Thursday, December 5, 2013

What happens if we don't...?

The Value Function
I've been reading about cognitive psychology and design thinking with great interest lately, and some ideas have been swirling around in my head. In particular, I (finally!) finished Daniel Kahneman's fantastic book Thinking, Fast and Slow on Prospect Theory (reading notes here) and the decision-making processes that are at work in our minds (cf. a previous post on some of its ideas). Design Thinking (DT) has also caught my attention (cf. another previous post), and while sitting on a plane last week, I had the chance to reflect on how prospect theory and DT work with each other.

In particular, I've been very interested in Carol Dweck's idea of the growth mindset, with its emphasis on resilience and the reframing of failure as an opportunity, which is a pillar of DT. But I haven't see much concrete thinking on how we actually develop this in people. More and more of us are telling our students that they shouldn't fear failure but rather embrace it; though, it's been my experience that simply telling them that failure isn't a bad thing isn't very effective, especially if this thinking isn't reinforced elsewhere. As one of my students recently put it, after all, "School wouldn't be fun without grades!" So, how do we help students to be more "growth" focused and innovative? How do we actually teach them to take risks and feel rewarded for doing so?

Kahneman's Prospect Theory, which was developed as an economic theory of decision making, has direct application to education, I think, and it has helped me think through this problem. In his book, Kahneman discusses risk aversion as a feature that's deeply embedded into our cognitive thinking, in that "[t]he aversion to the failure of not reaching a goal is much stronger than the desire to reach it" (303), and that "[a]nimals, including people, fight harder to prevent losses than to achieve gains." (305) Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, and Vohs, in their paper "The Bad Is Stronger Than Good" (323), sum it up nicely:
"Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good. The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones."
The Fourfold Pattern
The Fourfold Pattern (316ff.) in Prospect Theory states that, despite the probabilities, when people stand to gain something, we avoid risk; but when we stand to loose something, we embrace risk. For instance, consider which option in the following two scenarios is preferable to you:
  • Get $900 for sure or a 90% chance to get $1000
  • Lose $900 for sure or a 90% chance to lose $1000
The overwhelming majority of people, according to Kahneman (279-280), find the first option of the first scenario preferable (i.e. getting $900) vis–à–vis taking the risk in the second option and not getting any money. Conversely, we'd rather take the risk of not losing anything, even if the risk is large, than give up a sure $900. The observed behavioral patterns are nicely summed up in the "Fourfold Pattern" chart.

I think that the current educational system can be placed in the upper-left box, where students and teachers believe that we stand to gain, provided we play it "safe" and do what we're supposed to do. According to tradition, "sure things" are the cognitive skills that are reflected by grades, AP scores, etc. But tradition too frequently prevents us from taking risks by innovating and developing the essential non-cognitive skills (or "soft skills") like resilience, empathy, and creativity, since we're resistant to missing out on the measurable rewards, and this is where our fears of failure are forged.

Interestingly, Kahneman found discrepancies to the predicted behaviors, though, when the commodities in question were "for use" (intrinsic) in comparison to "for exchange" (extrinsic) goods like money. "Selling goods that one would normally use activates regions of the brain that are associated with disgust and pain" (296) by changing the reference point for which we make decisions, he argues, and we therefore treat "for use" goods differently, allowing for more mobility within the Fourfold Pattern. This so-called endowment effect (293) is an important discovery that may have potential ramifications for how we think about learning.

With this framework in mind, I've been considering some applications of Prospect Theory to DT, mindsets, and education. When we treat education and content as a commodity to be traded (i.e. lecturing, mechanically testing on content, emphasizing grades, etc.) and when we have deep beliefs that we will gain something valuable from doing these things, it makes sense, thanks to Kahneman's work, that we will be "risk averse" and "fixed" with respect to our mindsets. We're afraid to miss out because that's how our brains are wired to react, and we thus protect ourselves be being risk averse (i.e. taking the sure $900).

But if we treat education and the learning process as something with "utility" and ideas that we actually use, focusing on innovation and creativity, rather than content to be simply traded with others, we can learn to be risk-seeking, even when the probability of traditional "success" is low. In other words, we can move from the upper left to the lower left of the Fourfold Pattern above, which means, surprisingly, that we may need to start believing that we stand to lose something for certain if we don't take the risk. Taking risks doesn't necessarily lead to embracing failure within DT framework, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.

In order to produce growth mindsets in students, we need to ask them to use their education ("for use" commodities), rather than simply repeat it back to us ("for exchange" commodities). This is what DT is all about: ideation, iteration, and innovation. In Prospect Theory, the possibility effect is the observed pattern whereby highly unlikely outcomes are given disproportionately more weight (311), but in education I see it as the hope that students have when they think big, believe in themselves, and take risks that they otherwise wouldn't take. What we all lose when we don't take risks, then, is personalization of learning, creativity, and the opportunity to innovate and do something new. That's to say, we lose the chance to escape from tradition.

Now this conclusion is likely not too surprising to educators who have been investing themselves in to project-based learning philosophies like "20% time" or "genius hour" projects, but it reinforces these ideas and gives us (or at least me!) a concrete framework to stand on, as we rework our curricula and begin to transform our schools from the traditional "factory" model. Putting some of this theory to practice and playing around with using loss to motivate risk taking, I want to try asking more "What happens if we don't...?" and "What do we lose by not doing...?" questions that frame our work in terms of losses of intrinsic goals, rather than focusing on the grade-based extrinsic "gains."

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As I keep thinking through these ideas, I'm going to make heavy use of Kahneman's term theory-inducing blindness, which means that "once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws." (277) We've been induced to blindness by our allegiance to the AP curriculum, GPAs and "Honors" courses, advanced degrees, and our teacher-centric lecture models. We won't take risks, as long as we see consider these our goals. And we can't innovate, if we don't take risks. To get our students to take them and learn to reframe failure, we have change our own mindsets first and take those risks ourselves.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gladwell's David and Goliath and Design Thinking

Malcolm Gladwell's new book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants discusses perceived advantages and disadvantages and how appearances may not always be what the seem. The book has been received with some justifiable criticism (e.g. Christopher Chabris' "The Trouble with Malcolm Gladwell"), but I've still found it interesting and thought-provocative for its potential applications in education, as we're on the cusp of some radical and profound changes.

Basically, Gladwell argues that "being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable" (6). He then examines a number of cases in various contexts, where the "underdog," based on the lack of clear advantages, has actually outperformed or beaten the supposed favorite, starting with the famous battle of David vs. Goliath.

