Make An Inquiry: Curation Attempt #2

Mia Zamora & Risk-taking

In my last post, I discussed Julie Johnson’s contributions to the TTT conversation on July 8.  Another very significant contribution was Mia Zamora’s suggestion that spirituality plays a role in our efforts to teach as co-learners.  Though Mia published her piece “Taking A Leap of Faith” before CLMOOC started, it seems relevant to include in my curation.

Mia cites bell hooks’ idea of teaching as self-actualization, an idea that has resonated with me since I encountered it in MOOC MOOC Critical Pedagogy earlier this year.  Mia writes,

…it isn’t just that students should be empowered to show up as full selves, but that teachers must as well, in order to model, but also to show the kind of care for the work that only comes when we make ourselves at least somewhat vulnerable.

She also writes:

Institutional change that matters must generate first from the heart of the learning communities we design.

This is a helpful reminder that educators do have power to make change if we are willing to take risks.

I’m also reminded of two recent Google Hangouts, one where I was a participant and another that I watched, where participants made the case for taking a long view of our teaching.  In a TTT session about the Charleston Syllabus and BlackLivesMatter that I was lucky enough to be invited to, Alabama teacher Al Elliott made this point; specifically, he noted that our current system of entrenched institutional racism has been built over centuries, so we can’t reasonably expect to dismantle it in a few years.  In the Connected Learning hangout yesterday, Simon Ensor also noted that we need to take a long-term view if we are make meaningful change in learning spaces.

This is a very powerful idea, and paradoxically, it makes me feel a bit more motivated to make change in the short term.  That is to say, it becomes easier to take the kinds of risks that Mia argues for if we take the long view; if Room 248 is not a paragon of democratic discourse by Fall 2015, at least it will be a better place to be than it was in Spring 2015, because I will take some risks and invite my students to share more power with me.  And our room will be better in Spring 2016, and so on.  Somehow, not needing to be perfect in August makes me feel more emboldened to risk.

Kevin Hodgson & Colleagues

Kevin Hodgson has taken up the Make An Inquiry idea with enthusiasm, and for this I am grateful, as his efforts have helped me maintain my motivation.  Kevin and two colleagues, Jamilla Jones & Rick Taggerty, published a piece called “Nurturing A Culture of Teacher Inquiry” at Middleweb.  The article describes their efforts to promote teacher inquiry in a partnership between the Western Massachussetts Writing Project (WMWP) and the STEM Middle Academy in Springfield, MA.  The article describes some of the structure that the WMWP facilitators provided for the STEM Academy teachers, including drop-in coaching sessions and detailed checklist of steps.  I was especially intrigued by this excerpt:

A survey of STEM Academy teachers conducted in the days following our inquiry project sharing indicated that many of the teachers found the inquiry process valuable, but time-consuming. A few expressed that taking on practice-related research was too much to ask for from burdened classroom teachers.

The authors argue that inquiry is still worth doing, and of course I agree; but this points out to me that we need to be aware of possible resistance from our colleagues, and as a result we need to be very good salespeople for inquiry.  After all, if teachers received support in inquiry and still felt that it was too time-consuming, what will happen with teachers who aren’t receiving that kind of support?

Make An Inquiry: Curation Attempt #1

This first attempt at curation will focus on ideas I’ve already encountered in CLMOOC.  For subsequent posts, I hope to explore CLMOOC further – blogs I haven’t read, for example – as well as reflect on what I’ve already encountered.

Bart Miller’s “untro to inquiry”

Bart Miller wrote an “untro” for inquiry that included a variety of inquiry models.  I was especially intrigued by this model for a “Design Inquiry Cycle by Rebecca Grodner & Shula Ponet:

From the work of Rebecca Grodner & Shula Ponet

The idea of empathy as a part of inquiry caught my attention, though I’m not sure that the authors of the piece use the term in the same way I would; what they call empathy seems to me to be more accurately called background-building.  But perhaps reading and immersing ourselves in a topic is a way to promote empathy?

Bart also links to Kath Murdoch’s list of “misconceptions” about inquiry, which are also thought-provoking. Murdoch emphasizes the process of inquiry and stresses how important emergence and context are in authentic inquiry teaching.  I especially like the idea of “tuning in” to students’ thinking, as well as her “misconception number 5,” that the inquiry cycle is only for teachers:

Students benefit from having some ‘meta-language’ to attach to processes they use as inquirers.  Some kind of framework should be developed for and WITH students that helps everyone gain a shared language. Making this visible to students helps them think about how journeys of inquiry are both similar and different. It is really useful to display the cycle but only if it is referred to, analysed, played with and critiqued!<

After presenting this variety of models, Bart adds his own thoughts.  He writes:

As long as we are trying, we are getting it. This is a mindset that also applies well in the classroom.

