What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? Part 2 #IMOOC week 3

Yesterday, our school played host to a first-ever regional workshop of 4 area schools.

About 800 educators came together to spend the day in workshops, presentations, discussions, sharings, connections all in the service of the theme of the day “Connecting for Kids.”

The premise was simple–we have a lot of education talent in the Finger Lakes region. Let’s put it together, share those resources and knowledge, and our kids can benefit.

Such things do not happen easily. A coordinated effort such as this takes time, and it takes resources. Superintendents trusted that it could come together. Such is the culture of innovation.

The vibe for the day was amazing. Everyone that I spoke with felt like they were learning, and felt like the connection between other teachers and educators inspired and re-filled those March-empty teacher tanks.

Such a day makes room for people to return to something fundamental. It allows us to become learners again. We connected for kids, but we also connected for ourselves and our passions.

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What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? #IMMOOC week 3

 

Analogy: “Career” vs. “Passion”; “Teacher” vs. “Learner”

It popped into my Twitter feed earlier today. A question that should be added to the list of questions asked when hiring new teachers: “How do you consider yourself a learner?”

A career in education is a long one. Some teachers may spend 20 years, or perhaps 30 or 35 years working in a classroom. Educators may move from a classroom setting, to some support role as  a department chair or leader, or in many cases, move into an administrative position.

If we see our roles only as a adults there to give knowledge, hold students accountable, assign points, it may come to feel pretty static.

And, when students aren’t interested in the class, they resist by not doing work, adults up the stakes with more rules, systems of accountability, and I’ve seen the burned out of imposing the role of the “teacher.”


Integration question: What are the principles of sustainability in ecology and environmental science and how can they be applied to the field of education


I don’t have your answer.

For me, it’s a drive to do new and different things in different ways in my classroom. To not rest on something that’s worked in the past. This means knowing that I have to learn about new techniques, approaches, methodologies and tools to make the new possible and successful.  

 

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing, so let’s build a new school.

For the first week of season 2 of Innovator’s Mindset, I get to pour the metaphorical Legos out onto the floor, and build a new school.

Recently, I’ve written here about some of the things I’d like to see in forward thinking classrooms (A New High School Course), about some new models for writing (Trashing the High School English Classroom) and about how I’m working with students using Twitter to build connections to ideas they’re researching (Students, the Twitter-verse and Me).

When the IMMOOC prompts came out, I felt a little stalled, and to work through the block, just made some lists of practices I was trying to embrace as an educator and my reactions to the early pages of Innovator’s Mindset. I wasn’t feeling it, so decided to spend sometime engaging in design thinking and build a new school.

I’ve heard teacher re-frame the focus of education: “I don’t teach X subject, I teach children.” It’s, of course, an important distinction to make. The learners in classrooms need to come first, and before learning things like the quadratic equation, logos-ethos-pathos, the theme of Hamlet, or the parts of a cell.

However, I wonder, if we think of schools just in terms of the children, and that children are the only clients that we serve, we maybe do a disservice to the entire community. After all, teachers are there, and some will spend thirty or more years working in a building, the same can be said of the administrators, counselors, and other members that make up the service that’s done. Schools also function, arguably, to create functioning members of the community. Doesn’t a school serve, beyond its children and faculty, the larger community?

I’ve stopped saying, “I don’t English, I teach children,” to “I’m trying to engage in a practice that honors the humanity of all of those involved.”

By trying to make things better, and to engage in design thinking, I hope to honor the humanity of my students and my self. When I read Launch, last summer, my central take away is that when we are going to create, we have to start by asking questions that force us to consider those we are trying to create for. If we’re going to build better schools–both physically and in terms of the curriculum, we have to empathize with all involved.

Here are some things that I would do in the new school:

First I’d start with some questions. Here are some questions that need to be asked?

