Lakes and Ponds

The world I have been experiencing lately has had me thinking a lot about perspective:  my perspective, the perspectives of others, how to widening my perspective, yet sharpen my focus, how to hear and understand the perspective of others, and many other angles.

Perspective is complicated, but I think it is an important part of how we go about solving complex problems.  I think this is especially true when those problems, and the solutions, involve more than one person.

To aid in this discussion, here is today’s evidence that all life lived is relative and dependent on perspective. The picture above is of beautiful Lily’s Lake outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. However,  I’m pretty sure in many places on the East Coast of the U.S. it would be named as Lily’s Pond. This is not to say that it has been misnamed, rather I’m pointing out that how we see something is dependent on our prior experiences.

If we have limited prior experience, than we will limit our perspective. Here’s the thing: everyone has limited prior experience.  Regardless of age or of life lived, no one can have every possible experience.  I’m making what I hope is an obvious point, because I think it is a point that is often missed when trying to have discussions with others, especially when the individuals involved may have wildly different perspectives.

This point needs to be acknowledged and respected.  By acknowledging that we all have something to learn from each other we open our minds to try understand from where someone else is coming.  By opening our eyes, ears, and minds to the experiences of others we can expand our own perspectives.

There is a benefit to expanding your perspective.  It allows for more knowledge, from which to draw upon when solving problems.

To expand one’s perspective, I think it it worth seeking out new and novel experiences.  I think that having more experiences will allow one to be able to question their own perspectives.  By questioning one’s own perspective, a person may in fact able to be more sure of where they stand with the solution to a problem.  At the very least, it allows one to acknowledge that there may be multiple solutions to a problem.

If we insist we are looking at a lake while someone else insists that they are looking at pond, instead of just agreeing that it is a body of water, it will be difficult to move together toward any solution.

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Value

Value.

Everyone has it.

We don’t always see it; we don’t always appreciate it.  This is true even with our own value.

We need to take time and pause; take time to reflect.  Take time to see the value that others have and that we have. Everyone has strengths, even if sometimes those strengths need to found and developed.

We should see the value in others—we need to.  We need to look with open eyes, we need to look both beyond and within ourselves.   This is especially true when individuals can’t see the value in themselves.

Valuing others is one way we can work to fulfill our collective potential.

Our personal value is not increased at the expense of others, rather, our value is increased when we respect and develop the worth of others.  The ability to accomplish this starts with open eyes, continues with an open mind, and grows with an open heart.  Great accomplishments can be at hand through teamwork, but to begin, one must realize the value of all those involved.

The Power of Words

Recent world, local, and personal events have had me ruminating on a particular childhood saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Why is it that we lie to children like this? Why is it that we teach children to lie to themselves?  The hard truth is that words do hurt.  Words have meaning.  We use words to communicate.  We use words to spread ideas and to discuss feelings and emotions.  We use words to motivate and inspire and persuade.

Unfortunately, we also use words to berate, weaken, harm, and sow doubt.   Words are used to drive people apart.

We (yes this includes me) do not always choose our words carefully.  We don’t always get across what we want to communicate because we often let our emotions get the better of us.  Also, we can not always control how our messages are received.  Worse yet, sometimes the intent is to cause harm with our words.

We always need to try to communicate clearly.  We need to control our words.  There are individuals in the world who understand this concept and use the power of their words to cause division and discontent.  There are those who use words to damage, to hurt, to oppress, to weaken, and to shame.   Thankfully, there are also those whose words are used to develop worth and to build pride, to strengthen bonds, and to shine light in the darkness.   

My words may not always be elegant, gracious, or the clearest, but if I do not attempt to use my words, then I am doing myself a disservice.  There is power in words and through words I can find my own power.  This power may start small, but at least it is something and it is better than wasting it and not using it at all.  I hope that what power of words I do possess can bring people together.  I hope that it can help people to think for themselves and that it can serve to build bridges between those with different ideas, opinions, and beliefs.

Because I have learned that words have power, I find that it is my duty to use words to instigate thought and constructive discourse.

Another saying that is often thrown about is, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” I think that this one happens to be true. It is not through the sword that we will bring peace, equality, and education to the world, but with the pen. This is because the pen (communication) requires time and patience, and can explain subtleties while the sword is swift and unyielding and does not leave space for deliberation.

The sword divides, while with the right words the pen can unite .

 

My Push for Scientific Inquiry

I have many reasons to create space for authentic scientific inquiry in my classes, but at the core, I think of this as a democratic issue. I believe that students have a right to participate in their own education and also that to become engaged members of a democratic society, students need to be critical inquisitors. This would create better space for those students to become adults who are both problem-solvers and problem-finders, so that they may play a role in shaping society around them, rather than just being shaped by society.

