Thursday, October 31, 2013

Green Screening and Augmented Reality with 4 year olds

This week I've been truly blessed to work with some of our youngest students and their teachers.  The students have been inquiring into relationships for their Who We Are unit of inquiry. The central idea of this unit is "Relationships with each other can have an impact on our well-being." They have mostly focused on family and friends. For the past 4 days I have been involved in helping the teachers and students with their summative assessment.  The teachers decided they wanted to use Green Screening and the AR app Aurasma to document the students' learning.

Students started out by drawing a picture of themselves and a friend.  The teachers photographed this drawing using their iPads.  We set up a very simple green screen by wrapping green paper around a storage cupboard.  Each day, it was the turn of one of our EC4 classes to use this space with their students - the teachers' iPads had Green Screen Mobile Effects installed on them and the teachers unlocked both the set background (allowing the student artwork to be used as backdrops) and the time (allowing students to talk for as long as they wanted).  We had one tripod, so each day we mounted one teacher iPad on it and students were able to select their drawings from the Photo Stream and then move in front of the green paper where they be part of their own drawing.

The summative assessment called for students to talk about the friend on their picture, the sorts of words and behaviours they use with this person and how this friend makes them feel and why.  They shared stories about the things they did and how they played together.  These Green Screen movies were saved so that they could be turned into the overlays for the Auras.

Back in their learning spaces the teachers then photographed the students with their friend.  These photographs were going to become the triggers for the Auras.

Today after school we put both the triggers and overlays together to produce the Auras on ASB's Aurasma channel.  Now, by holding a mobile device over the photograph of the two friends, a video will appear with a drawing of the children made by a student, and inside that drawing will be the student talking about his or her friend.  We will be able to add the photographs to the students' ePortfolios so that they will trigger Auras and be a permanent record of the students' learning during this unit of inquiry.

I think the thing that is really impressive about this is just how easy it is to do.  Even our youngest students are very able to take photos of their own artwork, add these photos to the GSMX app, stand in front of a "green screen" and talk.  The final Auras are really quite magical.  It really is a wonderful way to capture this authentic learning.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What is an educated person?

I'm preparing to facilitate an online workshop about the PYP curriculum model and came across an article by Ernest L. Boyer entitled The Educated Person.  Boyer suggests that being educated means developing one's aptitudes and interests and discovering the diversity that makes us each unique - but at the same time it also involves discovering the interconnectedness of things.  Boyer suggests that a curriculum should be organized around what he terms "core commonalities" that are shared by all cultures.  These include:
  • The Life Cycle - which also covers health, nutrition and all aspects of wellness - basically this is the knowledge, habits and attitudes that equip us for a healthy life so that we can make good choices and so that we respect different life forms.
  • Language - which includes proficiency in both written and spoken language, symbols (maths and signs), and the aesthetic expressions of the arts.  This curriculum area also covers the ethics of communication.
  • The Arts - every child has the urge and capacity to be expressive
  • Time and Space - Boyer writes that we explore our place through geography and astronomy and we explore our sense of time through history.  In this area students should discover their own roots as well as become informed about the culture around them and the traditions of other cultures.
  • Groups and Institutions - how societies organize themselves.  Students need to think about the groups they belong to, how they are shaped by these groups and how the groups shape them. They need to know that life in groups varies from one culture to another.
  • Work - the understanding that all people produce and consume.  Students need to be prepared for the world of work by studying simple economics, different money systems and be involved in vocational studies and career planning.
  • The Natural World - an understanding of how we are all connected to the earth and an understanding of the principles of science, technology and how to respect and protect the earth.
  • The Search for Meaning - a sense of purpose and of being connected.  Students who are involved in service projects learn values.
As I read over this list I started to think about how the PYP curriculum framework, with its 6 transdisciplinary themes, builds upon these 8 core commonalities.  It's not an exact fit, but it does seem to match fairly well, and this implies that the PYP framework will certainly promote becoming an educated person:
  • Who We Are - the life cycle, the search for meaning
  • Where We Are in Place and Time - time and space
  • How We Organize Ourselves - groups and institutions, work
  • How We Express Ourselves - language, the arts
  • How the World Works - science, technology from the natural world
  • Sharing the Planet - the natural world
Boyer sums up his views on what it means to be an educated person in the following way:
It means respecting the miracle of life, being empowered in the use of language, and responding sensitively to the aesthetic.  Being truly educated means putting learning in historical perspective, understanding groups and institutions, having reverence for the natural world, and affirming the dignity of work.  And, above all, being an educated person means being guided by values and beliefs and connecting the lessons of the classroom to the realities of life.
What do you think of Boyer's core commonalities and the PYP transdisciplinary themes?  How do these compare to the curriculum of your schools?  Is there anything you would take out or add?

