10 Things to Do to Support & Build Cultures of Innovation

  1. Don’t worry about having all the answers.
  2. Take on new things, and don’t worry about having it all figured out from the start.
  3. Know that it’s okay to say to kids, “I don’t know,” or “I’m challenging you to figure it out.”
  4. Read books–try stuff that other people write about.
  5. Reflect and think about how you can make it new, different, better.
  6. Recognize boredom, figure out what conditions create it, and change.
  7. Blend and integrate: How would a different subject area teacher do this? How would a different grade level do this?
  8. Blend and integrate: If I were a business person, what would I do? If I sold cars, how would I proceed? If I were a surgeon, what steps would I take? If I were a short order cook, how would I make this?
  9. Take time to follow your own passions: run, play video games, cook, write, play music.
  10. Take time to do something you’ve never done before: run, play video games, cook, write, play music.  

Building Innovative Schools

For innovation to exist, according to George Courous, the development has to be new and better.  The innovator’s mindset is that we can develop the thinking that creates new and better ideas.  

Since watching the IMMOOC Week Two podcast, I’ve been thinking about the importance of defining what “better” means. In my class, I would feel like I was being innovative if I could increase the number of students engaging in the items from the list below.

One of the things that I wanted was for “better” to be measurable. Here are some aspects that I would like to be able to document, measure and then start to work towards:

  • The amount of time students spend on task.
  • The number of students asking questions as well as changing the the kinds of questions they ask.
  • More students creating texts based more on their choice.
  • More students creating multimodal texts based on their choice.
  • More students moving into greater depth of knowledge experiences.

Last week, I suggested that we can’t innovate if we are measuring with rubrics; however, it’s important to also know if what we’re doing is actually working. In essence, it’s developing some data to observe.  

However, there’s some other aspects to what I’d like to see as “better,” but I don’t think that we can find a way to measure it. For example, if I was working on the above, I’d like to see the students feeling happier and more excited. And, I’d also like to see that the students can transfer more. If they could take the skills and developing intelligence and apply it in other contexts.

Review of the Questions and Embodying the Mindset

It seemed to me in the reading of this chapter, that the questions place teachers directly into having an innovative mindset because we have to be empathetic and reflective to find answers. Moreover, for us to really answer these questions we have to step outside of ourselves as teachers, and critically look at what we’re doing, and be ready to change.

Mainly, those questions ask us question our practice through the eyes of those we teach.

One of my favorite questions, however, comes from the end of Chapter 2 and is in the questions for discussion: If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like?

Over the past ten days, I’ve thought about this. Our schools aren’t really laid out for innovation. In my school, most of the hallways are an off-white, industrial color that make everything look the same (it’s actually changing as we have students who are painting murals on the walls). Our classrooms have an industrial feel. Rows of desks and chairs. A teacher’s desk, more often than not located somewhere front-and-center. The floors are pretty much the same color as the walls and are a hard linoleum. There’s obligatory Smartboard and projector. These layouts invite a teacher-centric, delivery, knowledge transfer model approach to lessons. Even when the teacher breaks the row and builds a circle of desks, the teacher is still very much at the center. I’m guessing that most classrooms around in the country, in public schools, look like this.

In our department, with the knowledge that Chromebooks are coming to be part of a 1-to-1 program, we’ve started to talk about removing the furniture and getting new stuff–modular seating, cafe tables and chairs, places to work individually. We’re going to try to create some classrooms that allow for collaboration, comfortable work spaces, small-group meetings. Many of us with a new classroom set up and full-time access to technology hope to create classes that invite learning models that have students creating their own knowledge, making decisions about how to display their learning, and working with others to do so.

However, as I write this, I’m looking back to my copy of the Innovator’s Mindset, and see that question, “Would I want to be a student in my own classroom?” And, I’m realizing that we’ve forgotten to bring in any students to the discussion to get their perspective and ideas. How would I build a school from scratch, well, I have a lot of ideas, but they’re mine.