Design Thinking (Thomas Lockwood)
At the #oesis Symposium in Boston this past week (cf. my conference notes), I attended an interesting session on design thinking (DT) by Matthew Cavellier and Hannah Sobol from Shattuck-St. Mary's School, since I've been very interested in the cognitive processes that underlie creativity and innovation. From Wikipedia, DT "is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context," and it has become very popular in certain industries and business over the past half decade. I've been drawn to DT, in that it seems to offer a healthy analytical methodology to approach some of the problems we're facing in changing the way we approach education (cf. the DT Wiki above for more info on the process).

With this in mind, I'm curious to re-examine some of our own long-held assumptions about relative strengths and weaknesses in our schools, especially within the context of independent-school culture, using the principles of DT. In particular, I fear that some of our problems may be suffering from a lack of clear definition, which is one of the foundations of the DT process. Daniel Kahneman has shown that we tend to substitute an easier "heuristic" question for the target question without noticing (Thinking, Fast and Slow 97), and I see this process of substitution happening all too often, which is why certain problems get recycled over and over again. With an inability to clearly frame our problems with the right questions, we can neither understand them nor work toward effective solutions to them.

A few problems immediately come to mind that are worthy of further thought:
  • As Gladwell discusses (cf. Ch. 3), we often preach that smaller classes are better, especially within independent schools, where class sizes of 12 are not abnormal. But is this really always the case? It's true that smaller classes are easier to manage from the perspective of the teacher, but are they really better places for students to learn within the technological age? To my mind, the collaboration and diversity that we've been so busy promoting only benefits from larger classes. Given that traditional lecture methods are less effective in large classes, though, we necessarily need to transform how we teach. How do we transform our teaching methods considering what's best for our students?
  • We often think that, for a number of reasons, schools with more money are better off. Money can buy access to a variety of tech tools and devices, but it's much easier and quicker to put a tool in the hands of a teacher or a student than it is to train them to use it, overlooking the training. The problem, then, is time, which is our most valuable resource. As Cathy Davidson writes in Now You See It, "Time is the new currency—and many young people will gladly trade money to get more time" (223). Rather than looking for money to throw at problems, how can we give our teachers more time for collaboration and exploration, instead of asking them to do these sorts of things on their own time?
  • I heard the idea of "independent-school culture" used often at #oesis last week. Schools, and especially independent schools, take great pride in the culture promoted to students, parents, and staff, and this inherited culture is seen as a great advantage and justification for a school's given goals. But in my experience, culture in the sense of "tradition" can often stagnate innovation, when we believe that we have to keep doing things they way they were done in the past. The idea that we want students experience education in the same ways that we did just can't be maintained any longer; it won't help students to thrive in a world that's become very different from the one that produced this tradition. If culture is more than simply "tradition," what is it and why is it so important for us to cling to it? And how can we promote a growth mindset within our communities, while maintaining our culture?
I'm excited to have conversations about using DT to help us frame questions more accurately and rethink our "disadvantages" to create the new opportunities in which Gladwell believes. What other problems do we need to solve, as we continue to incorporate technology into curricula and transform pedagogy? What disadvantages exist that can actually help us to become better in the long run? If there is interest in exploring any these ideas in greater depth, I'd love to host a Twitter chat on them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Innovation and Growth

From the BigHeads Network
In a recent conversation on growth and professional development, I was surprised by some of the defensive ideas that came up in the discussion, namely, rejecting potentially valuable feedback, hiding failure, and playing it safe when setting goals. These are the same ideas that have been recycled in education for years that are preventing growth. To be fair, what "growth" means in education can be hard to pin down, given that the definition is often personal and isn't always shared with others. Most basically, I think, growth means getting better at the craft of teaching, but what does mean to be "better?"

To my mind, growth involves a large component of innovation, especially as more and more schools are moving toward blended-learning 1:1 programs. Innovation, of course, is often based on using technology in the classroom to a greater extent; but it more importantly requires us to change the way we think about solving problems. Innovation isn't simply putting homework assignments online. And so, I can't help but believe that these often-held assumptions about what growth is are preventing us from the kind of innovation that's possible right now. In order to move forward with our professional growth goals and innovate, we need to rethink these assumptions and change our culture toward one that promotes growth over fear, since within a culture of fear, growth and innovation are almost impossible. Though there are certainly other behaviors that promote growth and innovation, I'll list here a few specific ones that I have been thinking on, inspired in part by Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From.

Involve Students in the Process

It makes no sense to me to ignore students in the feedback process we use to evaluate ourselves and "grow." We're designing new curriculum around them, after all, using phrases like "collaborative work," "student centered," and "personalized" for the curricular changes we intend to make. Ideas thrive when they're not only shared between teachers, but also when they're shared with the students who will be subjected to them, and in order to innovate, we need to listen to their feedback.

Embrace Failure and the Attempt at Innovation

It also makes no sense for us to hide our failures and avoid trying new things, lest they don't work out. There's nothing that's more "fixed growth" (cf. Dweck's Mindset) than being afraid to try something new because you don't want others to learn that it didn't work. That's no way to grow, and it shouldn't be a model for students to learn.

Think Big

I learned at #gtachi this summer that we need to think big if we want to innovateit's the Google way. No one has ever changed the world by thinking small, and we're certainly not going to teach the next generation how to solve the significant problems that threaten the world by thinking like this. The bigger the goals we set, the greater the number of people involved, typically, which can help lead a school down a more innovative path.

Reflect as Often as Possible

Growth and innovation require constant reflection and refining, rather than thinking about personal and/or departmental goals once a year. This is where failure is actually advantageous and critical for the process of innovation, since it helps us to constantly refine our goals, as we move closer toward them.

Open Your Mind

Finally, innovation and growth require us to embrace diversity and welcome new ideas into our own frame of thinking (cf. more on this below). Albert Einstein, who is the source of several famous quotations on innovation, said that "we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them," and this is precisely why we need to think openly, not defensively, and embrace diversity for the benefit that it can bring to our own ways of thinking. More connections within our Personal Learning Network (PLN) hinders stale thinking and increases our exposure to new ideas that may help us to innovate and facilitates reflection on these ideas.

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I've been reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow on cognitive processes underlying how we think, which has proven to be quite fascinating. In particular, it's interesting to consider the differences between our "System 1" and "System 2" processes. System 1 is "automatic and quick, with little voluntary control," basically providing us with our first-impression thoughts. System 2, on the other hand, gives our attention to "effortful mental activity" and is "associated with subjective agency and choice" (20). System 2 is what we use to ask and think through questions that aren't intuitively obvious to System 1. But System 2 is lazy and often defers to System 1, especially when it's tired or overworked.

