Archive for February, 2011

So, I’ve been thinking about EduCon again and sessions in general. What makes a workshop, session, speaker good?

20080702 cookbook 03I recall reading a description of one reviewer’s process of reviewing cookbooks. This reviewer and cook was going to be on a panel discussion about several cookbooks. He described a conversation he had with another panelist in advance of the discussion. The other panelist asked him how many recipes he had tried from the cookbook in question and if he didn’t think it was critical to have tested most of the recipes. What the reviewer explained was that he was looking for inspiration. He gave an example: since there was a good-looking recipe for lamb stew, he made a lamb stew. He didn’t have or like some of the ingredients so he did something else, it brought back certain fond family memories, he enjoyed the stew, and was planning to speak positively about the cookbook. (I am so sorry I don’t have the reference to this. I did look, but it is probably several years old at this point. My best guess is that it was either in the NewYorker Magazine or the New York Times. If this rings a bell for anyone, let me know and I will put in a link.)

The memory of this article popped back up in my head recently. I have been thinking about EduCon and what I got out of each session. I didn’t take many notes this year, and I was thinking about this, wondering if that was a bad sign. But I’m a glass half full person. I’m putting a possitive spin on this because I think it was a totally worthwhile event for me.

I am going with the cookbook review plan I mentioned above. I arrived at the conference, looked through the not-glossy handout of sessions, which I had already looked at online, and attended many different sessions. Like my unnamed cookbook reviewer, I sometimes came to a session because of a familiar sound to a topic and then found I lacked some ingredients I would need to use the recipe being described. But, it’s my job to take inspiration from these other teachers’ work, look around at my ingredients, and create my own version.

For example, I attended a session by Diana Laufenberg (@DLaufenberg), Zac Chase (@mrchase), and Rosalind Echols about an interdisciplinary unit they were teaching in high school at SLA. (Watch Diana’s TEDx talk.) I loved the maps tool that Diana showed that had links to all the students projects, I appreciated the spirit of adventure and risk taking that Rosalind displayed with her science fiction idea. I was heartened to hear about the time it took for the three of them to work together before they were comfortable enough with each other, their school model, and their students to attempt this level of collaboration. I am still thinking about some of the things they talked about. And, I teach neither high school nor science.

I also attended Yoon Soo Lim (@DoremiGirl), Kyle Pace (@KylePace) Elizabeth Peterson (@eliza_peterson), and Michelle Baldwin (@Michellek107) session about arts integration. I don’t teach art or music perse. I do talk about art in my social studies class (I like to dust off that art history major every once in a while). I got to see Michelle’s drumming circle, hear about Yoon’s choir and setting the constitution to music, and talk to others about the many challenges to true subject integration. Not only did these educators share their ideas, they also shared their desire to be included in the regular Ed classroom, their interest in being incorporated into the larder grade level planning. It made me think about not just the number of times I connect with my specialist subject colleagues but the way I do it. Do I just expect them to support my content? Am I seeking cooperation or true collaboration?

Cookbooks, or at least the ones I buy, also have beautiful pictures and sometimes I like simply to look at the ideal images of meals I know I will never make myself. It’s pure eye-cany and all about the unreal and the imaginary. There is something to be said for this kind of workshop session as well. Sometimes the presentation is ideas and discussion that goes well beyond the scope of my classroom. For me, that’s great too. I love a good sweeping, big-idea discussion that lets me think about what I would do if I got to be queen of everything education. An hour well-spent at a conference or unconference does not have to be about anything practical.

So I got to see all different lamb stews, or veggie casseroles if you prefer. Now, it’s up to me to make my version. I can take a little from here, a little from there, look at the raw ingredients at hand, consider what I can get a hold of, dream big and plan small. Not only does what I create not have to be the version I saw, it can’t be that version. I’m making it.

Photo by jspatchwork licensed under creative commons.

So, I’ve been thinking about seating arrangementt this year. I’ve written about my ideas and my new IKEA tables and how well I think the new plan is going.

Then, I had to rearrange, briefly, for ERB testing. I hated it. The desks were in rows; the students were all facing me when we were trying to have a discussion. A student up front was replying to what someone behind her had said, but was then forced to decide to look at me or her peer. Uggh.

However, when I mentioned this to the students, they said they liked being in rows. They thought it made the room seem bigger and they had more room around them. I was stunned. This had never occurred to me. But then I thought about it a little more and realized there was something to some of what they were saying:

  • When we were in a circle, everyone was next to someone, right next to them.
  • Binders and books were spilling onto neighbors.
  • It was sometimes hard to get from the outside ring of desks to the inside table.
  • It was hard to move around parts of  the room.