An Incident and Some Questions

Recently, I’ve been doing reading on critical incidents as a way to problematize reflection on teaching. This reading had me thinking about a specific example that could illustrate this. I came across one the other day, involving a lesson that was being taught by myself and another teacher to different classes. We were teaching to the same type of class, and on paper it looked like we were teaching the same lesson. However, the bit of the lesson that I witnessed the other teacher teaching, seemed very different then the approach I took. I attempted to give my students freedom to work through the activity/lab themselves, which also meant leaving room for my students to make mistakes. When I saw the other teacher doing the same lesson, they were being walked through the activity step by step, with the more technical sections being completed by the teacher. Though this most likely reduced the mistakes made by the students, I worry that it also reduced the opportunity for students to work through problems on their own. I have the perspective that working through problems is at the heart of scientific inquiry, and it is also a skill that needs to be developed. If we never cut the strings as teachers, it will be difficult for students to function independently when they are at last faced with that freedom. This may not be the perspective of my colleague.  My colleague may think that a strong foundation is necessary before the big inquiry can begin. In this particular case, I can’t know for sure that either of us is right…or maybe we both are right. There may be more than one way to reach the same end goal.  

It would be dangerous for me to make assumptions looking on the outside in. I don’t see this class everyday. I don’t get to see what the teacher is building. I, unfortunately, have not had the opportunity to sit and hash out the teacher’s motivations with him. I know that this teacher wants to create critical thinkers, however, I think the daily pressures of classroom requirements inhibit the creation of an inquiry environment. I see a combat between desire and practicality. I want to find a way that we can help each other to move and reshape practical pressures so that educational desires become educational reality.  

This is not only a lesson in the dangers of assumption or jumping to conclusions, but the need for us as educators to work together–to inquire together. For us to find and then solve the problems together. Because too often they will be more complex then then first appear to be.

Unfinished Character

“The unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an ongoing activity.” Friere

Why I Inquire, and Hope Others Do Too

When it comes to the goals I have as an educator, helping to develop students who realize their full potential is top of the list. In large part, this means developing students who become life long learners, and in turn fully literate, critically problem-solving citizens in the world.
To me as a science teacher, this means that I must develop students who are curious about, and inquire into the world around themselves, yet can see beyond themselves. This also means, not just becoming problem solvers, but problem finders.

Unfortunately I teach in a reality in which there is no evidence that teaching leads to learning. Rather than despair in this (as I temporarily did in the past), I interpret this to mean my job is to create an environment that is the most possible conducive to learning the knowledge and skills that students will need to be the best problem finders and solvers that they can be. 

However, if I can accomplish this, it is not satisfying enough for me to only accomplish this within the classrooms I teach. If education, and in particular science education, is to fulfill its potential to develop students who can solve the problems of the world, and the problems of the world that do not exist yet, then teachers need to work as a team to develop the learning environments conducive to this goal.

Therefore, I see a need not to solve our problems of developing inquiry skills at the level of the student. Instead I see the need to help develop a learning environment that supports problem finding and problem solving across classrooms, across schools, across the country, and across the world.  

Edcamp-Collaboration in Action

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending my first EdCamp-EdCampNJ (#edcampnj).  I had high expectations for this event, and I’m happy to say I wasn’t let down.  I will admit to being more than a bit overwhelmed though.  There was such great learning going on and such great people to collaborate with I wish I could have cloned myself several times over for the day.

I could talk about the wonderful people I met, the great sessions I attended, or the great resources and strategies I picked up, instead I’d like to reflect on the overall quality of this type of professional development.  EdCamp allows all the professionals to control their own learning, and by working collaboratively, help grow from where they are, to where they want to be. This is truly relevent professional development, because we had ownership of the learning. (Something we should want to create for our students.) Even better, is that because of the connections made throughout the day, this learning didn’t stop when we left for the day-it will be ongoing.

EdCampNJ brought together 300 educators (in person, there were more than a few attending virtually), as well as at least one inspiring student I met.  The freedom of the EdCamp set up allowed all of us to be where we wanted, when we wanted, with whom we wanted.  Like I said, I was a bit overwhelmed with all the choices, and at one point in the day took advantage of 4 different sessions in the same time period just because i wanted to gain more knowledge.

And gain knowledge I did. I learned (and hopefully contributed to the learning of others) all day long and all night long, thanks to the conversations the event ignited on Twitter.  There was so much expertise gathered at Linwood Middle School and it provided such tremendous opportunity.  The collaborative nature of the sessions really was the best part-the knowledge of everyone was respected.  We all have something great to share about what we do as educators, and that idea was embraced yesterday.  By meeting each other where we are we can move forward together.

It’s true that none an know everything, but that’s ok-as long as we keep working together to share what we do know, grow that knowledge, keep learning, and moving our profession forward.  I know that I grew as person and a professional at EdCampNJ and I can’t wait to share my new knowledge and help in someone else’s professional growth.

