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.’

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.

IMAV for the K12 Online Conference

Leveling up

I ‘leveled up’ last month when my video presentation for the K12 Online Conference on Trust and Transparency in passion driven learning was published. Please follow the link to view it and refer to my post, Trust and Transparency, for a transcript and links.


Getting noticed

I don’t know which is scarier: That people would watch my presentation or that nobody would watch it. Regardless of how I felt about it, people did indeed watch it, and a few even took a minute to share on Twitter!

Their kindness and encouragement are deeply appreciated.

Self assessment

Partially out of being too busy, but mostly out of trepidation, I procrastinated making my video for far too long. I had a lot to say, and pored over the script for weeks. On the weekend before it was due, I was suffering from a minor head cold. After all, I ended up setting my laptop on a chair and sitting, cross legged, to simply read the script in front of the camera. I did manage to splice in some still photos and screenshots, providing a bit of ‘multi’ to the media.

I have to say I’m rather disappointed with the result. It’s a blog post read aloud without much of the appeal that a video can have.

I think my message was good and clear, but as I reflect on what I like about other people’s videos, it’s their natural mood that captures my attention. Formality is boring! A video recording of a presentation is fine documentation, but a video can be much more dynamic and personal.

The next video

As it turns out, I’m currently preparing a new video, my COETAIL Final Project. The work of the project is finished, but needs to be presented and summarized in a video.

Once again, I’ve procrastinated liberally. However, that’s not necessarily negative. I think this video needs a more improvised, informal, and reflective mood. I’ve worked hard on the project, and now I should feel that it time to relax and ramble on camera to share my thoughts.



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LX Design

Two intersecting areas of study which have captivated my interest this year, Design Thinking and Project Management, have significant promise as I consider how to apply new principles to planning a year of learning in my Grade 5/6 classroom.

The two disciplines are strongly intertwined and have profound implications when applied to designing learning experiences. This post seeks to define LX Design as an approach to classroom planning and as a framework for ongoing iteration and reflection.


Design Thinking


Completing the Macromedia University Design Thinking MOOC introduced me to the discipline of User Experience Design, or UX Design. When thinking in terms of user experience, a designer considers all human elements and possibilities related to a product or service, not only the material and economic.

For example, when designing a machine to make coffee, one must consider not only the cost and suitability of the materials used, but also the likely moods of users, often early in the morning, while using the coffee machine.

A common theme in Design Thinking is to understand people’s emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual needs when designing products, services, and experiences. In the case of education, we design learning experiences, hence the term ‘LX Design’.

Meanings of use


Klaus Krippendorff’s lecture, The Key Concepts of The Semantic Turn, and in particular his explanations of ‘meanings of use’, challenged and transformed my thinking about learning. I recreated the graphic below to represent what I consider an essential model for educators. It is the foundation for my approach to LX Design.

To summarize, when a person encounters a thing, whether it’s a product or an idea, they must first recognize it and the opportunities it presents. Next, the thing can be explored, or used to try to accomplish a task. When a person becomes engaged with the thing, they might find it so useful as to become reliant upon it, using it naturally on a regular basis.

A great physical example is shoes. If you had never seen shoes before, you may or may not recognize how their shape resembles feet. If you did, you might try wearing them, even adjusting the laces for a comfortable fit, and walk. Before long, you would find yourself always wearing them for their comfort and safety until you can hardly imagine living without them.

Design Thinking in the classroom

The same model applies to knowledge, concepts, and learning tools.

In fifteen years as a professional educator, I have observed that everyone wants to learn what they can use. I suppose that is the reason the why Professor Krippendorf’s model resonated so strongly with me.


In my inquiry based classroom, I have been moving away from the ‘what students should know and be able to do’ model. Instead, I seek to design learning experiences that empower rich opportunities to construct understanding.


Following the design process described in the IDEO Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit, the first stage, Discovery, consists of two primary elements. First, the learning artifacts, and in particular the formative reflections, of previous year students. Second, data gathered in about my current class from their portfolios, assessment files, and personal experiences. This corresponds to ‘Recognition of opportunities’ in the Krippendorf model.

