2014 – a year of connection, disconnection, and loss

I believe that I learned more in 2014 than in any year of my life since Kindergarten. A close second would have to have been 2001, during which I lived in New York City, studied composition with the great Ludmila Ulehla, and experienced the terror of ‘9/11’, or 1996, when I graduated from high school and spent my first semester of college studying abroad in Nepal.

The past year was the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Horse, and I, being born in the Year of the Horse, sought to make it a year of work. I set my professional goal for the second half of the 2013-2014 school year to learn and practice as much as possible about Project Based Learning, self directed learning, and self determined learning in order to best facilitate my sixth grade class’ culminating Exhibition. To that end, I participated in the Deeper Learning MOOC and Macromedia University Design Thinking MOOC.


With that learning as inspiration, I have been inquiring into and blogging about PBL, project management, and design thinking in education using the label ‘LX Design‘.


Loss

Unfortunately, tragedy struck in September of 2014 when my father died. It happened unexpectedly just two weeks after my family and I returned home to Japan from a trip to my hometown in California to introduce our two year old son to his grandfather and other family and friends.


It was a devastating way to start a school year, and a bitter way to end what was otherwise a sweet summer.

Connections

Visiting California after being away for four years provided many lessons in perspective through reflecting on familiar sights and experiences from a new point of view. It was also a chance to practice using the Visual Supply Co photo editing and sharing tools. I began sharing my attempts at artistic photography there on my VSCO Grid as well as following the feeds professional and highly skilled photographers.

Of course, people have shared bazillions of vacation photographs via social media, but my goal was to find opportunities to create and share meaningful art through my experiences. Finding moments to express myself as a travel, food, landscape, and artistic photographer, however amateur, was fun and enriched my travels by allowing me to enjoy and reflect more deeply.



During the trip, I entertained on the idea of Connected Living as an application or generalization of Connected Learning. One of my desires as a teacher and learner is to obscure the artificial boundaries that exist between formal and informal learning, ‘school’ and ‘real life’. Such distinctions between digital connection and analog, ‘face to face’ connections should also be blurred.

Sometimes, I am discovering, not shooting a picture to share on Instagram is infinitely more profound than doing so.


Relocating the muse

This New Year marks the tenth year in a row that I have resolved to finish a piece of music. At the conclusion of 2013, it was my string quartet. I have the first several measures of dozens of pieces, but they are all merely sketches in a notebook.

It’s not surprising. In the past ten years I have started a family and a career.

However, this year it is an especially solemn resolution to make in the shadow of my father’s death. One of my planned projects for years has been to publish arrangements of ‘Songs My Father Sang’, of which my jazz big band arrangement of Streets of Laredo is technically the first and regrettably the only.

Indeed, wrestling myself away from my smartphone might be just the signal my muse needs to come around to visit me again. I certainly have support from my connected learning friends and especially Brent Bedford, creator of the International Society for Fugues, who has been doing his best to inspire and motivate me to get out behind the woodshed! I hope he knows how much his efforts are appreciated.


2014 was a year of work. 2015 should be a year of fun. That’s my resolution.



Equity in Gamification

I spent a short amount of time today substituting for an absent primary grade teacher. The lesson plan called for a sight word practice game. The teacher left instructions, but years of experience as a substitute teacher taught me that the students would give me the clearest idea of how the game is played.

The game

1 Each student has four word cards arrayed on their desks.

2 The teacher calls one of the words and students race to see who can select the correct word and hold it over their head.

3 The slowest student is ‘out’ and becomes the judge for the next round.

4 After being a judge, the slow students wait at the front of the classroom until only the two fastest students remain for a final duel.

The problem

The glaring problem with this game is that it is competitive. Especially in classrooms with 8 year olds or younger, games should be cooperative so that each individual’s success benefits the group, and the group supports the learning of members who are challenged. 

The card game we played today accomplishes the opposite: Students who are ‘slow’ were, in a sense, shamed by standing for the rest of the game at the front of the room.

What’s worse, the ‘slow’ students who need the most practice play the game for the shortest amount of time. In fact, the slowest student is ‘out’ after the first round!

Equification

My improvised quick fix was to redesign the rules slightly.

The student fastest to hold up the correct word card would become the judge for the next round, a job that the students were excited to compete for.

The student slowest to hold up the correct card would choose the word for the next round, an opportunity for oral language support with the teacher and empowerment by being the leader of the game for a turn.

The result was a game which maximized student practice. Since no students were ‘out’, nobody was standing around doing nothing. Confident students were engaged in the competitive aspect of the game while those with less confidence had different chances for practice.

Evaluation

I wouldn’t claim that the game has been perfected. After all, it remains competitive. However, I think my modifications did reduce the severity of the competition. Students were more engaged because everyone could play every round and maximize the amount of time practicing.

Do you play any classroom games that could benefit from less competition and more cooperation and equity?