Monday, March 30, 2015

Am I A PD Glutton?

This is a response to a post that Scott Bedley wrote. Go read it here. This won't make any sense without that context.

I love Scott. He's a great guy. Always makes me think. This post was no different.


So, to start: based on Scott's definition, I'm a PD glutton. I answered yes to a few of those questions. I think I agree with his basic premise: there are people who partake in a lot of PD opportunities in their geographic region and beyond.

The question is why though. Why are people spending so much of their time attending non-mandatory PD events? Are we gluttons? The Google monster tells me that a glutton is an excessive overeater. It makes gluttony sound reckless.

I want to push back on Scott's label of gluttony. I can only speak for myself, but I don't think that I'm excessive in my desires for good PD. If I look at my 2015, I'm not sure about gluttony. I've been to TEDxLangleyED, edcampSV, integratED Portland, the Silicon Valley CUE event (which I helped organize), and annual CUE. Some were amazing events. Others were merely good. All scratched an itch though.

I think that one of the biggest reasons that I spend my time and my money attending events like these is that my school and district PD doesn't work for me. (I'm not trying to throw my district or school under the bus here. I've been very open with them about what could be done to improve PD.) The PD I'm required to attend isn't developing me professionally - it's school work. It isn't helping me critically rethink what my classroom can and should be.

I choose to attend PD events to scratch that itch. That "I know my classroom can be a better place for all my students, I need to keep figuring out how to make that happen" feeling that I have. Does that make me a glutton? Or a teacher with an unfulfilled vision, but a desire to get better? (And the knowledge that I can get better.)

Like Scott, I've had some letdowns at PD opportunities. Sometimes, the focus on the tools of edtech and not on the learning that students should be doing is bothersome. Sometimes, the plethora of sit and get sessions - and the relative paucity of discussion-based or doing sessions - gets to me.

I know good PD when I see it. You can feel it. Like when I walked into Tracy Clarke's session at CUE 10 minutes late and the chairs were all pulled into a circle and it was LOUD. I knew I was in the right place. And we talked, and did, and learned together in her session.
Tracy's CUE15 session, photo by me

Those things CAN happen at traditional conferences. Conferences that might have a lot of sit and get. Conferences that might have a lot of tool-based sessions. (And I get that some people need tool-based sessions. I just don't generally love them.)

I think the onus is on us, the PD gluttons as Scott calls us, to make spaces for sessions that involve conversations. Sessions focused on making and doing, not listening to a sage on the stage. To create opportunities that we find valuable. And to expose folks just used to sit and get to something new. Something better.

We need to work to make PD better everywhere we go.

I recognize that my response to Scott's post had veered into the conversation of how we can make PD better - according to Scott, a sign of a PD glutton. However, Scott also wrote that when you're full, you're full. I'm not sure I'm full yet. I think there's more for my classroom. I think there's a better place for my kids to learn. I want to find that.

I'd argue I'm still hungry.

And, as Scott says, we may need to look elsewhere as well. I've moved away from books about education for pleasure reading. I'm reading about leadership. Change. Thinking. Areas that touch on education, but aren't explicitly about education. Bringing those outside ideas in is necessary too.



Or maybe we need to change the conversations about PD. Maybe we need to stop talking about it. Maybe we need to find a way to share the vision that we're working towards in our respective classrooms. Maybe we need to share the risks that we're taking. Maybe we need to start sharing the places we are looking for inspiration from. For new ideas. For new perspectives. For what's next for us and for our students.


I need to think more about this.

I hope more people join in the conversation. Let's keep this conversation going.

Who is writing the next blog post?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

#youredustory, Week 12: School Breaks

Prompt: You're either in, just past or about to get to spring break. What are your thoughts on breaks - is there really a "slide"? How long is too long? How short is just right?

School's out by James 2 from flickr
I’m just about to get to spring break. I’ll be honest: I really need it.

I need a couple days that I sleep in and then lay around and read all day. I need a couple days where I don’t think about school or my classroom. I need a couple days where I can take a deep breath and take my time exhaling.

