Inquiry: 120 characters at a time.

Freaktography Urban Exploring Monkey Bars
Urban Exploring Monkey Bars


Spring is in the air.  Lately I’ve had a number of colleagues ask me to walk them through Twitter.  I’m super excited about that (see here).  Twitter has changed my relationship to teaching and learning, and I think it has a powerful capacity to make our inquiry-driven-mindset as educators more visible.  Twitter has brought amazing educators into my life, and has humbled me and made me feel very grateful for belonging to the brilliant tribe of teachers thriving in 2016. I’ve lurked, and listened, and learned.  This week, I’m sitting down for lunch and a Twitter tutorial with Valerie, an #IBMaths teacher who is making a return to the Twitterverse.  If you are reading this right now, please stop, give her a follow, and recommend one person for her to follow back.

Why Twitter?

How Twitter?

Twtter: A Cultural Guidebook from UWC South East Asia on Vimeo.

Twitter and the inquiry cycle:

Creating beautiful questions takes time. In the end, though the answers that come from beautiful questions can save a lot of time.

Creating fine art also takes time. Art excites. Inspires. Lifts us up into our imagination. Reveals the thrill of discovery. Takes us beyond what is, into what can be. Art redefines how we see, what we see and who we are as the seer who is seeing.

Dynamic questioning is a way of being. It is not being a problem.

Right questioning introduces imagination and possibility. Right questioning is inviting. It invites us into new ways of approaching work, working with others and the different ways they think and process information.

To be or not to be one who questions is the question. Not to be one who questions is the problem.

Read the rest of “You Do Not Need the Answers. You Need the Right Questions” by Jay Steven Levin here.

Twitter is about having more questions than answers.  For me, Twitter has been the most poignant reminder that we don’t know what we don’t know.  But not knowing what we aren’t knowing is not about being hopeless.  It is about being open-minded.  What I do in my classroom could always be better.  For the first time in the history of teaching, we have more access to more shoulders of giant-teachers to stand on then ever before.  Twitter is our ladder to them.  Why not climb?

So, which shoulders to start with?

These are my top-ten Twitter-phenoms to launch your feed with.  In no particular order, I recommend adding these incredible educators to your virtual-staff room:

George Couros

Jeff Dungan ADE

Kim Cofino

Tosca Killoran

Sonya terBorg

Will Richardson


Kristin Ziemke

Angela Maiers

Vicki Davis

Twitter is all about taking the advice of Einstein, remember to embed inquiry into your weekly habits:

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
Albert Einstein

Garden State Hiker   Shoulders
Garden State Hiker

Have I told Flickr lately, that I love their CC Images?


Urban Exploring Monkey Bars

Garden State Hiker


Seeing is believing

I’m being a rebel.

Me, the rebel, in black and white...
Me, the rebel, in black and white…

This post was meant to focus on the way I could redesign my blog/VLE.  Sprucing up my digital dwellings is something I enjoy doing (oddly, it always happens right around the time I have a massive bundle of exams to mark).

Right now I want to talk about the ways our online lives encourage us to remix our physical classrooms. 

Schools don’t always value the power of visuals.  When they do value the importance of living and breathing design, amazing things happen.  Take this stellar model via WAB:

YouTube Preview Image

I visited WAB for the amazing Learning 2.0 conference a few years ago.  The conference was inspiring, and the physical space did so much to level up on that palpable passion.

When we show our students that we care about learning ‘looking nice,’ we are reminding ourselves how much school matters.

“People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.”
Seth Godin

The incredible Paula Guinto is one of the all time gurus of gurus on classroom design.  Her work is featured in this post by Keri Lee Beasley.  Stop whatever you are doing and read that post.

Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight cc

Wow, right?

What can we learn about design in the online world from great design in the physical classroom?

1.  Make the effort

Students will notice when you put in the additional hour(s) to make your course’s home appealing.

2.  It needs to change

If your space looks the same month after month, year after year–what message are you sending about the characteristics of learning?

3.  Your creative leaps encourage their creative leaps

We go to our students with requests for creativity…shouldn’t we model it when and where we can?

Photo Credit: Fu Man Jew via Compfight cc

Good design anywhere can inspire good design everywhere.

I make sure to make my google slides appealing.  Does that take me an additional 30-40 minutes of planning? Absolutely.  It pays off.

It is that time of year when my 9th graders are starting up blogs.  Many of them have created  a visual space–could that have been inspired by the visual nature of my classroom and class resources? I’ll be positive and think…. maybe.  The same applies when we put the time and effort into our email correspondence with students.  They learn to be more mindful in their responses.  Good design then boils down to making the effort.

Everything we do as a school should promote the notion of making the effort.


