Friday, February 27, 2015

To Boldly Go… RIP Leonard Nimoy

My sincere condolences to the family and friends of Leonard Nimoy on his recent passing… and to the many 'Trekkies' out and about as well.

As a 'trekkie,' Nimoy's passing makes for an especially sad, reflective day. It still does feel weird when an icon from your childhood passes away. 

Star Trek had a huge influence on me in my childhood, opening doors to me about issues of the times and debates in a much larger world. To name just a few...
  • The first truly interracial cast
  • The first interracial kiss on prime time television
  • Women in expanded roles 'the military'
  • A Russian and Japanese character in protagonist roles instead of the usual antagonist roles of the time
  • A show that routinely cast questions on the existence of God, other dimensions, and realities.
With any little bit of research it's also easy to see how the show had a huge impact on technology in our time.

And Nimoy as Mr. Spock… 

Pointy ears, grim visage… a study in the struggles between logic, duty, humanity, love and passion… and all the banter between Spock, McCoy, and Kirk and the endearing friendship too. The show was constantly filled with hope for humanity.

It truly did take a sense of adventure to boldly go into that role as Spock as an actor, especially back then. So did sticking with the role amidst some scathing criticism and then turn it into such an endearing character.

One moment in particular, the story back then of Nimoy going to producers and demanding equal pay for co-star Nichelle Nichols as her male counterparts was also an eye opening moment for this then young boy.

An excerpt from a Walt Mossberg tweet it summed it up so well a few minutes ago...

"For me and many others, both Nimoy and Spock were inspirations."

That does sum it up well for me as I sit here.

Nimoy's last tweet does too… reflective, poignant, and fitting...

So long, Leonard. We'll miss you here…

and please do say hi to Bones (DeForest Kelly) and Scotty (James Doohan) for us too ; )


picture credit:
from informed Comment, thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion

Thursday, February 26, 2015

From One Second to the Next

I still see a lot of kids texting and driving still these days as I travel about. In my work in schools, I kick up conversations on occasion with kids on the topic. I hear a lot of stories from kids about close calls they've had personally and with friends. Many share stories with me about how their parents text and drive.

Yup. I also see a lot of adults texting and driving too out and about. Likely you do as well. I've personally almost been hit by a few.

The video above, a documentary called From One Second to the Next was played recently at Essex High School and featured in the Colchester Sun community paper, both in Vermont. The short film tells us a series of heartbreaking stories about lives that have been forever changed by the consequences of texting while you're at the wheel.

Real stories that address statements or thoughts like:

"It'll never happen to me."

"It'll only take a second."

"I do it all the time, I'll be fine."

"I need to answer this right now."

Let's face it… for some, laws prohibiting texting and driving won't be enough to curb some peoples impulses to do so. Nor will tragic stores others tell. For some it'll unfortunately take a gut wrenching close call or sadly something very tragic to change their mind. That's why it'll take a discussion and plenty of reminders. Week after week, month after month, year after year… with kids and adults.

How frequently or infrequently you text and drive isn't the issue. All it takes is 'once.'

Please share the video above and encourage people to take the 'It Can Wait' pledge with loved ones, in your homes, classes, schools, and communities.

My thanks to the folks in the video who decided to turn their tragedies into something we can learn from, and to the director Werner Herzog. Thanks to the folks at Essex High School for discussing this with students again, and to the Colchester Sun newspaper for their story.

Keep trying to change things for the better.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Building on student feedback

Asking students routinely for feedback became one of my most valuable PD strategies.

Here are some of the simple questions that often drew the best, most meaningful responses over the years.

"Did this project inspire you to pursue more knowledge on this subject?"

Is the assignment or project content connecting to larger goals? Is it lighting a spark? That question is a good way to find out.

A few questions on 'time' and 'collaboration':

"How was the pace of all the parts of this project?"

"What are your thoughts on the collaborative challenges in this project?"
"What went well?"
"What difficulties did you have working with others?"
"What are some strategies you have on how to improve your approach to group work next time?"

On rollout:

"What is / was difficult to understand?"
"Do you feel you understand this now?"
"How can I help your peers or I help you?"

As we teach things, semester by semester, year after year, we become more familiar with the material.  Stepping back and hearing student reflections on how things evolved is so very important. They, after all, are exploring much of this material for the first time.

"What are your thoughts on how I could introduce this topic, questions, or explain things better?"

So... what does all that info tell you? Here are a few it gives you valuable info on:

  • difficulties students might be having with 'the course' and their role in it?
  • how effective is the path I'm creating with students in this subject?
  • how I might group students differently and / or ask individuals to help others?
  • helps me refine my ability to pace work and address individual student needs?

I got to know my students better as individual learners not just 'content learners.'

Then I'd ask another important, open-ended question:

"How can this project improve?"

