Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

So I’ve been thinking about the catapult project in my Digital Fabrication class. This is the first project in the course and the goal is for the students to gain some familiarity with the iterative design process and the 3D design software that we use.

However, this class lives in the STEAM department. The amount of art in the project was virtually nill. Earlier in the year, I already mentioned my newfound appreciation for cardboard as a makerspace material. And, I have incorporated the cardboard step in my new process here as well. However, it was too focussed on function. Although it can take people too long, in my opinion, to complete the catapult, more of that is about my management than the use or not of particular materials. Anyway, back to the Art. I vowed this go round to be more intentional about the design aspect of the project.

Here is the new process:

  • Some basic work with Tinkercad (skills based, not related to this design challenge)
  • Informal assessment of some key Tinkercad skills
  • Design walk
  • Drawings of catapult ideas
  • Cardboard
  • 3D print models, review, redesign, etc

The new steps here include the basic Tinkercad work, now unconnected to the final project (which at first seemed like a step back from an integrated approach), informal assessment, and the design walk.

CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

I am using this image as inspiration for my new catapult design. CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

The design walk was something I tried to do more informally last semester. I tried sending folks out around the campus to notice design elements in our buildings several of which have interesting and thoughtful design elements. It turns out that students going on independent design walks at the beginning of the course are not my best idea. So, this semester we went to two specific locations as a group. We went to our former library space and our newly built library space. Even though there are no longer shelves or books in the old space, the students remember what it looked like since the new space has been open for under a year. We talked about the functions that both spaces fulfill in addition to the more subtle message that each space conveyed to visitors about how to exist in the space and what it means to study and acquire knowledge.

I also suggested about thinking about their catapult as art pieces and asked them to consider in what type of museum or exhibit it would belong–to take inspiration from that discipline/time period/aesthetic in their design. I am also designing a new catapult.


Let the designing begin!


So, I’ve been thinking about Annie Lennox. A FB friend of mine posted after the Grammy Awards “I wanna be Annie Lennox when I grow up.” I would totally agree. The comments all agreed as well. Here she is at the Grammy Awards.

However, since it is unlikely that I will in fact turn into Annie Lennox for any number of reasons, I started thinking. What is the essence of her awesomeness? What would that look like in my position at school? It is a fact that I have a terrible singing voice. So, we have to think very theoretically here.

So first, Annie. My friend commented on her great hair, performance skills, voice, and confidence.  Part of what I appreciate about her is that she is unmistakable. I never think who is that sining if I hear her voice. And at the same time, I never think, sounds like all her songs. She is consistently recognizable, yet not old or stale. It seems to me, again I am so not musical, that she has found that sweet spot of having “her thing” yet not being so stuck that it is all rehashing.

Also, I love that big, all-out voice. No shrillness, just power. If she’s phoning it in, she’g got me fooled. When I started to look at other images and recordings as I wrote this, I noticed she also aligns her outfits with her costars. So, at the recent Grammy awards she was in basic black, as was Hozier. She added some sparkles. When she sang with David Bowie at the Freddie Mercury Tribute in 2006, out came a more dramatic outfit. If it works for that collaboration why not wear a big tule skirt and a superhero mask out of eye make-up?  Attitude and confidence, she’s got them both. (Don’t even get me started on the tyranny of long hair. I’ve had long hair; it’s good. But, what I don’t appreciate is that it is so universal for girls, and virtually all women under a certain age.)  For me, rocking a great, short haircut also goes in the plus category. She’s of an age, now, that short hair is probably the norm, but she’s done the short thing since forever, as far as I know.

So, what would that look like in a suburban, independent school in a competitive market? I think the eye make-up superhero mask is out; I’m not good at eye make-up. I’ve got the unusual haircut/color all set. On to the more substantial characteristics.

