Posts Tagged ‘systems’

So, I’m still thinking about Make Cycle 4. Each topic is really thought-provoking (or I’m a slow thinker) and sometimes it’s not until midweek that I have a decent idea. Then there’s the whole work thing getting in the way. All this is to say, I’m still thinking about changing systems.

The system I’ve been thinking about is mapping. I loved AAA’s Triptiks that were printed out and bound in little books. You got your route highlighted in yellow (an early sign that I would be all about color coding as a teacher) and fun facts to read along the way. Infotainment before the web made it a word! My early experience with maps was all about getting somewhere, knowing where to go, and giving name to the unknown in between. What Metro stop should I get off at if I want to get to this location? What are the stops in between? Do I have to change lines? etc.

However, there are a lot of other ways to think about maps. In Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making the main character meets Mr. Map who says:

Leef taught me to copy out my own memories onto parchment, to paint a perfect path. . . a path back to the things I loved, the things I knew when I was young. That’s what a map is, you know. Just a memory. Just a wish to go back home–someday, somehow.

Mapping a memory takes the system of cartography and flips is, making it a reflective process rather than an outward looking one. This is the mapping of the early explorers who were making maps from experience/memory as they literally charted new-to-them territory. The maps they created could also be used as guides for others, but were in fact a form of memory for the makers themselves.

With so few of us experiencing locations that are truly unmapped, have we lost touch with the memory aspect of map making? Or, do only certain, select individuals retain that flip side of the mapping idea? For myself, the idea of going out into the world, having new experiences (even if they are not in undescribed territory), and then coming home to sort them out rings true. When I’m “in the thick of it” as a friend says, I am just in it. I don’t necessarily reflect or change. But then, once I’m at home, I can think about the experience, review my memories, and let the experience impact who I will be as a result. I map a new self as I create my memories.

In The Collected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, TS maps events of his life in detail–the path of dinner table conversation, the ears of corn with bugs, the path his dog takes around the ranch. He does this because he can’t not do it, but also to make sense of his world and to transfer his experiences to memories. In addition, he makes detailed diagrams or maps of natural history specimens. When asked how he can do this so well, he asks

Do you ever get the feeling like you already know the entire contents of the universe somewhere inside your head, as if you were born with a complete map of this world already grafted onto the folds of your cerebellum and you are just spending your entire life figuring out how to access this map? (315)

He goes on to say

When I make a map that exactly captures what it is trying to map, it is like I already knew this map existed; I was just copying it. (316)

In finally getting that map or memory right, one recognizes the truth that was already there. Mapping a piece of experience, and then another, and another at some point gets us ever closer to the whole. Maybe the whole is home?

S. E. Grove also weaves together ideas of map making and memory in The Glass Sentence. In it maps of moments in time include sounds and smells in addition to the events, which are collections of the memories of many people combined into a single map. Mapping as a collecting memory making is another interesting idea to add to this new system of mapping that I am imagining. It prompts me to think about the collective “complete map” and whether in mapping, even collectively, our way home we are ending up at a common point, or a group of slightly different ones.

Included in all three authors’ ideas of maps is the notion that maps “lead us home again” to a deeper understanding, to a different self, to truth. Equally important though is the role we each must play in creating this map to and for ourselves. Someone else may start us on the path, or share some way points, even introduce us to friends we did not know previously, but ultimately what these stories illustrate is that we all must be our own cartographers.

So, as I think about reimagining mapping as a system, it may in fact be that I am looking to pick up some pieces of an older understanding of mapping, throw in a dose of the fantastic, and a bit of the maker movement to imagine a shift towards mapping as creation rather than exclusively consumption. In adopting the idea that a map is a memory, a way home, and an exercise in comprehension, I imagine something more complex than photo album or a journal. I imagine something that combines understanding of change and process with experience and identity. Because, when we say home, don’t we mean our true selves?

So, I’ve been thinking about where else to go with this idea of the world around us as part of us. I wrote about and shared images of my first attempt with using my surroundings to create the pattern of a dress. Lots of other people took the idea and ran with it in really interesting directions, Kevin and Wendy in particular.

I am still thinking about this idea of our attire, the system in which we dress ourselves, and its relationship to our surroundings. Not only do we dress FOR our surroundings, but we dress IN our surroundings. I have a couple of directions I want to go with this idea.

First, I remember the early days of my first year away at college. All these new people were now in new surroundings. They still had to get dressed, please, get dressed. For some the distance, either actual or metaphorical, they ‘traveled’ to this college was relatively small. For others, they had traveled a much longer distance and this too was reflected in their attire. All of us came to college dressed in our old surroundings. Of course some of us were looking to make statements with what we were wearing, some of us wanted to look like we belonged. We were all probably dressing in ways that we expected to elicit one response, when in fact it might elicit a very different one. Students who ‘traveled’ a long way may have been acutely aware of or have expected these differences. Those who didn’t think they were traveling far may have been very surprised.

