Saturday, September 27, 2014

Needle in a Haystack

Posts inspired by posts inspired by posts....

People inspired by people inspired by people....

What does it mean to be inspired? Word origins fascinate me.

Inspiration (n.) c. 1300 "immediate influence of God or a god." From Old French inspiracion, "inhaling, breathing in." From Late Latin inspirationem, "inspire, inflame." Literal sense "act of inhaling," attested in English from 1560s. Meaning "one who inspires others" is attested by 1867.

Act of inhaling. That IS sometimes what it feels like to be inspired.  

Also - immediate influence of God or a god.

Yes, at the risk of sounding like an insane person  misunderstood hyperbole, in a sense, yes.  Simon Ensor has "touched" upon the fact that something bigger than "us" is at play here: here and here and here and (you get the idea).

Mimi Ito wrote a freakin brilliant an incisive, incredible post that has many of us still thinking, annotating, and reflecting.

Maha Bali was inspired to reflect on the aspect of Mimi's post that discussed preferring to read blogs to reading recommended books. Mimi's post was added to the Diigo group so we could all jump in and annotate.

So many things in Mimi's post resonated with me - and made me laugh.  Was +Alan Levine @cogdog more than one person, an amalgamation?  And was +Kevin Hodgson @dogtrax also more than one person?  They are able to make so many connections that they seem superhuman.  They've assured us they are each one person and also two different people.  

What inspired me to create what I think of as the Twitter Haystack image, though, was what she said about @howardrheingold and anxiety:  [he] wakes up in the morning worried that a co-pilot has fallen asleep at the wheel or that the delicate social machinery we've stitched together is going to fall apart." Mimi then goes on to say that in her opinion, "We may not be too big to fail, but [she] would like to believe that we are too diverse to fail and distributed to fail."

My image is meant to reinforce that idea - we are too happily enmeshed to fail.  Just like my summer #clmooc that never ended, this construct has a life of its own.  We are all needles in haystacks that managed to find each other.  The massiveness of a MOOC is not just about numbers, but about depth and intricacy.

Thanks, all. Nice haystack.
attribution for picture:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

This is about you....

This is about you.

You are 14.

You came here to the U.S. from the Ivory Coast because there was a civil war.

You told me about weapons hidden in Banco National Park by your house.  Seeing people shot.  Seeing people die.

You told me about not being in school for a year because of the war.

You told me about a cloud descending on your village.  And a weeping statue which could end the war. 

You told me about why there was a war - there is a President, and someone else who thinks he should be ruling, so they were killing people who were against them.  

You showed me magical protection amulets that local fighters wore.

You showed me your favorite foods. Foufou. Alloco. Kedjenou. Cacao.  We talked about cooking.

You told me your father and mother spoke two different traditional languages, as well as French and English.

Now you are in the U.S. 
At an alternative school. 
You are struggling to understand how to interact with your peers.  They make fun of your accent.  You try to fit in, often in ways that disrupt.

Today you finished a project.  I told you that a lady from Egypt had created the project.  Other students in your class balked at the programming language involved, but you jumped right in.

You were fascinated that I could be in a class with a lady from Egypt.  I explained (as best I could) online connections and classes. After looking at her project, you said, "Me and dis lady, we have a lot in common!"

"Dis lady" was Professor Maha Bali, who then wrote you an email, in spite of her own busy life with work and family. I can't wait to share it with you Friday!

You've never talked to anyone at my school for more than 5 minutes.  Today you talked nonstop for 40.

Thank you, Maha. You helped someone half a world away.

If this is Connected Learning, let's keep it up.

I learned I have so much to learn. 
That is all.
child in front of French troops, Ivory Coast

Saturday, September 20, 2014

DIFFER-en-ti-a-tion: You're Doing It Wrong

Researchers at the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum define differentiated instruction as "a process to approach teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class.  The intent is to maximize each student's growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is."
I've always strived to differentiate - based on ability, readiness, learning style, experience, student voice & choice.
Each year, though, the students arriving at my doorstep are more and more complex.
I want to meet them where they are.  But finding them is getting tough.  
Sometimes I chase their ghosts down into the cave, or watch their eyes float through the sky, or try to grab the shadow that remains when the consciousness, the conscience-ness has left.
I won't stop.
Click here to see my attempt to parse them out: 

Friday, September 19, 2014

400 Screaming Hawks at a Squirrel Convention

This has been an insane two weeks at my day job.  Let me first clarify that I truly love what I do.  And we have fantastic, forward-thinking leadership  in my building.

I am charged with facilitating our middle school PBL program and a variety of "other duties as assigned" (although to be truthful, I volunteer for most of the duties).