What would that unmistakableness and power (of voice) look like and sound like? I know there are people who probably think I sound like a broken record sometimes, even though I try to mix it up. Yet, I hope that people do hear a consistent message from me that the educational goals, the learning goals, should drive instruction. I push effective use of technology because of what it can add to the learning or organizing or assessing, how it can help teachers and students. The fact that it can make things more interesting is an added bonus, not the main event. I do try to have a “big voice” by having examples, information, willingness to do the leg work, and research at the ready. At the same time, my goal is the duet. I am not going to, nor am I qualified to, take over teaching any and all classes.

When I break out the big voice, I need to be aware of the potential to overpower. I’m really not an overpowering person at all. I’m energetic, and if something interests me, I’m all in, but steamroller or bully probably do not come to mind when my name comes up. I am aiming to be Annie the collaborator, not necessarily Annie the solo artist.  Being a tech coach is really about being collaborator extraordinaire–a collaborator with a vision that can transform and reframe. A vision that references where we are and connects to the familiar while at the same time plots a bold new course. If I can do it well, it should seem like when we get there, we all thought that was the plan all along.

So, to review–recognizable, not repetitive; powerful voice, not overpowering; a bold look/vision that may be unusual, but that is within sight of something familiar. I will probably keep my tule skirt at home–unless a teacher version of David Bowie is my collaborator. In that case, there will also be hats.


So, I’ve been thinking about what makes for a productive visit for colleagues looking at 1:1 learning. I have visited four different schools this year with my colleagues. Each school has 1:1 laptop program yet there was wide variety not only in the schools but in the length of time they have been teaching and learning in this environment.

My conclusion: there is no perfect visit that fits everyone. Surprise. Just like Goldilocks, I was looking for the porridge that was “just right” for each person in my group. As the person bringing my colleagues, I was more anxious than I anticipated being. I wanted the school to look good, to show its best self, to reassure my colleagues if they needed reassuring, to inspire them if they needed inspiration, and to sing with them if they just needed a choir. Not too much, right?

Tourist Alert

Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Scazon

One high school we visited was honestly a mess. They do great things at this school, and I would be thrilled to have my kids there, yet neat and tidy are not words I would use to describe it. Also, we didn’t end up seeing a lot of tech use, which was why we were there. Turned out the colleague with me didn’t need that. He valued the experience of talking to the students and other teachers. He was taking a broad view. Phew.

We also visited a school that specializes in students with learning differences. Our visit there gave my colleagues some reassurance that the laptops did not need to be out all the time, that meaningful work was happening, and that management was doable. It also gave them the idea that class size of 10 would be great. Keep dreaming, my friends!

A day long visit to a very similar school where we got to talk to lots of teachers, administrators, and tech folks gave my colleagues some perspective on the journey of change and transition. It was helpful to hear from people in a very similar school. Plus, we got to see the students in action and talk with some of them about their experience. We lucked out in terms of seeing some classes that particularly resonated with my group.

Finally, a small group went to a local high school. We were in and out quickly, which meant that it wasn’t a huge time commitment, always helpful for teachers. As we walked around, there were computers in use here and there and it just seemed to be an easy integration. Plus, we got to visit 4 different classes where technology was being used very differently. What made it so useful was that several of the uses we saw were very reasonable for my colleagues. These were uses that made sense in the classroom and which did not present an intimidating model. They were doable now! And, given the super short drive, we could go again.

In all of these examples, one of the things that was valuable was the conversation during our travel time which ranged from 8 minutes to 2 hours. Each time it gave me a chance to put into perspective some of what we had seen, explain a technical thing or two, and listen as others imagined how something they saw might translate at our school. On each visit I also go a chance to observe what grabbed each colleague’s attention so that I can personalize my support for that colleague.

So, I’m thinking about all of these visits as I think about planning more experiences like this for other colleagues. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • If it’s not a big production with presentations etc, short and sweet is good.
  • Something needs to seem doable NOW to each person in the group.
  • Acknowledgment of teacher time and choice is important for folks to hear loud and clear.
  • The travel time can be important talking time for the group.
  • There is no perfect visit.
  • I would love it if everyone got to visit somewhere.

What do you find valuable when you visit other schools?