What if the question we asked was, “If students were going to build a school from scratch, both its physical structure and curricular requirements, what would it look like?” What would kids want in a school? What could we build that would make them want to come?

Furthermore, if I were to construct the curriculum of an innovative school, I would want students to be at the center of the planning. I would like them to think about what the school day would look like, what the content of courses would be, what the outcomes of the school would be, who the teachers were and how they would teach.

One way that we can be innovative in our teaching is to let students make decisions influence the direction of our schools and classrooms.

On Joining the #IMMOOC

A scene from Friday morning:

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We were all riding a little high at the end of a hot first week of school. Kids were glad to be back. My plans were rolling out pretty smoothly: I had gotten two classes started on creating blogs, one class had started on a gamified, self-paced learning module.

I was in my classroom at the beginning of the day, greeting kids as they filed in, and I pulled out my phone, dropped it into my selfie-stick, and started snapping some picks of my class. That’s when I heard the kids:

“Is that a selfie-stick?”

“Does he have a self-stick?”

“Is he periscoping?” I was.

The students were flabbergasted that I would do such a thing. That I would take pictures of our community. That I would have a selfie-stick. That I would use technology to share the vibrant spirit of the first week.

And, while I was just trying to have some fun and to capture a little of the good feeling of the first week at Canandaigua Academy, and perhaps be slightly innovative, now that I think about it, I wonder. Should any of those thing be so shocking to students that they’d see them as novel?

Anyways, the bell rang, and we got busy with the classroom business.

Then, I got a retweet. Dave Burgess and George Couros were putting together a MOOC on Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset. A book that inspired me this summer and fueled much of the philosophies I’m working to advance my practice. I read it as I was thinking about writing an end of the first week of school blog post, and something to dovetail with my last post: Innovation for Innovation’s Sake.

I’m excited to join the #IMMOOC. I’m hoping it will build my PLN, continue to develop my ideas around innovation, keep me honest about innovating and making and blogging as we move through the next couple of months. What a gift at the end of the first week of school.

Vermont 100 Race Report-Part 2

 

Author’s note: A draft of this blog post was written in early August and has been sitting in my Google Drive for several weeks, with me tinkering with it every couple of days. I’m posting it now, and it still doesn’t feel done. The center isn’t there, and I don’t have the tone right. However, taking a cue from Anne Bradstreet, this blogger to his post says, It’s time to get out there.

What does it mean to fail and how have we come to see failure as something terrible, catastrophic?

Here’s what happened:

After over twelve hours of running, I came into an aid station called Camp 10 Bear. I was tired, but ready to keep going. However, I hadn’t peed for over six hours, even though I had been drinking regularly. I went to for a medical check because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t in the early stage of kidney failure. I got weighed and had my vitals taken. They green lighted me to keep going.

I went to my wife, she helped me change clothes, a new t-shirt, socks. I refueled at the aid station, refilled my pack, said to the volunteer there, as I pointed in a particular direction down the road, “I’m going that way?” to which he replied, “Yep.” And off I went, moving slowly, still munching on a handful of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Forty-five minutes later, after a huge climb, a runner came towards me, yelling, “We’re going the wrong way.” I was off course, on a part of the route that I was supposed to be on, but about 23 miles later. The only thing to do was to turn around, head back to Camp 10 Bear, and see where I was at.

On the way back down, I passed scores of runners coming up the hill, asking if I was okay. All I could say was “I got off route and went the wrong way.” They groaned, vocalizing my pain.

Once back there, completely demoralized and just a few minutes ahead of the cut off, I decided, with tears in my eyes, to drop.

It’s easy in this day and age to seek blame. “It’s not my fault” has become a standard phrase. As you’re reading this, you’re probably saying, the aid station worker gave the wrong directions. However, I firmly believe that in this instance, I’m responsible. I should have known the course better. I should have confirmed before leaving that I was going in the right direction. There are times when circumstances and the larger forces contrive to end our runs and force a decision. This was not one of those times.

