Monday, August 27, 2012

Wellness Update-Week 3

Me running on treadmill
Some observations from my morning workouts this past week:

  • Not weightlifting for 6 years is probably not good.  Not so much when I did my lower body workout, but Wednesday's upper body workout really killed.
  • Even when you pay attention to how to use the machines, you can still forget how to use them and get frustrated that you look silly.  Need to ask for a reminder about a couple this week.
  • I really don't like running on the treadmill.  It is not so much the feeling that I am putting out all this effort and going nowhere, but rather that it is really hard to get lost in my run when I am on the treadmill.  The scenery never changes, in fact most often I am looking in a mirror at me.  The pace never lets up, unless I agree to give in an lower it. Time seems to creep slowly by, unless like this week the machine throws me for a loop and is programmed to change speeds at set intervals.  

Monday I ran for 20 minutes at 6.1 mph (9:50 pace).  It was the fastest I had run all summer by over a minute and I was able to make 20 minutes.  The best part was that twice during my run, after each 5 minutes of running, I had a 1.5 minute burst where the pace increased to 6.4 mph (9:10 pace) automatically and then dropped down again.  I actually found myself looking forward to these moments of a quick burst of speed.  It made the run go much smoother and seem to not last as long.

With this in mind, I was really looking forward to my run on Wednesday.  Until it started and the first change of pace came.  It was then I discovered, I really hate running on a treadmill on an incline.  Instead of a change of pace, it was a change in incline.  I went from 1% incline to a 3% incline, and then to a 4% incline, before settling back down to 1% for the final 9 minutes, of which I only lasted 4 until I had to walk (I did finish by running the last 2.5 minutes when they came in to take my picture and pride kicked in).

I also found out that sometimes running while looking at yourself run is not such a bad thing.  As I was running on Wednesday I looked at my legs and noticed that my left calve looked larger than my right calve.  I thought it might just be me being tired, or maybe the angle I was looking at in the mirror, but I filed it away in my head.  On Friday I looked again, and find that no I was right my left calve was definitely larger than my right one.  With this in mind I asked our athletic trainer at PHS Ryan Carrol what he thought.  He agreed, then after a few more questions he suggested I speak with my doctor, Dr. David Darr, and see what he thought.  I had an Ultra Sound on Monday, waiting to hear what they find, but without the Journey to Wellness I would not have thought much of the slight pain in my left calve and not gotten it checked out, so I am learning more each week about my own state of health.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Building Students is a lot Like Building a School Building

This post is several days in the making and has been spurred on by items I have read, things I have observed, and thoughts I have thunk as the scarecrow might say.  It really all began with an email from our Director of Professional Development, Jennifer Felke (@jenfelke) commending our staff for a great second week of work at the School of Inquiry.  It got me thinking about what a great week it was, despite some challenges that are simply part of starting something new.  It also prompted me to let my staff know what I had observed this week and what a great job I thought they had been doing and how fortunate I feel to work with such an awesome team.  In the midst of that message, I began to think about a video I had taken earlier in the week of construction continuing on our permanent building. It lead me to write this:
In some ways this year is going to be like watching our new home being built.  There will be times when we see incredible changes in a few short days-in 1 week we have gone from an empty shell with an elevator shaft (image above) started to the video I shot Thursday ( today having the atrium cut out and steel being put over the first floor (I was getting looks from the construction guys so no picture or video unfortunately but I will get one tomorrow)-to times when it will seem as if nothing much is being done to move the ball forward that is visible, but incredible work will be getting done in ways we don't see-putting in electrical and floor boxes, wiring for technology, creating the HVAC and other mechanical areas-that are just as important as the flashy stuff we can ew (sp?) and ah over.  
Saturday morning I read this post by Cale Birk via Connected Principals.  In it he speaks of the flow zone.  That place where new challenges are at the appropriate level of challenge.  Where learners are supported as they reach beyond what they think they can do and go further than they had ever dreamed.  It is the place where tasks are not easy, but are not overwhelming.  Finding this flow zone for our students, at all the various levels of expertise they have, will be one of our greatest challenges.  For me with my staff it means giving them the confidence to leave the site of the shore, without knowing the terror of being lost at sea.  It means not simply being the head cheerleader, but also asking tough questions about our practice and being able to guide us as a group to answers to those questions.

