Tag Archives: SDAWP

I Used to Be…

Summer is the time for the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) Summer Institute (SI), a place where a group of teachers (K-16) dives deeply into the teaching of writing.  Part of that experience means sharing an aspect of your own teaching practice through a demo lesson.  Today’s lesson, presented by Nicole, invited the group to consider the idea of change…I used to be, but now I am.  As I considered that prompt I was reminded of an experience a few weeks ago during our visit to the Pacific Northwest.

My eyes scanned the horizon, I was hoping against hope that I would spy a whale out on the Puget Sound. Would I see an orca breaching or a humpback emerging for one of those infrequent breaths? That endless blue remained endless, unbroken by emerging whales.

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As we neared Victoria by ferry, my attention was drawn to the sky. I heard that familiar buzzing that I recognize as an airplane. But wait! This wasn’t the usual biplane or other small plane I am accustomed to seeing off the coast at home. The plane clearly had something on the bottom of it…pontoons. This was a seaplane and I watched it bank and turn, get lower and lower until it was right above the water and at that moment transformed from a plane to a boat.

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Walking around Victoria after leaving the ferry, I kept noticing these seaplanes taking off and landing. Standing on a bridge, I noticed one land nearby and braved the conversation with my husband. “How much do you think they charge for a ride in a seaplane?” He replied in his typical, “It’s probably more than $250 a person” fashion. And then made a comment that I continue to think about. “Why do you ask? You wouldn’t want to ride in one anyway.” I pursued the idea, “Let’s go find out!” A walk down onto the pier led to a miniature airport where we found a seaplane airline offering flights into Seattle and Vancouver…and tours of Victoria. It wasn’t long before we had our boarding passes and a boarding time.

So why did he think I wouldn’t want to tour the island in a seaplane? I do admit to a fierce fear of heights. I’m reluctant to walk to the edge of a railing, to look over the edge of a cliff, even to watch someone else do those things. My hands sweat watching people scale heights on TV! But in spite of that fear, I have been climbing higher and working to endure the discomfort in order to appreciate the thrill and view that heights have to offer. Last summer I stood 103 stories up on a clear plexiglass platform in the building formerly known as Sears Tower in Chicago…and that was after a Ferris wheel ride view of the city from Navy Pier the day before. I’ve been hiking up mountainsides and inching closer to the edges of railings on rooftops and bridges.

And I’ve taken a seaplane tour of Victoria! Seatbelted in the plane wasn’t fear invoking at all—it felt much like a commercial airline flight, only better. The small plane meant I had both a window and aisle seat—and plenty of opportunity to see the island from a variety of angles.

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From the plane I had a breathtaking view of the beauty and variety that Victoria has to offer.

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I’m working to change my narrative from fearful to risk-taking. I’ve even been toying with the idea of skydiving…just once, for the experience, inspired by Esther who skydived for her 80th birthday. But for now I’ll just keep inching closer to the edge (and carry a small towel to wipe those telltale sweaty hands!).  So…I used to be afraid of heights, but now, even though I’m still afraid, I’ll keep climbing!

 

Digital Learning Day 2016

While it seems strange to limit digital learning to a day, designating a day to highlight the ways digital learning is being integrated into formal learning experiences is an important way to showcase that digital learning is here…and should be taking place in our schools to the advantage of all our students.

This year, the focus of Digital Learning Day is the issue of digital equity…or in the form of a hashtag, #techquity.  A lot of people believe that digital equity is all about access to devices and internet…and of course, those are important issues, but #techquity is also about what students are asked to do and required to do with digital tools in their learning environments.  All too often, digital tools become virtual replacements of low level exercises formerly confined to worksheets…or they become “wow” presentations of work students already did without the digital tools, with no real digital advantage.  So the question becomes, what exactly constitutes digital equity?  This is a question we have been exploring here in San Diego in an initiative we call Smart Tech Use for Equity where teachers are documenting a tech use in their classroom, focused on whether or not this practice actually makes a difference for students.  Our work was featured in the latest issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine.

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At a recent leadership meeting at the SDAWP (San Diego Area Writing Project) we opened up a discussion about how to best highlight the work SDAWP teachers are doing with digital learning in their classrooms.  Our leadership group is a diverse cross-section of SDAWP teachers, representing levels from kindergarten to college and a variety of student demographics.  The beauty of this group is that we bring diverse experiences and opinions to the group–and are willing to engage in conversations where we do not all agree.  We discussed what we have done in the past…and what we might do in the future to share the work we know that SDAWP teachers are doing in their classrooms.

