This afternoon I gleefully shuttled my boys to their weekly gymnastics class. Usually my wife, Kate, handles this commitment, but today she was out of town. Both of my five year old twin boys are very active learners. They love to be in motion. Jumping, climbing, balancing — so, naturally, gymnastics is a perfect fit for their personalities. Sitting on the sidelines casually watching this afternoon I noticed educator brilliance. One of my sons, Finn, was having trouble sitting against the wall and listening to directions. He was still practicing — in his own way — the moves from the previous exercise. Thankfully, his teacher didn’t yell at him to get in line. She didn’t draw any attention to him at all, initially. She let him be. At a distance, that seemed to make sense to me because Finn wasn’t causing any distributive trouble. I can think of other learning experiences (swim lessons, for instance) when less skilled teachers gave him a time-out on the beach for five minutes because he wanted to play in the water and not wait in line. I remember talking with him on the beach after his lesson about his time-out — and what stuck out was his shame. “I’ll never be a good swimmer, Dad,” he said. Or more heartbreaking, “I’m don’t like learning new things.”
Back to gymnastics. After a few minutes, Finn gets up from his spot against the wall and starts to practice summersaults. And again, instead of yelling at him, his teacher encourages him to come and sit close to her while she describes the next activity. Engaged, he quickly joins her side. And this is when the brilliance happened. During her description of the next tumbling activity, Finn started to act out (from a seated position) everything she was describing. Pretty amazing — real-time — interpretation of her words. And it was so compelling that the other kids in his class started to mimic him! Realizing this was going on, she completely embraced it and then took it one step further. She pulled Finn onto her lap and used his arms and legs as a puppet to exaggeratedly act out the plan. He was laughing hysterically. They kids were rolling around on the floor. The plan was effectively delivered. I was blown away by her teaching instinct. When most teachers would try to redirect a “noncompliant” kid, she instead saw it as an opportunity to connect and go with what was already working. Such a natural. It all happened in a matter of minutes, but it was fluid, loving, fun and completely in-tune with the students.
As the kids got up from the circle and headed to the planned activity, Finn lingered. When his teacher approached him from behind, he turned around and gave her a high-five and then ran off to join the group.
Well done, sansei. Well done. Thanks for listening to my kid. It matters.
I took a summer break from the blog and podcast, but I am excited to be back. Looking forward to sharing observations and whatever else comes to mind. Once I sort out the hosting issues with LibSyn, the Adam Jones Education Podcast will back online and producing content. In fact, I have a fantastic interview with Jon Martin from Sandwich, NH — which I recorded last Spring. Sorry for the delay, Jon! Coming soon to a podcast curator near you!
Starr has been teaching for the last 9 years at World Journalism Preparatory School (6th-12th grade). She currently teaches AP Literature and Newspaper. She is also a coach/guide/mentor to many of her colleagues and teachers around the globe. She is the social media manager for the @ECET2natl brand.
In this episode of the Adam Jones Education Podcast, I chat with Adam Bellow. Founder of EduTecher, EduClipper and currently serving as a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow. We talk about his career, his kids, trends in EdTech and the value of communication when navigating all things technology!
Some questions from the episode:
Why does the education field still matter to you?
Are you happy working in education?
What role does having your own kids play in your development as an educator?
What is the Presidential Innovation Fellow Program?
How did you get selected to be a part of the Program?
Are you still working with EduClipper given your 1-year appointment to the White House?
Your family lives in NY. You are living in DC. How are you managing business and family time?
In your opinion, are we experiencing a faster evolution of education than we experienced in the last 25 years?
What will schools look like in 10-15 years?
How do schools transition and make that shift? What are the steps?
How do you (personally) stay fresh and current in the EdTech space?
Are we breeding (and adversely nurturing) a generation of anti-social kids?
What future professional development are going to be participating in 2016?
Working on any long-term projects?
How can people get in touch with you? How accessible are you?
In this episode of the Adam Jones Education Podcast, I chat with fellow Proctor Academy educator, Coco Loehr about her experiential education philosophy, place-based education and instructional leadership on Mountain Classroom. This was recorded in June and November 2015.
What is Mountain Classroom?
