Tag Archives: SDAWP

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.

Figuring out how to play

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?

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!