Final Thoughts:

Whenever you begin to try something new  you are going to have those  moments of sure bliss, when everything is working and all seems right with the world.  Those moments when you say, "why I have I not been doing this all along".  You are also going to have those moments when you want to say, "why did I ever agree to try this.  What was I thinking!"  With either comment, I want my staff, and myself to focus on what is working, what needs improving, and most importantly to not lose sight of our ultimate goal, creating a great learning environment for students to excel in.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wellness Update

My brother and I after Soldier Field 10 Mi.
I am the rounder shaped one.
As part of my goal to model being a life long learner to my students and staff I have dedicated one day a week in this blog to chronicle my journey to wellness in which I am attempting to get healthy and learn more about myself in the process.  Last week's post was a rundown of how out of shape I am, not as bad as I feared but definitely not good.  This week I am hoping to explain what I learned about myself during this process in week 1.

So here I go, things I learned last week:

  • 5:15 AM is really early in the morning, and seemingly harder when I know after my 30 minute drive I will need to work out, as compared to when I left at that time as a swim coach and only had to put others through a rigorous workout.
  • I really like being on a rowing machine.  I had never done this before, and found it to be not as daunting as it first looked for someone who can be rhythm and co-ordination challenged.
  • Working out is much better when you have someone there to push you.  This is true of any endeavor you take and a main reason why I like collaborating and working on teams.
  • I still hate running on treadmills.  This was probably exacerbated by having to run at a 10 minute mile pace, or faster, after spending my summer running at a leisurely 10:30-11:00 minute pace, but the boredom and feeling of going nowhere still drives me nuts.
  • I am really tied to following instructions.  Even though the 10 minute or less pace was incredibly challenging, I felt obligated to do it, as that is what they had programmed into my key card for a workout.  I am not so much of a slave to directions though that I did not cut the program short (at 20 minutes vs. the 30 they programmed) when I felt that I had gone as far as I could go.  It helped that I had been told that if I did interval training I would only have to do 20 minutes, otherwise who knows what might have happened.
  • Eating only salad at lunch is boring.  And ultimately leads to me snacking as soon as school ends and raiding the chocolate stash in the School of Inquiry.  (Yes English teachers, I know not to start a sentence with And, but it the format of my bullets better than a comma and continuation of the previous thought).
  • I need to get my staff to put a lock on the chocolate stash and not allow me to have the combination.  While I am willing to eat healthy, I am also too easily distracted from my goal by the soothing stress relieving properties of  the cocoa bean.
Results for the week:
1.5 lbs lost, no real workouts done, but 1 fitness test that I counted as a workout and 1 instructional period on how to use the equipment I also counted as a workout.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The First Week of Inquiry

We finished our first week at the School of Inquiry with some amazing momentum.  I am so proud of the time, effort, and embrace of change that my staff has shown this week.  I am also impressed by the way students have jumped in to a new environment and way of learning.  Embracing the idea, though they are uncertain in many cases how it will all work out, of changing how they will learn.  Some highlights from the week:

Monday's Amazing Race was awesome.  You can see how it went in this video by Tom Felke.  I know I had a great time watching students take on challenges and then hearing them process what they learned in our group discussion.  On Monday night we had a packed house for our first ever Back to School Night for parents with the first session on the School of Inquiry at overflow capacity.

Thursday brought a visit from Theresa Shafer, Online Community Manager for the New Tech Network, and a day of students learning about themselves and helping to create the culture of the school.  In Global Perspectives students had an intense discussion about what Trust, Respect, and Responsibility meant to them, and how they wanted to see them utilized in Inquiry.  In their math courses students learned about their personalities in the What's Your Color activity and how to utilize what they learned about these personalities in their group work.  In Leadership Seminar students began their journey to discover more about who they are as people and what strengths they posses.

Friday, brought my two favorite moments of the week. One was student based, one teacher based.  The student based moment came watching students in their math courses build towers out of spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow as facilitator Michael Delp encouraged them..  Pictures of the winning entries are below.

The teacher moment came in the afternoon.  After having a rough morning in which they felt they had lost their students, my Global Perspectives facilitators (Lisa Mercer and Grant Masson) went to lunch and prep and completely reworked their lesson plan for the afternoon to be a more engaging activity.  It was an amazing moment to see and hear about.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rookie Mistakes

The last post I wrote was about what my learning journey would be this year, that I would learn more about how to keep myself healthy through my journey to wellness.  That would be the focus of my non-educational learning.  Today I got another area to learn in, and it really was not a surprise or an unknown area.  Today I learned about making Rookie Mistakes.

For those of you not in the Plymouth area, or long time blog readers, today was the opening of the School of Inquiry, our New Tech Network PBL School within a School.  It should have been an incredibly exciting day seeing my staff getting work with and build relationships with our students.  Instead, it became-for me the day of Rookie mistakes.  My first Rookie Mistake came as I was walking down the hallway towards Inquiry, after spending the morning supervising student pictures in another part of the building.  Jen, my director of professional development, came walking down the hall with a big smile on her face.  She expected me to ask how it was going, I instead asked what time our Wednesday Collaboration Meeting was to begin.  It is not that I did not care about how things were going, nor was it that I didn't want to hear, but I wanted to make sure I would not be late for the meeting and have time to make one last check on pictures, plus I wanted to hear how everyone's day was going.