For some years now at the SDAWP we have had an SDAWP Twitter Fellow of the Week. Modeled after Sweden’s citizen Twitter campaign, SDAWP teachers share a glimpse of their teaching and their lives in San Diego. This work has allowed us to showcase the wonderful teaching and learning that takes place in our classrooms and has put us in touch with other teachers, educators, authors, and researchers from all over the country (and perhaps the world). But…it’s on Twitter and some folks are simply resistant to Twitter, so there are many educators this effort doesn’t reach.

The SDAWP also has a Facebook page.  And because of the SDAWP Facebook page, many SDAWP teachers use their personal Facebook pages to connect to one another and share what is going on in their classrooms.  But, our “official” SDAWP Facebook page doesn’t reflect this. Up to this point it has been used to share mostly external resources and pertinent information for those interested in the teaching of writing. Occasionally, we have opportunities to celebrate the teaching of our SDAWP fellows…but even though we have a team of administrators, teachers can only post prominently on the SDAWP page if they post as an administrator.  So, why not open this opportunity up to more SDAWP teachers?

So, for Digital Learning Day 2016 we launch the SDAWP Facebook Fellow of the Week. Each week a different SDAWP teacher will post something going on in her/his classroom–celebrating the students they work with and their learning efforts.  Some of the work will be specifically digital and some will not, but all will show ways SDAWP teachers strive to support the learners in their classrooms, honoring their lives and experiences in the process.

We hope to democratize our SDAWP Facebook page as a different teacher each week takes on the role of administrator and adds their own content to the page.  Of course, careful attention will be paid to student privacy…a role that teachers have become increasingly aware of in this world of digital media, in our schools, and in our lives.  We also hope that this effort will show the many ways digital equity is practiced in classrooms…and expose the inequities (many beyond the the control of classroom teachers) that still need our attention and effort.

How will you mark Digital Learning Day?

 

 

 

Architecture: The Structure of Learning

We have a beautiful urban park here in San Diego.  Open space, trees, a lily pond, fountains, trails, museums and restaurants…including some ornate and historic architecture that dates back to the Panama-California exhibition in 1915.  In these storied surroundings, I’ve been spending time with a group of formal and informal educators investigating ways to improve school field trips through a project we call Intersections.  (I’ve written before about it here and here.)

As I spent the day at the San Diego Natural History Museum today, observing a group of high school students on a field trip, I found myself thinking about architecture.

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As the educator-researchers in our group discussed what we observed watching students during their field trip today, our conversation moved to the carefully planned structures that support students’ independence and dispositions toward learning.  Field trips have traditionally depended on adult-centered structures that keep students “on-task,” ensuring that the trip has documented educational value in the form of completed packets of answered questions rather than trusting students to be interested in what they find in front of them.

Over lunch, our Intersections leadership team chatted with an external evaluator–a part of our larger National Science Foundation grant– about our observations and tentative conclusions. And we found ourselves thinking about and talking about all the learning that happens that we are not able to document.  When we take students outside the classroom, what are we hoping for?  What can they learn that the classroom environment doesn’t offer?  And why then, do we keep trying to make field trips more like school?

As I look at this photo of a young woman using her cell phone to photograph an owl, I wonder how we encourage students to use tools and processes they use outside of school to support their own learning.  How will this student use this photograph?  What was she aiming for as she composed the image?  How can students’ digital lives interact in positive ways with their school lives?

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And as my colleague described her understanding of the development of social capacity, a concept important in her binational work, my understanding of the learning that happens on field trips continued to evolve.  A field trip is not a classroom lesson, it is a social event, a shared learning experience outside the school environment.  And while students certainly learn some content, they are also developing social capacity–as representatives of their school and class in a public arena.  They are navigating unfamiliar spaces, coming in contact with people they don’t usually see, interacting with adults–docents, volunteers, vendors, scientists, researchers–and exploring materials not present in their classrooms and schools.

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And in the best of situations they are figuring out how to interact with the space, people, and information in meaningful ways.  I loved this informal game I observed today…a chaperone and his group spontaneously started counting the animals they spied in this coastal sage environment.  Someone saw 9…and another saw 12, someone else saw 15.  They started pointing them out to each other, looking closely, naming what they saw.

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And another researcher watched a pair of students challenge each other on the native/nonnative quiz in the patio area.  The goal was to win…and the game was calling on prior knowledge and combining it with what they were observing in the exhibit.  And they were having fun…being social, laughing, enjoying themselves…and learning.

