Introducing myself | CLMOOC 2015 Summer Unschool

Having stowed away on the first Making Learning Connected voyage in 2013 but remaining ashore last summer, I’m excited to set sail again this year onto the open seas of connected maker learning.

This year, CLMOOC will be a part of a personal/professional project: Summer school for my three year old son! In her post, Learning to learn., my wife recently reflected on our decision to keep him home from school in the next school year due to an array of extenuating circumstances.

I think my son will learn more by continuing to explore his curiosities and helping to take care of his new baby brother. July is going to be a research project for me to document his formal learning along this wandering informal path. He is already well versed in playing and being generally silly.

He has loved to draw since he could hold an extra thick crayon and now fills notepads of recycled paper at a staggering rate.

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on Dec 9, 2013 at 3:51am PST

//, pads of paper are cheap.

Last, but the opposite of least, he is a maker. He loves to mess around with legos, blocks, cardboard, tape, household objects, and anything else that he can pretend is something else. In a word, everything.

Here is one of his ‘makes’ from this past Father’s Day:

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on Jun 20, 2015 at 8:25pm PDT

//, he invites collaboration:

My challenge is to channel some of his fun, creative energy toward various ‘formal’ learning activities. My method is to:

1 Authentically channel his informal learning toward formal content.

2 Document the formal learning in his informal learning adventures.

In many cases, this is already happening naturally.

Since I will be on vacation throughout July, I intend to schedule a number of field expeditions. I also intend to not schedule some, and simply let his inspiration spill out onto the street and see where the current carries us.

If you’ve learned with me in CLMOOC or read my blog before, you know that I love Google forms for documentation. I’m currently designing a form to use this summer. I expect that it will have traditional categories, perhaps Language, Mathematics, STE(A)M, Physical, and Social Emotional. These could be coupled to reflections based on Connected Learning principles or the Learning Dimensions in the chart below from Tinkering Is Serious Play by Bronwyn Bevan, Mike Petrich, and Karen Wilkinson.

My summer vacation will not begin until the middle of next week, so I have a bit more time to plan and prepare before our CLMOOC 2015 Summer Unschool begins. Suggestions are certainly welcome!

Learning Differences MOOC

I am very excited to be registered for my first MOOC of 2015, Learning Differences, offered by the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and MOOC-Ed, starting 9 February and concluding 22 March 2015.

I discovered the course via a tweet by All Kinds of Minds, proving once again the value of Twitter as a connected learning network.

The course will be divided into six units including Habits of Mind, Working Memory, Motivation, and Executive Function. Of particular interest to me is how these topics will inform and enhance my approaches to teaching in my inquiry and project based learning classroom.
I’m hoping to cooperate and collaborate with members of my learning network, particularly those at inquiry, project based learning, and IB PYP schools, as well as connect with new highly engaged educators.

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‘.


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.


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.

Mapping My Internet

When George Siemens asks, “How do you manage your information?“, and Jeff Delp is writing about being “All-In” With Evernote, it’s clear that data management is an issue that every digital resident must address to transition from being a passive consumer to an active participant on the Internet.

Their use of graphics reminded me of the Laziness Map flowchart I made for the Making Learning Connected MOOC and shared in the post, Is laziness good for learning?. While that project was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, noticing that I’ve felt digitally overwhelmed lately led me to create this map of how I generally discover, sort, share, and publish on the web.

created by Bart Miller
(click the image to open the document and follow the hyperlinks)

To summarize, arrayed at the bottom are the social networks I use to find content. Many are just for entertainment and inspiration, but I use a several, particularly twitter and tumblr, to discover and curate. Since most of my browsing is done on my mobile phone and usually on the subway, the first task is simply to identify posts I want to examine more deeply and “favorite” or “like” them. That simply saves them to find easily later. Once a week or so, I check my saved items and decide whether to import them into Evernote using the tagging system I described in Inquiry with Evernote vol 1. Sometimes I share immediately, and occasionally across platforms.

When I discover new blogs I want to follow, I add them to Feedly. Since I started using it after the demise of Google Reader, the number of blogs I follow increased exponentially to about 400 in various categories, but has plateaued lately.

Sorting information in this way helps me to apply it with agility and relevance in the classroom and in publishing on my own blog and my favorite communities. I also use Evernote to document learning in the classroom, so it is rapidly becoming my “home base”.

Creating this graphic helped me to clarify my thinking about the web and how I use it. How do you sort the Internet? Still sending yourself emails with links?… it’s ok, I do that sometimes, too 😉

Make/Hack/Play Together 1

During the past week, I participated in the Make/Hack/Play Together MOOC. Experience has taught me that every learner builds their understanding themselves, and very often literally. Thinking is not something that occurs ‘in our heads’. Thinking is everywhere, visibly and tangibly. This MOOC is a fantastic opportunity to explore Constructionist pedagogy as a learner and teacher.
The first assignment was to build something physical. I didn’t manage to find time to build anything myself, but I did with my son. He is two years old, and has had a set of wooden blocks for about a year. When he first started playing with them, they always represented objects. Sometimes they were spoons, sometimes trains, sometimes only he knows what.
In recent weeks, however, he has started building. Noticing his curiosity, I started building alongside him and describing my creative process. He enjoys watching and listening, and gets very excited as my creations grow. That is, before he obliterates them. He is definitely still in the ‘destroyer’ stage as a maker, but as his hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills improve, I’m sure he will finally start to make his imaginings concrete and visible.
My ‘Garage Cathedral’ moments before demolition.