Our staff is small (20 certificated staff, 12 Instructional Assistants) and our classes are small (right now the largest is 9 students).

Like in "dog years," though, there is a calculation for our students that is a simple multiplier that I just now made up in my head

  • one boy at my alternative school = 5 boys at a comprehensive school

  • one girl at my alternative school = 400 screaming hawks at a squirrel convention 9 girls at a comprehensive school

So, yeah, I have been working some crazy hours since school started, and yesterday I was feeling an overriding exhaustion the cumulative impact.  We are off today, a day
Historic Grandstand at the Fair
designated as "Fair Day" due to a local humongous agricultural fair that seems to have existed since the dawn of time.  Last night, I also I worked at our nightschool program (AKA Twilight, believe it or not), so my day started at 7 and ended at 7.

What does this have to do with Connected Courses?

In the midst of all of this at school, I checked my phone and saw that Terry Elliott had posted Iconoclasty 101.  I told myself, "You have no time to read that," and immediately found myself reading it.  "Damn you, Terry."  I did not have time to write a comment.  Yet I did.

You #Connectedcourses people are making me a little bit crazy

Aside from Terry, the piratical iconoclastic modular-home blower-upper:

I have Simon Ensor, with his open, vulnerable, humble writing that I see alternately as beautiful sushi rolls or foaming steins of beer.  Maha Bali making me think about Twitter as half eggs, and online trustworthiness.  Howard Rheingold, self-professed online instigator, keeping us all connected. Kevin Hodgson, fellow non-higher-ed-ucator, making comics that intrigue and entertain. Mia Zamora declaring #ccourses a guilt-free zone.  Alan Levine teaching us to be bona fide smartasses online.  Helen Keegan, fellow #ccourses addict enabling my addiction.  The list goes on and on. If you are not listed, it is only because I am trying to avoid over-wordiness.

My name is Susan and I am a #ccourses addict.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Meat of It: #WhyITeach

Why do I teach an Enrichment Course to students who have been kicked out of their own schools for behavioral reasons?

Because for twenty years, no one thought my school needed an enrichment course.
"Those kids...can't learn....don't learn....won't learn."

Because my school is not funded enough to have the courses needed for a student to graduate.
"Those kids won't graduate anyway."

Because my students are some of the most brilliant I have ever worked with.
"Those kids are just criminals."

Because they represent only .01% of all students in my district.
"Those kids don't matter. Why waste resources on them?"

Because their home schools don't really want them back.
"Those kids? What kids?"

I made this for my team at the beginning of the school year. Seems appropriate for this Why:

Why to the Fourth Power

 I teach because kids hate tests. And so do I.

actual test paper

I teach because a student asked me yesterday if I could eat 196 grapes in three minutes.
I teach to reach.
I teach to learn.

I teach because crayfish.

I teach because new territory. 

I teach because horizons.

I teach because provocation.

I teach because mindstorms.

I teach because bridges.

I teach because my students believed me when I told them there was a mice bucket challenge.
I teach because trees, because my child, because treehouses.
Me as a literal tree hugger
I teach because curiosity.

I teach because laughter and pigs.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Blackout Poem based on @raccooncity's Not All Who Wander Are Lost

First, check out Lara Jensen's Connected Courses post here.  
As we begin to begin our new Connected Courses experience, I've been catching up with new blogs. I read Lara's post and bio and was intrigued: "I love a good provocation! Apologies in advance if I ask too many questions..."

Lara already seems interesting, and I am looking forward to learning from and connecting with her. In the spirit of friendly "provocation," I took her post and created a Blackout poem, partial screen shot here:

To see the whole doc, click here:

Lara, I hope I did you justice.  

Here's the poem in its entirety:

Meandering Path
Get started wth contrast.
No, I engaged the nature,
The direction,
A series.
Just try learning for the ride-

     perfectly, easily.
Experience complete.
I could follow in the connected WHY.
This will be my Integrator,
seems in my zone of reasons and desires.
The nature of the way.
To unfold, we will have difficulties.
There is expectation; people seem focused on steps.
But "personality" will end up with some kind of story at the end of
I push the intended boundaries, poking around in the first place.
A few might want to "break the rules" and adventure to reach side trips.
Explore some control each day.
I look forward
to the 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

For Realz

Today's reading:

--Explicating self and connections (and perception of online clique-ish-ness, or click-ish-ness?) (Maha Bali) " I was one of them in the sense of 'not being one of them.'" 

--Questioning everything (Simon Ensor) and using words in the form of gorgeous skipping stones. "Peaks glower down our feeble flailings. Hearts bound in awe."

-- Creating more beauty from Simon's beauty (Kevin Hodgson) "Listen: Life streams on; Stars resist the darkness with light flickering from above."

