Tag Archives: blogging

Building a (Virtual) Learning Community – #T3Learns

Gotta ask…how are you using social media for learning? If you are teaching in isolation, what steps are you taking to build a learning network? What if your peers are all over the world rather than just in your building?

I spent the day facilitating mini-PD session on social media for 20 of my fellow T³ Instructors.  In the planning session, Kevin Spry (@kspry), Dale Philbrick (@dalephilbrick) and I decided to focus on Twitter and blogging.  How might we use social media in our PD sessions with teacher-learners? How might we use social media to enhance our own professional growth, model reflection, and share our learning?

Here’s the plan…but this is not the actual path…

As our friends arrived, we quickly learned that only a few were already using Twitter.  They chose to come to Atlanta today to learn.  Scrap the plan…teach where the learners are.

One of the hallmarks of a learning community is agreeing on and using a common language.  What if we learn by doing?  If you don’t know what @jgough or #T3Learns does for you in a tweet, then today is the day to learn it.  We learned by doing (tweeting), making mistakes and correcting them.

We discussed how to use Twitter to mashup reflection, brain-based learning strategies, and formative assessment and then we practiced.

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Once we’d worked on hashtags and handles, I wanted these learners to tweet pictures.  The TI-Nspire offers learners the opportunity to embed a photo in a graph screen and graph over the image to prototype functions to fit the object.  Just look at the progress made over the short morning timeframe.

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In the afternoon we discussed blogging as a reflection tool and as a communication tool.  If we are working with teachers from all over the country, how do we support their learning after the workshop or institute is over?  What if we learn and share in public? We looked at three examples of how this might look:

What if we modeled reflection and learning by writing one post a week to share an activity that inspired growth and thinking? What if our participants could “dial in” to our thinking and process as the year progresses? What if we share with a wider audience?

So…then we practiced.

If I go back to our original learning plan, we covered everything on the list. We followed the learners to lead them to more understanding and confidence in social media.

Here’s some of the feedback:

[Today] allowed me to explore a new-to-me technology at a relaxed pace, being able to get questions answered, not just see an expert “do their thing.”  So I found out a little about “why I might want to use this” and a lot about “can I personally actually do it?

This opportunity provided the time to explore and practice.  I had tried once before to tweet but did not gain confidence.  I won’t say that I did not have support the first time, but it was not at a time or place where it was easy or convenient to ask for help.  Everyone in attendance at Westminster was so willing to put down their work and assist me with my issues.  That is what I love about good professional learning and collaboration.

I liked the way the day was sculptured to meet the needs of the participants.  Very much like your analogy of the classroom, moving on and “covering” the material does no good if you are leaving many behind.

How might we learn and grow together? What if we leverage social media to communicate and collaborate when we cannot be face-to-face?

Synergy 8 – Self-assessment: learning from and with students

In a post from first semester, Empowering and Guiding Students to Take Charge of Assessment – Synergy 8 Example, Bo and I wrote and cross-posted information about a primary component of our assessment plan.

The student learners take primary responsibility for preparing their reflections about their own learning and growth. The student learners initiate the communication of this self-generated progress report to their parents, their teacher-facilitators, their grade chairs, and their director of studies.

We continue this practice.  It is interesting to me that we call it practice.  We practice to learn, grow, and improve, right?  We are getting better at prompting these self-assessments, and our learners are getting better at providing rich details about their learning and growth.

Here is our most recent self-assessment reflection scaffolding and prompt.  We would love to know what you think.

Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report Writing

Step -1:
Re-read and review past blog posts…1st Interim forward.

Step 0:
Use Synergy 8 EL Gears and Rays of Light – Brainstorming and Finding Artifacts to pre-think evidence of learning and growth

Step 1:
Begin draft #1 Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report

Step 2:
Look at our current slidedeck resources and choose at least one slide to visually represent your sub-team’s contribution to the Alpha project progress.

Step 3:
Complete draft #1 Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report. Use Google Doc or send draft in Word or Pages via email to 2-peer review partners NOT IN YOUR SUB-TEAM and CC Mr. A and Ms. G.