The next stages in the design process, Interpretation and Ideation, represent ‘purposeful Exploration’ in the Krippendorff model, and the bulk of the learning experience design in the first weeks of the school year. As the students and I collaboratively make sense of our current understandings, hypothesize approaches to learning that will lead to constructing deeper and more relevant meaning, and pursue those inquiries through Experimentation, our ‘Reliance’ on that learning provides the foundation and raw material for the Evolution of our thinking, according to the IDEO process.

That evolution begins with ‘disruption’ in the Krippendorff model, which in terms of learning I consider synonymous with cognitive dissonance. As our understandings evolve, ideally, we engage in an infinite learning loop, constantly reflecting and reevaluating, utilizing various models of inquiry or design to guide and share our learning.

As this project unfolds, an overriding goal is that the students begin to harness the processes of Design Thinking. In this way, the entire class can become a cooperative and collaborative LX Design Team engaged in constructing their own independent yet connected lines of inquiry.

The LX Design community


There are several excellent educators and organizations sharing their ideas on Design Thinking in education. I recommend exploring Jackie Gerstein’s The Educator as a Design Thinker for its enlightening graphic and wealth of well organized information and links to essential resources.

Maureen Devlin has explored learning design on her blog, including the provocative post, Learning Design: Center Stage in which she asks the essential question, ‘How can I synthesize materials, tools, strategies, standards, and students’ needs and interests to serve students well?’

Ewan McIntosh’s article, Design Thinking: Tools to help make thinking visible, provides an invaluable model for design thinking in action in the classroom.

I also recommend exploring IDEO Desing Thinking for Educators, the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, and Learning Designer, an exciting website for unit planning, sharing, and collaboration.

Project Management


While a design team utilizes design thinking principles to achieve common and generally clear goals, my classroom is not necessarily so collaborative nor certainly so linear. The highly personalized nature of inquiry learning requires a chaotic environment with learning streaming in different directions and intersecting in unpredictable ways.

Project Management, while primarily business-oriented, can contribute much needed principles to classroom learning experience design.

I have begun by considering this school year as a project ten months in duration, with the primary goals of students demonstrating academic mastery, practicing 21st century fluencies, and engaging in meaningful and significant community action. The pursuit of these goals will be on display during our Exhibition.

Reflecting on last year’s Exhibition, I utilized MindMup to organize essential tools and skills necessary for success in the document PYP Exhibition. By visualizing in this way, I was able to identify which elements would be best to introduce early in the school year and how the different elements could compliment each other.

For example, the one element which I found to be most foundational for success is Expository Writing. For that reason, in the first weeks of school, we have emphasized heavily the writing process and tools for gathering and organizing research data. As students engage with other tools and practice other literacies in their inquiries, this writing practice will continue to develop to become an increasingly reliable communication tool.


Another aspect of Project Management is sharing information. Using project management principles to identify stakeholders and establishing processes for increasing transparency can be a highly effective utilization of technology.

Another of Maureen Devlin’s posts, Transition to Transparency, is an insightful reflection on how and why ‘keeping communication fluid and transparent really helps to support a dynamic learning community’An indispensable tool in this process is A Useful Framework For Transparency In Education, a graphic model around which I am attempting to design a robust online system for collaborative document and data sharing. In a world connected by digital technologies, connectivist tools are essential to learning.

Ongoing inquiry


What I find most compelling about this endeavor is how perfectly it mirrors the inquiry learning process I wish to foster in my students. I am utilizing design principles to learn how to effectively facilitate their learning of design principles to facilitate their own learning!

Indeed it is easy to see how our processes may quickly become inseparable and indistinguishable.

This is a long term project I look forward to pursuing using the label LX Design and would certainly welcome collaborators!


Service learning in elementary school

The New York Times Magazine cover story, Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?, explores the work of Adam Grant, whose ‘studies have been highlighted in bestselling books such as Quiet by Susan Cain, Drive and To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink, Thrive by Arianna Huffington, and David and Goliath by Gladwell’.

In that article, the case is convincingly made that altruism is not only beneficial to the beneficiary, but also to the benefactor.