“The idea of #coetailsketch is that we use the spirit of this course to sketchnoting. Doodling is a private process but what might happen if we start sharing our learning?

We might have our thinking around a topic clarified.

We might find that others have been pondering the same questions as we have and start to collaborate.

We might inspire others to share their learning.

We might see our ideas evolve over time.”

Read more from Stephanie Thompson here.

When we experiment, when we make that decision to experiment, we open ourselves up to a great opportunity.   I’ll that call Design Learning. Create authentic opportunities for learning by learning something yourself.  Wow, that went for a philosophical-turn.

Photo Credit: Digital Explorer via Compfight cc
Perhaps that is what I want to continue working on as a designer:  purposefully creating places where inquiry can arise.  Can design do that?

In the amazing multi-touch book by Keri-Lee Beasley, she reminds us that good design provides comfort.  Comfort produces a learning environment where risks and mistake-making is possible (like I’m doing right now in the context of our COETAIL group).

The principles of good online design are something try to embed in my classroom, as pictured below:


My IB Learner Profile is on display via Haiku Deck.  The images are Creative Commons, and I make a point of mentioning this frequently.  I believe in having plants in the classroom because they add a human element to our space.  Plants have always been an important tool in my classrooms across my career.  More on why here.


I’ve tried to add splashes of color.  We have a great deal of white space at my school, and according to this reading,  we shouldn’t. The bean bag chair is a new item, as is the green bucket stuffed with New Yorker magazines.  I’m an English teacher, if my room doesn’t encourage reading, I’ve failed.

I feel the same way about my blog.  I feel the same way about my email.  That’s why my new signature includes a Goodreads update on what I’m currently reading.  In the world of high school emails, that’s a splash of color.


Books and Batik: I update our physical classroom library constantly.  I believe in getting the books off the shelves and putting them where you absolutely MUST see them.  Call it my employment of the mud puddle principle via Vicki Davis.

My colleague, Phil Bruce uses that principle when he embeds ‘easter eggs’ in his google slides.  Avenues for inquiry are in the spaces we design.

Here’s to a new year of experimenting on and offline with new looks.


Stop building fences.

Jerry Kane is spot on in his TED talk.  What we think we know about social media is already old news.  The world of social media is evolving.  You’ve heard that already.  So why are we having the same old conversations?  Why haven’t we evolved beyond the fence?

What’s the fence?

* Discouraging social media inside of ‘school time.’

* Thinking of our online selves as somehow different from our actual selves

* Focusing on the dangers of social media and ignoring the potential success to be had

*Dictating how social media ‘should be’ used and avoiding an open conversation about possibilities

*Teachers only talking to teachers and administrators about social media

How do we move forward?

“There is no such thing as social media,”- Jerry Kane

Kane’s point wants us to think of the entire world wide web as a social space.  He’s right.

The way we build, navigate, and understand information is a social process.  That has been my experience far prior to my first profile picture.

The myth that certain teachers cannot teach social media skills is bogus.  All teachers are believers of collaborative learning, otherwise they wouldn’t be a part of a social institution.

“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”
Seth Godin

We need to change the way we think about ‘digital citizenship.’  Do you think you can offer your students something in terms of being more thoughtful towards other people?  Good, then offer it.

The technology, the gadgetry is always secondary.  The humanity is the priority.

If you teach your students to think of online behavior as secondary to behavior, they will buy that myth.

If you teach your students to be mindful regardless of the space, you will have a different mindset entirely.

Here’s more insight from Seth Godin:

“People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.”
Seth Godin

Give students the space to reflect on what they are telling themselves about themselves online.  Who is reflected back to them through their online persona?  Chances are that is the exact same message they tell themselves first thing in the morning.

Have a conversation with your class about their ‘self-talk.’  How do we tell ourselves about who we think we are?

“If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.”
Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

We build fences in our schools because we are fearful we will make mistakes.  Will we have missteps on and offline?  Of course we will.  Mistakes are not avoided because we construct blockades.  There is a limit to what Brene Brown describes above as armor. Brown mentions a huge empathy deficit in the world of 2015.  What if we asked our staff, students, and leadership to start to see social media as the means to do something about that deficit? What if we started to think about social media as part of the solution, and not only the source of the problem?

Photo Credit: ianqui via Compfight cc

Let’s be vulnerable enough to tell our students that we worry they will hurt themselves, that they might hurt someone else.  That is a much more sincere conversation starter than a policy. Rules are never as effective as authentic conversations are.  Talk first, policy drafts come second.  Assume students want to do the right thing.  Assume your staff can handle the occasional misstep.  Create more conversations.

One year ago, I asked the group of student council leaders at my former school to use social media to better communicate their mission.  I assumed they would rise to the challenge of open inquiry.  What do you think, did they meet that challenge?