors’ Delight

Why is that, I wondered?


and then,


How much of
learning is wondering?

As I began the Thinking About Words Through Images 365 project this month, I was watching my kids and taking pictures of things we did in school. However, as the month went on, the weather in VA is SO unusual this year, I found myself thinking about what I was learning about it instead. I don’t have one picture to show my ‘vision’ of learning this month, but instead, felt like I wanted to describe the things I had learned and wondered about based on our weather. So I decided to document that instead.

We have about 5 acres, part of which does not “perk.” That part also has an artisan well on it. In the summertime, it is sometimes impossible to mow part of the bottom field because it is so wet. We’ve gotten cars and boats stuck going down to the big shed!

Our land also slopes down from the mountain (Afton Mountain, part of the Blue Ridge), so when it rains heavily, we always have water coming through our yard and also racing down the ditch beside our road. During the month of January, I was amazed to see the wet weather streams freezing over, and also surprised I could see them so well defined in the snow. I don’t remember seeing them ever before so clearly in the winter.

In December, we got over 2 feet of snow, and then it stayed VERY cold (for VA in the winter) for over a month–so literally, a month later, we still had snow cover from that Dec. snow. Watching snow stick around and melt over time caused me to questions some aspects of snow and water that I’d never had opportunity to wonder about before.

So here goes,

my wondering. . .

I heard on the radio that westward facing slopes were going to get upslope snow showers. I wondered why only westward facing slopes get them.

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As I rode to school this month, I also noticed that westward facing slopes were not melting as fast as eastward facing slopes.

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Here’s a perfect example of the unevenness of the melting. It’s NOT a case of where the sun shines.

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Why would morning sun not melt the snow like afternoon sun?

Why would upslope showers happen to the westward facing slopes?

(corollary–How could I get kids to ask these same kinds of questions?
Would sharing my series of pictures help them wonder about the natural world
and ask those questions in school?)

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Then I noticed that our wet weather streams were staying MUCH wetter than normal, and that it was so cold parts of them were freezing over.

icydrivewayPractically the whole month water ran across our driveway.

Was it the melting snow out of the mountains?

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It got so cold the whole stream would freeze over at night and then thaw during the day.


How could running water freeze?


IMG_8043.JPGEvery morning I see this view out of my living room bay window, but only some mornings are red. That made me think of the old saying quoted at the top of this page.

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning;

Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.

What’s the science behind it?

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The red goes away SO very fast.

And then, on the way to school only red wisps of clouds are left.

But it’s not just clouds–several days later I noticed the mountain.

These are NOT fall colors, but instead the sunrise on the mountain. I saw this about a week after documenting the red sky on the way to work.

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Why does ONLY the side of the mountain  look red? Why not other stuff  the sun is lighting?

This is the same mountain from the end of my driveway, and I began to wonder about reflections and refractions–

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Why does it look like the sun is catching the trees on fire?

And why do the colors change?

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Just riding to school, it looked like the mountain was going through the fall leaf color change-on fast forward.

About halfway through the month, I realized I was often looking at the weather  on the mountains nearby and I began wondering about student learning about weather–just what they really understood about fronts, winds, heat rising and falling, what things like fog, sleet, and hail really were, and I wondererd if my curiosity and picture taking could impact them. I haven’t tried it yet–We’ve missed too much school due to the weather!

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This picture was taken about 4 PM on my way home. With my initial glance, I thought it was snow on the mountain,

but then I realized it wasn’t snow.

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Zooming in, I realized it was fog in the dips and valleys on the side of the mountain. I hadn’t noticed this ever before, and I’ve been driving this road for 30 years.

Why does the fog settle?

Why in this way, today?


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THIS is snow on the mountaintops–near Wintergreen Ski Resort, VA, over a month after the snow fell in December.

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So, in the following pictures, three days after our day off  for localized flooding,

is all of this water just runoff,

or are they each separate wet weather streams?

IMG_8146…. IMG_8143 IMG_8144

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The big wet weather stream is still showing as it was beginning to snow February 5, 2010.
How long will it remain visible before the snow covers it?

…..….

…..….