So what is the underlying architecture of a successful field trip…that structure that enables students to engage in learning on their own terms?  That takes advantage of the place and the richness of expertise and artifacts that aren’t present in the classroom?  And that honors the beauty and elegance of learning…not for a grade or a test, but because we are inspired and motivated to learn because we are learners–driven to make sense of our world, on our own terms.

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“Do we get iterations?” : Creating a Culture of Innovation

Over the last few years, my teaching partner Margit Boyesen and I have been working to help our young students develop persistence and grit…and to see themselves as producers in the learning process. We’ve been trying to explode the notion that learning is something that takes place only within the walls of the classroom and is assigned by teachers. We aim to have students learn more by doing than by listening, and as much as we can, we try to have students engage in meaningful projects that extend the learning environment beyond the school and whenever possible connect them to others who are interested in or engaged in similar endeavors.

These are lofty goals—and like other classroom teachers we are faced with state standards, accountability measures, and even the often slow to change expectations of parents, the community, and the educational system. But we also believe that students who are persistent problem solvers, designers, and communicators will have the skills they need to succeed in testing situations and in the world. But mostly, we believe learning should be fun…for our students and for ourselves.

And we’re lucky. Margit and I co-teach a multiage class of first, second, and third graders. Twice as many students, two interconnected classroom spaces, and students we get to teach for three years. Unlike many teachers, Margit and I don’t teach in isolation and our planning involves starting with an idea and building on each other’s thinking, adding to and challenging the whys and hows until we land on the lessons we will facilitate with our students. Two teachers in the classroom give us flexibility in supporting students…and in challenging them.

Thanks to our San Diego Area Writing Project colleague, Abby Robles, we added an advanced vocabulary routine to our instruction a few years ago. We include the target word without defining it (last week’s was precarious) in our morning message and ask students to think of possible synonyms based on the context. Students refine their guesses through the week, continuing to use new context clues from each day’s message until the definition is revealed on Thursday. Students help to generate a gesture to use each time they hear the word…a gesture that also helps with remembering the meaning.  We select words to enhance the learning we have planned–to give authentic context for using the word and for our students to incorporate it into their personal vocabulary through experience.

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Because we are interested in design and making, last year we introduced the word iteration to our class…and the practice of iteration as an intentional part of our teaching. (I wrote last year about a project that focused on iteration here.) And not only did our students learn the definition of the word iteration, they also began to recognize the value of iteration in their learning. It was obvious when we started programming using the app Hopscotch, that computer programmers value iteration. And that language of designing: imagining, trying out, testing, and improving as a continual loop began to permeate our classroom. Instead of talking about writing as drafting, revising, and final drafts…we started to talk about iterations, and gave students opportunities to plan, write, try out, improve. Another iteration became a much friendlier and positive way to talk about revision…and better yet, students started to ask for opportunities to iterate, in their writing and in all their projects.

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“Do we get iterations?” became a common question as students began a new project or a new writing piece. And Margit and I found ourselves asking whether we had given students enough opportunity to iterate when we saw the elevated level of work and the increased creativity of products students produced when they could go beyond a single try.

As school began this year, we intentionally built opportunities for iteration into our instruction. And when we forgot, we often revised our lessons to allow for time to iterate. On our first day of school this year we planned a “mini make” out of a piece of aluminum foil and before the end of the lesson, we added time for a second iteration the following day. This practice of iteration has developed a culture in our classroom that supports collaboration, persistence and innovation. I was reminded of this today as students were working on an Alexander Calder-inspired mobile design challenge. Our forty-four students were at different stages of work on two projects: getting their individual blog titled and about me page posted and gathering materials to start on the mobile project. While it was “a lovely mess” in the words of my teaching partner, it was calm, productive, and collaborative. Margit and I each helped individual students…with their blogs, with cutting pipe cleaners and ribbon lengths, threading strings through “doo-dads,” and more. And what’s better, students were helping each other too. They were free to move around, collect materials as needed, be the second set of hands for tying a tricky piece of string or holding the growing mobile from the top as the creator worked on balance elements. And as time flew by, I could feel the flow of learning our students were engaged in.

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When I think of cultivating a culture of innovation, I think of the power of iteration and the design process. In order to risk doing something new or different, its important to know that your first effort isn’t your only effort. When students ask about iterations, they are asking if they can try something new, if they can start over again, if they can learn from their attempts—even those that didn’t work the first time around. And they learn to persist and help each other out too, because that’s what we do in this culture of exploration and deep learning.

And even better, this attitude toward learning changes our teaching too. We also find ourselves in a culture of innovation, as teachers and co-learners. We can try that project that involves something new that we aren’t even sure exactly how it will work—especially with a classroom full of students—because we know that our first attempt isn’t the only attempt. Like our students, we get to iterate too, refining our teaching, our expectations, our processes as we innovate and work to provide meaningful learning experiences for this generation of learners.

