Monday, August 30, 2010

Why social media for educators?

Cross-posted (and better looking) at NCAIS Innovate. Not sure why I'm struggling with Blogger and succeeding with Wordpress, but I definitely am.

Once upon a very hot August almost-back-to-school day, I came upon a tweet. A tweet that traveled across the country, from North Carolina to Oregon (and maybe beyond) in a flash.

I was not the only one. . .

Within a few days, at least 10 (and I suspect far more) teachers asked the same two questions of the fresh faces gathering in front of them: When do you feel most engaged/interested/curious in school? and When do you feel most checked out/bored/uninterested in school?

The result? You can see my class's responses here:

They resemble, but are not identical to the responses Ms Stewart's students gave.

Sharing ideas among teachers is nothing new. Back when I began teaching, it sometimes (often?) took a semester or more for an idea to make it down the hallway. This shared question went from North Carolina to Iowa to Utah in moments. Next, the questions, along with their accompanying images, sparked a spirited conversation on the English Companion Ning, as well as a less feisty but just as heart-felt series of responses on Ms Stewart's blog, In For Good. So what's the value of this rapid spread of an idea?

First, every teacher who asked the questions spent a some time thinking about knowing the students they encounter a little better as learners. Which means that a few hundred students learned that their teachers care how they learn.

Second, a few teachers engaged in a lively conversation that involved debating the value of pedagogical methods, sharing professional resources, and critiquing said resources with intellectual vigor. Teachers are busy this time of year with activities that can seem decidedly unintellectual. To have teachers engage in visible intellectual discourse can only be described as heartening! And this happened without a course, a scholarly journal article, or a professional development session!

The American Lit students in my course and I had an interesting conversation about their thoughts as they looked at the Wordles. I'm sure that the other classes that answered the same questions did too. Is the next step connecting the students together to see what they have in common with students across the country (and maybe across the world?) That would be yet another value add.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Creating a positive herd

In Switch, Dan and Chip Heath discuss how to convince individuals and organizations to change the ways they operate when the initial inclination is to resist change at all costs.

There's a lot that is interesting in the book--I received my copy as a gift at the NAIS conference in San Francisco last year. Instead of reading it all at once, I've been reading it in quick snippets for months. I'm not totally sure how that happened, in the intervening time I've read a number of other books in the more traditional (start in the front and work your way through to the end, one book at a time) methods.

The upshot of this though, is that I reached the section on the power of the herd just as the school year was beginning at Cannon School. At the end of the first week, I said to our Dean of Students "You know, I haven't seen a single sullen face all week."

Now, I'm sure there were at least a couple of students who weren't quite ready for summer to end. However, the culture at the school is "we're happy to be here with each other." I saw smiles, heard many offers of help from/to students and adults, and witnessed more helping hands than I could count.

Not all the new students wanted to be here. Yet, when I checked in with the new students during the week, the universal observation was "I'm feeling happy to be here, everyone here is so great." It's hard to be sullen when those around you are cheerfully showing you where to put your stuff, helping you navigate the lunch line just because they can tell they haven't seen you before, and translating words to you in whispers during class (we have several international students). In other words, the herd at Cannon gives the message that here, we look out for ways to help each other. There's an ad for a financial or insurance company that implies the same thing-folks in the ad see someone help a stranger struggling with a package, then go on to restore a baby's fallen toy to the stroller, someone else sees that and so on.

I credit the two Deans of Students with creating the kind of "herd" that encourages new students to enter the community with a positive outlook. They are, without a doubt two of the most positive, yet non-Pollyanna educators I've met. They act as a team, make their contributions unselfishly, all of which makes them role models for everyone else in the community (students and faculty).

Earth shattering research? No, we all sort of knew this already, but seeing it in action is powerful. It's going

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The What If Game

The what if game is totally underrated. It's so much more that a tool 5 year olds use to annoy their parents from the backseat!

Google's 20% rule is a derivative of the back seat game for grown ups--don't just wonder what if, try to bring into existence that which you imagine. Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s head of product management, advised students in a blog post.
Google, he said, is looking for “non-routine problem-solving skills.” I found that on Jeff Jarvis's blog transcript of his TedXNY talk. Google engineers are encouraged to spend twenty percent of their work time on projects that interest them.

So. . . how do you play "what if?" professionally?

Why now?

This isn't usually a time of year for philosophical musing--it's practical time in education, make the schedules, get the room ready, laminate, copy. . .

This post originated from an assignment to write a sentence describing yourself based on your top 5 Strengths. We're going to have all the students start the year by thinking about what they do well and how to use their strengths to their advantage all year. I can't wait for school to start!

My sentence

Let's find out! What, why, how, and, while we're at it, what if. . .