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So, the upshot of this page is that in looking at the world around me this month and thinking about learning, and taking pictures during the weird weather we’ve had, I am now thinking about what part wondering plays in learning.  I wonder how we encourage questioning in school. How or when do we give kids time to pursue what they are interested in learning? If we put provocative pictures around our rooms, around our schools, around anywhere the kids will be, will they look at them and wonder, or will they be like me as a kid and NOT notice details?

What will it take for us to help kids be observant and wonder?

Would an exercise like this work, where they have to take pictures of a concept for a while?


Reformational Evolution

As Educators what do we do to further educational reform?

That’s one of the #edchat questions for this week, and today I got this tweet from @GardnerCampbell: Re-reading Papert’s “Why School Reform Is Impossible.” So, so deeply resonant for me. http://www.papert.org/articles/school_reform.html

So, here’s my preload for tomorrow’s #edchat:

First, I think we need to examine what we mean by educational reform.

Many of us talk about needing to switch the emphasis in our schools from “teaching” to “learning”.  It’s not about what we teach, it’s about what the students learn—we can no longer say, as in the cartoon, “I taught it, he just didn’t learn it.” We can no longer absolve ourselves of responsibility—thus the data-driven instruction movement, the need for PLCs, the growth in RTI movements.

Many educators are talking about student ownership of learning. . . Students do so much of it OUTSIDE of school on their connected tools—they stay connected whenever they are NOT in school and are constantly engaged—perhaps playing games, perhaps interacting with friends, perhaps building websites or blogging or constructing and creating new materials, apps or even devices. How do we move that engagement, that initiative, that drive into our schools?

Many of us talk about needing to restructure our learning spaces—that it no longer meets the needs of today’s learners.  We need collaborative spaces—but we also need the caves, the watering holes, the fireside gathering places for the many different kinds of learning that needs to occur at various times.  We need openness and light, we need materials to tinker with and fiddle with and play with to energize our brains and allow the creativity to flow.

Brain research shows that “sittin’ and gittin” doesn’t do it for best learning. We also know that we are not supporting our students to learn profoundly, understand deeply and think critically and creatively with many of our current structures in place. Both teachers and students feel stifled in the current culture of schools.

Having recently read Papert’s  “Why School Reform Is Impossible,” I must say I agree with him that reform is NOT the same as change, and I believe we need more than reform. In the world of today, we need a different idea of what school, teaching and learning is and should be.

Today’s students bring to us a very different type of sophistication about learning and researching and sifting and sorting information than did the students of the 1800s and even the 1900s. Am  I saying they come to us proficient?  Of course not, but they do come with strategies and experience–and we need to honor that while shaping it to be more efficacious. The knowledge students often bring TO the table is much greater, having been indoctrinated into the world of science and history through TV offerings like the Animal Planet, the History Channel, Discovery Education, National Geographic, interactive web sites and the ability many have to travel so much more easily.

However, while many educators recognize the need to do something differently, we often bemoan the systems that keep us from doing so. The culture of schooling as it has developed from the early 1900s to today is a culture not easily changed. Papert describes the system of schooling as one that has “developed harmonious and mutually supportive — mutually matched forms. There is a match of curriculum content, of epistemological framework, of organizational structure, and …of knowledge technology.” When we try to change one of those, the other “matches” in place pull us back into line and that makes the whole structure much more resistant to change.

However. ..

We know that powerful changes in nature often come about, not though deliberate design, but by evolution. So instead of thinking about how to change schools, about how to reform them, suppose we look at how we can help speed up the evolution of them—the metamorphosis of them into the learning places we want them to become?

So, let’s look at what Papert says:

“the shift from a stance of reform to a stance of evolution does not exclude active intervention, but the role of the change agent becomes less like the architect or builder and more like the plant- or animal breeder whose interventions take the form of influencing processes that have their own dynamic.”

Computers—whether they be in the form of cell phones or iPods or laptops- are becoming more ubiquitous and students come to us knowing a LOT about the world around them and a LOT about how they can learn more. Teachers can leverage that ability to help students become even more sophisticated learners at even earlier ages than ever before.

