Friday, January 24, 2014

Teaching Like It's 1900

Today, students in Creek Valley Elementary School first grade teacher, Britt Theis's class took a trip to The Old Cahill School in Edina. While there, the students were able to visit a school house that has been preserved to model what a school house in 1900 might have been like. Britt tweeted out this photo:

The picture got me thinking about a few questions:

  • Asside from the wooden desks and the blackboard, how different is this classroom from the ones in most of our schools today? 
  • If your classroom is similar to this one, is it because:

    1. It was the best configuration for students to learn then, and it is still true now
    2. That's the furniture I was provided with
    3. That is the configuration I grew up in and am most comfortable with
    4. Other
  • Is this the best configuration for today's learers?
  • What pedagogical style is this best suited for?
I think by my tone here and the questions I'm asking, you can tell that I think it's time for a change. If we are going to move to a more student-centered, digital age environment for learning, we have to organize our learning spaces differently. I welcome your thoughts.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

It's Not About the Chromebook...

In December, Science Leadership Academy(SLA) in Philadelphia announced that they were changing the devices students would use for their learning from a Macbook to a Dell Chromebook.
Social Media was abuzz witht the announcement

Today, with great fanfare, they announced the "Center for Excellence in Learning," a partnership between Dell, SLA and the Franklin Institute to serve as a "resource for best practice for other educators," and "scale their model of inquiry-driven, problem based learning across the country."

Initially, the focus for many was on the switch of platforms, from the Macbook to the Chromebook. After all, they have been an award winning, Apple Distinguished School for the past 5 years. Some saw the move to the less expensive, cloud-based Chromebook a "step down," and that they would lose out on powerful applications for creating multimedia presentations, and that principal Chris Lehmann, "sold out" as a cost saving measure, because ultimately use of the more expensive Macbook was not going to be sustainable. 

Our district, and others have been using Chromebooks (Samsung primarily, and now a few HP's and Acer) with great success. It is the preferred tool of choice for teachers, and students have commented that, "It just works!" 
Our only issues have been with durability of some models, but having spent a little time kicking the tires on the Dell model recently, I think it will hold up just fine!
Wordle of the Announcement Text

What makes SLA unique, and a beacon for what education CAN be (and is) are:

To me, the fact that they are a 1:1 school has less to do with their success, than with their educational philosophy and approach. It's not enough to give kids a device, learning in the classroom has to change.

While I get that Dell and Google are marketing the fact that they are now a Chromebook school, to me the most interesting aspect of this announcement is how the Center for Excellence in Learning will impact education in the coming years. Having seen first hand the amazing learning environment that SLA provides, whether it is scalable in today's high stakes testing world, will be interesting to see. I'll be interested to follow #DoMoreEdu to see whether it is a slick marketing campaign, or if it really transforms what learning looks like. Given what I know about Chris and the staff at SLA, I will be rooting them on!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Getting Things Done: A 21st Century Competency?

David Allen sharing how to get things done in Edina.
David Allen, author of the book, "Getting Things Done," came to Edina on January 20 to help kick off a "Work-Flow Institute" in Edina Public Schools. For the last 4 years, our district has been looking at workflow and is ready to move forward. Is "Getting Things Done (GTD) a 21st Century Skill? Allen says that it is, and that it is something that we are all students of. It is a constant learning process. I'll be honest here, that I bought his book 3 years ago, but haven't taken the time to read it. Given my work flow, I know I need too, thus I decided to attend the session!

GTD is a life-long process. Something you engage in, with multiple methods of mastery. It's "best practices for appropriate engagement with your world, no matter what!"

  • Makes explicit what we all do implicitly to be effective
  • Magnifies that ability exponentially if you understand the principle
How many have made a list and felt more focused and in control?
How many decidded what specifically to do next on something?
How many commiitted to something?
How many keep a calendar to keep track of things?

The Flow:
  1. Capture potentially meaningful things
  2. decide what to do
  3. park the results
  4. review
  5. overview of committments
  6. make trusted choices
When should and can you learn this process? Allen isn't sure, but he knows kids who have known it their whole life, and they are "smokin the world!"

The Horizons of Committments include:
  • Purpose and principles-what really matters
  • Vision-best manifestation of success
  • Goals-objectives to achieve
  • Accountabilities-key areas to maintain
  • Projects-things to finish
  • Actions-things to do now

Ideally, we would all see a list like this, but in the real world, it looks more like a scrambled wordle with
When this shows up in a crisis, we have to jump in to high performance mode. 