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

What makes a good project?

Anyone who is a regular to my blog will know that this school year I've been delving deep into the idea of design thinking, maker spaces and project based learning.  At ASB we are lucky enough to be having some experts in these fields coming to work with us in November, and so I've been reading their latest books to get myself mentally ready for these visits.  Today I've been thinking about Gary Stager's criteria for what makes a good project.  According to Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez in Invent to Learn there are 8 criteria or elements that make a good project which I am summarizing below:

  • Purpose/Relevance/Meaning:  the learner needs to feel it is worth investing time and effort
  • Time: to think about and make the projects
  • Complexity: bringing in multiple subject areas and connecting prior knowledge to big ideas
  • Intensity:  long stretches of uninterrupted time
  • Connection/Collaboration:  students connect to each other, experts and powerful ideas 
  • Access:  to materials, books, tools, hardware and software
  • Shareability: students are motivated when they know there is an authentic audience
  • Novelty:  rethought and different each year, though perhaps building on past developments
Do you agree with this list?  What would you add or change?  When you think of successful projects you have been involved in, did they have all of these elements?

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Creating the new normal

Today ASB hosted the PYP Mumbai Network and it was a pleasure to welcome to our school PYP educators from other schools in Mumbai.  Walking around the school, and seeing it from their eyes for a change, made me realize just how quickly I've adapted to the "new normal".  With 1:1 laptops for all students from Grade 1 upwards, no classrooms as such because there are no walls, all furniture on wheels so that it can be moved around, huge iCommons areas, tech support at IT Kiosks on every floor, an R&D office with a team of people whose eyes are on the future - this to me is now so much a part of my experience as an educator that I sometimes forget that not so long ago I was in a very different place.

In preparation for Suzie Boss's visit to ASB next month I'm reading her book Bringing Innovation to School.  ASB is a place where innovation is everywhere, so I was interested to read Suzie's Innovation Profile which applies both to individual teachers and to the administrators who either encourage or discourage innovation:

  • Action oriented - Suzie says that "taking action is a hallmark of innovators"  Stanford University's says it's about "doing and making over thinking and meeting".
  • Knowing how to network - Innovators are eager to network, mostly using Web 2.0 tools. Innovative educators are thinking aloud and sharing using blogs, wikis and Twittter.  They don't just share finished or successful projects, they blog or tweet as they go along, writing about what is working and what isn't.  Innovative educators are reflective and are happy for others to build on their experiences.
  • Risk-takers - Sharing projects in public that may or may not work as expected is very risky - but innovators are not afraid of making mistakes and learning from them publicly - and sharing across a network allows input from many others into improvements that can eventually lead to success.  
  • Forward looking - the title of this blog post comes from this statement of Suzie's:  "Because innovation creates a new normal, it's often only in hindsight that we can see the wisdom of breakthrough ideas".  Innovators are not looking backwards, however, they are looking ahead.
  • Overcoming obstacles - Innovation is messy with a lot of failure along the way - this doesn't sit right with many schools that have little tolerance for mess or wrong turnings.  Recently while Bernajean Porter was at ASB I learned a new phrase from her: "Da Um Jeitinho" which means there is always a way to make something happen.  Innovators break down the barriers!
  • Moving ideas forward - innovators spread the word, they share what is working so that others can use it too.  They collaborate and invite the community in.  They celebrate their students achievements and accomplishments openly.  
Walking around school today I realize that ASB has indeed created the "new normal".  And I reflected on what an inspiring school this is, and how proud and grateful I am to work here.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rapid Prototyping -v- TMI

Last summer I learned about rapid prototyping at the Henry Ford Learning Institute in Detroit.  It's a great way of working through a series of gradually improving prototypes in order to get feedback from the people who will be using the product before making decisions about final manufacture.  This morning I was with our Grade 5s who were finding out about the job of an architect as part of their inquiry into structures and culture for their Where We Are in Place and Time unit of inquiry.  Sam, the architect, showed the students his sketch books and photos of some of the models he makes before going on to build.  Having already been thinking about the scientific method yesterday, it's clear that the design thinking cycle is very different from the step by step linear process of the scientific method.

