Narrative Matters

Last night a group of Manitoban educators got together to talk about teaching and learning and how that learning takes flight when we take advantage of new opportunities offered by technology.

The evening was framed around having the six Manitobans who participated this summer in something called Unplugd, talk about this uniquely Canadian educational summit: 36 of us wrote a book in a weekend.

Anyone who's spoken to me since I got back from Unplugd knows what a transformational event it was for me and that I've really struggled with figuring out how to share what happened to me in a remote corner of Algonquin Park in North Eastern Ontario; a place entirely off the grid: they have no internet and the electricity and plumbing is powered entirely by the sun. The Northern Edge is a beautiful location.

I couldn't attend the event last night so my friend and colleague Andy McKiel asked me if I'd make a short video to share what I learned and what Unplugd meant to me. It's called Narrative Matters, a double entendre: stories matter and it's important to understand how to use storytelling to make ideas sticky. Here's what I made:

Ed. Note: I should have mentioned that The Northern Edge, where we stayed during Unplugd, is 23 km east of the small town of South River. In the video you'll see a brief picture of the South River train station where we disembarked. "The coat" is hanging on display inside that small building.

You can download the book we wrote (pdf or ePub), please do. Then share it.

I facilitated the team that wrote the first chapter: The Change We Need. Andy, Chris, Jaclyn, Lorna and Shelley made my job easy; they're some of the finest people I know.

I shared a story that motivated my written contribution to the book. Many people did, you can find the archive of all those shared stories in the Unplugd video archive. Here's mine as well as my written piece for the book.

You Matter
You matter because you can change the face of teaching and learning in your school. All you have to do is change the world - a little bit at a time. 

No teacher before you has ever taught children quite the way you do. No one ever will again.

The world needs to know what you’re doing. How you go about sharing your passion, your excitement, your enthusiasm for learning with the students in your classroom every day.

You make a difference in the world in the way you do this.

What you want for your students is for them to excel beyond your own expertise in all they learn from you.

It’s the dream of every teacher: to have your students become more knowledgeable, more capable, more competent than you.

It’s a measure of success.

Essentially you share your spark with them.

What we most want is to pass on that spark, this other centred attitude, an attitude towards the world that says: You Matter!

Adopting the attitude: “You Matter”, making people other than ourselves important and finding ways to make them more awesome, in the end, makes each of us a little more awesome. It creates the change we need in the world.

Let's pass that on to our students so they know they matter and understand their job is to make everyone they meet a little more awesome. When they’ve internalized what they’ve learned from us and brought it to another level: that’s success.

No one will ever see the world through the eyes of our students again. No one ever has, throughout the entire history of humanity. They have a unique contribution to make. We help them understand this is also true for everyone they meet.

Imagine a Canada, a world, where every politician, every trades-person, every professional, every store clerk tackled the world in this way? They’re all sitting in your classroom. Learning from you. Teach us too. Share what you know. Share how you know. Share what you learn. We need you too. You matter.

The Character of Test Questions

TentsImage by rwillia532 via Flickr

In my math classes a typical test is modeled on the character of test questions students will see on their final exams: multiple choice, short answer and long answer.

In a grade 10 math class, what we used to call Applied Math 20S, a multiple choice question might be:

A factory makes tents.  The cost of running the factory is $300 per day plus $50 for each tent made. What is the total cost (C), in dollars, as a function of the number of tents (t) made?

(A) C = 350t (B) C = 50t + 300 (C)  C = 300t + 50 (D) t  = 300 + 50C

I like this question because it quickly allows a student to show whether or not they understand what a "function" is and it's easy to grade. While they have a 25% chance of getting it correct by guessing, in the context of the entire test, and their classroom experiences with me (read: conversations), I know if a student has grasped the concept.

Me and my CellImage by dkuropatwa via Flickr

A short answer question might be:

The monthly cost, C,  in dollars, of using a cell phone is calculated using the function C(t) = 0.09t + 20 where t is the time in minutes. What is the monthly fee and the cost per minute for this cell phone contract?

Another quickie that reveals whether or not the student can decode the information given in a function. Another question might ask them to reverse that; encode a function given the description of a linear relationship. As a matter of fact, there's a fundamental principle there about learning math: Anything you can do you should also be able to undo. i.e. If you can decode the information in a function you should also be able to encode information in a function.