My second rookie mistake was made later in that very meeting.  As we were having some idle conversation, while waiting for all staff members to arrive, I mentioned that I was either going to workout after school, or play golf with the principal of the high school.  One of my staff members was sitting next to me, and he said play golf.  While nothing more was said, the look on his face said all I needed to know.  He was thinking, "we are killing ourselves doing all of this work and change, and he is going out to play golf."  I instantly regretted saying it.

I had forgotten the number one rule of team building.  We are all in this together and all must be "All In".  When I was a swim coach, I was able to get our swimmers to work incredibly hard for long hours, but I what made it work was that we were all there together, all working hard, and all present at every practice.  I had forgotten to always be All In.  While my staff was having a exciting, and due to all the change, stressful day, I was not present-as I was fulfilling my duties at picture day, and I was then going off to play golf.

Rookie Mistakes are not in and of themselves fatal, and they happen to help us grown. How we respond, determines this growth and lack of fatality.  I just wish they were avoidable.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Journey to Wellness

Plate 1 of Last Supper
Plate 2 of Last Supper
Desert from Last Supper

Normally I stick to education topics on this blog, but this year I have challenged my staff to spend 20 minutes of their school day, everyday, learning something new.  It can be related to school, or not related to school, but it has to be spent learning and it must be shared with other members of our staff and with our students so that they can see us modeling learning.  I really wasn't sure what I wanted to learn this year, I am continually learning about education, and a wide range of other topics, but I wasn't sure what I truly wanted to pursue.  I enjoy politics, government, and economics, but tend to want to stay away from those in this forum, as they so often inflame passions.

A few weeks ago, our superintendent Dan Tyree approached me about being part of the Plymouth Lifeplex's Journey to Wellness Campaign.  In this program Dan and I would be measured and evaluated, given access to Fitness Forum's facilities and staff, and then write about our journey to get healthier for the local newspaper.  It is a program that they do each year with different community members.  I thought that I really needed to get back into shape-realizing that my current round condition is a shape, but not one that I want-and that being in a program that would give me some serious accountability would be good.  I had spent June running every other day, spent July trying to run every other day-not so good-and have not run since we left for vacation on July 22 three weeks ago.  My ability to over focus on my job, to the detriment of my wellness was becoming evident again.  Thus, my learning for this trimester will be about learning more about myself and how to get healthier.

Yesterday I had my last suppers at a local buffet (pictures above).  Today I went for my fitness evaluation, they had us talk about our exercise and health history.  I told them that I had played sports growing up-baseball, swimming, basketball, pickup football-had played 2 years of high school football, 3 years of high school basketball, swam for a year, played lacrosse for a year, and water polo for 2.  During college I played 4 years of intramural basketball, but did not exercise much at all ballooning from my senior year of high school 165 lbs to 225 after my freshman year and as high as 315 lbs 4 years ago when I first started running 5Ks and dropping down to 242.5 when I started at PHS.  I gave them my sorted history of running, barely running a mile in my first Race to Wrigley, finishing the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon (13.1 miles) 2 years later, running 5 mile race this past April on roughly a 10:30 pace, nearly dying at the end of May when without really training I ran the Soldier Field 10 Miler in a total time slower than my Mini Marathon pace to my present regime of going out and running 3.1 miles on a 10:45-11:00 pace.

During my evaluation I learned that I am 6'2.5" (I somehow have grown), weigh 279 lbs, have a resting heart rate of 68 bpm (which they say is good), am at 29.1% body fat (with 197.8 lbs of lean mass and 81.2 lbs of fat mass), have BMI of 35.8, can stretch 12 inches (not good), have a VO2 Max of 39 ml/min/kg (this measures how much oxygen you can take in while exercising and is good) can leg press 160 lbs 10 times (I admit that I think I could of done more but had done like 10 reps prior to finding a decent weight) chest press 75 lbs 10 times in short I am kinda weak.

After we got done, we set some goals.  My goals are thus:

  1. Lose 32 lbs so that my body fat is at 20% and thus in the normal range.
  2. Exercise 30-45 minutes 3 times per week, running 3.1 miles on 10 mile pace when I run.
  3. Increase my strength-no real measurable goal here as I doubt my base for starting.
Hopefully this will be an interesting journey of learning more about myself, plus a good once a week blog topic.  One thing I truly believe as administrators we spend a lot of time working for our schools, which is good, but we need to have balance so that our health does not deteriorate.  My last goal is to find and maintain that balance.

