img_0458-1Every year, on my train home from Educon, I try to reflect so I can formula some intelligent thoughts about what I just experienced. I’m always in awe of people who have a blog post about their learning that must have been crafted on their walk through the airport terminal. I don’t gather my thoughts that quickly and need time to ponder. Maybe I’m procrastinating. Maybe just trying to make sense of all the thinking. This year is the first year I choose sessions that were so perfect for me that I didn’t walk out of one and I didn’t skip one. This year I tried to connect with people I didn’t know and didn’t let other people’s number of followers intimidate me. This year I spoke as one who is able to do so much of what we discuss because of an amazingly supportive principal. This year I spent time outside of my comfort zone in a session about Engineering that got me more excited than ever to share that with my students. This year I spent quality time with long distant friends who validate and challenge my thinking. This year rocked.

So since I’m posting before midnight, this year I’m getting a post in on the last day of Educon. I still need to sit and stew and sift back through all of my tweets to start putting my thoughts together. Reflecting is a key part of what we do as educators and learners. It’s a part that is often skipped because it takes time. But it a critical part to enable us to move forward in our learning journey. We need to make time for what we value. I’ll be using some quality time tomorrow to reflect.

A Small Reflection from My Week

I have many thoughts from my week, but I will start with just one.  On Wednesday, George Couros came to my school district and talked about the Innovator’s Mindset, which I read over the summer and again when school started.  Friday, I made my annual journey to Science Leadership Academy to attend Educon 2.9, my 7th Educon.  What is on my mind right now is the state of education and the fact that not much is different than it was 7 years ago. My take away from 7 years of learning with amazing educators at Educon and reading books like A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, The Element by Sir Ken Robinson, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, from watching TED Talks by: Sugata Mitra, Sir Ken Robinson and Adora Svitak, to name just a few…I realize that we are doing school wrong.  We need to stop playing a game where there are winners and losers and start giving all learners a place to do just that, learn.

Timehop – 20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago, I walked into a first grade classroom as a long term sub.  The position was only supposed to last until January, but I ended up there all year.  It’s a year I’ll never forget. My first few moments were panicked as these sweet little first graders started arriving and I thought, “What am I doing to do with these little kids?!?!”  Panic turned to wonder as these children turned my world upside down with their wonder, amazement and questions.  I learned quickly to follow their lead on questions and build upon their own curiosity.  We ended up building our own rainforest in the hallway outside our door because of questions they asked.  We created videos about the stories we were reading as students acted out favorite characters and scenes.  We moved our desks around to make our work more comfortable or we laid on the floor and stretched out to work.  We read books that had text that was comfortable for us as readers.  We wrote about the things we did in the classroom and I spent a lot of money on photos, actual photos that were pretty and glossy that showed our friends and our experiments and our life together. I remember being physically exhausted but mentally invigorated by the possibilities.  All the possibilities that this group of children possessed and all we were able to accomplish. 

Three years later, I would get my own classroom.  A place to knead and break and make my own for students who would need a home away from home. I would learn that pillows and bean bags and soft lighting make a classroom feel more comfortable. I would learn who Fountas and Pinnell were and how much they would make my teacher life easier with their independent and instructional reading levels.  I would learn that each group of students, each individual student was special and changed the way I approached content.  I would learn that I could not keep my lesson plans because I could never teach the same thing the same way twice.  I would learn to always look to my learners to find out what adventure we would go on each year. I would learn.  And continue to learn. 

The hardest lesson I would learn was that I did not fit the mold of many teachers.  I thought I was a broken model of what I should be.  Never living up to an ideal teacher.  My desk was messy because I didn’t really sit there. I just threw papers on it.  I didn’t follow a manual (if there was one) to a T because my students never fit it to a T.  I was always thinking of new ways to do things, not necessarily reinventing the wheel, but reinventing how the wheel would be used. And there was constantly glitter on my floor.  Getting reprimanded for being disorganized was crushing, but I learned how to be more organized and got back to what I was good at doing.  Being admonished for not being on the same exact Math Journal page as my colleagues was disappointing but I tried to hide what I was doing a bit more so they wouldn’t notice.  And the glitter, well that just followed us around all day and I apologized to our custodial staff whenever it was apparent that the glitter had been out and heavily used.  I could not be like everyone else and as I began to own that, life as a teacher became a bit easier.   

It took me a long time to recognize that it wasn’t me that was broken, it was the mold.  The mold felt constraining and restricting, but I never let it stop me from pushing forward to try new things, no matter how hard it got.  And I will keep pushing for my students now and those to come.   I will continue to learn. 

PS. It took me 10 years, but I did finally get rid of my teacher desk and I haven’t missed it for one second!