--Incredible creation-collaborations by Terry Elliott: "The awe is that we are at all."

So much generative thinking, 
synthesizing of emotion and connections, 
into something worth thinking about, 
worth spending time on,
something that would not have existed without the "we."

Contrasted with:
This week, I went to a day-long "Professional Development." I am intended to take what I "learned" and present it to our staff next Tuesday.  For the PD, we sat in a large room while the [well-paid] presenter went through her many many powerpoint slides.  An Important Person was in attendance.  When she spoke, her staff photographer would get up and photograph her speaking.

When she speaks, she is photographed speaking.  This Speaking Moment will be tweeted.  Those Who Follow Will See Her Speaking.  

Did I miss the moment when education became Public Relations?  Obviously.

It is a Business now, education.  I get that.  
But I still fall back from the shiny surfaces; there's too much glare.  I still look askance at the Glitter; it gets in my eyes if I sit too close.

Is this what is real?

Nah. It's not.  We play along.
You want music?
We sing a song.

My hands are dirty with ink from making Blackout poetry with kids.
For realz.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pretension, Protection, Possibility, Profusion, Potentialities, Production, Pro Forma

Human Embryo Day 3
In the Connected Learning world, I am essentially an embryo, having made my first true foray into #CLMOOC this past summer.  The summer of 2013, I had tiptoed around #CLMOOC without really understanding it, and feeling like I could not contribute anything of value to such an amazing group of people.  Back then, I still felt some element of ego, and unthinkingly protected its ragged remnants.

Pic  kindly shared by Simon Ensor
This summer, I jumped in to Making Learning Connected, nearly ego-less.  I was first struck by the lack of pretension in what was being shared by CLMOOC-ers. It was a beautiful thing, to share one's process, messy as it was, torn at its edges, sometimes ripped right down its middle, and most of us (as coined - I think- by Terry Elliott) #flailers.  It became joyous to for me to join a community of self-professed flailers. Showing your vulnerability gives others the chance to feel comfortable sharing theirs, perhaps luring in some lurkers/samplers/watchers/observers/worriers in the process.  This is what CLMOOC-ers did for me - helped me feel connected to something much larger than "an online class."

Speaking of which, my prior experiences with online classes were comparable to boxed macaroni and cheese, with most of the Required Online Discussion Board postings filled with pro forma powdered cheese.  I craved Asiago and Pepper Jack, or at least real cheese of some kind, but instead faced postings as benign as imitation American.  I wasn't looking for pretension, or even brie, just something real to respond to.

Why were/are people so disengaged in these required online courses, the ones they are doing just for credit, just to maintain certification? Certainly time is an element, or rather lack of time.  But I think it is primarily a result of the combined crush of low expectations from the instructors pressed into complete lack of any awareness on the part of students that it can be different/better/fun.  In the last online class I took (Common Core Formative Assessment no less), I went so far as to put ridiculous titles on my Discussion Board posts just to try to engage people - titles like Pigs and Beer - basically I was yelling "Come over here!  Here, come see this! Connect!"  Results were meh. 

What I have seen in the weeks since CLMOOC ended is that CLMOOC did not end; the connected learning had a life of its own.  I have never been led down so many wormholes, rabbit holes, into so many thought tornadoes, never before jumped into ponds that were way deeper than I thought when I jumped in, found dark crannies and cracks in windows that delighted and confused and astonished much real cheese that I never even knew existed.  I had never before taken a class that I couldn't wait to engage with.

So my question is, what are the requisite conditions for such living-loving-learning to occur?  It feels often that this is a unique group of learners, these Connected Learning People, the curious, the intellectual, the profane, the questioners and answerers, the organizers and the break-apart-ish, the great writers and poor spellers and people who respond when you need them to as if they can read your mind.  

fulgurite (formed when lightning hits sand)
Basically, can this happen with any group of people?  And I know the answer is yes-at-some-level-or-another.  That's just not good enough for me.

Here's what I feel (I was going to say, "here's what I know") - it just seems that if anyone could get a glimpse of what true connected learning feels like, they would be converted instantly, as I was, like when lightning hits sand.  I was a fulgurite.  I was instantaneously melted and re-formed (reformed?) with  connected "roots or branching tube-like structures."  A true reformation.

Connected Learning, you leave me hungry for more.  How do we make this appetite go viral?

Responding to "Early Days and More Cowbell" with @Zeega: Close Reading

Terry Elliott's thoughtful blog post "Early Days and More Cowbell" inspired me to respond here.

As Terry stated after seeing my response, it is amazing how much creating such a response forces one to do close reading.  It also helps me to see the beautiful nuggets of writing embedded in a great blog post like Terry's, such as "laying bare the connectedness of the 'already there.'"