What do you want to learn between now and November?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Our Most Important Mission

Flip, RISE, Common Core, ECAs, ISTEP+, High Stakes Testing, Race to the Top, Longer Days, Longer School Years, Blended Learning, Charter Schools, Online Learning, NovaNet, 1:1, BYOD, Design Thinking, Project Based Learning, Inquiry Learning....The changes and programs come fast and furious in the 21st Century, so much so that I think 21st Century Skills ultimately might come down to learning best to manage the rapidity and frequency of change.  With all of these programs, stresses, and attempts to transform our educational system I sometime fear that we are losing sight of what is has continually been proven to be our most effective methodology, relationships.

This was brought home to me yesterday when I read Adam Saenz's post at the Huffington Post titled From Jail to Harvard:  Why Teachers Change the World.  Mr. Saenz tells his story of how he fought depression throughout his youth, and then was inspired by two notes left in an old journal by two former teachers.  The notes, only a few sentences, spoke of the qualities two of his teachers saw in him.  They praised him for his work, and spoke of the future they believed that he had.  In short, two a young man struggling with depression, they gave him hope.  He utilized this hope to first take one college course, then another, and finally at the age of 27 to earn his college degree.  He then went on to graduate school and to earning a PhD.

As we begin the school year, it is my hope that all of us, despite the rapid and ongoing challenges and changes we face as a profession, rededicate ourselves to the methodology that pays off the most, relationships, even though most often we may never know how really impactful our kind words may prove to be.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What to Name a Blog

Never thought I would write a post on something like this, but this has been a question that seems to haunt me the more I dive into using social media for professional development and for my PLN.  When I first started using twitter, I really had no idea what it was-in fact I was basically a dormant user for 3 years prior to going to NTAC 2011 as part of the New Tech Network and I learned about Hash Tags and HootSuite-and thus did not really think much about my user name.  Thus the identifying, but somewhat boring and excessively long (11 characters) ken_v_olson twitter name.  There have been times I wish that I had gone with something a little more daring or related to my occupation, but my creativity creativity usually fails and I come up with nothing distinctive.

When I began my blog on Edublogs last year I settled on the name "Inquiring Minds" because it fit with the name of my school, The School of Inquiry, and it was what I have tried to have as a an adult learner, and inquiring mind.  When I decided to move to my blog to Google Sites, to model it's use to my students, I was able to keep the blog name, but I was disappointed that the comments feature would not work, unless I allowed readers to edit my words.  With this in mind I switched to Blogger this week, but the url was taken.  To remedy this, I simply replaced the second "i" in inquiring with a "y" making it inquiryng.

I was worried that I would get comments about not knowing how to spell, and I did right away, but while I could change the name of the blog to the correct spelling, even if the url was different, there was a consistency about it-and a quirkiness-I liked.  Then I read this blog post by Todd Hurst from the University of Indianapolis' Center for Excellence in Leadership and Learning (CELL) on What's in a (School's) Name?.

After reading his post, I believe that our school's name fits what we hope to do, create learners who are active participants in their education.  Learner's who ask questions and seek out answers.  Who inquire about the word around them.  In thinking this though, I also believe that the blog name I have chosen fits me and how I approach my own education.  I seek answers from a wide range of sources, continually ask questions on how to improve my school and professional practice, and am a little quirky in how I go about it.  Inquryng may be a great way to put it.  What do you think?  What truly is in a name?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Technology, Change and Education

One of the major challenges that is facing education today is the impact that technology has been having on schools, students, and teachers.  Much like Clayton Christensen, who said that the coming technological revolution will create disruptive change in schools in his book "Disrupting Class:  How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns", I believe that schools need to begin looking at new models for how we educate our students.  Merely cramming technology into the current factory based model that we have utilized for the past 100 years is not going to create the environment for change that is needed. We need to look beyond the traditional format and begin to create new models that can personalize instruction, allow for greater student choice and voice, and create a community of learners.

This thinking was reinforced the other day when I read the following article from the Chronicle of Higher Education by Darryl Tippens (Provost at Pepperdine University) titled Technology Has Its Place:  Behind a Caring Teacher.  In this article, Mr. Tippens argues that while technology can do many things, it can not replace the environment of a residential college experience where students learn together.  He states, "People are social creatures who best mature intellectually in a particular social environment. At the center of an effective educational system is a vibrant community in which learners not only think together but also engage in learning practices together."   

As I began to share this article via Diigo to our administrative team, I began to think what the implications of this are for K-12 school corporations.   We do not have the residential environment that colleges have to create these unique learning environments for primary and secondary schools in a natural way.  Yet, research has continually shown us that relationships are one of the most important parts of creating a great learning environment.  Which leads me to my question: In what ways can we utilize technology to create more opportunities for teachers and students to develop learning communities that will engage students in the process?  

