Wanted: High expectations for content creation 

in-school citations not enoughIt’s hard not to notice that the ‘project’ season has been kicking in over the past few weeks. I am all for alternative assessments and authentic challenges, it is just that I’ve started wondering about the timing, and if the kinds of things we ask kids to do is really on track yet. Here are a few questions I’ve been pondering:

How many teachers actually do a test run before setting project challenges/tasks for kids? Do we understand the technical skills required? I’m not sure it is fair to ask kids to do something that we can’t do ourselves. And, are we allowing sufficient time for skill building and to produce quality work?

As teachers, we aspire to make learning engaging and authentic. Which is why many projects rightly have aspects of content creation. It’s the age of the iMovie and ePub research paper! But, are the guidelines and expectations regarding the use of digital content really clear– and high enough? By this I mean, are we teaching kids to strive to create their own original content or are we assuming they can find on the web whatever they need and just cite it–because it’s for school. (How about exploring Fair Use? e.g. Fair Use and video projects.)

“Inside-school” citations are not enough

The school walls are thinner and more permeable than ever. The line between closed and open has become much easier to cross thanks to the digital tools and avalanche of content pouring into open virtual spaces. (David Price’s book, Open: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future, poses some compelling arguments about this.) It’s exciting to be a teacher and a student in this age. While new opportunities abound, it is up to us to set high expectations for our students about what and how they create. This means ensuring that our students learn the digital and media literacy skills needed to be truly fluent in an ‘open’ world.

Change knowledge and leadership

I am fortunate to work with principals that model leadership. An example from a few weeks ago was when writing consultant Penny Kittle ran a session for our 9th grade teachers about how to support reading and writing across disciplines. Both our HS principals joined in as participants, and continued conversations about the strategies we explored in the following weeks with individual teachers and the whole staff.

“understanding requires interaction”

One of the many insights I gleaned from Michael Fullan’s book The New Meaning of Change was what a powerful influence principals can have on change initiatives. Why this struck me as significant is because, although we expect principals to be leaders of change, the realities of their jobs means they can get swamped and side tracked by the day to day running of school.

Fullan points out that without visible, tangible support from principals for change initiatives teachers won’t adopt new practices. Yet, if administrators do some or all of the following, their agency for change can be huge. Do you know principals who regularly:
Visit classrooms to see what is happening?
Follow through on decisions?
Attend workshops and training?
Articulate challenges to show understanding of realities effecting implementation?


Could building houses have made me a better teacher?

I used to build houses. My husband and I spent several years buying and rebuilding homes. We got pretty good at it. I loved the work because I learned so much about building and engineering from start to finish. I learned from structural engineers and builders who helped me turn ideas and drawings into realistic, functional and beautiful buildings.

memories of building

Memories of building projects

I learned to think critically and collaboratively as I worked with skilled people to realize ideas. And I got my hands dirty at every stage; I jack-hammered foundations on a two story beach house, I became pretty handy with a nail gun working along side builders to frame a house, and I even screwed down roofing before storms came through. Getting my hands dirty provided me with new insights and a deeper understanding and appreciate for construction and design. Those insights continue to be of use to me as a teacher and educator.

Two projects I am working on right now are as equally exciting to me as building houses. The first is a collaborative course I have been working on with a Math and English teacher called Data & Rhetoric: Power of persuasion. It is an attempt to design a truly interdisciplinary course that crosses the fields of statistics, english and design. We floated the concept for the course over a year ago; it would be different in structure and execution from a typical high school course. What was conceived though long conversations and real uncertainty about whether the new model would even be allowed to fly is about to start in just over a month. As I compare building houses to creating a new type of course I see some similarities in the process:
  • we had to be able to visualize it,
  • we had to be able to help others understand it (talk, share, show),
  • we had to believe in it even before there was anything to show (class sign ups, curriculum mapped).
The second project is at a different point of conception. Our school’s action plan includes initiating capstone experiences for students. Where to begin? As I think back over the analogy of building houses I feel like we have already begun the work of envisioning capstone experiences by creating and exploring a number of prototypes and programs. During the last two years we have been tweaking our Independent Study model which has provided insights we can draw on. My hunch is that from those insights a new and exciting model for Capstone is already forming.


As we start to sketch out what our Capstone ‘structure’ looks like I imagine different pathways, alternative avenues, and most importantly, flexibility because not one size fits all. Our students have such diverse needs and interests–and some don’t even really know what they are interested in by their senior year–so we need to design something functional and human-centered to meet that diversity. We have our work cut out, but like all creative projects I am invigorated by the possibilities and potential.


