Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fare thee well 2014...

Like so many other folks work I've been reading have stated, I'm ready to say fare thee well to 2014 on many, many levels.

Throughout 2014 I found myself thinking about this clip from Alan Moore's great story, the Watchmen.


"What is, really, the 'American Dream' these days? A great and messy question for an inquiry based ed project I think.

Picture from José Vilson's post:
The Race Discourse
(So hopefully you won't have to go through that)

The events in #ferguson and death of Eric Garner have hopefully started a much deeper look into #BlackLivesMatter and the horrible ripples of #WhitePrivilege and white perceptions that exist in this country. 


The opportunity to Dig Deeper and More Thoughtfully into those discussions is hopefully at hand, especially with kids.

We have a very long, long way to go and much work to do. 

Will it take another series of lost lives or tragedies of a larger scale to push us into changing practice?


History says, unfortunately, yes.

My fear is that we'll fall, once again, into...



"... evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live."
Edward R. Murrow

Of trials and excess...


I found these two items in my tech and sports sections of my aggregator recently... a house selling for 70 million, and yet another mega-deal in professional sports. Then I saw this:
Michigan state taxes earmarked for schools will be used to help fund a new $450 million arena for the Detroit Red Wings." 
from the Hack Education Weekly News, by Audrey Watters
Bud Selig, the retiring baseball commissioner, will earn $6 million a year annually in retirement. I pondered that headline over breakfast one morning. Six million, annually...

My mind wandered a bit... 


Could the nations wealthiest 1%, a few billion dollar sports franchises and leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS), the venture capitalists, or the wealthy movie and music industry help rebuild crumbling school facilities - and ask 'real' educators how to do so?


What if all the profits from the Lord of the Rings trilogy went into rebuilding decaying schools?



Budget: $285 million (all three movies combined)
Worldwide box office: $2.9 billion (all three movies combined)

Could gains be accomplished without trying to commercialize education toward more profits? Could authentic and meaningful learning be the goal? Or would it be more standardized curriculum and testing, or more the development of more 'for profit' schools?


An important question I keep thinking of... if educators were around the table instead of movie and music stars, tech moguls, and politicians... would we, the masses, be interested in listening?


Sarcastically... I came back to think of Murrow's speech again. Maybe Kim Kardashian should join the educational debate... in the nude. It'd likely draw a lot of attention and possibly much needed money in sponsorship for the event to help schools renovate decaying facilities and improve programs.


I keep thinking... what if we valued children as much as our entertainment?

It sure as hell doesn't look like increasing taxes will help rebuild crumbling schools.


Schools as community learning centers. It's still possible.


Of book and blog on education...



Every year I pass on many educational book and blog recommendations to friends.

The best education book, and any book for that matter, I read in 2014 was from first time author José Luis Vilson called This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education


Pretty simple... if you're in education, and even if you're not, I'd recommend you give Vilson's book a read.

Many of my favorite blog posts about education in 2014, again, came from Audrey Watters on her blog Hack Education.  Watters latest site refit - 'The Pigeon's of Ed Tech' motif is... perfectly sarcastic.

I keep thinking...

If I could, I'd love to commission Watters to investigate LMS work in k-12 education (most of her work focuses on post secondary). The LMS debate needs escalating in k-12 education. Work within and around the LMS in k-12 ed is something I've struggled with mightily over the years for a variety of reasons.


More grimacing about our marble...


Just a few of many that made me cringe in 2014.


Domestic violence came to the forefront again courtesy of NFL player Ray Rice and 'the elevator tape' where he attacked his wife. As if we should have needed an incident with an NFL player to bring this issue to the forefront. When will we see a push in our society for stiffer penalties for domestic violence? Child abuse? I think we're still waiting for someone to make it happen instead of making it happen.

Malaysia flight 370... vanished. It still seems unbelievable to me that a modern airliner can just... disappear.

Ebola...


Beheadings...


132 children and nine adults lost their lives in a school massacre in Peshawar...


Seeking comedic relief? All good things...


" Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says 'But Doctor… I am Pagliacci.' "

Billy Crystal might have summarized the death of Robin Williams best in a simple tweet that said "No words.Williams comedic rants, his ability to improv at hyper speed... I admired him greatly and I'll miss his wit, riffs, and character portrayals in movies. I'll think many times I'm sure about what could have been over the coming years. I'm certainly grateful for what I did see. So long Robin, we'll miss you here.