And adds:

Often, inquiry learning models begin with some iteration of ‘formulating questions’, but I have found that that is not necessarily the best way to begin an inquiry.

Whether it speaks to my preferred learning modality or personality type, I find that making is a great way to start. The challenges that arise catalyze questions. The enjoyment of the process of making demands to be shared. Reflection on doing is inherently more motivating than reflecting on thinking.

I have found this idea, especially the idea of a make leading to questions, to be especially fruitful for me this summer.

Finally, Bart notes:

The challenge for teachers is to document and curate a constantly evolving authentic learning community!

This reminds me of Karen Fasimpaur’s “How I Got There” challenge on Youth Voices, which I have attempted to do myself over the past few weeks.

Anu Liljeström’s Learning Ecosystem

Anu Liljeström has done some eye-opening work with her elementary school students in Finland, and we’ve been lucky enough to have her participate and share in CLMOOC.  She’s co-authored academic articles on her work with a model she and her collaborators call design-oriented pedagogy.  Last week, she wrote a blog post about what she calls the “learning ecosystem” that she and her students developed.  Anu asked for critical feedback, and thus far I’ve been unable to muster any suggestions, mainly because I would probably die of happiness if I could do anything remotely as authentic and complex as what she and her students do!

Anu's diagram for the learning ecosystem, from the blog post linked above.  Image used with author's permission.
Anu’s diagram for the theoretical concept of the learning ecosystem, from the blog post linked above. Image used with author’s permission.
Anu's diagram for the learning ecosystem that emerged from her work with students, from the blog post linked above. Image used with author's permission.
Anu’s diagram for the learning ecosystem that emerged from her work with students, from the blog post linked above. Image used with author’s permission.

The idea that I want to incorporate next in my teaching practice is what Anu calls “extended school,” and especially what she calls “enthusiast culture.”  I think this could be especially powerful in my context, where parents who are not comfortable speaking English or who have less formal education may feel intimidated and excluded from participating in their children’s education.  By calling attention to and intentionally including family members as knowledgable practitioners with valuable expertise, we might be able to break down some of this exclusion.   This could also have the effect of beginning to de-center “school” as the source of knowledge and authority by positioning “school” as one of the nodes in a vast network of knowledge and learning.

Teachers Teaching Teachers, redux

I’ve mentioned the July 8 Teachers Teaching Teachers conversation on CLMOOC & inquiry that I had the good fortune to participate in, and I’d like to return to this conversation to elaborate on Julie Johnson’s idea about Learner Hubs.  She shares this at about the 11th minute in response to Paul Allison’s question about how CLMOOC Make Cycles influenced her teaching.  Julie describes teaming with four other teachers to provide a larger audience for her students; students create digital portfolios during Make Cycles and then group up with other students from the other classes (these are the “hubs”).  This could be a very useful framework for expanding students’ peer collaborations in a more manageable way.

Julie has also elaborated on these ideas on her blog.

Coming Attractions

In my next post, I’ll review the contributions of Mia Zamora, Sheri Edwards, and Kevin Hodgson.

CLMOOC 2015 Make Cycle #5: Catching Up with Curation

The past couple of weeks, I’ve reached CLMOOC Overload – a combination of being busy at my “summer job” added to so many good blog posts, so many ideas for makes that I really want to do, so many intriguing Twitter & Google Plus conversations to keep up with.  It’s taking me back to last year’s meme cycle, where I decided I needed to

Do Only Some of the Things

I’ve been talking in this space about curating, but haven’t actually finished a curation post.  (And this post isn’t a curation post…)  So I’ve decided that I will make this week all about catching up by means of curating.  I’ll be taking time this week to review and reflect on what people have shared so far, and writing blog posts that present a view of CLMOOC 2015 Weeks 1 – 5, with a special focus on the Make An Inquiry contributions.

How does that fit with the spaces & storytelling theme of this week’s Make Cycle? Ah, see, I’ve got that covered – the public space I’m telling a story about is CLMOOC!  Ha ha!  And I’m going to use KQED’s Digital Storytelling resource as a guide to learning more about digital storytelling as I also learn more about how to curate.

Find (At Least) Five Friday, CLMOOC Make Cycle #3

I think I’m going to extend this week’s Make Cycle into next week, because I haven’t made as much progress on creating games as I would like.  My Find (At Least) Five Friday is going to be a document of the progress that I have made, as well as an acknowledgment of the people who have helped me along the way.

