Monday, September 21, 2015

Disrupting Traditional Courses with an EdCamp Model to be Life Ready

“Really, the only thing that makes sense is to strive for greater collective enlightenment." Elon Musk

Teachers and Students Change How Learning Happens!

8th Grade teachers and 8th Grade students collaborate to design a year long course experience!
  • An experience that is not your typical PowerPoint project in a few days.
  • An experience that will change daily/weekly all year long, and allows students to use the "rule of two feet."
  • An experience that generates pure excitement, where students run to sign up for a session.
  • An experience that intentionally disrupts traditional education "structures"

Yes, we are doing it EdCamp style in the 8th grade!

What started out as a possible major dilemma (Boring traditional learning structure) turned into an EPIC situation that had both students and staff raving about their collaborative sessions coming to life.

While roughly twenty grouped students would be in Kevin Jarrett’s Digital Shop, what were we to do with the other students? Were we to transform our Encore period (a period where core subjects rotated on a daily basis as an extension of the lesson due to room and staff limitations) into a study hall?  As the 8th grade team and I sat in a meeting, we discussed various ways to make something work.  Study hall, freedom to use Idea Street, extra help sessions, extra lunch period, etc... Yet, as this discussion was taking place, I looked over and saw Kevin Jarrett's shirt. Without hesitation, and sadly cutting a few people off in conversation, I said loudly, "How about we do an EdCamp period?"

What happened next was AWESOME!

The team looked at each other and then at me and said, "You're willing to give us and the students that much freedom?" “Yes I am, however make sure that all ideas are someway attached to our curriculum and standards.”  We seriously ended that meeting on a high note before heading to a long Labor Day weekend.  

When we convened back together the following week, the energy was still high, but you could sense many "What If" questions about to be asked.  Perhaps we had too much time off to think, or perhaps we over-complicated ourselves. It seemed as if we hit a possible "mental block." We were planning for something that had never existed before, and we were getting lost. We realized that we were missing something, something important.  Then, someone on the team stated, "We need to get the ideas from the students."  BOOM!!!  

We came up with a plan!

We had five days to work on this plan because on the 6th day, the next twenty students would rotate into the Digital Shop for their experience.  The first day during Encore, we would explain the overall process of what we were thinking, of giving them a voice in what they were learning. To do that, we needed to use design thinking as a team to make this an awesome educational experience. The other four days were to be used for brainstorming sessions, together as a team (teachers and students). Thanks to Kevin Jarrett for suggesting we set up a Google Doc to share their session ideas, the creativity began take off!  

Carter's Post It- During this process, students were also asked to reflect in their journals in ELA as to what they thought about this new experience. At the conclusion of the day, Lisa Carlton, a teacher of ELA, went out of her way to find me.  From the moment she found me, I could tell she was glowing with enthusiasm. "You need to read this, and you need to read this now!"  

Then after sharing a yellow Post-It (she copied from his notebook) with me, I was at a complete loss for words for a moment and just smiled. "Wow, this is why we need to continue this path. This makes all of our design thinking/innovation and taking a leap outside tradition is worth it." Then Lisa stated, "The beauty of that Post-It, is that all the students and staff feel this way!"

Student Voice Matters


The final meeting: Together, we reunited as a team, and shared what took place over the 4 days of designing. You could feel the excitement, and it was evident when Lisa Carlton took a stand and said, "I just have to say, this is by far the best year so far in my educational career.  I love coming to work and smiling all the way." And then the rest of the team proudly agreed. WOW, NEED I SAY MORE! (Or as Lisa would say, "drop the mic").

Day 1 Session Ideas: 1st round of sessions that made the Boards on Idea Street: Build It, Stock Market Game, Make an App, In the News, School Newsletter, Mix it Up.

When we put the sessions on the board, we told the students not to touch the board, until 2:50, which was their dismissal, and due to the fact that we weren't sure how it would go.  When our only bell rang, it only took 30 seconds for the magic to happen.

The session board experience -

30 seconds after the session board opened
Empowered learners = Passion to learn

When's the last time your students rushed to sign up for your course?