So, I’ve been thinking about this and that these past few days.

Hurricane Sandy blew through the area and not only flooded basements and roads, knocked out power, and downed tress, she canceled school for 2 days. I am so lucky that my family and I were not severely impacted. Therefore, I did not have any urgent, life threatening things to do. Instead, I made bread, read with my kids, wrote some real letters (I still do this because I love stationery and can’t justify buying it if I don’t use what I have), and generally stayed home with my husband and kids. And, I got a chance to think about some of the big things I need to figure out at school.

A bit of background: I am a firm believer in letting ideas roll around in my head, thinking about them in a sneaky way. I believe in and count on being inspired by disparate ideas. This has traditionally worked for me. I’m a collector of ideas, images, thoughts. All that raw material in there lets me generate ideas. They might not all be good ideas, but I count on coming up with a lot of them so that I can pick through and find the good ones. Again, it’s a strategy that has worked well for me in the past.

I say this because I think I have been having a hard time making time to do this “laid back thinking” now that I am not in the classroom. My day used to have a very set structure. I had a schedule that for the most part I could count on. During my non-teaching period(s) I could do work or not. I like to be ready in advance so I have to say I did not always use my “free” periods for preparation in the traditional sense. I used to feel a little guilty about that, but honestly, it just meant that I had to do things at other times, so it’s on me. Anyway, I am thinking differently about it now.

Now, I am thinking that I did exactly what I needed to do with those little bits of “free” time (I say “free” because it’s hardly free, but that’s a different post). What I did was change-up what I was doing to give myself that change or break or relief that I needed. That pause is what allows me to do my sneaky thinking. Just like the students, I need times of interaction and then times of reflection. Too much of either one does not work for me.

However, now I find that my schedule is not something that I can count on for structure. I may have long stretches of meetings or long stretches of me, myself, and I in my office. I have those horrible weird amounts of time between things that teachers hate. I have meetings I get “invited to” for later in the same day; so, I may come in with one plan of how the day will go only to have to shift entirely. Fine, I’m flexible. I like working with people and collaborating. The chance to work with adults was a one of the many appealing things about this job. But, when do I think?  What if I am invited to a meeting at a time that I had not blocked off, but had put aside to use for some quality ruminating? Can I say no to something? I am still trying to work this out. But after the weekend with my hurricane-imposed think time, I realize that I have to work harder to create a plan to the day that works for both the thinking and doing of my job.

At the moment, I am contemplating putting blocks on my calendar that are “walk and think” times. Now that I also do not have recess duty, I think I could probably use a little more outside time.

Any other ideas would be welcome.


A transistor, one of Bell Lab's inventions

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the article in The New York Times from February 23rd: “True Innovation“. Jon Gertner is the author of a forthcoming book about Bell Labs called The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation and this was a kind of preview. There was plenty of detail about Bell Labs that was new to me, all well and good. What I thought was most thought-provoking was to think of how the characteristics of Bell Labs that Gertner identifies as success generators might or might not be present in schools.

Gertner contends that  Bell scientists “worked on the incremental improvements necessary for a complex national communications network while simultaneously thinking far ahead toward the more revolutionary inventions imaginable.” This idea of combining incremental change and visionary thinking is what struck me. I think this is what schools should do. They should work continually to improve what they do (tweaking this and that) while at the same time be working towards that revolutionary (re-)invention. Gertner states that Mr. Kelly, who ran the lab for many years, believed it was necessary to have “a ‘critical mass’ of talented people to foster a busy exchange of ideas.” If schools can attract and retain talented teachers, they should be all set in this department. A little more respect for the teaching profession would help here, yes? Anyway, what professional doesn’t want to work with a team of talented colleagues? I know some people don’t want to work with a team, talented or not. But, let’s just say you are working with others, not too many people would say, yes give me the duds. So it seems obvious. However, I think that what is not obvious is that you want bunch of talented folks in the same place. It’s not overkill. It means that they will have peers and be able to have that exchange of ideas that is so important for real innovation. This is a place people will want to be! Excited and interested teachers will attract and produce excited and interested students. There’s our critical mass.