I still wanted:

  • Students to be facing each other
  • A lot of the space open for other work options
  • No one to be “way at the back”
  • Options

So, I found a reasonable new layout that I thought suited everyone. It’s kind-of a square with parts missing: 4X4 but with gaps every 2 desks. Here’s why I think it is a good arrangement:

  • Students are facing each other.
  • Everyone has some space on 1 side of his or her desk.
  • It is easier to move in and out of the square.
  • No one is right up next to the wall or bookshelves.
  • We still have the front open and available for sitting near the board when necessary.
  • We still have room to move around our tables.
  • It’s easier to maintain.

But, then I went and asked the students what they thought. I just couldn’t help myself. I was expecting all this positive response. Instead I got all sorts of ways we could face the board!? I kept having to say, “that is no my goal.” Since I did not predict that the conversation would head in this direction, I did not have the time to have a complete discussion.

So, we are in the modified square for now.

But, I think it’s time to have a real group discussion, that does not have a time limit, about what we want our seating arrangement to foster. I believe that my students and I can have this conversation. I know that it will be messy. I recognize that I am giving up a lot of control because this is not going to be a “pretend” exercise.

So here’s my plan:

  • We will all read a few articles about seating in advance and come to this with some background knowledge.
  • We make a list of things we would like our space to be able to do.
  • We prioritize the list.
  • We suggest designs and evaluate them against our priorities.
  • We pick a design for our space and live with it for a while.
  • Repeat, if necessary.

I have to say I’m a little nervous about it and totally excited. I’ll keep you posted.

Snow Day Antics

Posted: February 7, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about the snow day we had yesterday several weeks ago now. We even got the call pretty early in the evening so it was extra-super-duper nice. I put away all school stuff  and read a book.

On the actual snow day itself I was busy with my personal kids who also had the day off. They are in Kindergarten and 2nd grade and so there was a lot of LEGO, snow, popcorn making, and there might even have been a little cartoon watching. The other thing I did was meet with a colleague about 21st century learning and Project Based Learning. I know, it was a snow day, what was going on?

But the thing is, we had planned to meet at school and are working on planning a meeting for a teacher group for our school, so we had some things we needed to do. Since I was at home with my kids, she came over to my house during “quiet time” (which is what “nap time” has become now that there is very little napping going on. I really recommend this. Just because no one is napping doesn’t mean there is no need for a little time in our rooms). So, my colleague and I met.

She teaches in another division and I have only really gotten to know her very well this year. We talked about a project she already does in her class and brainstormed ways it could go from a really good unit to a great one. We talked about what might be added/changed this year and what might be another year out. It sounds great. I want to take the class.

Why am I writing about this? Because it’s so energizing to brainstorm and talk with other interested educators. I mean, it wasn’t even my unit we were talking about or anything I will ever be teaching in 5th grade, but I thought it was exciting. It’s common knowledge that I have been uncool for decades, but I know I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a worthwhile discussion.

In case this isn’t how I manage to spend any additional snow day we get (and it hasn’t been), I’m going to try to find ways to have more discussions like the one I had that snow day, even if they have to happen on a non-snowday. There are couches, snacks, and free periods at school too. All I need to do is walk away from the pile of papers on my desk and grab a colleague.


So, I’ve been thinking about Educon, or trying to think about it anyway.

I saw this tweet on Monday morning:

kjarrett (@kjarrett)
1/31/11 10:59 AM
Back at school. Doing everything the way I always have. Dealing with massive guilt as a result. #educonshame

When I saw it, it was already a retweet, and I retweeted it as well.

But the thing is, I’m not really feeling bad about not making huge changes in what I do at school right away. First of all, there are plenty of things I do that while they could use tweaking, don’t need massive overhaul, and second of all, I am a thinker. Ok, that might sound all serious, but what I mean by that is that I like to think and rethink, plan and replan, talk and talk some more before I go and make a big change.

This may make it sound like I therefore don’t change what I do much. Actually, I do change things up a lot and with reasonable frequency. Once I’ve debated, maybe just with myself (I try to do that in my head not out loud), I’m totally willing to leap in and make a change on a random Tuesday. I totally support change and the idea that classrooms are vital places.

Now, a few days after Educon, I have lots of ideas in my head that are still in the swirling around phase. And that’s ok. I truly believe in the power of that part of the process. I consciously throw stuff in the back of my head just to let it swirl around in there for a while until I’ve smoothed it out a bit and am ready to make it into something. It’s like those rock tumblers that were big for a while. You know, you put in rocks, tumbled them around for days, and then hoped for a shiny treasure among the group.

I’m an excellent collector and so part of the process of change is tumbling those ideas to see which ones turn into pretty stones ready to be used in some great project and which ones should get tossed or set aside for another time. I know I work this way, always have, even before I realized it. And, I know it works for me.

So, while I share @kjarrett’s view that I’m still doing things the same way, I’m not really feeling any shame about it. I don’t think it will do my students any good for me to leap at change for the sake of change. It won’t do them any good for me not to at least look before I leap, taking them with me. Plus, I know that there are at least a couple of good rocks tumbling around that are on their way to being nice and shiny. All I have to do it keep them tumbling.