In the media, success and failure are at the core of the narrative, especially around sports and athletics. We love the story of triumph after failure, of accomplishment after defeat. We love the come back. The underdog surmounting his or her foes. We don’t often look at failure for what it is, which is the end.

In telling this story over the past month, I try to avoid euphemism as much as possible. I lay it plain–”I went to Vermont, and I failed.” Sometimes I say “epic fail.” But even that I don’t like. I’m not Homer or Milton, and I’m certainly not Achilles or Odysseus. Sometimes failure is small, and in the grand scheme of things, nothing. Sometimes failure is a runner on dirt road watching others keeping going.

When I say that, that I failed in what I set out to do, people twitch. They shake their heads. My dad, kind and good-natured, being fatherly and protecting says, “Most people don’t even think about running 100 miles,” as if to say you did something few others did, isn’t this success? My wife wants to cut me off when I use the word failure. She’ll say, “But you ran more that day than you ever have before.”

To get to the Vermont 100, I had to have a 50 mile qualifier, which for me was the JFK50. I did over 1200 training miles, or what amounts to somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week. The race fee was $180, with another $150 volunteer buy out. I went through three pairs of running sneakers. Most days I’m either up at four to run before work, or I’m going home after work to run before I need to get dinner on the table. I don’t keep track of the boxes of gel, energy bars, bags of electrolyte drink I take in. I also don’t keep track of the other resources I eat up following these goals: tolls on my family, my knees and ankles.

One way to look at it is that all that’s lost, and that I’ll never get it back. Another way to look at it, is to say, the experiences make you stronger. Is it human instinct to find the smallest element of success to hold onto to keep surviving, and thus to perpetuate the self and its genes? Is this the core of biology, destiny, the Darwinian selfish gene?

This is not to say, in my attempt here at the 100, that there will be no other attempts. I will take on this distance again, either in Vermont or someplace else. Success or failure? I’m still not sure, but I’ll try to figure it out as I look to toe the line again.

Author’s note: While this post needs work. It’ll be used as part of a series of model blogs for students in my English 101 and Media Maker classes this fall as a part of writing and media projects student do on reflective writing and storytelling.

#edmakercamp

Inspired this week by Katie McFarland’s (@Katiemc827) #slc2016 Maker Challenge, and reading George Couros’ (@gcourcos) The Innovator’s Mindset, I arrived at a major brainstorm, which I’m calling #edmakercamp.

As 21st century educators, we read educational books, create Professional Learning Networks through social media such as Twitter and Pinterest, we attend workshops, we read blogs by other educators who reflect on their practice, we attend edcamps. We spend a great deal of time collecting data and information on educational practice, it becomes and kind of research where we hope that one day we can put it into practice.

Sometimes we do actually find the time to integrate that stuff into our classrooms. We write curriculum in the summer. We spend August creating a new unit. Often, we find ourselves saying, “When I have time.” We spend a Saturdays and evenings writing new lessons or making activities that evolve from our research. But, it’s not easy.

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I’m making a call for “#edmakercamp,” and here’s the idea. Pull together a group of your educational besties–those teachers who you work well with, but who will also hold all members of the group accountable for actually doing work and creating. Then, go find a work space–perhaps some classrooms, a computer lab. However, try to get away from it all and find a place for a retreat, a place where everyone can work without interruption. Fill it with laptops, cameras, paper, markers, scanners. Fill it with maker items. Stock it with everything teachers need to create for a day.

Then, fill it with teachers and administrators who are looking to make.

At #edmakercamp, the purpose is to take all the stuff you’ve been reading and learning about with education, and do the stuff you’ve been looking to do.

If you’re in need of time to think about your practice and want to grow through self-reflection, spend time writing and then blogging. Been wanting to make some Schoology resource pages for your department, do it. Looking to retool that unit on “Revolutions” in your Global class. Looking to implement the PBL in the first semester of your IB Biology class, use #edmakercamp to do it.