I wonder if I will build better houses in the future because of what I am learning about creating new structures and learning experiences for students?

Three ways 3D printing is a transformative technology

How transformative is 3-D printing? There’s a lot of energy going into putting 3D printers in classrooms–which I am all for! Yet I have been pondering how we keep the focus on the inspirational end of what 3-D printing can do. Here’s a few ideas we might share with students:

1. 3D Printing is democratizing invention
Once upon a time if you were an inventor you either had to be wealthy, or you had to convince someone who was, to pour a lot of money into to creating  a testable prototype. Wider access and affordability is how 3-d printing is transforming the protoyping process of ideas. 3-D printers are becoming affordable and ubiquitous; Fab Labs and Maker Spaces allow designer-creators to now produce fairly high resolution inexpensive prototypes to test their concepts.

2. 3D Printing supports nimble and responsive design solutions
The industrial production model was all about scale; how much and how many people will want your invention? You had to find the sweet spot between cost and market size which usually meant thousands of a single version.

A viable idea was only viable if you could produce it cheaply enough to market it to the masses. Without scale the product might be too expensive or too niche. 3-d printing supports and enables entrepreneurs to work at small scales and to keep innovating in response to feedback instead of being locked into large long term timelines.

The 3D Printed Titanium bike is an example of design that is nimble and responsive, and a design that meets the unique needs of an individual. Which leads to the final way 3D printing is transforming design and invention…

3. 3D Printing enables customization
To me this is the most transformative aspect of 3-D printing, as it marks a complete departure from the old industrial model.  I am completely blown away by some of the ways 3D printing technology is helping people craft solutions to address individuals needs.

From medical applications like the Bespoke Hip Replacement to 3D Printed Shoes, custom solutions will continue to appear across diverse fields enabled by 3D printing.

As we are plugging 3D printer into schools it would be great to keep in mind some of the ways this technology is truly transforming people lives and ideas. This technology has a lot more potential than printing out a duplicate copy of a Harry Potter wand downloaded from <a href=”http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:455093“>Thingiverse</a> How might we point kids towards the revolutionary end of the spectrum?



Creating room for change

I’ve been thinking a lot about what helps create positive conditions for change. Having just had the opportunity to facilitate an online course on Coaching Innovation provided rewarding opportunities to reflect with others about change and how to support teachers in their complex job.

logo for GOA course

I keep coming back to why change is so hard, and how do we create environments that nurture, encourage–and maybe even challenge people to keep improving how they approach teaching and learning.

Change is hard on any level. As I shared with course participants–in my limited experience of running, changing my foot strike felt awkward and clumsy. To adjust it took a significant amount of intentional practice, and quite a bit of feedback from others. I eventually did integrate the changes into my style but it took some uncertainty and frustration before I was satisfied, before it felt natural and became second nature to me.

How much more complicated is it with teaching and learning! Anytime I have made changes to something that has been part of my regular routine there’s been a clumsiness and awkwardness for a while–a noticeable dip in performance. This absolutely goes for teaching and instructional coaching which are so much more complex than any physical sport I can perform.
Dylan Williams in Sustaining Formative Assessment with Teacher Communities
puts it like this:

“The collection of routines that teachers establish to get through the day are their greatest asset, but at the same time, a liability because getting better involves getting a little bit worse, at least for a while.”

In addition to pointing out that we need to expect the process of making changes to result in a short term drop in performance, Williams also advocates that we need to make room for those efforts by creating space for change–yes, we need to stop doing something and intentionally make room. I think that is one of the hardest things to ask school leaders and teachers to do because the things we currently do–particularly relating to students–are certainly important and we may also love doing them.

Maybe that’s why change IS so hard.

So, as you think about this coming school year, what will you stop doing so you can make room for improvement in another area? What will indicate success along the way even before you get over the performance dip?

What ‘Thinking Collaborative’-ly taught me

Is there such a thing as ‘Organizational Intelligence’? ‘Resilience’: who has it and how do I get some? ‘Non verbal Elegance’….um, what the heck is that? Attending the Thinking Collaborative Global Conference in KL a few weekends ago was a chance to learn about, see modeled, and dig into some of the research underlying ‘how we work’ including the three topics I opened with.


Notes from the Organizational Intelligence Keynote

Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools are now one organization called Thinking Collaborative and the event hosted by ISKL was the first of it’s kind in the Asia region.

