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exploring the best innovations in learning and teaching


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Article in the new Global Insights

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I hope you’ll take a second to read the brief article I’ve written for Global Insights, the periodical of the Educational Collaborative for Independent schools (ECIS). “Building for Friction: How Obstructing the Path can Help Learning” (pages 2–4) argues that constructivism and making can be an antidote for the central challenge of information’s third age: how do we know what’s real and what’s false? Without mentioning any recent political or cultural situations arising from this challenge (*ahem*), I briefly consider how the methodologies and teaching practices of information’s second age — the “age of books” — often fail to serve learners in the “age of data,” keeping them from real engagement with today’s informational challenges and adding to the cacophony of competing sources. Making offers learners an opportunity to test what they’re learning and to iterate and refine those ideas as they grow and discover.

My thanks to ECIS  for the opportunity to explore these ideas, and look for an expanded treatment of them soon right here….


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When Tweeting Is for the Birds…

Twitter mirror[Here’s another important new post by Bea Leiderman. Bea is an instructional technology coach at Goochland County Public Schools in Goochland, Virginia. Bea has been a Twitter user since the very beginning, and she’s spent much time thinking about effective teaching and effective professional development. As always, I’m grateful that she contributed this article.]

About a year ago, I stumbled upon a weekly Twitter chat in progress. A local educator I had recently started to follow was extolling the importance of teacher-led professional development. He was claiming great success at his school but was not providing any examples. I was very curious, so I tagged a couple of tweets with the chat hashtag and very explicitly asked for an example.

I never got one.

I was determined to get to the bottom of this since I knew several teachers at the school. I found it interesting that in all our conversations, we had never run into the topic of teacher-led PD. Continue reading


Danmarks Læringsfestival 2017

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One of my favorite aspects of the Danish National Learning Festival was not the amazing speakers and presenters — though there were many — nor was it the sheer quantity of innovative teaching tools and materials displayed in engaging booths staffed by energetic, earnest demonstrators — though an entire hall was filled with them. What was best was that everyone I met really wanted to make a difference in the lives of learners and was willing to make whatever choices they needed to make that happen. And what this appeared to mean most often for those in Denmark (like the other Nordics) was relinquishing the centering of the teacher and the teacher’s authority in favor of building around the learners’ identities, needs, and interests.

Those of us in the rest of the world hear much about what’s happening around learning in the Nordics, and in my visits, I’ve found much to admire. Municipalities, schools, and educational organizations are recognizing the need to try new approaches and engage learners in ways that take advantage not only of emerging technologies, but also emerging neurological and social understandings. Play, challenge-based and service learning, civic engagement, and the integration of new social and creation tools offer learners a path for discovery while also making a difference in their lives and communities. Sometimes those differences are grand and laudable; sometimes, they’re small — like creating a learning environment where kids can have fun. But what is most admirable and what I think the rest of the world needs to learn from these teachers and school leaders is that they are designed: intentionally built and intentionally executed to use particular approaches to deliver particular ends. Design is absolutely not something the Danes take lightly, and it showed in every conversation I had during my recent visit: how can we design a learning environment to produce capable, flexible, thoughtful, civically engaged citizens? Sadly, many schools and governments are far more concerned about other things: test scores, funding, compliance, bureaucratic service, preservation of established structures and patterns.

One of the best aspects of the Danmarks Læaringsfestival this year was that every person had to walk past the area pictured above, typically occupied by playing children. It’s amazing to me how many educational conferences are filled with experts and teachers but no learners. If nothing else, this was a great way to remind everyone at the conference what their work should really be about. And it was a great way to observe how many critical skills people at play have to exercise: communication, collaboration, strategy, knowledge, skill, awareness, and teamwork.

Traveling around the world and learning from so many people and approaches is a rare gift, and I’m grateful for my time learning in Denmark. Their focus on making — and making a positive difference — is something I’ll carry with me for a long time.


Thanks, EdTechRVA 2017

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One of the best things about this week’s EdTechRVA conference, organized by GRAETC, was the number of sessions dedicated to practical approaches teachers and technology coaches could use to transform the experiences of learners. Sessions in movie-making, animation, and Scratch — among many others — offered accessible tools and recommendations supported by practical stories of incorporating these tools into classes. As “making” becomes increasingly recognized as a means for deeper learning, giving learners the opportunity to assess the materials and ideas they’re discovering, such practical approaches become increasingly important. It was great to share a day with a group of educators who valued making so much.


Scrum Soup: A Metaphor for Classroom Projects

[I’m grateful to be able to include a new post by Bea Leiderman, who is an instructional technology coach at Goochland County Public Schools in Goochland, Virginia. Bea has been working with Scrum at her school and she and her colleagues are having incredible success with it!]

Alt Wiener Erdäpfelsuppe

Photo by Brücke-Osteuropa (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Over the last year, our team has adapted the Scrum framework to help our students work through class projects. In the classrooms where Scrum is used regularly, students have a deep understanding of what it means to collaborate and be part of a learning community. Teachers can plan complex projects, confident that students will rise to the challenge and present outstanding products to their classmates at the end of a few weeks. To us, Scrum makes perfect sense. And it is not too hard to implement with some guidance and coaching. However, getting started on your own can be tough, especially because most of us have never tried anything like it.

When talking about Scrum, we bandy about lots of unusual words to refer to the roles, artifacts, and ceremonies involved. Even those three make Scrum sound like a strange cult. Instead of suggesting books and articles, It might be useful to walk through an everyday, non-educational project in Scrum to give interested teachers a frame of reference. It might also be a good way to introduce Scrum to students in classrooms.

Let’s make a vegetable soup following an everyday workflow (the procedure we use to accomplish things in Scrum). Everyone knows how to make soup, right? What are the steps?

  1. Gather all your ingredients
  2. Clean, peel, and chop all veggies and maybe some meat
  3. Cook all ingredients in a pot of water with salt and seasonings
  4. Serve and eat

Generally, that’s how soup works. Of course, the stuff I put in my vegetable soup might not be exactly the same that you put in yours. How long the process takes depends on how many different ingredients I have to prepare before adding them to the soup. If I had to plan this down to the smallest detail, I’d have to expand the above steps to include everything. Continue reading


iLearn 2017

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I’m looking forward to sharing today with the iLearn 2017 conference in Belfast, Ireland. Associated with the iTeach community, the conference brings school leaders together to consider the future of teaching and learning, to connect with other teachers and schools, and to think practically and pragmatically about how to institute productive change in their schools. It should be a spectacular day!


Hello, mobility

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The original iPhone, introduced January 9, 2007.

Ten years ago today, I was unable to watch Steve Jobs’ keynote live, something I still view with a tinge of regret. I was serving as a faculty chaperone for ACU’s skiing class in Red River, New Mexico, and I spent the day out on the slopes with our students. But that night starting around 11pm, in the 20˚ F weather, my laptop perched on the edge of a large metal dumpster behind our lodgings — the only place where I could snag an open wifi signal — I watched the entire 2-hour presentation. To this day, it is still the most amazing, masterful, world-changing introduction of a technology I’ve ever seen.

The fall before, our technology team at Abilene Christian University had been working to imagine what our school might look like in the year 2011 — then, five years in our future. The reason was an interesting one: in 2011, the first generation of college students who had never known a world without the internet would be entering the academy. What, we were wondering, would this new cohort of students do in our schools, what would they expect, and what technologies would empower them?  Continue reading