It’s not a research and learn time. It’s a time to put those thinkings and ideas, and to create the stuff to implement, so in the next day, weeks, months, next school year, you can pull it out and use it.

Use the group. In bringing people together, spend the first part of your edmakercamp to share, discuss. Get ideas out. What are people going to work on. What will be each campers outcome at the end of the day. Use the first part of your time to get the gears primed for work.

But then, stop the talk, and move into work time, and work as a group to be focused. Commit to quiet work time. If you’re working in groups, great, but be focused and assign someone to keep the group on task. You may need to create quiet spaces and semi-quiet spaces. Have all participants decide on a how long this block of time will be, say “We’re going to make for the next two hours.” Set a timer. Then, at the end of the block, come out of it, grab some snacks, share and discuss. Talk about what you made. After a brief rest, back into work time. 

Bring to your #edmakercamp some people who aren’t making. Bring some helpers. Some people who can scan items, take pictures. If you need a video file converted, that person can do it. This role could be played by a couple of tech-savy students, or a media specialist who sacrifices his or her work time for the benefit of the campers.

We need time as educators to not only read about innovation, but also time to prepare for those innovations and to create the materials that will be put into practice. We need to give ourselves time to reflect through our blogs and share those innovations with our networks.

Integrations

The run this morning was moist, huffy, green. The full, open palm of August pushing its hand on the shoulder, on the chest, grabbing onto the drippy back of the t-shirt. In all this, ironically, clarity.

I’ve been thinking the past month about this blog, tinkering with the theme, the layout, and wondering about the content. Looking back at its posts, the timeline of where I started and what I was writing about, where my passions and interests lay at the time, where I see myself now, I was thinking about what I wanted to make it.

Out on my run this morning, the first trail run since my epic fail at this year’s Vermont 100 Endurance run, amid the humid muck of the upstate New York August, I had a break through.

See, I started this blog several years ago on the advice of a good friend and technology mentor, who suggested I start a blog because I wanted to drum up business for consulting high school seniors on their college essays (something that I have considerable experience and insight into from the number of students I’ve worked with for almost 20 years), but didn’t really know anything about blogs, and I didn’t really read any blogs.

That plan and intention didn’t really work. While I still love working with students on their college essays, making a business and money from it isn’t something that I was super interested in long term.

Now, my interests lie in instruction, creativity, creation, the maker movement, teaching writing, technology and technology integration, trail running, ultra marathoning, a quest to run around all the Finger Lakes, flipping my classroom, project based learning, learning how to shuck an oyster, authentic learning, depth of knowledge, Schoology, DocentEdu, International Baccalaureate Program. The list goes on. I’ve written about these things on the blog already.

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It was on that moist run, where all this gelled. What I’m really interested in is the intersection of these passions and how I bring them together.

How does my distance running help to inform my teaching practice?

How does being a writer help me to understand student writing better?

How does learning the four classic French cooking sauces help me to create a better learning environment in my classroom? Does it?

Integrations should be the exploration of how the different elements in my life connect. The run this morning was one place where this happened, and I’m guessing many have a similar experience. You go out for a run and you figure it out. The idea comes either stumbling or flying or walking with a friendly wave out of the chaos of the imagination. For many, those moments are why we run regularly, or why there’s an impulse to run after a bad day at work. For me, it was just one of those moments where running, language and this blog came together.

 

Slouching Towards Digital Leadership

This is a second post in a series of three on developing skills and behaviors not only in Digital Citizenship, but in Digital Leadership based on Sylvia Duckworth’s Sketchnote (see previous post).

To collect my Digital Leadership footprint, I created a Padlet. Here are the results:

https://padlet.com/embed/5nlbtvpx2u2x

” target=”_blank”>Padlet on Digital Leadership

The concept of digital leadership is certainly a new one to me, but provides a great avenue for professional development. Over the next few months, it’s going to help me focus on finding ways to explore empowering voice, promoting important issues and helping to be a positive influence in the lives of others. It’s going to be a great fall.

