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.

Whatchu talkin' 'bout? #child #face #portrait #attitude #vscocam

A post shared by Bart Miller (@bartlmiller) on



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.


Bag on his head. #toddler #cute #play

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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


//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.jsLuckily, 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


//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.jsSometimes, 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!

Elements of the PYP Exhibition

This week, my class of fifth and sixth graders began the culmination of their IB Primary Years journey, the Exhibition. A self-directed and collaborative project, it is my favorite part of the year and a deeply enjoyable challenge to facilitate.

Before setting out, I organized a meeting with all Exhibition stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, and administrators. We discussed everyone’s ideas, questions, and concerns in order to draft our Essential Agreements.


Components


The Exhibition Guidelines provide clear expectations, which I have synthesized for the students to provide support for their projects. One helpful practice I have chosen is to clarify five required components of the project. Specifically, every student must choose a global issue, deliver a persuasive speech, write an expository essay, create a work of art, and engage in community action. Among our first activities was introducing the organizer below.

In this way, each student has a clear map of expectations, yet is empowered to pursue their project along their own path.

Documentation


The Exhibition as an assessment should provide each student with maximum flexibility to demonstrate their understandings. To this end, I have set up a simple wiki for each student within our class wiki to use to document and self assess their learning according to the elements of the PYP (skills, attitudes, concepts, knowledge, action).

Each student has a shared Evernote notebook which functions as a portfolio. Throughout the year, we gather photos, audio reflections, links to blog posts, scanned work, etc. During Exhibition, I am particularly active trying to catch them in the act of deep learning. These artifacts will be extremely useful for them as they curate their documentation wikis.

After the Exhibition concludes, students will self assess their documented learning on rubrics aligned to the elements of the PYP. Here is a link to a rubric from last year which is the model for this year’s rubrics.

Reflection


Students have been publishing their weekly learning journals on their blogs all year. During Exhibition, they are also expected to publish weekly posts reflecting on the progress of their exhibition inquiries and creations.

To scaffold these reflections, we conduct weekly interviews which are uploaded to YouTube. The students are encouraged to include them in their reflections, but it is not required. I have some preplanned questions and we also plan questions together at the beginning of the week. Knowing the questions in advance helps us to have a similar perspective on our activities and helps them to speak and reflect more fluently.


Early starters


I am very happy with the progress thus far. Empowering students to determine their own processes has yielded some interesting immediate results.

One student was inspired to create visual art by filling balloons with paint and air, taping them to paper, and then exploding them with darts.

The inquiry has also included researching the effects of music on brain development. After a brief coaching conversation, we agreed that the importance of Arts Education would be an ideal global issue around which her Exhibition can grow.


Another student began with a global issue: Animal Rights. She already has an excellent community action planned to volunteer at a local animal shelter.

She rushed to complete the poster. Her work led to a frank discussion about aesthetics and time management and she decided to start over, taking more time to create a more visually appealing product.


Call to action


In the first week of Exhibition, we also viewed PYP Exhibition: A Rite of Passage, an inspirational and motivational video I made last year. In most cases, the Exhibition is a student’s first opportunity for 100% self directed learning. Provided a minimum of guidance, I enjoy watching how each learner rises to the challenge.

Twitter: Promoters, connectors, and why I unfollowed you

I have something to confess: I finally did it: Something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, but haven’t mustered the courage until now:

I committed twittercide.



I was following over 900 people on Twitter. ‘How?’ you ask. I wasn’t really following anyone except the rare few whose tweets appeared on my feed in the odd moments I checked.

The more significant question is ‘why?’.

As described in my post Twitter misadventures and stumbling into connected learning, I started tweeting from the classroom in 2009. But it wasn’t until participating in the Learning Creative Learning and Making Learning Connected MOOCs in 2013 that my network and understanding empowered true connected learning.

Connectors

Twitter is alive with Connectors. They utilize the platform for collaborative sensemaking. They begin conversations in tweets that extend to other platforms, media, and into the physical world. They share resources and blog posts liberally and constantly invite others into their learning experiences. 