  • What kinds of environments do people feel most productive in?
  • What does psychological research reveal about the connections physical space, productivity, and learning?
  • What kinds of spaces exist on the cutting edge in industries such as tech, medical, automotive, business? What do they look like and why?
  • How can schools provide services important to people that move beyond the academic? For example, can we put medical clinics, dentists, legal aid, fruit and vegetable markets, DMVs, county clerks offices in schools for members to have access to?
  • What are the core experiences of our humanity? Community? Language? Cooking? Collaboration? Innovation? Creativity? Making? How can schools promote such experiences?
  • How do we create a school that will still be relevant in 5, 10, 20, 100 years?

Physical:

  • A range of classroom layouts that accommodate for a range of instructional styles: direct, project-based, small-group, rotational.
  • Outside classrooms designed and constructed so that teaching and learning could happen year round. Heated spaced, covered spaces.
  • A large, open communal space designed to be welcoming for all members of the school during the day, and for all community outside of school hours.
  • A movie theater.
  • Individual office space for each teacher. Space large enough for teacher and small group of students.
  • Labs designated for use not tied to classes: maker spaces, computer, media. Spaces where members are allowed to work, play, create.

Curricular:

  • A strong, developed, transparent, and rigorous system of assessment for all students. Assessments are generated or negotiated between teachers, students, parents, community members (hospital, business leaders, for example), allow for multiple approaches to complete, and involve all stakeholders in the evaluation of the assessments.
  • Emphasis on project-based learning, inquiry, research, interdisciplinary study.
  • Expectation that administrators work in classes; expectation that teachers perform administrative tasks.

What would I leave behind?

  • Assumption.
  • “This is how we’ve always done it.”
  • Budgetary restriction.
  • Peddling to the mediocre, average, and fearful.

I would love to hear about what your schools have done to be different and any questions you’d add to my list. I’m sure that I’ll be revising this blog. As soon as I post, I know that I’ll have something new to add to one of the lists above.

Now, off to read some great blogs and be inspired.

 

 

 

A New High School Course

A recent post in my Facebook feed suggested that high schools should focus on teaching basic skills such as figuring out a mortgage payment, how to fill out a check, and writing in cursive.

I felt a tug of disdain. This kind of discussion about what should be happening in schools bothers me because the public often believe two incorrect things about public schools. First, they know what happens in schools, what is taught there, and what the curriculum is. Second, schools are default place where knowledge and skills are taught that can’t be taught in other places.

My response was to say that schools are not the dumping ground or location to fix what people perceive as the ills of society–kids not being able to write in cursive.  I was pressed to then explain where, if not schools, these things should be learned. While I don’t feel pressed to provide a solution, when I think about it, maybe a bank could teach its clients how to calculate a mortgage or write a check. And, really, when was the last time in a professional setting where you were asked to hand-write a document in cursive.  

However, my second, and hopefully more thoughtful reaction, is to ask people to recognize that our world–and particularly how knowledge is learned, constructed, found, owned, transferred–has fundamentally changed. When everyone carries a computer in his or her pocket and YouTube and Wikipedia are the largest libraries we have ever seen, knowledge has become decentralized. Self-teaching and self-instruction is new way to learn (Here’s a link to a search in YouTube on how to calculate a mortgage payment; here’s a link to videos on writing in cursive).

Accept that creativity, entrepreneurship, design-thinking, flexibility and innovation are the new skills that people entering the workforce need. If we accept the predictions that those entering the workforce may change jobs three or four times in their work-span and that the jobs they may participate in have not been created yet, then our schools, classrooms and teachers need to change from the models of education created coming out of the industrial revolution, and an 1950s, Eisenhower-ian, white, male, middle-class establishment.

However, schools and teachers are important. They are places where  students prepare for the challenges of life. Teachers are important, because they understand how to structure learning, and give people the skills to be auto-didactic. 