Is there a slide? I don’t know. After my one week spring break, I don’t notice one. After a two month summer break? That’s harder for me to tell.

What is ideal? I’d definitely prefer a year-round calendar with multiple shorter breaks. Both my students and I hit slumps during the year where we haven’t had a break in over a month and school can become a bit of a grind.

I’m not sure what the research out there says about year-round calendars. And frankly, I’m not sure what that research measures either. Basic factual recall? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Actual skill-based work? I’d be more interested in what research in that area has to say.

But almost regardless of the research - which I’m not going to take the time to look up, so there! - I’d rather have several shorter breaks and year-round school.

I think it would be better for everyone’s sanity.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

#youredustory, Week 11: Student Voice

Joint Attention by Terry Anderson from US Army
So how are we defining student voice? Is about listening to student feedback? Is about integrating student desires into what you do on a day to day basis in the classroom? I don't feel like I have a good definition for what this is. Which might make me a bad person. Or at least a bad teacher.

I feel like my lack of a concrete definition as to what student voice is means it isn't something I do well. Which I knew when I started this blog post.

Okay. So what do I do. I elicit and listen to student feedback. I integrate their feedback and ideas into future units. I give kids the time and the space to learn about the things that they are interested in - history related content on open-ended projects and more wide open exploration and creation with 20% time.

However, I know I can do more. I know I SHOULD do more . I'm looking forward to reading other responses this week and stealing a few ideas!

More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Friday, March 13, 2015

#youredustory, Week 10: Passion for Learning

Prompt: How do you infect students with a passion for learning?

I try to get my students curious about what they are learning by getting out of their way and giving them the time and the space to be curious about areas of history - and their life - that interest them (a little more about that here).

For me, in order to create the space for this exploration, I have to teach less content. I’m totally okay with that. I know some aren’t comfortable with that decision, but in the age of near ubiquitous information, we need to dramatically rethink what we are doing in history classes. (That’s a topic for another day though.)

Unit structure
So. The first step is to try to get students intrigued and excited about the ideas in the unit we’re working on. This might be provocative questions that relate to the content, or a simulation of some sort. After this, we head into some shared schema building. This often involves some sort of a model that applies to a given unit (a model for how a revolution happens, for example), then an application of that model to a real situation in the content of the unit (applying that revolutions model to the French Revolution). After that, I turn kids loose. I let them go out and find a part of history that relates - either thematically or chronologically - with the shared schema we just covered. *

My goal is that by giving them enough schematic hooks to be interested then enough choice that they can find something that intrigues them, they’ll connect with something they are passionate about - or at least interested in - learning about.

Additionally, I try to get my students passionate about learning by not doing history in my class on Friday: kids are working each Friday on their 20time projects, which don’t have to have a connections to the content of my class. As I watch kids struggle to learn to code, or research the meaning of dreams, I watch them hit stumbling blocks. I watch them struggle and not give up. I watch them develop perseverance around learning, but around learning on their terms.

Then, I get to watch that passion and perseverance transfer to doing history-related work during the rest of the week. Which is fun :)

*Note: After kids scatter into areas of a unit that interest them, we come back together and look at what kids have created. As students look at their peers’ projects, they answer synthesis questions about what similarities can be drawn across the disparate content that they chose to cover.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Friday, March 6, 2015

#youredustory, Week 9

Prompt: A big picture exercise - put together a design brief for a new learning space.

This question goes beyond my (limited) areas of expertise. What's a design brief? Yes. I could Google it. Where's the fun in that though? A few loose thoughts, in no particular order:

White board paint on every wall.
Windows and skylights: natural light is important.
Robust wifi.
We can do better than this
final exam by dcJohn from flickr

Moveable furniture that allows for flexible groupings and IS SOMETHING THAT IS ACTUALLY COMFORTABLE TO SIT IN.
Projection systems mounted to illuminate at least two of the four walls.
A glass walled entry room where kids could go to collaborate while others worked quietly.
Good speakers - music can be helpful as kids are working.

I'm sure there is a lot that I'm forgetting. It's an initial offering though.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!