“As ideas multiply and as the ubiquitous computer presence solidifies, the prospect of deep change becomes more real. Their day-to-day work with computers will be the seeds from which it will grow.” (Papert)

One of my Twitter friends today DM’d me: I’d like to see Tweets be about HOW to effectively use tech not IF we are using or SHOULD be using tech.

We need to start sharing lessons where the technology is transparent  and the learning deep. Papert speaks to students being able to use computer simulations at an early age—even elementary- to understand concepts such as a parabola.

Suppose “imagining an alternative mathematical education in which the typical activity begins with and consists of creating, modifying, or controlling dynamic computational objects. In this context the parabola may be first encountered by a child creating a videogame as the trajectory of an animal’s leap or a missile’s flight; here, the natural first formalism for the parabola is an expression in a child-appropriate computational language of something like “the path followed when horizontal speed and vertical acceleration are both constant.” “For children who have acquired true computational fluency by growing up with the dynamic medium as a primary representation for mathematical thinking, I argue that it would plausibly be more concrete, more intuitive, and far more motivating than quadratic equations.”

Suppose we provided elementary students “an entry into rigorous mathematics and science” through the activities and experiences we provided?

Suppose we began sharing how we do that in our isolated classrooms, our outlying schools and we make a repository of those reformational lessons somewhere?

Suppose we continue deep conversations we begin over Twitter, at conferences like EduCon 2.2 and we REALLY began thinking about how to offer, as Papert suggests, “an example showing a different content, different style of learning, different epistemology, and a different medium all matched to one another and to a form of school structured without curriculum or age segregation.”

Suppose we allow that to evolve as we provide rich experiences for our students, invite their expertise in, and allow them to use those tools they use so well outside of school?

Suppose we create the conditions to simply let the rich diversity of our students’ knowledge and abilities play itself out inside of those brick and mortar buildings we call school?

If we paint those pictures and build those structures, will school evolve more quickly into powerful cultures of thinking, inquiry and capacity building for profound –and playful–learning?

Teaching as Learning

I joke with my kids (honestly) about not knowing everything. but sometimes I think they believe I really do.  They see me as smart, and they like learning with me. I am a human being to them because I frequently say. “I don’t know, figure it out.” or “I don’t know, let’s see if we can find out.”

I believe kids want to relate to their teachers as a human being–there’s certainly enough research out there to show that the relationships between teachers and students are key to successful learning. There are so darn many ways we distance ourselves from that, though, as we work in the classroom. First, when we say to a child, who may have been misbehaving, “And what is Ms White’s rule about that?” (when it’s Ms. White doing the talking), how corny is that?  WHO in real life refers to themselves in the third person?

Then there’s the “I like” people.  “I like how Johnny is showing me he’s ready.”  “I like it when Susie raises her hand.”  I like it when. . . blah, blah, blah. . . What do kids learn from those types of “reinforcing statements”?  That school is all about what the teacher likes and if you don’t do it, you’ll get in trouble.  Best to play along and do what Teacher likes.  (If you don’t believe that kind of thinking is pervasive, please go read ONE Junie B Jones book. Her teacher’s name is “Mrs.”) If I could outlaw ONE practice in school, it would be that one–because that simple statement makes it ALL about the teacher, and does NOTHING to help the child understand why the BEHAVIORS matter.  (And I believe half the time they really don’t.)

Suppose, instead of “I like,” the teacher said, “Johnny is showing he’s ready by having his book out and waiting quietly.”  or “Susie’s hand up shows me she has something to say.” or “Wow, when you all sit quietly, it’s so easy to hear the speaker .” or “When you sit quietly and listen when someone is speaking, your behavior shows you are a kind person ”  (or courteous, or care about what they have to say…) Suppose the feedback had everything to do with the kid and ALSO everything to do with how the behavior impacts the rest of the group, constantly reinforcing that one does NOT go to school by him/herself, that we are part of a group and that we need to co-exist in that group to be successful in school. Because, I also believe that no child (initially) comes to school, saying “Today I want to be unsuccessful here.” Part of our job is to ensure success–after mistakes, maybe, because they are part of the learning cycle, but we need to ensure success MORE than failure.