One of my favorite old school comedians, Bill Cosby, hit the news recently and grimly so. Accusations of sexual assault by many toward Cosby have spread. I don't know if these accusations are true. It'd be unfair for me to speculate. I haven't researched it in the least. I'd like to think, as many times I've laughed over Cosby's comedic routines especially in the skits called "Himself,' and '49,' that the accusations could turn out to be false. If the accusations are true... I wonder what will be done, what we'll do, what we'll learn from it all.

On a more positive note... but still sad in the fact that I'll miss the show...


On my daily work...

The trials of Burlington School District in Vermont, well documented in the Burlington Free Press, have been interesting to say the least. In a budget crisis there's an opportunity at hand so few schools take... to restructure - to tackle those things, those practices that simply don't make sense for kids or adults. It'll be an intense couple months ahead on this front.


The progress we've made with VITA-Learn, PD for Vermont educators, was well received by our audience. I'm thankful for the work of my peers and the energy to stir things differently. We've got some good ideas brewing.



Being invited to attend #mozfest in London to explore and develop the project I'm working on... was truly a gift. Work continues... and it's growing interest and support.

As a product of less travel, I've finally started to write more again. I've signed on for 12 or more articles for Edutopia in the coming year, for a number of presentations and consulting work with schools looking to shift to more student and family centric practices, and I'm going to press forward on the book I'm writing.


I'm ready to recharge at #educon in Philly in late January with three folks I work with, and also to present there for the first time.

Personally...


We settled into a new house in September and, at long last, a year of heavy commuting to and from work was over.


My family stayed healthy, new house with new routines developing, and we're exploring the resources of this great community and area. Loving it so far.


... and, after nearly 10 years, I cut off two and a half feet of extra hair. Having short hair again has been both odd and refreshing.


And at last I've gotten this year end review of sorts off my chest. It's something I've felt the need to write for a few weeks now just to clear out my head from a weird year.


I'm lucky to have another full week of vacation to delve into some reading, take in a few good movies on my list, and to get some extra rest.


We'll say farewell to the trials of 2014 but there are many opportunities ahead in 2015.


Engage...



Monday, December 22, 2014

The Colbert Report, it's been a privilege

The Colbert Report closed up shop this last week, and it's an understatement to say that I'll miss watching.

The show came off so well so often I've often wondered how things worked behind the scenes. It's something I never really researched to see what was out there. Then this podcast below from SlateRadio called 'Working, a podcast about what people do all day,' by David Plotz dropped on me (thanks Gary Stager for the link) to give us a glimpse.



It's a reflective time of year, and my mind tends to drift when I settle into Holiday season vacation. My mind drifted toward how teams should work and collaborate within schools... and how they so often don't successfully. Students, educators, and administrators so often function in a silo without this level of collaboration and shared development that Colbert describes in the podcast to build the show. I thought about so many students missing out on this level of collaboration in schools. How too many students miss out on discussions on current events in our world, and also the opportunity to talk about them more deeply and apply them to some historical context.

Then I listened to the podcast again... and just listened  ; )

The Colbert Report was one of those shows I could watch again, from the launch episode to it's finale a few days ago and laugh even more than I did when I saw it the first time. My thanks to the writers, production team, and to Colbert - the character and the actor - for nine great years.

The show provided me the opportunity to end the day with a good laugh. It gave me more insight into the absurdities in our world through the lens of a great character and great comedic writing. The show helped me add a lot to my work with students to teach them about the world. And best, it poked fun at some things, well, that need to be poked.

Colbert's new gig will be succeeding David Letterman on Late Night early in 2015. The character from Colbert Nation won't be there, but all the comedic wit and experience the real Stephen Colbert gained will be. Ready and waiting.

@StephenAtHome
@garystager
#vted
#sschat

photo: ColbertNation

Friday, December 5, 2014

Digging Deeper and More Thoughtfully

Give this video a listen.



I think often of Edward R. Murrow's speech from 1954 to the RTNDA, paraphrased and recast in the excerpt above from the movie Good Night, and Good Luck. Murrow's words draw important questions on how we use the technology of the time, modern media and journalism, and the importance of our personal and collective resolve to learn about our world vs be entertained.

Hopefully more people will be questioning and investigating what's happening in Ferguson, and with Eric Garner… and learning, especially with students.