Kahneman introduces the pertinent idea of WYSIATI ("What You See Is All There Is") that, thanks to the way System 1 works, has us "jumping to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence" in experiment after experiment. Moreover, WYSIATI facilitates coherence of events (i.e. seeing relationships between things), even when there is none, and leads to cognitive ease, which causes us to give too much weight our first impressions, rather than carefully evaluating the evidence presented to us (86-87). Importantly, WYSIATI is based on our experiences and current collection of ideas in our heads.

I don't know many teachers, if any, who have plenty of free time and need extra work. Because we're so mentally drained, all too frequently, I think that we let System 2 give way to System 1 too often and fall back on what we already know, which is why innovation in education has been painfully slow. It's precisely why these old ideas have been kept around for so long. To pursue growth in whatever way that it is meaningful to us, we need a good measure of innovation, and to innovate, we need to explore new ideas so that we don't fall back on old patterns, just because they're all too comfortable and familiar.

McGonigal, in her fantastic book Reality is Broken, wrote that it's "easier to change minds than behaviors" (186), and I think she's right. With that, how do we change our culture toward a model that openly encourages growth and innovation? After an inspiring discussion on innovation last night on #caedchat, I'm also curious to know how people define growth an innovation. Feel free to share your thoughts here or with me on Twitter at @mosspike.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Change and the Giving up the Ego

endlessorigami.com
Someone recently mentioned to me that "change requires giving something up." At the time, I wasn't sure how much I believed it, but after thinking about it for a week, I do now. Depending on what kind of change is being proposed, there's a variety of answers to the question of what should be given up; but in more cases than not in education, based on what the conversations I've had, it's the ego that's at the center of this discussion.

Early in graduate school, I was giving a paper at a conference, with Joshua Katz, a brilliant Classicist and Indo-Europeanist from Princeton, in attendance. Afterward, we chatted about it, and he told me that he liked the paper right before he asked me, "Do you believe it?" I was shocked at first, but I quickly realized that he wasn't being critical. Instead, Katz was telling me indirectly that research wasn't always about being right; rather, it's about the exploration of ideas and the fact that it's not necessary to believe in an idea 100%, before sharing it.

Later, I had the great fortune to work with Calvert Watkins, who also reinforced this way of doing research. Despite being one of the most prolific and greatly respected Indo-European linguists in the field, he openly encouraged colleagues to criticize his work, with the hope that our understanding would only grow. He never put his ego before the ideas.


Team Geek and and the Ego

"If you spend all your time working alone, you're increasing the risk of failure and cheating your potential for growth" (Team Geek 5).

Thanks to Brian Fitzpatrick's great presentation at GTACHI about the principles that govern how software teams work well together, I've picked up his book Team Geek (co-authored with Ben Collins-Sussman). It's about good leadership practices, including the role that the ego plays in being a leader, namely, its destructive power (Team Geek 66-67). Reading through Fitzpatrick and Collins-Sussman's experience with ego, I'm more certain than ever that the changes that need to happen to build stronger learning environments in our schools requires us to give up our egos, as Katz and Watkins taught me.

During some recent professional development work, in which we were talking about the power of a backchannel, some complaints were offered about the students' ability to focus on the teacher and the lecture, if their attention was directed to the backchannel. Basically, I heard several questions of the sort "If students are not listening to me, then how can they be learning?", which sheds much light on the lecture-centered culture that continues to pervade education.

I can't help but interpret this attitude as driven by ego that stands in the way of change toward a more student-centered structure. As Fitzpatrick and Collins-Sussman argue, ego gets in the way of the kind of trust that gives a team (or students, in this case) a sense of accountability and ownership of their work. I fully agree and will add two other points that I blame on ego:

  • A lack of trust within a team engenders a fear of failure, when then creates a closed community, rather than an open environment, where team members feel welcome to share ideas.
  • Egos also create defensive cultures, where change and new ideas are too frequently met with judgment and second-guessing, instead of curiosity and enthusiasm. Cf. Daniel Pink's concept of "buoyancy" (discussed here) and responding to ideas with "Yes and...", rather than "No" or "But..." (To Sell 193).

Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, discusses the "cognitive ease" (59) that dulls our otherwise rational logic. When our minds are strained, we are prone to suspicion and are less intuitive and creative (59), so, based on this fact, systematically being on the defensive during conversations and meetings prevents us from being innovative by finding new and creative ways to solve our problems.

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I learned from Katz, Watkins, and several others, including, above all, my advisor, Brent Vine, that it's ok to be wrong, and, moreover, that it's important to take ownership of failure. It's the attempt and the process that's more important for learning than the results. In many way, then, my experience in graduate school can be seen as a sort of extended #20time project (however tortuous!), since it teaches that exploration and failure go together. Of course, that kind of positive experience depends critically on the quality of the mentoring. I was fortunate to have mentors who relished in the role, and they have set bar for my own expectations in dealing with colleagues and students.

With that, I'm looking forward to giving up any ego and any expectation of control this year. I hope to participate in creating the type of environment where we work together, feeling comfortable and even excited to try new things, and one one that believes "if you're not failing now and then, you're not being innovative enough or taking enough risks" (Team Geek 18).

What are you giving up and why?

Monday, August 12, 2013

EdCampSFBay

I just participated in my first EdCamp at #edcampsfbay this past Saturday, and I'm still feeling the adrenaline from it. The "unconference" was one of the single best experiences I've experienced of sitting in a room and having a conversation with other people who share interests and passions of mine. I left Hillsdale High School on Saturday afternoon believing that I could do anything and that there is an army of people who also believe this and are available to help.

The session discussions were amazing (cf. below), but the best part of events like this is the face-to-face interaction: I finally had the opportunity to meet in person some of the brilliant educators with whom I've been having great conversations on Twitter. Steven Johnson is certainly correct in believing that "the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop" (Good Ideas 61).

If unfamiliar with EdCamp's "unconference" model, it's very simple: show up at the appointed time and talk with people, while ideas for sessions are posted on the board. The ideas can be on anything, and one need not be an expert on a given idea in order to propose a session. Then, once the sessions are set, you can go to any of them you choose, including leaving a session for another, should it not be what you anticipated. Within the sessions, formal presentations (e.g. slides or handouts) are strictly forbidden. Finally, a demo slam at the end of the day gives everyone a chance to share something they've learned.