Teaching IS learning–about ourselves, about our students, and yes, about our content as it changes and grows through the diligent work of geographers, and mathematicians, and scientists, and educators, and everyone else all over the world.  And learning IS a hub. . of feelings, thoughts, ideas, caring, sharing, growing, thinking, reflecting, mistaking, trying again, designing, talking, working together, redesigning, hypothesizing, working alone, generalizing, creating, etc., etc., etc.

When a child brings a test to me and I glance over it to make sure they didn’t skip any questions, and I see that they worked a problem correctly in the work space, but circled the wrong answer on the multiple choice part, I am REMISS if I don’t ask them to recheck their answers. The test is not about me playing “GOTCHA” but instead helping them to develop habits that will reduce those kinds of careless mistakes. The test is a place for them to show what they know–and if it is standards -based, it’s not about playing around in the grade fog of catching them in mis-marking something they clearly showed they know.

When Pam Moran, my Superintendent, asked,  “How do we use tech to shift from district hierarchies to leadership nodes and hubs connecting people in the learning web?” I paid no attention to the “how do we use tech to” piece–I read and began to think about the “shift from” part.

When I read @dennisar asking, “How do I co-create with my students?
” and answer his own question by saying, “I ask them to create personal meaning from class activities by using their own choice of digital tools for learning logs.” and saw Melissa Techman’s response:

@mtechman love your question re co-creating – I’m going to start with posting goal or topic and then stepping off-stage to join them in exploring/making/presenting

I realized I often do that with my kids–I often pose a problem that I KNOW is rich–but that I may not know the answer to initially.  What I do know is that I can figure it out, I can (probably) beat them timewise doing it, and I will both hear and figure out some great questions along the way as we struggle together with a challenge I have set forth. So I shift from, as Pam says, a hierarchy of me posing the problem to a learning hub where other leadership hubs emerge as people begin to work together to figure out the problem.

As I looked at the twitpoll for this week’s edchat,  I realized that, for me, # 1 and 3 were closed questions–a yes or no or simple list, unless we get to the HOW.  In #1, WHAT we teach is dictated. . . can we talk HOW we would emphasize what should be emphasized instead?  I want to figure out the HOW of school reform. . .

  1. With an overloaded curriculum, what should be emphasized and what should be eliminated?
  2. What are the advantages and drawbacks to single gender classrooms?
  3. Should the current system of grading be outlawed an replaced with something more “21st Century?”
  4. How do schools and districts help retain quality educators?
  5. How do educators deal with the question of “Friending” students on social media sites and applications?

And I realized, I want to learn the HOW from other people.  I want to struggle with others to verbalize how schools should change to meet the changing needs of the world and our students.

And then I read  this post by @JerriDKrusse and this ending:

To summarize, I think the reason so many reform efforts have had problems is because they do not address the fundamental issues at hand in education. Most importantly is the role of and decisions made by the teacher. Instead of giving teachers shiny new stuff (whether that be superficial strategies, or technology), we must address teachers’ fundamental views on learning and how to build student knowledge so that it is deep and transferable. (something that can be done with or without the use of modern electronic technologies).  Until we try to modify fundamental teacher beliefs about teaching & learning, our reform efforts will be wasted.

And I realized he has it–a fundamental point–until we begin talking basic VALUES of teaching and learning with one another and get down to the nitty gritty of  why we speak to kids in the third person or say “I like” or “don’t smile til Christmas” or any of those other things we do that negate setting up a true learning hub or web, schools won’t change.  We need to discuss what IS a learning hub–do all teachers WANT them in their classrooms, what are the teaching and learning behaviors we value and where DOES grade fog play in all of it?  How do we assess our students for real learning, and where REALLY are the opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking, interdisciplinary thought and transfer of knowledge? When do students engage and how can we leverage those instances and those behaviors for more sustainable learning?

What Would You Like To Read? Part 2

Boy, when I asked what people would like to read about, I got lots of suggestions. So I began my book chapter.

I began my book chapter.

And I began my book chapter.

(Yeah, I was having a hard time focusing on one idea.)