Kevin Hodgson and I have started on a game in Twine, and my face-to-face colleague Keith Bahrenburg has joined in as well by sharing some ideas he has for gami-fying his graphic arts classroom.  Nadine Aboulmagd and I have also started to collaborate on a game and are in the planning stages.  Nadine has also given me some valuable ideas in relation to my remediation make.

The Twitter chat on games yesterday was full of ideas.  As usual, Terry Elliot made me think about a variety of topics, including fence rows.  Chris Rogers got my hip-hop inspired pun on “system” and made it even better by mentioning Jamaican sound clashes, while our facilitators at Glass Lab Games did an excellent job of connecting the Make Cycle to the larger pedagogical and philosophical issues behind systems.  I think I would like to reflect further on how games and power might relate to each other.

The Teachers Teaching Teachers conversation I participated in on Wednesday deserves mention as well.  Kevin was there.  Karen Fasimpaur was also there, and she posted links for me in the chatroom and helped me get over my nervousness about participating in a chat with so many smart people.  Julie Johnson joined us on her phone from a hotel, which in and of itself was worthy of a shout-out; she also shared some intriguing ideas about inquiry and what she called “learning hubs” before her battery gave out.  She said that she’s still thinking through the logistics of what a learning hub would be, but the idea seems like it might be a workable framework for thinking about how to connect students with resources outside our classrooms.

When I was in elementary school, I was in a 3rd/4th combo and then a 5th/6th combo, and the kids who were a year ahead of us in that combo were our role models.  Charlie knew all about rap; Sharooz was the best at math; and Ryan was a kickball genius.  Mia Zamora and Anna Smith are kind of like those 4th graders for 3rd-grade me in the CLMOOC community.  They were in the TTT conversation, and they were able to articulate some of the ideas that I tend to express with metaphor or allusion.  For example, Mia mentioned that CLMOOC has the tendency to re-orient teachers as learners.  I tried to use an allusion to the Gospels – “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last” – to explain my idea that the most powerful teaching and learning happens when we de-center ourselves as authorities, and Mia summed up this idea with the term “co-learning.”  She also mentioned in the private Google Hangout chat that there is a spiritual element to Connected Learning and our struggle to democratize learning spaces; this also resonated with me.  Mia’s thought reminded me of the opening of bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress, in which she argues that schools should be spaces for teachers and students to achieve self-actualization.  (Full disclosure:  I’ve only read the opening of Teaching to Transgress, which was one of the readings in the Critical Pedagogy MOOC MOOC earlier this year.  I think I need to sit down with this book later this month and in August and read it before I go back to my classroom.)

Mia also wrote a blog post this week titled “A Leap of Faith” that deals with these topics; I read it quickly and plan to go back to it to read it more carefully a bit later.

I should also mention Paul Allison, without whom the TTT conversation would not have taken place, as he invited me, and asked me to propose a topic and invite people that I wanted to talk to.

Finally, Maha Bali’s ideas about power, democracy, and context have deeply influenced my own thinking about the ethical implications of my professional practice.  She couldn’t participate in TTT synchronously (6 pm in California is 3 am the following morning in Cairo, and even though she is often up at 3 am, she also has added commitments this month because of Ramadan), but she watched the Hangout later and added some helpful comments on Twitter.

In particular, Maha highlighted Mia’s comment about CLMOOC’s centering of teachers as learners, which – when I read it the following morning – helped me organize my thinking about the conversation.  I mention this because I’m intrigued by how the various media informed my participation.  That is to say, I was “there” in the TTT Hangout, and I was directly involved in the exchange in which Mia made her comments.  While her comments resonated with me during the Hangout and were on my mind, Maha’s asynchonrous comment on the conversation in another medium emphasized the importance of Mia’s comment for me.  I wonder what the implications of this are for learners in our classroom?  Can Twitter, for example, be a kind of backchannel (another idea, now that I think of it, that Mia brought up in the TTT Hangout!) to support student interaction?

I realize that this idea is probably very 2011, but I’m a slow learner!

Make Cycle 3: Games & Inquiry

This week’s Make Cycle is all about making games!

I played this a lot when I was a kid.  Photo credit:  "Atari-2600-Wood-4Sw-Set" by Evan-Amos - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
I played this a lot when I was a kid. Photo credit: “Atari-2600-Wood-4Sw-Set” by Evan-Amos – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

My experience last week has led me to think that creating a game around my inquiry can be a useful way to deepen my understanding of my questions. I went into the summer thinking that I wanted to write a (more or less) formal research plan during the Make Cycles; now, however, I’m starting to think that I’d like to take on the various Make Cycle challenges as a kind of “pre-writing” for my research.