Two students in my class have been making what they’re calling a ‘model mansion’ out of cardboard and other stuff as one of their independent inquiries. Independent Inquiry is a project I have been developing to try to connect learning in school and out of school, and to foster a maker mindset in my classroom.

The tube on the side represents an elevator.
I believe it is the first time either of them has ever done this. Discussions during their collaborations have been fascinating and hilarious as they suggest, debate, iterate, revise, and build. I have documented several instances of them developing critical collaboration, communication, and creative skills and can say without hesitation that this activity is having a profoundly positive impact on their learning.
Finally, I would like to share a photo I took during a field trip to the Bandai Museum. It is Rick Hunter’s mecha from Robotech, and possibly my all-time favorite toy.

Interestingly, Robotech was the US release of two Japanese series that had been hacked and edited together. The show I watched was itself a remix, so to speak, and one of my favorite features of the toys was their transformability. They had three modes, one that looks like a jet, one that looks like a person, and one, as you can see in the photo, that looks like a mix of the two. That element of choice, being able to remix as one played, made the toys very engaging, just like ‘making’.

I hope I will have more time to participate more directly during the next week, but for now I’ve enjoyed being in a maker mindset despite not making much of anything myself.

No Sleep November

I hereby dub this month “No Sleep November” because there are so many fantastic learning opportunities for teachers and I don’t want to miss any.

First, I’m participating in the COETAIL (Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy) program and working toward a Master’s Degree. Course 1 was an enjoyable survey and blogscussion of Connectivist Learning Theory and Course 2 promises to address issues related to technology.
Next, the Deeper Learning MOOC preview. This is exactly the kind of exploration I’ve been looking forward to and will mercifully commence in January. The preview is this week, and will focus on Academic Mindsets.
To further inform and develop my Independent Inquiry project, a philosophy and framework for connecting learning in and out of school, I enrolled in the Make/Hack/Play Together MOOC. I’m planning to participate along with my students, so hopefully a good portion of the assignments will be completed during class time.
Finally, I’m hoping to catch up on everything I missed in the K-12 Online Conference. I made a note of this awesome event months ago and checked in on the last day only to be blown away by all that I had missed! 
Did I mention I’m writing a novel? I’ve put down about fifty-thousand words, although haven’t worked on it for a few months. Thanks to the folks at Educator Innovator for reminding me that November is National Novel Writing Month! How convenient. I don’t expect to finish mine this month, but I shouldn’t let it slide for too long.
How can I possibly expect to do all of this? It can’t be ignored that I have a rambunctious two-year-old son at home and a school-wide musical to organize, rehearse, and produce!
The solution, of course, is to forgo sleep. Rather than burning midnight oil, I’m considering a regimen of coffee-fueled early morning work sessions. Even just five hours per week should be enough to stay on top of these projects and lead to wrapping up 2013 with a thunderous bang.

Here’s musical score for ‘No Sleep November’, my own composition for jazz orchestra, Insomnia.

Summer PD Reflection – DES!GN

My summer professional development challenge for myself was to expand my understanding of design, including graphic, physical, instructional, etc. It was my Independent Inquiry for the last several weeks and I’m happy to share my findings.

The first thing that happened to me was the Making Learning Connected MOOC. The values I learned during that collaboration of Equity, Social Connection, and Full Participation, create an excellent frame for designing learning activities and opportunities for my students. By ensuring that these values are represented in my classroom at all times, I’m confident that engagement will be enhanced.

Please view my Laziness Map and other posts for the collaboration. The spirit of the Making Learning Connected MOOC will continue to thrive in the Educator Innovator Network and I look forward to following and participating in that endeavor.

Another exploration I made was of the remarkable depth of design resources available on tumblr and Pinterest. In addition to being entertaining, these social networks are teeming with artists, designers, brilliant teachers, and other interesting people who are happy to share their excellent work and resources. I still consider myself a beginner ‘pinner’, but I have enjoyed discovering and following new boards, although I must admit that I’ve been mostly attracted to the food… Much of design sense, as with any aesthetic appreciation, comes from viewing and experiencing many examples and constructing one’s own understanding and social networks provide a rich selection.

There was also this timely post, which I have yet to fully explore.

My wife, Yuka, was an invaluable teacher this summer. We had many discussions about color, layout, font selection, and many other topics related to the visual appeal and usability of my instructional tools. As I continue to prepare presentations and materials, it’s exciting to apply the her tutorials about using Adobe Creative Suite.

Finally, she discovered and shared with me the Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit, which I immediately downloaded and began reading. Many of the principles remind me of my own notion of metateaching, but from an informed and more highly developed perspective. It’s exactly what I can use to realign many of my own ideas with developed theories and concepts of design.