No One Reads the Manual: My Steps to New Tech

In my new role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (I guess I haven’t written about that yet .. will do later), I have been tasked with putting together our twice-yearly newsletter of events and activities for our writing project. I’m fine with that job. I like to write and share and connect. But the WMWP newsletter is created (for now, anyway) with a certain software program loaded on a specific WMWP laptop, and now that I have both computer and program in my hands, I’ve realized that learning a complicated piece of technology is … well … complicated.

As I was diving into the software this week to immerse myself in its inner workings, I realized I was going through some stages of “new technology” immersion. It began when I realized I would have be venturing back into an aging PC, as opposed to my Mac, and continued when I opened the software program up and saw dozens upon dozens of keys and buttons and options, all written in some language that didn’t make sense to my brain. Many, many bells and whistles.

Then, as I am apt to do, I just dove in, starting clicking things and working in the space, seeing what I could figure out as I went along. I’d get frustrated, try something else, get it working, hit another dead-end, try to find information help online, go back in, try again, and keep going. There were periodic little successes that at least allowed me to push forward with some limited sense of accomplishment.

For example, all I wanted to do was find a way to replace a photo. (apparently, that is done by “pointing” and that took me nearly 30 minutes to figure that out). And then I wanted a quick way to “preview” the newsletter I was creating, out of edit mode. I’m still searching for how to do that, believe it or not. It must be me, right? Where’s the big fat “This is What It Looks Like” button?

The next day? I had mostly forgotten what I had done the day before and how I had done it. A pitfall of diving in and not being methodical with new technology is the lack of clear paths and archival maps for the return journey. I didn’t document my dive in because there was never any method to the madness.

So, I began all over again.

The comic is just another way for me to deal with the feeling of frustration. I know I will figure out what I need to know (I already know more than I did just a few days ago), and I know I will turn to those within the writing project who have used the program for tips of the trade. It will all work out.

But I also know that I follow a certain pattern when it comes to new technology, and I hope that by making my own thinking somewhat visible — with a bit of humor — it shows me a bit more clearly how my own students learn when they come up against new technology. And if I can better understand that process, perhaps I can be a better teacher.

Let’s face it — no one reads the manual.

Peace (it’s in there, somewhere),
Kevin

 

WMWP: Considering Experiential Badges and Micro-Credentials

Draft: WMWP Badges and Micro-Credential Brainstorming

At a leadership retreat for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we have been talking about “pathways” into leadership opportunities for teachers at our site. It’s part of a larger initiative supported by the National Writing Project. I am not part of the core group at our site (which is led by my lovely and talented wife), but I did join in the meeting yesterday as we broke into three groups to further some topics under discussion.

I joined a small group that focused on the idea of “micro-credentials” or badges, and whether our site might benefit from this concept. We’re building off the work done by a NWP Pathways Project, which put together resources on badges for NWP sites to mull over (thanks to Bud Hunt as the main facilitator there). Their draft work and resources have been helpful for framing micro-credentials within the concept of a Writing Project site, particularly via the Summer Institute experience.

I have some experience with the notions of Open Badges in open learning spaces — in fact, we just launched an Open Badge project for the CLMOOC, after a participant asked about badges and then followed her interest to create the system for CLMOOC badges.

Medium badge

I have mixed feelings on the merits of badges, but I have an open mind, too, and I think the CLMOOC experiment was a good one for a number of reasons (including: someone had an interest in badges and they followed that interest into action, providing a resource for everyone else). But what would micro-credentials look like at a Writing Project site? And how would it have value and meaning?

The Western Massachusetts Writing Project

We didn’t reach any conclusions but I think our thought processes has taken us in an interesting direction. The core experience at our WMWP site, as it is in most NWP sites, is the Summer Institute — an intense, immersive experience in writing and teaching. There are three core themes to the Summer Institute:

  • Teacher as Writer
  • Teacher as Presenter
  • Teacher as Researcher

When you emerge from the Summer Institute experience (which actually unfolds throughout the following school year with a classroom action research project), you get the designation of a Teacher-Consultant, or TC, which puts you on the map as WMWP fellow and opens doors to leading professional development and other activities.

Back to Badges: If we think of becoming a TC as one level of experience, we could possibly provide a badge for that experience, based on evidence that they were writing, presenting to share knowledge with others and diving into classroom research. So, three badges would lead to a Teacher-Consultant Credential. That makes sense.

However, what we are more interested in is this: What about educators who want to do the WMWP Summer Institute, but can’t do it, for logistical or personal reasons (it is three full weeks in the summer). What if we had a badge system that provides an alternative path for those folks to eventually get the TC Credential, but instead of attending the Summer Institute, they did menu options over time? They would have to earn Teacher as Writer badge, a Teacher as Presenter badge, AND a Teacher as Researcher badge.

Earn those three … and you become a TC.

