Tag Archives: SDAWP

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?

Structures

I treated myself to a walk on the beach today after a writing project meeting at the university.  So instead of walking on the beach near where I live, I walked on the beach down the hill from the university.  It was foggy and cool, a perfect day for thinking and reflecting.

As I was walking I was thinking about the meeting…a follow up to the Invitational Summer Institute (a 4-week intensive leadership institute in the teaching of writing)…and the structures that we need as learners to move along the continuum from novice to expert (with the endpoint constantly moving) and from follower to leader.

The structure of the Summer Institute (SI) is designed to immerse teachers in writing, researching, reflecting on their practice, and critical conversations about teaching and learning.  The structure is strong and well built, based on the 40-year-old model developed by National Writing Project founder, Jim Gray.

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This pier is also a carefully designed, well built structure made to withstand the battering waves of the Pacific Ocean and the relentless wind and sun.  I love the way when you look through the pier it narrows and provides a window through the corridor of surf out to sea just like the SI helps teachers look carefully at policy and practice and then focus on instruction that best supports the students in front of them.

And some of the structures we depend on are organic like these cliffs.

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They are shaped by the natural environment.  I watched our SI participants create their own structures as well.  They gathered this morning, organically, catching up with each other as we, as facilitators, finalized our last minute plans.

And then there are structures that are light and flexible, like this feather on the beach.

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It makes me think of our Twitter Fellow of the Week.  This playful use of social media supports more weight than you might imagine.  While we originally saw this program as a way to connect to one another within our project by giving each other a glimpse into a week in the life of an SDAWP educator, it has proven to do more.  When teachers use Twitter as a professional learning network, their interactions begin to impact their practice.  Suddenly they are reading more professional articles about education, “listening in” to debates about policy and practice, getting and sharing ideas from others (within our site and beyond our site), and making their own classroom practice more visible.

Today we asked our SI 2013 cohort to sign up as Twitter Fellows…and starting tomorrow we will begin to get a glimpse into their lives.  (You can follow @SDAWP_Fellow on Twitter) Those who are more confident on Twitter signed up first…but others are willing to dip a toe into this unfamiliar world of tweets and hashtags and mentions.  And they have the rest of the SDAWP community who are happy to help…and the others in their cohort will also be “listening” on Twitter, ready to respond and retweet and favorite…so they won’t be hollering into the dark.

My beach walk today was quiet and introspective as I thought about all the structures I noticed…and those we use to support learners.  Structures can help us stretch and reach and connect as we learn and grow.  What structures support you?  What structures support your students?

Making Rockets and More…

I spent yesterday at UC Davis at a conference we threw for ourselves to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the California Writing Project.  The conference was an opportunity to teach each other strategies, structures, and approaches that we find successful at our local writing project sites across the state…and to learn together.  And we did that…and more.

At lunchtime there was an informal “making” session led by the director of the Northern California Writing Project.  Using transparency film (Finally!  A practical use for the boxes of the stuff schools have sitting around since document cameras have replaced overhead projectors.), colored electrical tape, cardboard, and hot glue, we crafted rockets (using a piece of pvc pipe as a mold).

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We would then test them by firing them from a bicycle pump, air powered launcher.  (Directions on Instructable…here) You’ll notice we sealed the tops and taped around them in hopes they would soar…rather than explode.

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When our rockets were ready, we headed outside with the launcher and our rockets to test our creations.  We had to place our rocket on the launch pad and then pump with the bicycle pump to build pressure in the system.  We aimed for between 50 and 60 pounds of pressure.

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After pumping, we pressed a button to release the pressure into our rockets and… POW!!! They shot high into the air and then turned down to land in the grass.

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I’m looking forward to offering my students more opportunities to build and test and tinker.  They might be building and launching rockets some day soon.

And building these rockets in much like the work we do in the writing project. At the San Diego Area Writing Project we build programs to support teachers and students with writing and writing instruction.  Then we test them out, paying close attention to how they “fly”–what design elements are working, where do we need to tweak our design?  What can we do to help these programs and approaches meet the “mark” we are aiming for?  And then we continue to tinker. How can we make this work better?  What improvements are needed?  Which teachers and students are we reaching?  Who is missing?

I had a lot of fun building and testing rockets with my friends and colleagues yesterday.  And I love building and testing programs for teachers and students.  Writing itself is a lot like building a rocket.  Writers need opportunities to compose and test, get some feedback, and then tinker (or start over) until it gets closer to the desired target.  Sometimes it takes some tangible tinkering with rocket design to remind me of all the tinkering that happens in my life and in my classroom and in our writing project.

So, go out and tinker today…  What rockets have you launched lately?

Listening: Becoming a Connected Educator

Earlier in the week I posted about being a Connected Educator.  Since then I’ve also been thinking about those educators who are connected but not yet putting their voices out in the digital space professionally.  Lurker is the term I’ve heard to describe people who read on social media but don’t comment or post themselves.  But lurker has such an evil sound to it–as though they lurk in order to gain information for underhanded reasons.  In some ways they seem to me to be listeners, like those students in my classroom who are soaking everything up like sponges but can’t yet bear to raise their hand and make a public comment.