Step 4:
Peer review (2x) Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report. Use comments feature of word processor to write to a) I like…, b) I wonder…, c) I want to know more about…

Step 5:
Work on draft #2 – Revise, edit, and re-write Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report.

Step 6:
By Friday 5:00 p.m., post Midterm Self-Assessment/Progress Report to wmslearns and URL to Schoology.

Blog Prompt:

On wmslearns.net, write a four-paragraphs post that tells your story of bright-spot learning, challenge, and alpha-project progress. When finished, publish your post URL [on Schoology].

In class on 03-13-12, you used a modified rubric to list some learning moments and quick write about each of the four essential learning “gear areas” of Synergy.

For this blog post…

* Insert at least one image of one of the slides from your Ignite-lite slidedeck to use as a visual representation of your team’s sub-project of our Alpha project.

  1. Your first paragraph should be a strong introduction to your sub-team’s focus for the Alpha Project and PARTICULARLY a preview of YOUR major learning from the project. This paragraph is an advanced organizer.
  2. Your second paragraph should be about your “bright spot” essential learning – the area where you are experiencing the most success. Supporting details and evidence are essential. Also include how you use your bright spot to advance the work of the alpha project we selected as a team.
  3. Your third paragraph should be about the challenges you face relative to this Alpha Project. These could be project implementation challenges, personal learning challenges, etc. Additionally, you should write about the support you need to help overcome these challenges.
  4. Your final paragraph should be a conclusion about how you see your Alpha Project concluding and wrap up about your bright spot and challenge.

*** Remember that good stories and strong writing contain a balance of general and specific details. Use evidence to support your claims, but do NOT simply describe activities that we have done in Synergy. You MUST describe your LEARNING from these activities.]

While you must have proper credentials to read our learners’ blog posts, I thought I could share a couple of my comments so that you might have a sense of what I am learning with and from our leaners.

Example 1:

I appreciate the journey your team has worked through to get to a project that is meaningful to you. I am interested in knowing about the observations your team made to reach the conclusion that people are forgetting to do KP rather than refusing to do it. Do you think that people forget KP because they have to hang back after everyone has eaten or because they do not remember it at all?

I think you are spot-on about your bright spot of Problem Solutions & ID. The divergent thinking of your team lasted a long time, which is great. This indicates to me that your team explored many different ways to identify and solve problems. I think using biodegradable tablecloths to make clean up easier was a very interesting solution to propose, but you did realize that this solution created additional problems.

I hope your team returns to the idea of finding a fun way to motivate people to clean up after themselves. If everyone would do his or her part, by cleaning up just their stuff, KP would be less of a chore. I wonder if you could use the idea of “paying it forward” or “taking care of your neighbor” to encourage people to clean up their stuff and one more person’s stuff. Cleaning up yours plus one other might make a big dent in the problem.

I understand how you feel about the Ignite-lite presentations. I need more practice too. I have now tried it twice, and I find it nerve-racking. I do think I’m getting better, and I am more confident. Just think how much better you will be at presentation building and making because you have started to practice now.

I am curious about your bright spot from last our interim assessment. Do you think that you have improved in it too? Do you think that your teams’ work has just highlighted your problem-solving skills?

I also want to know more about your team’s plan for the brightly painted KP tables where all of the supplies for KP will be found. Do you have sketches of how you want the tables painted to show Mr. Nash and us? Who is going to paint these tables, and when are they going to be painted? Do you have a plan to post who has KP on a given day as an additional reminder?

What do you hope to have accomplished by Thursday?

Example 2:

I agree, [learner], that your bright spot and strength is communication and collaboration. Look at all you have learned about the process of problem-solving. You said “It was incredible how many things could be wrong, too many words, wrong idea, too distracting, no permission, but finally we got it right!” It does take patience, persistence, and stamina to solve big problems like idling and carpooling.

Would you include an image of your team’s proposed business card? I’d like to see the current version. I’ve been thinking about your business cards, and I’m wondering if you want to create several different sets of business cards. What if you created a business card with an infographic to show the benefits of not idling? What if you created another card in your series with an infographic on carpooling? I think you want to have cards to hand out that raise awareness of idling and educate about the benefits to the environment if we would make the simple change to turn our cars off while waiting in the carpool line.