Google has the ability to render teaching obsolete, if all we concern ourselves with is the regurgitation of facts.  Traditional high stakes testing has lead to a more fact based approach.  The promise of the Common Core tests are that they will focus more on higher level skills and go beyond mere fact based testing.   These changes should lead us to creating more interactive relational learning environments.  The question is, can we turn the ship fast enough to keep pace with the changes occurring around us?

Putting Inquiry in the School of Inquiry

Originally Published August 6, 2012

One of the main drivers behind the name for our school, The School of Inquiry, came from an article  that I read in the summer of 2010 as my daughters were heading back to school.  The article was targeted towards parents and not educators and focused on Nobel Prize Winner Isidor I. Rabi.  In the article Rabi offers the following quote as to what made him become a scientist:

''My mother made me a scientist.  Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child 
after school: 'So? Did you learn anything today?' Not my mother. She always asked me a 
different question. 'Izzy,' she would say, 'did you ask a good question today?' That difference 
made me a scientist.”

This quotation started me thinking not only about my daughters' education, but also that of the many students I previously had taught.  This was the essence of what I wanted for them, to be active participants in their education, to ask questions rather than merely want to find the correct answer.  As we began to prepare to open a New Tech Network school it became obvious to me that if we are going to truly educate students for the 21st Century, we needed to instill in them the ability to be life long learners.  That meant they would need to learn to be the leaders of their education, which meant they would need to learn to ask questions about what they are learning.

With this in mind, we created the School of Inquiry.  This year as we begin our work with students we will be using Project Based Learning as taught by the New Tech Network and hope to instill this idea of Inquiry into our students in four ways.

The first comes from one of the foundational protocols of PBL is one in which students, after being given an entry document or witnessing an entry event, are asked What they Know, What they Need to Know, and Next Steps.  This at it's heart is an inquiry based discussion in which students are active participants.  

The second comes from a book that our staff read this summer.  The book is Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana.  I first heard about the book through a Harvard Thinks Big Podcast and it just clicked that teaching students to ask questions is not something we do.  Most teachers spend plenty of time preparing questions to ask students, but not necessarily preparing students to ask the questions.  

To do this the authors having created a protocol they call the Question Formulation Technique.  The process begins with a QFocus, or focus topic that students will be generating questions on, and proceeds through students generating a list of questions, refining those questions to make them better, prioritzing questions based on what they want/need to explore, and then utilize the questions for extended study.  The authors describe several classrooms that have used the technique and provide a simple framework that can help you easily implement the protocol.

The third method will come from incorporating reflection as a daily practice within the school.  When we reflect on what we are reading and learning we make it more our own.  We solidify the ideas and thoughts we have.  With this in mind, reflection will be a large part of what we do at the School of Inquiry.  From student and staff blogs to portfolio projects we hope to incorporate reflection as a daily part of our lives.

The final area of focus is still developing, but it is based on this blog post by David Cox entitled Questions: Trying to Make it Matter.  In this blog post Mr. Cox establishes a way to get students comfortable with asking questions.  As a teacher I often told my students that I was not smarter than them, I just had a lot more experience behind the knowledge I had.  In his post Mr. Cox takes that one step further to provide a protocol to help students understand that asking questions does not mean you are unintelligent, but rather it is one of the keys to understanding what you are learning.  In order to truly create students who are life long learners and active participants in their education, we need to get them over the fear of asking questions.

So my readers, "What Good Questions Have You Asked Today?"

The Excitement of a New Year

Originally Published August 1, 2012

The two weeks before school begins have been my unofficial starting time for school for the longest time. It was during this time that I have traditionally flipped my mental switch of getting back into the school mode of things.  Not that I ever really turn it off completely, but there is more focus to what will be coming.  

This year two changes have occurred to this yearly pattern.  The first is my contract changed so that I was officially working in July this year, as opposed to unofficially as in years past.  The second is that this year will be the first year for The School of Inquiry to exist in reality and not just on paper.  This has been an incredibly exciting process, bringing this school into existence that has taken a lot of work from a ton of people.  I have been blessed to work with an incredible staff from the custodians and maintenance crew who have kept the building clean and made many last minute adjustments to our temporary how, to our technical support staff who put all our technology in through a flurry of work last week, to the staff in the traditional school that has answered calls and provided support all last year, to the donors who have enabled us to have an amazing space and outstanding professional development, to my staff who has been amazing in how they have embraced the changes we are undertaking.

