Archive for July, 2016

Weaving with sticks

Posted: July 31, 2016 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about my taxonomy projects. (I started these sets of works after hearing a colleague talk about her MFA program assignment in which she made 10 sets of 10 works. I am going with sets of 5 and using the term ‘works’ very loosely.)

Over the course of last school year, I did a lot of taxonomy sets with blackout poetry. I liked playing with words and felt more comfortable with that. However, I have also tried to branch out a bit.

I actually started this particular project the summer before last. As I was wondering around my neighborhood with my kids, I noticed all the dried lily and daylily stalks in people’s gardens. (I did not really wander into other people’s gardens. I stuck to plantings along the road.) The sticks pull right out, and we may have wandered around using them as light sabers or swords for awhile. However, we are collectors at heart and thought the sticks might be good for some project or other. They have nice branched bits at the ends and are a reasonable size. So, we headed back out for more collecting. At some point, I thought that about weaving, but I’m not sure when. I also realized that I had quite a bit of yarn odds-and-ends as well as some colorful wire. I have to admit I am not sure whether I got some of the yearn before or after the sticks. Anyway, I finally sat down and got to weaving. It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. Isn’t that always the way. The stalks are not straight and do not stay still. I think this was my first attempt.


I didn’t think enough about curved or not curved sticks, so I just let some of them pop out and excluded them from weaving as I went. I probably should have started with a regular shape. So, next time I paid a little more attention to the sticks, and I tried regular shapes and added some wire and bread loaf tags at the top.

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On this one, I may have started at the top and moved down so that the weaving got easier rather than harder.

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This one is all straight lines and regular shapes, which is not usually my thing, but I think it works. I have it in my new office at school.


I had put this project away for awhile; there are only so many of these things you can have around. But, then earlier this month I picked it up again; I had some more ideas. I started with the idea that I could add other items to the weavings to add interest to regular woven shapes and tried to think about how to relate the type of yarn and other objects. The first one has a large spoon in the middle, which I have not figured out how to attach just yet. I need a way to get it to stay there without pulling at the yarn. I like the combination of the darker stalks with the natural wool and the metallic spoon. (The picture could be better.)

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Finally, this one incorporates a piano part that I also had sitting around waiting to be used for something. I was thinking about those woven chair seats and wanted a way to have really thick yarn, which I did not have or want to pay for. So, I used eight strands together. I think this one is one of my favorites.

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I made another one or two that don’t make the top 5. I might try to incorporate words into the next set or go with more piano parts, which I just may have sitting around.

So, I’ve been thinking about change and being on the edge. I think about it because of my primary role as Director of Educational Technology, but also reflect about my affinity, or not, for it when I was in the classroom.

I am currently participating in CLMOOC 16 (Connected Learning MOOC) and Kevin Hodgeson posted a link to his blog post in the CLMOOC Google+ community. He included this image and quotation (from Howard Reingold) which got me thinking some more. Most of the schools I have been a part of have not been the out there on the edge kind of places.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 3.49.05 PMKevin commented that he has sometimes felt pressure to move away from the edge, if I am paraphrasing correctly. In comparison, as someone in edtech I am often encouraging people to come closer to the edge, to experiment, to try a small change. I lure them with food and prizes try to help see why it might be a place to visit some times.

Then I thought about when I was exclusively a teacher and at first was thinking, “oh yes, I was totally fine with change and exploring the edge.” However, if I am more honest, I was enthusiastic about changes that I wanted to make, edges I wanted to explore. I tolerated changes and edges that I was indifferent to, but changes and edges that I did not like, I did not exactly embrace. This is hardly unusual. And, because I was not opposed to exploring the edge in theory, I always described my opposition as opposition to the particular rather than the edge, but I’m not sure that is 100% true. I got away with it because it was clear that I wasn’t just putting my head in the sand, and I led change or exploring the edge in other areas. Sometimes I had to back away from the edge, or was asked to, just like Kevin.

Maybe what frustrates me is when folks are not interested in even thinking about what exploring the edge might mean. Or, maybe what I find frustrating is that this disinterest in change comes across as prioritizing teacher ease over student learning. Exploring the edge just because it’s there isn’t what I’m suggesting. What I do think is important is to remember that the context in which we are teaching changes regardless of whether we want it to, grant that permission, or pretend otherwise. If we do not change as well, not only have we not even investigated the edge, in our stasis we have moved farther from the edge not remained in place.

The flip side of course is equally frustrating. An institution filled with folks on the edges of all different ideas, strategies, and curricula does not look like a school program so much as it does the 3rd day in a row of indoor recess. Schools have mission and vision statements, strategic plans, and cultures to guide them and help to determine which edges to explore. And, they are big beasts that do not make quick turns.

Individuals exploring change in the midst of bigger institutions is a tricky business.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how students do or do not make good use of the processes we as teachers try to put in place for them. Since it’s summer, I have time to chat about this with the folks who just can’t stay away from school and end up on campus. This is one of the things I love about summer. Even though I now have to work all year, I am always getting to spend quality reflection time with other teachers.

