Education Manifesto (as of Jan. 25, 2015)

In a session about honoring and lifting student voices, there was a portion where we were asked to create our education manifesto. I didn’t do exactly as directed and create a short presentation. Instead I focused my time on the writing. At first, I was reluctant to do it all and briefly considered bolting to go to another session. But I stayed. Here is what I came up with.

Education manifesto – This I believe (for now – everything including this is subject to revision upon further reflection or revelation.) 

Relationships are at the core of teaching and learning. 

Creating a space/environment where everyone feels safe taking risks is essential.

Everyone in the room/space/class should be teaching and learning.

Life is full of stories. We should learn as many as we can and never fall into the trap of relying on a single story.

People should be able to personalize learning to explore their passions but not to such an extent that they sacrifice the learning community.

One essential goal of education should be to create communities of learners. Those communities must be inclusive and may be fluid.

Learning should be shared with others within and outside the classroom. 

There is a wide variety of ways for people to share their learning. 

There needs to be room for redos, retakes, revisions, refining. We are all works in progress. Life is a rough draft that we edit as we go along.


Spirits of Educon: Past, Present, and Future

I know that my title is ambiguous. This could be about the fellowship at the after hours party – but it is not. It could be about the positive vibe that permeates the hallways and classrooms at SLA – but it is not (at least not directly). It is about the ghosts of Educon, the ones that have followed me home. I fear that ghosts have a scary and negative connotation, and these ghosts are anything but negative, although sometimes a little scary in that they push me into the unknown.

Past: Last year was my first trip to Educon. I left with so many thoughts and ideas; I had no idea which ones would find their way into my teaching and which would fall by the wayside. There were some insights that have informed my outlook, such as the difference between transparency and openness. There were sessions that gave me a lot of great ideas, like the one on Gamification. There was the session on Design Thinking that has stuck with me and gained traction at this year’s conference. More about that in a bit. The one big ghost that has followed me around, quietly in the spring and summer and much more present this fall, was the Senior Honors Seminar presentation by Grace O’Keeffe and her students. A wholly student created curriculum was really exciting. Translating that concept back to my own situation led to the creation of History Seminar: Research Methods, which I have been blogging about. That course is one where the students decided what they would research, how they would share their research and how much time to allot for each project. I will continue to blog about that separately, as the students successfully lobbied to have it turned into a year-long course. Not a single student moved out into another elective.

Present: Last night I got back from my second trip to Educon. It was easier this year, as I knew the routine and didn’t have to spend any energy figuring out how to get from the hotel to SLA and other logistics. I also have the luxury of a snow day today to process my thoughts, reread my notes, and get to know the ghosts I brought back this year. Just as before I have one big idea and a number of smaller ones. This year, I attended a session on Creativity where the presenter, Basil Kolani, talked about an elective in Design Thinking that he teaches. I think an amazing complement to the Seminar would be a class in Design Thinking. I will be working on my pitch to my principal, academic dean and fellow department chairs. The course would be a series of problems identified by students, which they would then think through to try to solve. I am not sure which would come first, but I think they would make a great pair of courses to prepare students for college and beyond.

Other ideas are ones I could implement in my current curriculum. A panelist and presenter, Raghava KK, had a lot of things to say that got me thinking (I could write an entire post about it) but the curricular idea I got was from his children’s ebook. When you shake the iPad the set of parents changes from homosexual to heterosexual. He proposed the idea of a story about Indian independence that would be told from each perspective – Indian, Pakistani, and British. Each time you shake the iPad the perspective changes. I am not sure how to make that happen, but there is great potential for a technique like that in learning history. A presentation about how to document the learning process showed me how easy it would be to capture the development of student progress with screenshots, images, and short videos on my iPad. A visit to an American Government class at SLA gave me a chance to see kids working on writing Modern Day de Tocqueville chapters about Democracy in America today, a brilliant idea. I am sure there are other classic texts that could be treated the same way. In a session on Student Voices, one student talked about a project to write an Op-Ed piece where the culmination had the students go to a busy intersection as a class, taking turns standing on a milk crate to deliver their words to whoever would listen. Other sessions have me thinking about learning space – physical and digital, and authentic assignments and assessments. There are so many other tidbits of wisdom that I may have to write another post with my favorite statements. One session had me writing my Education Manifesto. I will publish that separately; it was a great exercise.

Future: I am planning to go back next year. This year there were too many sessions I wanted to attend, and too many things I did not get to work on. I look forward to seeing some of the same people and meeting new ones, who choose to spend their weekend between the NFL Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl in Philadelphia at a hive of learning known as SLA. I hope someone goes with me next year. Who doesn’t need some inspiration in late January?

Research Seminar Part V: Popular Demand

One student said he could not possibly go to another course next semester. Another went to the principal to make the case that this one semester elective should become a year-long course. All nine students said they wanted to continue in the course, if given the opportunity. I have to be honest; it has felt a bit overwhelming along with being highly satisfying professionally. Today I got the approval to continue the course. I almost feel more pressure than I did at the beginning of the year that this should succeed. I trust in my students, but I also recognize that senioritis runs rampant in the spring, and this course is made up entirely of seniors.

My principal asked me whether we would be doing something different or continuing with the same type of projects. I had to remind him that I couldn’t make this decision without the students. He smiled. I had to remind him that what makes this course different is that students in this class have designed it from the start with input from me, but very few restrictions. They decided to do in-depth individual projects for their first presentations. Then, they opted for shorter projects stemming from a common theme. Finally, we watched a video together, researched some case studies and shared information looking for what we could learn from those case studies. I honestly cannot say what they will want to do next.

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester. I get to tell them they can stay, which may be anti-climactic since I saw two of them after school today and they asked me about it. Since they know, I can only assume that others will by tomorrow morning. I will spend the class talking with each one about his or her work for the semester individually. I want them to tell me where they pushed themselves, what they are proud of, and what they wished they could do over. They are doing written reflections, but I think the conversation truly honors the relationship and the trust we have developed.

I had wondered what the others would be doing while I was having individual conversations. I guess they will be planning what comes next.

To make it interesting, I have another class, Modern Asia, scheduled in the same block. Look forward to my spring posts where I document my efforts to defy the laws of physics and teach two classes at the same time. Disclosure – my librarian is invested in helping me manage this.