Some will say "you don't know how difficult a Police officers job is. You're not a Police Officer." True. I'm not. 
Brutality and racism are real, though. They shouldn't be justified by simple, boastful, shallow statements. It's not enough to say inquiry should stop in a statement like that.

Some say, "he deserved it. He shouldn't resist arrest."

At what point is death an acceptable result?
At what point should we stop looking at the deeper issues involved?

Do some reading on 'white privilege.'


Don't accept superficial statements and move on as if these issues don't exist.


Too many lives are lost.


Corruption is rampant.


Greed is rampant.


Racism is rampant.


"What have we become?" I asked, again.


It's time to face the fact that we've always been this way, actually.


What we are is still far less that what we should be.


Too many care more about bout being entertained than we do bout gaining an understanding about the world in which we live.


Hate… is learned. Too often it is accepted.


We are not as caring or compassionate as we could be to all others. Not yet. I still believe there is hope.


I've read a lot recently. I offered some of the resources listed below to get students started in some reading and encouraged them to find other resources that spoke to them.


___

I wonder if we will ever see the end of racism. Truly. Or live in a time when it's not so paramount in our world.


We have a lot of work to do. Education, I still think, is the key. 


I cringe, perhaps daily, at our resolve in education to cram 'subjects' instead of placing higher value on making real connections with kids, developing empathy and compassion for each other, and continuing the hard work toward… hope.


We can do better. We can use our resources better to educate ourselves. We can care more about making positive changes on these fronts. We can help students make this mess we've created better in 'their' future.


Hopefully sooner than later.


Readings / Viewings:

#ferguson #fergusondecision #listen, The Becoming Radical


Mike Brown Dies, A Generation Comes Alive, The Daily Beast

Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress, Washington Post

Ferguson and Fox News, Jon Stewart, The Daily Show (reported by Fast Company)


Race Ya, http://iambeggingmymothernottoreadthisblog.com


Educators Say The Darndest Things About Kids of Color, Jose Vilson


I honestly don't know what to say, John Stewart (from the Washington Post)


Thursday, December 4, 2014

"I Just Don't Know What to Say"

... at least tonight I don't.


"We are definitely not living in a post racial society, and I can imagine we there are a lot of people wondering, how much of a society are we living in at all?'
Jon Stewart



A scene from Alan Moore's Watchmen flickered across my brain…

"What happened to the American Dream?" 
"You're lookin' at it."

If we could…

  • listen.
  • read. Explore different opinions outside your 'circle.' 
  • watch. 
  • put yourself in the shoes of others… and are more informed about how others feel.
  • take a stand not to tolerate racism

Eric Garner... died.

That's tragic on so many levels.

This happens far too often.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Surfing...

Data storage...

I needed some quick info on data storage to solve backup needs. Drives, flash drives… prices, places, models, ratings… quick research.

Then that surfing thing happened…
"Too tired, distracted, heading off in a direction you didn't quite intend…" but in this case sort of related.

20 minutes and a series of links later, I found this clip below on the advancement of data storage.

A conversation I had with students recently about 'how fast technology is advancing' must have been bouncing around in my head somewhere.

I was telling students about a Mac SE/30 I used to own with a 40mb hard drive and 4 mb of ram.

Smartphones are now featuring over 100GB of flash storage… and Seagate is shipping 8 terabyte hard external drives for under $200.

Makes you wonder what these devices will be doing 20 years from now, doesn't it?




Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Myth of the Superstar Superintendent… really?

'Creating a path' from tkographix.com
In 'The Myth of the Superstar Superintendent,' Eric Westervelt makes a case that Superintendents really aren't that important… that they don't have a substantial impact on student achievement.

Sorry, I disagree.

They do, and in many ways. Positive and negative depending on how they conduct business.

I've interviewed over 300 people on the qualities of effective leadership over the last three years at schools across the globe. Here are the things they've prioritized in my conversations, and that I agree on personally in 25 years in education.

1. Budgeting and financial oversight

Districts that don't manage money get themselves in piles of trouble.


We've all seen or heard of districts and / or schools in financial ruin. Think those intense budget woes don't have an effect on learning?


Me too.


Run a multi-million dollar business without effective fiscal leadership / oversight? Ok, good luck with that.


Further...


