Category Archives: thinking out loud

The Inevitable Let Down Or Taking A Day

Our MyrtleI just needed a day, I think, to do not much after months of doing, doing, doing. I had planned to travel today for a last bit of holiday vacation  but slept badly last night and woke late feeling low, not prepared for a long car drive even with a decent book to listen to. I messaged my old friend who was lovely and supportive; thank goodness for old friends, indeed. We’ll meet up tomorrow at an annual get together of other old friends, mostly women I worked with at my first teaching gig in the late 80s, and then spend a few days recuperating from it all with sales shopping and binge watching and at least one movie theater movie, probably Mary, Queen of Scots. I look forward to this annual trek and know it will be restorative, but I just needed a day to make the transition.

One thing I did do was set up my feed reader as part of my general goal of being better connected. I emptied it completely and decided to just start with the people Jen Orr mentioned in her blog post. I recognized all the names as thoughtful people who were doing good work around creativity and equity. It is a good start, I think, and I am trying to keep things sustainable. I plan to have this group as a core of regular reading because I know they will connect me with a wider community and then I can add others to the core list. I hope it is a better strategy than filling the feed with every person I might possibly read and then being overwhelmed by the number of posts.

My organizational efforts  were immediately rewarded with this beautiful prose poem by Sherri Spelic reflecting on the holiday and the coming year, what we bring with us, what we leave behind, what we look forward to.

What Comes Easily to You?

I am just a few hours away from teaching the first class of the semester. I have a limited number of face to face sessions so I think this first class is even more critical than in a K-12 classroom. Every moment together counts.

Katie Martin’s pic of six questions to ask your students showed up in my Twitter feed. I followed the link to her blog post about four ways to create a learner-centered classroom. Both are worth a look. I completely agree with her that reviewing the rules or the syllabus are important but should not be the first thing a teacher does no matter the grade level. When I taught middle school, we started working on the first day and I either wove the rules in as part of our activities or spent some time with the students creating classroom rules and norms together. I wanted the message to be that this was an interactive class where we worked hard, played hard, and learned hard.

The goal of Martin’s six questions are to help teachers build relationships with their students. They are reasonable questions that would certainly help a teacher personalize classroom learning for students.

But, I did wonder about one of the questions: What comes easily to you? This is a potentially powerful question. But as with all things: it is all in what we do with. If the answer is used to customize activities so Suzie always gets to write and Billy always gets to draw because it comes easily to them, I think we could be taking student choice too far.

Given a choice in how to respond, I’m probably going to choose the way that comes easiest to me, in my case by writing text. In fact, publishing my little sketchnote/infographics and committing to public writing has been my way of moving away from what comes easily and pushing myself outside the proverbial comfort zone.  (I probably add 750 words a day to my journal…writing isn’t the problem for me, publishing is.)

I shared my course outline with some colleagues and at least one pushed back on requiring a “TED style talk” to present the work from their passion project. Wouldn’t some people be uncomfortable doing that, he asked. Yes, I’m sure they will, and I might tone down the “TED talk” rhetoric so it eases the pressure a bit, but the students WILL do a stand up presentation about their semester-long project. They are going to become school administrators and education leaders, and they need to get comfortable presenting ideas in front of groups of stakeholders.

We do lots of things that make people uncomfortable in my class at one point or another, from coding to recording videos of ourselves to solving challenges. For some people, just taking a course called School Technology causes anxiety. I combat that by being as supportive and reassuring as I can that while they will be expected to try out tools, failure will not affect their grades. (I don’t grade anyway really but that’s a whole other blog post.)

I am offering lots of choices this semester: from pursuing your passion to choosing from various tools to “writing” to your blog using a variety of media. But, I also am planning whole group activities around topics and tools, and I will expect participation from every student to some degree.

I think we should use the answer to the question of what comes easily to a student as a foundation for supporting them and a springboard for pushing them beyond the walls created by their preferences. I am a huge fan of Seymour Papert’s idea of hard fun where learning is challenging, but we find satisfaction in that challenge. He comments:

My whole career in education has been devoted to finding kinds of work that will harness the passion of the learner to the hard work needed to master difficult material and acquire habits of self-discipline. But it is not easy to find the right language to explain how I think I am different from the “touchy feely … make it fun make it easy” approaches to education.

My class is not easy in many ways and does require students to do more than a typical textbook, lecture, discussion kind of graduate class. You will get metaphorically dirty in this class but if you’re willing to try out things that may be difficult for you, I can promise you hard fun.