Like the students in my classroom, I suspect that those digital listeners will at some point begin to comment and post for themselves, they just aren’t ready…yet.  And since I started this blog (almost three months ago), I have had many instances of people making comments about my content when I’ve had no evidence of their interaction.  It feels a bit odd at first.  Almost like someone is eavesdropping on a conversation that they are not participating in.  But then again, I am making a choice to put my writing and thinking out in the public sphere.  And whether people chose to comment or “like” my blog post is a decision for them to make.  It also reminds me as a reader of blogs and other social media that I read substantially more than I comment or otherwise indicate my presence.

And I also know that sometimes it just takes the right condition to get someone to dip their toe into the social media waters.  If you listen to the NWP radio show on being a Connected Educator you will hear Abby and Janis and Barb talk about getting started and how much it helps to have support, like when our SDAWP teachers take on the Twitter account as @SDAWP_Fellow for a week.  (We adapted that idea from Sweden’s practice of having a citizen take on the country’s Twitter account.)  It’s also like having Barb and Matt’s support when trying out blogging on our collaborative blog, SDAWP Voices.

Today for my #sdawpphotovoices photo-a-day I took a photo of what I thought was some kind of fungus making a silky white coating on the leaves of our hibiscus plant.  When I posted it to Instagram and Twitter, I got a response from one of my colleagues from my school site via Twitter telling me that this “fungus” was in fact white flies.  I knew my colleague had a Twitter account, but she seldom tweets.  I do try to nudge my colleagues when I see something that I think will interest them by “mentioning” them on Twitter.  (I know I’m more likely to respond when someone “elbows” me and points me to something that has been posted.)  I did this on Friday with my colleague when I saw an app I thought she might find interesting.  And she acknowledged that tweet by replying.  And then today, without a nudge, she shared valuable information with me about my plant.

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There are stages to being connected.  Most people start slow (I know I did) and then work up to more active participation.  For most of us that’s how we learn to do a lot of things.  We watch, we listen, we test, we get some feedback and then continue to increase our confidence and participation–or abandon that thing altogether.  As educators we can’t afford to abandon digital literacy or being connected educators, but it isn’t necessary to jump in the deep end. There are lots of support systems out there.

In what ways are you connected?  What is the one thing you will do in the next week to increase your connectedness?  Will you comment on a blog?  Respond to a tweet?  Tweet a link to an interesting article or blog post?  Start a Twitter account?  (You are welcome to follow me @kd0602)  I’d love to know if you are willing to post your goal as a comment!

A Summer of Making: Reflections on CLMOOC

If you’ve been reading my blog at all you know that I participated in something called the CLMOOC this summer.  The Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration was an opportunity to experiment with the principles that underlie Connected Learning.  This short video gives some more information or check the link above.

When I originally signed up to participate in the MOOC I thought I would stay on the fringes, read what others posted, and think about how the participants interacted.  I knew I would be time challenged, after all I would be facilitating the SDAWP Summer Institute during the bulk of the MOOC.  But somehow, I was quickly drawn into action.  I used my photo-a-day work as my introduction and posted a couple of photos.  Immediately I began to get feedback, comments, and links to others’ work with a similar focus…I was hooked!  Then came the #vineoffmonday. I was already playing with Vine and with Instagram video, so it was fun to see what others were doing.  I loved Kevin’s invitation to make a seven second story and even though I wasn’t particularly successful, the challenge was valuable–and it’s something I can see having my students try (even if they don’t use a social media platform like Vine to do it).

I’d been thinking about starting a blog for a couple of years…and have had a couple of false starts where I posted once or twice and then never returned.  With the CLMOOC community around me, I decided to create a new blog AND to challenge myself to posting 30 days in a row. Remember, this was not a “summer’s off” undertaking–with this community around me, I made my decision to blog right in the middle of the SI I talked about earlier.  (And if you know writing projects at all, you know that it is an intense and focused time of meaningful, challenging work–even as a facilitator.)

My blog became my space for “makes.”  I explored my photography in a variety of ways, thought about learning and spaces for learning, considered my own classroom and how I might approach my teaching differently, and wrote and wrote and posted and posted…today is my 34th consecutive post!

And…I earned my first badge!

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To earn the badge I had to submit one of my makes, reflecting on its significance.  I chose my Spaces for Learning post that I wrote in response to an invitation from Terry to respond to a Washington Post article about teachers and teaching.

I am strangely proud of my badge.  It represents a summer of exploration and of putting myself “out there.”  It has been about writing every day even when I am busy and tired and would rather just hang out or watch some mindless TV.  It has been about being public with my learning process and trying things beyond my comfort zone.  And I still see lots of spaces for my learning to grow.  I definitely have a better understanding of the Connected Learning principles and how they support my own learning and risk taking.  I plan to create more spaces for this kind of learning for my students…and for the teachers I come in contact with.  It has definitely been a summer of making and connected learning for me…and I don’t want it to stop!

