Don’t You Forget about Us

We’ve completed another #tiegrad term and grown even closer as a cohort of connected educators. We were lucky enough to be learning with Alec Couros this term and he brought with him an outstanding collection of guests. He concluded this term with a touching reconnection to the big ideas of connecting, sharing, learning and relationships. He reminded us that it is not about the tools, but instead about learning. However, we must always be mindful of the influence of our tools.

My big takeaways from this course are:

  • Be a part of the conversation. Hearing Dean Shareski speak to US brought the point emphatically home: there is a moral imperative to share our learning and teaching. You don’t need to judge yourself too harshly and censor yourself before you begin, you can grow and find your voice and your people.
  • Ask questions and reach out.
  • It is way more fun to work together. Get into the global staff room and have a coffee together. We do that in #tiegrad – we organize our own coffee chats and morning get-togethers. We pair up, group up, and work together well.
  • Identity matters. We need to consider our own online identity and help our students develop an identity for themselves.

Areas of strength for me as a connected educator are connecting behind the scenes, joining in on Twitter chats, collaborating and working with others, and contributing on backchannels. Most of my areas of weakness center around my insecurities about sharing my voice and opinion. I’m hesitant to disagree, to rock the “global” boat, and to share my simple ideas. I still hesitate to post every blog or tweet, I have piles of drafts on both sites. Sharing my blog publicly causes me anxiety, because I feel a little safer to be myself, have fun and be a little ridiculous here – believing that no one will read much past the first paragraph… right???

Two goals as I go forward are:

  1. Dean Shareski’s challenge: “Can I find your best work online?” You can find my students’ best work online. They proudly tweet from our class Twitter account and their individual blogs. I share my work and learning, but I don’t think that my best stuff is online yet. Sometimes I haven’t realized that there is value in my work until it gets a response on Twitter! I need to be a little more transparent, or at least celebrate some of my efforts in the classroom. There are things that I am proud of, and it might be worthwhile to share them out.
  2. Rethink my metaphor, a challenge by Alec Couros. I have always seen myself as an amplifier of some sort. I’ve called myself a megaphone, a soapbox, etc, with the vision of being a platform of some sort to raise my students’ voices/works/ideas/creations/energies/etc and help them to find their audience and people.

Inspired by Alec’s sweet goodbye “Don’t forget about me… I will always be your co-learner/collaborator” – sticking the Simple Minds lyrics in most of our minds… I’d like to end with:

We found out that each one of us is a learner, a fitbit all-star, a ukulele rockstar, and a tweeter, a blogger, and part of a family that will extend beyond our #tiegrad years together. We were glad to have you join us, don’t forget us!

Sincerely yours, the #tiegrad cohort (your co-learners, collaborators and co-conspirators)

(oh, we should remix this one for our cohort! Challenge extended…)

 

 

Breathlessly going Forward

Although I have put in the required hours, my learning project is not complete. I have learned a lot, but I am not done. I have learned:

  • Meditation may have medical benefits for people who make it a regular practice, including rewiring the brain, better resilience for stress, immune support, emotional wellness, and improvements in sleep
  • It’s not easy. Meditation is work. Every time. Making time to practice it daily was difficult, and the little voice in your head gets louder if you have a large “to do” list

  • The focus is important – whether it is visualization or focusing on breathing, giving your attention a clear task is the route to training your mind.
  • There are many types of meditation to try. Some are based in theological rituals, others are based on physical practices, and others are based on mindfulness
  • I did not have success with my original goal: improved sleep. However, I noticed that I had less headaches, I was better at self-calming, and I began to personalize less of my challenges
  • For my best learning, I need a blend of online, self-selected content, books to read, and human contact to check in and seek answers to questions
  • Reflecting openly about my new interest has increased my connections and PLN – reflecting regularly has increased my support network and also kept me engaged in my learning
  • Journaling helped me to process my personal learning experiences and growing knowledge base to transition into my more public thinking out loud blog

    Meditating at my local little beach.

    Meditating at my local little beach.