What was Proctor like for you as a student?
What was it about Mountain Classroom that you loved as a student?
What is it about Mountain that is so special for our students?
Why is studying border issues better on Mountain than out of a book/in a classroom?
Are we overloading the kids with too much experiential education by giving them this impactful experience AND asking them to live in a bus and not shower for 15 days?
In first year as an instructor, what did you kids learn?
How did you navigate the conflicts of buy-in with your students and the curriculum?
How were classes structured? What does the experiential model on the road look like in action?
Team teaching? How often are you sitting in class?
Are they doing a lot of HW in their free time? How do they manage? Management?
How did your students shift from a traditional classroom environment and succeed in a very “open design” model?
What structures were you putting in place to assist the learner in a new and dynamic environment?
What are the downsides to experiential education?
Should we have a larger (more terms, more students) Mountain Classroom Program?
How are you using the Summer to improve the program for next year?
Do you want to stay in education when you are done with Mountain?
Since last conversation, what you learned over the Summer/Fall that you intend to bring to Mountain?
How was the process of meeting your co-Instructor and starting the planning process?
What are the themes for the Winter and Spring?
How are you going to make the day-to-day simpler (stated goal from Part One)?
What expeditions are you planning for the Winter and Spring?
Are 4-day (3-night) solo adventures still apart of the program? (Spoiler Alert: YES)
What do students report as the main takeaways from Mountain?
How can people interested in following along on the Mountain journey (November 2015 – June 2016) stay connected?
In August, I wrote this short piece for Starr Sackstein’s recently published book, Hacking Assessment. Thanks for asking Starr — it was a lot of fun to reflect and put these words down!
Teaching is an art form. It is a delightful dance of perspective-taking and feedback.
Paradoxically, the most impactful teaching is often invisible to the learner. The teacher exists in the background attentively driven to listen and offer feedback when necessary. Done effectively, students learn how to learn. Increasingly complex adaptive challenges become the central currency in developing learner curiosity, passion and efficacy. As a teacher you’ve succeeded when you walk in the classroom and you know the students no longer need you. Independence has to be the supreme goal.
The path to this end is rarely straight. It is a dance with each student to understand their starting point and investigate the role of feedback in their learning process. And that is why teaching is so dynamic, fluid and fun. It is a chance to co-create a beautiful piece of art that ultimately the learner owns.
I love being a learner. Consistently exercising those muscles feels really important when taking the perspective of my students. I am in touch with what it means to be taught; and therefore, understand what I need to unlock my intrinsic motivation. For example, time to explore, examples to examine, opportunities to practice/fail and access to the feedback of experts. Unsurprisingly, when I design a new class I am primarily focused on the perspective of the learner. These questions routinely come to mind:
Would I be able to learn in this class?
Would I be challenged, held accountable and discover a sense of ownership?
What form(s) of ongoing feedback would most support my skill development?
How could I effectively demonstrate that I’ve grown and developed a critical eye for the places I still need to grow?
Designing a class that adequately answers these questions and encourages learning is challenging. Never mind the more difficult challenge of actually tracking and making that learning visible. Detailed below is a description of what I’ve discovered are essential components of a class that encourages curiosity, passion and efficacy.
In recent years I have moved away from assigning numerical grades to my students’ work. Instead we focus on levels of proficiency (no information, advancing toward the goal, meeting goal, excelling past goal) when talking about their demonstration of learning. In addition to the marker of proficiency comes consistent and copious amounts of feedback. A numerical grade or a description of one’s level of proficiency means next to nothing without explanatory feedback.
At the start of the term, I create a master Google Sheet that lists all of our assignments on the horizontal axis and our learning goals (Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening) and their subcategories on the vertical axis. Students make a copy of the document, share it with me and we work together throughout the term to track their progress. Despite the simplicity of this system, it has assisted in keeping everyone aimed in the correct direction.
Additionally, students create Google Drive Digital Portfolios and share the folder with me. This cloud-based home serves as the visible headquarters for all their work — draft and final. I am eager to explore more integrated standards-based learning information and tracking systems such as Chalkup and FreshGrade this year.