Has your team published the website? I would love to see the work you have done to date. I want to know more about the benefits and challenges of carpooling. I am interested in learning more about the benefits of not idling. I am much more aware, because of your team, of when I am idling, but I do not really know what I am doing to the environment while idling. Will it really save me money? How am I harming the environment? What can I do to raise awareness in others? (So you have made a difference in the number of people who idle.)

Do you have ideas to offer the ad campaign team? Are you looking for video ads or print ads? Have you had the ad campaign team look over your business cards to give you feedback from their perspective?

Do you have a dissemination plan for the business cards? How will your team hand them out? Will they be available before and after school? Do you plan to hand them out at the elementary school as well as the junior high?

I do want to encourage you to look in the mirror when you find yourself “challenged to find a leader when we needed one the most“. I see you as a strong leader in your team. Yours is a voice I hear moving the work forward. Your questions and determination lead your team. Remember, you do not have to have a title or designation to be a leader.

Bo and I remain committed to continuing to run some “pracademic” experiments in a number of areas, including assessment and student-progress reporting. We continue to put the student at the forefront of the assessment process.  Instead of an adult (teacher) writing a static comment to another adult (parent), the Synergy 8 students utilize moderated journaling to prepare their self-assessment reports.

From our October post:

They are precipitating virtual, student-led conferences when they send their reports to the adults who serves as guides and coaches. Unlike the database-housed comments of the past, these student-based comments stir responses from their parents and the adults at school to whom they write. During the course, we see growth and progress in EVERY student’s capacity to engage in such self-assessment and progress reporting, and we believe this is a critical skill to develop at this middle-school age.

Want to learn with your students? Read and comment on their blogs!

In Synergy, we are working to establish the habit of writing about our work, thinking, and learning.  Once a week, we ask our learners to blog to communicate with others in our team about their questions, ideas, and activities.

I know more about my students than ever because I read their blogs.  I know more about their questions, planning, problem-solving, and attitudes. I also know what they want to know more about and what they are interested in learning.  I have the opportunity to become a learner with them.  They lead my learning as I strive to lead their learning.  Isn’t that GREAT?

Here is this week’s blog post prompt:

After 5 weeks of Synergy, and after eliciting the Alpha project, you should have lots on your mind. This week’s prompt is OPEN. On wmslearns.net, write about what’s on your mind related to Synergy. Like all good writing, your post should express a complete thought with a balance of general and specific details.

Here’s what I have learned and want to know more about.  Note: I learned, read, and thought about all of the items below because my learners are interested in these topics.  Their interest piques my curiosity, and I want to know more too.

  • Did you know that there are solar-powered waste and recycling bins?  They are called Big Belly solar compactors.  The bin senses when the trash reaches a certain height in the container and automatically compacts it to about 1/5 of its original size.  The bins have a signal when it needs to be emptied which could reduce the number of trips made to empty the trash.  Wouldn’t this decrease the carbon footprint of the waste management facility on campus?
  • Did you know that TheFunTheory.com has a video showing a fun way to get people to recycle glass bottles?  Have you seen the Bottle Bank Arcade video?  Do you think that plastic bottles are recycled more than glass bottles?  How would we collect data to see?
  • Did you know that Patagonia has products made from recycled polyester?
  • How can we connect the theory of fun with recycling?  Have you seen Gobby? EnviroZone’s website says: “More than just a fun multi-stream recycling bin, it’s a recycling education program specifically designed to instill a recycling habit in children by teaching them how to separate recyclables from trash in a fun and colorful way.”
  • I have a learner who naturally uses acrostics to communicate her thinking.  They are brilliant! (I did not know what an acrostic was until this semester.)  What I particularly love is she embeds questions in the acrostic.
  • I wonder if the ad campaign team, the recycle team, and the Theory of Fun team would consider combining forces to promote art and education about recycling.  I hope they will read “More Art, Less Trash” artistic recycling bins to be installed on campus from Indiana University.  These bins remind me of the Chicago Cows on Parade art exhibit.
  • Do you know why you do or don’t carpool?  I didn’t until today.  One post caused me to write “My friends that live near me do not want to keep the same hours at work as I do. I come early and stay late. We come early because of the traffic and the opportunity to get a little work in before school starts. I stay late because of the planning and meetings I choose to volunteer to contribute my interest and learning. I also think my lack of carpooling might have to do with my responsibilities to my family. What if my daughter needs to go home during the middle of the school day because she is sick, and I don’t have my car? How will I help her? You post leads me to the current conclusion that I do not carpool because of my need for independence. I’ll keep thinking. Thanks…”  I didn’t know that was what I thought.
  • Which is more effective, an ad or a commercial?  I’m wondering whether a photo/print/billboard ad is more or less effective than a video?  Both can be considered PSAs or can they?
  • Are humans really motived by a prize or reward?  Have you seen Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team?  What happened when a $10,000 prize was offered to the team that built the tallest tower?