The excitement for me really came home yesterday as I watched my staff interact with each other and our coach from the New Tech Network Beth Boetsche-Taylor.  These are my favorite moments.  When I can sit back and watch as these passionate and dedicated professionals debate, argue respectfully, ponder, question, and actively engage in learning how to be a better school, culture, and school.  This is inside teaching at its most intense and highest levels, and it always invigorates me to watch and participate in.  

When we speak of the cornerstones of a New Tech School; Culture that Empowers, Teaching that Engages, and Digital Learning that Enables, it is in these discussions that we lay those cornerstones to build upon.  It is here also that I feel most excited about what is coming.  It will not be all "seashells and balloons" as the late Al McGuire used to say.  There will be times that will challenge all of us, but watching the staff culture we are building, seeing them create the foundation we will build upon with our students, has me confident we will adapt, adjust, and manage those hard times and come out stronger for it.  

The Things Kids Can Get Us To Do

Originally Posted on July 29, 2012

I spent the past week in the Wisconsin Dells at Kalahari Resort with my family.  It was a great week and an interesting one as well.  I got to spend a lot of time reading while sitting by a pool-one of my favorite ways to relax-and I was struck by a great many things that I read.  On my last day at Kalahari I read a post by George Couros titled In Spite of Schools.  In this post Couros shows videos from two students who have created projects on their own, in one case in spite of her school's attempt to stop her, with little or no help from the education establishment.  His point was in what ways are we limiting our students by not giving them access and time to pursue their passions in school.  It was a great post that got me thinking a lot about the coming year, then my eldest daughter came to get me so I could watch her go down a slide.

This was no ordinary slide.  The slide was the Screaming Hyena.  It stood 60 feet above the waterpark floor, and after being placed in a tube, riders are asked "are you ready" and then the floor drops and they plummet at up to 25 MPH straight down and then into a sloping slide.  It is fast, scary, and tall.  It also is very much outside the personality of my eldest daughter.  She is quiet, not very aggressive, and studious.  It much more fits the personality of my youngest daughter the adventurous gymnast who will try just about anything, seems to have no fear, and loves to climb anything she can.  

Here was my eldest though, saying "daddy come watch me go down the drop slide".  It was an offer I couldn't resist, and captured (after 3 takes) on video.

The best part, beyond watch her conquer her fears, was her response to my question of how was it?  "Easy".  The next part is where I learned something.  I had no intention of getting up on that slide.  I had gone down the winding slide that is next to it earlier in the week and come up with a nose full of chlorinated water, and no desire to find out what a straight drop would be like.  It is not that I am afraid of speed, or heights, or falling, it's that I don't really relish all three at once.  But after watching my daughter go down three times in a row, how could I resist going.  Below is video proof, edited because no-one really needs to see me in a swimsuit.

While Mr. Couros wrote of the great things that kids can do in spite of schools and adults at times, and he is correct in his assessment.  I got to see what kids could make us do.  The lesson didn't end with my going down the slide, but continued into the weekend as I watched my daughters explore the Museum of Science and Industry and take me to interactive exhibit after interactive exhibit and show me what they had done and learned.  

If my daughter can get me up on a 60 foot tall water slide, what might my students teach me this year?  What would more of learning partnership between students and educators result in?  I can't wait to find out.

The Butterfly Effect

Originally Posted on July 25, 2012

Anyone who has seen the movie Jurassic Park is probably somewhat familiar with the butterfly effect as described by actor Jeff Goldblum playing Dr. Ian Malcolm in which a butterfly flaps it's wings in Shanghai and you get rain in Central Park instead of sunshine.  The Butterfly effect I am speaking of came to mind while I was reading an article on by Dr. Kyle Peck who is a professor of education at Penn State University.  In his post, Replacing Educators: How Innovation is Changing the Teaching Role, Dr. Peck says about butterflies:

 "I don’t know what (if anything) a caterpillar feels* as it transforms into a butterfly, but I suspect it’s confused and uncomfortable. In a remarkably short time, the changes are massive, the product that emerges is VERY different, and most people would report liking the new version better than the old. The result is a thing of beauty and as a result of the transformation what once crawled is actually flying!" 

He then goes on to talk about how technology is disrupting higher education at a rapid pace.  He speaks of how this disruption will change higher education to a system in which delivery of lessons will become more and more facilitated by technology and that the role of the teacher will be that of assessing students knowledge.  He finishes with the following quote, which I find very relevant to what we are wanting to do at the School of Inquiry:
"As Stephen Heppel put it; 'In the 20th century, we built big things and did things for people. In the 21st century we help people help each other. Helping people help each other in learning is a whole different place than just delivering stuff to them. … We’re moving to a very different place in terms of learning. It’s a viral, agile, peer-to-peer, collegial sort of place that we’re moving to.'"