  • A meditation “space” was less important than I thought. I tried meditating in my bedroom, my front porch, in the woods overlooking the beach, as a passenger in the car, while cooking, and even at work
  • I like my new mindfulness! This part is simpler than I thought. I connect with my senses to ground myself in the present. I smell Spring in the air while walking the dogs, I hear my dogs lolloping around me, and I see the diffusion of light as I move through my day
  • There was one component of my chosen app Headspace that I did not have a chance to fully utilize and I believe that it would have added even more of a dynamic experience, based on my time as part of our #tiefit group: the ability to connect with other Headspace buddies. You can encourage each other and cheer one another towards daily practice. I never did find another Headspace partner. That is ok, as it took me 7 months to accept my first FitBit buddy. So, in terms of connecting with other Headspace users, it may still happen over time.
  • The way that the app is gamified (it tracks your “streaks”,
    My run streak from earlier this term.

    My run streak from earlier this term.

    there are incentives for reaching certain milestones, and your progress is represented in multiple ways) encourages you to compete against yourself and ensures that you keep returning.

  • It is actually less about doing a little “something for yourself”, and more about considering the people who will benefit from your ongoing practice of meditation. Focusing more on the benefits that your work will provide to others will make the practice easier, your mind softer and more malleable to the process. Meditation should be done as an act of service, not solely as a treat for yourself. However, your increased calm and self-understanding may lead you to be less critical of yourself and others.

  • Some days are better than others. At first that was difficult and when I re-read my journal I can see how critical I was of my efforts. Now, I realize that it is about the practice. Learning a sport is similar: you attend practices and some days are better than others, but ATTENDING the practice still counts.
  • I have begun to practice some of the strategies and reminders as a new part of my daily ritual. Headspace teaches you to “flash” some of the teachings as often as 5 times a day to ground you in the moment. I have taken some of the lessons to help me ease into sleep on restless nights, or visualize my busy thought traffic as a road that I step further and further away from. I am in the process of owning this new learning!

So, my journey continues. I have paid for a year’s use of this app, I am enjoying the practice, and I feel like I am getting something out of it. I am learning the skills to be more in the moment and to be present in whatever task I am attempting to do. It is actually feeding my sense of gratitude and joy. The guided meditations are working for me, but I hope to try a few more guided mindfulness activities on the move.

Thank you Alec Couros for giving me the opportunity to learn something new and to explore new ways to bring balance into my life. And thank you to my expanded PLN for supporting me along the way with resources, ideas and encouragement.

My mental "clutter" that I sketched out earlier this term as I began this journey.

My mental “clutter” that I sketched out earlier this term as I began this journey.

 

Final Reflection on EDCI 569

Here is our final reflection on EDCI 569, completed as another collaborative project by Jardi – a mixed up mash-up of Jarod Fong and Heidi James. Although we have never met face-to-face, we enjoy working together and appreciate the opportunity to connect over shared work and interests. This is an example of the power technology has to facilitate those connections.

Our project is a video reflection on our term of learning. We began by creating a theme based around one of our Learning Projects: meditation. The rest fell into place: we co-authored the script through a Google Doc and then each did some individual filming. Through Voice Memos we added the audio track together. We checked the final project through BlueJeans, and posted it to YouTube. We called it “Meditating on our Learning”.

Thank you to Alec Couros, Dean Shareski, Alan Levine, Audrey Watters, Sylvia Martinez, Dave Cormier and all of #tiegrad for another amazing term.

Music Credit:

I am a Lucky Girl – Gender in EdTech

We had a guest visit with Audrey Watters on the topic of Gender in Educational Technology. Completing the pre-reading for the night left me with a new vocabulary word: “mansplaining”. I’ve experienced this in a variety of ways in my career but also personally. My husband is very adept at navigating this when a salesperson begins deferring to him when I am the potential customer.

I enjoyed Audrey’s visit with us and her passion for creating an inclusive community online. She is well-researched and has a great sense of humour. As Audrey spoke I reflected on my own journey as a female edtech dabbler.

I think that I have an unfortunate bit of a Pollyanna perspective on gender issues. This comes from a sincere place in my heart, though. I have been a lucky girl. I have also been a stubborn girl. I know that there are huge imbalances between the way women and men are treated. I know that this is true historically, and continues in our present day. I have witnessed and been subject to unfairness that seems to be based on my gender. But, I am a lucky girl. I was raised to believe that I could do anything that I want to do. Being told “no” (whatever the reason I was given) was an invitation to begin negotiations. My parents encouraged and supported my explorations, my curiosities and my passions. I came home muddy, bruised and exhilarated. I pushed boundaries and asked endless questions. And things did not always work out how I had hoped, and when disappointments ensued, my parents were there to answer my new questions, offer the insights that I missed, and to encourage me to dust off and try again.