I just want to thank all the organizers of EdCampNJ for creating an environment for such honest and organic collaboration, and for the opportunity to meet some great members of my PLN.

For this of you reading this who couldn’t attend the event, here are links to the sessions’ docsSmackdown resources; and pictures to get you fired up for next year. (Save the Date-11/22/14) I plan on doing my part to turn 300 attendees into 600 just like Billy Krakower (@wkrakower) wants.

A Need to Share

Why do I take what I do so seriously? It’s a deceptively easy question.

First, it’s my passion. But just as importantly it’s my responsibility-my moral and ethical responsibility.  As educators we are all moral actors, entrusted with the development of society’s future.

My actions have a direct impact on the lives of students. And I take great pride in the fact that I do my best to empower my students with knowledge.

We live in a society where the amount of knowledge is growing exponentially. We cannot possibly deliver all of this knowledge, but we can facilitate the development of skills that will allow our students to seek and understand this knowledge. This is at the heart of our responsibility.  In fact, I believe this is our moral imperative as educators.

It is our duty to treat all our students equitably; to meet their individual needs to the best of our ability.  To whatever extent we are capable, we need to help our students grow into the greatest of their potential. Regardless of who our students are, they have this potential.  It is our duty to help them develop the tools they will need throughout their life’s journey.

In order for our students (this generation and every generation thereafter) to be empowered, we need to help them develop to their fullest potential.  As clichéd as it might be, knowledge is power. If we shortchange our students ability to access, understand, and use this knowledge, we are disempowering them. We cannot let this happen.  I truly believe that we are stronger and better together. Therefore, empowering all of our students, benefits every one of us.

 Sometimes, with all the stresses of being an educator, we can lose sight of this. We shouldn’t.  I believe that is one of the biggest reasons we need to work together.  In order to help our students, we have to help ourselves first. If we are not empowered, if we do not own our actions, we cannot model this for our students.  It can be so difficult, downright impossible, to fulfill your potential by yourself.

So don’t.

I implore you to reflect on your practice.  Share your strengths.  Admit your weaknesses. Work to develop them both.  None of us are alone-reach out, collaborate, grow.

We need to be proud of what we do, and share it.

Why We Connect

Learning is about making connections. School is about relationships.1 Relationships require making connections.

Building relationships has always required making connections and people have long been a social species.2  As the world of connected educators moves beyond Connected Education month, I would like to focus your attention on the idea that educators have long had the opportunity to join together and learn from each other.   However, now we are living in a society that requires this from us.  I, and many others, take great joy in the fact that the technology now exists to help us make many new and diverse connections in faster and easier ways. 3

At the heart of the relationships we need to develop are the relationships we cultivate with our students.  They are the reason we got into, and remain in, education. Cultivating these relationships allow our student to learn on a deeper level.  However, if we are not connecting with other educators beyond our classroom, we are not exposing our students to the best possible learning. We do not know everything, and if we are going to facilitate the education our students receive properly, we must acknowledge this. I make this arguement because if we do not foster our connections, we do not continue learning ourselves, and sadly begin to stagnate.

Making connections starts with the conversations we have in our own buildings. We need to go to the classroom next door and down the hall. We need to learn from not only other educators but other students as well. The truth is, many times we are not aware of what we do not know. If we do not expose ourselves to new experiences we will never reach our full collaborative potential and never create the best educational experiences for our students.

These local connections are just the beginning. When we limit our community, there is the chance that we warp each other’s visions. I am fortunate to have grown my Professional Learning Network not only across the country but internationally as well. Thishas  allowed me to see new perspectives and new ideas that directly benefit my students. This is the real reason we must connect across borders–both literal and figurative.  Our students deserve no less.

One of my new favorite quotes, courtesy of George Couros (@gcouros), is “The smartest person in the room is the room.” We are quickly moving to the point that our room is truly global, however, we all need to remember that in order to learn we need to listen.

In order to build our success we must tear down the walls of our own making.

 

1This being a blog, I’ll spare you the research, but if you’re interested in some further reading, here is a piece to check out:

Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power, and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevdon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

2 Check out E.O. Wilson’s work

3 For example, see Twitter chats #edchat Tuesdays at 12 and 7 pm EST; #satchat Saturdays at 7:30 and 10:30 am; or #edtechchat Mondays at 8 pm EST.

Alternatively check out these chats’ respective archives:

http://edchat.pbworks.com/w/page/219908/FrontPage

http://www.bradcurrie.net/satchat.html

http://edtechchat.wikispaces.com/Edtechchat+Archives

Also, there are active educator communities on Google+, Pinterest, Facebook, and even email listservs from professional orginizations.  The kist goes on…