In addition to the above learning challenges, we also know more about the disposition of our learners.  We know which teams need coaching on collaboration and which teams need research support?  We have a better opportunity to serve as resources and guides because we share our thinking.

And if that isn’t enough…one of our Synergy learners provided the driving questions for tomorrow’s provocation.  He challenges the 26 of us to combine the work of Recycling, Cleaning up Nancy Creek, Carpooling, the Ad Campaign, and Cleaning Campus in a Fun Way to create a more “green” school.

My 8th grade teammates lead my learning; they motivate me to learn more.  Their questions cause me to have questions, to grow, and to learn.

Connecting Ideas – Action, Traction, Reaction

In Synergy, a non-departmentalized, non-graded, transdisciplinary, community-issues-problem-solving course, we use blogging as a means to communicate and collaborate on ideas as well as to reflect and to revise thinking.

Currently we offer our learners an Action-Traction-Reaction prompt to spur their thinking, reflection, and writing.

One of our learners offers this reflection that connects his thinking about his team’s project with the ideas from Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize Wish:

Relating Jamie Oliver’s Prize Wish to my Project

Posted on November 17, 2011

Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef, wished to educate every child about food as a use of his TED prize. I’ve known about his fight against obesity and eating right since learning about his TV show in 6th grade, so this wish makes sense to me. He’s creating a

Strong, sustainable movement

to educate every child about food.

The core of this action is to create a movement. This core action could be applied to my project, because in my project we are trying to get people to clean up after themselves, and stop cutting in line. Both of those problems are just bad examples that people have seen and copied. Creating a movement would create new standards in the community for cleanliness in the lunchroom, and could reverse the bad examples in place there.

For Jamie’s wish, he wants to create an online community and also a movement. He said

The grassroots movement must also challenge corporate America to support meaningful programs that will change the culture of junk food.

I didn’t know what a grassroots movement is, so I looked it up. I came up with this. “A grassroots movement (often referenced in the context of a political movement) is one driven by the politics of a community. The term implies that the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures.”

For Jamie’s project, he is relying on creating a following, that would create the foundation for his project and help spread the message. But he also would like to create traveling kitchens and a traveling food theater to make his project entertaining and interactive. From my perspective, the traction for this project is based on two components: people and interaction. This is a good formula for other projects who are looking to gain traction in a community. You draw the people in with interaction, and then rely on them to feel passionate and spread the word.

In the comment section of the article, many people were eager to partner with Jamie’s project to support and help organize his ideas. I think that the biggest way to attract reaction like this, is to be backed by TED! But the other large factor is that he’s addressing a large problem and is presenting a sound project plan. Creating this plan is an easy thing to do in Synergy to make sure our projects look attractive in the eyes of the administrators inside and outside of Westminster. If our projects only look half-baked, they won’t attract support.

“Grassroots.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

[Permission to post obtained from student and student’s parent.]

Do we write to read and learn what we are thinking?  Do we prototype, seek feedback, and revise?  How do we connect our thinking to the ideas of others?

Shouldn’t we practice?

[Cross-posted at It’s About Learning]

PBL Field Guide: Who forms your learning team?