While Audrey spoke, I actually took a moment to text a quick “Thank you” to my Mom. I’ve loved technology since before my parents brought home our first computer. We used to record audiotape letters to send to my Great Grandma. My parents shared a tape with me where the toddler me was demanding “Heidi do” to set up the taping that day. Dad kept insisting “Daddy do”, and had apparently already “done” setting up the taping, forever capturing my stubborn young self attempting to take charge with technology.

Our Vic 20 later upgraded to a Commodore 64. My parents encouraged my use of this technology and I remember sharing our discoveries about these tools as a family. Print Shop became one of my favourite obsessions, and I created endless streams of dot-matrix brilliance. Looking back now, I can’t believe that my parents didn’t shut me down about wasting printer ink, reams of paper (who needs another banner??!?), or even my time – maybe I should have been doing more homework? My parents ensured that I lived a balanced childhood, and I still carry my love of technology AND my love of the outdoors with me. I should be saying thank you more often. I am a lucky girl.

Audrey’s talk, and my sense of feeling blessed makes me wonder what my role is in supporting others. My road has not always been easy, I have had my ideas belittled, stolen, and claimed by others. I have been asked to feel shame because of my emotional nature. But, I storm on.

(I often cry first, but then I storm on)

How do I stand beside those who are being left out? How do I ask the right questions? Who do I ask? Where do I reach out my hand? I take my parents’ teachings and practice them with my students. I know that they can do anything. How do I extend this mindset beyond my classroom walls?

I am a lucky girl. And I should be doing more to help.

(Thank you, Mom and Dad)

#makered

The #makered movement is a powerful force that is empowering our learners to move from consumers of information/technology/ideas/etc to creators of . . . well, anything! I don’t know when we moved to a Maker mindset, but there have been ripples along the way that fit into this category. For example, Genius Hour has been around for a while now, as has robotics, coding and spaces designed around creation.

As I was listening to Sylvia Martinez, the co-author of Invent to Learn, speak about making and tinkering, I was reminded of the amazing session that Keith Rispin hosted last fall with John Harris.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I am a “one-off” #makered teacher. I create #makered assignments like Rube Goldberg assignments, or encourage “making” in Genius Hour. I create opportunities for making, but I have not created the culture for making in my Middle School classroom.

I used to be a proud #makered teacher. I ran a wild Lego Mindstorms group where my favourite answer to any question was “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” Experiments ran amuck, learning happened, robots evolved and challenges were extended. I loved it! I also had my students flip our learning. Any of my students were welcome to create a tutorial on any topic (currently being learned in our academic life, or beyond!) and post it on our wiki.

How do we create an environment that encourages tinkering, entrepreneurial spirit, and making in Middle School? Is it a matter of having the right “stuff” available? Do we need to build it into the schedule?

My Middle School has cycles of “enrichment” three times a year. I pitched the idea of having school-wide Genius Hour this year take the place of enrichment. Our current enrichment is somewhat teacher-drive: we offer choices to our students, they pick their top three favourites, and get sorted into an activity. I thought about reverse-engineering this process. Teachers would offer “spaces” instead of activities. If your Genius Hour required computers, our two computer labs would be staffed during this time. The library would also be staffed, as would the art room and home ec room. Other spaces would also be opened, such as the gym, music room, and multiple classrooms. Students could self-organize, bring or request the materials that they need. They could change paths as needed. They could change spaces as needed. And, ideally, the teachers would actually be free to explore their own projects too. I don’t know how well this would actually work, but I would love to see it tried.

Mini-Meditation Update

As our Masters term winds to a close and my assignment due dates crash towards me, I have tried turning to some of the skills I have learned through meditation. Some days (or moments) are more successful than others.

I am finding myself struggling with more frequent sleepless nights lately, and I find that turning my focus onto my breathing helps sometimes. The visualizations for stress are not working AT ALL for late night restlessness.

Earlier this term, Jarod and I were talking about our Learning Projects, and he told me about a book that was recommended to him by a colleague. It was called “10% Happier”. It is written by Dan Harris, a reporter for ABC who had the start of a panic attack live on air. Through his journey to calm the voice in his head (admit it, we all have one), he finally discovered the secret that worked for him… (spoiler alert)

Meditation.

