Wobble, Wobble

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading the blogs of teachers in my ED677 describing their wobbles after they read the introduction of Pose, Wobble, Flow by Cindy O’Donnell-Allen and Antero Garcia and were introduced to Storri organized by Bob Fecho. Wobbles have been on all of our minds … and tonight I can feel my own center shaking as I work myself into a new pose.

My wobble is related to a new way of trying to do assessment in ED677, a graduate course I teach that is part of a certificate program in Connected Learning at Arcadia University. It’s a fun course because the teachers bring so many different things to it and I learn so much along the way. The basic idea is that we work to be connected learners in order to learn what it means to design for connected teaching in equitable ways.

Peer-supported learning is a learning principle of Connected Learning and one that I have a lot of experience with given that most of my learning over the last 20 years has been through and at the writing project. My experience learning alongside peers draws me into wanting to find a peer-like position with participants in ED677, although I clearly am, in this case at a graduate school of education, the instructor.

So I am and have been experimenting with this notion – how can I position myself more as a peer, although also, instructor. My ultimately goal is to the class to engage with each other as peers too and not to engage with me, or each other, based on notions of authority and compliance. I think this is hard in the context of a graduate program, which is so hierarchical, but I also believe it is necessary. As adult learners, we need to practice our own agency in learning – in fact, as educators we must be the agents since we are directly responsible for other people’s learning.

All that is wobbly, yes. And instructionally there are various ways we’ve been doing it; and I think it’s mostly been good and fun. However, where it is most uneven and hard for me to position myself is around formal assessment, ie. grading. As the instructor, in a situation where no-grade or pass/fail is not an option, how do I best use this authority? This is the same question the teachers in my course are dealing with of course, vis a vis their students in schools where almost 100% of the time, grades are used to measure success. So I must participate with it and work alongside them to imagine what else is possible.

I’ve tried a few things in terms of summative assessment/grading: When I started ED677, for example, I set up a list of expectations for participation, each 20% worth of the overall grade, and then asked the teachers to assess their participation and reflect on the implications of their participation after completing their final project. They submitted this reflection and self-assessment to me and included any additional things I should keep in mind when determining the final grade; I came up with the grade based on that.

In the second year, I asked them to do this self-assessment again based on the same set of expectations, except this time around we stopped mid-way through the course, doing this same self-assessment two times instead of just once. This adjustment was made based on my perception that self-assessment felt a bit new to many in the class; also I believe that really assessment should be happening throughout and not just at the end. This seemed like a good move and supportive of questions and concerns coming up more quickly to me and not waiting for the final weeks.

In the third year then, I repeated this experiment essentially the same way. However during the course of that semester, Kira Baker-Doyle shared research at the 2017 Digital Media and Learning Conference on a Connected Learning Course in Teacher education where this idea of “participation” showed up as part of the set of expectations (Baker-Doyle, et al., In Press). Given that “participation” is such a nebulous word, she and her colleagues worked to define it a bit more clearly, breaking it down as part of a set of axis – the x axis moving from isolated to more active/embedded, and the y axis moving from mandated to personal projects. They then described participation within the 4 segments and noted where learners are taking the highest risks and had the most vulnerability.


This got me thinking about my language overall, and the set of expectations that I had mapped out. It also got me thinking about the continuums here - from isolated to active, from mandated to personal. And it got me thinking about equity, and core value of ED677 that doesn’t show up anywhere in these participation axes. Ultimately I thought that I had some thinking to do as I entered the fourth year of teaching ED677.

And now here we are, the fourth year of this course. And this year, my assessment is entirely different and I am wobbling wobbling wondering what the implications will be. First, I shifted from a set of expectations that count for 20% each (but assessed by whom was not clear) into clear guidelines for the % around who is assessing what. I decided to try it this way this first year – 70% of their grade is based on their self-assessment; 30% is based on my assessment. This delimitation felt more clear about the intended role of self-assessment and my assessment (although the percentages are still somewhat arbitrary - based on the low-bar idea that you can still pass with your own self-assessment only - and a work-in-progress).