In the morning, +Alice Keeler set the tone for the day by exclaiming that EdCamps are not "tech" conferences, which is absolutely true. Aside from taking notes in each session (found here), we spent the entire session in conversation that was always open and helpful.

20% Time Projects

The first session I attended was on 20% Time or "Genius Hour" (cf. an introduction to the idea), which I'm considering offering to my 9th-grade Latin III course next year, focusing on Classical reception. We spent some time discussing how "creativity loves constraint" and that it's critical to help students develop specific questions to explore, when working on #20time projects. Moreover, it's important to work with students throughout the process of the project, rather than simply assessing the final product.

One participant shared the positive effect that mentors can have in doing #20time work with students, and I'm going to suggest to colleagues that they consider working with our alumni office to find volunteers who could help them with #20time projects. We have a rather large alumni base that would be more than happy to work with students to do creative work, I'm sure, and I imagine that our students would love to work with them too. I'm not sure that our community includes many Classicists, but we have plenty of other fields to work with.

It was also suggested that #20time projects be connected to field trips, in that students could explore a
physical space and develop the kinds of specific questions that are perfect for #20time work. For instance, one class explored a historic site of importance for California history, and her class then developed #20time projects around the questions they wanted to investigate in relation to the site.

#20time projects are then shared with each other through blogs, TED Talks, or other interactive methods that promote students learning from each other and generate excitement that rewards the hard work put in by the students.

Gamification
The final board 

I've become deeply interested in gamification, and so I was happy to see a session devoted to it. Despite thinking about gamification for the better part of the summer, this session added a new dimension to my ideas. In particular, I'm considering using badges within Latin IA game modules to a greater extent than I thought I would by connecting them more closely to our class standards, e.g. offering levels 1-5 (or perhaps even "Servus", "Libertus", "Civis", "Senator" levels, etc.) for verb master and adding even more levels as we meet subsequent tenses. Doing something like this could, in principle, allow for more differentiated learning by letting students move at their own pace.

I'd also like to offer students the possibility to earn their own unique badges, and I think that #20time projects could be a great way to accomplish this. In other words, if a student wanted to learn more about Roman culinary practices, the "Roman Foodie" badge could be the reward. Likewise, the "Consul" badge could be awarded to students who investigate Roman politics. I don't know of any good way to create and store badges for students yet, and so I enthusiastically welcome any input or advice.

Even though I find gamification very exciting, I'm very concerned about connecting badges to grades on account of the potential backlash.  I'll have to think on this and test out some ideas this fall.

Reorganizing Physical Space

In many ways, +Alice Keeler's proposed session on "Rethinking the Classroom" was the most interesting of all. Though I'd been thinking about ways to transform pedagogy for quite some time, I haven't yet put much thought into reorganizing my classrooms' physical spaces. The point that " physical environment can affect relationship between teachers and students" was made repeatedly, and now is the time to change (or at least shift ) school culture toward an improved awareness of classroom organization, considering what we want our learning to actually look like.

It's true that we have too many traditional desks at our school that reinforce the lecture model of learning. Several, if not the majority, of our classroom spaces could be significantly improved by the addition of more tables, couches, and even movable beanbags, in place of the desks. And after seeing entire walls at Google Chicago covered with IdeaPaint, I have it in mind to remove the whiteboards from classrooms and cover walls with it. Imagine classroom space with no clear front or back, where students and teachers mingle freely and put work right on the walls as needed. Going even further, imagine a similar space for teachers and administrators to work together. I believe more than ever now that rigid physical space imposes rigid intellectual thought.

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I left #edcampsfbay with all sorts of ideas to work on for the coming year, in addition to those outlined here. Thanks to the experience, I'm even more excited for PlaydateLA this coming Saturday, 8/17, which will be more of a hands-on technology conference, and I'm already looking forward to #edcampps on Saturday, 9/14 in Palm Springs.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Liquid Networks and the Adjacent Possible

At ISTE this past June, I picked up Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From (reading notes here) and, after his fantastic keynote address, looked forward to reading it. After just finishing it, the book didn't disappoint, leaving me with quite a bit to think about on the verge of beginning a new academic year.

Using parallels from evolutionary biology, Johnson discusses how innovation happens and great ideas are formed, dispelling the myth of the "eureka moment" in the formation of ideas. He outlines 7 patterns that they typically fall into, and I'll outline a few of the patterns that I intend to focus on in the coming academic year. Johnson's TED talk on the topic gives a great introduction to his ideas, if unable to read the book.


Stuart Kauffman's concept of the adjacent possible, which he used to describe all of the combinatory possibilities of the molecular soup of early Earth, plays a prominent role in Johnson's arguments. The adjacent possible presents us with a "map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself" (31), and new combinations serve to expand the adjacent possible. Using this idea, Johnson argues that "[g]ood ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and, occasionally, contracts) over time" (35).

Johnson stresses that "to make your mind more innovative, you have to place it inside environments that share the same network signature: networks of ideas or people that mimic the neural networks of a mind exploring the boundaries of the adjacent possible" (47). He calls this a liquid network, where ideas can freely flow from one node to another to build upon each other, and it's precisely this kind of environment that allows us to explore the adjacent possible. Importantly, "the individuals get smarter because they're connected to the network" (58) and the diversity that it brings to our thinking.

The "long zoom" that allows to
identify patterns within ideas (20)
Good ideas don't simply happen; rather, they must be cultivated over time, which Johnson names the slow hunch (81). As was the case with some of the most revolutionary ideas in our intellectual history (e.g. Darwin's theory of evolution), it's most often the case that a good idea comes into form as little more than a hunch. These hunches, in order to grow into something more, must interact with other hunches through the liquid network to open up the adjacent possible.

Finally, Johnson shows that error is an inherent part of innovation. According to the British economist William Stanley Jevons, "[i]n all probability the errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one" (137). That is to say, most brilliant ideas are founded upon failed efforts. Fear of failure is so pervasive in the edusphere today, though, that it's become a serious hindrance to creativity and the construction of liquid networks. Contrary to what many of us in academia were trained to believe, it's ok to fail, when working on a new idea.