A little kindness goes a long way by Ed Yourdon CC BY NC SA 


This apparent contradiction is supported by research findings not only in neuroscience, as in the article, Altruism, egoism: Brain exercises cognitive analysis, but also by commonly accepted wisdom contained in the world’s ancient and respected religious and spiritual disciplines as explored in Carolyn Gregoire‘s post, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Compassion.


Mindfulness and empathy help to make connections in the brain which manifest as action.


Caring for others makes us smarter.

So why isn’t service learning an essential characteristic of every school? Why isn’t it designed into the curriculum and culture of schools?


In the Harvard EdCast, Making Global Local, Jeff Shea (2015 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year) describes his innovate Global Leadership class and comments that we should ‘plant the seeds early’ for global education and service learning, so it only makes sense for elementary schools to introduce and practice service learning.

There are endless possibilities for doing so, and even what appears to be a simple act of service can provide tremendous authentic context and purpose for learning.


My experiences


My first classroom teaching experience was in a service project based learning charter elementary school in Los Angeles, California, founded by Full-Circle Learning and six educators including myself.


Our mission was to design learning experiences around ‘habits of heart’ and global collaboration. 


When someone asked my students what they are learning, they would say they are learning about ‘children who can’t go to school’, ’empathy’, ‘altruism’, or ‘how to be a humanitarian’.


In a sense, we were more than a community of learning.


We were a community of learning to serve.

Culture of service


There are a number of strategies I would recommend that any elementary school could quickly adopt to cultivate a culture of service.

Meaningful class names

Stop calling classes by their grade level, and assign them special names. I taught a Grade 4/5 combination class called ‘The Humanitarians’ and a Grade 2 class called ‘The Peacemakers’. The names for classes could be drawn from the school’s curriculum, mission statement, service learning goals, or learner profile.

Empathy based conflict resolution

Every school has a conflict resolution policy which all stakeholders agree to follow. Usually, these policies are based on compromise or tolerance. However, the most effective conflict resolution is based on empathy. The conflict resolution process should contain an explicit ’empathy step’ which encourages each party to resolve the conflict in service to the other.

Attitude and action orientation

In a service learning environment, the foundation of every unit is the driving question, ‘how can we help?’ Often, units are provoked by emotional appeals around global issues concerning human rights, environmental stewardship, injustice, or inequity.

In the post, Inquiry should be action-oriented., I described a collaboration with our partner grade 2 class in Lesotho around the ‘habit of heart’ of appreciation. The provocation for the unit took the form of students sharing stories of their experiences of children mistreating or acting disrespectfully toward their parents or teachers.

It was a very rich discussion about a situation that existed at both schools. The driving question of ‘how can we help’ led to an inquiry into the attitude of appreciation, writing personal letters to help our African partners to learn appreciation together, among other connected activities.

Our project, planned cooperatively as a class, was to weave ‘appreciation bracelets’ for our learning partners to give to their parents to express appreciation.

Learning partners in Lesotho receive ‘appreciation bracelets’ by Bart Miller CC BY SA


I also recommend reading Sam Sherratt’s post, Creating the conditions for action, and practicing the Putting Action on the Agenda guidelines from International School Ho Chi Minh City.


Embedded technology


The potential for technology to redefine service learning, whether by digital media creation or social media, is virtually unlimited.

In terms of social media, at any given time there are easy to find campaigns underway which students can learn from and contribute to. Here’s a short list of some recent examples:

One approach to bringing social media into the classroom is to start a class twitter account. I’ve collected hundreds on this list, ‘classrooms atwitter‘.

To get my students tweeting, I created little ‘tweet’ cards with 140 character grids. The students compose their tweets, then drop them off at my desk to be added to our feed.

photo by Bart Miller CC BY SA


It’s a medium I look forward to utilizing much more aggressively as I integrate service and social advocacy more into our units of inquiry.

Empowerment is the goal


Ultimately, service learning is about empowering students to understand that they can help to solve the world’s problems.

By practicing inquiry which is rooted in empathy and oriented toward action, students learn to realize their potential as change agents in the world.

Inquiry or research?

In the past several years, I have adopted an inquiry based approach to teaching. In connecting and conversing with colleagues, I have observed that there is as much disagreement about what inquiry based learning and teaching is as there are approaches to inquiry itself.