Here are 10 exercises and learning experiences that, I think, that 12th graders should have. The list is in no particular order. Perhaps this would be the foundation for a 1 semester class:

  1. Conduct an interview with an adult, someone they don’t know.
  2. Create and conduct a survey using online tools.
  3. Write the following: a resume, a cover letter for college application or job, a “This I Believe” essay, a letter to a state or national representative, an application for a federally funded grant or the paperwork for a small business loan and the tax forms to setup a personal business.
  4. Maintain a social media account or blog.
  5. Work, volunteer, job-shadow or complete a project for 20% of the student’s outside of class time.
  6. Learn a new skill to proficiency. Perhaps this skill should be one of student choice, and perhaps it should be a skill that they are told they need to learn. Maybe both.
  7. Teach someone a skill so that the learner is then proficient in it. As above, the learner here should, maybe, be disinterested.
  8. Be given one of the following situations and develop a protocol for solution/action: your house has burned down or a natural disaster has occurred and you must relocate, you or a family member are given a life-threatening medical diagnosis, you’ve been fired from your job.
  9. Build a family tree.
  10. Learn to code.

I work to provide many of these experiences for my students. I’m sure this list will change. I would love to hear your ideas.  

Trashing the High School English Classroom

In the traditional High School English classroom, there two ways that essays come to be assigned and written. First, the class is reading of a novel, and at the end of the unit of study, it’s time to write an essay. Second, there is a unit of study–Argument Unit, Persuasive Unit, Research Unit, Personal Narrative Unit, Comparison Contrast Unit–and the students work to produce a product towards one of these modes.

I’m going to suggest 2 different approaches to writing and re-imaginings of these traditional approaches, one I’ve tried, and the other, not.

Re-Imagining #1

My first re-imagining, and one that’s probably not a re-imagining, but just a spin on writing workshop models, is the idea that students generate their own topics and ideas for writing. However, I’m going to go much simpler. Student need just one idea or topic to write about. From there, the teacher asks the student to use that idea again and again in different genres, modes, and media forms.

While I didn’t consciously take such an approach, it happened naturally for many of my students in the second half of my English 101 class in the past semester. We started by writing information-based essays on closely related topics such as industrialized process of food production, what makes food organic, the barriers to local food economies. From there, students revised and re-purposed essays into arguments, blog posts, podcasts, infographics. They moved from information-based essays to persuasive pieces, academic research to personal letters. They took eight-page essays and cut them into 30 second Public Service announcements. They created reflective essays on their processes and used their own work as models and templates for others, students in my future classes, to follow.

A student’s struggle, often with writing, is two-fold. The first struggle is to read and to master the content of what he or she is writing about. A second struggle is then to write about it coherently.

The single topic approach may cut away with the first struggle. After a while, there comes to be an intimacy with a topic, the conversations around it, a fluency with the conversations in progress, a knowledge of the details. They develop familiarity and comfort.

Thus, they can focus on the moves of the coherent communication.

Re-Imagining #2

In this idea, the English teacher has no responsibility to create writing assignments, to figure out what students should write about, or to do any of the other traditional approaches to writing instruction as I’ve described in the introduction above.

Instead, the other High School subject area teachers are required to assign reading, and set writing tasks associated with the reading.

In the English classroom, then, the teacher works with students on these assignments. Time is provided, perhaps, to write these assignments, to process, to conference, to revise and to rewrite and to edit. As a person trained in the writing instruction, something that High School teachers in other subject areas are not and a significant stumbling block to cross-curricular writing instruction and the idea with the Common Core that “All teachers are teachers of writing,”these teachers now provide instruction on writing in particular disciplines, towards different purposes, focuses lessons targeted to student needs.

At the same time, it also solves the “All teachers are teacher of writing” conundrum in High School, because it forces math, science, history, business and art teacher to think of assessment in terms of written products.

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.

Take Web Reading to the Next Level with Docentedu

Here’s the scenario, I’m at home reading my favorite Sunday morning newspaper on my Chromebook, and I come across an article that fits perfectly with the unit we’re currently studying. Pretty exciting, right, to find a current event that connects with the novel we’re talking about? Then, I start to consider the workflow. I’ve got to get a hard copy of this, and then I’ll need to make sure that I get into work early to make the copies I need. Hope no one jams the machine before I can get at it. Oh, and I’ll also need to write some questions and get those typed up and make copies of those for everyone.

Too much work!

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But, there’s a solution.