One tenured Principal I interviewed two years ago described it this way:



The best Superintendents I've worked for have been great at helping us focus priorities and achieve goals, not just at my school but across our district.

Principals are in charge of buildings. Oversight of a larger picture is critical I think.


Tough decisions… and important.


2. Dealing with union / labor grievances

Handling grievances improperly can cost districts large amounts of money in litigation, academic development gridlock, and cascade morale problems. Helping principals deal with these in a timely fashion and then investigating the root cause and setting corrective plans in motion has the highest value.


3. Contract negotiations

Negotiating these waters with Unions, often inexperienced boards, and the public can be tricky. Superintendent's play a key role in this function.


Those three seem to be the low hanging fruit, so to speak, when I've interviewed school leaders on the qualities of effective leadership in education.


My head starts to hurt when I think of such things being cast as 'unimportant' or having little to no impact on student achievement.

Here are four more things I've seen and so many folks have mentioned in my travels, and I agree… all pretty important.



The Galactic Senate Chamber from StarWars.com. 
1. Establishing, educating, managing, and governing board policy. 

For many school leaders and teachers I've interviewed, this is a 'prime directive' of sorts for Superintendents. Most acknowledged that their Superintendent did this well... or wished they did.

It's common knowledge that dysfunctional boards can cripple a school district. Rogue initiatives, self-directed interests, unprofessionalism in communication that leads to distrust, apathy, and wavering public support for even the best of initiatives within a school district can all result. That anarchy, I'd argue ultimately effects student achievement.

Here are three common problems described to me by Superintendents, Principals, and teachers and many parents regarding school boards. I chose the best quotes from all my interviews toward these points:


Some people approach their board term with an axe to grind. They disagree with everything, and want to change everything. There's no analysis really. They're just angry. 
Some work toward initiatives that will benefit their own children at the expense of any and all others in their path.
Everything, and I mean everything, is an emergency with some boards. It's exhausting. 

Fostering that culture and expectations of the boards purpose, functions, and protocols are are essential.

One Principal I interviewed said this:



The best Superintendents can navigate and educate difficult boards and Board Chairs. They are policy and procedure hounds. They make sure things go smoothly and remain civil. They're great at squelching people who are basically just generating noise. When they can't do that with some board members, they can still run interference so we can do our jobs well. Slowly that person who's so troublesome on the board gains experience or, well, just goes away.

Innovative districts often don't have 'proactive and highly functioning school boards' by accident. The ones that do it consistently have process and policy… rather than simply luck.

Superintendent fodder to educate the board chair and members on board policy? 


Yup.


Takes skill, too.


2. Firing and Hiring


Public schools often experience complete gridlock when they try to let employees go, even after thorough due process and diligence. Ultimately it costs students a lot of money and growth potential. I've spoken to many who have voiced stories about the worst employees being shuffled and buried in within the school. It can go on for decades. Excellent school leaders are skilled at getting rid of people who do what they do very poorly. 

Hiring, the best of it anyway, centers around creating a vision. Replacing excellent school leaders and teachers with more of the same or better takes skill and some vision. It implies governance of mission and not of personal agenda (hiring friends who might not be suited for the job), or ego. 

Overseeing these two processes well is critical to lasting success in so many important ways.


3. Oversight


It's an 'avoiding bureaucracy' sort of thing.

Principals can control this… or cause it. Who oversees principals when schools internally can be heavily bureaucratic? Who oversees a Curriculum Director?

Change is difficult, often mired by ineffective process. For those working in schools this is known as 'committee hell.' Committees, subcommittees, task forces - whatever you call them - schools can debate even the smallest structural or pedagogical change for years, and sometimes decades. Tenured people often stop volunteering for committees eventually… and then laugh at the younger ones who do who then fall victim to the same cycle. There are three 'oversight' threads here I'm thinking of in this one that are critical for principals and ultimately Superintendents, listed below as items a - c below.



a. 'Committee to Shelf' Initiative Governance


Talk to a person who's been in education for more than two decades and it's likely they can spout off a series of 'latest and greatest initiatives to come down the pike.' Citing most recent examples like No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Race to the Top, and now Common Core makes them easy to remember. For many schools, it all boils down to another initiative that goes in another binder on a shelf somewhere until the next thing comes along. No followup… no purpose that's quantitative or qualitative, just busy work. 