Second, I worked to make the self-assessment much more supported and guided; and linked it to an opportunity to give anonymous instructor feedback at the same time. The guide for self-assessment in fact is something I worked on, then reworked, and then reworked again over the past few weeks. I finally settled on something that had 3 main guides – one that is about their own connected learning, organized as a set of continuum related to core ideas; a second infographic created by Nicole Mirra that is about their interests and ambitions for connected teaching; and a third guide that is about the suggestions that I made about practicing while in ED677. The self-assessment questions are then based on those guided reflections and prompts for goals and plans forward. A link to give anonymous instructor feedback directly asked if and how they can best be supported.

I still plan to prompt this process twice – once mid-semester and once at the end. Only the final one do they need to share with me. … We are mid-semester now and I just sent the teachers this new guide. I also asked them – those that came to our bi-weekly meeting this week – for their professional opinion on this process. I’m really anxious to learn – is this helpful in supporting reflective processes on one’s own progress? Does it support agency and confidence in the learning? Does it support goal-setting and next step planning? That’s what I really care ultimately as their colleague and what feels important for connected learning and teaching.

Wobble Wobble. Here we go.


Baker-Doyle, K.J., Whitfield, L. & Miller, K. (In Press) ‘The whole world is networked’: A Study of Connected Learning in Teacher Education. In (S.A. Yoon & K.J. Baker-Doyle, Eds) Networked By Design: Interventions for Teachers to Develop Social Capital. Chapter 2. London: Routledge.

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weebleprinciple.jpg

Honoring Interests and Connecting Our Learning

Each spring for the past few years, I’ve been teaching #ED677 at Arcadia University (see this year’s blog). We start with a prompt that my colleague Paul Oh (@poh) came up with a few years back when he worked at the NWP to support thinking about one’s interests and learning that is connected. Here is the prompt and my response to it this year.

Describe an interest that you had as a young person, whether or not that interest was recognized as learning in school. Write or make something about it that you can share with others … Tell us about what might have piqued this interest. How did you pursue that interest or what did it make you think about? What and who supported you as you dove deeper? In what ways were your interests connected to school, or not? What were the implications?

When I think back, I remember that I did a lot of structured activities as a kid – swimming, playing baseball, and practicing ‘cello are the main things I remember, and I remember they involved a lot of fun but also a lot of struggle. I wasn’t a bad swimmer or athlete but I also wasn’t great and I struggled with the attention I needed to get better and the pressure I felt to succeed; I just couldn’t quite grasp the balance around it all as a kid.

At that time, my mother was a nurse. In her free time, however (and I mean all of her free time), she would make things. She would make our clothes, delicious whatever-was-in-the-fridge dinners, costumes for school plays, presents and gifts for family and friends, etc. Halloween was the biggest deal – less for us in a way and more for her as she would roll out her latest creations with us in the middle of them.

Ironically, because making things was her solace in many ways, making was the province of my Mom and we let her have at it and participate when she invited us in. As I grew older though, I began to make more things and found myself completely absorbed when creating – whether it was a card or a gift for another, or it was my own costume, a project at work, large-scale puppets for street theater (see spiralq.org), or simply dinner for that evening. It was my own bit of escapism I started to realize, but it was also a realization about the way that I learn. While I didn’t always make the best or perfect things - my mother really is a talent beyond and a hard act to follow - I found that when I let myself explore and not expect a certain outcome, I could be very creative with whatever materials and situation I find myself engaging with. And within this creativity came a “flow” that I recognize can actually be a true source of happiness for me (https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow).

Learning what this flow feels like was the breakthrough and made me directly reflect on the ways that I had been learning, and was taught to learn, and why those structures sometimes didn’t help me access what I really needed; and why that balance of persistence and expectations was so hard for me to balance to as kid. Not that creativity shouldn’t involve struggle, and certainly it does. But experiencing flow reminded me that I could approach even more formal activities like sports or ‘cello playing with a bit more flexibility and discovery; with a little less concern for outcomes and more a focus on learning what was possible with the materials (ie. pulling hair across wood with strings, hitting a leather ball with a wooden or metal bat, moving my body through water rapidly), and where I could tap into moments of flow and creativity along the way.

