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

Rocketship School, Retrieved from:

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, 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.


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.

Summertime and Transitions

The Columbia River GorgeAt the end of June, we packed all our belongings into a 16ft moving van and drove east, leaving Portland to return to my home state of Wisconsin, where I will being a PhD program in Madison. Transitions are a time of excitement and dread, delight in the new and longing for the old, exhilaration and exhaustion. I’ve moved a lot, but this time it felt different. Maybe because Portland is the longest I’ve lived in one place since I was 7. Maybe because it’s where we began our family. Maybe because it is the strength and love of the school community. Maybe it is the profound cultural and physical feeling of being home.

Our choice to move was based on wanting to advance my career and the desire to be closer to family for awhile. I am thrilled to be going back to school at a time when I feel confident in my experience as an independent school teacher, ready and open to learn from the experiences of others, and motivated to make a difference on a new level.

I’m settling into life here at the beginning of August, with just enough time left of summer to enjoy the calm before my program begins. I’ve spent time disconnected from my devices, played scrabble with my mom, and built train tracks. I’ve gotten a commuter bike set up with kid seat and explored the bike paths and playgrounds with my son. I’ve visited family, gone camping, and played outside.

I wrote this six word story some time ago and have always wanted to share it but never found the right context. Perhaps it is all the more appropriate, then, to share it in this time of transition, tension, growth, adventure, and change. Although I share my professional writing online or personal posts with friends, sharing poetry makes me feel quite vulnerable, so please be kind.

Strong wings

Growing roots

Learning being

Last Gathering: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

This morning the 8th grade choir sang an amazing rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. It made me think about how we start the year with “Fall is Here, Ring the Bell.” “Rally points,” as they were called by our scheduling consultant, give us a sense of group identity, guide us through transitions or break up monotony, and help remind us that time is passing. After five years of gatherings at OES and three years prior to that at Bement, the ritual of coming together to start the day every morning with a song, announcements, and birthdays has been one of my favorites.

White privilege is…



not having to wonder

  • whether a landlord would accept my application based on race.
  • whether my landlord would be the same race or if that would even be an issue.
  • whether I would be accepted in whatever neighborhood I chose.
  • whether I would be judged by the friends that I asked to go look at it.
  • whether I should look for certain neighborhoods.
  • whether my name would cause questions.
  • whether I could comfortably ride the bus for a commute.
  • whether new neighbors would question my family structure.
  • whether my race would have any bearing on my success in graduate school.

As many of (the few of you) who read my blog know, I’ll be leaving my job here at the end of the year and moving on to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. We’re just at the point of finding a rental, and as I was scouring craigslist and contacting landlords, I was reminded of White Like Me, by Tim Wise, which I read just after attending POCC.