Some of the best Superintendents help create / facilitate frameworks, or logic models outlining future steps and rationale with principals and curriculum directors and make them transparent to faculty, parents, and ultimately students. Otherwise, many of those initiatives are run in isolated pockets… and go on a shelf... or scatter.


b. Managing self-righteousness / self-justification

Ever see a new person climb into a new position and generate copious amounts of work for those around them? Me too.  


Here's part of a conversation from a Superintendent who wished to remain anonymous.



"Prior to my arrival there had been a series of curriculum directors over a short period of time. These people were well intended but headed in different directions and generated incredible, and I mean INCREDIBLE, amounts of work for people. There was no oversight of these initiatives as to their purpose, workload or goals for that matter. By the time I arrived nobody was interested in talking about curriculum anymore. Everything was fractured with no thought on progression from grade level to grade level."

Finding a top level school leader, like a Superintendent, who can corral such things into goals, thoughtful process, and common sense is... critical. 

c. Future thinker... that can implement

From the article I'm questioning:


"A good superintendent empowers leading visionary principals and teacher leaders at the school," she says. But what actually happens too often is that superintendents "squash interesting ideas, so you'd have principals afraid to try something new, afraid to try something innovative."

I believe the best Superintendents are future thinkers… and they can put it in motion. It's not to say that they have to come up with all the ideas themselves. The just can recognize great work, apply common sense, fiscal balance, big picture thinking… and implement the idea.

Simple right?


It takes skill in big systems.


They actively think and drive practices toward creative and engaging learning opportunities for students.


They evaluate current practices and adjust priorities.


Ok, back to the the last job function I see as critical.

4. They encourage innovation

They encourage it, mean it, and meet with people regularly to help ideas move forward.

Discussions on innovation can go in circles year to year with little to no movement. People drop out of committees and task forces, especially when they duplicate efforts over years. Great Superintendents help move road blocks to make things happen. 

5. They delegate and build great leaders within the system

Great Superintendents build cultures where leaders work together and problem solve together. Each person within the system sees themselves as part of a team, part of a district. System choices are made thoughtfully.

I heard many horror stories here of compartmentalization, dissension, micromanagement, and severely penalty based cultures here. Pretty horrific stuff. 

Team building and fostering individual growth and ideas is the goal.

6. People want to work with them


You know… they're nice!


I shudder to put this 6th actually. Every single person I interviewed who worked in schools had either high praise on this one or a series of horror stories.


Being nice goes a long way. One Principal I interviewed two years ago on 'the traits of the best school leaders' said it this way:



Want to work with a bully? Someone who fosters a culture of fear? Someone who lashes out when challenged? How about someone who is extremely temperamental or monstrously egotistical? Didn't think so. People under those leaders get scared and often burned. They shut their doors and hide and ride it out. They stop innovating. That's when things get compartmentalized.

The best Superintendents? They're fair, kind, and have respectful leadership skills. They work with people, not at them. They bring out the best in people. 


In summary


Through the muck. Picture from OregonState.edu
In all my interviews, people seem to agree:

Superintendents can drive things into ruin. 

They can be figureheads, ineffective and absent.

They can also be educational leaders who provide ways and means for people to innovate.

These are the basic things people discussed with me in their wishes in Superintendent leaders.

All of them, over time, and in direct and indirect ways can have significant impacts on student achievement. It's not just an analysis of how test scores faired during their tenure. It's about what opportunities they created, who they inspired, and what actually happened.

Hard stuff to measure sometimes. More of a good common sense thing I think.

The key is finding a person who can do these things I've mentioned.

Otherwise... things fall apart, the wheel keeps spinning… and good people burnout. Ultimately, students achieve less when they don't have systems in place which help them reach their potential. Adults too. Who knows what damage that can actually do.


I'll take the superstar, thanks.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Refocusing Advisory in Schools

Advisory…

It's a strange mission for some schools.

In my travels I've seen many feel advisory at their school is broken, scattered and basically ineffective.

Some others though have focused around a simple mission…

connecting with students.

It's a simple mission. But as with many simple and elegant things, there's a good deal of complexity and hard work behind them.

Here's a visual tale of sorts, not a presentation… but rather a simple booklet that I hope will stir up conversations on this topic for the better.

We win.

(best viewed in full screen)


Sunday, November 9, 2014

VT Fest 2014... and moving forward...