He describes his process: Sit upright, feel your breath, when your mind wanders, simply return to your breath. This is EXACTLY what the first 30 sessions of the Headspace app teach! Mr. Harris backs it up with the same research that I found at the beginning: daily short meditation will grow the areas of your brain associated with self-awareness and compassion. It should shrink the areas associated with stress.

So, I am proud to tell you that I am not done my Learning Project. I have managed to meditate daily since I chose this project. I will continue to meditate long after this term concludes!

Photo Credit: hatalmas via Compfight cc

A Visit with Dave Cormier

#tiegrad was lucky to have a late night chat with Dave Cormier. He was passionate about the ideas he shared and gave us a lot to think about. He began by sharing his thoughts on rhizomatic learning and equating it to invasive plant species. His explanation and his blog post helped me to have a better understanding of this. I have heard this term, and have had it explained a few times, but I didn’t have the connections needed to truly understand it until I looked at the ivy in my side yard. It is successful in taking over new places and popping up unexpectedly. It has no beginning or end, just like the learning process – as Dave states in his blogs.

What really stuck with a few of us is Dave’s explanation of his assessment practices. He speaks of an “open syllabus” in his blog post and shared a copy of his syllabus during our meeting. The importance of the open syllabus is that it allows learners to find their own paths and language of the learning process. To assess learners as they navigate these varied paths, Dave only assesses their effort. He asks his students to view the syllabus as a learning contract where they are required to participate in learning and reflection. Dave describes the lecturer as the “content expert”, but acknowledges that the learner is the one who decides what they would like to get out of participating in the course. The syllabus outlines what success looks like, and sets the tone for life-long, self-valued learning.

Negotiated assessment is an excellent goal. I try to use it in my own practice with my Middle School students. I give them a similar template to the report card that they will receive and ask them to provide feedback on whichever parts they would like. Some students assign letter grades, others reflect on their learning in words. Some provide feedback in all subject areas, others prefer to report only on areas of strength. I give them the same report card and ask for feedback on the same areas again, but this time with the focus on my teaching. Some students complete this form anonymously, others attach their names.

But, there are issues with self-assessment. I saw it with my own completion of the self-evaluation we were asked to do for our EDCI 569 course. I hesitated until the last possible minute to hand in the feedback. I struggled with the same things that some of my students do: self-doubt, honesty, humility, and comparison. Even when given a rubric (like the Masters level grading scale) it is difficult to assess your place on it without comparing yourself to other learners, past and present. And, comparing yourself to your best days and your worst times. Where do you fit in on that scale?

My highest achieving students regularly rate themselves lower than they should because they have become overly effective critical thinkers and as such, they over-think the reflective process. They would always like more time to polish their products, because they truly know learning is ongoing.

Self-evaluation is something that needs to be scaffolded for learners. There should be choice and dialogue built in and assigning numbers or grades should be optional. Maybe even the format of the self-assessment should be fluid, so that learners could customize the method of reporting? With tools such as Google Docs available, the teacher could list the outcomes of the project/unit of study/term and provide some structure for self-evaluation with the invitation to edit the evaluation as desired. If we are speaking of assessing effort, as Dave suggests, we need to also realize that the process a learner undergoes in reflecting upon their effort may vary. If you assess effort as part of your practice, please share your methods below.

I loved learning about Melody Watson’s assessment approach in her school, where the parents, teachers and students sit down together to complete the reporting process.

I imagine that this process would take a great deal of time, but having all voices present for this reflective time would provide a wealth of information. Parents would be able to provide more context for the discussions and time spent on informal learning beyond the classroom walls and the student would be given an opportunity to share their thoughts on their learning process. This dialogue can be extended through the use of digital portfolios – something that Melody already does with her learners. The portfolios allow all parties (parents, student and teachers) to comment on uploaded artifacts of learning. This would ensure that the meetings are focused and that nothing comes as a surprise to any of the participants.

Things are moving in a wonderful direction in education: honouring student interests, inquiry-based learning, and authentic assessment. It will be messy finding our way; but we are so lucky to be doing this in a time when sharing our practice, being transparent with our efforts (both the successes and the failures) are a part of the collective journey.