It's an open-ended question that let the students to evaluate the assignment as a whole... for theme, content, structure, collaborative and reflective time. The debates were often intense. Many students talked about their styles as a learner and how their needs fit or didn't fit into a larger group. Many took on the challenge to propose new ways to approach things, new challenges, new readings they discovered... and many others.

That's where some great learning can happen... for the students and for me as a mentor.

I've asked many teachers I've worked with to build these types of questions into their time with students as great PD / curriculum development. I've worked with many schools, districts, and individual teachers now who have done so and seen great results.

I got to thinking about all this again because a teacher I mentored in a grad course contacted me recently and said:

"I just wanted to drop you a note, Adam. This past semester didn't go so well for me. I was feeling drained and disconnected from students through this last semester and increasingly content focused. I have no doubt my students felt the same way. I took a chance and started asking students many of the questions about the assignments and also about the course itself. I've been afraid to do this in the past for so many reasons. I felt I didn't have time because our curriculum is pretty pace heavy. The second reason, well, I guess I was afraid of what students might say. The third, I thought about what you said about making my own PD time if the school doesn't. We have little to no PD time at school anymore to discuss teaching. It's almost all focused on school business. The feedback I got from the class about the first semester has been so challenging to me professionally and also so very valuable. These reflective discussions have helped me understand my students needs and also what's working and not working for them in my class. It's really the best pedagogical feedback I've ever received on my teaching. EVER! I feel renewed with ideas on new approaches I can take. Thanks for the push to make this regular practice. I just wanted to say thanks!"

I keep trying to build better skill asking questions of the people that I work with, students or adults. I keep trying to get better at listening. I keep trying to make my practice and approach better, and better, and better. Much of it isn't prescribed, rather adapted based on these constant practices of soliciting feedback.

Involve students in the educational process. Involve students in your educational process.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

EduCon 2015 Reflections: 4. Keep moving things forward

From Brad Latimer's Calculus class at SLA. 
Use algebra or derivatives? 
Promote group work to figure out how to solve this.
It's easy to leave a conference like EduCon and keep all those great ideas in your notes somewhere.

I try to send notes, in their entirely or bits and pieces of them to others that I work with to help stir up ideas.

Brad Latimer and Caitlyn Thompson, both SLA teachers, helped me again with project based resources for math classes, especially for advanced levels. It's one of my goals to help teachers make 'mathematics' more messy, more challenging, less paper driven, more hands on, and more thoughtful.

There were many other takeaways from EduCon, but here are three larger items I wrote about earlier this week:

1: Addressing EduCon withdrawal
2: The Privileged Voices in Education
3) 'Grit'

Feedback from the session I facilitated called Getting Things Moving: Theory into action steps continues to come in, and it's been fantastic. My sincere thanks for all the feedback and to many who've passed the information onto schools looking to create new opportunities. 

My thanks to:

... Larissa PahmolovMeeno Rami, and Jose Vilson again who inspired me to push through and finish my book... like they did. It's difficult to find time and balance in the busy workday and life and move it forward. I'm just over halfway through... and rejuvenated to dive in again.

... the folks at SLA. Students, parents, and alumni at the school for another great chance to learn with peers. I love seeing SLA alumni there, students and parents alike, who volunteer to help out.

... the EduCon attendees. The familiar faces and to those who I met for the first time. My thanks for your work sharing questions and ideas, and participating in the discussions.

Refit a vending machine to sell student work...
If you attended EduCon online or offline and are having some withdrawal... get things moving in your classroom or workspace first and chip away at larger school issues. Get support for getting some small, thoughtful changes moving. Getting students involved in that discussion is a great first step to break the ice. You never know where it might lead... likely somewhere you always should have been.

Keep exploring the EduCon discussion sessions that share links to discussion notes and resources... and also the #educon hashtag on Twitter.

Keep moving forward.

With any luck, I'll see you at EduCon next year.

Friday, February 6, 2015

EduCon 2015 Reflections: 3. Grit

Another session on 'grit' by Pam Moran and Ira Socol has me reading again, at length.

I've always felt...

.. and still do.

Interesting article, and well worth a read: Is 'Grit' Racist?

The simple directive to 'work harder' I find shallow, especially for students. I've found in many cases the 'grit' discussion focuses solely on 'work harder to fit in our system.'

There's more to teaching than that... or at least there should be.

There's more to school systems than that... hopefully.

One example I was unpacking in a group discussion in the hallway at EduCon with folks was on 'homework.' Validity and purpose discussions with faculty and students is key rather than fostering a 'just do it' mentality and stopping there.

As Diana Laufenberg puts it, "there's more to the discussion than simply 'doing more faster.'"

Fascinating debate for teachers to encourage with students, and for schools to undertake, especially for those who've been pushing messages on getting more 'grit.'