Here's a long answer question: 

The cost of a school graduation dance has a fixed cost of $1500 for the band, security, and so on, and a cost of $22 per plate for every person attending.
(a) Write the formula which states how the total cost, C, is related to the number of people attending, n.
(b) What is the slope? What does it mean?
(c) If the maximum capacity of the hall is 225 people, what is the maximum cost of the dance?
(d) State the domain of this function.
(e) State the range of this function.

The question is not ideal; (d) should be a "gimme" if they understood (c) and (e) depends on the formula they created in (a). Mind you, if they wrote an incorrect formula in (a) but correctly applied it in (e) that's worth full marks in (e).

Image by nebbsen via Flickr

Something these three questions have in common is they require that a student understand the meaning of the marks they're making on the page. While every test has some straight forward calculations, by and large calculations are what computers do best. I want my students to understand what the math means and how it hangs together. Computers don't do that so well; although they're getting better at faking it. That's largely because of the cleverness of people who understand the math behind what computers do.

If your assessments largely test mechanical skills that's what your students will focus on learning. If your assessments test for understanding that's what your students will focus on learning. Which would you rather learn?

You don't have to teach math for any of the above to be true, do you?

Building Learning Communities 2011

These are the slides from the three presentation I did at the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston this week. While I've played with many of the ideas in these presentations before, in other contexts, I worked hard to re-imagine and rework them for the conference. In particular, the last one, Design (still) Matters! took many hours to put together and I felt like I was going out on a limb because I wanted to continue a conversation I hope started here last year. I'm already thinking about where a third incarnation of that talk might go. As alway, I had so much more to share but, alas, time is short. ;-)

The first and last were recorded as videos which will be shared soon. If you saw any of these presented or in the video archive afterward (I'll update this post with links when they're online) please leave your reflections, stories or personal tales of how they struck you. The comments of critical friends is greatly appreciated.

FYI: there are many active links to the content I discussed embedded on the slides. Click around the centre of each slide to follow the link if there is one.

21st Century Bricoleurs part one
Seymour Papert describes bricolage as a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing and playing around. How do we learn by playing around with digital stuff? Can we create deep learning experiences that encourage students to show and share what they know with the world and contribute to the global knowledge commons? We will unleash a cornucopia of concrete student centred learning experiences that leverage the power of the world wide web and focus teachers instructional design through lenses that are student centred, knowledge centred, assessment centred and community centred. We will look at both small short term assignments and larger long term projects that will amaze you with what your students can learn and share as 21st century bricoleurs.

21st Century Bricoleurs part two

Design (still) Matters!
A practical exploration of the intersection between visual design, presentation design and instructional design. Every day, several times a day, teachers everywhere are called upon to educate, entertain, elucidate, enlighten and maintain attention and amongst their students. With the advent of interactive white boards and/or video projectors in classrooms everywhere, the intersection of these skills is fast becoming a centrepiece of an educators toolkit. This workshop will model and illustrate concrete ways in which teachers can incorporate these skills into their pedagogical practice.

Many people asked for a copy of the Pre-Show slide deck. They are all archived in my flickr account and part of how I participate in the Great Quotes About Learning and Change group. The slides are embeded below but I also have a design challenge for you based on this and Ewan McIntosh's keynote.

In his keynote at the end of the 1st day of the conference Ewan asked everyone to read Dylan Williams 12 page article Inside the Black Box (pdf). He also encouraged people to read A systematic review of the impact of summative assessment and tests on students' motivation for learning (pdf).

Here's your design challenge: Read those articles, or just the bits that most interest you. Pull out a powerful quotation from the article. Find a striking creative commons image on flickr analogically related to your quote. Mash them together and contribute them to the pool of photos in the Great Quotes About Learning and Change group. I can't wait to see your thinking made visible in this way. ;-)

How would I prepare to teach a BYOD class?

I've been thinking and reading about what it would be like to teach a (math) class in a school with a Bring Your Own Device policy.

Apple mobile devices / Kenneth / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

My answer: "My class will teach the world what they learn with me. Everything will be accessible online and on a mobile device."

Here's what I would set up:

1. A class blog to tell the learning narrative of the class. It will also serve as assignment distribution hub and reflection archive; the kids will blog. A distinguishing feature of a blog over a wiki is that everything is time and date stamped. It preserves a narrative over time and easily shows growth. Also, with a well thought out tagging scheme, the content can be flexibly reorganized on the fly to show the learning narrative of an individual student or the class as a whole across a unit of study or the entire course.