Vermont Fest 2014 is a wrap... and I'd say by the feedback I've viewed thus far we're on the right track.

I've been the emcee for many conferences and sessions, but the credit to make events like this happen ranges far and wide. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make events like this work.

My sincere thanks to the following...

The passionate educators who presented at this years conference and embraced the theme of 'Creative Learning in Agile Schools.' The feedback from these sessions has been excellent. We'll make the feedback for each presenter available soon and use that feedback to steer our next round of selections.




The folks who staffed the Maker section, and my friend Caleb Clark from the VITA-Learn (VL) board who organized and facilitated the space. All these great folks gave attendees a chance to learn. 'Mind and hand,' the motto from MIT, is something we're pursuing here and to keep encouraging educators to move more activity into their classrooms and create deeper learning opportunities. Getting students involved rather than being passive observers... Gary Stager, the keynote speaker from DL last Spring, spins it as "less us, more them." I've always liked that motto since I heard it so many years ago when I heard Gary and the great Seymour Papert speak so many years ago in Maine.


Chris Lehmann from the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) got us off to a great start with the opening keynote. The elegance of simplicity, and the complexity and hard work behind it is something I've admired about Chris' work and of the other folks from SLA. As always, Chris set a good tone and gave people some ideas to rally around.

Matt Dunne, Head of Community Affairs at Google, whipped up the perfect closing keynote. Humorous, thought provoking, and with a few challenges was the perfect recipe to end a very busy few days.

The Killington Grand makes a great stage for VT Fest. We'll be exploring some ideas to create some new learning spaces, and expand our social activities and the pacing of the event itself to help attendees have more time to collaborate and enjoy these great facilities.

Our sponsors for the event, executive and corporate, generate a lot of opportunities for attendees to explore. We'll be working with these folks for our next slate of events to promote more interactive learning opportunities.

Our tech crew, Fred Wadlington, Mike Lambert, and the folks from the resort did some great work. Setup was streamlined for the presenters and Wifi connectivity was exceptional this year, the best we've seen since VT Fest landed at the Grand more than 10 years ago.

Steve Jarrett, our Communications Director at VL did great work leading up to, during, and now following the event. The VL website, conference website, and our conference flow on Sched.org does take some time to craft and Steve stays on top of it all. We've got some changes on the way that will make these even better.

The VITA-Learn board who has refocused it's efforts over the last two years toward creativity at our conferences and regional PD. Our conferences should fulfill a mixed bag of needs. They should constantly expand beyond tools themselves and delve more deeply into promoting connections with students, and encouraging creativity and pedagogical growth both personally and professionally. We're making some great progress.

Our explorative and creative focus on the VL board made possible by our Executive Director and my good friend Paul Irish. Board work can be a chore, especially if it's mired in production work. Paul streamlines this demand so we can focus on creativity and we're all grateful for it. Ed Barry and Susan Hoffer, the longtime conference directors do a ton of work behind the scenes to make things work and flow. As a board, we can pass on our creative ideas and research to these folks and collectively we can set things in motion.

For my part as emcee, VITA-Learn (VL) President, and one of the organizers, it's a privilege to work with all thee talented folks to move things forward.

I spent the weekend resting up, reflecting, reading and jotting down some ideas for the future. Karyn Vogel's reflective post from VT Fest 2014 is one of my favorites I've read thus far. The Twitter hashtags we used for the event #VTFest2014 and #vtED will show you what was cooking as well.

Personally, I saw so many folks... many familiar faces and many new ones. Catching up, laughing, exploring, and crafting new ideas in these setting is always both healing and inspiring.

It's a lot of work... and we've done a great job of distributing it all and collaborating on creativity.

If you had fun at this years VT Fest 2014, DL last Spring, or the 1-1 conference, spread the word.

We're just getting started.

We've got some great ideas brewing already.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

VT Fest 2014, Creative Learning in Agile Schools


I've arrived at VT Fest 2014 in Killington, VT.  Exploratory workshops are already underway today. It's great to see  many familiar faces, and equally great to see so many new ones as well. 

Chris Lehmann from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia cranks up with an opening keynote tomorrow morning, and Matt Dunne, Head of Community Affairs at Google is closing on Friday afternoon. In between there are mixed bag sessions for diverse groups and needs... introductory tools, more exploratory sessions, passionate projects, maker lab / space development, on through advanced pedagogical / philosophical challenges. 