Recently I have been talking with two colleagues in the math department. We have been talking about homework, effective study skills, making use of teacher time etc. In particular I was talking to @LisainPA about helping students see the process of preparation (for a test, for homework, for writing, for learning in general). We talked about how to impress upon students the impact of the decisions they student makes have the outcome. Of course, there are many students who understand this and act on it. However, for those who do not, what can we do to help them realize that they are in control of the situation? That their own actions, especially actions that happen significantly before any assessments, are the key stepping stones that create a path towards success? The conversation was going along, and I wondered if an infographic would be useful. I do love infographics. Then we agreed that really a flow chart was in order. I also love those silly flow charts for things like ‘should I keep or throw away this item of clothing’ or ‘is this hallowe’en costume appropriate’. Anyway I got excited to make some charts.

Then, I had to pick a web tool. Well, I didn’t want one of the true infographic tools because I was really after a flow chart. I usually use for infographic making. Moving on. I went through the following:  Piktochart (again more infographic than flow chart) Lucidchart for Education, MindMeister, Coggle, and MindMup. They each have their strong points, but since I wanted to be able to have a more free form linking pattern than org chart layers, I went with Lucidchart. I spent quite a while thinking about all the steps of the writing process, which of course actually starts with reading. I made a large and elaborate chart and sent if off to Lisa for feedback. Again, summer is awesome because not only did Lisa and I have time to have the conversation, I had time to test the tools I wanted to use, make a beta version, and ask for feedback. Lisa had time to look over my chart thoroughly and send my several paragraphs of thoughts. One of the things that Lisa mentioned was that the chart was pretty massive. True enough. Also, it seemed like it might be too hard to get off on a not-successful path and never have a way back. Another good point.

With solid feedback in hand, I went back to my chart and broke in into two charts tentatively called ‘Preparing to Write’ and ‘Writing Process’. I have to say I am quite proud of my little charts.

First up, the preparing to write flow chart. I wanted to stress that much of the preparation for writing about a book is done in the reading and discussing phases.

Next, the actual writing. Here I wanted to stress the time and thought that needs to go into the planning as well as the need for real revision, not just spell-check.

For the moment, I am going to let them be. I will come back to them closer to the start of the year to see if I want to change anything.

Any comments so far?

CCO public domain image from

CCO public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about our digital portfolio project. It started officially in 2014-15 with 6th grade and a few 9th grade courses. It continued this year in 7th grade, 9th and 10th grade, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.

A quick review–our portfolios are process portfolios (rather than showcases) where students will reflect on their learning and habits. We are using google sites set up announcement style (like blog posts) made with a school template. There is a drop down menu for posts in each division. In the lower school, the posts will be organized by grade level; in middle and upper schools the posts will be on pages by subject. We went back and forth about the organizing structure. If When the portfolios take off, there may be too many posts per page, but we’ll figure that out when we get there.

So far, some grades certainly ended up with a lot more reflection than others. As one of the chief cheerleaders and salespeople for this work, I spoke with colleagues about our ongoing digital portfolio use. I stressed the power of the pile. I admit this is not an elegant phrase, but as anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not always an elegant sentence maker. However, it’s not a bad phrase.

I think the it’s worth talking about the pile and how its power will grow as the pile grow. First of all, counting on one reflection to be powerful enough to carry this new work seems to be asking a lot. One data point is just a point. Anything that is going to become a habit is powerful as a habit not as the individual act. Second, once the reflections start to pile up there is the potential to see patterns and to see change. Even though I can always draw a line connecting two points, I will see much more with a bigger group of points. Maybe one of those first two points is an outlier that is not even close to the best fit line I see with a bigger group? So, to some extent the early posts, while they might turn up some interesting ideas, as some have, are building the pile. They are now there to be looked back on, to be mined for metacognitive wisdom, etc. But the work, both of building the pile and building the habit of reflection, continues. When the new school year starts, students can go to back to the posts from the previous year to jump-start their thinking about their learning.

Another thing that I stressed in my comments to my colleagues is that each reflection should include commentary on work habits, process, or social/emotional skills that are not exclusive to the particular content. So, a department or grade level might choose several habits of mind or process skills that they want to ask about routinely. Again, this would help students build that pile and make the individual posts worth reviewing. Seeing incremental progress is good for the brain (which I learned a number of years ago from Judy Willis) and motivating. We all want students to be motivated to learn, and of course it is motivating to see your own progress.

In thinking about the coming year, I notice that my colleagues fall into a few categories in terms of how they approach using digital portfolios. The folks who tackle this independently are set. I check in with them, throw a little something their way, and they are off. Those who like to work collaboratively with me are also set. I make a point to meet with them, or they initiate working together either in or out of their class. We make it work together. One group I plan to work more closely are department chair people to help them develop a few go-to questions that speak to the behaviors/habits of mind/skills that are critical for success in their disciplines and grade level. Although I have rather extensive collections of potential prompts available for teachers (in easy to access locations), for those who are not in either of the first two groups, I think it will be helpful if I am more prescriptive in my support.

I am excited that next year (2016-17) students in grades 3-11 will be reflecting on their learning, saving it on a digital portfolio, adding to their pile.


