The Sweet Spot of Learning

Coming in to #the100dayproject, I knew I would be learning. It is one of the reasons I enjoyed the project so much last year and jumped at the chance again. It’s funny how it still catches you off guard. Maybe it is because as educators we are focusing on the learning of others but it is beautiful to be in that moment, the sweet spot of learning, and reflect on how you can help others experience it.

I needed a push, something different and a friend on Instagram suggested I focus my next theme of 10 on minimalism. I have to admit that I went in with a very lose definition of what I actually committed to. I’ve seen it happen in education once or twice before: hear a word, hope we understand what it means and muddle through. After posting the first picture I asked for some feedback and realized I was off track. So I started googling to better define what minimalistic photos had in common (negative space), along the way finding some Minimalism Instagram Greats to follow and be inspired by. As the week went on I could notice myself adjusting photos and looking for the negative space. It was that sweet spot of learning where inspiration, challenge, feedback all hit at the same time.

Then came this latest theme. I had promised myself I would do at least one theme of portraits before the end of the project, originally that was going to be the focus of the whole project. Maybe I got just a little too confident. I love taking pictures of family and friends but I find it stressful to invade their space. How do you walk up to a stranger and ask them to take a photo? Even with friends, how do you boss them around if you can’t guarantee a good photo? Folks were lovely and accommodating but my fears really took over.

As we were reading research reports for a work project last week, a comment stood out to me in Apple’s Classrooms of Tomorrow about gamers. They were speaking of the feedback loop of gamer, how it forces a pause before readjusting their practice.

 Failure simply provides her a quick break before she gets back into the game. 

I realized maybe I had leapt too far outside my comfort zone that I was letting the challenge overwhelm me. It is the only time this project I was 3 days behind at one point. So this was my pause, what was I going to shift to be more successful?

So as I finish up this set of 10 and move in to my next, I don’t want to lessen the challenge but eliminate the excuses. So perhaps it will be 10 self portraits (creatively using the term here). Giving me the chance to play while also lessening a few of my fears that were holding me back.

Funny how a hobby project can surface bigger lessons on the sweet spot of learning, a place with just enough challenge, inspiration and community.

I am still learning.



Taking a Leap – TEDx Talk

I think it was the fall when I first got the email. A colleague I met through OISE was hoping I would do a TED talk at their TEDx event with students all focused around innovation. Sounded cool and as usual my gut reaction was sure.  After I sent the email request to my supervisor, the panic started setting in. Deep down I think I secretly was hoping I wouldn’t be able to get the time off. I got the ok so that didn’t work but it was ages away so the panic could wait. Then the countdown began.

What could I possibly say about innovation to kids, big kids much cooler than me?

The book club definitely got the wheels turning but it wasn’t to the very end that the pieces came together. The experiences from #the100dayproject, our Spark night, a tweet from a colleague. Suddenly I could see the connected web through the individual strings.

To say I wasn’t nervous is an understatement. You can probably see the nerves come through at the beginning of the clip. I did forget a whole section and quote around Relentless Restlessness. Following an engineer who had invented tools that assist doctors with breast cancer added to the nerves slightly.  But standing in front of 100+ faces, mostly high school students I hoped the message added to their understanding of innovation. I hope they left with a sense that innovation is not for a select few, but is available to all of us if we look for the sparks, celebrate the small moments and continue on the journey.

A big thank you to folks that suffered through test versions, last minute freak outs and listening to recorded messages. For the tips, tricks, books and youtube links.

I can’t bring myself to watch it, but if you are at all interested you can check it out below. Thanks for the opportunity Patricia and the TEDxSacredHeart team.

Pedagogy over Tools

Do we need a new battle cry?

It’s not hard to find a post on the need for pedagogy over technology. All wonderful reads pointing to the need not to be caught in the glitz and glam of tech but rather be critical about our choices and our use. I’d be the first to retweet and start the conversation. So you can understand my surprise as I started struggling with the idea reading post after post.

It isn’t that the argument is wrong. The wonderful 6, 16, 26 year olds in our classroom and their learning should always drive instruction. Learners should ALWAYS be the centre of what we do and our decision making. We want to be critical of our choices in the classroom when we are responsible for sparking the learning of others. Pedagogy over tools I can commit to any day but here is my fear:

Is our fixation with repeating the PEDAGOGY OVER TECHNOLOGY mantra holding us back?

Do we put other tools through the same scrutiny that technology seems to experience?

Do we ask a pencil to prove it can increase standardized test scores or a book to improve reading levels (ok,  maybe we have done the later)?

Whether it is lines on a board, Monday morning ‘On my weekend I’ recounts  or 20 minutes of reading in silence we probably have all been guilty at some point of not maximizing the potential of a learning tool.

Paper rips, markers dry out, pencils break but we continue to use them.

Maybe there is no harm in the argument, it is a reminder to be critical and that can never be bad but here is my worry:

Is our constant repetition of the pedagogy over technology debate holding us back from accepting these digital tools as a natural element of our learning environments as they are of our everyday environments outside the classroom?

Are we using the pedagogy over technology mantra as an excuse to not move forward?

For the learner that lights up at the mention of Minecraft, the kid that giggles as they work through their code or the student that finds a voice online in their blog they never found in their classroom’s 4 walls, I hope we can find a new focus for our conversations.

Pedagogy over tools, yes. Learners first, even better. I guess I’m just thirsting for a new conversation, an evolution past pedagogy over technology. Accepting that these tools that we use to order personalized burgers and predict what movies we will like, have a place in the classroom. A shift not to why we need to use the tools but how we are using them to answer the question:

What can we do for this learner, for this learning, at this time?

What are your thoughts? Have I missed a part of the argument? Love to hear from you.