Thursday, February 5, 2015

EduCon 2015 Reflections: 2. The Privileged Voices in Education

My thanks to Jose Vilson and Audrey Watters for setting up a session at EduCon 2015 called The Privileged Voices in Education, and to Rafranz Davis who filled in for Watters due to illness.

I've followed the writing from Vilson and Davis for some time so it was a privilege to meet finally meet them both in person.

Vilson and Davis created a space for people to voice opinions, concerns, explore questions, and to keep sharing resources to learn and keep the discussion going.

I'm trying to continuously grow my thoughts and abilities to promote more thoughtful discussions on white privilege, elitist practices, and - as they wrote in their conversation description - "who's voices are often amplified and squelched." I'm listening a lot at the moment and reading on and from many different perspectives.

There's much to discuss and debate. Many people at the discussion agreed, shifting practices from limited discussions on race around Martin Luther King day and during Black History month and into daily work is a great first step.

What sources are chosen at your school and by whom? As one attendee put it, who's name I'm sorry I didn't get, said:

"It took me a while to realize I was only promoting discussions on the great, white, dead authors."
There were many brave 'shares' in the room. Many asked for advice on how to promote these discussions, and many volunteered to share resources and keep the discussion going. The #educolor hashtag continually provides great resources and perspectives.

Everyone stepped away with an important perspective...

The forward movement we need won't be achieved in one 'unit,' one faculty meeting presentation, one 'training,' or one student assembly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

EduCon 2015 reflections: 1. Addressing 'EduCon withdrawal'

'EduCon withdrawal' exists.

I just created a Wikipedia page for it.

Totally kidding... about the Wikipedia page.

I see posts on this withdrawal or 'post think tank' depression each year... and I've experienced it myself on occasion.

Why does this happen?

I think there are two reasons.

The fiber of EduCon is to share, discuss, and debate, both at the conference and via the #educon hashtag. It's one of the primary reasons attendees love it.

But... people often go back to isolation after EduCon. Sharing, especially to the degree experienced at the 'conference,' is tougher in a compartmentalized class schedules and traditional PD structures.

By 'traditional' I mean...  faculty meetings with 'updates from the admin team,' tasks ahead, business, and routine operations. And / or the one or two PD 'workdays day per month' scenario. 

One remedy to get things started, and my second point...

Set changes in motion to create time to unpack and explore ideas... to shift how we do business, we need to restructure how we use 'time in schools.'

Creating time and space in schools to connect and collaborate together is often lost in, as Diana Laufenberg puts it eloquently, "a push to do more, and faster."

How we use time... in schools is a challenge. It's often why innovation and forward movement on important challenges often dies. Another initiative, another 'add.'

Creating time into the day to debate and connect... can be done.

I decided it was time this year at EduCon to step outside my usual attendee respite and conjure a discussion on this very issue.

I sent in the proposal to facilitate a discussion called 'Getting Things Moving: Theory into action steps.' It was the best title I could think of... and I'm very grateful it was accepted.

After all the 'Education Revisited' projects I did with students over the years and my sabbatical research... I had a lot to share.

The notes from the discussion hopefully give schools a glimpse on potential structural and philosophical changes to create space in the day to get things moving.

Otherwise... it's another committee, another 'add,' another schedule strain, another chance for innovators to 'burn out,' or to lose momentum in 'sub-committee hell.'

By all accounts thus far from folks who attended and / or reviewed the notes, the session was a success. The conversation generated some good buzz and the outline I posted has had some heavy traffic.

Some of the challenges I'm speaking of?

Chris Lehmann summarizes these challenges eloquently in a recent post:

"How can we make them (schools) more equitable places – especially in regard to issues of race, gender, class and sexuality? How can we ask hard questions about the world we live in and the world we hope our children will create? How can the work we do in schools help students become deeply thoughtful about the world around them? How can we empower them to believe in — and work toward — a vision of the world that is better than we have today? How do schools need to evolve to more authentically ask these questions?"
Tough challenges to address at one in-service day per semester!


Keep moving forward... to help with EduCon withdrawal.

Keep reading the #EduCon hashtag for posts that move your thinking.

Keep reading over the EduCon conversations and follow the links to shred material.

Keep making changes you can with kids in your space or your classroom.

Keep chipping away at moving structural changes forward. A 'Student for a Day' project might be a good first step to open the conversation.

Then take a look at those structural changes in advisory, school schedule, and PD...

Then you can get onto bigger things.

EduCon has me thinking again... about the encouragement I receive from friends to head into administration... to create a more direct line to help steer these structural changes and help drive these larger conversations forward. I'm starting to seriously listen to that encouragement.

I'll post other reflections shortly on the great 'think tank' that was #EduCon 2015.