It’s true that Twitter is a convenient and simple platform for connecting with other teachers. Indeed, I consider many of my connections there as friends and anticipate someday meeting face to face.

However, when I was following over 900 people, I had no idea who most of them were. No doubt they are passionate connected educators like me, but how would I ever know if it was only by chance that I was able to read their posts or follow their links? Why was I following them, anyway?!?


And the simple answer is that I followed them because they followed me. I craved ‘followers’ and feared that they would unfollow me if I didn’t follow back.


The situation became worse when quasi celebrities and marketers began following me. How exciting it was to be ‘followed’ by someone with hundreds of thousands of ‘followers’!


Their tweets clogged my stream until it was obviously impossible to follow them at all. Every trip through the Twitterverse became cacophony. Unmanageable chaos reigned as motivational speakers mingled with online marketing ‘gurus’.

My family, friends, colleagues, and mentors were lost in the fray.


At the same time, I was reminded of the work of Adam Grant by the post and podcast, Adam Grant on Givers, Takers, Matchers and Fakers. Was I giving anything by following so many people on Twitter? I certainly wasn’t giving attention. By all accounts I was a matcher but that’s not want I want to be.


I didn’t want to unfollow ‘the fray’ for fear of losing followers. I was thinking computationally. I was thinking like a promoter.

Promoters

Promotors use social media to promote brands, products, and themselves. Everyone on Twitter is a promoter to some degree, but the more analysis I did, the more I recognized the patterns and strategies that are pure promotion.

The most glaring example of promotion on Twitter is done through hashtags. A Twitter user who always includes in their posts a hashtag related to a particular brand or product is a promoter.


Promoters study and strategize to mask their intent, for example by automating direct messages to new followers or retweeting, although I have observed that they almost always retweet from other promoters.


In years of Twittering, I have observed that all users can be located on a continuum with Connectors on one side and Promoters on the other. To explore this concept, I created the Twitter: Connectors v Promoters document embedded below to compare.

As a collaborative sensemaking activity, I invite you to add items based on your own experiences on Twitter.


All twitter users are at times more or less ‘connectors’ and ‘promoters’, and I don’t mean to imply judgment, rather analysis and reflection.


What Connectors consistently show, and Promoters desperately fake, is authenticity.

Authenticity

My situation demanded an authenticity check. My loved ones, collaborators, and mentors deserve my attention. I was surprised and bolstered in my mission by a tweet and post by William Chamberlain during my deliberations.

To foster community on social networks, I must participate as a community member. The graphic below from The six types of Twitter conversations by Pew Research Center provided models which helped me to understand the nature of my connections.


I didn’t want to continue my inauthentic participation in my ‘community’, but I also didn’t want to lose the connections I had made over the years. The solution was lists. I conducted a complete audit of my entire network and sorted everyone according to a system of lists that seems to work.


My lists

My first and smallest Twitter list is my PLCommunity. Members of this list are people with whom I regularly interact, who share stimulating and high quality content, and whom I trust to participate as community members when called to action. I follow all of them in my main feed and assume a level of responsibility for accepting their invitations and following up on their posts.

[2015.03.23 I decided to delete the PLCommunity list and simply consider the members of my PLNetwork whom I follow and with whom I regularly interact as my Personal/Professional Learning Community.]

Next is my PLNetwork. These are mostly educators around the world who share stimulating content and demonstrate commitment to connected learning, but whom I wouldn’t consider part of my community.

Finally, I sort all of my connected learning network into individuals and organizations by geography and created an Extended Global Network which contains almost everyone I have ever interacted with on Twitter.

Catalysts

My goal on Twitter is to be among those whom Harold Jarche would describe as Innovation Catalysts.

In my post, Don’t be a node. Be a nexus., I encourage myself and others to be active, independent, and dynamic in their online networks. For me, this starts from unfollowing hundreds of people so that I can give attention to my community.

To quote Sherry Turkle from The Flight From Conversation, ‘look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation.’

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.



