From Consumer to Producer

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This summer I’ve started doing podcast interviews for the New Books Network. I just produced my first interview with Jim Rickabaugh of the Institute for Personalized Learning. I’ve worked with Jim for the last 3 years on our research project, so this was a natural way to start. Now I’m starting to line up more fabulous academics that I want to talk to. I listen to more and more podcasts, and it’s pretty exciting, though not without apprehension, to make this switch.

Educators are increasingly asking students to find authentic audiences for their work. As I sat preparing for Jim’s interview, I was nervous, unsure of some of the details, frustrated that some of the logistics of the audio recording studio didn’t work, and knew that I’d have to listen to my own voice on the recording! But, I knew that I would enjoy talking to Jim, the interview itself would be meaningful to others, that doing it would improve my interviewing skills, and that it is a good way for me to connect with scholars in my field.

In other words, there was interest, meaning, and personal value in my learning. I read about interest-based learning (like Brigid Barron or Nichole Pinkard), Connected Learning (Mimi Ito), and participatory cultures (Henry Jenkins), and now I’m doing it!

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The next 500m

A little over a year ago, I wrote about managing the second 500m of a crew race. Catch – send. Catch – send. There were moments that weren’t pretty, and work that I’m glad is done, but I made it through. I’m into the third 500m now, and it’s time for a power 10: 10 strokes as hard as I can pull.

It’s spring break. Campus is quiet, undergrads are off to Florida or Mexico, other grad students are working from home, and I’m in the office, frantically writing a first draft of my dissertation proposal. In two weeks, I need to have an executive summary for the Clark Seminar, which I’m honored to have been selected to. Next week, I’m off to another Carnegie Summit to present a poster about our PiPNIC work. So this week is it.

The third 500m is when you started to feel the send. You feel the glide of the boat under you, the water beside the boat smooths out, and there is a crisp snap against the oarlocks. The power 10 feels good: a sense of power, possibility, and strength.

I’m starting to see connections between what I thought was an interesting idea and the good work happening in schools. I use words like epistemology and distributed cognition and (at least I think) I know what they mean. I have definitely developed an appreciation for the time it takes to develop from an idea to a study.

Focus on the rhythm, keep the course, send each pull.

The second 500m

womens rowing pair

Olympic rowers – Women’s pair, as they finish a stroke.

I rowed crew my freshman year of college. In the fall, the races were longer distances and a waterfall start, so you rowed your own race and just listened to the coxswain, who did the thinking for you. In the spring, races were a 2000m sprint, and they were raced head to head. Mentally, you could break up these races into four 500m stretches. The first 500m was to get going – quarter, quarter, half, full – shorter strokes to get started. This burst of energy and intense concentration would carry you 500m before you realized it. In the second 500m, you needed to calm the adrenaline surge, settle into a pace, ease the anaerobic burn in your quads, and pull together. By the third 500m, you have a rhythm and are ready to really pull, and the last 500m is everything you’ve got to propel the boat as fast as you can. Then it’s over.

It’s the second 500m that was always the hardest for me. The adrenaline surge of the start had peaked and my mind would be jumping all over the place. My quads would burn and I’d want to quit. I remember struggling to manage my breath, which was coming shallow and fast from the jump start.

The highlight of rowing that year was winning the pair race at the SIRAs regatta. In a pair, there is are just two rowers, no coxswain. I was in front as stroke seat with my pair mate behind me. In the second 500m of that race, I had to set and settle into a stroke rhythm that wasn’t so fast we’d burn out but also not so slow we’d lose. There was no coxswain to listen to and offload the thinking, and I remember the responsibility that I felt as the stroke seat. It was up to me to calm my body and mind into a sustainable rhythm for myself and my partner.

The start to my fourth semester of graduate school feels akin to the second 500m. With three semesters behind me and the birth of our second child this fall, the first 500m jump start is behind me, and the adrenaline carried me through the end of last semester. Now I face settling into a sustainable rhythm that balances and focuses my efforts into my responsibilities as a parent and as a student.