Learning is all about feedback. Aside from setting the structure and expectations of the class, the most leverage for growth a teacher can consistently offer a learner is feedback. All assignments are opportunities to practice, receive feedback and refine. I use the audio messaging app, Voxer, to maintain an open line of verbal feedback throughout the term. Whether I am providing verbal feedback on their speaking skills after a class-led discussion or summarizing, with particular emphasis, the narrative comments left on one of their Google Doc drafts, Voxer is an invaluable tool for personalization and relationship building.
I utilize the text messaging app, Remind to send general announcements and after class public praise to highlight examples of student learning. I regularly jump at the opportunity to use the formative assessment tools, Socrative and Kahoot, to check for understanding, provide feedback and course correct. Additionally, all students in my class create content to be published on their Blog which has the potential to provide an authentic audience ready to offer feedback in the comments section.
It is an essential component of enduring learning that students revisit their work and communicate insights from their progress. Creating scaffolding for students to experiment with this type of meta-thinking is critical for them to understand where they started, where they are presently and what work is left to complete to reach their learning goals.
Students in my class complete a weekly (exit ticket) Self-Reflection Google Form. The information from this form serves as the mind-jogging catalyst for the mid-term and end-of-term Reflection Interviews with me. These recorded conversations last between 10-20 per student and typically take two days of class time. Additionally, I have been experimenting with the screencasting app, Explain Everything as a self-reflection tool as an alternative to the more narrative approach with Google Forms.
The starting point for effective class design and teaching is one’s capacity to take the perspective of the learner and skillfully offer feedback. Further, if a transparent system of accountability is established; feedback is consistent, copious, varied; and students develop a critical self-reflective eye — all the ingredients are present for learner independence to develop by way of curiosity, passion and efficacy.
There are a variety of ways to tell a story. Spoken. Written. Visually captured.
And a variety of mediums that assist in telling stories. Podcasts. Blogging. Videos.
I am always, it seems, searching for ways to sharpen my storytelling skills. For instance, I am drawn to this blog as place to reflect and share. I have a running list of blog post ideas. And it isn’t that I don’t want to write – or don’t have the time to write – rather, I like to bounce between mediums when trying to communicate ideas. Some ideas feel like they need to be written (like this one).
I continue to be inspired – and motivated – to tell the stories of the educators I speak to on my Podcast. I can hardly believe I have been producing and publishing episodes for the last seven months. I am scheduling interviews into the Fall with some of the most dynamic educators sharing in this space. I have learned about the mechanics of sound recording, quality human-to-human interviewing and how to engage social media to share. I wouldn’t want to try and tell their stories with the written word – they are best left to audio. In fact, I struggle to find the time to compile show notes because I’d rather use that time to work on other storytelling projects.
My love of video production runs right alongside my enthusiasm for audio and the written word. And with an iPhone 6+ camera always available in my pocket – and inspired by Casey Neistat and Louis Cole’s daily vlogs – I am capturing tons of raw storytelling material. My current approach to filmmaking isn’t focused on spending days and days making an epic film. I enjoy making short and very frequent films mostly about my twin four year olds because I spend most of my time with them.
Capture some footage in the morning. Edit in the evening. Publish and share before the end of the day. This quick and dirty approach encourages me to make something new every couple days. I can experiment and play because the stakes feel low. And while I don’t get a lot of feedback (critical for improvement) from the outside world, I am starting to see growth in my video storytelling skills just based on self-assessment.
I published the Big Swing in November. Stock background music. Everything shot on an iPad. Some tripod footage. Not a lot of planning, just take-a-camera-and-go. Simple and fun. More a memory capture or home-video style than any deliberate storytelling.
The Apple Pie Lapse was shot around the Holiday season. A little voiceover. Time-specific music. Playing around with the time lapse feature on the iPad. Simple and easy. Tells the story of our family and that afternoon almost by mistake. It isn’t very dynamic, but the “time lapse” stage of my film-making process was an important building block in my skill set.
Ski Lessons 2015 was one of the first films shot with my iPhone 6+. So easy to “be in the world” capturing high quality footage with this camera. Short little clips. No plan for telling a story. Just gathering footage that might turn into something, but also might not. Sometimes in the process of gathering film something “out of the ordinary” will happen (like Leo running into me at the end of this clip) and that unusualness will motivate me to make something.