So, I wrote 6 pages,, called it “Transformation,” and sent them to Darah.

(I did title my email subject line as “I know this is long, but. . . ” and give him permission to cut as needed.)

But I still felt bad I didn’t/couldn’t focus, and I also knew that everyone else’s had been 2-3 pages, so I felt like I was being Miss Piggy, taking up so much reading real estate.  So, continuing to ponder all the ideas my Twitterfolk had shared,  I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

And I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

And I slept on my guilt and lack of focus.

Until I came up with another idea and wrote 3 pages this time, called “The Creation Generation.”  It begins like this:

Many words have been written about Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and now Web 3.0, delineating the use in each era as consumers, producers and now collaborators. What our current students have gotten out of their use of technology, though, is that it is easy for them to create—a wiki, blog, a photo mosaic on Flickr, an online presence through sites such as Club Penguin and Webkinz for younger students and Twitter and Facebook for older ones. Heck, we even have students as young as 10 building applications for technologies such as the iPods. Students not only see the web as interactive, and their world as connected (through their phones, texting, chatting, Skypeing and even their DS and PS2 game devices), but they also see it as directed by them—they control how they use it to a great degree.

In this chapter-to-be, I cite  Ira Socol, David Cushman, and Larry Cuban, but I won’t steal any thunder from Darah’s book by posting that writing here. I will tell you, though, that both Ira and David have blogs worth reading, and the influence of me reading their thinking WILL show up in my blog thinking.

But, for those of you who made suggestions–many of which I attempted to incorporate into ONE writing–THAT, I will post here. . . but in bits and pieces, so you don’t have almost THREE THOUSAND words to read in one go.  AND, I offer my sincerest thanks for the ideas.

To begin, this paragraph is for @maryjanewaite who said, “I’d like to read how kids view schoolwork, teachers, technology and use that valuable kid info to change how I do my job” and sort of for @jasondeluca who “would want to read… where are we now? and… where should we be going with use of technology?” (More to come later, Jason!)

A 2001 contest for children to describe “The School We’d Like” clearly showed that “teachers and pupils all over the country (UK) realise that the system is outdated, that it does not allow decent expression of the values of creativity and independent thought that are needed in the new post-industrial world,” said John Clifford. Furthermore, “It proves yet again that young people are not a problem that needs to be corralled and curfewed, but an incredible rich resource of wisdom and creative thinking that we should learn to listen to.” See below for a children’s manifesto of what the schoolchildren of Britain would like to see in their school. The most poignant quote for me was a HS student’s: “Education should not close children’s eyes to the wonder of learning as it presently does, but should give children the opportunity to feed their mind and never get tired of life before theirs has even begun.”

We, the schoolchildren of Britain, have been given a voice. This is what we say:

The school we’d like is:

A beautiful school with glass dome roofs to let in the light, uncluttered classrooms and brightly coloured walls.

A comfortable school with sofas and beanbags, cushions on the floors, tables that don’t scrape our knees, blinds that keep out the sun, and quiet rooms where we can chill out.

A safe school with swipe cards for the school gate, anti-bully alarms, first aid classes, and someone to talk to about our problems.

A listening school with children on the governing body, class representatives and the chance to vote for the teachers.

A flexible school without rigid timetables or exams, without compulsory homework, without a one-size-fits-all curriculum, so we can follow our own interests and spend more time on what we enjoy.

A relevant school where we learn through experience, experiments and exploration, with trips to historic sites and teachers who have practical experience of what they teach.

A respectful school where we are not treated as empty vessels to be filled with information, where teachers treat us as individuals, where children and adults can talk freely to each other, and our opinion matters.

A school without walls so we can go outside to learn, with animals to look after and wild gardens to explore.

A school for everybody with boys and girls from all backgrounds and abilities, with no grading, so we don’t compete against each other, but just do our best.

At the school we’d like, we’d have:

Enough pencils and books for each child.

Laptops so we could continue our work outside and at home.

Drinking water in every classroom, and fountains of soft drinks in the playground.

School uniforms of trainers, baseball caps and fleece tracksuits for boys and girls.