According to Gertner, Kelly also set up the building to encourage, if not force, people to come into contact with each other regularly. On top of that, he gave researchers freedom and time. Just let that sink in a little. Employees have a physical space set up to allow and encourage them to run into each other, they have the freedom to follow paths they think will be valuable, and the time to do so. Sound good so far?

There are lots of other interesting details in the article. It’s worth reading the whole thing, in my opinion. What I noticed was the powerful combination of purposeful design of space and culture in the service of understanding. That is certainly what I want to be going on in my classroom. I want to set up a physical space that allows for easy and frequent interaction by students. I want to give my students more freedom to follow their interests, trust them to be serious (serious for 10 year olds) about it, and time to get lost in what they find. And, I want that for myself as a professional. I want to run into all different colleagues regularly, not just the ones whose classrooms are next door to mine. Once I run into them, I want to be able to sit down somewhere and talk, not necessarily in a room filled with laminator fumes on a cast away sofa. I want to have the freedom to do new things and spend time, lots of time, working on how to do what I do best. Some, even many, of these things I already have, but as my students will tell you, I’m not really about half-way. I want the whole thing. I want it for me and for my students.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Vincent Connor)

So, I’ve been thinking about conversations I do or don’t have with my students. Two events got me thinking about this.

First, I was at school a few Saturdays ago for an open house event. This year there were a number of 5th graders there too. They were adding a student perspective, which I thought went well. Anyway, I had a 5th grader in my room as we waited for the tour groups to come by. We had quite a bit of time to chat. This student is not in my section and so I don’t teach her directly. Well, we had such a nice conversation. It began with movies, turned to books, then desserts, and finally candy. There was a little horseback riding talk in there too. How great to get a chance to know this students.

Second, my daughter had a friend over last Friday for a sleep over. (It was almost just an over as there was very little sleeping. I personally believe that no one needs to be playing with LEGO at 5 am, but that’s just me.) Anyway, my daughter and her friend are in 3rd grade and are both pretty good readers, meaning that they are reading some of the things that I read with my fifth graders or that I read to keep up with the fifth graders, though I am sure with a different level of sophistication. We had a lovely conversation over spaghetti about the books we have read recently. We each had some to suggest to someone else. We compared Harry Potter to Percy Jackson. (FYI, the girls thought Percy Jackson was a better series, due to Harry Potter’s frustrating perfection! My daughter and I are recommending Project Mulberry. I also suggested Cosmic.) Everyone was excited and enthusiastic.

Last Conversation Piece

cc flickr photo by Cliff1066

These two events got me thinking about the conversations I could have with my students. I would love to be able to have such intimate conversations with them. We began this process of getting to know each other with our 5E Identity day and students are blogging about topics of their choosing, but after the two conversations I just described I am reminded it’s time to pick up the conversation. Of course, there would have to be many more topics of discussion as not everyone wants to talk about books. I’m fine with that. As I think about my students, I suspect I would need to brush up on some sports stats, a bit about Mars, construction practices, swimming, and geology for a start. I’m ready for yoga, skiing, horseback riding, eggs, art, dessert, books, and general sports.

Now, how to make it happen? I am really committed to this. Thinking about how to work the schedule, I’ve always got the option of small lunch gatherings in the room. Hmmm. The wheels are turning, the smoke is coming out of my ears. I’ll keep you posted.

Any ideas on logistics are more than welcome.

The Friend speaks my mind

Posted: October 30, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about 2 things a Friend said at Meeting for Worship last week. Actually, it was after the official rise of meeting when the community was gathered for a celebration and saying farewell to a weighty Friend (not necessarily a heavy friend, just someone whose opinion is respected and whose ideas carry weight in the community) who is moving out of the area. The Friend who spoke shared these two quotations (I have linked to where I found the sources):

1. a Northwest Native American story that is an answer to the question of what to do when one is lost:

Here is the answer the elder gives:
Stand still. The trees ahead
and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here.
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers.
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it you may come back again.
saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you.
You art surely lost. Stand still.
The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

According to this site, Bert Hoff’s, it was translated by David Wagoner.