Twitter hashtags for the event... #VTed and #VTFest2014 

I've been working on the VITA-Learn board over the last couple years as President to help push these conferences in some new directions. The first step was Dynamic Landscapes last Spring 2014 at Champlain College... Gary Stager did the keynote and Joyce Valenzia closed up. We introduced some great changes to there... full maker space staffed by experts and students, kids doing presentations, lots of hands on development, and mixed sessions, traditional presentations, un-conference collaborative sessions and immersive workshops. We've carried over some of that to VT Fest here this year... but we're just getting started. It's likely VT Fest will look very different next year ; )

We have a lot of ideas brewing already... and we've got a lot to discuss on these fronts. I'll be hosting a few impromptu round tables over the next few days to hear from folks what they'd like to see in the next few years in Vermont conferences. 

If you're reading this post and have ideas, send me a note or if you're at VT Fest, pull me aside and let's chat on some ideas.

Keep challenging people, keep collaborating, keep moving forward...


Presenting at #educon !

I just received an invite to present at #educon in Philly in January 2015!

It's an honor to be in the mix. I'll mashup a conversation on Theory into action steps... a look into the best practices of many innovative schools around the globe. Walk away with ideas for your school or district with simple changes schools can make that don't cost anything, can open up creativity, increase collaboration and learning, and set in motion some creative challenges for how we view 'school.'  

Many thanks to the great folks at SLA for the opportunity. Can't wait!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

#mozfest 2014 event comes to a close...

Conf photo albums, check the ones for MozFest 2014
Great pics by Tracy, @PixelVixenUK
and Paul, @Paul_Clarke
I had a great time at #mozfest 2014 in London.

Once again, many thanks to the folks volunteering, providing services, and running the event. Of course, a special thank you to US-Ignite and Mozilla for bringing me over to mash.

To the attendees… what a privilege to meet so many talented and inspiring people.

The event closes, but… I'm inspired, bringing back heaps of resources, and have so many ideas to develop and refine.

There's so much here at #mozfest brewing for adults and students that's relevant and important to discuss, create and develop. The pic on the left were the major themes from the conference. Here's the full session list within those themes revealing the salt. 

Conferences like this can be tough. There are so many things that have value. There were so many themes that presented opportunities to learn, build, and share. I chose to skim and draw from many. It would have been very easy to stay in one place and fully immerse myself in something in one track. Perhaps next time.

And… 
the endless food and drinks were great too ; )

So was the free Flame phone with the new FireFoxOS… and with OS choice (I chose the developers distro). Turning students loose on this will be a lot of fun.

So was strolling around London. I truly wish I could stay for a another week (or two) to explore.

As people on the web expands from 2 billion to 5 billion people… shaping the web we want… what does that look like. Lots to think about. 

I'll write more about my takeaways here. I've got a lot to process… but will do so in a couple days. I'm totally exhausted. Going to grab some food, and then about 10 hours of sleep.

We win...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

First full day of #mozfest London


… rocked. We win…

Completely wiped out.

(blog set to est, not london time… whatever…)


Friday, October 24, 2014

London… a quick update

I've covered some territory in London thus far in 36 hours.

Parliament and Big Ben…
Buckingham Palace…
Westminster Abbey…
Red Dragon Pub
London Eye…

Walking many miles felt great after getting off the plane and all the seat based work I did over the few days leading up to the trip.

I'll toss in some thoughts on these places later, but I keep laughing at one quote I heard about Winston Churchill on why he refused to be buried at Westminster Abbey… "too many people there I won't get along with."

The Abbey, like Notre Dame in Paris, is an architectural marvel. Especially the ceiling, which gets more elaborate as you walk toward the top section of the floor plan. At @garystager 's recommendation I took a London Walks guided tour. Much cheaper to get into the Abbey this way, and humorous stories. 

Seeing the burial place of George Frederic Handel and Charles Dickens was quite cool as well… among many others.

Martin Luther King is recognized amongst others on the front facade… another one of the many things about the Abbey I didn't know. Well worth the trip.

Ravensbourne...
#MozFest (that's a link to the Twitter search for the conf hashtag, and here's one to the conf website) 's out at Ravensbourne by the O2. Modern, spacious, and loaded with collaborative workspace.

Mozilla is putting on quite a show. 