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"Chance favors the connected mind." (174)

The experiences I had at InstConISTE, and GTACHI were so profound that I'm still having difficulty putting them into material form. The networks that have grown on account of these PD opportunities have already paid dividends for my own thinking about how I want to change my teaching and how I want to approach PD in the future. So after a productive summer of professional development, it's now more clear to me than ever that we need to emphasize the construction of environments that facilitate good ideas by building more and larger "liquid networks".
A 17th-century commonplace book
It was practice in Europe in the Enlightenment Era to keep a "commonplace book" (cf. Johnson 84) with notes, quotations, and other ideas that allowed for reflection, which is critical for nurturing the slow hunch. Today, though, we're also able to share our reflections to a wider audience (i.e., our PLN, or Personal Learning Network) than ever, thanks to Twitter, blogs, and other social media tools. It's important to us that, within our liquid networks, we emphasize both reflection and sharing with regularity, while dispelling as much fear of failure as we can.

Despite our collective emphasis on using technology, we must also understand that "the most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop," as Johnson reminds us (61). That's why face-to-face conversations of the sort that happen at EdCamps and #CoffeeCUE meetings are so valuable. Twitter, etc. are amazing tools, but I'm now ready to create a stronger face-to-face network on campus.

As we know all too well, however, there simply isn't enough time for us to do everything that our jobs require of us, while adding enough reflection time onto the pile of administrative tasks. For us to even have the chance to build a stronger liquid network, we need to rethink how we handle some of our administrative duties by exploring the adjacent possible within the educational structure.

The ideas of "20% time" and passion-based learning have grown very popular of late, as they indeed should, but I haven't yet seen many discussions about giving teachers and administrators similar blocked time devoted to reflection. For instance, why not create an occasional "unconference" forum for interested faculty to gather during the workday (not on our own time!) to talk about what's on our mind and share some of the ideas that we've been thinking through (e.g. readings, project ideas, PD experiences, etc.). Shouldn't this our standard model for faculty meetings, rather than the usual "sit and get"? If we had this kind of regular opportunity built into our schedule, perhaps we could encourage more creative thinking and 20% time work from faculty, in addition to students.

How else can we construct liquid networks within our schools? I greatly enjoyed reading this book and look forward to future discussions about how we can build a stronger liquid network. Feel free to share ideas either below or on Twitter on how we can build stronger liquid networks.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

GTACHI Reflections

It's hard to know where to begin in describing the Google Teacher Academy experience. As is often said, the two-day experience moves incredibly quickly, and you can be sure that all of our heads were already spinning from scripting, extensions, and maps by our first lunch. But the experience was incredible, largely thanks to the exceptional academy participants and lead learners, and without doubt I'll be reflecting on it for quite some time.

Overview

+Becky Evans and +Danny Silva began the academy by making the point that a Google Certified Teacher is an "ambassador for change" in the educational community, which is the most important quality of a GCT. That's to say, a GCT is about community.

Before we moved along to our breakout sessions, +Cory Pavicich reiterated that "You don’t know what you want to learn," underscoring the fact that learning is a process.

In the "Life of a Googler" session, Brian Fitzpatrick, a technology evangelist, founder of Google Chicago, and author of Team Geek, had some interesting insights to share about technology and education. When it comes to Google's celebrated 20% time, “creativity loves constraint,” which is an idea that we should keep in mind when doing passion-based learning.

Discussing what Google looks for when hiring engineers, Fitzpatrick noted that “really good engineers are attracted to companies that have really hard problems.” To my mind, this attraction is based in the "flow" from working on a good problem, since we're happiest when we're doing productive work (cf. my thoughts on Csikszentmihalyi's "flow"). To put it simply, we need to find more flow for our students in our classrooms and make learning fun.

Most interestingly, Fitzpatrick said that, when evaluating ideas to pursue, Google tends to evaluate the ease of reversal for a particular idea, not whether it’s good or bad. Such an attitude toward innovation stands in sharp contrast to the way education works today. To many schools are so afraid of failure that innovation tends to be labored and painfully slow, rather than fun and exciting, and this is something we need to work on changing.

The breakout sessions, unconference, and other presentations, including the session on Google culture, were all fantastic, but I'll avoid allowing this post to grow too long, I'll leave them aside for now.

Reflections

Looking back, I wish I had talked with more people in the academy, and I think that several others feel the same way. Between learning from lead learners, working in our sessions, and recording ideas down, it was practically impossible to work the room and interact with others. But that's part of the GTA experience, I think, in that the academy serves to create connections that will outlast the academy itself.

During our closing reflections, Team Goodyear was in agreement about our ultimate take-away from the experience, namely, that "it's not about the tools we've learned about. It's about the connections and conversations that we're going to have as a part of this community." I'm very excited to join the GCT community and discover what I don't yet know and continue to explore new ideas.

Fortunately, much of our conversations were recorded on Twitter and can be found in the #gtachi Twitter archive#gtachi tag map, and session notes (thanks to +Ben Wilkoff for putting these together!), and +David Theriault's photoblog captured some of images of #gtachi. My GTACHI notes, however brief, are also open to be shared.

Ideas

I left GTACHI more resolved than ever to try two ideas this coming fall:

• First, based on the successes of 20% time in both the corporate and educational worlds, I intend to give my 7th-grade Latin IA students regular time to explore Roman culture, including anything from architecture and geography, to social customs, to literature. Because "creativity loves constraint", I'll need to put boundaries on the projects. I'm eager to try "crowdsourcing" grading of the projects in some capacity that I'll report on later in the year.

I'll also give my 9th-grade Latin III class 20% time to explore topics in Greek and Latin literature, linguistics, and, perhaps most valuable of all, modern Classical reception. I'll ask them to record their 20% work in their blogs (on which cf. here), with the hopes that we can share them with wider audiences.

• Secondly, I'll experiment with the gamification of Latin IA, thanks to some help from +Catherine Flippen. In addition to Google Apps, our school uses the Canvas LMS, which is structured around modules and also offers a number of LTI apps to add to courses, including Mozilla's Open Badges.

Each module can be organized around a thematic unit like direct object marking, indirect-object marking, verb person/number, etc. As a hook to for each new module, we can offer some kind of puzzle or project to solve that will lead us to the next objective, including figuring out what an inscription says, finding a specific location on a map, and more. As students progress through each module, they can earn badges as they acquire necessary skills with grammar, vocabulary, culture, etc.

Action Plan

The final piece of the GTA is the action plan project for which we're supposed to "innovate, inspire, and lead" with the goal of "changing our world". Our action plans are intended to be collaboration pieces with other GCTs and encourage us to think big. I'll admit that I still don't have a clear idea for mine. Based on the community-first role of the GCT, though, I'm excited to use my action plan for community development.