While this is the vision of the School of Inquiry-a collaborative place in which young minds are challenged through real world projects and learners are encouraged to pursue their passions with the aid of an expert guide (facilitator), the butterfly analogy he began with is what struck me most.  This is what this next year, and likely the three following them, will be for all of us involved at Inquiry.  

For students and staff the relationship of teacher and student that they have know for most of their lives and careers will be upended.  No longer will the teacher be the sage on the stage who holds all the wisdom (answers), but rather they will be a guide to help students discover answers of their own.  

For parents students may need more support at home than ever before.  They will be tackling a new way of learning, with a rigorous curriculum that will challenge not just what they know, but how they learn new content.  

For administrators like me it will require the willingness to step back, support teachers, and acknowledge that the process may be messy, but like a caterpillar  going through it's metamorphosis-the end product has the potential to be one of beauty if we, like the chrysalis, protect the butterfly during it's metamorphosis and give it the support to finally spread its wings and fly.  

I can't wait for the journey to begin, for our practice to change, and for our learners to fly.

Good Things I've Read Lately

Originally Published July 24, 2012

I do a lot of binge reading on weekends and when I have time-like on vacation now.  Most days I receive a lot of good articles to read from a variety of sources:  Twitter, ASCD's Smart Brief, Smart Brief on Education Technology, Smart Brief on Leadership, Prof Hacker from The Chronicle of Higher Education, and my Feedly RSS feed.  The amount of information avaialble to feed my head is enormous and overwhelming at times.  When I find these great articles, and don't have time to read-daily-I utilize the Pocket App (and website) to save those links for later reading on my iPad.  Then, when I have time I binge read 20-30 at a sitting, saving the best for later by putting them in my Diigo account and sharing them to either our Admin Diigo Group or the Plymouth School of Inquiry Diigo Group.

This morning I have spent an hour, while my family slept, catching up on this reading.  The most recent article I read was by George Couros of Parkland School Division.  In his post Summer Blogging Challenge he encourages people beginnig a blog, which it always seems I am doing, to write about artilces they have read that have impacted them.  So, I am taking his advice and sharing some of the great things I read today-but I am only going to share 1 today, as I don't want to have a 4000 word post.

Lessons from Caine-In this post George Couros-thanks to Dan Funston for getting me to follow George-showed a video about Caine's Arcade.  The video tells the tale of a young boy in East LA who starts a cardboard arcade in his Dad's autoparts store.  It is an amazing story of one boy following his passion, and in turn inspiring others.  In his post George finds three impactful parts of the video to relate to the Alberta Education Competency Wheel: 

1. Boredom is more of a statement about the person than the situation. “Hey Caine…want to come spend the summer with me in the back of my barely-trafficked auto parts store?” For most kids this would be summer vacation equivalent of the kiss of death. There was no gaming system. No swimming pool. No television. A perfect excuse for “I’m booooooorrrred.”
But NO. Caine looked around and saw opportunity. Everywhere. Cardboard boxes, packing tape, gadgets and doo-dads. He chose not to be bored. It’s totally a state of mind.
2. Keep working while the world ignores you. How long was it before Caine had customer #1? How many entrepreneurs or artists would have given up by then, or stopped working at their craft and improving their skills? Caine approached his arcade with craftsmanship and, and that’s what I aspire to do too.
3. Your craft will cost you something. Did you notice the prizes in the arcade? Caine’s own toys. His vision for his arcade required (demanded!) that he use all of his resources to make it work, and this meant forfeiting his own stuff for the sake of his vision.

As I watched the video, I was moved by three other thoughts:

  1. The Power of Others Words:  This was seen through two lenses.  The first through the videographer Nirvan, who found Caine's Arcade and was blown away by what he had created out of cardboard.  Nirvan, could have stopped in, seen Caine, and walked out.  Much like others in the video did, but instead he took the time to interact with Caine, played the games, and saw how much Caine had invested in his passion.  He then validated that passion by spreading the word of Caine's Arcade to others.  The second lens, was that of Caine's classmates who doubted he had an arcade, and made him not want to discuss it or where his shirt to school.  I am not going to say they were being intentionally cruel to Caine, they were kids being kids in many ways.  My question is, as educators how do we respond to the passions of students.  Do we nurture and grow them, even when they are only made of cardboard?  Or do we doubt them and crumple them with a careless comment or thought?
  2. The Power of Connectivity:  The video ends with Nirvan utilizing social media to stage a flash mob surprise for Caine so that he can have more than 1 customer.  The posts from around the world to this event show the power of connecting our students and how it can impact their lives and make their passions more pursuable.  
  3. Passion Changes Perspective:  One part not in the video, which has over 3 million hits on You Tube, is that there is a later video in which Jack Black Visits Caine's Arcade.  The best part of this video is not that a famous celebrity showed up at Caine's arcade with his children.  It was Caine's response to learning that Kung Fu Panda was in his arcade, he went back to work.  When you find your passion, it can overwhelm what others may find important.
In this coming year, how will we help our students find their passion and pursue it?