Spaces for Learning

Over at the Connected Learning MOOC on Google+, Terry posted this article by Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post about the struggles dedicated teachers face in our current climate.  He also invited us to respond…in a crowdsourced way.  Here’s my contribution:

I’ve just spent the past month with twenty educators passionate about improving their teaching and the learning experience of their students.  During this time they’ve read extensively, discussed and debated ideas and practices, demonstrated a practice from their own teaching setting in front of these peers, written and responded to writing—personal and professional pieces, all creative—and laughed and cried, dealt with worry and nerves, and invested countless hours because THEY want to be the best educators they can be.  Their districts and schools didn’t send them or pay for them—they came because they chose this experience.

Many #si13 discussions take place on these #orange chairs and cubes.

Many #si13 discussions take place on these #orange chairs and cubes.

These “third spaces” like writing projects, the CLMOOC, and Twitter have become more and more necessary for educators to thrive in our challenging profession.  These are the spaces where teachers experiment, innovate, and most importantly, find support when they feel that our educational system isn’t working for them or for their students.  In the face of daunting constraints, teachers like the ones participating in the SDAWP Summer Institute and those making like crazy in the CLMOOC continue to seek out practices that support learners and celebrate the joy and purposes of learning.  In these spaces we make sense of our world, we build relationships, we blaze trails for learning for those that feel pinched by constant test prep and narrowing curricula and in doing so we stay the course.  Because like Valerie said,

But some teachers are fighting these trends. Teachers believe that education is not just teaching students to pass tests. They believe that education is not just about how to make a living, but also about how to make a life. They believe that school should be a place of joy in learning, not learning in fear. They believe that play, imagination, and creativity have a place in school, just as much as mastering difficult material. In fact, play and mastery go hand in hand. And these teachers are fighting to work harder than ever so they can continue to find ways to be creative in the classroom despite the pressure not to be. These teachers have classrooms you’d love to have your child in.

What kind of classroom or learning spaces do you want for your child, for your students, for yourself?  I’d love to hear about your “third spaces” or alternative ways of dealing with the constraints that are strangling the love of learning and passion for teaching.

Connected Learning…a Challenge

At the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) we are always looking for ways to learn from each and ways to support each others’ learning in our mission to improve writing instruction for the young people in our area.  For a while now we’ve been wanting to create a shared resource of mentor texts that teachers love and have used successfully to teach writing in their classrooms.  We’ve thrown a bunch of ideas around about how to do that–and nothing has really stuck.

Enter Barb–SDAWP Teacher Consultant and one of the administrators of our SDAWP Voices blog, the collaborative blog we’ve been experimenting with over the last year.  In another part of her life she is an artist with fabric–creating beautiful quilt projects–and maintains a sewing focused blog where she also participates in challenges and contests and blog link-ups.  Sharing her experience with textile artists and their social media world is helping us at the SDAWP experiment with new ways to build connections…and learning experiences.

So starting today we’re asking people–everyone is invited–to commit to the 113 Mentor Texts by the End of 2013 challenge.  Committing means agreeing to add at least one mentor text that you’ve used to teach writing or used to support your own writing that you would recommend to others.  There are lots more details on the SDAWP Voices blog here.

So join us…and please share with your friends and colleagues so we can reach our goal of 113 mentor texts by the end of 2013!

Eat…and Lead Locally

Local Love.  That was the phrase that caught my eye while enjoying some yummy gelato for my mom’s birthday on Sunday.  EscoGelato makes a point of highlighting all the ways their products are local—using local bakeries for their breads, local farms for their avocados, eggs, strawberries…

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Yesterday I ate locally again.  At Urban Plate with my friend and San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) colleague Abby, I also noticed signs in the restaurant pointing to the sources of the local produce and other food products.  It feels good to eat locally—in both places the food was delicious and the feel in each place was friendly and welcoming…accessible.

As we ate, Abby and I caught up on the progress of our summer and moved to the topic of professional development for teachers.  We talked about how teachers need to not just hear about some new approach or instructional technique, but to try it out and think about how and why it is useful for themselves as learners and for their students before they can truly implement effectively in their own classrooms.  And that, as professional developers, our hearts drop when participants say, “Can’t you just come to my classroom and teach it for me?”

Abby and I talked about the power of connectedness and collaboration for professional growth.  How opportunities to talk about our ideas caused those ideas to grow and develop and transform into something more than where they began.  And how that collaboration makes us a bit braver and more willing to take risks with our teaching practice…and in the process we grow as educators.  We also talked about how important it is for someone in your local place—your school site, your district, your writing project or other organization—to see you as a leader.  We grow leadership when we nurture leaders.

At the SDAWP, we’re right in the middle of the Invitational Summer Institute…a place for nurturing local leaders.  And I’m not so sure that all of the participants see themselves as leaders—yet.  But we’re ready to help them and to ease them into some accessible spaces where their leadership can emerge and continue to grow whether that is in their own classrooms, at their school sites, or beyond.  Maybe that, too, is local love.