Taking it a step further, we wondered about the next tier up above TC. How might we use badges and micro-credentialing to provide more opportunities and incentives for current Teacher-Consultants to stay involved. If we had an Advanced TC tier, then we would use the same framework themes (writing, presenting, researching) but these TCs would have to earn those badges in various WMWP offerings, perhaps in clusters (such as curriculum, digital literacies, etc.) or perhaps leapfrogging around, as long as they earned the three badges (writer, presenter, researcher).

That’s a lot to think about, and when we started to imagine the logistical elements of keeping track of all of this … we sort of came to an end to our conversation. I’d love to get some feedback on this, and if you use a similar system for your organization, could you let me know?

Peace (more than a badge),
Kevin

WMWP: Celebrating Student Writing

Emerging Voices WMWP Youth publication 2016

I was only part of this event from the peripheral, but our Western Massachusetts Writing Project hosted a youth writing event in the Spring that was hugely successful on many levels. Now, an e-book of student writing from that day has just been finished and I am helping to get the word out about it.

I love the variety of the writing and how the themes of the writing pieces reflect the mission statement of our WMWP site. The organizers — led by WMWP Youth Co-Director Justin Eck — set the stage for stronger outreach for student writing programs. (Note: We used to events like this quite a bit but then funding issues forced us to focus primarily on teacher programs, not youth programs. A crowdfunding campaign allowed this particular program to run this spring.)

Read: Emerging Voices

Western Mass Writing Project: Emerging Voices E-Text by KevinHodgson on Scribd

Peace (starts with the kids),
Kevin

Go Forth and Write Your World

Kevin Hodgson Chalk Talk

I wrote a column for the local newspaper that ran this week. Its theme format is an “Open Letter to My Young Writers” as the school year comes to a close today. In the piece, tried to look back on the year and encourage them beyond my classroom, and our school (they transition to the regional middle school next year).

Here is an audio excerpt from the last section of the column …

I read the piece out loud to all of my classes yesterday. They appreciated it, I think. I know I appreciated them.

Peace (more than words),
Kevin

Call Me Disappointed: A Connected Course and A Camp Go Kaput


flickr photo shared by corydalus under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I’m having a hard time writing this post. Seriously. I had such high hopes for a summer in which I would bring the elements of Connected Learning in full swing to my Western Massachusetts Writing Project site with a graduate level course offering connected to two summer youth digital camps.

Summer Connected Course Description

In the graduate course through UMass, educators would learn about technology and digital literacy, with the pedagogical anchor of Connected Learning. I was really jazzed up about bringing the Making Learning Connected MOOC into the course itself (the timing would have worked) and then having teachers plan/co-facilitate two youth digital summer camps at our vocational high school that would center around student interests, with highlighted sectors of video game design, webcomics, paper circuitry, digital storytelling and more.

A WMWP educator and friend who is in a grad program around digital studies and education was going to help me facilitate the summer. He helped run a MOOC in this grad program, so his experience would have been valuable. Plus, he is doing all sorts of good work with youth programming.

It was all good …

… until reality kicked in.

Here’s how many kids signed up for the camp: Zero.
Here’s how many teachers signed up for the course: Two (and one was only “iffy”).

This week, we pulled the plug on both offerings, and I am sad about having to make that decision. That’s why it’s hard to write this post. It feels like a failed attempt to push us forward. I feel as if I failed to push us forward.

There are all sorts of factors that might be at play here — time of the year, maybe teachers didn’t want to teach kids this summer after teaching all year, advertising issues with the school that would host the summer camp — but I can’t help feel as if …

  1. I did a poor job writing up what Connected Learning is all about, and therefore, took the attractiveness out of a technology course, which WMWP teachers have been asking for, or …
  2. Teachers are just not really ready to dive into the core principles of Connected Learning because it remains an unknown idea. I have been working with the concepts for three years or so, and in the CLMOOC, lots of folks are exploring the pedagogy, but maybe I am stuck inside my own little bubble, or
  3. Something else that I don’t quite see right now.

The youth summer camp turnout (zero? really?) surprises me, to be honest, since in the past, we have had a waiting list of students for our digital camps on similar themes. We’ve engaged middle school students in moviemaking, game design, comics, and more. It’s been very popular, albeit we took a few years off from sponsoring the digital camps.

So, we will go back and mull over what we could have done differently, and think about either next summer or offering a course during the school year. I am not personally interested in running a grad course built around “how to use” technology. I am more interested in facilitating a course in which digital learning and literacies are at the forefront, with the technology being tools we may, or may not, have our disposal to use, as the backdrop.

Peace (and solace),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Celebrating Youth Writing

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16I opened up the local newspaper yesterday morning to find a front-page feature article about our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s shift to nurture youth writing programs again as part of our mission. With images and a good story, the newspaper showed students in the act of exploration and writing, and teachers helping to lead discussions on social justice and activities in which students went deep into the well of ideas for writing.

I was only on the very periphery of this particular youth writing day project at the University of Massachusetts, which WMWP funded through a crowd-sourcing campaign, and give props to the folks who pulled it off. But given that there were more schools and classes interested than we could realistically accommodate, I think the success of the day shows how much teachers and administrators, and students, want more opportunities to connect and write together.