More than a Game

Today we played Monopoly.  We played in our Summer Institute…a leadership development program for teachers of writing.  And as you might imagine, this play had more than one purpose!

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There is something wonderful about giving a group of dedicated educators a Monopoly box and asking them to play a game during an intensive professional development experience.  In our 4th day of a four week institute, we have already begun to bond, building trust and opening up, willing to be vulnerable even when faced with difficult topics and challenging situations.

The group seemed almost giddy about the thought of playing…even though based on the previous three and a half days, they knew this was not simply a board game break.  They started by forming groups of five or six and then selecting a writing utensil from a plate on their table.  A colored pencil, a smelly marker, a highlighter, an SDAWP pencil, and either one or two Crayola markers were mystery icons of the game to come.  After spending time as a group reviewing the written rules of the game and setting up to begin, the significance of the choice of the writing utensil became apparent.

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Those holding the Crayola markers were asked to begin playing…the others at the table were only allowed to watch.  In my role as observer I got watch as some started to play with trepidation while others raced forward with delight…”Hurry, let’s get what we can while we can!”  After the first player or players had played for five or ten minutes, the second group of players were invited in.  At indeterminate intervals and not knowing which category would be called next, the players who waited and watched seemed to withdraw and lose interest in the game.

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This version of Monopoly, which immerses players in an experience where everyone plays by the same rules…but the game is still not fair, is adapted from an article by Jost and Jost.  Our goal is to get our participants to think about equity beyond what is experienced by individuals and consider the systemic influences of poverty and racism.

As the game continued we saw our participants behave in some interesting ways.  Those that entered the game early seemed to play either with zeal…or with the weight of guilt on their shoulders.  They frequently assumed the role of helper…often moving the pieces for their late starting peers or even acting with seeming generosity, offering “get out of jail free” cards or waiving some small rents due to them.  The late starters either become apathetic about the game or downright devious…sneaking money from the bank or even wishing to land in jail so they wouldn’t have to pay fees that they saw coming as their money dwindled with each turn.

We saw early players become rule sticklers…at one point carefully explaining the rules to a late starter.

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When time was called on the game, players were asked to take note of the results and then sent off to reflect on their experience.  What did they notice about themselves, their peers, the experience?  What implications does this experience have for them as educators, parents, human beings?

Our discussion was rich and layered…and sometimes downright contentious.  This experience opened up space for talking about systems: economic, social, educational…and the differences in access and equity that are often dismissed or not considered with our more typical focus on individuals.  And we’re not finished with these discussions…because although there are some who might ask, “What does equity have to do with the teaching of writing?”, we know that equity plays a crucial role in who has access to high quality teaching and learning…and who can see themselves as successful learners.  This game “hack” is just a beginning for us…we have much more in store in our next three weeks!

 

Lighting a Spark

In my last blog post (here) I touched on that idea of work and play and the way that they are often interconnected in the way I experience my life and work.  And as I am thinking through some of my conference experiences, I see the blurriness…and maybe even more than that, the overlap of work and play.

When one of my colleagues asked me about what sessions I intended to attend at the conference, I told her that I was planning to make my selections based on what sounded interesting and fun rather than what I “should” do for the good of my writing project site or someone else’s expectations.  I was already pre-registered on Friday for a session about Scratch, the platform designed for teaching computer programming to kids, and a session on e-textiles involving puppet making and circuitry.

When I arrived at the welcome event for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting on Wednesday, I was drawn to a table near the door loaded with little notebooks…that upon closer examination had copper foil, watch batteries and LED lights.  Chatting with David, I learned about Jie’s graduate work and interest in the intersections between art, writing, and engineering.  Right away I knew that Jie’s session was one that I would prioritize!

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After two other sessions where I presented, a stimulating and thought-provoking plenary panel (more on that later), and a networking lunch, I headed off to the session with Jen, David, and Jie called Hacking the Notebook.

You could feel the energy surging in the room as we were handed notebooks, copper tape, a battery, and LED lights.  We listened to Jie share some of her work and thinking behind the idea of “lighting up” notebooks and stories and doodles…of combining science, technology, engineering and math with literacy and art (that STEM to STEAM connection).  She showed us an amazing work of art she created of dandelions that you could blow on to light up the puffs of white fluff.  (I encourage you to take the time to view this vimeo)

And then she walked us through the template she had created to teach about circuitry in these little notebooks that are a combination of background theory, documentation of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, instructional diagrams, sandbox for experimentation, engineering notebook…and more!