I want to make a plug for a great tool that’s helped integrate technology with my reading instruction. For about a year now, I’ve been using a Chrome extension called Docentedu. (Full discloser, I am an Docentedu ambassador, but not just because I get to put the badge on the bottom of my blog, but because I sincerely love this product.)

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This tool allows me to embed questions into any web-based text. Below, you can see a screenshot of what this looks like both before and after the Docentedu extension is enabled.

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Once students are logged into Chrome, logged into Docentedu and installed the extension, they can easily access the class you’ve created, see the docents, and then get to work reading, and answering questions. It’s great that you can set open-ended questions as well as multiple choice. Like working in Google Docs, Docentedu automatically saves the answers to the questions for the students and aggregates responses for you to mark.

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When the reading and questions have been completed, it’s easy to go into your teacher account and mark in a variety of ways. You can mark responses by student or by question. Because you set the answer to the multiple choice questions, those responses are automatically marked for you.

After the questions are marked, it’s possible to download a CSV file of student scores. I love this feature as it allows me to see a class average and to see how students did with the reading.

Because you can add your own notes to the webpage as well as embed videos from Youtube, using Docentedu creates a one-stop shopping for students. Recently, my IB English 11 students read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and I used Docentedu as the tool for this reading. I found a decent copy of the essay on-line, then embedded the pre-reading activities at the top of the webpage–these included a Youtube video by another English teacher doing a background lecture to Swift and some notes of my own to help establish the socio-cultural context of the essay. I was also able to share this with a member of my department who specialized in Irish literature. He was able to help me craft my questions and add something to the background that helped students with this challenging piece of writing.

I did something similar in my “Media Maker” class with Tony Hawk’s “This I Believe” essay. I was able to embedded videos of him skating, as well as pre-reading questions for the students to hook them and activate personal and prior knowledge.

With the wealthy of great readings in the public domain, and our school going to a 1-to-1 technology integration with Chromebooks, this tool will be essential. Also, I think we’ve moved passed the age where there wasn’t always great content to read on the web and with major media outlets. Certainly, in this day and age, there’s so much great writing and content on the web. In “Media Maker” we’re only looking at web-based texts and writing and creation intended to be read online. When I am reading in print, and find something I might like to read with my students, I jump on the web, find the text and save it in my Docentedu account. 

Similarly, because we’re an enterprise level Schoology school, I can create pages in my class, and use Docentedu on these pages. It’s a great way to leverage the power of two different tools in one package. Also, we use a number of databases through our library for student research, Docentedu has worked great for getting students to interact with the articles there. I’ve done this with model essays that I want my students to grade. 

The one-stop shopping is important to me, because I find that students get confused when they have to go multiple locations on the web as part of an assignment. I would prefer to create a hyperdoc that keep students on one page and interact with all of the content that I put there.

To be honest, I haven’t worked with the annotation tool or the discussion feature. It’s a goal of mine this semester to work with those features. However, for the uninitiated, that those features are there is enough.

Last year, working for the first time with docent, some struggles and learning curves. It’s important to do the first couple of docents with students. Don’t simply assign them. My students have no idea what extensions are and were completely lost. I needed to take them through he process. Also, our network at school has this issue where the extensions, once installed, break when moving from computer to computer. Kids need to know how to install and uninstall connections. And, kids need to work in Chrome. That’s a habit that I have to beat into them as we move forward. Won’t be such a problem when were all working on Chromebooks in the near future.

Skip the Sunday night dread and panic of what you’ll be doing in class on Monday, and check out Docentedu today.

Is There a Rubric for that?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we’re talking about educational philosophy. We’re charged with the daunting task of educating students in heady stuff: character education, Common Core standards, digital citizenship, critical thinking.

We’re challenging ourselves to be innovative as well.

On top of it, the educational system isn’t really designed to be innovative, to encourage or reward innovation from its students and its teachers, or to allow for it in the hallways of public schools. What’s a teacher to do?