2. Create a "Hand-It-In" form in Google Docs for each class. The form will include entries for Name, Assignment (from a popup list to ensure consistently), link to [Gdoc, wiki, blog, flickr page, whatever], student assessment based on co-created rubric. That last entry is really important to me. I want the students to  be reflective learners but I also want them to have clear targets so they know what excellence looks like. This also creates a bit of push-back for me to always ensure the students know the assessment criteria before they complete each assignment. They will also know how those criteria will be applied because they had a part in their design.

3. We'll use a group texting mobile app/service, like a closed twitter network, for ongoing communication and peer support such as GroupMe or Swaggle or Grouped{in} (iOS app). Please let me know if you know of other alternatives. I'm not sure which of these would be the best service to use in class. I like that Swaggle limits the number of txts the group can send in each 10 min period. I foresee conversations that are more focused with less "LOL" "OMG" and "ha!" replies although I would encourage "tnx". I would really enjoy the class conversations we'd have as we work together to figure out the best way to do this.

4. I'll set up a group posterous to aggregate SGC (student generated content). (I've done this before for teacher workshops.) This space can also be used to Hand-in work, and share resources w the class. A few nice things about posterous: It just works. Everything you email to posterous as an attachment (photo, video, document, PowerPoint, whatever) is automatically displayed interactively on the site and all the content can be downloaded/remixed at will. It might be a good place for students to collect and share digital artifacts created while learning or working together on projects.

5. I'd also want to have a tagging protocol like I do on my class blogs. We'd use the same protocol on all our digital work wherever it may be: posterous, flickr, wikis, project blogs, etc.

6. I'll create a Diigo group to aggregate links and create ad hoc discussion groups (teacher or student initiated). We'll also aggregate links that respect the class tagging protocol here. Everything on Diigo has RSS feeds so I can move the content around any way I like. I'll likely have windows to the group discussions and link archive on the class blog. In the past I've done something close to this using delicious but delicious doesn't have the group discussion feature built in.

7. Each student will need a flickr account. With younger kids I'd buy a flickr Pro account (about $25/year) and we'd all share the one account. They'll need this for their flickr assignments. I want to use flickr more with students; work more on thinking visual. I've seen some awesome riffs on my idea in other subject areas.

8. We'll need a wiki for our Wiki Solutions Manual. I imagine a wiki or Google site will likely come in handy in many ways for students to collaborate.. Create it and skin it with visuals that identify each class. Ill ask the students to create the images themselves. Past classes have created a mascot like the one on this class blog (top right corner.)

9. I'll want certain apps to be on all their phones, iTouches or tablets; it's easy to find laptop equivalents of all of these. I want this list to be short. I'm not sure yet how this will play out but it'll be fun figuring it out together. One thing I do know for certain is that I'd like the class to make their own student authoured multimedia etext for the course in ePub format. It's dead simple with Pages.

Create Instructional Videos
iMovie ($5) or vimeo (free) app
[laptop equivalents: iMovie, MovieMaker, or jaycut (online alternative, but RIM just bought them out)]

Create Audio Summaries or Instructional Content podcasting apps: ipadio, audioboo, cinch, recorder & editor (99¢)
[laptop equivalents: audacity or garageband]

Create & Publish Multimedia docs ePub (register each class in iTunes, put a subscription link on each class blog, wiki, etc.)
[laptop equivalents and more info about the ePub format]

NB: Every time you see the word "create" I mean the kids do it, not the teacher

I'll also want each student to have the following apps; I want this to be a short focused list:
iBooks (or other ePub reader)
Google (Search, YouTube, Maps, Gmail, Docs, Reader, maybe G+)
SonicPicsLite (there are some digital storytelling ideas I want to play with)

I've left out some math specific apps. I'll share that in a future post.

10. The classroom routine will include a different student each week (maybe 2/wk) publishing to the blog and/or sharing in class "My favourite app for this class is ..."

Bonus: Who's going to design the "class app"? We might use Bloapp.

Did I miss anything or do you think this is all too much?
Hand drawn icons by Aleksandra Wolska

Managing G+ Circles

Circles / Círculos (Abstracción 011) /
Claudio Alejandro Mufarrege / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
I'm trying to get my head around using Google+. The Circles feature fascinates me; the G+ contact/group management system. Initially I read everything I could about how people were using it. I continue to wonder about this and thought I'd ask.

This is the conversation some of us had on G+ about it. I thought I'd share it outside the closed sphere of G+. I imagine (hope) all these G+ discussions will become part of the open web soon.

Darren Kuropatwa
1 day ago · Desktop · Limited
How do you manage your circles? What do you call them?

I have an "Everyone" circle and then Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Former Students, G+ (G+ googlers sharing lots about G+), a few "work groups" (I imagine I'll grow and delete these organically over time).

