Things I Know 28 of 365: Sometimes it’s best to sit and listen

Listen my children and you shall hear.

– Henry Woodsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride”

Five people from varied fields sat in leather chairs I’ve been told have some pretty intense historical value.

Representing tech, ethics, agriculture, design and the arts, these five spoke for two hours on the ipetus and importance of innovation.

They’ve traveled the world, worked in amazing locales and used focused their lives on understanding, solving and anticipating problems unique to their fields.

The ideas they’ve played with exist largely outside the ideas floating in the air of a traditional English classroom.

No one polled the audience, no one asked for show of hands or had to prepare a slide deck or vacate the stage after 20 minutes.

It was intelligent people who do useful work talking to one another, sharing ideas. And, we got to watch.

Nothing was expected of me other than listening and considering.

Nothing was ignited and TED wasn’t in the house.

And this, this has value. It has the value of listening to Beethoven or reading Wilde or visiting a Picasso.

Sometimes, participation means listening. Sometimes, learning is a silent act.

Tomorrow, there will be sessions and presentations and conversations and we will talk and listen and ask and answer.

Tonight, thoughtful people spoke and our job was to listen and ponder.

#EduConText Session 3: The Great Prohibition: Using Cell Phones Outside the Ban

The Great Prohibition: Using Cell Phones Outside the Ban

When: Session Three: Saturday 2:30pm–4:00pm Where: Room 313 Who: Lisa Nielsen, George Engel

Affiliation: The Innovative Educator Blog, Conversational Focus/Audience: High School, Middle School

I’ve attended several conference presentations about the role of cell phones in learning. Generally, the conversation tends toward, “Yes, they’re important in learning,” and then moves to a discussion of tools.

While I see the possibility for that here, I’m also hopeful for a discussion of pedagogy and the thought processes surrounding building lessons utilizing these devices. I’m hopeful the conversation will include consideration of standard lesson plans and how mobile technologies an be transformative to the learning outcomes of those plans.

My questions heading into the conversation are:

  • How do you know if you’re using mobile technologies simply because they’re shiny rather than using them because they’re the ideal tool?
  • What are the best approaches to designing lessons that allow for students without access to mobile technologies that don’t water down the assignments?
  • How can we better harness the communication power of the technologies along with the creative power?
  • Are teachers using their mobile devices in the same way they’re asking their students to use those same devices?
  • What are the implications of mobile technologies in how we approach reading, writing and research instruction? More simply, how, if at all, does the incorporation of mobile technologies require us to teach differently?
  • What are the inherent properties of the devices that can assist learning apart from additional apps?
  • What’s the scholarship around mobile devices in education?

I’m glad Lisa and George are leading this conversation, and I look forward to hearing what the other folks in the room have to say. I’m hopeful, as the title suggestions, we’ll be able to move past the bans and focus on the pedagogical implications.

Where will you be conversing during Session 3? How are you starting to build your context for the conversation?

What is EduConText?

Things I Know 23 of 365: Bars are better than pedestals

The time to make up your mind about people is never.

– Katherine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story

Someone mentioned to me the other day that I’d set the bar high.

I like that.

Alex is a former G8 student of mine who pole vaulted when he moved on to high school. I went to cheer him on once. Never having seen pole vaulting before, I was struck with the concept of it.

Kids were competing against two people – whoever cleared the highest measurement and their own highest vault.

The day I watched Alex compete, he didn’t place. The other athletes were of a different caliber. When he came over to talk to us following the event, though, Alex didn’t mention how he’d measured up to the others. Instead, he was frustrated with his own performance compared to what he knew he was capable of.

He’d vaulted his best for the day, but knew he could do better.

In Alex’s mind, his bar was higher.

A friend of mine had to call a student’s parents the other day. Not for the best of reasons. The student was terrified.

Her parents were pedestal people.

Their daughter could do no wrong. She was an A student. She was a star athlete. If she joined an organization, that group would be foolish not to have her as its president.

The phone call was to alert her parents that the student’s homework was off of late. As a result, her grade was slipping, and the teacher wanted to soften the blow.

The pedestal was shaking.

When bars are set, they give us something to shoot for – a reason to aim higher the next time. We know we’ve been there and want to go a little bit higher.

When we’re placed on pedestals, we’ve nothing to do but fear falling.

Bars are better.

Friday marks the start of SLA’s fourth iteration of EduCon. Watching the Interwebs, it is clear many are looking for a pedestal experience.


Education policy in the U.S. at the moment is built around pedestal experiences. We ask this year’s students to crawl up the the pedestal of last year’s students while we arbitrarily move it a bit higher. I never understood the purpose of King of the Mountain.