I imagine a coxswain calling, hearing what she says as she feels the unsteady rocking of the boat. “Catch – Send!” This drops our oars into the water together for maximum efficiency, drawing the stroke through to the fullest. “Catch – Send!” This narrows our minds onto the task at hand, getting the last bit of pull off the oar. “Catch – Send!” This settles us into a rhythm to carry us on, because there is still a lot of race left to go. “Catch – Send!”

PhD Year 2

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I love the first day of classes: The anticipation of new ideas to explore, the possibilities of papers and projects, the expertly curated reading list (i.e. syllabus) handed out that will map the course through a new world.

But there is also doubt: Will I be able to understand these ideas? Will I complete these projects? Will I get the reading done and be able to speak articulately about it in class? Can I do this?

Then come the introductions: My name is… My program is… My advisor is… I’m from… I used to… and – the hardest one – I’m interested in…

As I start my second year as a PhD student, what I’m interested in researching/doing/becoming/contributing is much harder. This past year I had a pretty good answer – something about trying to understand how schools change – but it was so new, all about exploration and learning. I feel like I spent this past year backpedaling through paradigms and theories, trying to find an epistemological framework that resonates with me and a topic area that I’m passionate about and can actually study.

As my colleagues went back to work, the school year starting, I found myself longing for the predictable to do list of preparations to make for students arriving. I wanted that productive, task-oriented work where you know what you’ve accomplished. Maybe I could go back to that world?

My advisor said to me that starting your second year is when you look up and realize how far away you are from shore. I didn’t even realize that I’d been keeping tabs on the shore, the back up plan, my escape to safety – you know – in case this whole PhD/academia thing doesn’t work out.

But it will. Books will get read, papers will get written, projects will get finished. I’m sure this year will fly just as last year did, though hopefully I’m closer to identifying my interests at this time next year.

The days are long but the years are short. So I’ll tamp down the doubts and plan out my work and just keep swimming.

Book Notes & Thoughts: Communities of Practice, Part I

Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, by Etienne Wenger

At the end of my first two semesters in graduate school, I think I know just enough now to know that I do not know what I want to study or how I want to study it. I am still interested in networks, leadership, and change, but do not know the level at which I want to resolve those ideas, much less how I would study it. Much of the work I want to do this summer and fall is searching for a conceptual frame that helps me describe my observations in a way that moves understanding (mine and research generally) forward. I’m beginning this here with Communities of Practice.

Reading this was slow, especially coming off of the three previous books I’ve written about (Connected, Where Good Ideas Come From, and Disrupting Class), which were popular nonfiction, written to be engaging to a general audience. Communities of Practice is definitely aimed for an academic audience, and “presents a theory of learning that starts with this assumption: engagement in social practice is the fundamental process by which we learn and so become who we are.” This assumption is not how I have previously conceived learning. I think it is pretty typical in a Western, individualist society to think of learning as something individuals do, with teaching as something we do to others, not as something created between us. Continue reading

Currently Me

The best inspiration sometimes comes from fellow bloggers… thanks to RunSingTeach’s Sarah Barton Thomas for posting this today, with her list inspired by Lindsay’s List.

Here’s my list

Currently: Dogs are fed and waiting for their walk, drinking coffee, husband is at work, kid will wake up any minute (must type fast!).

Current Inspiration: Minimalist and tiny houses. We need to downsize and get a handle on all the stuff in our life.

My favorite from a tiny house on Sauvie Island, near Portland, Oregon. Picture from: http://www.jhinteriordesign.com/tiny-house/ http://tinyhouselistings.com/sauvie-island-tiny-house/

Current Book: Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago. Seriously. Must catch up on blog posts this week.

Current Tune: Wisconsin Public Radio has Sunday afternoon program called Simply Folk that I LOVE. Yesterday they started with the Indigo Girls playing In the Bleak Midwinter, which is one of my favorite holiday tunes.

