Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bag of Hot Air

There are a lot of very busy people throughout my professional learning network and other incredible professional learning networks that intersect with people that I know from learning together, laughing together, and working together. Busy they are trying to make sure that the ideas in which they are passionate are shared, practiced, and spread. It creates a fire hose of reading that is pure pleasure for me as I know that there are allies of action and philosophy around the world. I'm super excited to meet many more of these thought leaders and awesome educators on my first pilgrimage to Educon in Philadelphia later this month. Over the past few years, it seems like these incredible groups of people are growing more coherent with their language, rationale and ideas for a new journey for public schools around the world. There are still many points of conversation and difference which is helpful for our overall growth, but the umbrella of beliefs is growing clear. This creates a tipping point for me and all of those that spend time saying really important things about education. It is time to act, act really big. It is time to surround students, teachers, and leaders that are trying to do things the right way with more than just praise and words. These places need our expertise and personalized professional development from the experts throughout our PLN. They need space to make mistakes, and that means our voices pushing back their doubters in local newspapers and boards of education. They need mentors and resources. They need our time, talent, and treasure. They need our sustainable presence. Our professional learning network is the most intelligent team on paper ever, but words crave actions in a bigger way. What if there were 10 schools around the country that we decided to surround with our collective wisdom? What if we showed that our ideas could work and could scale? This could be the next phase of our grassroots work to build the right public schools in this country. I worry at times that we are a bag of hot air when it comes to big change. Sure there is a little change, and each little change matters, but there is a lot of talk about big change and being a part of whatever that looks like, but the time has come. Will the actions follow? Are we too busy to realize our big dreams?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


How can we keep it simple? The simple pleasures in life should never be locked away. There are moments each day when a smile, a pause, a notice can change everything. There are so many things to be thankful for in our lives, and even with the clouds of reality, stress, and anxiety looming, we can carve out moments of simple pleasure that can change everything. What year did you stop allowing the simple things to be a part of your soul? A new year is a new opportunity to allow the simple pleasures in life to reinfect your DNA. The video inspiration for this post is 90 seconds of great video to remind you how these simple pleasures look, sound, and feel. Take 90 seconds of today to watch. It may change your entire day.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Solitude: The Final Phase of Technology Integration

Have your students collaborated, connected with others? Have they realized that our global learning requires them to reach outside themselves? If so, they are ready for the next phase of technology integration. This phase values solitude and reflection, and asks students to balance their technology time with their time to disconnect and think.  Are you thinking about how to make this happen? Do you practice this in your connected life? Are you OK with the sound that comes when there is no sound?

Be Passionate about Life

I've been trying to boil down my wish list for education for 2014. It could be a really long list. It could include a more meaningful dialogue around Common Core. It could include a desire to focus on engagement of students above all else. It could include doing school different instead of just trying to do school better. It could include focusing on empathy as an elixir to bullying and violence in school. It could include making sure that school is life instead of school preparing kids for life, and it could even include better food in our cafeterias and more active kids at school. In the end, I only have one item on the list. It is a more passionate tribe of adults to surround our kids. We need more passion in education surrounding the right stuff. We need passion oozing out of our ears. We need passion for curriculum, and passion for instruction. We need our kids to see that we care so much that we refuse to let life get in the way of their futures. Passion in education has a wave of reasons to retreat, but let 2014 be the year when we scream from each of our spaces, amplified in power by our connected network, that the reasons that we entered this field on back as priorities. Be passionate about kids. Be passionate about learning. Be passionate about life. Be passionate about change.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Getting the Most Out of a Conference

Many of you are planning your 2014 conference landscape including experiences like edcampSTL, METC, and ISTE.  As a part of your planning, it is time to take some steps to make sure that you get the most out of the your conference experiences. Too often, we rush out of our buildings at the last minute to head to the airport to attend a conference with the details of school flooding through our heads. When we land at the conference, it takes us a few days to decompress, get in the mindset to learn, and inevitably the conference is coming to an end when we are primed for our best growth. To avoid this, think about trying one or more of the following ideas as a way to get the most out of your time with your colleagues from throughout the nation.

1. Think about how you are going to organize your thoughts throughout the conference. How will you organize your notes to make them last beyond the conference? One suggestion would be to write a daily blog post or e-mail summary of the day for your staff. This time of reflection and synthesis are key for ideas to germinate and spread into your building and beyond. Do you have a blog? Look to Wordpress or Blogger for free places to start your digital story. Publishing your thoughts helps spread ideas to places beyond your office and your school.