 

 

 

Media Maker

The premise of the course is simple: Teach yourself something, and by extension, me and your peers as well.

There’s an ulterior teaching going on as well. The course, called “Media Maker,” will have students studying writing created for the web, and then turning that study into their own written content: blogs, web pages, podcasts, wikis, video podcasts.

Early in the course, students establish a “jumping off point” based on personal interest. They’ll use social bookmarking sites, such as Diigo or Delicious (I’m also, from quick first impressions, becoming a fan of Docentedu), to create lists of web-based content, share those with a learning community, and then use it as a reading list for their semesters.

The weekly schedule is simple. There are five things we’ll do each week. I’m going to tell the students what each of the five days are, and then through some open discussion, we’ll decide what will happen on each day.

One day will be a reading workshop from a shared reading list of web-based content that I provide. This will allow me to ensure that everyone accesses reading that is appropriate to the standards and grade-level, give us a share point for discussion, examine a piece of writing that hits on particular writing skills. These discussion will either happen in class either verbally or in our LMS as synchronous and asynchronous discussion. I’m working on a list that will include text-based readings, as well as non-text based readings such as, for example, audio podcasts, Serial season 1 will be required listening.

Another two days will allow students to read from their own lists, and compose weekly blog posts on their reading.  

Another day will be for students to read each other’s blogs, comment on content and writing.

Another day will be a whole group sharing of blogs, podcasts, and technology tools. I’d like this day to be the last in the cycle, providing a class meeting before we start a new cycle of readings, writings and sharing.

Through all of this, students need to meet regularly with me to review work, set goals, and returning to what I said above, showing me what they’re learning about their topics.  

I see three or four major assessment pieces in the semester long class. An audio podcast, something modeled on This I Believe, a web page designed to convey information, a video podcast of a debate or argument, and then some multimedia project using text, audio and video to convey something about the passion and learning students engaged in during the semester.

Much of this course owes credit to David Carr, former teacher and journalist for the New York Times and the course he taught before his death, “Press Play,” and the writing of Troy Hicks, digital writing guru. There are many others who have been shaping my thinking on this course over the past several years. Continue reading

What I Left NYSCATE Thinking

I went to NYSCATE thinking I’d get great information on the best new apps, web tools and information on innovative LMS systems, technology roll outs for the uninitiated.
Instead, the conference spoke to a theme that’s been running through my mind over this school year: How do I make a classroom that fosters a culture of both independent and collaborative learning preparing students for the 21st century? And really, how do I continue to evolve as an educator after almost 20 years in the classroom?
Here are some of my walk-away points from this year’s conference:
1. Ask kids what problems they want to solve and not what they want to become. This came out of Jamie Casap’s key note on Monday afternoon. By asking students what problems they want to solve, we encourage auto-didactic thinking and practices. When we ask kids what they want to become, we ask them who they want to work for, and really, we turn them into consumer and commodities.
2. The technology really doesn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong! I’m still a proponent of 1:1 integration, adopting LMS systems, full access to a range of social media for students. However, I’m reminded that technology isn’t going to fix the issues we have. Yes, it will stream line our classrooms, help with collaboration, ease assessment and grading practices. But, it won’t fix the lack of creativity we extend to our students, the lack of autonomy we give. If we don’t use it well, then it will only make more rigid our systems of standardization.
3. There are lots of new apps, web-based tools, Google hacks that I can’t wait to try. I’m not trying them until I have a bigger picture in place.
I’m thinking now about the kinds of cultures I want to create, the kind of teacher I want to be for my students, the kind of teacher leader I can be to my colleagues. As part of a District Technology Committee and a subcommittee on adoption of an LMS, there’s a lot of exciting work ahead.