Current Drink: SO Delicious non-dairy egg nog

Current Foods: Homemade applesauce. Making and freezing batches for reusable pouches. For the kid, not me.

Current Show(s): (guilty confession) I just finished watching the final season of How I Met Your Mother. We used to watch it but lost interest when it dragged on too long, but I wanted to know it ended!

Current Outfit: Leggings under skinny black jeans (it’s cold here!), striped black and beige shirt from the Loft, silver hoops, Frye’s boots, and curled hair. When I dress up. Otherwise: well worn jeans (plus long underwear – have I mentioned it’s cold?) and nike sweatshirt with grey Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf.

Current Indulgence: Coconut cream dark chocolate and Pinterest and aforementioned coconut egg nog.

Current Want: New book bag – must be classy, waterproof, possible to bike with, backpack/shoulder bag, fit my computer and water bottle but not too heavy… I don’t think it exists.

Current Gratitude: My kid LOVES books. We read “Are you my mother?” over and over, first thing when he wakes up and before bed. He also loves “I am a bunny,” and when we found a hollow log at the dog park yesterday, he recognized it as “Nan-itch” (Nicholas)’s home. So sweet.

What’s happening with you, right now?

Reflections on my first semester of graduate school

I finished my first semester of graduate school! Hooray! It has better than I could have ever imagined, even when I started planning this 4 years ago. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found my way to this place at this time.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Sometimes it feels like I don’t “do” anything all day. There is no immediate feedback from students or peers, no fires to put out, sometimes a meeting, usually a couple journal articles.
  2. Is it worth my time to do this? There are so many things to join, brown bags to attend, books to read, concepts to understand, MOOCs to take, blog posts to write. Should I?
  3. What will my question be? What will my research be? Is it edgy enough? Is it radical enough? Is it interesting enough? Will it get me a job? Will I like it? Will it be a profound change in the life of all people teaching in schools everywhere for ever and ever? Will I finish it?
  4. My questions change every day, if not every hour. After a lecture about the future of higher ed I debated jumping from K-12 focus to higher ed. Wait a minute. Do I want to read about it or devote my intellectual life to it? Is it interesting or fascinating?
  5. I want to stay here forever!
  6. I want to graduate at soon as possible to escape the cold weather and earn a salary.
  7. Will anyone be interested in my research? Do I even belong here? *Sigh*

This spring I’m taking four classes, one of which is public school law, which I’m super excited about. I’m not really sure why, but maybe because law school is one of those paths not taken, and this might be a glimpse in that direction. I’m also going to take an Interactive Museum Exhibit Design class, mostly because it sounds fun and I’ll get to make stuff. Onward!


As always, I am grateful for a supportive partner, who tucks the kid in at night when I’m at class and listens to me babble about things I’m thinking about. There is no way my ideas would be as good or my spirits as high or my life as full without him.

Reaction 7: Blended Learning

Articles this week:

Next Generation Learning. (2010). Report: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jacob, A. (2011). Benefits and Barriers to the Hybridization of Schools. Journal of Educational Policy, Planning, and Administration. 1(1): 61-82.

Obviously I am generally in favor of technology integration and am usually one who embraces change. In principle, I like the idea of blended learning as a way to provide students with a chance to test out of material they already know, go further ahead that their own pace, and customize content. I like the idea that this method could provide all students the opportunity to develop their skills. I will admit, however, that I objected to two things in this picture of technology integration by Jacob (2011) and in the Next Generation Learning Report (2010). The first is talking about schools in terms of efficiencies to reduce costs. The phrase that particularly stung was “substituting specialized software for expensive college-trained workers.” What happens in a place where children are “managed” by technicians? Isn’t that Sir Ken Robinson’s critique of the model we already have? Maybe one nostalgic ideal that I cling to is the foundational and formative relationship between student and teacher. I suppose better “products” may roll off the Khan Academy line, but are these going to be reflective, creative, self-aware 21st century citizens? When will they learn how to think and organize their own learning instead of following a playlist? I see the opportunity of blended learning as a way to free up time for a teacher so that he/she can spend more time on checking in with students, 1-on-1 instruction, or coaching student-led projects.