I'm especially interested in independent-school community and some of the challenges they face, including professional development, and may design my action plan with this group in mind. However, I'm also involved in the Classics community and the #latinlangchat Twtter chat, and given the challenges that teaching Latin poses, I am interested in working with within this community to help connect Latin teachers, classrooms, and resources from around the world.

I'd love to trade ideas for action plans with anyone who's also thinking through them or offer whatever peer review I can for other action plans. Feel free to get in touch with me to start brainstorming.

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The GTACHI experience will stay with me for quite some time, and I hope to have the chance to pay it forward to others who want to take part in the kind of community that GTA creates. Thanks to all of the amazing educators who made GTACHI even better than advertised. I'm excited and eager to continue our conversations, and I look forward to the opportunity to meet you all again!



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow" and PD

Over the past couple months I've been reading a selection of nonfiction that has applications for education (cf. some reading notes). In just about every single book, including those by Cathy Davidson, Daniel Kahneman, Jane McGonigal, Daniel Pink, and now Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come FromMihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist famous for the study of happiness but underappreciated until relatively recently, and his idea of "flow" is cited, playing no small part in defence of the author's thesis. I suggest watching his TED talk on the idea to get a sense of the concept, if unfamiliar with it.


Simply put, "flow" is that rare state in which one is wholly absorbed in the moment, with a heightened clarity and focus on the task at hand, and it, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is when we are happiest and having the most fun. Flow is precisely what draws us to gather at conferences, converse on Twitter chats, in addition to teaching in the first place.

At ISTE, where I found myself pooled together with 13,000 other invested educators, I thought quite a bit about why some of us are so compellingly drawn to technology (cf. my thoughts), and I can't help but think that flow plays a significant role in the story. I think that one answer to the question of why we should be taking steps to use more technology in the classroom, however difficult and challenging it may be, is that technology can allow us to have more creative fun during the learning process by helping both teachers and students to find flow.

Based on the way our brains work, as a variety of authors have concluded for different reasons, being in the flow includes socializing and collaborating while helping each other, doing meaningful work, and receiving prompt and quality feedback, and this is precisely what technology does for us. Flow is simply having productive fun, when we're intrinsically motivated to tackle a task, and it's becoming more and more clear that we learn best when we're having fun. If used correctly, then, technology (which is only one piece if the puzzle!) can help us find flow because it makes it easier to collaborate, do meaningful work, and receive feedback, among other things.

No one could claim that we need technology to do these things or that it alone is the secret to flow, given that there are plenty of successful teachers who are able to engage their students in the flow without it. But ask yourself if you would rather have one awesome way of having fun and finding happiness in class or five different ways? We need to work to increase the amount of time we spend in the flow.

As we emphasize professional development to a greater extent than ever in education, it could prove to be constructive to consider when we feel like we're in the flow in the classroom. A few days ago, a colleague asked me when I feel like I'm "kicking ass", and to my mind, that's exactly what flow is for me. When we're having a great discussion, with students leading the way by making connections, that's when I feel like we're all in the flow. But one person's individual concept of flow can be very different from another's.

With that, I think it's a great idea to do some reflection this summer, while we're thinking about professional development, and consider what "kicking ass" means to each of us, expecting that we'll likely have different answers (which is ok!) that could help us to better define our own ideas of flow and find more ways of achieving it in class. At some point before the next academic year begins, we should sit down and share our reflections, while having a conversation about what flow means to us and how the use of technology could facilitate finding it. Who's interested?

Friday, June 28, 2013

ISTE 2013 Reflections

I had an amazing experience at the 2013 ISTE conference in San Antonio this past week (June 22-26) and will be reflecting on it for quite some time, I'm sure. It was a different experience than I expected, but one that nonetheless exceeded all my expectations. My #iste13 notes are public, and I welcome comments and questions to help me further reflect.

The conference was big in every way. In fact, its size made for some difficulties, like full sessions and wifi issues. But overall, the size only added to the social aspects of ISTE, which were easily the highlight of the event. Having a chance to catch up with some old friends and meet and have face-to-face conversations with people I've interacted with on Twitter was worth the travel alone. The feeling of collegiality and acceptance at ISTE was almost overwhelming, since it seemed that I was rarely not caught in an engaging conversation with someone, whether sitting in the Bloggers' Cafe or just walking through the halls of the convention center. The Twitter activity was nothing less than amazing too, with over 50,000 Tweets logged during the event. It'll be interesting to read through them over the rest of the summer.

We had some great #coffeecue meetings, where we talked about gamification, PD, and social media tools like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and we had a great #brewcue at a local San Antonio favorite, The Friendly Spot. I learned a lot at ISTE, and I'll briefly highlight some of my more-specific takeaways from the conference.

1:1 Program Administration and PD

Saturday's HackedEd "unconference" was fascinating. In fact, I barely said a word, while I instead listened to the compelling insights that others had, based on their experience. In particular, I was very interested to hear what advice educations were willing to offer on professional development and working with 1:1 programs. Specifically:
  • Several people advocate the importance of getting teachers comfortable with the devices that their students will be using, if different from their own. Our teachers have PCs, but most students will have Macs.
  • The importance of visiting other 1:1 classrooms was underscored, and I think that we need to put more emphasis in doing this next year, when we begin our program.
  • An organized LMS is key, which will be another priority of ours in developing courses with Instructure's Canvas.
  • Interestingly, devices amplify what you do well and what you don't do well. We'll need to keep a close eye on this next year.
  • With that, teachers must be willing to not be the expert with the tools in the classroom anymore.
  • It's important to give only 1 or 2 tools for teachers to learn in the first year of a program. Next year, we're starting with 7th grade only and will be focusing our attention on Canvas and Google Apps.
  • Finally, some educators suggested that a good PLN is more valuable than a TIS or other person whose job it is to facilitate technology integration. We need to think about ways to build a stronger PLN at our school.
Gamification

After reading Jane McGonigal's inspiring book Reality is Broken (on our #caedchat summer book list!), attending the Epic Leadership workshop, and talking to others about games, I have a new appreciation for gamification and the value of play in the classroom, namely, that the intrinsic principles of game mechanics (i.e. what makes a good game) can often be more valuable than the game itself. I've also come to learn that games don't just imply video games but can include almost any activity structured around solid gamification principles. Games can be played by students, but they can also be used with faculty for professional development and even to simply boost morale. I have some ideas for next year that I'll write up elsewhere.