The productive state is when we are in control, relaxed, focused, inspired and engaged.

High performing athletes are relaxed in order to do well.

The key is to not always been in the productive state, but to know how to get back into it! Often people don't realize they are falling out of it, and don't know they need to get back.

Anything on your mind can block getting things done.
Is your attention under your command, or is it being held hostage?
Allen says that our "head is for having ideas, not for holding them."
You can switch rapidly between tasks, as long as you have a good placeholder system and focus on the individual task at hand, like a martial artist fighting 4 people at once.

There is a close relationship between focus and control, though they are 2 different dynamics. 

A victim has no control or perspective. Micro-managers have a lot of control but no perspective.  The crazy maker has lots of perspective but little control. It's the "master and commander" who has both! The "knowledge-worker ninja!"

Why do we not approach our inbasket as a place for new opportunities and creativity? (Situation Awareness training is something the military has started training junior officers)

The secrets of the knowledge-worker ninja:

  • Collect what has your attention
  • Proccess: outcome, next action
  • Organize the inventory
  • Review from a higher perspective
  • Engage, intuitively

  • Identify what has your attention
  • What doesn't belong in your office? (Reference, In basket, )
  • Mind sweep to get things out of your head
He asked us to write down as many things that are on our mind for a few minutes. Get as much info as we can in 3 minutes. For me:

dinner party tonight, planning a trip for spring break, oil change in the car, prepping a blog post for Open Online Experience, checking my kids grade portal, planning a Super Bowl party, organizing for work tomorrow, checking up on my folks, checking Twitter (A shock!), paying bills...

Allen-"The brain is for having these ideas, but not holding on to them!"

Thinking doesn't happen by itself. 
Collection has to go into
  • trusted buckets rather than in your head 
  • collecting devices/tools 
    • Low Tech, Mid-Tech, High-Tech
    • Notepads, lower the barrier to entry for when the thought strikes. Allen uses a "note-paper wallet." Sophistication not senility is when thoughts strike and need to be captured.
    • File folders is really low tech
    • Evernote/Doc SOMEWHERE!
  • Collect it ALL! (For me blogging at a session like this is my collection bucket...") 
  • In minimal places
  • Which get emptied regularly (Oh, you mean 1500 read e-mails isn't a good idea?)
Decide what to do with the stuff collected.
Allen showed a messy desk and said, "It's really the mind of someone with a clean desk!" 
Often to do lists are incomplete. Listing things that still require decision making is not beneficial. You need to focus on whether something is actionable. It's important to "incubate" things that need later action, or need to be parked as a reference.

If it is actionable, you need to know what is true for the item to be done.

Is it a project?
Where does the item need to take place?

Anything that can be done in one sitting is actionable, multi-step needs to be parked in a project location.

Things like laundry, groceries, etc. don't need to live in your head because external triggers will remind you.

To Do Lists become much more detailed and specific, and include the projects as well as the next actions. The projects get looked at maybe once a week. The next actions get looked at during the week and attacked based on priority. All next actions are little things, but when they get checked off, it's a good feeling.

Best practice:

  • Decide when it shows up where to put it vs. when it blows up
  • Frontal Cortex is the only tool you can use for this.

Need to park things that don't get done in a location that makes sense. THIS leads to...


  • Put things where those kinds of things go (vs. mixed meanings) 
  • List manager+files

What needs to be reviewed and when.
How often should the horizon of committments be reviewed?
How often should you look at your calendar? 

  • Regular over-viewing from higher perspective vs. latest and lowdest reactivity
  • Working blueprint of committments

Engage intuitively

  • Refreshed inventories vs. oout of date and incomplete
  • These habits installed.

Instant workflow sanity:

  • Next actions
  • Agendas
  • Waiting for...
  • Projects

The next step is putting it into practice

  • Next action decision-making (The 2 minute Rule)
  • 30-90 minutes per day for daily processing
  • Daily Processing Time-Zeroing IN 
    • Delete
    • File
    • Handle the less than 2-minute ones
    • Greater than 2 minute items go to your Action Box
  • Build in Review time
  • Integrating life and work

A peer-reviewed paper on cognitive research showed that this stuff really works.

Some people suggest splitting the work and personal list, others combine. 
The GTD Workflow Map shows what this looks like:

Given that I am a pack-rat by nature, I struggle with implementing some of these ideas. But at the same time, my inefficiencies make me realize I need to do something. Over the next few weeks, I hope to implement some of the GTD ideas to see what impact it has.

GTD is not about getting things done, but about "creating the conditions to flourish!"