The Agile Mindset: EdCamp Meets Mr. Penumbra

There are always those snippets that stick in my mind at the end of a conference presentation or in this case, en EdCamp session. Listening to Don Buckley describe design thinking, I latched onto the term he used “agile mindset.” What people really need in the 21st century is an ability to update, shift gears, change course. His example was the continual stream of updates we get for our computers, but I see it as much more than that. We need to be willing to learn, always, everywhere.

On Spring Break this week, I asked a friend to suggest a book I could read where I could kind of get lost in the story. I wanted to think but not too much. Bill suggested Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. It did not disappoint. For those who may want to read it, I will avoid any spoilers here. I raced through it in a few days, which is no small feat with small children around.

The book is about an old mystery with many people looking for the keys to unlock it. One important character, Corvina, is convinced that a traditional approach is necessary. He is not interested in hearing new ideas. He is classic example of a fixed mindset. Another character, Mr. Penumbra is willing to try new methods to tackle the challenge. To me, he represents more of a growth mindset, where he is ready to incorporate new ideas. The main character, Clay, is the one who represents the agile mindset. He is willing to try new things and reconsider old ideas, combining new technology with old technology. He is able to see things others cannot because he looks at the situation from every angle.

I have been a big advocate of the growth mindset since reading Carol Dweck. Now, I am adding the agile mindset to what I want for myself and my students. Growth and agility combined are what we need for the 21st century to be able to solve the challenges we face. We cannot throw out old ideas simply because they are old. Solutions can come from anywhere. Inspiration can be triggered by an infinite number of things, if we are open to receiving it. We need to shift our thinking enough to be able to recognize those opportunities. Laser focus can be very useful, but so can a willingness to shift our attention. Sometimes the best ideas come when we are not locked into a solution mindset.

Even with this post, I am hoping people will challenge my ideas, add their thoughts and move the conversation forward.

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EdCamp is Habit Forming

On the way home from EdCampIS yesterday, I was feeling great. I had a wonderful time sharing ideas with colleagues, most of whom I did not know, about common issues. When I thought about what I would tell people specifically about what I had taken away when they ask me on Monday, I really did not know what I would say. There was no concrete, tangible takeaway.

Today, in thinking about my classes tomorrow, I went over the plans I my head – a power point presentation about the international situation in the twenties and either a cartoon history explaining the Great Depression or a video about the Stock Market Crash. It would have been fine, but it was really hard for me to imagine my students wanting to engage with this type of lesson on a Monday morning. They would have dutifully taken notes and inevitably confused hyperinflation with depression. I cannot get myself excited for this class.

So, I decided to ditch the plan, with apologies to my colleagues for straying off course. It was actually my power point I was going to use. Instead, I am beginning the class with the question, “Could an economic crisis on the magnitude of the Great Depression happen again?” – all of the background on how it happened and what people did to try to solve it are directly relevant, as well as the human condition of what it felt like. Those are my learning goals. I will have students create sub-questions to investigate, crowdsource their findings, teach each other, explain to me, ask for clarification, all in service of the beginning question. I hope their journey takes them to all the places I would have and then some. The key is that it will be their journey, not mine. At the end I plan to have them write a blog post with their answer to the big question.

I did not get this idea from EdCamp. I could probably with some effort see the threads of different conversations in my inspiration. But that misses the point. It is the conversations about experience, ideas, even dreams of committed thoughtful educators that are in abundance at EdCamp, along with the encouragement to experiment and imagine a better way of teaching and learning. This was my fourth EdCamp, and I always leave energized. I will go to any EdCamp I can. It is truly the best professional development ever.