  • What would it look like for students to create a set of images of clothing created from their home surroundings?
  • College is a chance for reinvention. Would it be possible, or be seen as desirable for some, to try to hide or mask some of the realities of their home surroundings?
  • Reinvention by choice is one thing, but feeling forced into reinvention, what sort of way is that to begin a new adventure?

Then, I also thought about students who attend high schools that are a distance from their homes. What is the cognitive load of switching environments and systems on a daily basis? While I know there are many who care not one iota about clothing, schools create many systems around. Some opt for the uniform, often in an effort to avoid highlighting the differences that will arise without one. However, the uniform itself is someone’s system. Often it is a very formal, traditional, gendered system that supposedly serves to erase some differences at school, but shines a spot light on  students once they step outside school walls. They are now clearly identified as students of a particular school. What sort of system do we owe students in this regard? I do not have the answer.

Finally, I was thinking about how to bring this idea into my classroom. There was an article in the NYTimes Magazine this past weekend about two sets of identical twins who got mixed up at birth and therefore grew up as two sets of fraternal twins. I did not read the entire article, but the family circumstances were very different. What might it be like to use the cut out card to show clothing made by their non-identical surroundings?

And what about for book characters? Could it be informative to make cut outs for a character and create clothing from their surroundings? Does this character wear his or her surroundings proudly? What if a character were trying to hide an identity? While all of these questions speak to the system of clothing and the assumptions we often make about the wearer of the clothing, the other idea to consider, I think, is the importance of visual literacy here. When we read novels set in other times and/or places, students don’t always have the background knowledge to create the surroundings for the characters. And, there is only so much description they will read. What gaps in students’ image banks could we fill with this type of exercise?

When we read with young children, we read picture books, and we always show them the pictures. We do this not only because they cannot read the words, but because they are building all manner of background knowledge about what a farm or a city or a train station or a school or a castle looks like. When we ask students to imagine what will happen next in a novel, part of what students need to do is create not only actions but images in their heads. With older students we want them to predict based on the text and to make reasonable inferences, not just make &@#$ up. But I would argue that the students, no matter what the age, who make rich predictions, can extend the text, write that ‘lost chapter’, also have a good visual idea of what they are reading, even if there are no pictures provided.

So, to answer my own question, I think there could be some value in students collecting images of the time and place of the work they are reading and maybe even creating some outfits from those surroundings.

One of the books my class will be reading next year is Slaughterhouse Five. Do they know what Dresden looked like after it was bombed? Here is my image of a soldier with the helmet cut out and Dresden in the space. It’s definitely the two second version of this, but you get the idea.

Could be some interesting food for thought. It’s definitely going in my bag of tricks.

The Thinker

The Thinker photo by flickr user Dano used under creative commons license

So, I’ve participated in a couple of ETMOOC webinars so far. I tried to do an introduction session, but something was up with the connection at school. I very much enjoyed the session about curating content lead by Jeffery Heil. And, just last evening I participated in the first ETMOOC connected learning session with Alec. (I admit I was late for class. Since we had a day off, I actually went all out and cooked many separate and distinct things for dinner and was so busy enjoying it with my family that I had to keep eating some more. It happens.)

Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking about now.

First, during Jeffery Heil’s webinar about curation, I was thinking, how can I get him to come explain these tools to my colleagues? I was familiar with the vast majority of the particular tools but it’s never a waste of time to think about how and why we might use tools to collect, curate, and share content. I especially liked the discussion of curating versus collecting. Personally, I have adopted Evernote as my major collecting and sorting tool. It is the one that has stuck, for me. The webinar reminded me, again, that if I want to contribute more, which I do, I need to recommit myself to either diigo or delicious. I tried to do the diigo thing for a while. Even used it with my class one year. However, since saving the links publically seemed to imply some sort of endorsement, or at least having read it, I put a lot into a generic “read it later” pile and then never did. My system did not work. A few years later, I think that I will try again. Before doing so, I plan to spend some time thinking about how my Evernote and diigo will overlap/intersect. And, I’m going to try using for some professional learning options for colleagues.

Second, last evening, I was, as usual, impressed with Alec’s clear and well planned presentation on connected learning. There are a lot of webinars out there at this point and not all of them end up being led by a pro. The pros stand out. Anyway, there was a lot of information, again lots of review of things I know, but might need to remember to bring to the front of my brain. There are only so many things I can keep at the forefront of my mind at any one time and it’s handy to have that list shaken up a bit. I appreciated the many references to articles and readings. They will be helpful for me as I give background and rationale for new initiatives at my school.

