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.

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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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Trust & Transparency

(from the K12 Online Conference)

I have been facilitating Independent Inquiry in my classroom for the past three years. It’s similar to Genius Hour and 20% Time in Education. Witnessing the enthusiasm and engagement with which learners pursue their interests and passions has motivated me to evaluate, redesign, share, and promote passion driven learning.


In these years, the single greatest challenge has been establishing trust that time students spend pursuing their interests and passions is well spent. As asked by The Tinkering Studio in Chapter 5 of Design, Make, Play:

‘It looks like fun, but are they learning?’

Cynicism about learner directed learning is understandable. We don’t have content. The students inquire into and create the content.

When I asked students their thoughts and feelings about Independent Inquiry in our classroom, they agreed that it’s fun. But they also said:

I can do anything I want.’
‘I like to make things.’
‘We can work together.’
‘We can challenge ourselves.’
‘When we make things, we improve ourselves and think a lot.’
‘We practice being reflective.’
‘In Independent Inquiry, you don’t feel bad about making mistakes.’
‘Sometimes you have to start over again.’

We have had a fascinating variety of inquiries over the last three years, from baking to basketball free throw practice, lego robotics to fashion design.

Teachers who try passion driven learning in their classrooms discover that the deep learning occurs around the processes of thinking, inquiry, and reflection. We all pursue our passions differently, and our best learning occurs from exploring different paths to understanding, making mistakes, persisting through frustration, and reflecting on the process.

Regretably, many teachers go to great lengths to design detailed project organizers to ensure that students cross all of the ‘t’s and dot all of the ‘i’s of their learning process. Understandably, they want to have artifacts of student learning to control the process just enough to be able to ‘justify’ the use of time.

But that’s not learner directed, is it? It’s a project in which students have some voice, but the direction is already determined.

One might object, claiming that ‘most students don’t know how to direct their own learning. They can’t do it.’

‘They can’t do it.’

I cringe visibly when educators say that.

People don’t learn by already being able to do things. They learn by trying new things.

The brilliance of passion driven learning, what makes it the vanguard of a meaningful revolution in education is that it’s based on the premise that ‘They can do it’.

Our responsibility is to empower them.

Trust the learner

The first and most important trust that passion driven learning requires is between students and their teachers. We must trust that each learner will pursue their interests and passions to the best of their ability and gain their trust that we will do anything possible to help.

An infant doesn’t begin to learn to walk by taking a first step. They begin in the cradle by wondering how it is that other people can move around so easily. Their first attempts at mobility are so pathetic, they are adorable, and that’s exactly what we expect.

Self directed learning is no different. Most learners fail miserably and that’s exactly what needs to happen. Failure should be encouraged and celebrated. This failure is the foundation of a growth mindset and an environment of trust empowers everyone to act with courage to grow.


I have observed a wide range of fascinating independent inquiries. Some are shining examples of committed and creative hard work, some are simply pathetic. But the best and the worst are of equal value as they represent different stages of learning how to learn. In many cases, the so called ‘worst’ inquiries are actually the best.

Learn; don’t be taught.

When students enter my upper elementary classroom for the first time, they know how to ‘be taught’. They are well accustomed to clever lessons, activities, worksheets, and quizzes.

My goal is for them to learn how to ‘learn’. Which begs the question: ‘If students aren’t in school to ‘be taught’, what’s the purpose of teachers?’

It’s a fair question! What we are essentially saying is, ‘send your kids to my classroom! I’m not really going to teach them anything.’ What is needed is trust among all stakeholders including students, parents, teachers, administrators, policy makers, etc.

I have been fortunate to teach in an environment that explicitly promotes inquiry learning, and given the current trends of deeper learning, design thinking, and maker education, I imagine most schools would be willing to allow an experiment in passion driven learning.

Even given the initial trust of stakeholders, it’s our responsibility to sustain that trust by clearly demonstrating the success of our programs. Fortunately, the inspired faces of students describing their learning speak volumes, but it’s not enough.

The key to sustaining trust is transparency.

Transparency

The first and indispensable tool I use is a Google Form for weekly reflection and self assessment. It’s the hub of our passion driven learning as we use it to reflect and discuss our learning.

The form we use in my class includes elements from the IB Primary Years Program, The 21st Century Fluency Project, the Connect Learning Core Values, and a writing prompt. These elements represent the essential goals for the school year. Of course, a form could include virtually anything, including Common Core learning objectives.

The transparency comes from the spreadsheet the form feeds. Every reflection is recorded with a timestamp and can be searched by any variable. The sheet itself is not sortable, but a straightforward script can import the contents to another sheet that is sortable. I have included all of these in a public Google Drive Folder for anyone to copy.

After several weeks of inquiry and reflection, it’s very revealing to give each student a printout of their own reflections to analyze. They are always impressed with the growth and maturity their inquiries and reflections show.

We also use the form during a weekly Independent Inquiry Meeting. My class has two consecutive hours scheduled for self directed learning, once per week, and each sessions begins with a meeting in which we discuss their previous reflections, new inquiry models, collaboration and service opportunities, and anything else pertaining to independent inquiry.

These meetings are also a great chance to explore our reflection ‘analytics’, a summary of the reflections in graphic form.

Coach, document, curate, share

Back to the question of ‘what does the teacher ‘teach’?’ in a self directed environment. One answer is that we become coaches. We must be intimately familiar with each student’s project, their strengths and areas of need as inquirers. Often, when I notice a student pursuing a particularly difficult line of inquiry, I independently perform my own research to help them find useful yet difficult to find resources. At other times, particularly when students work in a group on a highly creative inquiry goal, I just leave them alone to negotiate their own ways through the challenges.

The learning environment is incredibly dynamic, and opportunities to capture and document the best learning come and go in flashes. Another answer to what teachers do is that we become documentarians and curators.