How to eat sushi (like a snob)

A long time ago, I submitted my How to eat sushi (like a snob) ‘how to’ video to the Making Learning Connected Make Bank, a fantastic cooperative repository of accomplishment and inspiration. According to Terry Elliot’s post, the Make Bank is a Convivial Tool, and I agree whole-heartedly.

https://bartmiller.makes.org/popcorn/246k_

You may also find this article from The Creativity Post interesting: Seven Life Lessons From Making Sushi contains life and learning lessons from one of Japan’s most renowned sushi chefs, Jiro Ono.

If you’re hungry for more cat sushi pictures, please savor this post from Spoon & Tamago: Nekozushi | an absurd combination of cats and sushi.

Student Empowerment | COETAIL final project

A keen observer will notice that I haven’t exactly followed the assignment here. Rather than revising a unit of instruction to attempt to redefine learning, my goal is to utilize educational technology to empower students to redefine their own learning. In a sense, I am reimagining every unit I teach. I started by trying to revise a single unit, but every change I made toward increasing student choice, voice, and agency, resulted in thinking less about deciding what I wanted students to do, and more about how I was going to document and curate what they would decide to do. A class wiki was needed first to act as a home base. In theory, it contains and organizes links to every online resource and tool we use in class. The link is jiesgradefiveandsix2014-15.wikispaces.com, and it’s the only link you will find in this post because it leads to a page containing links to everything my class does online, including our Inquiry Tasks Organizer.

The Inquiry Tasks Organizer is the hub of our inquiries and assessments. The public ‘class’ organizer feeds private organizers for each students, to which they add links to their learning artifacts and self assessment rubrics. Over the course of the school year, this document will be used to empower students to take more control of the direction of their learning by providing a flexible and agile model for documentation and reflection.

Currently, our inquiries and tasks are quite structured, but as the students become more fluent inquirers, more freedom will be transferred to them without changing any essential procedures. This ‘Project Management’ aspect of my COETAIL final project, creating an interface that can maximize agency and transparency in the classroom, is an inquiry I look forward to pursuing further along a design process in which all participants’ experiences are documented and utilized to inform ongoing iterations.

This ‘Design Thinking’ approach to classroom planning ensures that a unit is never ‘finished’, and that refinement and revision are designed in rather than being added or changed later.

The student experience thus far has been mixed. Some students enjoy the freedom that this approach affords, yet might be too easily distracted from relevant inquiries. Some are reluctant to let go of the traditional models of instruction, either our of confusion or lack of experience as independent learners.

Consequently, the full potential of this project has yet to be realized. That’s great, because it is evidence to me that the project is working. Surely if students could easily adapt and thrive, it would imply that the learning environment hadn’t changed much and certainly wasn’t redefined.

Learning won’t be redefined in one unit, but in the ongoing cycle of innovation and reflection that connected learning communities like COETAIL encourage and promote.

Maker Club year 1

One year ago, I started a Maker Club at my school as part of our after school program. While maker spaces for older learners generally focus on robotics and digital creation, I believe that an elementary maker experience should start from concrete, physical creation. Most of our materials were donated by families, but we also frequently raid the school art supplies.

Based on my participation in the Learning Creative Learning MOOC in 2013, the initial guiding principles for our Maker Club were Independence and Social Creativity.

Independence

It’s critical that Maker Club have no assignments. The only requirement is to always be ‘making’. Imagining, researching, designing, sharing, and reflecting are all parts of the making process.

Maker Faire often includes digital production, as well as arts and crafts, engineering and construction, cooking, scientific experiments and demonstrations, and the visual and performing arts. There are no artificial limits.

For the first few meetings, there was a refrain of ‘What should I make?’, ‘What do you want to make?’. This dialog is indicative of empowerment. As young makers realize that they are in control of their learning in their maker space, their creativity is ignited.

In a sense, this is what makes a maker space. Of course, maker tools and materials are important, but most important is fostering an environment in which everyone feels safe to experiment and create.