Blog Challenge Update:

Bad news: I had just turned out the light and plumped the pillow last night when I realized I had not posted a blog entry. I made a futile attempt to see if I could do it from my phone if only to keep the very short streak going but gave up pretty quickly and went to sleep. And slept soundly so clearly wasn’t too upset about missing.

Good news: In an effort to be more public about my blogging (honestly, I could probably write away here for months without anyone knowing), I shared my 10,000 Steps post on Facebook and got some nice feedback.

 

Connecting With Nature

At the recent CoSN conference, I attended a spotlight session presented by Dr. Milton Chen that focused on outdoor, experiential learning opportunities, mostly through the national parks. Sadly, Dr. Chen had, along with many others, resigned from the National Park Service education advisory board after being ignored in their efforts to engage with the new administration.

But, he remained passionate about the possibilities of outdoor education and describe Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program. The farm-to-table approach to gardening means that kids learn to both grow AND cook their own food.

I firmly believe that raising even a small amount of your own food is good for the soul: some leaf lettuce, herbs, spring onions, and radishes are all easy crops to grow in a pot in a sunny warm place. There is a simple joy to adding a bit of fresh rosemary or chives to your potatoes or salting and crunching into a freshly pulled radish (better yet, dip it in melted butter).

But, connecting to nature can be as simple as keeping a bird feeder. While we have lots of birds who stick around all year here in south central Virginia, we also have migrants.

In Flight

My favorites are the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. April 1 is the traditional day for me to put up my first hummingbird feeder. We had our first siting today, April 4. It was a male–it usually is–and I added our siting to the hummingbird database. It took just a moment or two to submit and I was able to see my entry immediately and see that we were very much on the northern edge of reporting.

These kinds of migration tracking projects have been around for almost as long as the Internet. While they are certainly wonderful ways to have students experience collaboration and scientific discovery, they are also moments for students to connect with the natural world, to stop for a moment and wonder at the joy that is a hummingbird.

Facts, Perspectives and Narratives

The story I want to tell may be offensive to some; even knowing that what I am going to describe still exists in our country can be upsetting. But I think we need to know how others think, how their facts blur into perspectives and then become narratives.

I wrote this in the short previous blog post about what keeps people from blogging. The question that was my challenge was “Should I Post This?” I decided to go ahead and tell the story.

I want to tell the story about alternative perspectives and where we find them. The story begins in a  bookstore in Virginia. The content in the store related to the American Civil War but from the perspective of the Southern confederacy, the Lost Cause. While many of the books have an historical perspective, celebrating Southern leaders and examining battles through a Confederate lens, others espouse political views around states’ rights and, more upsetting, segregationist racial attitudes. I went looking for the book store website, and it is connected to an unapologetic Confederate who quotes Benjamin Franklin on the homepage:

“Man will ultimately be governed by God or by tyrants.” – Ben Franklin

Even if they can’t agree what to call the war or specific battles, I believe these writers would agree with a set of facts about the American Civil War shared by historical and pro-Northern writers. There was a war from 1861 to 1865 fought by two groups of states of the confederation of states known as the United States of America. Some of the states interpreted the Constitution to say that they could leave; the other states interpreted it to say that they could not leave. That, along with ideas about states’ rights in general and slavery specifically led to a war.

From there, it starts to get blurry between facts and perspectives. Fact: As part of the war, General William Tecumseh Sherman invaded the South and wreaked destruction on the civilian population as part of his total war. Was he simply doing his job and practicing total war in order to help the North win? Or was he committing war crimes? Your answer to that question is going to determine your lens in examining other facts that might arise around the events of Sherman’s March to Atlanta and the Sea. They seem like facts because they confirm your world view.

I did buy a book in the store. It seemed to be a more unbiased story of one Virginia county before, during and after the war, focusing more on the lives of the civilian population, living in a county that saw four significant battles.

I feel like I took the coward’s way out. I should have purchased one of the more stridently Confederate books that condemned Lincoln as a tyrant and his troops as terrorists. It is, indeed, a point of view that is not taught in schools except perhaps when someone discusses the Southern perspectives. But I have a sense that these authors are not simply describing their point of view. They are using facts to create a narrative different from the one crafted by others. Facts and perspectives become one thing and trying to separate them with either logic or brute force is impossible.

Maybe I’m making too much of this experience but as I passed through the entryway of the book store and realized where I was, I had a sense of being part of a secret club. It was the same feeling I had when I visited the Jubal Early home place. A table there offered brochures for pro-Southern societies celebrating the Antebellum South and mourning the Lost Cause. Like Jubal Early, there are many who are unreconstructed Confederates, living in the modern world with a shared secret connection to the past.