Summer to Fall

Last week I finally  resolved to change my wardrobe over from summer to fall. It is truly the biggest challenge for me every year. I love all of my tank tops, skirts, flowy dresses and flip flops.  This is my favorite time of year.  And then October comes.  I start pulling out the bins of sweaters and pants and socks.  The uncomfortable clothes. It is not a fun activity for me, changing summer to fall.  I stall. I procrastinate. I may even sulk a little bit. I dread it. I’ve been working on it for three weeks now and maybe I will finish this weekend.  Maybe. I don’t want to do it.  My inner two year old self wants to throw a fit and demand that summer not be over.  But my inner mature adult self knows that if I don’t get it done I will be freezing cold and miserable.  This change is inevitable. And even though this happens every year, I still struggle with it. Every. Time.

This year, as I was digging in a bin for socks because I thought my toes might just fall off for how cold they were, I realized that this may be how teachers feel about change in their teaching: bringing in technology to do new things, designing flexible learning space that, flipping their classroom, project based learning. These New things make them feel uncomfortable.  They stall.  They procrastinate. They may even sulk a little bit. They dread it.  They say they don’t know how or why or they have no time.  But this change is inevitable.  Technology is ubiquitous. To our students the devices are always there. Always available to play a game or watch their favorite youtuber. These kids want to be youtubers when they grow up. It’s a thing! And we are teaching them the way we were taught because it’s what we do. But that’s not ok. The weather is changing. The change is inevitable and we need to get moving.

Teachable Moments

I have been reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and I have had lofty thoughts of writing these amazing blog posts about what I have been learning.  I have notes everywhere in the book, on stickies, in my iPhone notes and even in a google doc.  I have about three ideas started but not finished and at least three more mulling around inside my thoughts.   This is how my brain works…always thinking of ideas and the next thing I can be doing, yet struggling to tie up loose ends of where I’ve been.  But instead of posting one of those deep thinking posts, I want to share this conversation with my daughter: 

Last night on the way home from a grueling Crossfit class, my 6th grader said, “Mom, wouldn’t it be great if my gym teachers could see what I just did in class?” (She did 434 reps for WOD 15.2 – scaled to 20# Overhead squats and Ring Rows) “I can’t do their tests very good, but I can do great at Crossfit.  Bent arm hang doesn’t show much.  I’m better than one attempt at a bent arm hang.”

My thought process while trying to think of what to say: Wow.  From the mouths of babes.  This is where we are selling our children short in K-12.  Our assessments don’t show much.  They don’t show our children as whole beings with passion and purpose or as learning, growing, progressing students.  And yet they, at least my daughter, feels that the assessment is the only thing seen and/or that the number defines them.

I struggle to know what to say to her as an educator and parent.  But I told her what I’ve told her in other conversations like this, “School is school, what we do outside of school is life. Crossfit teaches you things that will affect your life beyond the box. It builds you up as an athlete and as a person. You can work on your weaknesses and celebrate your strengths. Don’t let the bent arm hang test get you down or define you. What you did tonight in 15.2 was amazing!”

All of our children are worth being seen.  How are you doing with seeing the children you work with everyday?

Marshmallow Tower – Build It!

Today, you and your team will begin designs for building the tallest free-standing tower possible with an entire marshmallow supported on top.  The supplies give to you in your paper bag are the only supplies to be used.  Choose wisely how you will build your tower.  Supplies will not be replaced. Your team needs to have a project manager, resource manager and a historian

  • Project Manager – oversee the design and building of tower
  • Resource Manager – make sure all supplies are used and stored neatly, keep track of your teams rations
  • Historian –  report, comment, add questions to blog post on behalf of your team.

Your structure will need to stand for 24 hours unassisted, support one intact marshmallow and be built with only the supplies give to you.  Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  1. Ask each other some questions.
  2. Imagine what your structure might look like. Sketch it out on your bag, if you’d like.
  3. Get a plan for how you will build.
  4. Create your tower. Work your plan
Timeline of task:
  • April 15th – Workday
  • April 16th – Workday
  • April 17th – Measurement Day
Your group may print out this Graphic Organizer if you wish. 

There and Back Again: Educon 2.7 Part 3

It’s always hard for me to write about my learning after Educon.  My mind has so many things swimming around it’s hard for me to nail down just one idea to focus on.  So here are a few of the big take aways for me.