I've also divided people in my "network" into Tweeps (people I've actually met, worked with or engaged in long term discussions with) and "via PLN" (people I really don't know but with whom I have a number of common contacts).

Everyone goes into Everyone and at least one other circle.

What's your approach to Circles?

Jen Wagner's profile photo

Jen Wagner - I have People I have met, by states, by elementary, by rss, -- I add in circles for conferences (like BLC will be a circle of attenders). I have a Needs a profile circle and UNKNOWN. Everyone who I know goes into EDUCATOR (if they are) and I eliminated the EVERYONE circle. Finally there is my AHA circle. In that folder go people who really have made (and make) an impact to me -- so I can keep in touch.
Jul 17, 2011   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - Thanks Jen! I find the different ways people approach this to be fascinating. ;-)

IT sounds like you have a lot of circles. DOes that become onerous when you suddenly have a number of people to "encircle"?
Jul 17, 2011 (edited Jul 17, 2011)  -  Edit   
Kern Kelley's profile photo
Kern Kelley - That sounds similar to my approach, an everyone circle (in fact I wish there was some setting I could set to do it for me) then I add them to another 'closer' circle if it makes sense to.
Jul 17, 2011   
Jen Wagner's profile photo
Jen Wagner - It would be interesting the next time we all meet to open up our circles to see how each of us create/maintain them -- and the thought pattern that went into creating them. Well -- smiles -- it would be interesting to me. :)
Jul 17, 2011   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - +Kern Kelley That would be a great feature! Sounds like something +Trey Harris and the G+ team should know about. ;-)
Jul 17, 2011  -  Edit   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - +Jen Wagner Yup. You gonna be at BLC? Maybe we can do a hallway session.
Jul 17, 2011  -  Edit   
Jen Wagner's profile photo
Jen Wagner - I have 14 circles --- but CA, TX, and WI/IL have their own circles. Plus DEN and CUE. Some circles overlap with people -- I am thinking of creating a Women of Ed Tech and Men of Ed Tech just to see if they are balanced. Funny -- as I was looking at circles, I noticed that I almost NEVER click on the PHOTO button..... and wonder why. (just an afterthought) catch you later, I am heading to Harry Potter.
Jul 17, 2011   
Jen Wagner's profile photo
Jen Wagner - No to BLC --- yes, hope hope hope to Educon and YES to ISTE in 2012 (San Diego!!) and you???
Jul 17, 2011   
Julie Cunningham's profile photo
Julie Cunningham - +Kern Kelley are you aware that there's a "Your Circles" option when you post? That would be everyone in your circles.... and I kinda figure my main stream is my "everyone" stream.
Jul 17, 2011   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - ISTE 2012 is a maybe. This year's ISTE seemed, from afar, to have a different (more personal?) feel to it that I find compelling.

I'm pretty confident the male/female balance will not be equal. Not sure why, but that seems to be the general makeup of the community.

Enjoy HP7 part 2. Saw it on Fri. It was great!
Jul 17, 2011  -  Edit   
Brendan Murphy's profile photo
Brendan Murphy - I think the circles would be more interesting/helpful if I could see several streams at once al la tweetdeck
Jul 17, 2011   
Stuart Burt's profile photo
Stuart Burt - Friends, family, trust, read later, work people, following
Jul 17, 2011   
Claudia Ceraso's profile photo
Claudia Ceraso - So far, I only have one circle and I publish publicly. I'll see when the need to segment really pushes me to do so.
Jul 17, 2011   
Sylvia Martinez's profile photo
Sylvia Martinez - i have friends, family, ed tech folks, a couple of other specific groups, and "dunno" - everyone goes into some circle, unless I don't know who they are, they they go into "dunno". But then i take them out of the "dunno" circle if i don't like their posts. that way i never have to look at the incoming stream separately.
Jul 17, 2011   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - +Claudia Ceraso +Sylvia Martinez Thanks. Lots of variety in how folks do this. ;-)
Jul 17, 2011  -  Edit   
Errin Gregory's profile photo
Errin Gregory - I have family, friends, BC colleagues, Canadian colleagues, and virtual colleagues so far but I need to reorganize a bit. Thanks for asking the question, it's neat to learn what others are doing!
Jul 17, 2011   
Anne McKague's profile photo
Anne McKague - The "dunno" and "everyone" groups are good ideas. I have one called 'interestingness' for those who I can count on to be a bit quirky and "outta the box and beyond the circle".
Jul 17, 2011   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - +Errin Gregory +Anne McKague Thanks for weighing in. I hope more folks do as well. ;-)
Jul 17, 2011  -  Edit   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - +Brendan Murphy +Stuart Burt Forgot to thank you fellas too. ;-)
Jul 17, 2011  -  Edit   
C Foote's profile photo
C Foote - I think it's really interesting. One thing I like about FB is that I learn more about work colleagues personalities, other colleagues personal lives, as well as using it professionally. So I wonder if limiting conversations to certain groups sometimes might diminish that ability to connect on a more human level--if some only share professional with professional, etc. Does that make sense?
Jul 17, 2011   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - +C Foote You raise a good point. The difference btw FB and G+, for me, is that with G+ it's my choice how much I share and with who.