Originally Published on July 22, 2012

This weekend marks the end of summer for me, the start of vacation, and the mad race to the start of the school year.  This past year has been amazing, challenging, tiring, exhilarating, exhausting, invigorating, and fun.  We have spent countless hours as a team building the School of Inquiry from an idea, to a bunch of google documents and computer models, to a list of students and parents, to four rooms and later this year an actual building within a building.  It has been a time of growth, a time of wonder, and a time of intense preparation.  

This morning I had one of those rare great mornings when everything goes as I would want it to.  I went for a run, got home, grabbed my daughters and walked to Sarbuck's where we got muffins, hot chocolate (them), and coffee (me).  Sat in a chair and read from my RSS feed, and spent time thinking about what I was reading.  It was a great way to start my vacation, but it also lead to reflection more on the past year.  Which brings me to this question, from a blog post by Shawn Blankenship over at the Connected Principals Blog-So What? 

Shawn was speaking about going beyond checking off boxes on new teacher evaluation forms, and it got me thinking about the changes we will be making as we implement PBL at the School of Inquiry.  We have striven to create a unique culture for the school, have changed titles and job descriptions, have reconfigured classroom environment, created flex spaces to try and orchestrate accidental meetings fro students to collaborate in, spoken of trust cards, and creating a new school culture for students and staff.  So What?

So What?  We now need to go beyond the planning, beyond implementation even, and look closely at what we are doing.  We need to answer the question of "So What?"

We are attempting to create a culture of trust, respect, and responsibility.  So What, show me how teachers have given students more trust.  Tell me about ways students have shown they trust their teachers.  

We are calling our teachers facilitators and our principal a director.  So What, show me how these new job descriptions are being lived, not just merely being titles.  Speak to me of how education is being driven from those in the seats, not those in the front of the class or in the office.

We are creating a new environment for learning with flashy technology displays, new seatig arrangements, and spaces designed for collaboration.  So What, show me how students are suing technology beyond taking notes and writing papers, show me how they are connecting to the broader world and creating their own SLN (student learning network).  Show me how they are pursuing their passions within the framework of their course work.  Show me how they are engaged in what they are learning through what they are sharing with others.

This list could go on, as I get more fired up with the idea.  I believe we have created a staff that will accomplish what we want to do, and have been saying we will do.  

When he penned the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson stated in the first paragraph, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."  While I am not going to declare our independence from traditional schooling, although I like that idea for a later post, I do believe as Jefferson did that we need to have our "experiment" viewed by those from outside our staff.   So students, parents, investors, school board members, other teachers and administrators, community members, and the world at large, come visit us.  See what we are doing, look at what we hope to accomplish.  Ask us "So What", and hold us to show you what we are doing.  Let the adventure begin, and join us as we take this journey into the School of Inquiry.

Take Aways from NTAC12

Originally Published on July 19, 2012
As always NTAC was an amazing week.  Thank you to all of the staff members from New Tech who work tirelessly to organize and put on such great events year in and year out.  I also really appreciate everyone who is willing to take time away from their learning to share what they have been doing with the rest of us.  Having never presented at a conference before, I assumed you did your work prior to the conference, then went to sessions until your time to present, did your presentation, and then rejoined the rest of the conference.  In watching several presenters that I know during the week this year, I learned that they really give up a lot of conference learning time to refine, hone, and work on creating a great experience for all of us.

With the thank you's out of the way, here are the five things I learned this week:
1.  Creating an Honors track at a NTN school does not have to be re-inventing the wheel or ponderous.-Thanks to Chris Ozias Pinkney, MI New Tech
2.  Create lasting momentum, and imbed learning, by tying your culture week events to SWLOs or Course Essential Skills.-Thanks to Senna Davis and Tim Hebert from Sacramento New Technology HS
3.  You don't always have to start a project with an entry doc or video, you can utilize a variety of methods as a bridge to Know/NTKs?Next Steps Thanks to Kevin Gantos
4.  The strength of our school will come from the culture we create within our staff, but the strength of our staff will come from connecting to the larger network or New Tech and leveraging those connections to build on what others have created before us.  Forge a new path, but utilize our resources to smooth the path.
5.  As Patrick Malley Meridian New Tech pointed out; "I have many friends in this organization who are smarter and more creative than I am and that's a wonderful thing."