Keynotes

I thought all three keynotes were epic wins. Sunday night, McGonigal highlighted the importance of gamers as "super-powered hopeful individuals" who are motivated by creativity above all other emotions (despite creativity not being an emotion).  She stressed that, when we're designing games for classroom, we should be thinking about positive emotions that gamers crave, in addition to points and achievements. And most of all, she stresses that we must "empower students to make contributions to the world now, not when they're adults."

Steven Johnson's Keynote on Tuesday morning was based on the premise that "not all great ideas are eureka moments." In other words, good ideas don't just happen but are the product of long-term thinking. In Johnson's words, an idea "is not a single thing; an idea is a network." I'd never thought of ideas in this way, where diversity becomes paramount. "When we surround ourselves with people who are different, we become smarter," Johnson stressed. With this in mind, I now believe that it's even more important to visit other regularly schools for professional development, given that "chance favors the connected mind." I'm going to make it a point to read his book Where Good Ideas Come From this summer.

Wednesday afternoon's closing keynote by Adam Bellow, adorned with his Google Glass, was both impassioned and emotional. He underscored the importance of creativity in the classroom, especially the role we educators play  we who "are the artisans, craftsmen, and chefs that make technology matter." As Socrates said and Bellow reiterated, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” I understand this to mean that we shouldn't spend our time and energy looking to the past or arguing about what clearly doesn't work. Instead, we need to build new "superstructures" together (cf. Reality is Broken p. 318) that pave the way for more creativity in education today.

I appreciated the fact that the three keynotes echoed similar ideas but that each of them approached these ideas through their own unique lenses. That different insights reveal the same things about the current state of education has got to say something about the importance of these ideas, I think.


In the end, it's about the ideas, not the tools. We want to be social. We want to collaborate and help each other. As McGonigal, Johnson, Bellow and others have emphasized, we want to play hard and do meaningful work, and we want valuable feedback on our efforts so we can do even better in subsequent attempts. We want these things because, as the field of positive psychology is demonstrating, our brains have evolved to depend on them. With this in mind, my overall top takeaway from the whole conference, perhaps, is my own modified understanding the relationship we have to the technology we use. It seems to me that this relationship is Darwinian, in that the most successful tools we use have been selected for, based on their ability to give us these very things that our minds crave, like playful connection and meaning. If a particular tool doesn't allow us to do these things, it won't be very successful in the long run because no one will use it.

So, our task in going to conferences like ISTE isn't to learn how to force technology into our classrooms, but rather to move our classrooms to be more collaborative, meaningful, and give better feedback. And we do so by being connected. Technologies like GAFE and Twitter that easily help us to do so are the ones that we will always come back to. From now on, I plan to focus on the ideas and let the technology fall into place naturally. Next up, #gtachi!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

InstructureCon 2013 and the LMS

Quick disclaimer:  I'm sitting the the Bloggers' Cafe at ISTE 2013 right now, which is an awesome feeling. I had an fantastically productive time at HackedEd 2013 yesterday, with a lot of new PD ideas, and this morning's Epic Leadership workshop on game mechanics with Jane McGonigal was just as good.  But I promised myself I'd reflect on last week's InstructureCon before I get too deep into ISTE.

Instructure, the company who builds Canvas, hosted their third annual conference devoted to using the LMS (a Learning Management System, or a tool for organizing a course around online materials). "InstructureCon", as they call it, gets rave reviews from participants in prior years, and I wholeheartedly agree. The conference was entertaining (lots of swag and great social events), bizarre (MC Hammer was the keynote performer), and it was additionally very useful to learn what others are doing with the system.

I have to admit that I've been a skeptical LMS user for many of the reasons Audrey Watters mentioned in her keynote. I was afraid that an LMS could stagnate course development and "sandbox" thinking too much, but after using Canvas for a year, I now see how powerful and useful of a tool it can be. It's entirely possible to build a de-facto LMS with GAFE, but one of the advantages an LMS can allow students to focus on the learning in a course, rathern than the technology. It also gives teachers who aren't otherwise interested in learning to wield technology a versatile tool to build a digital course. Despite some of my reservations and personal goals, I'm eager to move farther with Canvas next year and help our faculty to do new and engaging things with our students.

A particularly striking thought offered by Richard Culatta (@rec54) is that we shouldn't "put a thin coat of awesome-colored paint on top of something that is structurally flawed". Most participants at InstCon seemed to be aware of the idea that we need to be working toward change by pushing engagement and collaboration, lest Audrey Watters' fears be realized. This idea was clear in two ways, as I saw it.

  • First, Canvas pushes modular design to courses, in that it creates a clearly-organized system for students to move through a course. Moreover, the modules are (or should be!) interactive, starting with a hook and proceeding through interactive and collaborative activities that the system offers (e.g. discussions, collaborations, pbl and inquiry-based work etc.).
  • And second (and of particular thematic importance at this year's event), was the focus on API and LTI use. One of the advantages of Canvas over others LMSs, as far as I've seen, is its openness and ability to be customized by users. Instructure debuted their "App Center" last week, which promises to allow users to integrate third-party apps into their courses more easily.

With that, I'm looking forward to building clearer and more useful modules next year, especially now that we have mobile access to them, while integrating apps more easily (and hopefully writing a few of my own, too). I think we have an opportunity to do a lot of innovative things next year not only with Canvas, but with other online tools and most importantly, with the ideas that were in circulation next week. Richard Culatta also reminded us that, at the end of the day: "No one cares what courses you've taken. They care what you can do." It's time for all of us to "build our own awesome". Can't wait for InstructureCon 2014!

My more-detailed notes from #instcon 2013; comments/questions welcomed, of course. In particular, I'm very interested to hear how language teachers are using Canvas.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer PD Plans

Following up +Jennifer Peyrot's helpful post on her plans for "Summer Learning Fun" and thanks to the inspiration found in the scores of Twitter chats happening every day, I figured it'd be a good idea for me to consolidate some of my own plans for next year. I highly doubt that I'll get through everything, but I'm eager to get started, and I'm looking forward to talking with others about their own projects. It should be a fun and hopefully productive summer!