The Professional Learning Communities reflection in Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age challenges the reader to model collaborative learning, learn and share, and develop learning teams. This is right in line with our Learning for Life vision statement, NET•S, and NET•T.

Three of the essential actions called for in our Learning for Life vision statement are

  • Problems that require critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration
    (Problem-based/Project-based learning)
  • Teachers in teams supporting learning and innovation
    (PLC/Critical Friends Circles)
  • Content and Relationships that connect us to the larger world and the world to us  (Global Citizenship)

Bo Adams (@boadams1, It’s About Learning) and I co-direct our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  Our school makes a commitment to adult learning and collaboration by affording teachers job-embedded time to work and learn together.  For a glimpse into our PLCs, see Pull Together, Part II from It’s About Learning and Learning as a Team – A Big PLC Brightspot from my blog.

From Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

Professional learning can certainly support your shift to project-based instruction, but the fundamental program changes you make will require frequent and intentional collaboration with your colleagues.  [p. 31] 

In Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital AgeCarmel Crane describes her process when getting ready to launch a project with her students.

Before [introducing] the project to students, I presented it to about 10 teachers.  I laid out all the planning details, and they gave me critical feedback.  It was a great opportunity to see things I may have overlooked.

Other teachers could see how we might work together on future projects to reach our shared goals.  [p. 31]

On Friday, the 4th Period Math-Science PLC took another step toward PBL and Lesson Study by participating in the Eggs Over Easy project that our Science 8 team is planning for the Monday-Tuesday prior to our Thanksgiving break.

In the 55-minute period, we assembled our carriers, did the drops, and debriefed the lesson.  There is more video coming about the debriefing session.  Our plan for Monday is to “do the math” and the reflection questions concerning potential and kinetic energy.  But, the lead teacher for Algebra I has already asked how we can support this lesson in our Algebra classes – another step in integrated studies.  Woohoo!

Again from Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

A project-based learning collaboration among students is a lot like a professional learning community among teachers.  For both, the learning is relevant and rigorous, and the “students” learn to learn together. [p. 32]

Bo and I co-facilitate Synergy 8, a non-departmentalized, non-graded, transdisciplinary, community-issues-problem-solving course for 8th graders.  A new school policy about student images on faculty blogs prevents me from showing you how closely the work of our Synergy team matches up with our PLC teacher teams.  [If you want to know more about #Synergy, then you can search that category/tag on either of our blogs.]

Paraphrasing Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement:  PBL delivered by a high-functioning PLC of teachers can be the “engine of improvement” that drives a school forward.

Once again from Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

Anne Davis, an advocate for blogging with elementary students, suggests using your personal blog as a tool for making connections with like-minded colleagues.  A team of two is better than no team at all, but image the compounding effect of a large team, an entire faculty, or an international community of colleagues. [p. 33] 

If you could assemble your “dream-team,” with whom would you collaborate for PBL? How and with whom do you learn, reflect, and share?  How do you create opportunities for your learners to build their “dream-team” to learn, reflect, and share?  How do we leverage technology to engage with our learning teams?

Tearing Down Walls

We live in an increasingly connected world. Yet barriers to connection continue to operate in schools. Kathy Boles at Harvard has described school as the egg-crate culture. With some exceptions, teaching can be an isolated and isolating profession, unless teachers and administrators work to be connected to other learners. It is far too easy to go into one’s classroom and teach…relatively alone…siloed. Classes right next door to each other, much less across a building or campus, often have no idea what is going on outside the four walls in which they are contained. And departmentalization makes for an efficient way to deliver content in neat, organized packages, but departmentalization is not the best parrot of the real, inter-connected, messy-problem world.

What can we do to step closer to modeling and experiencing real, inter-connected problem-addressing?  How do we communicate with each other when we are assigned classrooms where we can be siloed?  What could greater connectivity look like for learners of all ages?

Recently, learning partners Jill Gough and Bo Adams submitted a roughly made prototype of a three-minute video to apply for a speakers spot at TEDxSFED. It’s about “Tearing Down Walls.” It’s about experiments in learning by doing. It’s about learning.