Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Schools often add things. Rarely though does adding something translate into removing or replacing previous agendas.

It leads to burnout. 

Resources, especially the energy of people, become drained when it's not balanced. I've used the picture above in presentations many times when I talk about this phenomenon of 'layering' in schools.

It takes leadership to curb this trend... and it takes monitoring by each person. It takes open communication on all fronts.

The breakdown in communication often leads to problems with overload, where layer after layer is piled on.

Schools are not particularly good at change. All too often they're not to good at communication, the open kind, the ones that foster discussion and feedback either.

Change is important and necessary. So is removing old agendas, broken programs, or directions to make way for the new.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Library... Fabrication Lab

Saw this article come across about refitting / retooling a more traditional library scheme.

The idea we had of a fabrication facility about five years ago... 

Refitting and retooling some traditions... creating new opportunities...

Very exciting to theorize and dream about...

More exciting to get on to doing.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Music and movies in class?

Once we have our opening discussions in class, we play music or a movie in the background.

Here's how.

The class often chooses, or I do, music or movies. Most often we choose to play music in the background while we do group project work. We choose movies during individual project work.

Here's why.

I've always thought it's relaxing for many students. It's a degree of civility in a classroom... treating it less like school and more like a home environment, a learning environment. We started down this path seven years ago now and never looked back. After all, we don't often go home to do work and sit in uncomfortable furniture, under bright fluorescent lights, deprive ourselves of all food and water, have no complimentary music or the like, and then expect we'll do our best... do we? We seem to do this in school though, and all too often I think. I've always felt, if we put some effort into making school look, well, less like 'school,' less like an industrialized environment it'd be more civil... more inspirational. 

Most often folks don't understand why we serve up movies on the classroom. First off, I ask people to focus on their work, and not on the movie. The movies, with low volume, play in the background. We'll spike the volume when we take a break for some great scenes... the Balrog on the bridge... that sort of stuff. Of course, much like a window, there are times you look up when something great is happening, or you just need a break. Bit like real life ; )

Further, we pick movies we can learn from, ones that inspire people. Creative stuff. The ones that bring dreams to life and have great messages. Inspiration... is a good thing.

Third, it threads nicely into discussions and practices on learning to work in a different environment and to manage distractions. Many folks are used to listening to music when they work. Often times this is heavily frowned upon in school. Never really had anyone give me a good reason why. I've often said 'admitting you're easily distracted is the first step to recovery.' Do you need to reposition yourself in the room? Adjust the volume? I think it's safe to say that anyone who's worked out of the school environment has had to learn to deal with distractions and figure out how they work their best.

Fourth, Almost all of the movies we choose carry great appendices... great documentary footage about how they are made. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as an example, in the Extended Editions, carry heaps of material about crafting, problem solving, hard work, creativity, and fun. Far better to play it than just discuss it. It's too cumbersome in length to play and just watch... so, we play it while we work, stopping here and there when something great comes up.

We thread in clips too that we find about films, like this one, a look inside the new shooting of The Hobbit in 3D. New material that comes out revealing creativity, problem solving, skill development, and dedication... craft.

For some, it is distracting out of the gate, no doubt. Many have never experienced a classroom environment like we have here. I'm guessing many though will never experience a work environment like they have in a traditional school model. That statement... could lead to a lot of writing ; )

This speech by Rogier van der Heide, speaks volumes to why it makes sense to change the concept of the classroom, from the colors used, to the lighting.

I'd encourage you, if you've never done it to give it a try. Turn down some bright fluorescent lights, create an environment, and coax folks to learn from the experience. Never know what might turn up. It's worked great here.

What's next? Our work here continues to challenge the concepts of a 'master schedule' and the potential of internships. Many other schools, of course, have headed down such paths already. Again... discussions for another post.

cross posted at:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Layers: Tools and Skills

I just read Jeff Utecht's new post called Technology: More than a tool, a new skill.

Utecht provides some great examples of how viewing technology as simply tools promotes this kind of substitutive use... quill, pencil, pen, word processor. Of course there's some tool based learning. The focus though, as Utecht lays out, should be on skills and learning.

So why don't we do this more often? What prevents us from focusing more on tools rather than discussing the skills and learning? 

When we talk about using technology in schools, in classes... that's where things seem to get messy. Fire up discussions on 1-1 computing, social media or the like, and people get defensive. It's a problem with many layers. I'll start with one thought here and post others in the coming weeks. 

Here's the first, a discussion thread that pops up often: Pedagogy. I'm guessing you've heard this before. 

'So and so is a great teacher. We're not going to tell them they have to use technology.' 

Some teachers are comfortable with technology and some not so much. That's as deep as many conversations go... when we simply talk about the tools themselves.

Here's some criteria for 'learning' I've laid out in quite a few presentations, a map of sorts I use in teaching and how help steer our Lab.

I'd like to think great teachers teach individuals rather than a seat in a class of curriculum. To be clear, bad teaching, exists with and without technology.

If the scope of learning has value in the slide above, then I'd pose that technology use can help explore the threads there in very diverse and creative ways. It does not need to dominate... it can provide opportunities. Especially on the creative front.

It can be student centric. A teacher doesn't have to be an expert at video editing to incorporate video into classes. They could allow students who are comfortable in that medium the chance to create work that way though. Ask a student to submit work to you in any form they choose. I told a friend recently... who has basically no computer skill...
Focus on content. Allow students to design creatively. Tell them they can use audio, video, visual presentations... and see what happens. Encourage them to help each other with their technical problems. Make sure their work is not tool centric, rather that they focus on content. See what happens.
It's messy learning. It explores failure, learning how to fail, and reinventing ideas. This approach challenges pedagogy and the idea of the teacher centric, stand and deliver model classroom. My friend told me the flexibility opened up doors in his classroom he'd never thought of. The work was far more creative that he'd hoped and he learned a great deal more about the students individually. He focused on content. His students focused on creativity. We discussed Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, where students land, challenging them to create, make the experience individualized...

Of course there are other ways to lead / mentor this, varying degrees, considerations technically, but it's an example of creativity and approach.

Here's a great quote I love from Gary Stager that eloquently summarizes thoughts on pedagogy:
"Less us, more them."
I like the simplicity of it Stager's words there. It's a great motto to have I think as you explore work with students.

I'll add thoughts to other layers in the puzzle soon.