Set a bar instead.

Hell, set many bars.

For those returning to EduCon, consider your experience last year, what you took home, how it shifted your practice. Then, think what you can do this year to own the experience a little more, to ask a little more of yourself. Move the bar.

For those attending EduCon for the first time, decide what you want to learn, ask what assumptions you want to question, and how you want to inform your own practice. Then, do that. Set a bar.

EduCon is no more some sort of educational Mecca than my English class is a literary Jerusalem.

If you want to get the most from EduCon, approach it the same way I’ll be approaching teaching tomorrow – mindful of the best days and thoughtful of what I must do to be a little bit better than that.

EduConText Session 1: Meaningful Student Voice: What happens when student work goes public (and digital)?

Meaningful Student Voice: What happens when student work goes public (and digital)?

When: Session One: Saturday 10:00am–11:30am, Where: Room 301, Who: Meenoo Rami, Abby Baker, Ted Domers, Chuck Poole & Trey Smith, Affiliation: Franklin Learning Center and Philadelphia Writing Project

Conversational Focus/Audience: All School Levels

Student voice informing practice has become that subconscious and integral piece of my own practice. From sensing the stress brought about by their other classes and moving deadlines to refining assignments on the fly when what I was certain would work has turned to a smoldering pile of crap.

This session piques my curiosity in a couple ways.

The description implies a choice in whether or not students take their work public. Most frequently taking student work public is about compulsory publishing. I’m interested in a pedagogical discussion of how we can help our students decide what is worthy of publishing with the same vim we throw into telling them what isn’t worthy of publishing.

I’m also curious about the feedback processes others are establishing with publishing of student work. I’d like to hear how they’re keeping work from languishing in online ghost towns.

In considering the elements outside the control of the Rami, Baker, Domers, Poole and Smith, I’ve one major hope from my fellow conversationalists – teach in subjects other than English.

One of the professional conversations around published student work that’s proven most valuable to me this year was with a math teacher at SLA. Our views on the purpose behind publishing differed. Those differences led to some interesting reflection on my part. I hope more than English teachers show up to add their approaches to the conversation.

To prep my thinking for the conversation, here are the questions I’ll be considering about my own practice:

  • What determines which student work is published in my classes?
  • How authentic is the publishing experience?
  • What happens to published student work?
  • How am I modeling the creation of publishable/ed work?

My questions for the conversation:

  • How do I establish feedback processes that move toward the continued refinement of student work?
  • When publishing student work, how can I work in concert with teachers in other disciplines who might be operating with different goals?
  • How do we determine what student work should be published (because of content or quality)?
  • What approaches are others taking for the curation of published spaces?
  • Where are others drumming up audiences for published student work?
  • How do students and other teachers interpret the value of readership within the school environment compared with outside that environment?

It looks as though the presenters are constructing a conversation that will lead participants to thoughtful consideration of their own pedagogical beliefs around student voice and publishing. It also looks as though we’re moving past making the argument for the importance of student publishing and transitioning to understanding the best ways to approach the practice.

What are you thinking?

What is EduConText?

Enter #EduConText

Teachers should create. Coversations can lead to tremendous bursts of creation and excitement. Capturing creation through writing and returning to it later is how innovative ideas are refined.

Enter #EduConText.

Each day leading up to EduCon, Bud Hunt and I will write about some of our thinking surrounding selected EduCon sessions.  We’ll also share some questions to prompt your own thinking and inquiry around the ideas we see that might arise in the session.  There are plenty of fine sessions at the conference.  We’ll pick a few of them.  You choose some others.

#EduConText is about moving into EduCon conversations with the same critical lenses we help our students refine each day. Because a rah rah chorus of excitement and enthusiasm isn’t really going to do much to make our schools better places.

And, of course, the Internet is a free place. For now.  So you should feel free to write along with us.  Prompt us.  Share your thinking.  Preflect on the conversations you’re planning on joining. Dig in.

During EduCon, we’ll be supplying some writing prompts to help attendees, both virtual and face to face, archive their written thinking around the conversations in which they take part.  Because your learning is worth remembering.

After EduCon, we’ll encourage folks to set writing goals for themselves that will allow them to reflect on how they incorporate new ideas into their practice and around documenting what they want to be sure to keep.

How can you participate?

Simply add the tag “#EduConText” to your blog, wiki, and twitter posts (or any other kind of post). From there, we’ll archive the tag and see what we build.  Mostly, we hope that #EduConText is a gentle reminder to write and write often about what you’re seeing, hearing and thinking.

Worth doing, right?

Let’s get to it.