From my perspective, there is one driving question that can summarize inquiry based education as a whole:

How can we all become better inquirers?

If this is the basis for discourse and conversation, then the possibilities for learning are endless.

The tweet below sparked my interest to inquire into the difference between inquiry and research:


Both inquiry and research are processes which aim to acquire new understandings. In the context of education, especially elementary education, I would assert that research is an inquiry tool. Learners use research to increase knowledge and understanding. However, inquiry learning is not limited to research. In an inquiry learning environment, discussion, speculation, artistic expression, fantasy, kinesthetic representation, etc, all have equal value in relation to data oriented research. Inquiry places just as much importance on the various stages (or lack thereof) of the process, whereas research is generally more information and product oriented.

Research seeks answers. Inquiry seeks questions.

For my own inquiry, I would like to share a few of my favorite visualization models and how they inform my understanding of the distinction between inquiry and research.

I believe that the How to Science! graphic represents an approach to research. First, it is linear. It also implies that everyone will go through the same ‘ups & downs’ along their journey through curiosity and learning. Linearity is more characteristic of research than inquiry.

In the ‘Ask, Try, Do’ graphic, from the Macromedia University for Media and Communication ‘Design Thinking’ MOOC, a model for inquiry is reduced to as few stages as possible. It seems to me that a model like this would be ideal for young learners who might often find themselves engrossed in ‘trying’ without considering what questions would help them to learn and proceed or who may need prompting to reflect on when a certain inquiry is ‘done’.

The above graphic, attributed to Kath Murdoch, expands upon the more simple model in a way that emphasizes research strategy. By emphasizing research as an inquiry tool, an effective balance is achieved. This model also has a certain linearity, based on the numbering of the inquiry stages, although its circular shape seems to welcome improvisation within the model.

The expanded model from International School of Tianjin is a favorite among my students, as it provides specific questions that can inform the inquiry process. However, if the goal of inquiry is to seek questions, is it counter productive to include them in the model?

The Creative Learning Spiral from the MIT Media Lab Lifelong Kindergarten is my personal favorite and best appeals to my Constructionist sensibilities because it places ‘create’ early in the process and, unlike the previous inquiry process, it constantly builds upon itself as reflection leads to new imagining.

We create our own models

The inquiry cycle models here are useful as a reference for planning or as shared mental models to facilitate discussion and collaboration. However, shouldn’t each inquiry be unique? As learners engage with different learning models and utilize them in different ways, they will naturally begin to synthesize and enhance them. If research is neat, inquiry is messy. Often, research follows a specified methodology because it is necessary for scientific credibility. Inquiry doesn’t need to be credible. Shouldn’t learning be incredible?

Technology to redefine learning

There are two possible units of inquiry that I will be leading in the Autumn of 2014 as potential candidates for redefinition through technology:

Rights & Responsibilities – inquiry into how human rights are granted, viewed, and protected

What’s your story? – inquiry into personal histories and the role of primary sources in historical understanding

In any case, my goal is to embed technology to maximize student agency. There are also Web 2.0 tools that need to be introduced and practiced throughout the school year so that students will be prepared to use them for their end of year Exhibition. Which one of these units is most suitable to be redesigned around a Web 2.0 tool in a way that redefines the learning of the unit?

One way to address this question, or determine if it is even a good question, is to consider tasks. In order to assess whether students have mastered using a new tool, they must be able to use it to complete a task.

Rights & Responsibilities
In this unit, we introduce Wikis as a tool to organize and share information and links. It was used simply to aggregate research findings. Students also created speech and slide presentations to communicate their understandings of the connections between rights and responsibilities.

One possible task might be to create a wiki to raise awareness for a human rights issue, embed a survey, petition, or pledge form, then use videos of their presentations to promote their causes and pages via social media like our class twitter account and blogs. Students this year completed a similar task, but only researched an issue to prepare a blog post.

The greatest challenge would be for me to design learning experiences to support students as they become web designers and social activists, perhaps at the expense of some of the ‘formal’ learning activities we did in the past. Perhaps the solution lies in integrating those activities into the learning of the web tool?