Our first task was to follow specific instructions and a diagram to lay down the copper tape, attach the LEDs, and then attach the battery to make the lights light up.  We followed a very specific diagram while learning (or being reminded) about the basics of circuitry.  That part was pretty easy…we just had to make sure that the pluses and minuses were facing in the right direction, that foil touched the electronics and didn’t touch places that would make a short.  And when we were successful, turning the page resulting in the light shining through the page and illuminating a lightbulb that we were then invited to draw and write around.

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And that’s when the task took us to the next level of thinking.  Taking what we had just learned about circuitry, we turned the page and were to create our own light up design with copper and bulbs.  We had a number of lights…so were encouraged to move beyond our simple experimentation of the previous page.  Jie encouraged us to notice how the copper tape could curve and how pieces could combine to create whatever we could imagine.  And…we had to remember how to make the lights go on.  I tried to get a bit tricky, adding two lights in a series…carefully lining up the poles to ensure it would work.  And it didn’t!  What was wrong?  Was it a connection (or lack of connection), an overlap that redirected the current, too much demand by the lights to allow a single battery to power them?

Problem solving and iteration became essential as I traced and retraced my circuits.  I consulted with my tablemates and observed their works-in-progress.  And I enlisted the help of Eunice, a graduate student helping out in the session.  With Eunice’s help I figured out that the serial circuit was likely requiring more power that my battery had to offer (my first light in the series would light, but the second stubbornly refused to light, even after making adaptations).  She suggested I try a parallel circuit design instead, explaining how if the lights were side by side they would require less energy to light.

And after more iteration and problem solving, I got both lights to light up!

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But what I wasn’t able to accomplish in that short, 90-minute session was both the science and a creative story-driven project.  I knew that for me, I wanted to focus on figuring out how to make my lights work and consider the possibilities before working on the story.  I struggle with the “creativity on demand” mode…but do have some more copper tape and lights…and my battery, so I plan to go home and do some more exploration on the creative, art and language-based, side of my project to combine with my knowledge of circuitry.

But my experience was not everyone’s experience.  Some people knew exactly where their stories and drawings would begin…and followed them as they experimented with their copper and lights.  And some people were so flummoxed by the science that progress was slow and frustrating.

In talking with Jie later that evening at the social event she said that she had learned a lot by working with us.  Writing project teacher leaders do a lot of meta-narrative thinking and talking, examining their own processes and experiences in service of the work they do with students and teachers.

And I did ask her how that dandelion art works since I couldn’t figure out how blowing would make lights go on!  She said the lights were connected to sound sensors and the blowing caused the sensors to hear the breath, like wind, and cause the lights to illuminate!

I can’t wait to get home and lay out my supplies and think and work through a piece of writing and art that will light up.  And I can’t wait to share this work with others as I consider how I might do this with students…my own and/or others that we might work with through the writing project.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you’re interested, here is page that lists the supplies and where you can get them.  I’d love to know what you create and discover when you play with circuits and lights in your notebook!

Reach for the Sky

I spend many Saturday mornings immersed in professional learning.  This morning was our first meeting of this year’s SDAWP Study Groups (a hybrid of book study and teacher research).  Sixty teachers met this morning to participate in one of five groups…and the energy in the room was palpable!

In three hours we wrote, discussed our writing and the connections of our processes and preferences to the students we teach…and then broke into smaller groups to get to know one another, explore our new book, and make plans for reading and exploring ideas in our classrooms.  All this on our own time, because we want to grow professionally with others who are also passionate about teaching and learning.

As I was leaving, I noticed hang gliders and paragliders soaring in the sky near the university.  I remembered that the Torrey Pines Gliderport turn off was nearby, so I turned and followed the road down to a dirt parking lot.  And there, along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was a spectacular view of the gliders and the ocean!

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In spite of the cooler weather (after our 80 degree temps earlier in the week), the conditions were perfect for gliding…and for watching and photographing the gliders in action.

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While I have no real desire to glide over the beautiful beaches of San Diego, I understand the urge to fly…to experience the freedom and excitement of soaring with the wind currents and looking at the world from a new perspective.

In some ways my experience in study groups this morning was a lot like hang gliding.  There is energy and excitement in gathering with other interested educators to continue learning together.  Interactions with teachers of all levels (K-college) and a variety of schools, districts, and teaching demographics offers new perspectives and views of teaching.  Rich conversations stimulate thinking and encourage actions…we can’t wait to come back next month to share our beginnings and continue our conversations and learning.

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What conditions for learning allow you to soar?  How do you set up those conditions for your students?