2. a quotation from Victor Hugo, “Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.” (source)

Both are thought-provoking and were such relevant ideas for the situation. And, both are so applicable to life in the classroom. These two ideas–of not really being lost if we can just alter our perspective and of being able to sing as the branch gives way beneath us–sum up exactly what I want for my students.

As the year progresses, I want them to feel lost in something new, to feel overwhelmed by an idea for in doing so they will learn (with guidance) to find reorient themselves. We will have to practice being lost lots of time so that when that feeling of being lost comes over them, their reaction can be to stand still and look around with the understanding they can be found.

Similarly, as my students find themselves on shaky ground (be it in math, social studies, language arts, or a playground drama) I want them to learn not to fall to the ground and cling to an old idea or habit, but rather to sing out confident in their wings. Perhaps that means asking for help, perhaps that means trying again without getting upset, or maybe it just means taking a deep and trusting oneself to have those wings.

I have much more thinking to do on these two ideas. This Friend has spoken his mind and in doing so has spoken mine. I just didn’t know it until now.

Why I Love Twitter

Posted: December 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about Twitter and how useful I find it. There are plenty of other educators who think this, and plenty who have no idea what to think of it. You can go read all sorts of other people’s thoughts on it, but let me give you a specific example of what I got out of it last night.

It was Sunday night, I had plenty of things I could do. This list is endless really, but highlights were: correct assessments, read blog posts, catch up on the news of the world, have a moment to talk to my husband since the kids were in bed, etc. I can’t remember where I started, but at some point I opened Tweetdeck, which I use to follow a number of hash tags on Twitter. I was scrolling backwards through “all friends” tweets. (I say friends but unlike my friends on Facebook, I have not met the vast majority of the folks I follow on Twitter, but I follow them and they follow me.). Within a minute, there were 2 tweets that caught my eye in particular. 1 from someone I have actually met in person once and one from someone I have never met.
Tweet 1- @jasonchri tweeted, “iPad app that I love for unit planning…iCardSort. It’s awesome…awesome I say”

I went to the app store, checked it out, read a few reviews. Replied to @jasonchri about what he was doing with it and asked a few questions. We went back and forth about 10 times. I downloaded the app, started using it, noticed something else, sent him another tweet. We both learned something.


I now have another app that I will certainly want to use personally and in my classroom. Searching for apps, or rather finding the right apps, is time consuming and awkward, so any help I can get there is great. Plus, I have another person I know is using this particular app with whom I can be in touch. And, I might have another reader for this blog.
Tweet 2- @nykat4 tweeted, “I’ve decided to go ahead & release my blog- nameless & with a poss temporary theme!

I went to her blog, skimmed over the post about EdCampNYC, which I also attended, but then saw her previous post about scheduling and work flow with a link to this TED talk by Jason Fried. Watched the TED video (I totally recommend it BTW), left Katy a comment on her blog, and got started thinking about timing in my own classroom in a different way.

Another win.

I often think my students are taking too long to get things done, or at least longer than I think it should take them. This post made me think about who much of that is about switching tasks or refocusing and how much is legitimately just lack of attention and chit-chat? Now I’m thinking about how to work within my fixed schedule to make it work better for my students. And, I’m thinking about what I would do if I were Queen of Scheduling, just incase. I can’t just complain without having an alternative idea. (Well, I can, but it’s just not productive.) It’s not like I have solved this problem, yet, but I got some more ideas and am mixing them up with mine. We’ll see what happens.

So, did I spend a lot of time online in front of a screen last night? Yes.

Was it a lot of fluffy street fashion and goofy family photos (both of which I also like)? No.

Did I get to all the things I had planned to do? Absolutely not.

What I got was in fact so much better. It started on Twitter with 2 tweets of 140 characters or less. That’s a lot of bang for your character.