I’m interested in using Twine to create a text-based game that explores power relationships and learning outcomes. I’ve started creating a game that I’m calling “Inquiry.” If anyone would like to work with me on this game, please let me know!

Another resource that CLMOOC participants might look at is the “How I Got There” mission on Youth Voices that Karen Fasimpaur created. Karen described the mission:

A group of us on TTT [Teachers Teaching Teachers] last night started on a “How I got there” mission (activity) to encourage students to track their inquiry and research process. Afterwards, we started collaboratively writing this…Would love to have anyone help out with this.

If you’re interested in participating in the CLMOOC Make An Inquiry activities, please join us! A few resources are below.

Are you interested in inquiry, but not sure where to start? Or maybe you have an idea you’d like to share? Feel free to comment here as well!

To borrow an idea from Dave Cormier, we are attempting to create the Make An Inquiry strand while not exactly knowing where we are going, so your suggestions are really golden.

Remediating an Inquiry: CLMOOC Make Cycle 2

I developed much of the thinking in this post, and a good deal of its actual language, in blog and email conversations with Paul Allison, Nadinne Aboulmagd, and Maha Bali.

Remediating has been a challenge, in large part because I love to write, in the old-fashioned sense of the word:  using a pen to put text in a notebook or a computer to put text on a screen.  I’m not nearly as comfortable or experienced at composing in other media.  So when the challenge of remediating our texts appeared on Monday, I was initially resistant.  Even when Anna Smith suggested remediating our inquiry questions, I was skeptical:  wouldn’t this be a distraction or detour from the work I wanted to do this summer?

However, I’ve learned that good things usually happen when I push myself out of my comfort zone, so I resisted my urge to dismiss the idea of remediation in favor of doing my own thing.  The Make With Me, as I mentioned in my last post, helped me clarify what I might do:  use mapping to consider the power relationships at my school.

As the week went on, the thinking behind my make proved to me much more interesting – to me, at any rate – than the make itself.  Though I looked at a few different online mapping options, I decided in the end to make an old-fashioned pen-and-paper map.

This was my first attempt at mapping the power relationships at my school.
This was my first attempt at mapping the power relationships at my school.
This was my second attempt.
This was my second attempt.

The second attempt does a better job, I think, of showing my perception of power at the school, though I realized after completing the map that I switched from circles to rectangles without any particular reason.  Multiple rings in a circle shows more power.   The size of the circle or rectangle does not correlate to increased power, however.

I think I’m going to create a third map that uses hierarchical proportion to show who has more power.

I also should note that these maps only account for people who work at or attend the school as well as the families who send their children to our school.  It does not include other actors who exert power – e.g., district administrators, board members, outside consultants, the county office of education, lawmakers, vendors…

As I thought about the power relationships at my school, in addition to realizing that it’s extremely difficult to represent the complex manifestations of power, I realized that there are more questions that I might consider in my inquiry.

What would happen if I mapped my view of the power relationships at my school?  What would happen if I asked my students about their perceptions of these power relations?  Will these perceptions change if I give students more autonomy in my classroom?

What do we mean when we ask “who has power in our school?”  E.g., are we talking about power over resources?  Power over expected outcomes?  Power over evaluation and “gatekeeping”?  All of the above?  How might my inquiry change depending on which aspect of power I am considering?

To what degree do people cede power to others at our school?  If teachers/administrators/staff cede power to students and families, will this affect outcomes positively?

Can I use sociogramming techniques to learn about how my students perceive our school?  Can I use these methods to learn more about what students and their families want from school?  Would this lead to a greater democratization of expected outcomes?

I’ve also been thinking about Chapter 5 of Shagoury & Power’s The Art of Classroom Inquiry, which uses the term “distant teachers” (from Vera John-Steiner’s Notebooks of the Mind) to describe the texts we read to inform our research.  In addition to “distant teachers” in education, Shagoury & Power point out that we can learn from other fields as well.  I’ve been reading Margaret Collins Weitz’s Sisters in the Resistance, and this week I read the obituary of Nicholas Winton, who saved 669 children from the Nazis in Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939.

This has led me to ask some questions about how this reading can inform my inquiry.  For example, the incredible bravery and selflessness of Winton and résistantes such as Lucie Aubrac and Marie-Hélène Lefaucheux lead me to ask:

What are the possibilities of human achievement?  

How can I learn about my own potential as a human being from these stories?  

How can learning about people we admire inform and sustain our efforts to build communities that are humane and compassionate?