My smartphone is always at hand to snap a picture and take a quick note. For curation, Evernote is extremely useful, as it allows me to tag photo notes with the student’s name and any other important information, including quotes from students about their learning.

Teachers know that well organized portfolios of student work including a range of assessment data are a good way to endear ourselves to administration.

Finally, all this learning needs to be shared, certainly with parents and ideally publicly. My preferred media are a class twitter account and blog. Twitter is perfect for live sharing of the learning in class and interacting with parents and other classes. In our class blog, I often reshare tweets and include more photos and explanation.

The best way to describe this sharing is ‘broadcasting’. If the passion driven classroom actively broadcasts its activities, the levels of engagement and depth of learning will be evident and celebrated.

Trust yourself

Trust yourself to learn from mistakes, reflect, adapt, try again, and above all, share your own process for passion driven learning, just as we wish for our students.

Trust yourself to persist through the mishaps and misadventures of learning innovation and openly model a mindset to inspire students to embrace and pursue their interests and passions.

Visual Literacy Achievements Unlocked!

My final projects for the Visual Literacy COETAIL course are a slide presentation to inform my school community about our first PYP Exhibition and a video to inspire my Grade 6 students as they prepare their Exhibition, a self-directed and collaborative research and service action project.

Inform

As detailed in the post, Exhibition pre-Zen-tation, I struggled to transform my text-heavy, visually dry slides into a more engaging and thought provoking accompaniment to my speech.

The process was mostly subtractive. I deleted nearly all of the text and replaced it with carefully selected Creative Commons licensed images.

One of my most important lessons from this course has been the importance of audience. With that in mind, I shared the second draft of my slides and received very insightful comments, which led to the final version.

Introduction to the Exhibition


I was very happy with the presentation and meeting, and I believe that these slides inspired thoughtful discourse and discussion, rather than simply delivering information. For the latter purpose, I simply shared my notes on Google Drive and embedded them in our class blog for accessibility.

Inspire

In the post, PYP Exhibition: A Rite of Passage, I detail the process of creating an inspirational video for my students and other students preparing their exhibitions.

As with the slide presentation, I sought critique before completing the final cut.

My favorite step was composing the music. In the ‘remix’ spirit, I arranged samples from one of my class’ collective improvisations into an innocent, dreamy loop. By adding a simple string pad and energetic drum tracks, I tried to capture the mood and drama of the Exhibition from meandering innocence, through cognitive dissonance, and into catalyzed momentum.

Prelude to the Exhibition

My most significant understanding from completing this project is that deeper learning needs plenty of time and freedom. Tinkering and iteration are essential to constructionist learning, and I spent many late evenings and early mornings wrestling with the unfamiliar tools I needed to complete my projects.

It’s important to consider that students need time to explore the technological tools we invite them to use in order to achieve their full potential and quality of expression.

PYP Exhibition: A Rite of Passage

Several weeks ago, I began an inquiry into visual literacy. Feeling that visual communication is My Greatest Weakness, it’s been an exciting challenge to spill this can of worms and start stomping. It has been easy to find opportunities to practice and apply new skills and understandings in the classroom.

Purpose

My students have begun preparing their PYP Exhibition. It’s our first in every sense: as individuals, as a class, and as a school. I have researched extensively about elementary school Exhibitions around the world and have been trying to approach the process from a design perspective.

Metateaching

The essence of metateaching is knowing students well and designing an environment in which their learning can thrive.
For Exhibition, that environment consists primarily of independence, yet it is important to introduce the project in a way that helps inform and inspire the process.
When I was preparing the presentation I would deliver to the school community about Exhibition, the Exhibition pre-Zen-tation, I intended to provide information about what we should all expect during the coming several weeks.

I blogged about the meeting in the post, Exhibition Week 0. It was successful, but there was something missing. From the perspective of visual literacy and storytelling, I realized that my efforts could accomplish much more if I aimed to persuade rather than inform, or, to use Seth Godin’s terminology, ‘persuade’ rather than ‘convince’.

The presentation and slides are effective at delivering information and provoking thought, ‘convincing’, but they wouldn’t inspire anyone to join the adventure. They don’t ‘persuade’. They lack emotion.

What I needed was a video.

My own inspiration

To inspire my video, I pondered the Exhibition. The objective is for students to demonstrate mastery of the IBO Primary Years Program through self-directed and collaborative inquiry. It occurred me that it closely resembles a traditional rite of passage, a ritual marking the transition from one state or status to another.
In this case, the students are moving from elementary school to secondary school. They are presented with a challenging task and provided limited assistance and expected to use what they know to organize and take action. They are intended to cause cognitive dissonance, the resolution of which is both the process and product of the experience.
This led to the conceptual framework for the video. It would start with an introduction to rites of passage, then invite the students to engage in the inquiry process through video footage of other schools’ exhibitions.

I do everything the hard way

At that point, things became ugly. Or interesting, depending on your perspective. I was trying to learn several different technologies, as well as visual literacy concepts and skills, all at the same time.
First there was searching for Creative Commons licensed images and video to remix. Next, learning how to use iMovie to organize and edit them, as well as adding the text. Adding text involved searching for an interesting font, a process in which I became totally lost for most of an evening. Finally, I hacked together a scratch music track with audio from one of my class’ collective improvisations for keyboard percussion. Unfortunately or fortunately, I’m really not sure, technological misunderstanding prevented the audio from being included in the uploaded YouTube video.

Without further ado

I decided to share this version of the video because part of my personal inquiry is to be more collaborative. I have always had a very thin skin when it comes to critique and criticism, something I am working to improve. 
Please view my video and tell me what you think!

EDIT 19 March 2014 – View the final video in the post, Visual Literacy Achievements Unlocked!.