From a planning point of view, the wikis would be the focus. From a learning point of view, human rights would be the focus.

In terms of student agency, feeling that they are using technology to take action for a cause that they care about should foster an authentic sense of purpose and ownership. Web 2.0 tools and social media would empower us to redefine our learning from research and presentation to taking action to raise awareness.

What’s your story?

The summative assessment for this unit was to use VoiceThread to create a personal history for a family or community member. The process was quite tedious, and the results of mixed quality. VoiceThread is a fantastic tool for creating a personal history, but it certainly didn’t raise the task to the level of ‘redefinition’.

One of the challenges was in finding a community to share our stories. I believe that if I could find at least one other class also making personal histories about family members, it would significantly enhance the learning experience for students. We did collaborate with another class using VoiceThread to create personal introductions, however, that meant that our interactions focused on the technology, not on the learning.

Facilitating global collaboration among students with technology must focus on the learning, not only the technology.

Having some high-quality artifacts from this year, I can provide a model to other teachers so that students would be working in the same genre. By creating a tool with which we could all share links, the possibilities for interaction and conversation among students would be significantly enhanced.

It could be a case in which ‘modification’ on a large enough scale becomes ‘redefinition’.

Conclusion

I think that the key for integrating technology for me is to not think of it as ‘integration’, but rather as ‘utilization’. Finding a way to fit technology into an existing unit is inadequate. If my goal is to maximize student agency, then technology should be integrated as a tool to empower students to have more control over the direction of their learning.
This is a rich transformational process that I look forward to continuing over the summer.
What would you recommend?
Are there technological tools that I seem to be unaware of?
Are teachers already connected and collaborating on projects like these?
If so, where would I find them?

Exhibition: PBL To The Max!

Exhibition

This year, my sixth grade class prepared and presented our school’s first Exhibition. As an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program candidate school, it was an opportunity for me to research project-based learning, put into practice the guidelines established by the IB, and for our students to experience a culminating project to conclude their elementary school lives.


DLMOOC

The timing of the Deeper Learning MOOC, a massive open online course dedicated in large part to Project Based Learning, could not have been better. A host of organizations were introduced and resources shared and discussed, as well as models and frameworks that I could use to inform and enrich my role as a facilitator and coach.

During the Week 9 Participants Panel, moderator Rob Riordan remarked to me, ‘If you want to get engaged in deeper learning, a good way to start is to schedule an exhibition.’


His words reminded me of a quote by the prolific composer Duke Ellington: ‘I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.’


If an exhibition is the overall objective of a school year, I discovered that it provides a strong structure on which to practice skills and pursue inquiry. But more importantly, it provides a deadline to complete a project. Deanna Mascle recently reflected in her post, Why Project-Based Learning?, ‘In project-based learning (PBL) the project is the learning – and the teaching and learning take place through the project.’ The trick for facilitators is to maximize, document, and curate the learning throughout the process.


Designing the framework

My own experiences with project based learning as a learner and facilitator have taught me the importance of choice. For a project to totally engage a learner’s interest, it must be self-directed. However, every project has arbitrary expectations and goals. The IB PYP Exhibition Guidelines are an ideal reference for designing an environment that balances student choice with general expectations. By connecting with and learning from several experienced Exhibition teachers, in particular Sam Sherratt and Kristen Blum, I attempted to design a learning and working environment with enough structure and support to set up students for success, yet with enough flexibility and freedom to empower students with agency for authentic action.

My solution was to use individual wikis as ‘home bases’ on which each student could document all aspects of their inquiries according to an outline of requirements. As they worked, we held regular consultations to discuss and document the formal elements, such as applications of academic skills and conceptual understandings, of their projects.


Looking back, I should have done more to structure these formal elements on a calendar. For example, while reflection with a teacher or mentor is important, it would have been more effective to schedule activities in which students cooperate to assess and discuss each others’ projects-in-progress by focusing on particular elements in each session.


Setting expectations

While students selected and pursued their inquiries independently, one design success was to require certain tasks. Specifically, every student was required to complete an expository essay, a persuasive speech, and an expressive work of art.