Reading I've been reading a fair number of books relating to education and pedagogy lately, largely inspired by the #CAedchat book club, and I've keeping my notes in an Evernote notebook. I'll continue to add to it and welcome any comments and questions. A few books on my reading list:

Thinking Next year I'll be teaching Latin IA to new 7th graders, which I've never done before. Our incoming class will be huge, and so I'm doubly excited to take on this task. Given that we shouldn't move too quickly with grammar in a class like this, there will be ample opportunity to explore the new ideas I've been absorbing from my PLN to build a strong community of invested learners right from the start. We'll all have laptops too, which will enable us to do things in class that we haven't yet been able to do. In particular, I'm interested in picking up a few ideas I've been thinking through over the past year, including:
  • learning more trcks with our LMS Canvas
  • developing mapping projects
  • developing activites using Google Forms and search skills
  • rethinking grading using standards-based grading (thanks #sbgchat!) and "crowdsourcing" grading
  • exploring digital storytelling (e.g. student videos, comic books, choose-your-own adventures, etc.)
  • playing around with TodayMeet for classroom management
  • working on a collaborative Latin penpal program
  • continuing to think through blog uses
  • considering how to implement "20% time" and #geniushour
  • thinking through "augmented reality" as a tool for education (thanks #patue!)
I've also been approached to teach an independent study in linguistics for a handful of upperclassmen next year, and I'm excited to start planning. Tentatively, the class will cover basic linguistic science in the first semester, then open to inquiry-based projects in the second semester. Because students will be on the other campus, I'm exploring ways to construct a partially online course, for which I could use #flipclass methods to provide content to students. Doing so would give students more flexibility to work the course into their schedules. It's very possible that a Google+ community, combined with Google Hangouts, could provide everything we need for the course.

Visiting I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to take part in summer conferences:
  • I'll attend InstructureCon to learn more about the Canvas LMS.
  • I'm excited for my first ISTE conference for everything on technology in education.
  • There are a number of edcamp opportunities later this summer, including #edcampsfbay on Aug. 10.
  • I'll be co-organizing the free PlaydateLA "unconference" on Aug. 17 to give other educators in the LA area a change to explore ways to use technology in education. All are welcome to sign up!
Exploring I'm very excited to join the computer science club next year, when we'll be shifting our focus to coding and working on Raspberry Pi projects. We'll also tackle some Codecademy.com After-School Programming challenges.

Writing Finally, I'm very eager to continue some of my own work in Greek and Latin linguistics. I've got a book review to work on, in addition to a few papers I've been meaning to write up. By putting writing together with some of the other activities above together, I may hopefully come up with something to submit for CA2014.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Google Earth/Maps Latin Project

Thanks to inspiration from the Power Searching with Google course, I developed a digital Classical scavenger hunt for our last JCL club meeting of the year that takes advantage of Google's search-by-image feature. The experiment went well, and I'm looking forward to integrating the the use of images and Google Forms into my Latin classes next year.

I'm now thinking through ideas to use Google Maps and Earth, with some of the tricks I'm learning through the current Mapping with Google course. We will begin our 1:1 laptop program in 7th grade, and I'll have the pleasure of teaching our Latin IA course for the first time, including developing new collaborative activities and projects around the laptops.

I think that a mapping project of the sorts demonstrated in the course are perfect for our first project, based on the principle that "maps tell a story". Namely, We can let students choose ancient sites and build investigative tours for them using Maps Engine LiteGoogle Earth, and the fantastic ORBIS project (an ancient travel tool) at Stanford. With the markup tools that Maps/Earth provide, we could even have students create their own overlay of Roman sites that are either in ruins or obscured by modern structures. They could easily point out features that are otherwise very difficult to see today.

The best feature of all, perhaps, is the ability to record a tour in a .kmz file to share publicly and even build upon further. This summer, planning on building a tour of Hadrian's wall, including details of some Roman forts, as an example to use in class, and I'll share it through Twitter. I also welcome ideas or comments from anyone else who has done any similar mapping project. In particular, I'm interested in sharing our map work with other classes out there to build a library of tours of ancient sites. Let me know, if you'd like to participate!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

HW "Three For All" PD Program

I've casually mentioned our "Three For All" program for professional development to a few colleagues from other schools, and based on the questions asked about it, I thought it may be worth sharing to a wider audience.

We'll be starting our 1:1 laptop program next year in 7th grade, before rolling it out to 7-9 and 7-12 in the next two years, and to better prepare our faculty and staff to use the devices effectively, we contemplated all varieties of PD plans. Our school structure makes it difficult to offer blocked time for join PD, leaving it instead for faculty to do on their own. With that in mind, we contemplated plans that used words like "require" and "mandate" to make the importance of PD work clear, but because that approach didn't really capture our school's philosophy toward PD, for which we believe in autonomy and choice, nothing seemed right.

Our MS Head of School finally decided on one he called "Three For All", which asks all faculty (not just 7th-grade teachers) to complete 3 PD projects by the start of the next academic year on Aug. 27. In March, he revealed the program to the rest of the faculty using a video we put on YouTube, rather than through an email (which was very well received!). A single PD project could include almost anything, including reading a book and writing a review, watching a webinar or taking an online course, participating in a Tweetchat, attending a workshop or #coffeecue meeting, visiting a school, or even going to a conference. And if the conference offers multiple workshops, it could well count for three PD credits itself. We've created a document of suggested activities to encourage collaborative participation, but there were very few restrictions on the types of activities.

Because we want faculty doing the kind of work that they're interested and invested it, we also gave the option of requesting specific 1:1 tutorials or departmental workshops. If a teacher gave a workshop for others, that would count as a credit, since we want to encourage the formation of a support network within the school. But we also welcome departments to arrange for workshops led by experts they choose from outside the school in order to ensure that their PD time and work is valuable and most of all, to make it clear to our community that we support them in their "Three For All" activities.

PD work is recorded within a spreadsheet, and faculty are encouraged to share their work with the rest of the community on our faculty portal, where others can see what they've done and whether they found the project useful, while asking any questions about it.

Thus far, we all are quite happy with the results. In fact, in addition to the variety of work recorded, we've been pleasantly surprised at how many credits some faculty have already earned. By giving our community autonomy to select their own projects and trusting them to do the work responsibly, our level of participation is high. Moreover, more faculty are exchanging ideas with each other not only for "Three For All" opportunities but also for ideas to use in their classrooms next year. I'm still thinking through ways to facilitate face-to-face sharing (e.g. a "demo slam" or weekly coffee chats) and welcome any suggestions.

When we return to campus in the fall, our TIS team will lead an edcamp-like PD workshop, where we hope others will be willing to share what they learned over the summer. Most importantly, we hope that these sorts of discussions that the "Three For All" program has already sparked will continue to happen throughout next year and that we will continue to build a strong network of experts from within our faculty.

I welcome any questions or comments on the program, and I'm also curious to learn of other approaches to PD that other schools have found successful.