Finally, one of the ideas that I took away from the chat in Alec’s webinar was “hashtags as a new literacy”. This is a key idea to think about now, in my opinion. I would say tagging in a more general sense is a new literacy as that would cover tagging in social bookmarking (Diigo, Delicious), note taking (Evernote), as well as hashtags in Twitter. It reminds me of the ability to think about key words to look up in the old index. It was always interesting to see the students who could generate those related key words, know what topics were related, handle how to expand or narrow a research topic. It speaks to thinking about how ideas are linked. Critical back in the old days and critical now.

So, that’s where I am in my head. My next steps are to try again to add diigo to my standard operating procedures, continue participating in the webinars, and to read what other ETMOOC-ers are writing about their experiences.

Left Behind

Photo by Angella Mueller. Used under creative commons license.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about students leaving a legacy recently. Alan November uses this terminology frequently. (Side note, if he is speaking at a conference or event you are attending, I recommend going to hear him. He is enthusiastic, supportive of teachers, and you will leave with ideas in your head.) In a world where it is so easy to share work and have others, maybe only just a few, but still others, get something out of it, why wouldn’t we want this for our students? I know that whenever I have suggested to my students that the work they are creating will be used by me next year to show others, or shared beyond school, I get more buy-in and better work. Everyone wins with that combination. (I’ll write about a particular example of this next.)

Last week on the first day of school, I found this article on called “Have Students Create Their End of Year Legacy Now” by Maurice Elias. In it Professor Elias suggests starting the year with this goal in mind:

Ask your students to imagine themselves at an assembly in June. All of their classmates, teachers, staff, even parents are there. Every student is called up to the podium at the center of the stage, and the principal reads a statement of what they accomplished in the past year.

I think this is a great idea and one that allows for frequent checking in and monitoring. Professor Elias goes on to say,

Next, you can review the legacy statements at the end of each grading period, which can lead to a discussion, using these questions:

  • How are you doing in working toward your legacy?
  • What can help you make (more, better) progress in the next marking period?

I would go a few digital steps farther, adding the following:

  • How will you share your legacy with others?
  • Who else might benefit from what you have created?
  • How will this add to your positive digital footprint?

I know that not all work needs to be shared. Some really doesn’t deserve to go farther than the recycling bin, honestly. However, if we begin with the notion that creating real content that is of value to others is a goal, then I think it can be something towards which to work. And, there is a huge range of what “of value” means. Curing cancer would certainly qualify. However so would a screencast by an elementary student that explained how to regroup when subtracting.

So, I guess my point here is: what a great way to start the year.

Is there something that you think would really set a great tone or expectation?

So, I’ve been thinking about note taking. Not note taking by students. I think about that too sometimes, but at the moment I’m thinking about note taking in meetings by adults.

I am a note taker, generally speaking. I’m also a list maker. It’s just what I do. I don’t always look back at either one, although I’m not recommending that. In fact, I have resolved, many times in fact, to read over those notes that I take more often.

Anyway, I attend a lot of meetings as I am sure many educators do. I frequently take notes in these meetings. I have noticed that there are certainly others taking notes with me, but it is the non-note-takers that have caught my attention. I have noticed that some folks just never write anything down. Or, more accurately, they never write anything down in my presence. Maybe they scribble madly once I am out of the room, who knows.

Once I started thinking about this, I got to wondering a few things. Is nothing that these people ever hear worth writing down? Do they remember everything? Do they feel uncomfortable writing things in public? Are they worried they would make others feel uncomfortable? Are there some situations where note taking is upsetting or unnerving to others? Does it depend on your relative position to others in the group? Is it just a personal choice? Can someone really expect to remember everything from all those meetings and not write anything down?

So, my question is, is there some general rule about who and when note-taking is acceptable? In which of the following situations can or should an educator take notes?

  • Teacher in parent teacher conference?
  • Teacher in faculty meeting?
  • Teacher in meeting with division head or supervisor?
  • Administrator in parent meeting with or without teacher?
  • Administrator in meeting with teacher?
  • Division head in meeting with teacher?
  • Division head in meeting with group or committee of teachers?
  • Division head in meeting with parents with or without teacher?
  • Administrators or division heads in meeting exclusively with other administrators or division heads?

I am a test group of 1; I need some more information. When and in what situation do you take notes or find it acceptable or unacceptable for other to do so?

A Cool Tool for me

Posted: November 30, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about some of the web 2.o tools I like best. One of them is Symbaloo.


This tool allows you to organize links to websites. You can use it as a PLE or a way to organize your favorite bookmarked sites. I started using it last year after listening to Wendy Drexler talk about it in a webinar. She showed how middle school students were using it both to collect research links on a topic and to link to the final online artifacts (glogs, etc).


Since I teach 5th grade, having students search for readable content is sometimes more time-consuming than is reasonable. So, I thought I would start out using it as a way to gather preselected links about a social studies topic. Then, I could share them all with my students. Here’s a picture of what a “webmix” or “desktop” I made.