2. Begin learning on Twitter. There has been no better space to grow professionally over the last five years than through the set of loose connections and networks that Twitter can provide. There are tons of great resources on how to start using Twitter, and I’d be happy to help if you reach out to me on Twitter @ideaguy42. Throughout the conference, the best ideas, resources, and conversations will be on Twitter with school leaders at the conference and beyond. Get started now, so that you can get past the learning curve on how to use Twitter, so that learning will be front and center.

3. Connect with another learner that is attending before you arrive. It is certainly great to have those random meetings in sessions, but it is also helpful to start a new conversation today. Conferences are best when people are able to bring electronic or phone conversations to life face-to-face. It is also a great idea to reach out to someone that you wouldn’t normally talk to at the conference, someone that is outside of your normal comfort zone as those conversations bear some of the greatest fruit.

4. Watch a TED talk. It is important to get in the mode of thinking and exploring ideas, and there is no better place to do that than TED.com. Thousands of incredible ideas are spread through this network each day. Most of the ideas aren’t specifically about education, but they are ideas that provide some lateral capacity building for school leaders. This fresh capacity can bring a new lens to our work, and it can also provide us with ideas that we can carry into education from fields as diverse as botany, rocket science, and poetry.

5. Be ready to share the best stuff at your school. It is so important that the conference feels like a rich marketplace of ideas, and every school has trapped wisdom and ideas that are worth sharing. What three programs are excellent at your school? Why are they excellent? Telling your story to others also helps you and your building grow.

Engaging Our Community on Technology Integration

Our families and community know that technology integration is an important thing. It is a gut sort of thing. They aren't sure why, but they trust that technology integration is good for their kids. It is our role to build a common language, open the dialogue, and journey with everyone as technology integration becomes a part of our learning system. Look at some of the data below, and then think about gathering more data specific to your school using a tool like Clarity from Bright Bytes to round out your knowledge and road forward.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Memphis Marathon Preview

Running has been a part of my attempt to maintain a healthy journey for my body for almost ten years now. It has allowed me to be healthier at 40 than at 30, and I hope that running will help me continue to bend the arc of aging for the next decade. It has led me to new depths about what was possible for me physically as I've driven my times in both the half marathon and marathon to a space that amazes almost every non-runner. There are moments in running that are more important than the finish line and the time displayed when you finish. It can be the first race after an injury when you are able to say "I'm back". It can be a race when you supported a cause with your legs. It can be a run that shines beauty into your soul as you are one with nature. It can be the run to release the stress that comes from losing someone or something. Running serves me, and I hope that I serve running. As I line up for the Memphis Marathon tomorrow morning in some of the toughest conditions that I've run for a race of this length, I remain focused on two things. The first is assisting those around me make it to the finish line to achieve their goal of their first marathon or another deeper goal that drives them to put one foot in front of the next. The second is to run for those that can't. I've always told folks that I run because I can, which has always implied the truth, there are folks that are suffering or have suffered in ways that don't allow them the joy that comes from running. Tomorrow, the kids at St Jude's Hospital will be in my heart, my family and friends that have lost someone recently will be driving me , and all of those that are no longer in a position to put one foot in front of the next in the pursuit of making their way from the start line to the finish line will give me strength. Feel free to send your thoughts and prayers on our way as we journey tomorrow. You can track our progress here. Also, if you want to get a sense of what I'll be feel tomorrow, check out the video below.

Dare to Imagine

As we move into 2014, I have only one hope from my new year. I want to Think Big and Dream Big. I want my life to mirror the energy in my heart to change the world. I want everyday to be a quest to inspire those around me, kids and adults, to lean into the big, hairy problems of our time. How do we feed 9 billion people? How can we quench the thirsty of those without water? How can we create the clean energy necessary to promote peace and health? I believe that the solutions to these things are trapped inside the collective wisdom of our planet, and it will take curators and cross-pollinators to get the pieces of the puzzle in the right buckets to make a difference. Enough with the stuff that consumes our drive to live, learn, and love. Let us lead classrooms, schools, and other learning spaces that get the opportunity to Dare to Imagine.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Caring for Kids is an Academic Intervention

The holidays are a very difficult space for many of our kids. It is a time of financial and familial stress. I feel like I have to remind myself of this every year as we approach these weeks leading into winter break. Do you have strengths to support kids in this space? Are you able to care for kids the way that you would like? Teachers, educators, and learners are caregivers first. Make it a priority to find a moment to slow down and focus on the heart of our children. The video below reminds us of the importance of social emotional growth as part of our work.