Learning together: Catching up on the adventures of connected learners and teachers via ED677

Over three years now, during the spring, I have taught ED677 at Arcadia University’s School of Education, a “connected course” focused on seeking equity in connected learning and teaching. Final projects for ED677, or what we call our final “makes,” are something we design that emerges from our inquiry and supports our work beyond the 15 weeks of the course. The goal is that each project explicitly focus on building towards equity and connected learning, building off the framework of Connected Learning, and contributes to making interest-driven, production centered and connected opportunities for all a reality in the world (in big and small ways).

These projects have been great and there is much to learn from what folks end up designing to support connected learning in their context. And I was curious to learn what happened since! Therefore this past semester, I invited several folks who participated in the past to come and share with my current class about their work and reflections on Connected Learning and teaching. I also had a chance recently to hear from several of past ED677ers in a panel discussion at Arcadia University in relation to a meeting on Connected Learning in Teacher Education. Below then is a set of compiled thoughts, notes and quotes from this work and those discussions.

Robert Sidelinker, a teacher at Warwick Elementary, participated in ED677 in 2016 and now teaches his students in a 1-6 STEM class called QUEST (Questioning and Understanding through Engineering, Science, and Technology). Throughout his time in ED677 he blogged about an inquiry project he was working on throughout the semester, a making and game design/play unit he co-designed with his students and colleagues. What I like the best about his posts are the ways power shifts to the students as he describes the unfolding of this project:

It’s funny.  Weeks ago, as my team and I created the inquiry questions that would help lead us into this unit of study, the questions seemed to be directed at us, the teachers.  Now that our students have begun their work, it seems that the questions apply to them, not the “educators.” …

… Throughout the experience, students have been blogging about the game and blogging about ways to persuade teachers to allow their students to play.  

In a reflection on this work he writes “As a teacher, I don’t think I’ve ever attempted a learning activity that is so social.  Students are now making original creations that were born from commonly shared ideas!”  

Now a couple years later, and while participating in this recent panel discussion, Robert continues to think about this work and how best to support his colleagues from his position as a QUEST teacher and educational technology coach at his school. In a reflection on his own journey in becoming a more connected teacher, he says that moving from a deliverer of content to a facilitator/manager has had one of the biggest impacts on him. And so in his role as a coach, he works to support his colleagues from where they are in this process. He reflects that “a lot of teachers are really uncomfortable with not knowing the answer … but in today’s society the answer [to not knowing] should be “let’s look it up” .. you’re not forfeiting their authority; you are preparing [students] for the future.”

Shayla Amenra has served as an educator and artist in schools and afterschool programs and now operates HAPPISPACE; an education services company specializing in out-of-school time (OST), mobile makerspaces, and curriculum development. During her participation in ED677 Shayla was also participating in an inquiry group with TAG (Teacher Action Group) Philly. Her work with other iTag educators focused on developing an African-American history curriculum. Since the focus on ED677 is to connect our work in class with work we are doing in the world, she submitted the website that she made as part of her final make that semester.

As an educator and an artist, Shayla actively integrates her making work (she is a jeweler; see HAPPIMADE) into the way she thinks about learning and education, always working to connect her networks, her interests, and available resources. During the recent panel discussion, she talked about how this supports her connecting her students to those things that they are interested in – a focus that she puts front and center to all of her teaching.

… when you are student focused, student centered, and you are connecting them to what they are interested in, they show up! They are interested, they are engaged  … they ask those questions [that] even you [as an educator] are taken back – Wow, I didn’t even think of that! … For me it’s always amazing. There hasn’t been a project that I haven’t done where allowing students to talk and explain where their interest is within their project where I’m not surprised by the end … I map out every single thing, I’m a super planner; I’ll have every scenario for every scenario, and then the student will still find that one thing that I hadn’t even thought of. And it’s amazing. It’s always about the students for me.

Helga Porter was also a participant in this same panel discussion. She is a math teacher and since her participation in ED677 in spring 2015, has become the S.T.E.M. liaison for her building, “encouraging teaching and learning with a social conscience for all” she writes. As an advocate for increasing S.T.E.M. in the classroom, she is an active member of the district’s Strategic Planning Committee with a specific focus on their transformative curriculum pathways work.