I assign a link to teach tile and pick the color and little icon that go with it. Not hard, not fancy, so helpful.

This webmix above was from last year. We were just moving on to studying classical Greece after studying Crete and the Minoan civilization. So, I did some searching of pictures and text in advance. I arranged the tiles so that the pictures were at the top and then as you move down the links are more and more text-heavy. Using the “share this webmix” option, I emailed the link to my students. Then in class they could follow the link and see the same webmix you see above. Students had some time to explore the links at their own pace. Those who like to see a visual first, could start at the top. Those who wanted more words, could head to the middle or bottom rows. Great for differentiating.

Also, you’ll see on the bottom right, two tiles with pencil icons. These are links to wallwisher bulletin boards for students to leave questions or interesting facts.

I have continued this pattern of using Symbaloo this year as well. So far, I have made a webmix for links about Mesopotamia. Again, I organized more pictures and bite-sized information towards the top and more far-reaching text at the bottom. And, again I linked to bulletin boards (this time Stixy) to collect questions and fun facts.

I have found that this allows students to gather some background knowledge that works for them. Then, we come together again, each student has already begun to build that background knowledge and has a place for new information.

Other ways I use Symbaloo:

  • I made a webmix that is just links to all my students’ edublogs on one side and in one color and all their eportfolio wikis on the other side in a different color. (I borrowed this idea from Ann Leaness @aleaness on Twitter.)
  • I have started a webmix of tools and resources that my class uses so that we have a 1-stop shopping place to find all our the tools and sites we use a lot.

I love this tool. I have shared it at several unconferences (EdCampPhilly and NTCamp) and offered a short session on it during an inservice day at my own school. Those who came to my session at school were not all classroom teachers, but all were enthusiastic about how they were going to use it in their everyday lives.

Anyone else using Symbaloo in a great way?

A New Job Idea

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

So, I’ve been thinking about technology integration positions and curriculum positions. I did this thinking at J. Crew*. I can explain.

My brother and his oldest child were in town for some quality “cousin time” with my personal kids (as opposed to my school kids). We found ourselves at the local J. Crew, which might have been my suggestion. Since it was a random Thursday afternoon in August, we had the place to ourselves because everyone else was “down the shore.”

One of the things we talked about was my idea that at some point “technology integration” and “curriculum directors/deans” will merge into 1 position. In many ways I see them as two sides of the same coin—the teaching and learning coin. It’s very rare. And valuable. (BTW did you know that the first US mint was in Philadelphia and that David Rittenhouse was the first Director of the Mint? Learn more here.)

This teaching and learning coin will have 1 side for curriculum and 1 side for pedagogy which will include seamless integration of appropriate technology to support the curriculum. And, the thing is, you can’t get this coin until you trade in all your old coins. It’s like converting to the Euro. You have to give up all the “we’ve always done it this way . . .” and “I/we always cover this. . .” and, the hardest of all, “I’m not comfortable with. . .” You can add a little of this (some self-directed projects, less lecture) and a little of that (some cool tools), but, until it’s not adding and is total transformation, you can’t have the coin.

Did I mention how pretty it is? How rare? How valuable?

So how do you make this currency change happen? Well, since I am not an administrator, I don’t really make currency decisions; it’s above my pay grade. However, I do have some ideas on the topic. One of the first things that has to happen is that teachers and students have to be engaged in learning experiences that happen in the classroom and beyond. Also, they have to be consistently and thoughtfully using all available resources, again in the classroom and beyond. This means that they are probably in need of a 1-1 situation, in terms of computers. You’ll notice that I said they would need to move to a 1-1 situation because of the kind of teaching, learning, and content creation that is going on. I did not say they like technology and think it looks good in the building. Once the computers are not “fancy stuff” and are just another tool that is indispensable to teachers and students, like a pencil, then I think you would be able to convert your currency.

What I’m not sure about is how to bridge the gap between computers being “fancy stuff” and just another necessary school supply. How do you get to the tipping point where curriculum and technology integration are so related that they are the 2 sides of that rare and valuable coin? What mindset shifts have to happen, what teaching shifts have to happen, what learning shifts have to happen, what curriculum shifts have to happen? Because until the conversation moves beyond just technology and becomes one that includes all those other aspects of teaching and learning it’s not going to be a total transformation.

Hmm, wouldn’t it make sense to have a person whose job it is to think about and work this out? Currency Transfer Liaison? Cool Coin Converter? Transformation Team? I’m putting in my application now.

Perhaps I should head by to J. Crew** to do some more thinking. All those sparkles and cozy knits might have some answers.

*Educators get 15% off full-priced items all the time, FYI.

**No, I am neither an employee nor do I own stock in J. Crew.