The Creature Birthday Party 2015 was shot in April. This film represents a more deliberate approach to telling a story. I thought ahead of time about how to capture the joy and freneticness of a kid birthday. I used three cameras and two tripods. Time lapse ran throughout the entire party and my plan was to use that footage as the anchor for the story. I knew I would zoom in and out (of the event) with the other cameras to get a closer look at the party. The music helped to hold the storyline.
To the Bridge shot entirely with iPhone 6+. Edits and cuts overlaid with music. Most of the audio from the clips was removed and the flow of the music carried the story. This is another stage in my skill development – the use of music as the central character in the story. Playing with the speed of video inline with music tempo starts to make an appearance here.
That’s Just a Fish brings together a lot of the skills in development. Camera angles. Music in the back and foreground. Music tempo and timing with video. Capturing the feel of a camping trip – summed up in Leo’s words at the end. Also around this time – and without planning ahead of time – I started to think about the editing process during the filming. I’d think – what else do I need to capture this moment? What will be interesting? Thinking about the end while in the present, but with a freedom for the vision to shift is one of the central insights that I’ve learned — and continues to guide my process.
At the beginning of July I made this simple little film, Skywalker Deluxe. Back to basic time lapse, but it is better than any of my previous time lapse-only films because 1.) short time lapse IS the right way to tell this story; 2.) the music perfectly fits and augments the film. Nothing else is necessary. Anything else would complicate the un-complex joy of the first jumps on a new trampoline.
I shot this a week ago on the iPhone 6+. Four minutes is long – so I played around with the linear narrative. End of the day moved forward in time with the music. I wanted to keep the film moving so people would watch it. The music is upbeat and abruptly cut for effect. I didn’t go into the day thinking I was going to tell the story of July 4th, but the footage I captured was interesting so I felt compelled to make something. And it should be said that I like making films – I do….it is fun. But the hidden benefit is having a thoughtful archive of all these moments in my kids’ lives. Wish I had done more deliberate storytelling with the film from their younger years. Even thinking about going back and editing that stockpile makes me shudder.
This is my most recent film, Summer Bridge. I shot and edited it a couple days ago. As with most everything, it was done with the iPhone 6+. I am also starting to carry around a Joby tripod everywhere I go. Helps with time lapses and the stabilization of any regular close shots. In some of the clips above, I slowed the film down to help tell the “summer innocence” story. Music sets the tone, but the audio from many of the clips isn’t lost. This feels important. Unlike some of the other recent films (Saucy Fellows and Elbow Rain), this one took more than an hour to edit. It could have been done in an hour, but I kept tinkering with it (and even slept on it) because it didn’t feel like I wanted it to feel. And while it wasn’t “perfect” in the end – it was done enough to learn from and move on to the next one.
Couple insights strike me as I finish this self-reflection on my film storytelling development.
First…I recognize how privileged I am that I get to play and learn in this manner during the summer. Many of my friends don’t have the freedom to just be creative, learn a new skill and then blog about it. They are too busy with everything else. I am lucky. I also have some pretty adorable subjects!
Second…despite their differences – the written, audio and video mediums of storytelling have a similar flow and feel.
Namely, just do it.
Experiment. Practice. Make drafts. Refine. Get out of the way.
Always be asking, what has this new creation taught me that will help me with the next one?
In this episode of the Adam Jones Education Podcast, I chat with Proctor Academy Science Teacher, Alan McIntyre. He explains what problem-based learning looks like in his classroom and why it is essential to his teaching philosophy. We also talk about his AP curriculum and how he coaches his students to become independent learners.
A lengthier description is forthcoming. Just wanted to get the audio up and public!
In this episode of the Adam Jones Education Podcast, I record the story of iPadpalooza: DAY THREE at Westlake High School in Austin, TX. This episode (14) – and the two other parts in the series (episodes 12 and 13) – represent a departure from my normal interviewing style. What follows is a collection of recordings from sessions, in-between sessions, and my own personal reflections from June 25, 2015.
Listed below are my quick notes from the day. ***Coming soon***