Gary Stager has got another, simpler, design model that he calls TMI:  think, make, improve.  I first saw this model at the ISTE pre-conference and found it a simple model that can be used with elementary students.  Here are the steps:

Think:  brainstorm, talk, predict, gather materials, identify expertise, decide whether to work in groups or alone, set goals, sketch, research, plan.
Make:  play, build, tinker, create, program, experiment, construct, deconstruct, test, observe, share, document, question
Improve: research, talk, look at things from a different perspective, change materials, change variables, ask an expert, etc.

Sam, this morning, told the Grade 5s that he decided he wanted to build things as a young child - around the age of 7 - by playing with Lego.  This week we are having the students play too - and having them design pretty cool structures using SketchUp.  Sam said that if we can imagine it we can make it.

Tonight on the #pypchat question 4 was this:  "What words should you never hear in an inquiry classroom?"  I know what Gary Stager would say to this - he would say you should never hear the words "I'm done".  There is always room to improve!

By the way, the architecture above is in Beijing.  It was designed by Zaha Hadid, and Iranian architect living in the UK.
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Science -v- the scientific method

In the past 24 hours I've had two instances where I've had to think about the scientific method.  First of all, earlier today in the #pypchat, Edna Sackson (@whatedsaid) made the statement "Real life isn't neat and tidy" and we were discussing inquiry - and this immediately took me back to something I read yesterday by Gary Stager about the way science is taught in schools - with facts and procedures - known as the scientific method, which basically involves observing something, constructing a hypothesis, making predictions, testing through experimentation, analyzing the results and then deciding if the hypothesis is correct.  However what Gary points out in his book Invent to Learn is that this is not science:
Science is about wonder and risk and imagination .... tinkering is closer to the way real scientists, mathematicians and engineers solve problems .... they follow hunches, iterate, make mistakes, re-think, start over, argue, collaborate.
 Even more interesting to me was Gary's statement "the scientific method is not applicable to things that don't yet exist".  He talks about how the world is full of seemingly unexplainable things that push the boundaries of imagination, yet some child living today will figure out the answer.  Maybe that child is in YOUR class - how can we foster his or her imagination and creativity in order to tackle the unexplainable?

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Modeling innovation

In 1981 I was working as a nanny in Florida.  The parents of the family I was working for had gone away on a business trip and I was left at home with 2 children.  When I heard that the first space shuttle was going to launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, I decided that this was a historic day and that the children really ought to be a part of it.  I took them out of school for the day and drove up to watch the launch.  We were a long way away of course, and didn't really see very much, though I still have some photos I snapped of the lift off.  This was many years before I became a teacher, in fact teaching wasn't a profession that I was in the least bit interested in in those days, yet I still remember the feeling that this was an educational experience for the children, that new ground was being broken, and that they really should be experiencing it.  I have no idea if those children, now adults, remember the day or appreciate the way that we stepped out of the usual routine in order to be there when it happened, but I hope so.  I hope they realized that sometimes you just have to seize a teachable moment.

As a teacher I've sometimes had to make similar decisions.  That something was happening in class, that the children were so engaged in it, and that we should ignore the clock telling us that it was now time to pack away and start our maths or reading lesson, and just go with the flow.  In elementary schools and in the PYP programme with its transdisciplinary approach, this is often easy.  In other situations I can imagine that it is impossible as students have to move to another classroom and another teacher.

I've been thinking about how easy it is (or not) for teachers to be innovators, and how important it is for teachers to be able to model this for their students.  A lot of this is down to the culture of a school and whether it supports risk-taking, which seems to be at the heart of innovation.  Does the school encourage teachers to be thinkers, so that they in turn can model thinking for their students?  Is there a willingness to explore new things, to be involved in research and development?  To be critical thinkers?  To try things out and to fail and to learn from this to try other things or ways that might succeed?