Clean toilets that lock, with paper and soap, and flushes not chains.

Fast-food school dinners and no dinner ladies.

Large lockers to store our things.

A swimming pool.

This is what we’d like. It is not an impossible dream.

‘I know money doesn’t grow on trees and if every school had all these things it would cost thousands of thousands of pounds. But even if one of my ideas was just thought about being made a reality I’d be happy.’ Nicole Rennick, 11.

‘But most important of all was not the fact that the headmaster had ordered the equipment, but that he had listened.’ Holly Mackenzie, 11.

Remember this was written in 2001. I think today, students would STILL ask for a beautiful, comfortable, safe, respectful, flexible, relevant school for everybody, where everybody listened and everybody’s voice was heard.


Mimicry-Ya Got That?

As I’ve been working on thinking about “LEARNING”  for the project at Thinking About Words Through Images,  my camera has been my constant companion at school.  That’s not unusual, for me to pull out my camera and snap pictures of my students working, but the difference is that I have told them WHY I am taking pictures and some of what I am thinking.  I have shared the link to that wiki, and it’s been interesting–knowing that I am collaborating with educators from all over the world seems to have had an impact on my students. I notice them commenting on each others’ wikis more, offering strategies in class more explicitly and asking each other questions that imply accountability to the community (like, have you finished your  geometry wiki page, I’ll call you tonight to remind you to bring in your iPod, etc.)

But, I wonder– am I seeing these things more because I am looking for specific instances of learning to photograph?

I have learned a lot in the first week of January, trying to take pictures of “learning.” First, it’s HARD trying to capture a still picture of the active learning in which my kids engage. I find myself wanting to describe the pictures, to explain what’s going on, to share the amazing thinking I see in my kids. While the images can capture some of what is going on, I need words as well.  I find myself posting my lessons (both adult and student ones) to the web, describing what happened and what I was hoping to happen. It’ll be interesting to see what I think and how I’m looking at the world through the lens of my camera at the end of the month.

What else I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what age kids are, they still mimic their teacher.

In teaching kindergarten, one of the funniest things to watch was when kids were in “free choice” time and they chose to play school.  I would hear my words coming out of their mouths, just as in housekeeping, I would hear their parents’ words.  It was eye-opening in both situations, and I often changed the ways I worded things based on the feedback I received watching my kids mimic me. (In parent conferences, I often told parents I wouldn’t believe half of what their kid told me about them if they’d promise me the same–because we ALL know that age also has a very active imagination!)

Yesterday was a hoot–the mimicry happened with fifth graders. In my class, when students are explaining their thinking, I often play confused so they have to be more explicit in their explanation and they learn how to explain their thinking more logically, sequentially and in depth.  I check for understanding with the group listening frequently by stopping the explainer periodically and asking the group things like, “Do you understand what s/he is saying?”  or “Did you get that?”  or “Does everybody know what s/he means when s/he says. .. ?”   I guess my most used is, “Did you get that?” Kids in my class don’t hesitate to ask for more explanation because this is part of our day-to-day conversations, AND they see me model confusion and asking clarifying questions.

Ms. White, Tzstchr

In a lesson where these pictures were taken, I was playing my confused self.  I had been taking pictures, but sat down at a table to probe a student who was making an assumption she shouldn’t have been making. Setting my camera on the table, I began asking the child to show me her thinking. After several minutes of interaction, another student picked up my camera and began taking pictures of our interactions. I paid no attention to that and continued with my questions.  She put the camera down, and throughout the next 5-10 minutes, several students took turns picking it up and taking pics as others gathered around to hear the conversation and support the child being questioned if they could. watchingThe pictures they got were pretty good (I had to leave out two because they have students whose pictures may not be put on the web.)

However, the funniest part was Toria taking over the explanation for the child I had begun with and explaining to me the way she saw to work the problem.  (She describes class on her wiki page, MathIDidToday.)   She was showing me her way, and I made her do it three different ways, apparently not understanding each time. (I asked her to, NOT because she didn’t get it, but because she was so adroit at thinking flexibly, choosing various shapes and changing her approach and modeling descriptive language for the others watching.)  By the third time, she was getting a wee bit frustrated with my lack of “getting it”, so she finished and, (truly) standing up, with a hand flourish, asked,  “Ya got that?”