Connecting with colleagues personally creates a more textured professional relationship, yes, but ultimately each of us is entitled to decide how much we share and with whom.
Jul 17, 2011  -  Edit   
Alanna King's profile photo
Alanna King - Specializations in their work, I just made one for Unplug'd. PLN vs. people I wish would join my PLN.
Jul 17, 2011   
Lorraine Orenchuk's profile photo
Lorraine Orenchuk - I have an inspiration circle and haven't used the everyone circle yet. I hadn't thought of using circles for conferences Jen, that sounds interesting but many of the folks I will connect with in Boston are already in a circle. Will the specific circle allow for more immediate connection when at the conferences? Is that the idea? I am not sure I will be able to check all of this while working/learning/playing/presenting. I will be watching to see how others explain this.
Jul 17, 2011   
Ann Oro's profile photo
Ann Oro - In Friends, I've been throwing people I feel I've gotten to know well over the years through Twitter. In Aquaintances, I put new people who definitely seem to be in K12 education. In Following I put people I just want to see but I know only from afar (think paid speakers). I added Catholic Edu for teachers in Catholic Education, In Person for people I've met [like you :) ]. In Random People I put non educators who added me for some reason. In Random Education I put university types who added me. I just created Administrators since I'm pursuing my masters in Educational Leadership, Management, and Policy which will lead to a principal's license. Thanks for sharing your breakdowns.
Yesterday 8:06 AM   
Ann Oro's profile photo
Ann Oro - By the way, the In Person one comes in handy. Your post would have gotten lost in the stream, but it was pretty close to the top when I clicked on this particular stream which allowed me to respond to your question.
Yesterday 8:07 AM   
Darren Kuropatwa's profile photo
Darren Kuropatwa - +Alanna King +Lorraine Orenchuk Thanks for chiming in!

+Ann Oro The way you describe using circles is the way I use twitter lists. One of the things I like about twitter lists is I can make them into daily newspapers of the resources shared using or I wonder if +Trey Harris and the G+ team will add a feature like that in a future iteration of Circles?
Yesterday 12:12 PM (edited Yesterday 12:12 PM)  -  Edit   
Raman Job's profile photo
Raman Job - Anyone know if you can look at Google+ circles through FlipBoard on the iPad, yet? Love browsing through my Twitter and FB that sometimes.
Yesterday 1:26 PM   
Ann Oro's profile photo
Ann Oro - +Darren Kuropatwa It's funny. I don't tend to use Twitter lists in this way. I have made daily newspapers, but I ended up not using them after I made them. The idea of hashtags really interests me and does an easy way to search a stream. I sent in some feedback about those items.
Yesterday 4:25 PM   
Jen Wagner's profile photo
Jen Wagner - Hmmmm -- I tried twitter lists -- but didn't really get it. I did use hashtags -- which perhaps in a way work like lists -- not sure. To Lorraine -- the circles for conferences will serve (I guess) like a hashtag. It will enable me to follow people at a certain conference....whether or not they are posting about the conference will be seen. It just seems a quick click to see what my friends might be involved in at the same conference. (smiles -- we shall see though).
Yesterday 9:10 PM   
Ann Oro's profile photo
Ann Oro - Following people at conferences could be an interesting way to use a circle, Jen.
Yesterday 9:17 PM   
Jen Wagner's profile photo
Jen Wagner - Smiles -- it might be seen as stalking. But it just seems it might carry a common thread.....or not. :)
Yesterday 9:24 PM    

Ryan Bretag
 has been doing some real heavy lifting around co-constructed learning spaces. I learned lots from talking to him on G+ about the use of Circles. It'll be really interesting to see how the use of Circles and G+ plays out in classrooms in the coming year.

(I wonder if sharing this conversation here fractures the discussion or adds another layer?)