This week we had our first Maker Faire at ASB for parents in the Elementary School Maker Space.  Parents were able to explore different stations that were set up with different equipment, and were encouraged to think about setting up such a space at home for their children too.  I was interested in observing one of these stations which was aiming to solve a huge challenge - the garbage problems of Mumbai.  The parents were inquiring, collaborating and actively engaged in generating ideas and finding solutions.  For many being part of a Maker Faire was a new experience for them.  I'm happy that many mums and dads decided that it was worth stepping out of their usual routine and coming, even if it meant taking an hour or two off work.  What great role models they are for their children!

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Disruption -v- Innovation

Suzie Boss is coming to ASB next month, so I've started to read her book Bringing Innovation to School.  So far I'm interested to read her observation that many students today have problems coming up with new ideas.  She says they lack the confidence to think boldly because schools in general don't reward students for having crazy ideas.  As I read this it made me think of the Design Thinking workshop I'd attended in Detroit in the summer where we were told that during ideation we should brainstorm as many options as possible and to note down all ideas no matter how crazy they might seem.  Some of us as educators found this hard to do too.

Suzie Boss writes that "if we're serious about preparing students to be innovators we have some work ahead.  Getting students ready to tackle tomorrow's challenges means helping them develop a new set of skills and fresh ways of thinking."  Student creativity is actually dropping according to the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking - it has been dropping since the 1990s.  This test measures creative potential in art, literature, science, mathematics, leadership and interpersonal relationships.  The test found that students with creative strengths are able to appreciate diversity and to see things from different angles.  They are also able to connect seemingly irrelevant things.  The test also measures other characteristics that appear to be linked with creative thinking such as as being energetic, talkative, unconventional, humourous, lively and passionate.

Unfortunately the many educational establishments don't value or encourage such behaviours.  Traditional classrooms see these things as being disruptive to learning.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Technology changes what we teach and how we teach it

I got a tweet today from Vic Gecas (@vgecas) from the International School of Singapore, someone who knew I was interested in TPACK.  This tweet contained a link to a Keynote made by Punya Mishra at the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong last year.  I found the Keynote extremely interesting, and I enjoyed the mashup he shared at the end that he had made several years earlier in response to a commercial about education.  He called it Explore, Create Share.

One point Professor Mishra made during the Keynote is that we don't know where our explorations and creations will take us.  A little less than 4 years ago I decided to explore my thinking about technology and pedagogy, and I decided to do it by creating a blog and reflecting publicly on my experiences in order to share with others and learn with and from them.  This is my 900th post and my blog has been read by almost half a million people around the world.  These people have simply found it through others, because I never publicize the blog on social networks.  I'm very happy I decided to start sharing my thoughts and I couldn't agree more:  technology changes what we teach and how we teach it.  In those few years it has also transformed my life - taking me from rural Switzerland to one of the most dynamic schools in the world in the heart of the busy metropolis of Mumbai.  A few years ago I couldn't even have imagined having such a perfect job that encouraged so much personal and professional growth.  Life changes, and every day I am grateful to those educators who encouraged me to explore, create and share.  Thank you all!

Professor Punya Mishra from Michigan State University is rated as one of the ten most influential people in educational technology in the United States.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Constructivism and Constructionism: liberating learners from their dependency on being taught

I'm reading the book Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez and came upon the phrase that is the title of this post in Chapter 2 on Learning.  The power of the maker movement is that it builds on theories of learning.  Piaget, for example, wrote about how learners construct knowledge inside their heads based on their experiences.  This knowledge therefore is not simply transferred from someone else - the learner has to make sense of it by combining new information and experiences with what he or she already knows or has experienced.  Going further from this, Papert explains that the most effective learning occurs when the learner constructs a meaningful product - so that the learning is reinforced by being engaged in a "personally meaningful activity outside of their heads that makes the learning real and shareable."

I'm thinking about this in terms of the PYP.  I'm reflecting on the power of giving provocations that encourage really deep thinking and questioning, and on including a maker component into the summative assessments.  And once again I'm back to the idea of giving students choices, as not all learners will have the same knowledge or experiences to hang the new learning on.  If the provocations are powerful, then the students can design their own inquiries and learning engagements.  If the learning engagements are authentic, then they can also design their own summative assessments and make something personal that really demonstrates their understanding.  And in these sorts of environments, the "cookie cutter" project will quite naturally die out.

