Unfold Learning

exploring the best innovations in learning and teaching


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


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Rethinking the coding craze…

Today’s post is by guest author Bea Leiderman. Bea is a technology coach at Goochland County Public Schools in Goochland, Virginia, where she helps middle and high school teachers use technology to design effective learning opportunities and environments. Bea has won numerous accolades for her innovative teaching, and her work with colleagues incorporating Agile / SCRUM to transform learning projects was featured in the June 2016 issue of ISTE’s entrsekt magazine. Bea is the author of six books of insect macrophotography and a book about iBooks Author, all available on Apple’s iBooks Store. You can find more of her amazing insect photos on Flickr, and can follow her on Twitter, where she also has a channel for insect photography and information.

Final Cut Project

A complex Final Cut project

For as long as humans have been alive, we have been problem-solvers. The idea of designing solutions and executing them did not come about with the advent of the personal computer, although the personal computer and other related technologies do make the iteration of approaches and ideas so very convenient. This might be why Steve Jobs said in a 1990 interview that a computer is “the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds,” allowing our creative and problem-solving processes to go so much faster.

Coding in particular seems the most obvious method for teaching the design-and-iteration process that develops creative and critical thinking skills. Using coding is transparent, and it is easy to contrive ways of bringing coding into the traditional school schedule. It is also easy to dampen the joy that comes with ideating, designing, and executing an idea when coding is adopted as the only way to do so. As much as we might think we are helping students be creative, by making them all learn “coding,” whether they are interested or not, reduces coding to the same level as anything else we have ever forced upon children in schools.

I’m not against the idea of teaching coding, but I believe we are pushing too hard in the wrong direction. We don’t all need to know how to develop apps, as fun as it might seem to some, especially because each of us have our own particular idea of fun and our own plans for our future. Knowing how to code is not as important as knowing the ideas behind coding: designing a process and making it happen. If indeed all jobs will require coding in the coming century, everyone will have a better incentive than a grade on a report card (or *gasp* a standardized test) to pick up the skills. Continue reading


MiTE 2017

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I’m excited once again to be keynoting the amazing MiTE conference: MiTE 2017 — one of the preeminent conferences for technology- and mobile-enhanced teacher education in the world. This year, it will be leaving its Irish birthplace for the first time and will take place in Los Angeles on January 12–14. If you’re interested in great research about how technology can impact both teaching and teacher education, if you’d like to rub shoulders with thoughtful practitioners from around the world, and if you’d like to invest some productive time thinking about ways to transform your own teaching praxis, this is the place to be. Plus, there will be a dance contest! I can’t wait to see everyone there soon…


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“Formal” Learning

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A tri-lobed sassafras leaf from Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Photo by W. Rankin, 2016.

Last week, I published a model of natural learning that explores the cyclical structures of the informal or “personal” learning we do outside of school and professional settings. Thanks for the comments and ideas you’ve sent me — and I hope you’ll send even more. Refining these models and getting them right is important to me, and I know they’ll more accurately represent the complexity of the learning process with your input and insight.

This week, I’d like to enlist your help with another model: my model for formal learning — the sort of learning we do in schools and formal training sessions. Again, my goal here is to begin a discussion around a work in progress rather than to present something fully formed — though this is, like my “natural” model from last week, something I’ve been thinking about and working on for several years. I’d love to hear what you think so please leave me comments or send me a message. What do you like? What seems off? What parts seem overblown or underemphasized? What’s missing?

You can download the complete model in PDF form here: dimensions-of-formal-learning. The second page defines the terms I’m using and discusses some of my rationale for understanding the structure the way I do and for including the particular elements I include. In this post, therefore, I won’t go into any detail about the overall structure of this model. Instead, I’d like to focus on a substructure of this model — a process of moving between and among the elements that I call the “propeller of learning.”

Continue reading