WMWP youth writing

We used to do more youth programs in WMWP, including events on campus like this, but narrowing funding restrictions for the writing project, and the required focus on professional development and teachers, forced us to use our dwindling resources in areas that moved away from direct contact with students (although, by supporting teachers, we hoped that there would be an impact on students, of course.)

This summer, I am facilitating two Digital Writing Youth Camps at  vocational school through WMWP that will use Connected Learning as the center design hub of the activities, and the camps for middle school students will be designed and run by teachers taking a graduate level course on Connected Learning via WMWP and UMass. This is new for us, and I am excited and a bit nervous about how it will turn out.

But the focus on youth? Yes. That is always worth celebrating.

Peace (in the write),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Hanging Out With Teachers

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16Our students had a half-day yesterday because of teacher professional development session, but the presenter for our afternoon session on literacy was sick so a collection of us teachers in grades four through six spent the afternoon talking about writing in the content areas.

It was fruitful, if only to have time to meet and talk with colleagues in other grades about teaching. We only rarely have time to collaborate with colleagues outside of our grade areas these days, given schedules and district priorities and such. To be honest, we also all have report cards on our mind (they go out on Monday).

After my school day ended, I zoomed off to the second session of a course I am co-facilitating with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project around using the Library of Congress digital archives for primary source and student inquiry projects. It was another great session, even though everyone was tired after a long day in the classroom. We spent a lot of time working on creating primary source text sets and developing lesson plans, as they will be teaching a lesson with primary sources and bringing student work back to our last session in three weeks.

I wrote about this professional development course and the work we are doing with the Library of Congress at Middleweb, if you are interested.

In both cases — at my school and at the PD session — the level of discussions, questions and sharing reminded me of the power of teachers coming together. While the impromptu session at my school could have used more structure, the conversations were valuable. In the evening session, the exploration of something new with student inquiry as the focus remains a spark of celebration. I am grateful to have been part of both.

Peace (and connect),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Sitting Down with Mike

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16My friend, Michael Silverstone, has started up a monthly podcast series in which he is interviewing folks along a wide range of ideas … with creativity at the center. Michael is a teacher, musician, songwriter, published writer, and a colleague in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. He asked if I would join him for a conversation for his First Saturday Podcast series, and we talked about writing, teaching, technology, kids and more.

These kinds of conversations, where someone asks you questions, give you an opportunity to evaluate our thinking, to reflect in the moment and peruse your view of the world, out loud. I did not know what questions Michael would be asking before I joined him, although I had some ideas given our similar paths, but I enjoyed the flow of the discussion as we sat in his living room.

The podcast (30 minutes long, just so you know) went live this weekend and I just got to listen to to it yesterday as I was getting my classroom ready for the school day. It’s an odd experience, to hear yourself like that, but I think we did a nice job of moving through important ground, even with my numerous “uhs” that peppered my thinking out loud.

Thank you, Michael, for inviting me into your podcast.

Peace (in the reflection),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Disappointment, then Forward Motion

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16It’s not a huge thing, really, but still, I feel this lingering disappointment about a grant that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project was going for and didn’t get. We found out about it this week in a very kind letter. I know this is how it goes in the competitive world of grant funding. Small pots of funding means lots of people vying for support, and not everyone will get some. I’m thankful there was even an opportunity.

But I had been the primary writer of this grant, drawing on more than a few projects from the past that our writing project has been quite proud of, and building off an existing two-year initiative that connects science teachers around argumentative writing and NextGen Science standards.

Our grant application took that a step further, proposing to virtually connect the students in those classrooms in online spaces as science writers, so they would have authentic audiences and collaborative hubs of inquiry. We had more than a half-dozen teachers in urban and rural and suburban schools ready and willing, with hundreds of middle school students who would have been in the mix next year. It would have been crazy and hectic, but inspiring and enlightening.

This was a visual of our vision of our Connected Learning hubs:

Making Scientific Connections Hubs

We’ll keep pursuing funding in other places – we believe in the project’s potential — and I’ll keep an eye on the initiatives that did get funding. We can always learn from each other, even in disappointment. And laying out a vision of this kind of project on paper was educational in and of itself. The disappointment comes from wondering where we fell short, and if I missed something in the visioning process.

Peace (shake it off),
Kevin

Video Share: Reading Like a Historian

Read like Historian video

Today, I am off to the University of Massachusetts to co-facilitate the first of three sessions around using the Library of Congress digital archives for primary sources for inquiry projects. This professional development course is a collaboration between our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and a local educational collaborative that does a lot of professional development.

Our aim is to help teachers construct “text sets” of primary sources and develop questions and tasks that spark student inquiry and open-ended explorations.

I was reminded of this great video from Teaching Channel called Reading Like a Historian and figured it was worth sharing out. It shows a classroom where the focus is on reading archives and primary sources through the lens of a critical historian. I hope we have time to share it during our session today … (the embed is strange here, so you might be better served going to the source)

Peace (in the think),
Kevin