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Making and Doing

Next year the international space station will be different - it will have its first 3D printer and so the scientists there will be able to make spare parts and other components that are needed in space - they will be able to produce things in space and not have to make them on Earth and then launch them.  I heard this fact last week at the Learning 2.013 conference and it's been stuck in my head ever since.  For me, being able to design something in one place, and then send the programme somewhere else and actually produce it has blurred the lines between science and science fiction.  Why would you need to build something here and then launch it, when you can simply make it there?  Smart tools allow us to design our own objects and fabricate them quickly anywhere.

Later I went down to the Maker Space with Brian Smith from Hong Kong International School and he showed me the "home" for the Raspberry Pi that had been made by one of the participants in his session.  The design had been downloaded and then made.

Last summer I also attended a pre-conference workshop at ISTE with Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez.  Gary talked about how education has shifted over the past 20 - 30 years as a result of standardized testing and teaching to those tests with the end result being that classrooms are often "devoid of play, rich materials and the time to do projects."   On our return to school a team of people set about creating our first Maker Space on our elementary campus with the aim of turning us all into makers - engineering and computer science is now being brought to even our youngest students as the students are learning by doing.  Gary writes:
Digital fabrication devices such as 3D printers and physical computing including Arduino, MaKey MaKey and Raspberry Pi, expand a child's toy chest and toolbox wit new ways to make things and new things to make.  
This will be a space where teachers and students can learn together through direct experience with high and low-tech materials.  Gary will be visiting ASB next month and I'm excited to see the impact this visit will have on how we use our Maker Space to learn.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Badges as currency for teacher professional development

This year at school we have introduced personalized PD for our teachers based on them identifying their strengths and areas of growth.  Every teacher at school is currently working towards a goal based on the NETS-T Standard 2 (developing digital age learning experiences and assessments).  My role is to coach teachers so that they can achieve their goal - which led me to ask myself the following question:  how can I help teachers find recognition for the skills they are developing when using technology in their teaching?  I've started to look at Open Badges as a possible way for teachers to have their learning endorsed.

Traditionally teacher PD has involved going to a conference, or maybe having a consultant come into school to offer PD for an entire staff.  Today I ran across an excellent blog post by Chris Betcher who writes about the only real benefit of attending a conference (the networking and the connections), when compared to the newer form of "attending" a conference virtually or doing PD via social networks.  He writes:
... be aware that the chance to grow professionally is not something that happens annually or biannually.  PD in this day and age is a matter of being immersed in the right networks of people, and it’s an all the time thing that never stops.  Whether it’s something like Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+, or Scootle Community or listening to podcasts or reading blogs or watching YouTube or some other means… the point is that it is constant ...PD is no longer something that is occasionally done TO you by an external third party. It is something you do FOR yourself, by yourself, constantly.  That’s just a professional responsibility.  
In a nutshell, what Chris is pointing out is that there are many types of learning, and that there are communities available to help support you in pursuing your interests and developing your skills. However the problem remains that some institutions still insist on a "certificate of attendance" to prove that you have completed your PD.  And this is something that is very hard to get, so hard to make your knowledge and skills visible when you do your PD through the "informal" channels.

The idea behind Open Badges is that it is a new way to capture and display skills and competencies - they can become a part of your online identity as you link them onto your ePortfolio or social networking profiles.  They are a way of connecting both your formal and informal learning and they may offer a way to design your own learning at your own pace, based on your own interests. Badges differ from the previously issued "certificates of attendance" as they provide a way of tracking the organization that issued the badge, the criteria needed for the badge to be issued, and the evidence that you have met the criteria - possibly a hyperlink to a video, lesson plan or testimonial of achievement.

For me one important aspect of badges is that they are redefining the concept of a learning environment so that it is no longer a single institution or online space, but many environments that span time and space.  I also like the way that badges can represent many different skills and competencies that have been achieved along the way.  My questions now are all ones about endorsement.  For example, if I start to earn a badge at one educational institution, will this work be recognized by another one if I move to a different school?  If I move, can I still continue to work towards completing my badges at the first school, even while I'm employed somewhere else (ie will the evidence I create at the new school be recognized by the old one?)  It's early days, but I think that because international teachers are so mobile it is very necessary for international schools to start having these conversations.

