The cold bath of creativity.

Creative Commons via Flickr

In a one-to-world approach, the critical question is not, “What technology should we buy?” The more important questions revolve around the design of the culture of teaching and learning.–Alan November

One week ago I decided to shift something in my classroom.  I decided to give students (and myself) time to switch gears.  At the start of each lesson, we are taking ‘eight great minutes.’  I’ve designed a 15 class challenge.  For these 15 lessons, students are provided with a ‘doodle prompt.’  I’ve told them they can use the prompt, or they can sketch or doodle about anything they want, the caveat being that they work on their pages for eight minutes.

Where is this shift coming from?

Change is the order of the day in our kids’ 21st-century lives. It ought to be the order of the day in their schools as well. Not only would students welcome it, they will soon demand it. — Marc Prensky

If I want to value creativity, innovation, and change, I need to make space for it.  If I want my students be prosumers, I need to give them head space.  I need them to explore ideas and to challenge themselves to take the time to warm up.  No sports coach would send her team straight into a match.  We give our kids time to warm up on the court, shouldn’t we do the same in our classrooms?

If we want to see a shift towards a creative use of technology, we need to embrace a creative shift with old technology too.

I asked around for extra notebooks, and I was able to get my hands on beautiful sketch pads.

The first day of our 15 day challenge the students were smiling, laughing, sharing their work without being asked to do so.  I even had a student ask if they were going to be able to keep the journal at the end of the challenge.  When the students want to own their work, that’s the beginning of a shift in placing stock in creative work.

Challenging ourselves to see the potential of school differently is hard some days.  But can’t we make that task more reasonable?  What small challenges can we put forward?

I was worried that my students would be weary of yet another thing I was asking of them.  I told my class they each needed to take their books home and personalize them.

The effort some students took in this process was jaw-dropping.

What have been the big take-aways for me so far?

* allow students time to switch gears

* give choice

* come out of left field now and then

If you’d like to set up a similar challenge, here are a few great places to go:

1) Doodles a day

2) Ignant

3) Doodle Everyday

Initially I was worried:  what would my colleagues think?  would the students really engage with this?  can I create engaging prompts?  Is this too wacky for my IBDP students?

Like any weathered educator, I knew the only way I could answer my questions was to experiment.  This is one of the great benefits of being a connected educator, I knew I could come to this space to think-out my concerns.  I also knew I could come here to reflect on feeling proud to say I’m trying out new ideas.  I’m asking my students to try new ideas with me.

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Be the model.

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How do we get students to engage with tech?  How do we get those young smiles to shine like they are in the picture above?  How do we get a community to thrive on risk-taking?

We take the first step.

Teachers often want their students to embrace technology.  The key is to take the leap for yourself.  How can we hope for a community of bloggers, or a network of innovation without engaging with online thinking ourselves?

Teachers need to be out on the trail, trialing with ideas.  If I want my students to connect with other bloggers, I need to have experienced that for myself.  Do I need to be the best blogger in the world?  Do I need the most amazing banner and 10,000 hits on my page?  No, but I do need to a footprint on the path I’m asking them to venture out on.

Recently my school hosted an in-house PD two-day workshop session.  I lead a workshop on blogging and a workshop on visual note taking.  We didn’t talk theory, we didn’t sit back and passively consume what those tools can do for our classrooms.  We blogged (on paper) and we took visual notes.  How did that feel?  Uncomfortable for some, and engaging for others.  Tools are meant to be put to use, and if it means we grumble or put on our confused face for a bit, that’s ok.  If you are interested more in visual note taking (stop whatever you are doing and follow @itsallaboutart), I would love your feedback on my slides, available here.

What I like about the 21 Things 4 Teachers site is that it doesn’t theorize the role of tech in our classrooms, rather, it serves as a menu: taste and try. You won’t like everything on the menu, and that’s not the point.  The point is to play, to pause (reflect), and to push forward.  Schools need this PPP model (did I just make that up?)

I have to give a huge shout out to John McBryde, the amazing director, visionary, leader.  He got the PPP model in a big way.  I was amazed at how devoted he was to the concept of sandboxing.  As an educator, I have never found innovation to be more valued than when I worked with John.  He knows that great things happen in learning environments where ‘tinkering’ is given time.

In essence, whenever you upskill yourself as an educator, the next question is inevitably:  now what?

The answer?  Try it out for yourself.  Make learning personal, and see if the hat fits for you.  We need more school leaders like John McBryde, more administrators who teach their teachers to take the leap.  We have to be the model first.  We don’t have to be the experts, but we do have to showcase a love for tinkering.

Perhaps asking, as Angela Maiers does here: what happens when our classrooms are driven by passion? is the real question we are asking when we are asking how to better integrate tech.

Before we apply to our classrooms, we need to apply ideas to our own experiences.  No one does this better than Jane Ross (@janeinjava).  Her blog is available here.

Jane Ross is one of the most passionate educators I have ever worked with.  She tinkers, trials, plays, takes risks, and does it all again.  I’ve been following her online in her latest efforts to teach herself to do amazing things with yarn.  She demands creativity from her students, but rightfully so, Jane demands it of herself first.  Jane and John are incredible ‘passion-modelers.’  They are respected by teacher communities far and wide.  They allowed their classrooms to be driven by passion.


