My life has been a whirlwind of activity since NECC and I have found it hard to keep up with blogging. I don't know why, but I feel guilty blogging when I have other deadlines looming. Do any of you experience that? Is it illogical? Should I blog anyway, much like we still get the day to day things done at work or home, even when we have extra tasks on our "to do" lists. Or should I put 100% of my attention toward the deadlines and follow Grandmas' rule of "work before play"?
I'd love to hear your take.
Disclaimer: Blogging is like play for me- sheer enjoyment. Not necessarily the writing, as for me the writing doesn't come easy, but the thrill of the hits and conversation that follows does.
Community Driven System
The purpose of stealing moments away from my already full agenda this morning though to share my experiences of the last week. I came to realized more than ever that I am a community driven woman. I believe in the power of the community, the wisdom of the crowd, that the network is more powerful than the node and that none of us are as good as all of us. I believe that School 2.0 means moving from a classroom system to a community system. And now more than ever I also believe that about PD and I mean all PD- conferences(e.g. K12Online08), workshops (e.g. most recently CABOCES Summer Instititue), ongoing, job embedded sync and asysn (e.g. PLP) and as a result I am going to change my keynotes even more to flow from a community model as well. As I reflected over the last week, I realized even my family operates as a community. I am no loan wolf.
CABOCES Summer Institute
One week ago I landed in Buffalo and was greeted by Rick Weinberg who took me to Selemanca where I would be spending the next week working with educators from the surrounding area. When the day drew closer to the conference Rick shared that unexpectedly numbers were down. I gave him the opportunity to cancel rather than bring me out for just a few people, (I am knee deep in buying my first home in Va and could have used the time) but Rick was firm that they wanted to move forward. I am so glad he made that decision because this week was an incredible week of learning for me personally.
Here are my take aways...
1. When you are focused on educational reform from a community perspective- more is not always better.
Monday- I had 10 administrators who were with me for one day. The small number enabled me to spend time personally getting to know each attendee. I invited Karen Richardson, Chris Lehmann, and Jon Becker to attend a panel discussion answering their concerns and questions. You can listen to the panel discussion here. The strength of intimacy because of such a small number of participants in the room made me realize that relationship is a more powerful tool when trying to leverage change than having large numbers of people in a room who are passively listening to you talk.
John Norton's wine glass metaphor rings true here- (He was drinking a glass of wine when it occurred to him- hence the name) that it is better to have small numbers of highly engaged people when influencing school reform than hundreds of folks who show up but walk away unchanged by the experience.
Also, on Friday when we knew our numbers would be minimal and we had such brilliant panel members coming from the community (Darren Kuropatwa, Kevin Honeycutt, Allanah King, and Mark Clemente) we made it a teachable moment. We spontaneously opened the Elluminate session up to the world (and the world indeed showed up) and we used Ustream and a chat channel as well to show if you offer quality the community will come to you- no matter how rural or small you are.
2. My belief was reinforced that for most newbies, teaching tools in isolation is too overwhelming and a waste of time.
Tuesday I tried to lay the foundation and set the context. I also wanted to help attendees understand today's digital learner. Wes Fryer (Oklahoma), Laura Deisley (Atlanta), Meg Ormiston (Illinois), and Sue Waters (Australia) talked about personal learning networks and the tools that support them (listen in here) on Wednesday. On Thursday my plan was to look more closely at tools and their pedagogy and how they best relate to various instructional activities and then on Friday to create inquiry based instruction with an interactive model of building a PBL mini-unit. For the most part things went according to plan, but Thursday's tools, tools, and more tools left me feeling overwhelmed and tense. I know if I had been a newbie in that audience not having been given the opportunity to use the tools in a meaningful application, I would have been frustrated. The idea was to create an awareness of the tools, not mastery, so that on Friday when we created lessons using the TPCK model we would have a web 2.0 list of applications from which to choose. The result though was painful, at least for me.
I brainstormed with Rick Weinberg and Tim Clarke afterward and what we felt would have worked better was to have four tables- with one of us at each table presenting a tool. Our presentations would include the tool, an activity using the tool, and a chance to reflect on best uses of the tool. Then after 45 minutes we would break for 15 and then could present another tool. We would do that three times (12 tools) and participants could choose which tools they wanted to learn.
I really believe that the best examples of tool instruction are within the context of what you are learning. Like our heating and cooling system they should be invisible. The only time we focus on our heating and cooling is when they aren't working properly. Then we have to focus on the tool itself and decide why it isn't working.
Even Bill Fitzgerald (Funny Monkey) after his discussion on Open Source tools left the attendees with the idea of forgetting the tool- focusing instead on what you want kids to know and be able to do- then figuring out the right task and tool for the job to help kids achieve their goal.
On Tuesday, I decided to create a panel of kids from 11th grade to college juniors and talk to them about their reflections on technology. It was the most inspiring part of my week long work. I am still learning from all they taught me during that hour. Meet Gracie, Maegan, Ryan, Jay, Danny, Christian, Thomas, Will and Jesse. You won't be sorry you did.
4. Teachers need time to reflect, explore, and build in the safety net of your workshop.
Teachers, like kids, need you to model and then let them explore authentic use with you there to help. They need to understand how to create lesson plans that use the tools in meaningful ways, but then they need to actually collaborate together to build activities that they can use in school; activities that leverage the potential of these new mediums for connecting and collaborating.
Typically, in my workshops I only have time to present the shift and the tools- never to actually jump to the most important step of helping teachers contextualize what they are learning. I walked away from this week realizing that this step is what is missing in school reform and is why in my opinion, that change is happening so slowly.
The most exciting time of the conference for me personally was to watch the groups choose a topic- create a concept web, a curriculum web, choose appropriate standards, an essential pedagogy, an appropriate tool and develop several lessons that all integrated not only core disciplines but fell together under a theme, project or problem. The creative juices really began to flow as we constructed together a killer initiating activity that would usher in our year long project and the lessons we would use to teach state mandated content from a passion-based perspective. The tools made sense because they were merely a means to an end- helping students learn about things that interested them from the perspective of a scientist, historian or author.
I am thankful to CABOCES for being willing to invest the time that allowed their educators to not only gain an awareness but to deeply reflect, discuss, and wrestle with the concepts- while facilitators and their newly formed PLN stood by to help them make informed choices about change.