The class erupted in HOWLING laughter. . .that’s why they all left with the red faces Toria describes!

UPDATE: the kid who picked up the camera first just wiki-mailed me and asked if I had ever figured out whether S4 was half of S5 (which was the problem we were working on that’s described in this blog.). I wrote her back this message:

Hanna, I’ll share a secret that you cannot share.
Please read this: http://tzstchr.edublogs.org/mimicry

PW

Her response back to me was simply priceless:

wow that is so cool i have never known but i did notice that you ALLWAYS didn’t get what we were telling you

What Would You Like To Read?

Today I tweeted this out:

I need to write 2-pg paper about schools/technology… ideas? Audience could be anyone-probably mostly educators. What would you want to read? about 9 hours ago from TweetDeck

Here’s the backstory:

So, Let’s Start Writing…..

Collaborative book writing project set to begin.

http://mobilehomeonmainstreet.blogspot.com/2009/10/so-lets-start-writing.html

I volunteered to be one of these writers and am just getting to it.  (Darah graciously is still accepting submissions, so if you’d like to join in, feel free to email him at the email listed in his blog entry.)

And got these responses (newest first):

20.

mwacker @paulawhite 2 ideas, 1) how can tech reduce gender/SES gaps in education 2) protocol/checklst around designing differntiated lessons w/ tech

19.

tperran @paulawhite I would like to read stories from teachers who have effectively integrated a variety of technologies into their instruction

18.

hotei @Linda704: @paulawhite How about how you use Twitter, etc to expand your learning? Agreed!  about 6 hours ago

17.

psbenson @jackiegerstein: @paulawhite projected educational techonology trends for 2010.  about 6 hours ago

16.

johnsonmaryj @paulawhite Hints for keeping up with educational applications of technology? Or what educators on twitter are talking about?  about 8 hours ago

15.

pammoran @paulawhite I’m interested in how tech reduces distance bet learner & learning from 1:25 teach/stu to 1:1 w choice theory focus  about 8 hours ago

14.

teacherspirit @paulawhite What about a paper about digital citizenship?  about 8 hours ago

13.

mmiller7571 @paulawhite re: you paper… I think my teachers would like to hear a success story of integration from 0 to success, practical ideas  about 8 hours ago

12

dlaufenberg @paulawhite re: you paper… I often like the idea of embracing failure as a topic… http://delicious.com/dlaufenberg/embracingfailure

11.

jasondeluca @paulawhite would want to read… where are we now? and… where should we be going with use of technology?  about 8 hours ago

10.

jackiegerstein @paulawhite projected educational techonology trends for 2010.  about 8 hours ago

9.

flourishingkids @paulawhite would want to read about how to use tech in my classroom when limited by resources available or how to get grants for new tech  about 8 hours ago

8.

maryjanewaite @paulawhite I’d like to read how kids view schoolwork, teachers, technology and use that valuable kid info to change how I do my job  about 8 hours ago

7.

pimathman @paulawhite Maybe articulating difference between technology for technology’s sake vs usefulness in learning  about 8 hours ago

6.

irasocol @paulawhite choosing technologies which transform  about 9 hours ago

5.

cmt1 @paulawhite Schools/tech – mentioning all the 21st c literacies that should be pa of the learning landscape  about 9 hours ago

4.

gardenglen @paulawhite I’d like 2 read how & why tchrs have stdnts use technology (as pedagogy tool)  about 9 hours ago

3.

Vonluck @paulawhite Twitter and/or cell phone use in the classroom might be interesting for MS HS teachers, paper on PLCs/PLNs would also be great.  about 9 hours ago

2.

sraslim @paulawhite how about Cushing Academy and their 70 e-readers?  about 9 hours ago

1.

Linda704 @paulawhite How about how you use Twitter, etc to expand your learning?  about 9 hours ago

Obviously I am not an expert on most of these, but a lot of them DO ask for personal experience or opinions.  So, given these (or another topic of YOUR choice), what would YOU like to read?