One of the best analogies that I heard last weekend was to compare badges with money.  Money is after all simply a piece of paper, but because around the world we recognize it as having a value, we can exchange the pieces of paper for other ones as we move from country to country.  Perhaps, eventually, it will be like that with badges for international teachers too.  Perhaps the badges from one school will have more "currency" because they are seen as being of a higher value due to the more rigorous metadata that they contain.  Perhaps some schools' badges will come to be like the US dollar - able to be used in schools far distant from their origin.  I think we are at an exciting time - and that we now need to start to define how we want badges to work and which organizations we might like to endorse them.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Learning by Making

In the summer, I did a pre-conference on making.  It was a great day of hands-on learning.  Since returning to school we have also set up a Maker Space in the Elementary school.  I went and took some photographs of this space last week as a friend in another school asked me about this - he is wanting to set up a Maker Space in his school too.

Recently I was reading through the Open University Innovative Pedagogy 2013 report.  This report looks at 10 innovations that have not yet had a profound impact on education but are likely to transform it.  The report states:
Maker culture encourages informal, shared social learning focused on the construction of artifacts ranging from robots and 3D-printed models to clothing and more traditional handicraft.  Maker culture emphasizes experimentation, innovation and the testing of theory through practical self-directed tasks.  It is characterized by playful learning and encourages both the acceptance of risk taking (learning by making mistakes) and rapid iterative development.  Feedback is provided through immediate testing, personal reflection and peer validation.
Take a look at our space.  I think we will be able to make a lot of things here!

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Moonshot thinking

The final keynote at Learning 2.013 was by Jeff Utecht who showed the video below about moonshot thinking.  I wanted to post a little bit about what this type of thinking is and about how we should be aiming to make something 10 times better, rather than 10% better.  First of all, a description of moonshot thinking from Wired
Moonshot thinking starts with picking a big problem: something huge, long existing, or on a global scale. Next it involves articulating a radical solution — one that would actually solve the problem if it existed: a product or service that sounds like it’s directly out of a sci-fi story. Finally there needs to be some kind of concrete evidence that the proposed solution is not quite as crazy as it at first seems; something that justifies at least a close look at whether such a solution could be brought into being if enough creativity, passion, and persistence were brought to bear on it. This evidence could be some breakthrough in science, technology, or engineering that could actually make the solution possible within the next decade or so.  Without all three of these things, you may have a sci-fi story or a crazy idea — but you don’t have a moonshot. Not one that can aim for new heights and address a big challenge in a maybe-not-totally-crazy kind of way
Moonshot thinking therefore comprises the following:
  • It addresses a huge problem
  • It proposes a radical solution
  • It uses breakthrough technology 
It was a powerful and inspirational way to end a conference, and now I'm considering whether we can use moonshot thinking to attack some of the problems we are facing in schools today.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

The high that comes from learning

I love going to conferences.  I love meeting people face to face that I've only ever "met" before online.  I love sharing ideas and hearing the perspectives of others.  For the past fews days I've been at Learning 2.013 at United World College of South East Asia in Singapore.  This is my first Learning2 conference, but for sure it won't be my last.  It's very different from other conferences I've attended, but perhaps that's because I'm a Learning2Leader and I have a lot to DO as well as a lot to EXPERIENCE - and both of these involve learning.

Today was my first extended session - a workshop of three and a half hours.  I was quite nervous about this but at the same time excited to share ideas about the SAMR model, TPACK and Open Badges.  I'm really keen to explore badges - I feel like we are right at the start of a wave and we can ride this wave and influence the direction we travel in.  I was enthusiastic to discover that other schools are interested in exploring badges too.  Once I got back to my hotel room I thought again about the Incomplete Manifesto for Growth and today this is what strikes me:
Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
The second half of my session was organized into collaborative groups who worked together to create a media product that they could take back to their schools.  It was a joy to watch this process.  "The space between people working together is filled with ... a vast creative potential."

Tomorrow will be a tough and tiring day as I'm leading another extended session, an in-a-nutshell session and a keynote, but tonight I'm on a high.

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Balance, Renewal and Sharpening the Saw

For several years I've tried to get more balance into my life.  I realize it's important to find time for the physical (doing more exercise, eating better), mental (reading and writing), social (service) and spiritual (values) as well as just working.  Sharpening the saw means taking the time you need to look after yourself - you are the greatest asset that you have and so you need to invest in yourself.  This year I've tried to build in time for Hindi lessons, blogging and taking part in and facilitating online workshops (mental), Bollywood dance and yoga (physical) and am considering ways in which I can give back more to the country that I'm living in (social).