The second sticky point for me is that, even though many researchers and educators say that test scores are not an adequate the measure of a child’s learning, in the absence of other measures, this “achievement” number is still used. Jacob uses “value-added anaylsis of test scores” for the analysis of Carpe Diem Collegiate. These personalized learning programs, from what I’ve seen, are almost all math or reading, so it makes sense that they would perform better on math and reading tests. I remember teaching a science lesson that asked my students to do something very basic, like scale drawings. They were adamant they’d never seen anything like it, so I got their math text book and looked it up. Sure enough, they’d studied a whole chapter about it, but they couldn’t apply it outside of the textbook chapter. Are we assuming that students will be able to apply their Khan Academy math and or Read3000 outside of the program (and not just on another standardized test)?

These two points make me wonder what it means to be a learner in these school environments. In my opinion, blended learning is something that comes after, or at least in complement with, student-driven open inquiry within a learning community. Platforms such as Khan Academy or Read3000, that are effective at transferring skills, are part of a student’s toolkit, and I think they hold a lot of potential for freeing up teachers from repetition of the basics or for providing time/location flexibility in learning. I worry, though, about lack of continuity, whether this is the rapid change in platforms or the high turnover of teachers in charter schools, and the related erosion of a community of practice, both for teachers and students. Schools guided by efficiencies and products reminds me of our conversation about consultants: charter school organizations or educational entrepreneurs come in, provide some new software, see a bump in test scores, and leave. This is, in my opinion, a short-sighted vision of 21st century education that uses incredibly powerful and creative tools for basic skills.

Reaction 5: Making and Arts in K12 Education

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

(Interestingly, this picture, linked from globalfoodpolitics.wordpress.com, is actually also featured with a blogpost about 3D printing food.)

Also this is my 100th post! Reflection on that coming soon…

But for now, this post is a reaction to Neil Gershenfeld’s article, How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution, and Erica Halverson’s paper, Digital art-making as a representational process:

If you are a traditionally trained, career teacher, you likely have no idea how creative processes work in industry. I think one of the most compelling parts of the Youth Media Arts Organizations is that they use real processes of production, like Reel Works pitching to actual directors at an actual film studio. This is what makes it authentic rather than contrived. Without personal experience as an artist, I think teachers struggle to facilitate authentic student work in this area. I know that I personally have assigned video projects without any discussion of what the rules of the genre are, types of films, camera angles, storyboarding, etc. “Creating art mindfully, that is learning how to construct and critically evaluate these representations, requires scaffolded instruction” (Halverson 2010). Being able to scaffold instruction requires deep content and process understanding by the teacher, which the majority do not have. For this reason, students who are good with iMovie flair might dazzle their teachers with effects, and teachers then mistakenly equate the ability to manipulate software with understanding the rules of genre and/or content understanding.

I see three opportunities for bridging this gap between the experiences we want kids to have and what is currently happening. First, I think we need to recruit and enlist second career teachers who come from within industry. I see this happening at the Sullivan Center at the ‘Iolani School, an independent K-12 school in Honolulu, where they have a game designer, software architect, and studio and fabrication artist, among others, as faculty. Alternately, in the same way that the National Writing Project promotes teaching writing by developing teachers as writers, there could be art and maker institutes for teachers to develop themselves as creators. I would also love to see arts integration coordinators who support teachers designing, implementing, and assessing lessons. This might see new literacies (Knobel and Lankshear 2007) and “tasks that put the arts forward” (Halverson 2010) take root K-12 schools.