Limiting the scope of the products was very effective for increasing student agency, although in the future, I plan to focus on each as an assessment task by itself during the school year to develop applicable skills.

Rubrics were also a key feature for setting expectations. These were created collaboratively as a class early in the process and were based on the model that we have used throughout the year. By clearly defining success criteria for the formal elements, I believe that we maximized opportunities for students to exercise choice and direct their own learning.


Synthesizing the theme


In December, we began specific preparations for the Exhibition by discussing and synthesizing a theme title and description. As I wrote in the post, PYP Exhibition Theme Synthesisour theme needed to integrate aspects of all six PYP transdisciplinary themes and unify students’ inquiries and interests under a common conceptual theme. My solution was to play poetry magnets. By mixing and matching, the students were able to cobble together a theme description that, with a little semantic help from me, includes everyone’s contributions and provides general context for all of our work. How we interact  is our theme title, and I have noticed that when students’ inquiries have wandered astray, referring them back to our theme has been very valuable to help them refocus or reorient themselves.


BYOD

One of the most successful features of our project was a temporary Bring-Your-Own-Device policy. Normally, our students check their technology at the door during the school day, however, in order for our exhibitioners to take ownership of their learning and projects, I petitioned the parents and administration to allow students to utilize all of the tools at their disposal.


The result was increased motivation and efficiency as students learned how to apply the fluency they have gained with their ‘smart’ devices to their academic learning.


Weekly reflection

The only required ongoing tasks were two reflections per week: One blog post and one video. Surprisingly, while at times entertaining, this was one of the least successful activities in terms of student learning.
Why? The early reflections went as expected. Blog posts were recountings of activities. A culture of listing day-by-day even grew organically as a method to organize. Videos started giggly and progressed to more sober as the Exhibition became imminent.

Unfortunately, few reflections were ‘deep’. They generally lacked emotion and personal connection. This is my greatest challenge for future long term projects. How can we utilize technology for formative reflection more effectively?

One idea is to provide prompts for each reflection. Similar to the documentation process needing more structure and opportunities for peer-interaction, I think that the reflection process needs more scaffolding, at least in the beginning. There are rich possibilities, such as choosing prompts at random or me, as a coach, writing prompts that become increasingly complex and challenging.


If the project is the learning, then formative reflection and self-assessment is the most important facet of its documentation. This is an area that requires significant attention and a line of inquiry that I am excited to pursue and would welcome collaborators!


Cognitive dissonance

Personally, I believe that a culminating project, in this case the PYP Exhibition, is a rite of passage. Please see my post, PYP Exhibition: A Rite of Passage, for more details and to view my attempt at an inspirational and provocative video.

The resolution of the cognitive dissonance students experience occurs when they assume responsibility for their learning processes, agency for their choice of actions, and ownership of their learning artifacts.


This seemed to occur at various times and to varying degrees of intensity. While it is difficult if not impossible to assess or document, another of my driving goals for the future is to optimize opportunities for cognitive dissonance and resolution during the Exhibition. Again, I believe more activities to stimulate students to reflect on their beliefs about themselves would help.

Enjoyment

Finally, to mediate the stress of concentrating on a long term, transdisciplinary project, we had fun. From research like the findings reported in the Wall Street Journal article, The Inner Workings of the Executive Brain, it is clear that while deadlines and schedules may be good for short term motivation, over time they cause changes in the brain to the detriment of creativity and productivity.

One of the best decisions we made was to schedule a field trip to an amusement park to ‘kick-off’ formal preparations for the Exhibition. Everyone’s mood flipped that day, and I noticed renewed focus and seriousness in the weeks that followed. I highly recommend such an activity to anyone pursuing PBL with their class.

Students were also free to manage their time independently, including taking breaks and playing games. I also planned some team-building activities that were enjoyable. Most often, I found myself reminding students to take breaks and suggesting that they go outside for a stroll to refresh their minds!

Verdict

Project Based Learning is fun. My goal for the future is to plan and schedule a little more to provide a more stable foundation for students’ projects. This planning stretches to the beginning of the school year, as it is important to ensure that all students have had opportunities to practice the skills they will need to recognize and report on their learning as it is happening.