When I started re-reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People I did so this time with the view of seeing whether these habits could be applied to organizations as well as people.  In fact sharpening the saw certainly can, as schools need to consider the economics (physical), how people are treated (social), how people are recognized, developed and used (mental) and the way you can find meaning by contribution to the organization as a whole (spiritual).  Stephen Covey notes that "there is an intrinsic security that comes from service, from helping other people in a meaningful way.  One important source is your work, when you see yourself in a contributive and creative mode, really making a difference."

Great schools, I think, consider the balance between these different areas.  I think my school does a particularly good job of this.  However when a school neglects any of these areas then there is a negative impact on the whole institution.  Instead of unleashing a creative and positive energy, teachers who feel they are not valued in any one of the 4 areas feel frustrated and this inhibits growth and productivity - energy is spent staying in "survival mode" which is a complete waste and hurts both the teacher and the school.

Effective schools, therefore, focus on renewal, empowering teachers to grow and continually improve, even if this growth is away from the school itself.  While it is certainly my intention to stay at my current school, I was heartened to read, shortly before our Fall break last week, that our leadership team is committed to making sure that anyone who wishes to transition out at the end of their contract will have multiple job offers and will have signed a contract with a new school before December without having to attend a job fair.  Our administrators want to work with those teachers who have decided to move; they want to use their contacts to reach out to other great schools and be our champions.  I've worked at schools before that have given a bonus for stating intentions to leave early (before October) and ones that give a bonus for re-signing a contract for those teachers who want to stay - mostly as a way of helping the school itself with its recruitment process.  In contrast I've worked at other places that have refused to give written references to those who wanted to leave, refused to let teachers take with them copies of work they had created at the school, and who basically had the attitude "you leave with nothing - not even our good wishes."  ASB is truly exceptional, however, in its attitude towards helping exiting teachers to find positions in other excellent schools around the world.

During this past week's holiday in South India I've been renewing my energies, sharpening the saw and preparing for my role as a Learning 2 Leader at the Learning 2.013 conference in Singapore next week.  And I've been reflecting once again about how life has a purpose, about how things are meant to be, and about how blessed I am to work in such an amazing and supportive school.

Photo Credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy via Compfight cc

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Who's afraid of creativity and innovation?

Over the years that I've been teaching I've met and worked with some educators who appeared to be afraid of creativity and innovation.  These were people who found the creative process scary because it meant they were out of control - being creative means that you don't know exactly what is going to happen or where things are going to lead and so it means leaving your comfort zone and being open to possibilities.

One of the joys of moving last year to ASB was that I found a group of educators who are definitely not afraid of innovation - many of us actually thrive on it - and this brings me to another concept that is written about by Stephen Covey called synergy which refers to the interaction of multiple elements (in our case educators and their ideas) to produce an effect different from or greater than the sum of the individual effects.  Basically synergy means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Having considered my own strengths recently, I was interested to note that "the essence of synergy is to value differences - to respect them, to build on strengths, to compensate for weaknesses".  Reflecting on this further made me think again about ASB's Design Thinking team, and how respecting differences can be very powerful.

Synergy is creative because you are not sure what the end will look like.  It's exciting because you believe that whatever the end will be, it will be better than it was before and better because of working together than if you simply thought about the solution in isolation.  It involves a lot of trust, and a lot of letting go of your own perspective to listen empathetically to others.  It involves developing others and developing with others so that everyone reaches their own highest potential and it also involves everyone agreeing to rip up the "old scripts" and create something new.

In contrast inefficient schools are full of untapped, unused and undeveloped potential and are low on creativity and innovation.  Administrators in such places make policies based on the lowest common denominator - regulations are based on the potential abuses of a few people, and as a result creativity and freedom are limited for many.  And yet, even in such places, it is possible to find synergy within yourself by deliberately setting yourself aside from the negative energy, assuming the best of intentions and learning from the situation in order to get a larger perspective.  It takes courage in such a situation to be open and to continue to express your ideas and feelings and sometimes to remain true to your core values and principles.

At the moment I feel like I'm in a Win/Win situation.  I think ASB wins, and I win because I'm at ASB.  I find that even though I'm working harder than ever before I'm less stressed and because I am thriving in an atmosphere where creativity and innovation are valued.  For me, in fact, the scariest thing would be not to be in such a place!

Photo Credit: Srta.Gómez via Compfight cc