Active Learning with TPACK Modell

10 Things Your Professional Learning Partners Should Want to Tell You

Active Learning with TPACK Modell

This post was originally published for Getting Smart here.

I have been thinking about the way things are in the world of professional development. Thinking about all those things I have learned to say. Thinking about the questions I have learned to ask. Thinking about the assumptions I have learned can not be assumed. Thinking about the realities of planning, implementing, and improving professional learning for educators.

As we all work together to do better for students, educators are establishing professional learning relationships with partners to hold each other to high standards. Here are 10 things your professional learning partners should want to tell you:

1. We want professional learning to look like what we hope to see in our classrooms.

So, why does professional learning not look more like what we hope to see in the classroom? Why do we often find an expert on pedagogy standing at the front of the room, between a dimly lit projector and screen, trying to disseminate information to participants from a poorly designed, often outdated PowerPoint?

We want professional learning to reflect the strategies, practices, and tools we hope to incorporate into teaching and learning. So, give us time and space to explore a framework like TPACK and teachers will quite literally become active models of the TPACK venn diagram as they discuss their experiences with the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and content.

Learning is messy. We need space, we need to change around the room and stack chairs and… wait for it….we need to laugh and play.

Hexagonal Thinking in action during Professional Learning

2. We want to give educators voice and choice when it comes to their learning.

What if we ask educators what they are interested in learning? Then, we must listen to the answer and support educators with whatever they need to pursue that learning. What if every teacher had their own IEP? What if we pair what teachers want to know (interest) with what they needed to know (metrics)?

Professional Learning Give Educators Voice & Choice

What if we developed a culture where learning and growth was not only expected and encouraged, but passionately pursued by everyone on campus? Can you imagine teachers beating down the door to buy tickets to a PD session? Why is that such a funny image? Instead, the most mentally taxing moments of a PD day may be spent fantasizing about all the places they would rather be.

Let’s start by letting go of some control, loosening the reins, and treating educators like professionals.

3. The details really do matter.

It is 2015 my friends. Wifi is not optional. Relevant sites should not be blocked.. Surveys should not take ten steps to get to. Please don’t piss off my participants right before they do the survey; you are messing with my data. And holy guacamole, please don’t make my teachers sit in chairs that are  not proportioned adequately for the adult derriere. The learning space should be reflective of the expectations and value placed on interaction and thinking. Say no to rows!

How about a moment to decompress before after school PD? While we are at it, can we all agree to avoid PD right before spring break? Right after a big standardized test (as in the afternoon after actively monitoring a high stakes test)? I know, I didn’t think I had to voice that as a request either, but that one is a true story.

Professional Learning Metacognition and Collaboration

4. We want the administrators to stay and be a part of the learning.

We know you are quite busy, but we really do wish you would stay and model the dispositions of a mindful learner for your staff.

It is more than your proximity, although that can be helpful for determined distractors. We want your mind. We want you to model, as Ron Ritchhart says, “Who you are as a thinker.” Your actions, your participation, your questions will either encourage or impede the culture of thinking on your campus. Back us up (if we deserve to be backed up), provide context for why you brought us in, make connections, and set the expectations for the rest of the group to make the most of our time together.

Visible Thinking in action during co-teach

5. We want to show this is more than theory.

Research shows that we typically lose people at the implementation stage, although I think many times it is even sooner (if people are grading papers and cutting lamination during your session). There must be an intentional balance between the comprehension (I get it) and implementation (I can do it) of pedagogical theory in the learning design.

So, please give us an opportunity to show this really works within your specific context: your students (yes even that one), your infrastructure, your curriculum. Let us into your classrooms where the rubber really meets the road. Let’s co-teach, model, coach, right there and work out all the little kinks along the way. Let’s build in time for reflection and planning the next steps so we keep moving forward.

And, I’ll go you one further: Let’s involve students and ask them what works and what does not. Lots of tools, resources, and strategies hyperbolically promise engagement. Let’s ask the students what is engaging and allow them to become part of the lesson building and professional learning ecosystem.

Professional Learning Building Capacity

6. We would rather build capacity than dependence.

We want to be an extension of your team, your thought partners, your collaborators, but primarily we want to support the growth of your team. We are driven by impact and we want to make lots of it. When we focus on empowering you and your team we know at some point we may work ourselves out of a job in your district, but shouldn’t that be a goal on some level? Help us look for opportunities to develop capacities over focusing on deficits.