Every maker must be encouraged to try anything, and indeed, ‘makes’ that fail are not failures at all. Failures are courageous learning experiences and opportunities to safely practice a growth mindset.

Social Creativity

Social Creativity is the notion that creativity is a social activity. Innovation by adapting existing ideas, sharing, cooperating, and collaborating respects the idea that creation is an act of communication.

Every week, we update a Maker Club Projects spreadsheet that both serves to document our activities and as an archive to inspire innovation and collaboration.

The framework for assessment in our Maker Club is from The Tinkering Studio’s Design, Make, Play and consists of the the criteria of Engagement, Intentionality, Innovation, and Solidarity. This rubric emphasizes process over product and social interaction over individual achievement. These principles guide me in my role as facilitator in coaching young makers.


Play, passion, projects, peers

The most recent iteration of the Learning Creative Learning MOOC introduced the ‘4 Ps’ of play, passion, projects, and peers. Mitchell Resnick also introduced the Creative Learning Spiral, which became the inquiry model for our Maker Club.


This model is exceptionally effect for maintaining makers’ momentum.


Gallery

Please enjoy these photos of various works in progress. All photos by Bart Miller (CC BY 4.0).

One ambitious maker, inspired by a Maker Faire video, attempted to convert her bicycle into a cupcake. The project proved to be too complex for the scope of our once per week club, but she did manage to complete a ‘cherry on top’ helmet.


A pair of makers surprised me with an impromptu hand puppet show!


One of my favorite makes was this mixed media artwork. I noticed a maker with a large piece of cardboard and a pile of assorted materials.

I asked, ‘What are you making here?’
She replied, ‘I don’t know, I’m just making it.’

That’s precisely the spirit I love to see in a maker space, and is a glowing example of creative learning in action.


A student asked, ‘Is it ok if I practice piano during Maker Club?’

Yes, it is very ok to make music in Maker Club.


Often, younger makers start with a familiar project, like making a greeting card. The exciting thing is the freedom with which they innovate and iterate. Arts and crafts lessons tend to be more structured, which is of course very effective for developing a particular skill. In Maker Club, we emphasize creativity over specific skill development.


One of the older makers inspired some first graders to decorate plastic bottle caps. Learning from each other and innovating each others’ ideas is an element of social creativity that comes alive in a maker space.


The classroom computers have quick links to various digital maker sites such as Scratch, DIY, and The Hour of Code


Yet another exciting development is makers using our club time to create for projects in their ‘regular’ class. Blurring the boundaries between learning in different settings is one of my driving goals as an educator. In the photo above, a maker begins work on a robot ticket booth for a classroom carnival.

If they start building cardboard ‘robots’, it’s not a huge leap to consider adding mechanical joints, gears, or motors!


Our Maker Club achieved a new level of complexity when a new member resolved to build a guitar. I was hoping that they would inquire into how to make it playable, but they were satisfied with it as is.


Making is messy. That’s part of what makes it fun and what makes the learning that happens in a maker space so authentic and deep. I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to have rather strict clean up procedures.


One rather reluctant maker jumped at the chance to dissect a donated broken DVD player. I suggested to use our camera to take ‘macro’ photos of the innards, and the result was an interesting blend of art and technology.

Starting Year 2

Happily, by adhering to the principles of independence and social creativity, a tremendous amount of positive momentum has accumulated.

Some makers have come and gone, choosing other options for their after school program.

But some have caught maker fever. They need Maker Club.

To express the feeling of this new year of Maker Club, please enjoy this poem:

Maker Fever

Fidget through meetings
sneak to prepare materials
anxious to maximize time.

Don’t ask to ‘use this’ or ‘make that’.
Don’t need permission
in our maker space.

Make things at school,
share them at home.

Make things at home,
share them at school.

Make anywhere;
share everywhere.

Quality increases.

Confidence
Time management
Social interactions
Friendship

Constructed understanding reflected in classwork.

Attention to details
Planning
Resilience
Mindset

We are makers.

We can make anything.

All we need is space, time, and stuff.
(stuff is optional)

We are makers.