I've already met so many people doing some great work. It's a thrill to be here and take part in it all.

The next few days are filled with work sessions and mashing ideas. I like the conference format here… very organic and people are encouraged to bounce around a lot. 

One local gave me a great tip for dinner, Bermondsey St for dinner. I chose one of their picks for Italian food called Zucca… and it was absolutely delicious, and sans extravagant prices. There were a lot of restaurants on the street there… tempting to go back and try another.

Night time at the London Eye...
London by night is a spectacle. I walked up to the eye after catching a cab...

… and I had an amazing chat with a cab driver about their job, the 35 mile expanse of London, and their approach to it all. I'll write more on that too later as well ; )

Off to bed. Early day tomorrow and lots of of creative ideas to explore.

We win...


Monday, October 20, 2014

An Invitation to MozFest, London!


 "Arrive with an idea, leave with a community." 
MozFest London, 2014



I'm headed to London in a few days to take part in MozFest! A gracious invite from the folks at US-Ignite and Mozilla will send me there for 5 days to mash.

This is a great opportunity on so many levels… 

  • expand my work to promote high school students to collaborate more openly with colleges and businesses
  • create programming and web development opportunities for students
  • innovative approaches to school and learning
  • … and to explore innovative learning spaces 

Architecturally, Ravensbourne, where MozFest is held, looks like an inspiring place. It'll be great to see first hand and continue my research on creating learning spaces. 

And, of course, it's a great chance to expand my own knowledge in many ways. There are some incredible people and projects brewing it appears.

I'm very grateful to the people at US-Ignite and Mozilla for sending me over.

Looking forward to it all.

We win.

#MozFest


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Connecting Students with Experts… Programming class and Tech Jam at Burlington, VT

I'm privileged to be mentoring a new Programming class at Burlington High School this year.

The focus I drafted up… explore and create using multiple programming languages (JavaScript, HTML, Python, Java), creative engineering with physical computing (MakeyMakey, Arduino, Raspberry Pi), build team work and collaboration skills, build toward personal project choice, collaborate on how to spend our class budget, find professional mentors, and create connections with industry professionals. Seemed like a good recipe! 

We started out with some introductory work in JavaScript and HTML and students came up with some great work… inventive approaches to the challenges given to them. Right from the get go we pushed collaboration and troubleshooting.

Shortly thereafter we dove into MakeyMakey boards and the great engineering work students did stemming from one simple design challenge, "figure out how it works, and do something creative." The projects students did was a blast to take part in.

We've just shifted to Arduino and Raspberry Pi teams in the class and students have already dove into their own research to see what's possible. Troubleshooting and teamwork is in high gear.

I think bringing in outside expertise into the classroom so students can interact with professionals in the field is essential practice. In this case, a former student from my days back at South Burlington, Nick Giard, has signed on to help mentor students as the class builds. We've also created new connections with other local programmers from businesses and colleges as well and are making plans to bringing them in online and for visits in person. As part of this we got...

An offer we couldn't refuse… participate in Vermont Tech Jam, 2014!

As part of making connections, Peter Drescher at the Agency of Education heard about our work and extended an invitation to the students in the new programming class to present and be part of a great event called Vermont Tech Jam at Memorial Auditorium in Burlington, VT. Tech Jam showcases great presentations, Vermont businesses, and also an entire floor of student innovation from Vermont schools. Robotics, engineering, solar, programmers… a smorgasbord of mind and hand (MIT motto) creation.

I'm excited that Burlington students will present what they've created at the event and that they'll have a chance to mingle with other innovative students, and with professionals, and get to see what these innovative businesses are doing in our State. 

We've already had discussions in class promoting students to research the event, do prep work to see what these great businesses are up to,  polish up some introduction skills, and pushed the idea of bringing some business cards to help make connections, and develop an online presence to showcase their creative work and interests. Who knows where these connections might lead for them personally and for our class.

The work students have done in this programming class and the interests it's sparking / revealing at BHS has already helped spur on conversations with administration about building an apps development class, programming club (coder dojo), and building a robust maker space for multiple classes to use and and building it's creative spirit into many classes. We're off and running.

Building opportunities for students to meet and mingle with professionals and experts, build communication and collaborative skills, explore their community, State, and the world… creating connections, finding mentors, and exploring interests… great threads for schools to pursue. 

We win, AP