The Super ZIP Codes

I was in a school the other night and walked the walls looking at projects that the students had completed. I recognized during my walk that lots of time had been spent to make sure that all of work displayed looked great and that everything was labeled and straight. I was visually impressed. I was impressed that projects served as the summative assessments for the learning in the classroom. I paused at this point to realize that the content of learning was shocking. The heart of excellent project based learning has to be rich, meaty, robust, rigorous topics of learning. I'm sorry, but phases of the moon, Egyptians, and sunlight and shadows doesn't cut it, not for a five year old or a 15 year old. These are topics worth exploring, but not built for robust projects. Finding great project based learning isn't hard. It is about tying students to life and expanding the walls of the classroom. I recently read about the Super Zip Codes, see link below, a concept that explores poverty, education, and more. The graphic interface in the article allows students to explore their neighborhoods and surrounding neighborhoods in an engaging and interacting way. These are some of the themes of great learning. Interview officials, take pictures that represent the learning, share with other zip codes, reflect, and build more learning on top. If time is short, make every second count with BIG LEARNING. THE SUPER ZIPS

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Are You Promoting Mathematical Thinking?

Before April jumps into our laps and we all become consumed by the need to show improvements on our test scores, it seems like a good time to step back and think about the numeracy that we really want for our children. Instead of celebrating statistically insignificant increases in your state test math scores (which I think is comical and proves the point of how we have reduced math to comparing two numbers with no context or true analysis), let's rethink the mathematical thinking that we want to fill the conversations of children and adults alike. I am purposeful about using the term mathematical thinking as opposed to math as the critical thinking and problem solving of math has been my true passion surrounding the subject for a long time. No one becomes a better mathematical thinker by doing more problems or becoming a computational speed champion, but the growth comes from conversations around patterns, seeing math in spaces not traditional to the topic, playing with the numbers, and molding data to become educative for others. The beauty of mathematical thinking gets squeezes out of the system as preparation for state tests, ACT, and AP Stats or Calculus accelerates over the top of the beauty of mathematical thinking. We need children and adults that are good consumers of numbers, see patterns for design, and know how to take the complexity of math to larger audiences through elegant explanations. This isn't easy with the testing industrial complex rooted in its primary sphere of influence, math, but I believe that our students deserve more courage in this area. Let the video below push your thinking.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Do You Really Get Connection?

We live in an open world where privacy as previously defined is gone forever. We are building digital footprints with each click of our devices each day. It is a time of digital mistakes that don't go away. It is a time when action precedes rational thought. It is a time when ideas and thoughts are on display well before they are in their final form, and we are in time when less and less context exists to the digital fragments that flow through the information firehouse. In this time and space, it is essential that we are grace filled in our actions with others by listening to explanations, accepting apologies for honest mistakes, and working through misunderstandings caused by the challenges of information curation. How are you building this capacity in your organization? Does your school or business have grace as a part of its culture? The video below launched me into this thinking as it explores the complexity of our connected world.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Make More: TEACH

I am always talking about how it is important for us to change the narrative in education in the community and beyond. This video and the rest of the videos from the Ad Council in this channel seem like they are a step in the right direction. How careful are you with your language when talking about school? Legacy language about schools is helping to maintain the current mental models about schools. A fresh language and a fresh narrative is essential to provides the space for innovation.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Secretary Duncan

Ok, this is a tad cheesy, but I got mentioned by Secretary Duncan. It made me smile. About ten minutes into the video, he answers a question from @ideaguy42. It is easy to be invisible in our work, and we don't do our work to be visible, but it is nice to be "noticed" every once in a while. Don't forget to notice the people that support your learning and your work to support the learning of kids. In addition, I have really appreciated Secretary Duncan leaning into connected learning recently, and it is worth listening to this video while hitting the reset button on your mental models about the secretary.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Again the Room Wins

We have all probably heard at this point that the smartest person in the room is the room, and this was very clear again over the past days as I spent time with some of the brightest folks in the country during the Bright Bytes Summit in San Francisco. From the moment that I entered the room, it was clear that I would be pushing the limits of my mental energy over the two days. It was fantastic to add incredible people into my personal learning network, meet folks that I had learn from and with for the first time, and spent time with some of the most brilliant educational thinkers on the planet. I’m attaching a couple of example of the quality of the thought leaders that were in this space. Thanks to @markgarrison and @vollmert805

Monday, November 18, 2013

Are you teaching kids to fail less and fail slower?