The purposes of education, originally were utilitarian–keep kids off the streets and out of the factories and mines. If we can’t put them to work at such a young age, and they’ll resort to savagery on the streets left to their own devices, we should put them into schools where they’ll spend some time learning things that we need them to learn to be functioning member of society: to read a little, some numbers, perhaps the start of the trade. And, because your family was probably in the factory or mines, then you had to learn things that couldn’t be taught at home: some basic work in carpentry or machinery, some basic homemaker skills.

Today, while we don’t look at it in the same terms, the ends of the educational system, in its traditional forms are much the same. We still use schools as a physical space to care for children while their parents cannot because of work. We believe there is a certain amount of material that they need to be competent in to be functioning members of society.

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However, everyone recognizes that the system isn’t working. And, the debate is why? Some will blame teachers. Some will say we need to have more rigorous standards. Some will say we need to change the entire system by placing more authority and power into the hands of those that the system is designed to serve: children.

It’s this last perspective that I’ve become the most intrigued with and that I think has the most accurate reasons why our kids are undermotivated, our schools underperforming, and our teachers feeling burned out and disgruntled and underappreciated.

Our purposes in education should be to connect students to their capacity to learn, to create a citizenry of empathetic, driven learners who want to design

I’m not saying anything new here. I’m synthesizing the reading of blogs and books and discussions and TED Talks. People who pay attention to educational conversations will recognize the threads.

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So, how am I trying to innovate?

I make no claims as to the authenticity of my innovations. First, I wondered, is there a rubric for innovation? Can I quantify my moves towards it? Then, I figured, if there’s a rubric for it, it’s not really innovation? Second, do I just pay good lip service towards innovation, and am I really doing it.

However, here are something that I think that I’ve done in the past several weeks to shift things back to students and to put them into the position as learners.

 

  1. I’m no longer reading directions to students. Instead, I’m pointing or repointing kids to resources where they can find the information. I’m giving space to time to read and process directions.
  2. I’m no longer answering any questions where I’ve written the answer on a handout, hyperdocument or place where students can find it in resource.
  3. I’ve stopped answering questions that can be found through a Google search, or can be found in the Help Menu of a web-based resource. For example, here’s a conversation I had early last week:

Student: “How do you change the margins?”

Me: “Why don’t you look in the help menu?”

Students: “What’s that?”

Me: “Here, I’ll show you how to access it”

  1. I’ve stopped answer questions that other students in the class know the answer to. For example, in my Media Maker class, I’m having the students learn about QR codes as a way of sharing their blogs. I shared some resources and let them go at it. But about ten minutes into class the following discussion occurred:

“Mr. Pedzich, can you show me how to do these QR codes?”

I turned to the class, and said, “Who’s got the QR codes down?” Several hands went up, and I said, “Ok! Go see them.”  

  1. I’m recording direct instruction as screencasts (as fast as I can. I’m not always able to keep up with the technology integration as fast as I need to). When there are readings, I’m giving them time to read, to use Docentedu as a way to do close reading and answer text-based questions, and then focusing lessons on application.  

 

As I think about some of these small moves, part of me is motivated and dedicated to continue. And, part of me is sad. Should it be innovative that we give kids time to work towards and to explore their own interests and passions? Should it be innovative that teachers blog and share their experiences and build connections? Should it be innovative that we have students share their thinking, their writing in the classroom and that classrooms are breeding grounds of self-expression?

Beyond this, I’m thinking big too. In a later unit in my English 101 class, we do informational writing. I want my students to create blogs that will inform people about issues important to them, to use social media to promote those blogs, to create connections between their blogs to develop their own PLNs, to create media that can go on those blogs to help further the information sharing. I want them to be assessed not only on the quality of their writing, but also the reach of their connections and sharing, and the depth of what they’re learning about the issues.

Also, a couple of department members and I are in discussion about new furniture. We’d like to throw out the rows of desks and chairs. Fill spaces with modular furniture, cafe style seating.

In the IMMOOC, we’re all inspired to action by what Couros and Burgess are having us do, but wouldn’t it be great if we had a culture of learning where such radical notions weren’t radical but part of the common vernacular and practice?

 

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.