Bob Garmston opened the conference with a keynote on Resilience. “Resilience is not something you can teach” rather is it a mindset or a character trait that people acquire over time in response to the circumstances of life–and quite often, hardship and challenges. What is our role as teachers in helping students develop resilience? Bob challenged the many international school educators present to think about what kinds of life experiences third culture kids face and how we can foster student resilience in that context. Based on research he proposed that there are four areas to keep an eye on: 1. Social competence, 2. Cognitive-problem solving ability, 3. Emotional Autonomy, and 4. Sense of purpose and future

An indicator of possessing the innate capacity of resilience is demonstrated strong personal competency across these areas. How can teachers help students who may be low in one of these areas? During the session we explored case studies and practiced reframing situations to support student efficacy, consciousness and interdependence. (I found Resiliency: What we have learned by Ryan & Hoover an interesting read.)

Day two started with a powerful group simulation led by Bill and Ochan Powell which demonstrated the power of Organizational Intelligence. The group is mightier than the individual–well unless there is an imbalance in power and one member dominates. (Book on this topic: The OIQ Factor: Raising Your School’s Organizational Intelligence)

We were able to do some nifty statistical calculations that brought home that the group truly does possess greater intelligence–but to benefit from it you need to have culture of respect, trust and collaboration. We learned that the elements of space, time and social sensitivities are key factors that impact an organization’s intelligence. One of the activities for this session included sorting examples from our daily professional life in the four quadrants of the TIme & Task Management Matrix. Ouch–how reality bites!

One of the most interesting break out workshops I attended was ‘Nonverbal elegance with paraphrasing’ presented by Bruce Wellman. It turns out that humans “have a rich repertoire of nonverbal expression” that when cued into, can be helpful indicators of whether we understand things fully or not. This workshop was like an episode of ‘Lie to Me’! Bruce shared examples of students describing their understanding (e.g. a science experiment) where cues in their nonverbals demonstrated a mismatch. Given that up to 90 per cent of what we say is echoed with visual gestures, learning to be more aware of incongruencies can provide teachers with indicator that a student is in Vygotsky’s ‘zone of proximal development’. Research supports that intervention from a teacher at those points moves learning forward.

Nonverbal Elegance

Where did these ideas come from? It turns out that research into mirror neurons in the brain uncovered the truth about how intertwined our communication system actually is. Bruce introduced us to four physical references to keep an eye out for: ‘characters in space’–where do they point or put them?, ‘concepts in space’–held high, low or between fingers?, ‘sequence or hierarchy’–up & down or left to right? and ‘time orientations’–do they count them on fingers, pointing left or right? We finished off the session with time to practice noticing these markers in conversations between participants as well as in a few amusing clips of famous politician.

It was a great learning experience topped off by meeting some fantastically friendly educators from around the region that we got to discuss and work with over the weekend.

Focusing Four
Adaptive Schools Strategy


The art of empathy

ASIJ has been working with the NoTosh team this year on gaining and understanding of the design thinking process and trying it out in aspects of our teaching practice. I have been really interested in learning about how to develop in students a mindset of a ‘problem finder’ and how empathy fits into that.

In the Graphic design course I’m teaching for GOA I’ve tried to intentionally focus student on using a few phase of the design cycle with some success. So I thought I’d share my learning from a recent unit on ergonomics.

I usually frame a new unit with learning intentions and success criteria. In this case it was:

Learning Intention
we are learning about identifying and defining problems

Criteria for Success
we can say what we observe a situation and describe gaps
we can say what people in a situation are experiencing (developed empathy)
we can write a need statement

The Hook I gave them a scenario for conducting independent research into the situation I called Learn Safe: Ergonomics

“…investigate a growing concern about habits relating to posture. Many more schools now have 1-1 programs, and students spend long hours in front of screens, hunched over text books and may sit for long periods of time at desks. Your job is to research and investigate this situation, identify gaps, define a need and come up with possible solutions.”

I shared articles to stimulate thought and discussion before sending them off to observe and interview people in their own local environments. We talked about who to interview: an expert is very different from a ‘user’ or subject (I modeled this in a video); and suggested how to combine observation with interviewing to develop empathy for ‘users’. e.g Actively intervene during an observation & use open ended questions: ‘Show me…’Why did you choose…? What do you like…? What don’t you like…? What suggestions…? What issues do you consider when xxx…?