7. We want your honest opinion.

Life’s too short to be passive aggressive and to gossip. If something isn’t working, just tell us. Let’s make it better. Tell us what you think, from the start. Let’s model the type of open communication we hope to see with our teachers, administrators, students and parents and keep the drama level down. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Let’s design the feedback loop with everyone in the loop and plan for regular check points to reflect on progress. We believe in the growth mindset. We want to change. We know there is always room to improve.

8. We want learning to be about creation not consumption.Professional Learning Creation over Consumption

I am still at a loss for why so many learning opportunities for educators are designed to be sit and get. We know better. People learn by creating, doing, playing, struggling, persevering. Period.

We talk about the dangers of spoon feeding students information, assistance, and answers—what about educators? Why is it suddenly acceptable to spoon feed them information, a scripted curriculum in a can, and mandated execution of whatever pet projects the powers that be deem necessary (all to be uprooted the next year before their effects could even be analyzed)? Take away the creativity and agency from teaching that should provide intellectual stimulation and fulfillment and we might end up losing anyone who craves that.

9. We want to play the long game when it comes to involvement and impact.

It is easy to conduct what Greg Garner calls Seagull PD: Just swoop in, disseminate information, and swoop out, leaving some rather unfortunate remains behind. It is harder to do the intentional thinking, problem solving, and strategic planning required to be a part of the long term plan.

One size does not fit all, and just changing that title slide does not count as customization. Sometimes you do have to reinvent the wheel, when the vehicle requires it. Business folks may ask how we can scale such customization. We are more interested in teacher development and inspiration than a perfectly replicable business model.

10. We want to try new things.

Just because your district always has two PD days a year in the cafeteria with the whole staff does not mean it needs to stay that way. Should two days a year be the only time to plan for the growth of our teachers and other leaders anyway? PD should not be about just putting a check in the checkbox.

Hexagonal Thinking & Sketchnoting During Keynote Session

We believe in a posture of experimentation. What if administrators became the substitute teachers once a month (or more) so teachers could have a day to plan, collaborate, share best practices, and learn?  What effective learning might take place for administrators too, facing the challenges of the classroom head on? What if common planning time was a priority in the schedule, not an afterthought? A posture of experimentation allows us the freedom to create.

Posture of Experimentation in Professional Learning  Fishing for Cause & EffectWhere can we find those little bits of time and opportunities to build up our educators? Help us model the posture of experimentation by both encouraging and supporting our desire to try new things. We will not stumble upon innovation if we just keep doing the same things. Let’s fight the status quo, design professional learning where teachers don’t even think of bringing papers to grade and laminate to cut, learning where teachers can explore, create, and find meaning that impacts their students and ignites their desire to grow.

So, may we all be brave. May we say the things that need to be said. May we hold each other to the highest standards. And may we diligently set each other up for success, because the outcomes of professional learning ultimately impact more than the hours they take up. It’s really all about our kids.

EdTech Women EduWins Group

Nurturing Authentic Voices

EdTechWomen Austin Planning Session & Pizza

When our EdTechWomen Austin chapter organizers sat down (and by sat down I mean opened our Google Hangout Chat window) to discuss plans for an event at TCEA we all aligned on one point. We wanted to provide opportunities to raise up authentic voices of females and their supporters. We hoped to provide a safe, laid-back environment for women to come together and share the ways they were trying to innovate, ideas they had, their EduWins, and the lessons they were learning along the way.

EdTech Women EduWins Group

Part by design and part by necessity we kept it really simple and each speaker shared a little glimpse into what was going on in their world:

  1. Emily Weerts used the time to practice her pitch deck for Nucleus Learning Network, an organization she co-founded which is focused on connecting, educators, learners and mentors by facilitating sustainable partnerships that will result in high-quality educational experiences. She shared about the ways in which the Nucleus Network is coordinating Affinity Groups where people working on similar issues can connect to enhance cooperation in order to develop and achieve shared goals. The Nucleus Network is also coordinating the Maker Education Village this year at the Austin Mini Maker Faire.Students Working Ann Richards School
  2. Kat Sauter & Ana Jo shared about their journey to develop a MakerSpace at the Ann Richards School and the lessons they learned along the way. They shared how the space is already impacting student learning and providing opportunities for innovative experiences. We especially loved this picture of girls working with power tools to create. For others interested in creating a MakerSpace, their advice was to start by identifying the current resources such as: space, funding, and experts. You can learn more about their innovative space and projects on these two sites: www.arsdesignlab.com & www.projectventura.wordpress.comChallenging Perceptions in STEAM
  3. Jennifer Flood shared about her brainchild event Challenging Perceptions which was initiated last spring to do just that, challenge the perceptions young girls had about the STEAM fields and opportunities through hands on activities, conversations with mentors, and facilitated reflection. The event took place in Bastrop in hopes of providing opportunities for girls on the East Side of Austin to participate, an area Flood feels is often underserved. EdTechWomen Austin plans to support the event again this year and is looking for volunteers and mentors to help make the day a success. Sign up to help here! SXSWEdu even did a piece about last year’s event.
  4. Marcia Hensley: discussed some of the creative possibilities when webtools and extensions are combined in the classroom in her presentation Combined Creativity. Marcia asked the group to talk about how their students create unique learning artifacts with various tools and shared about the power of infographics to encourage student thinking and demonstrate information in a new way.Young Women Who Code
  5. Janet Couvillion: Janet’s energy and passion for her new organization Young Women Who Code was contagious. The organization is committed to providing opportunities for young women, aged 5-12, to learn the fundamentals of computer science. Young Women will experience various plugged and unplugged coding exercises, in addition to having access to a mobile maker space. Janet shared about her journey into the world of technology and her heart for encouraging young women to explore the possibilities of creation with code.
  6. Cori Coburn: I am pretty sure Cori inspired everyone with her talk “On the Move”. She shared about her reignited passion to learn and grow and how this mindset has transformed her life and career. She even received her most recent job opportunity via Twitter! Her advice to the rest of us? Remember your roots and why you do what you do. Establish relationships. Be connected. Jump at opportunities to improve yourself. She is a true embodiment of someone who takes her own advice and I could listen to her stories all day.Heather Russell STEAM night
  7. Heather Russell: motivated others to take the plunge and host a STEAM Night. Heather gave us some ideas and tips from her experience of planning and hosting a STEAM night in her district. She shared stories of parents and students playing and learning together as they explored different materials, activities, and concepts. Her stories and advice definitely had brains marinating on the possibilities back in our own districts and communities.
  8. Karla Koop: shared how she is retiring from her many years in public education in order to pursue her vision to take Maker Spaces to the masses. Her new company, MaKr U will provide MakerCamp opportunities for all ages including DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. They will provide equipment such as 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies in the experience.
  9. Christy Fennewald: shared about the incredible group of students she works with in her Girls Who Code club. These girls constantly blow Christy’s mind with their desire to innovate, create, organize themselves, and make a difference. You can see more at the Westwood Girls Who Code club site. The girls are currently seeking more female instructors and speakers in the industry. Contact Christy if you’re interested.ACC Space
  10. Stacey Guney: shared how the Austin Community College gave new life to the Highland Mall with the largest installation of edtech in the country. She gave us a behind the scenes glimpse of the project and transformation. One new program made possible by the space is called the ACCelerator, which is already having a positive impact providing flexibility and differentiated opportunities for students working to further their education amidst the demands of work and family.


Thank you to all these incredible women and everyone who took part in the event. We look forward to future opportunities to nurture authentic voices, come together, and push one another towards greater innovations and impact.

Hexagonal Thinking & Sketchnoting During Keynote Session

10 Reasons to Try Hexagonal Thinking

Hexagonal Thinking Resource

I made this to try out some Hexagonal Thinking activities. The colored tags could be used for different concepts within the thinking map such as: potential solutions, resources, people involved, or anything else that makes sense in your activity.

1. It is simple.

Hexagonal Thinking is simple yet powerful. Students can make their thinking visible by writing ideas on a hexagon and forming connections.

2. It enables empathy.

As groups rearrange the hexagons in a variety of ways, they begin to see how others view the world–the very definition of empathy.