During the panel discussion, Helga talked about the ways that the schools she works with are using the framework of Connected Learning to describe and talk about the work they are doing. She describes the framework as helpful language that helps modernize what they were already striving for in the district. She also shared how projects they have started, such as a mobile makerspace cart for each school building, are becoming sustainable as they use them. After upfront costs, she explains, … students bring things in to add to it. “They’re realizing they don’t need money - they can do something with the materials they already have.”

Helga reflected on her experience in the program at Arcadia and described how its loose parameters really challenged her:

I tried to figure out what [the instructors] wanted. Then we realized [the looseness] was all by design - they’re evil people. We were supposed to learn this is what our students and colleagues are experiencing. We need to take risks, too. We’re not just facilitators. That was the aha moment for me. Learning about ourselves, learning to take risks, fall, fall forward, and recover.

“They were evil in how they did it, but we forgive you.” she added, looking with a smile at me and Meenoo Rami, the two instructors of the main connected learning courses at Arcadia. Several others concurred! (Oy.)

Kathy Walsh was another participant in this panel and also came to visit my class during the spring of 2017. She took ED677 with Helga that first “evil” spring semester, and during that time she set up this blog space and related maker-activities. Although she didn’t continue the blog itself past that one semester, she does continue to support her students in blogging and connecting to others in ways that allow them to create their own pathways forward. For example, this past semester she describes working working on a unit of study about chemical reactions where students blogged about their interests and research while Kathy worked to connect them to experts in the field.

Kathy is currently a teacher at Building 21 in Philadelphia and the founder of Youth Engineering and Science where she organizes summer youth STEM programming for youth. During a visit to ED677 this past semester she declared “Connected Learning, to me, is all about social justice.”

I work in a public high school in North Philadelphia and we do project-based learning and so one of the most important things is trying to find a way to make the work relevant for students and the best way to do it is to connect them to what really is going on in their community, in their future employment and future college and career pathways. So this is what I try to do in all my projects. … Becoming a connected learning [myself] has been essential because I can do it now. I have the tools.

While Lana Iskandarani, an Arabic language instructor at a local university, was in ED677 during the spring 2016 when she shared what she described as a small move in her classroom that had big consequences on a class she was teaching at the time:

When I assigned projects to my students last semester and the years prior, they were  individual pieces of work. I gave them some freedom to choose what they want to learn about, but not completely. There were some rules and constraints to follow in completing their work. Every student worked privately on their project and they had their own presentation in the classroom. The only audience for those pieces of work were my students and I. The students reflections were done orally after every presentation.

This semester, by implementing the connected learning principles and making small changes every week, I prepared my students to be more flexible with collaboration inside and outside the classroom. It became evident they were responsible and curious about the subjects at hands, more able to do their research, and more open to share their work with peers and other interested people out of the classroom. The final projects were examples of their improvement, and the  results came out phenomenal.

This idea of small changes, or “small moves” as we also referred to them and as per our core text Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, was very influential on Lana. And ultimately Lana’s experience and description of the ways she thought about these moves, was very influential on me. Lana has since described her work making Connected Learning framework a key piece of her curriculum project as she finishes her graduate work as well as a core part of her classroom and still references the ways that small changes can make a significant impact in her classroom, even with a fairly structured language learning context.

Tracey Dean is a high school Art teacher in the Radnor Township School District and also created a website as part of her final make in ED667 during this past spring 2017. This site focuses on the work created by students she works with and underscores Tracey’s frequent moniker “Art Matters.” In the recent panel discussion, she continued to emphasis this direction:  

Connected Learning needs to involve everyone. Our students did art in the halls so everyone could see. It initiated conversations. Bringing art out of the classroom. Art students shared their digital portfolios with teachers of other subjects, because sometimes teachers only know what their students are like in their single class.

I am really excited to see Tracey’s work unfold in the coming year. During this same panel discussion, she described a discovery over the last semester that has made her rethink how she wants to organize her classroom in the coming fall. Whereas previously she felt she was giving her students choice in their work, a value she expressed as critical to connected learning, the students shared that they didn’t feel that they had real choice in her class. After puzzling the disconnect for a bit in ED677, she then talked about the way she is moving towards setting up makerspace and stations in her classroom instead of doing whole class instruction followed by choice, which is how she had things previously organized.