Activities–Students observed and recorded their local context with a partner and then compared and synthesize their observations. Artifacts they generated included video interviews with experts (doctors, coaches), friends, siblings, photos of people sitting, wearing backpacks, slouching on buses, leaning over computers. Their notes and sketches fill in the details and made the situation ‘visible’ to the whole class. It was great!

From all these observations partners then had to find and define a problem worth tackling. They crafted a needs statement that identified the user, their need and the underlying problem. I introduced them to the hybrid brainstorming model and pairs practiced that as part of generating 100 ideas to tackle the problem they defined. Every pair made the target number! Some were sure wild and crazy ideas but they were mixed in with some insightful ways to impact the situation.

100 ideas 1

It’s a design class so students presented their work as a graphic representation for peer review. We stopped at that point but students can choose this work as the basis for their major project which starts in about a weeks time.

Slouch_1 Learn Safe 1

Did they develop empathy for others in this assignment and see how observation and interviewing can lead to greater understand of a situation? I’m not sure, but I am trying to intentionally build these things–practice and applying things in different contexts help me ‘work stuff out’ so my hunch is that will be true for some students too.

How much time did we spend on this? Remember that this was an online course. We did this assignment over two weeks while another individual practical project was going at the same time. I was really impressed with what students achieved in that time.


Edcamp Tokyo

Edcamp Tokyo (held at YIS last Saturday) was a most rewarding day of conversation on inspirational topics proposed on the day but the 40+ teachers and administers who showed up. Having time, space and  interesting people who are open to sharing ideas, questions and resources made the event hit a sweet spot for me.

My favorite topics of discussions were ‘creativity’, ‘20% time’ and ‘interdisciplinary learning’ but the list of what groups talked about was broad ranging, and the notes we generated during each hour long session are evidence that they were each as equally engaging.

The day ended with a simple share out of technology tools and tips in the most relaxed demo slam I have seen; people just kept hopping up and offering more ideas. It was great! I’m already looking forward to another #edcamptokyo in the new school year.

Interdisciplinary learning Edcamp Tokyo - 3 Edcamp Tokyo - 2 Edcamp Tokyo - 1

Design Essentials for Educators

On the weekend my friend Joachim Castellano presented some ideas that we’ve been working on together at the Paperless Classroom Conference. Some time ago we started developing an iTunes U course called Design Essentials for Educators wondering how we might offer support to teachers wanting to raise the bar on the presentation of content.

Now more than ever, we have access to apps and software choices that have made it possible for the non designer to be creators of serious works of content. But having many different ways of presenting content, and easy access to more tools, doesn’t automatically translate into clearer communication. We thought we’d have a go at sharing our enthusiasm for design and interest in learning, and bring the two areas together.

We drafted the Design Manifesto for Educators; a lighthearted attempt to articulate what we strive for when we create content.

      1. Information shall be presented with elegance as well as efficiency.
      2. Visuals shall add clarity to ideas and not be mere decoration.
      3. Contrast & visual hierarchy shall guide the reader through content.
      4.Type, color and other elements shall be combined with intention to create a unified whole.

    The Paperless Classroom Conference was a great opportunity to get some feedback from educators if we are on the right track. From the crowd that showed up it seems that people are keen for examples and ideas.

    As well as the iTunes U course, which we will continue to develop, we have started a Google+ community where we hope people will share ideas and examples.

Professional Development for a Global Audience

Global Education Conference

It was an honour to be a guest in Amy Hollinger‘s session on Professional Development for a Global Audience at the 2013 Global Education Conference. Amy is the Director of Professional Development for Global Online Academy and was my co-teacher in a recent online professional development course for teachers: Introduction to Online Learning Environments.

One of the things we talked about today was dealing with some of the challenges that get in the way of developing solid connections with people in online environments. It’s harder to do when you don’t have the cues provided by seeing faces and reading body language in a face-to-face situation.  Ideas that we discussed to personalize and humanize online connections included sharing personal details to learn more about each other’s context. This included simple things like sharing pictures of family, pets and where we live; showing on a map our geographic locations; and using icebreakers to uncover common interests and experiences.google+


Sharing online is not necessarily comfortable for everyone. Modeling what and how to share, and suggesting common areas of interest can make it a little easier. We set up a Google+ Community for our course to help build connections and foster a professional learning community for participants.  Themes that emerged in our class discussions flowed into categories for ongoing threads on Google+.

Learning how to learn in an online environment is experiential–sometimes you just need to experience it to understand it! I hope the participants in our course got a taste of some of what is possible.