CCO public domain image from

CCO public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about my new-to-me senior elective for the fall (Good Reads). I know it is barely summer, and I haven’t even finished thinking and reflecting on my classes from the year, but although I picked the books, I have never taught any of them and I had a hard time picking a group that had some connection. I am a little anxious that the connections won’t hold up or work.

I sat down the other day to plan out my assessment overview. I had already loosely planned out the timing of the books because I had to be sure that I could fit them into a single semester. So, I have some assessment ideas, but as I thought about it later, I realized that they were assessment activities, things to put on a calendar, more than anything else. My plan evenly distributed big and small assignments, balanced them in the proportions I need, and included a range of assignment formats and types. All good. What my assessment plan did not do was reference the essential questions and ideas of the course. Partly that’s because I have not planned the actual prompts for some of the assessments yet. However, in comparing that to the assessments I had planned for my courses last year (Truth and Fiction and YA Literature), I was not impressed with myself. Last year, I had big, ambitious goals for final synthetic pieces that would tie all sorts of things together. Mostly these ideas were a little too big, no surprise there, but having them in mind meant that I also had in mind something to build to with other work, and this is what I realized I was missing.

Then, for some reason I woke up in the morning thinking about charts and infographics. Now, I love a good infographic; I used to have my 5th graders make webs of things all the time. Yes, it is possible to express those same ideas and connections in writing, but probably not if you are 10 years old, and honestly maybe not even if you are 17 or 18 years old. One of the things that a well done web, chart, infographic allows the creator to do is show lots of related information visually without having to pick an order in which to tell the viewer about this in words. It can show connections that the chart maker might not quite be able to verbalize in a way that relates to everything else, and connections that might be tangential such that they would not warrant a mention if they had to relate to a paper, but are there. (Even in this short post, there are numerous side branches that I have pruned in writing that I would have left in a chart or infographic.) Plus, the visual thinkers are often great at them. I still think about a 5th grader in my first class who was a great field athlete (lacrosse in particular) who made several amazing webs of Greek myths that demonstrated how deeply he saw the connections between and among the characters and events of the story. I have since referred to is as “seeing the field” in his honor and because I think that is what he was able to do. There were other “stronger” readers who made very straight forward flow charts of the events in the story, but his chart showed much more about the complicated web that is Greek myth. (That little 10 year old is now a young man and probably just finished his junior year in college.) Sorry for that digression.

Back to the topic here. SO, I have always been a fan of making thinking visible, both the idea (before it was also a book) and the book. So, I’m thinking about charts and the title of the class, and a blog post by @dogtrax about connections. I often have a lot of somewhat unrelated ideas swirling around in my head that ultimately come together into something that makes sense to me anyway. Once it’s come together, the initial, disparate ideas are more just blips along the thinking path, but I like to remember and trace my connecting process. Plus, I usually feel very satisfied once I’ve wrangled those ideas into something sensical, and it is just interesting to me to ponder individual creative process. I honestly believe one can practice and create the conditions for inspiration. In this case, I thought in particular about the charts in magazines that take events in a city and rate them according to some amusing and unusual factor.

This lead me to think about the characteristics of a good read. I have put a couple of potential characteristics that one might consider in my summer reading questions. But I wanted more than a single quality. How many qualities could I get on one chart? What if I moved to 3 dimensions? How might I incorporate this sort of thinking throughout the course so that students become familiar with the process without it taking over? Last fall, I wanted students to think about the interconnected ways that the individual pieces of narrative in SlaughterhouseFive connected. And after seeing an exhibit of student art work at PAFA, I shared a student work with them. Then we went about creating something inspired by it that connected ideas in particular passages. I wrote about it at the time. I was too much at once, but had I structured it differently, it could have been more successful. An idea worth keeping in mind.

And just like that, an idea came together. It’s not even clear in my head yet, but I know it just needs some massaging, that the pieces are there. I don’t know why I know this, and there is no guarantee that it will work, but I know that I don’t need new pieces; I can stop collecting. Here are the basics:

  • Begin by looking at some of the potential qualities of a good read that I proposed in relation to our summer reading book (Kontiki by Thor Heyerdahl).
  • Break those qualities down into some smaller parts
  • Make some sort of graph or chart of how students see the book across those qualities
  • Add qualities as the semester progresses
  • Chart those for each book, reflecting back on earlier reads as well (good for keeping them in mind).
  • Some sort of synthesized final chart–maybe students choose 3-4 of the qualities that they think are the most important for their idea of a good read and figure out a way to make 1 chart that combines this.

I guess this post is really about two things. One, my reflection of the incompleteness of my assessment planning and the need for more attention to the essential questions of the course. And two, the way ideas spring into my head, but are really the result of collecting, curating (this is such a trendy word, I hate to use it, but anyway…), and ultimately mashing things together in a way that the pieces click into place as if they were meant to be together. I know that for meI have to do something with the things I notice (to use @Dogtrax’s term) in order for them to become part of the collection of random flotsam and jetsam that floats around in my head. Once those noticings have make it into the more permanent collection, I have them at my disposal–I can call them up to admire them again, I can try them out in some new combinations, and ultimately I can remix them with other ideas so that they become mine.

Is that how other people work?