Choppy Connections

not only learn about the world, but learn with the world.- Julie Lindsay

I’ve heard about (and been lucky enough to have seen her present at Learning 2.0) the amazing work that Julie Lindsay does with Flat Classrooms and Flat Connections again and again.  There’s a good reason her name comes up: flat connections are actually choppy connections.


Choppy connections are those strong wavelike ideas that keep inviting us to get our feet wet.  One of the principles of connectivism (George Siemens)


Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

This means that teachers today need to get comfortable with two things:

a) empowering our students to make decisions freely

b) what we think we know to be true is more flexible today than ever before

In Julie Lindsay’s Learning 2.012 talk you’ll catch her quickly say at the start that she took her talk on a new direction as late as the night before she delivered it.

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She goes on to discuss the value of being a jazz musician.  Being a teacher today means you need to embrace your inner Dave Brubeck.


Tools will come and go-Julie Lindsay

Lindsay’s talk goes on to showcase how connected we can be, if we dismiss the nay-sayers.  If we push through the challenges, great things can happen in our schools.

One of the three take-aways from this amazing talk is that we must

Be open to alternatives.

When George Siemens discusses connectivism he says:  “Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity. ”  Who better to be a lighthouse in the sea of connectivism that leaders like Lindsay?

You can learn more about her Flat Connections here.

This is my mini shout out to you, Julie Lindsay.  As soon as this week in COETAIL referenced connectivism, I thought of you.

How lucky we are, teachers today–to have such distant shores be a few clicks away?  How fortunate to educate in an era where the current is strong with leaders, fishing for early adopters?

My hat goes off to the pioneers who haven’t been afraid of being pulled out to sea.  Before my metaphors get too tired …

I’d like to leave you with a passage from Edsurge’s thoughts on connectivism in our classrooms:

“The point of professional development should be in helping human beings–who in this case happen to be educators–become more fully engaged and connected with their peers and fellow professionals. The goal should be helping them to develop the profession themselves.” (continue reading here).

My school is hosting two days of professional development in a week.  Which waves should I be pushing into as a workshop presenter? 


Putting the ‘we’ in weave

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“In a world of rapid change, we each need to garner as much useful information as possible, sort through it in a way that meets our unique circumstances, calibrate it with what we already know, and re-circulate it with others who share our goals.”
Marcia Conner, The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media

Transformative learning is connected learning.  Transformative living is all about communication, communities, and coming up with new ways to share understandings.  “The true power of the Internet can be found in communities that form just in time around any given topic,” (Jeff Utecht), from his amazing resource Reach.

Technology reminds us of how much we like people.  While there is evidence to the contrary (see Gamergate), the optimist, idealist, the-weekend-is-always-just-around-the-corner-ist has to believe that most days, being logged on means being connected to something that has the potential to save humanity.

“Welcome to the Collaboration Age, where even the youngest among us are on the Web, tapping into what are without question some of the most transformative connecting technologies the world has ever seen. ”  (read more from Edutopia and Will Richardson here).

I’ve been teaching MYP and DP Literature for a decade.  Reading and writing are social subjects.  Think of the number of book recommendations you receive in a given year.  Your family and friends love the idea of sharing stories.  Stories connect us, invite us to better understand ourselves.  Our understandings are devalued unless we spread them out, discuss them, and unpack them together.  Years ago this unpacking was constrained by the four walls of my classroom.  Today, my students unpack and as Austin Kleon would say they ‘learn in the open.’  

When my students blog or post to Youtube they are communicating to themselves this idea:  I contribute.  If every student today took a moment to authentically feel those two words, I think I would have a great deal more confidence in tomorrow.  Students (and educators) need to see themselves as makers, as artists–as being people with something to offer.

One of my all time favorite shares is the amazing talk from Angela Maiers entitled “You Matter.” 

In it she invites us to remind our educational communities that what they do and say are important to us.  Asking our students, asking our colleagues to contribute implies that message.  When I set up blogs with students I remind them that I believe that what they have to say belongs to ears bigger than mine.

I know that a networked student is an empowered human being.  I wasn’t on Twitter until I was thirty years old.  I cannot begin to summarize all that I’ve gained from Twitter.  What if I had my PLN at age fifteen?

Communities are made.  We all have a role to play in making them.

“The Collaboration Age is about learning with a decidedly different group of “others,” people whom we may not know and may never meet, but who share our passions and interests and are willing to invest in exploring them together. It’s about being able to form safe, effective networks and communities around those explorations, trust and be trusted in the process, and contribute to the conversations and co-creations that grow from them.” (Will Richardson, ‘World Without Walls’).

This age is also then about vulnerability, something Brene Brown speaks about (if you haven’t watched this, do yourself a favor and do so now).

To share, to listen, to collaborate means we need to open up.

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about technology saving humanity.  Our networks invite us to be vulnerable to be courageous and to share.  Our networks allow us to practice the art of listening.  Like the title of Utecht’s book, networks command us to reach.  We reach not with closed fists, but with open hands–helping hands.  Cue up the Stevie Wonder already, will you?

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