The aftermath- Success!
Day 1- Have you ever had students run to your class?  Have you ever had students so passionate about their sessions (class) that they lead, as the teachers stood to the side and helped them design? All focus, all hands on, and true authentic innovation in the making.

Where is Your Evidence/Documentation?- Nothing Stronger than Reflections!

Jenna, Student:
"This has been a completely new experience for both myself and everyone in the grade. I enjoy the freedoms I’ve been privileged, and I love the fact that I have the opportunity to choose what I learn and how I learn it. These privileges make me proud to be an NCS student."

Christopher, Student:
"This has been a great experience and I think it’s presented in a way to help everyone who learns differently.  I liked that all of our ideas were put on the board, and not one teacher disagreed. I also really liked how we could select what we were going to be learning instead of being told, take your textbooks out."

Mrs. Lisa Carlton, Game Changer/Teacher:
"A glimpse into the very near future of education has happened.  Kids empowered to take ownership of their education plus a safe environment in order to try something "outside of the box" equals education at its finest.  Thanks to our team of dedicated teachers and limitless support of our administration, we are able to provide our students with enriching opportunities where the lines of traditional education are blurred and amazing things are happening! I actually took a step back and embraced the creative chaos all around me and once again was reminded of how lucky I am to be a teacher."

Ms. Kathleen O'Connor, Game Changer/Teacher:
"It's eye-opening to see how engaged the students are in the activities when they have ownership in the process."

Mrs. Melissa Juhr, Game Changer/Teacher:
“This approach empowers students with their own education. Giving them not only a choice but a voice in how and what they learn while keeping them aligned with the common core.”

Mrs. Happie Gerber, Parent and School Employee:
"As a parent of an 8th grader, and an employee of the school, I just wanted to thank you and the entire Northfield community school staff.  This has always been a wonderful school, but this year is beyond that.  The amazing energy and positive vibe that is in and around the school is incredible.  I feel very fortunate that our daughter gets to learn in such an awesome environment.  Thank you for putting so much effort into the teachers and students to make this an incredible year."

Be sure to follow Gr8expectations to Become Life Ready, as they will share a collaborative educator and student journey towards new adventures. Also be sure to follow Mr. Jarrett's Digital Shop blog to see how our school integrates design thinking into our technology curriculum.

"Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved." --Mattie Stepanek

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Family Is Not An Important Thing, It’s Everything

This past summer felt as if it never happened. From the moment the 8th grade students were promoted, and the staff left the building for the last time, the clock began to tick.  

My summer undertaking:

ISTE, Tomorrow's Classroom Today,  David Jakes, designed a new learning environment called Idea Street, co-created a new "experience" unlike any other, dealt with a bond referendum construction project, scheduled staff and students, ordered new furniture, and so much more!  

Let's not forget to mention presenting at EdTech Fest, being a part of the NJPAECET2 steering committee, being in attendance at the EdCamp Foundation announcement at UPenn, and presenting at EdScape in October. 

Yet as Thomas Edison once stated, "I never did a day's work in my life.  It was all fun." Hence, the reason as to why it feels as if a summer break never occurred. 

Countless hours were spent day and night preparing for the return of our students and staff. When they returned, you could feel the positive energy radiating off of them.  For three days, before the students returned, the staff could not had been more enthusiastic to start the new year.  They embraced the design thinking process challenge, the changes to the building, and shared their own new ideas with each other.  Together, as a team, we could not had asked for a better start to the year.

Then when the students arrived, the students felt the love, energy, and respect being sent their way from our staff.  What a first week it was!

Then the excitement began to turn up even more: 

Kevin Jarrett and I were invited with scholarships to attend the FabLearn conference at Stanford University's d. School!!  After much research, reading, and focusing to develop our school to model after the d. School, this invitation still feels surreal. To have the opportunity with Kevin to share and collaborate ideas with some of the brightest minds in education, is a trip of a life time.