3. It brings new ideas to light.

I wasn’t convinced of this until I tried it, but the shape of the hexagon itself allows for more creative connections due to the number of sides and the way your eyes and brain search over the whole thinking map to seek connections. When you make a list or work in boxes, the linear thinking that follows can be quite effective and speedy, but for creativity–hexagons win.

4. It stimulates rich discussion.

Communication skills are strengthened since the thought experiment ideally requires collaboration. Students must communicate and petition one another while they reposition ideas and ultimately come to a consensus.

5. It makes big problems digestible. 

The original context for hexagonal thinking as far as I can tell was actually in the corporate world. Author, Arie de Geus wrote about using the problem solving strategy in his book, The Living Company. Bite-size pieces not only help solve corporate headaches, but also give students structure and space to make sense of big concepts.

6. It gets students moving.

Discussions can get pretty lively as students reposition different hexagons to represent new connections.

7. It gives everyone a voice.

Students who may not feel comfortable responding to a question in front of the whole group are able to contribute and discuss connections in smaller groups as the map unfolds. English language learners and students with exceptionalities can participate at their level of comfort too.

8. It is not reserved for a specific content area or age group.

The driving question could be related to any topic for any grade level. Just be sure to have a question or problem with enough meat to stimulate a variety of perspectives and solutions.

9. It can become a visual support for future learning.

Students can refer back to the thinking map either as a visual on the classroom walls, or as a digital artifact. This can help bring back mental models around the concept or inspire new connections, continuing learning on topics far beyond their scheduled coverage time.

10. It makes metacognition tangible

The physical act of writing down an idea and placing it into the connected thoughts of peers is powerful and supports not only individual metacognition, but also nurtures a collaborative culture of thinking.

Hexagonal Thinking Sketchnotes

Nurturing a Culture of Thinking Reflection Activity

Nurturing a Culture of Thinking From the Start

Nurturing a Culture of Thinking Reflection ActivityVisible Thinking is about helping students become better thinkers. The way our students think and their disposition towards thinking, are each greatly influenced by the culture of our schools and classrooms. When thinking is valued and protected, students and teachers will come to realize that real learning is not about facts, but about the exploration of ideas*.

Ron Ritchhart identified eight forces that impact the culture of thinking, each with the power to stifle or promote thoughtful learning. Below are Ritchhart’s Cultural Forces, his commentary, and some of my thoughts mixed in there.

Ron Ritchhart's 8 Cultural Forces

8 Cultural Forces

1. Time: Allow students time to explore ideas and time to respond to questions asked. Don’t forget about the second wait time students need in order to reflect after a response is given.

2. Opportunities: Create purposeful activities to explore ideas. Implement learning design that promotes inquiry. Students can’t deepen their thinking if they are only given shallow requests.

3. Structures & Routines: Use Thinking Routines, patterns of conversation, and other tools to make student thinking visible. Over time, these routines can become engrained habits that will stay with students for a lifetime of learning.

4. Language: Use a language of thinking and reflection with your students. Ideas like metacognition and wait time could be explained to your students (no matter their age).

5. Modeling: Model who you are as a thinker to your students. Share, discuss, and make your own thought process visible.

6. Interactions & Relationships: Create a safe place for thinking and sharing, through collaborative inquiry and continual reaffirmation of the value of thinking.

7. Physical Environment: Arrange the space to facilitate thoughtful interactions. The way a room is set up can say a lot to our students about whose ideas are valued.

8. Expectations: Share clear expectations for the level of thought required for a learning activity. Keep the priority on thinking and learning, not on regurgitating information and completing work.

I believe it is important to reflect on these forces as they apply to the culture we create in our classrooms, schools, boardrooms, presentations, and any interactions we have with “learners”. I created the reflection activity to help myself and the educators I work with, as we strive to nurture a culture of thinking. I spent some time trying out the activity and ended up with some changes I’d like to implement in every single category.

Reflecting on a Culture of Thinking

A culture of thinking doesn’t develop spontaneously. It takes intentionality.  I hope this reflection activity will encourage my teachers to experiment with, and be mindful of, the forces that impact student thinking.

Sidenotes:

Ron Ritchhart’s newest book, Creating Cultures of Thinking, is due out in 2015

*This is a paraphrasing of a quote from Rosamaria Díaz-Vélez, professor in the online Making Thinking Visible Course- Fall 2013