  1. Raghava K.K., during the Friday Night Panel said, “Education is what is done to you, learning is what you do for yourself.”  As educators we need to be learning in spite of system.  During “Rethinking the Purpose, process and Promise of Professional Learning” with David Jakes and Kristen Swanson, I had an A-ha moment.  “Professional development is what is done to us, Professional Learning is what we do for ourselves.”  I seek out professional learning at Educon, EdCamps, IU offerings, and PETE&C.  All of these learning opportunities are not encouraged by my district or administrators, they are encouraged by a deep down innate need I have to be learning.  Professional Development can lead to learned helplessness where Professional Learning is sought personally and leads to professional growth.
  2. We need to be working at changing the culture of learning for all stakeholders in our learning organization.  This takes time and patience.  Conversations need to take place in order to shift thinking and practice. 
  3. Core Values need to be the crux for all decision making and culture shifting.  I see how SLA adhere to their Core Values: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation and Reflection.  In the conversation about Distributed Leadership, Chris Lehmann addressed this idea, to always come back to the bigger picture and ask:
    • Does this align with the Core Values?

    • Does it serve children?
    • Does it serve adults?
  4. I really love all these beautiful conversations we have around innovation in education and working towards best practices in all we do in our schools.  Right now I am doing my best to start doing and move forward with ideas that have come out of those conversations. 
This whole idea of innovation and best practices in education is a journey.  There are mountaintop successes and failures in the valleys.  The failures teach me to go back and reframe.  The successes keep me moving forward. Educon is always a retreat to refresh, rejuvenate and reconnect. The journey continues…

There and Back Again: Educon 2.7 Part 2

Thoughts that evolved out of Educon:

I’m changing the name of my blog.  Mrs. Irvin’s Tech Page is now Learning Spaces  Learning Journey, because it seriously is a journey!   I haven’t decided if there is an end to this journey. It just keeps on going.

I decided to take the “Tech” out of the name just like I need to take the “tech” out of my goals.  I don’t like my title as Technology Teacher.  I’m not teaching technology.  I’m teaching students and teachers to learn and think and use the technology as if it were a pencil, pen or paintbrush.

This whole idea had me thinking, “is this new?”  For years we in the tech world have been saying it’s a tool not to be taught.  Just as we wouldn’t think about teaching how to use a pencil or when to use a pencil or what type of pencil to use.

So why are we still discussing how to get tech integrated into our classrooms? I feel like we are squandering precious time talking about it.  What are we doing about it?

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • working with teachers who are interested and available to meet – There are some teachers who invite me into their planning time and classrooms. I happily accept those invitations.  There are some teachers who have told me they do not want me at their planning time, so I do not work with them.  It’s quite simple.
  • taking baby steps – starting with something small – Each time I work with a teacher, I encourage them to pick just one thing to try during our time together.  I don’t want them feeling overwhelmed. We keep it simple.
  • celebrating the successes no matter the size – a teacher uses google forms to collect information from students – YAY! A teacher instructs students to create tutorial videos about studying, upload them to their google drives and share with teacher and me – YAY!  No success is too small to share and celebrate
What are you doing to promote tech integration in classrooms?  What steps are you taking to help colleagues meet with success?

“Technology needs to be like oxygen – ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.” – Chris Lehmann

There and Back Again: Educon 2.7, Part 1

Educon is by far my favorite learning weekend and here’s why: the learning is all around us.  It doesn’t just happen when we are in the seats of classroom in SLA, it happens wherever there are people gathered.

When I arrived at SLA on Friday, I spent some time eavesdropping in classrooms. As usual the students and teachers showed what SLA is all about, an inquiry-driven, project-based learning environment.  In the robotics class, students were problem solving as they attempted to make their robots play a tune of “Three Blind Mice.”  Ms. Hull lead an intriguing discussion around the topic of privacy through reading cautionary tales…I did not write down the title, but if memory serves me well, it was LOL…OMG!  The students in both classrooms were engaged and invested in the conversations around the subject at hand.

Later in the day, I saw a tweet from @jrichardson30 (Jeff Richardson) about inviting attendees to meet up and go to historical Philadelphia.  I decided to go meet up with my Southern twitter friend and his colleagues, Susan and Wendy.  It ended up being the Philly area native (me) taking 7 people (3 from Alabama and 4 from Vermont) on a little walk around the historical hot spots.  I posted pictures of our time together.  

My husband’s comment, “That’s a weird technology conference”. My response, “It’s conversations where we learn.  Not locations. ;)”

That was a huge take away for me and it happened only 3 hours into Educon.  Learning spaces are all around when we engage in conversation.  I have been learning more in nontraditional settings than traditional.  I learn more when I am seeking it on my own, than when someone is pushing it on me.  My learning can be on the sidewalks of historic Philadelphia, the tables in a high school lunch room, within the walls of classrooms or anywhere I choose to begin the discussion.

The rest of Educon was amazing…of course, but that is for another post.

How are we encouraging learning to take place anywhere, anytime with our students and colleagues?