Gershenfeld (2012) in his article also addresses making, but in a different context and purpose. For the most part, his article is historical or explanatory, but there was one point that I thought stood out: the parallel comparison made between personal computing and fabrication. Although some could not imagine what people might do with personal computers, users adapted its design to their own desires (shopping, connecting, sharing). One of the radical ideas of the Ito et al. (2008) report was that they observed students “in the wild,” seeing how they actually used the tools, rather than assuming that they would just be used as they were designed. I think it is telling that in Gershenfeld’s Bits and Atoms class, it was research students who came up with innovative ideas, adapting it to the “market of one” (Gershenfeld 2012), and that as adults, we often can’t fathom what to do with something like a 3D printer.

One final point is to tie the art and process of “making” in with Sennett’s three key themes for navigating the era of new capitalism: narrative, usefulness, and craftsmanship. I see making, whether digital media or fabrication, as providing opportunity for developing personal narrative and craftsmanship through mindful design, production, and performance, and the performance of making, as seen in participatory cultures (Jenkins et al. 2006) and the FabLabs in Manchester and Barcelona (Gershenfeld 2012), provides spaces where people feel useful and connected. Perhaps in contrast with the fearful reaction by many (Gershenfeld 2012), I see the maker movement as a fundamentally hopeful trajectory for individuals and communities.

References

Gershenfeld, Neil. (2012, September 27). How to Make Almost Anything: The Digital Fabrication Revolution. New York Times.

Halverson, Erica. (2010). Digital art-making as a representational process. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

Ito, M. et al. (2008). Living and Learning with New Media : Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (pp. 1–58).

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A., & Weigel, M. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21 Century (pp. 1–72).

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M., Eds. (2007). A New Literacies Sampler.

Sennett, Richard. (2006). The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Mentors and the end of Tell Me More

Today I was listening to Michele Norris’ last week of Tell Me More. I listen to her regularly either on the tell me more podcast or on npr via the race card project.

She was an incredibly powerful keynote speaker at last year’s People of Color Conference in Washington D.C. that I was thankful to attend, so I thought I would dig out a few of my tweets from her keynote and share them again here. (I misspelled her name in the tweets and they can’t be edited. I tried!)

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Her Wednesday, July 30th episode was focused on mentors, and I tried to capture a few messages that resonated with me here:

Bernard Shaw, former CNN anchor, tells us to pursue for our dreams but to realize the trade offs because success will cost you. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do.” No one can tell you whether or not to pursue your dreams. I also appreciate his humility and gratitude in sharing that he had so many mentors and supporters that he feels it is his duty to pass that on to those younger.

On the subject of women and specifically women of color mentoring other women, Michele shared that there was a study out of the University of Colorado that found that women and non-white executives who push for the success of other women or non-whites actually suffer in their own performance reviews whereas white men who do are rated more highly. This is the revelation of a Blindspots that infuriates me.

Freeman Hrabowski III, President of University of Maryland – Baltimore County, emphasizes the importance of knowing how to get back up, because all of us will go through tough times in our life, work, health, etc. Our resilience defines our success. He speaks of creating a culture of mentorship at UMBC and how he institutionalizes this in a way that is meaningful: it’s all about students. This resonated with me as a teacher: what’s best for kids is what has driven my work for the past 8 years.

Michele Norris herself finishes with the wisdom that we are all part of minorities and majorities at different times of our lives, but the media often gives more attention to certain minorities or majorities. On this show, she has sought to bring out those NOT in the media spotlight. It makes me angry that NPR has cancelled a show that is unique in the content, guests, and audience, given their own report about social media allowing us to stick to our own opinions and the report about people polarizing on politics about the polarization of politics and media. How can NPR bring us the world and tell our story, as they claim on their “About NPR” page, if they cancel shows like this?

I will take Michele’s advice that she gave at POCC, “We must have conversations with people who disagree with us.” Thank you, Michele, for all the wisdom you have shared and facilitated in the past 7 years on this show, and I look forward to continuing to hear your voice on the radio.