Then just a few days later, I received an offer to go to China, with a group of ten NJ administrators, through the Confucius Institute of Rutgers University (CIRU).  YES, CHINA!!  Thanks to Jay Eitner,  who informed Dr. Dietrich Tschanz about me, I will have the opportunity to visit, observe, study, and converse with multiple schools and universities in China. Yes, there will also be sightseeing while in Beijing and Changchun, but think of the relationships and potential possibilities that are waiting to be created for all of the educators and schools involved!

HOWEVER, HERE IS THE MAIN PURPOSE OF THIS POST- Without the amazing support of my incredible wife, and wonderful son, none of this would have been possible. Day in and day out, their love, encouragement and belief in me is more powerful than anything in this world. They know what I am trying to accomplish, and that I am trying to be the best possible father and husband as well.  

Countless hours waiting for me to arrive home late, only to arrive after they have fallen asleep. Countless hours caring for each other, while I attend conferences, workshops, and other educational events.  Yet, they always continue to support me and we always find time for the three of us, and we make it count!  

I am truly the luckiest man alive to have them in my life. They are my everything. Thank you Abby and Henry for being amazing! Frankly, words alone do them an injustice. 


Friday, September 11, 2015

Overcoming Functional Fixedness

"Most people have a cognitive bias called functional fixedness that causes them to see objects in their normal context." Bernard Roth

"Heutagogy, a form of self-determined learning with practices and principles rooted in andragogy, has recently resurfaced as a learning approach after a decade of limited attention. Learners are highly autonomous and self-determined and emphasis is placed on development of learner capacity and capability with the goal of producing learners who are well-prepared for the complexities of today’s workplace. The approach has been proposed as a theory for applying to emerging technologies in distance education and for guiding distance education practice and the ways in which distance educators develop and deliver instruction using newer technologies such as social media." (Blaschke,2012).


When I think of young children learners, I envision: wonder and curiosity. They constantly question everything with why, and do not understand what it means to fail. If a kindergartener through third grader attempts to complete a challenge, and isn't successful, they simply start again, whereas middle level learners to adult learners may give up. Children learners embrace the very meanings of wonder and curiosity each day as they are seeking answers with their growth mindsets, where as an adult learner may no longer have these characteristics. Too often, adults are set in there ways with traditional mindsets and refuse to be open minded. Also, an adult learner may lack wonder, curiosity and/or imagination because traditional school settings have removed these traits throughout the years.

Yet, my question is, when and how does this change? When/how can educational leaders remove themselves from their own functional fixedness to move their schools forward? 


Blaschke mentioned that emerging technologies are taking learning to new levels, while developing more autonomous people. I agree, as I absolutely utilize Twitter on a constant basis.  However, take a moment, step back, and think of our current school settings.  Why are schools still refusing to go to BYOD or 1 to 1 programs? How long can schools at all levels, employ lecturers that still see PowerPoint as visionary technology? Even with the advancements of technology and new desires to incorporate and research Heutagogy, how can we create a new generation of autonomous, self-directed learners if they are still receiving the same type of education as children have for the past 50 years?  So many educators are still teaching from a textbook that's several years outdated, and think that the book is the curriculum. Don't forget to add, wasted hallway spaces, lectured faculty meetings, and "Its always been done this way" or "no, that just won't work here."  The same goes for "teaching to the test" as teachers are restricted by administration, fear or not knowing anything else to try because of how they were trained in school. Heck, I bet the majority of these classrooms still have a cemetery look with desks in perfect rows.  Boring, traditional educational settings breed the opposite of what so many school mission statements say they want to achieve. 

Stakeholders amongst their school communities need to revisit what they truly want their students to be. Are they ready to remove their mission statements and develop authentic manifestos?  When will we stop "factory preparing" and transform schools into empathetic, design thinking learning centers, so that all students are "life ready" for whatever life throws at them? 

"Make the familiar into the unfamiliar, and the result can be amazing and delightful, as opposed to dull, nonfunctional, and ordinary." Bernard Roth


Blaschke, L. M. (2012). Heutagogy and lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 13(1), 56-71.