The questions and tensions exist in this however, and Tracey talked about the ways that it can be really scary:

I guess my biggest fear with this whole thing and where it could go wrong, I am expected to present this work at District Art Month in in March. .. What’s the work going to look like? .. That’s where it’s terrifying to me about it. Also those conversations at home: ‘What are you learning? Oh, whatever we want – Ms. Dean is letting us chose this year.’ I don’t want them saying that at the dinner table! So those are the two things I’m going to have to figure out.

After a third semester of ED677, and the chance to have follow-up discussions with the educators above, my attention now turns to the ways that they can continue to take leadership in the Arcadia Connected Learning program as well as ways we can continue to network ourselves together to support this challenging but ultimately critical work. We are in this together.

Thank you to Robert, Shayla, Helga, Kathy, Lana and Tracey for sharing their work and learning. Wishing you all the best in your endeavors forward … and looking forward to learning more with you along the way.

New England Puppet Intensive 2015; Letter of Intent

I’m not sure exactly what it is about puppets and pageantry. I’m sure the Hensen it to blame, ultimately. But for me it really wasn’t when I was a kid - instead I was much older, finished college, living in a bohemian community around artists, wondering about the world and my role within it, when they fully took me in.

Bread and Puppet was an early influence as was Welfare State International in England. I was thrilled then when a friend of a friend, an Act Up activist and radical faerie organizer started to do large-scale cardboard street theater puppetry in my home town of Philadelphia in the mid to late-90s. His name was Matty Hart and he started to both organized puppetry shows while creating works in communities with others to parade down the streets. These efforts eventually became known as Spiral Q Puppet Theater. I was an eager and enthusiastic volunteer.

Sometimes I describe Spiral Q as a “school” that I went to even though it conferred no degrees and offered no traditional classes or credentials. This is because it was a place where I found an important home and a set of peers who became teachers/mentors as we figured out together how to create a pageant in a park that felt respectful of the people, space and the community creating, sharing, and shaping it. Peoplehood became the name of the annual pageant and I continued to volunteer, working mostly to create connections with educators and to learning. I eventually joined the board in 2002 and chaired for several years.

The threads of the Q still remain in my work even as I am not working with them in the same way anymore – the creation of spaces through participatory design and process, the peer-based learning and production-centered ways of thinking and communicating, keeping justice and creative joy at the core. These are elements that run through the work I do full-time at the National Writing Project, which itself is a network of peer-based network of educators supporting the development of shared knowledge through community practice. I currently lead our “Educator Innovator” work to reimagine teaching, through a focus on learning, in our increasingly interconnected and rapidly changing world today.

I love my work mostly because it focuses on being a creator as a learner and not simply being a consumer. And it’s this same energy I’d like to bring to the New England Puppetry Intensive this summer.  I am interested in having the time away to focus creatively, through puppet making and puppet performance. I’d like to think about how the new designs and technologies that I have been tinkering with in my work informs the ways I might play and make with puppets (and visa versa), as well as extend the base of my learning in puppetry in general.

I consider myself very much a beginner. I say this because more than anything I have come to realize over time how complex and multimodal puppetry really is as an art-form, incorporating body, mind, voice, vision, heart and hand. I’m interested in embodied practice in general (in learning and literacy) and puppetry intrigues in this way. However, I also know that while making is fun for me, performance is still hard and sometimes even stressful. I am intrigued also by those things that challenge me and therefore I intend to bring my efforts around this aspect of puppet performance.

Thank you for your consideration. 

STEM, ED697, Socio-Scientific Issues in the Science Classrooms

Socio-scientific Issues are utilized in science education in order to promote scientific literacy, which emphasizes the ability to apply scientific and moral reasoning to real-world situations.  Research studies have shown SSI to be effective at increasing students’ understanding of science in various contexts.

Below, you will find a link to my Google Document that I created, incorporating SSI and debate/research into a current lesson in the fourth grade curriculum.  Enjoy!