I’m curious to know other PBL facilitators’ strategies for supporting your students’ inquiries!


The future of learning

This week, I am excited to continue my connected learning inquiry as a participant in a new course, Teacher Practice in a Connected World, taught by Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching.

I feel very grateful to be enrolled in the course on a scholarship from The Rendell Center for Citizenship and Civics.

Ooooh?


Our first task is to write a statement of goals. It’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on my connected learning and teaching journey which began about one year ago and summarize my hopes and goals for the future.

A connected learning manifesto

During the past year, I became a connected educator. Locating other teachers actively sharing and interacting on social media, developing a robust professional blogging regimen, participating in the Making Learning Connected MOOC, and progressing into a participatory flow through a myriad of online learning communities has led me to a place in which the distinctions between teaching and learning, virtual and real, online and offline, have all become blurred beyond recognition.

It feels like a long way from my teacher preparation courses nearly ten years ago. In those days, ‘educational technology’ was a set of multicolored markers and making a gradesheet with spreadsheet software. My college of education, one of the largest in the United States, had exactly one SmartBoard that I am aware of.

Technology has been redefined in the past ten years and is now on the cusp of being used to redefine education.

I believe that connected learning, specifically digitally networked learning will replace schools as we know them in the not too distant future. I also believe that this is a change that will benefit learning as a function of being human, education as an institution, and the world as a whole as our capacity for international understanding and cognitive empathy increases.

Connectivist Massive Open Online Courses (cMOOCs) are a prototype of this development in learning, as are the many various online spaces from student blogging platforms to maker spaces, interest focused forums to social media. I have learned a lot as a participant in the COETAIL community of international educators. Edcamp is also a revolutionary development and I was honored to help organize the first Edcamp Tokyo.



I am joining this movement and the ‘Teacher Practice in a Connected World’ course because I want teachers, as professional learners, to wrest and maintain control of educational technology and connected learning. We must master and use technology to continue to alter the course of the education so-called pendulum so that it swings ever more strongly toward learner empowerment.

Hopefully, we will be able to begin to design networks that can realize the potential for connected learning that already exists. In fact, the networks already exist. We need to coach ourselves and our colleagues to use them and take ownership. I am hopeful that one aspect of this course will be to create channels to encourage more teachers to join the digital collaboration that has already begun.

To do this, I think I need to understand the attitudes and practices that currently exist beyond my school and connected learning networks. Why isn’t everyone sharing online? When I invite colleagues in my school to participate in a MOOC or join a discussion forum, they literally never do. Am I selling it wrong? Is there something I could do to make it easier for them to begin?

I have approached connected learning from a totally practical perspective, as a learner, and I would like to spend some time exploring a more theoretical point of view. I believe that would enable me to better apply what I have learned as pedagogy.

Design thinking, experience design, and learning design are disciplines that I believe are essential to my goals to transform my classroom into a connected learning space. This has been of interest to me since I blogged about it in the post, Metateaching: Teachers as anthropologists and designers. The Macromedia Design Thinking MOOC has been an eye opening experience and something very different than learning that I have done in the past, particularly compared to ‘education’ classes. I see the potential of design principles to create environments in which interest driven learning and standards based education can connect and thrive.




The Maker Education Initiative is particularly interesting to me as a vehicle for supporting authentic learning and connecting it to the expectations of institutions and governments, particularly with so much emphasis being directed at STEM education (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). This year, I started an after school Maker Club. It has been fascinating to see our young makers’ attitudes toward creativity and collaboration change in the first few weeks from trepidation to confidence and enjoyment.


Another project I look forward to developing further is Independent Inquiry. I started it two years ago as a way to replace homework with more relevant learning. Now, it incorporates values and principles from many of my favorite learning organizations including Connected Learning and the 21st Century Fluency Project. This summer, I plan to revise and reiterate the reflection tools once again for the next school year. Ideally, I would like to collaborate with other teachers interested in connecting students pursuing similar inquiries or to inspire each others’ curiosities. Many classrooms are applying Genius Hour, but I don’t see the kinds of sharing that existing networks could facilitate. I would like to help improve that situation.

Finally, my goal is to have fun again this summer. Last year, the Making Learning Connected MOOC showed me how connecting formal and informal learning is enjoyable. I would love to invite and engage with more wonderful people and excellent learners!


[Edit 2014.05.30 This post reimagined as a Frank Zappa fueled multimedia blitz: http://zeega.com/165935]

SAMR v Smart-Board

In October, the dry-erase whiteboard in my classroom was replaced with a Promethean ActivBoard. The children at school aptly described it as a ‘giant iPad’ as they explored the functions of dragging and dropping with their fingers and writing with the provided styluses.

It was a much anticipated change, and now that I’ve had opportunities to integrate it into my approaches to teaching, this is an ideal opportunity to assess how I’ve utilized it according to the SAMR model of technology integration.

Listening to Richard Wells speak about SAMR on the BAM! Radio podcast, Using the Four Step SAMR Model to Update Your Teaching Practice, was particularly helpful as he emphasizes the SAMR model as a tool for changing one’s mindset toward technology in the classroom.

Substitution

Say goodbye to dry-erase dust!
At first, and with no additional training or time to prepare new activities, I used the ActivBoard as a substitute for a low-tech whiteboard. Although being able to use a myriad of colors and line thicknesses provides more expressive functionality, it could still be accomplished with dry-erase markers, albeit without all the grungy dry-erase dust.

Augmentation

Documentation
After using the ActivBoard as an inkless whiteboard, I realized the potential to save work in a variety of digital formats, including as a ‘flipboard’ that could be opened and edited later or simply as a screenshot for archival purposes. Gone are the days of photographing the whiteboard at the conclusion of a discussion!

Visible thinking
This was particularly useful for KWL charts and other digital visible thinking artifacts. The ActivBoard software can import PDFs to be annotated, a feature we have used effectively for interactively reviewing quizzes. Another interesting application is desktop annotation. During an inquiry into visual literacy, we used this to discuss and make notes on the design and layout of our favorite websites.

Engagement
Thus far, the most noticeable augmentation relates to student engagement. The futuristic appearance of the ActivBoard and its similarity to familiar tablet computers has motivated students to participate more actively in discussions and contribute to visual media created in class.

Modification

Virtual tools
Discovering the capabilities of our ActivBoard revealed many useful features. In particular, the Math Tools enable presentations and demonstrations to be completed with virtual versions of the same tools students are using at their desks.

Digital music
One application that was successful occurred in music class. To introduce a Grade 4 inquiry into digital sequencers, we used the ActivBoard to co-create a piece of music to practice the functions and features of the Online Sequencer.

In the past, I generally introduced new applications by first using a digital projector to make a presentation to outline key features, then providing time for independent or small group exploration. The ActivBoard allowed for a bridge activity between teacher presentation and independent practice that is visually, physically, and socially engaging. It also has a good audio system!

Redefinition

Can the ActivBoard redefine learning?
A common thread running through the discourse on ‘modification’, and my primary goal for technology modification, is student agency. Technology provides unprecedented opportunities to personalize learning and empower learners to take ownership of their learning processes.

To use the ActivBoard to achieve the goal of increasing student agency requires a mindset change with which I am still grappling.

After all, it is still a screen mostly suitable to presentation. Perhaps it can be used to redefine ‘presentation’ into an interactive experience, but that would require an in-depth inquiry into tools beyond the ActivBoard itself. Perhaps those are the exact tools students and I should be learning.

Is there a way to connect learning on the other ubiquitous touch screen devices like iPads with the touch screen ActivBoard? A quick inquiry revealed a post, What Can I Do with an iPad in an ActivBoard Classroom? (Part 1), from the Promethean Planet community blog, and Apple Kills the Interactive Whiteboard with iPad 2.

In both posts, hints of the benefits of iPad/ActivBoard compatibility are mentioned. Evidently, however, those ideas have yet to be realized.

Next steps
My own plans focus on using the ActivBoard to redefine ‘presentation’. As an inquiry teacher, curating and presenting thought-provoking media is critical. Thus far, that seems to be the primary strength of the ActivBoard and the most obvious line of inquiry for me to pursue.