Kids are born to fail fast and fail often. Are you as a teacher sucking this out of them? Watch this video and consider how to open the doors to more "failure" into your learning space.

Unstuck | Fresh Perspectives - Are you afraid to fail? from Unstuck on Vimeo.

Friday, November 15, 2013


I had the pleasure to be with the incredible team from Bright Bytes over the last couple of days. In addition, sixty or so people from throughout the country were there to take part in a learning journey and deep dive into the innovation of what is possible. Bright Bytes has developed an incredible tool for gathering, analyzing and opening conversations surrounding the depth of technology integration in a learning space. Being the first school district in Missouri to use the tools that they provide has been incredible. It has brought us rich results, building blocks for the future, a dialogue of common language around technology in the district. Take a look at the short video at this LINK to learn more.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Learning by Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping seems like the wrong thing to do. It seems like we are lurching our way into other people’s space. It seems like we are breaking the unofficial privacy laws, but have you ever noticed the knowledge and wisdom that you pick up from those moments when you weren’t supposed to be listening. You walk through the teachers’ lounge to get your mail, and you hear something that brings things into perspective or you are at a conference listening to a speaker, and the wisest thing being said is in the conversation next to you. It seems like we should be able to contain our eyes and ears, but ultimately, they were made to listen, watch, and explore. It is important that we continue to eavesdrop on education and the learning happening all around us as it may be the space for big inspiration.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Session I Facilitated at Edscape

First of all, words mean things, and I was purposeful in titling my post. One of my goals, for better or worse, while at Edscape, was to facilitate a session instead of talking for 50 minutes. I believe that folks that present at conferences are often fearful of allowing the maximum learning to take place in sessions when the room has much more collective wisdom than the person in the front of the room. Even if the presentation fell flat, I was dedicated to doing it the right way.

The results were incredible. I spoke for 20 minutes, sharing some stories, ideas, and general thoughts about classroom engagement, and the importance of having choice, voice, and authentic audience in classrooms. Then I turned it over to the group to discuss in depth the importance of each of these areas then produce a visual representation about how these elements impact learning. The results in 20-25 minutes were incredible.

There are three examples below:

Authentic Audience



Here is one more example of what the brilliance of the room can produce.

One Group Learning During My "Presentation"

I would encourage all of you presenting in the next few months to think about doing things a bit different. Don't talk for an hour. Facilitate the excellence in the room. Allow real conversations. Challenge the minds in the room, and most importantly, enjoy the beauty that emerges. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Milford Uncovered

There have been a thousand stories about the journey of New Milford High School toward being a connected school. All of them contain nuggets of truth that are worth exploring if you are an educational leader searching for a road map to a more dynamic, connected school, but I think that there is a larger story at New Milford that gets less attention, but most likely is the driving engine of change that allows for excellence on a daily basis.

Recently, New Milford High School hosted their annual edcamp-like Saturday learning conference called Edscape. Leading into this Saturday, I had an opportunity to spend most of Friday in the halls of New Milford with students and staff observing the climate and learning throughout the day. My greatest take away from this informal time at New Milford was the deep sense of trust in the building. The principal trusted his administrative team. The staff trusted that the principal was supporting their work. The students trusted the teachers. The teachers trusted the students. The maintenance crew trusted building leadership. Trust. Trust, Trust. It was everywhere to be seen. From the evacuation drill that had students walking through the community, to the senior flex period that gave them more freedom, to the decisions that teachers were making with their instruction. Buried behind the headlines was this organic sense of trust in the building. I'm certain that there are some teachers in the building that aren't completely feeling this trust, but it is there in a way that is magnified beyond most buildings.

The second piece of New Milford that sits below the surface, beyond the television coverage, blog posts, awards, and energy of its dynamic principal, is the diversity at New Milford. This building was filled with an incredibly rich group of students. I had the opportunity to talk with three incredible students about a project that we are working on together, and they were amazing. I saw diversity under the Friday night lights on the football field, and I saw diversity in the cafeteria. New Milford isn't a sterile environment with a homogeneous population that can succeed no matter the inputs. It is a real school with real problems and real struggles to make success possible. The diversity also breeds a need for innovation. There is a sense of urgency to serve this diverse population, and there is an empathy for the needs of the students in the building.

Edscape was an incredible learning event for me. Getting a chance to meet old and new friends, finding new resources and ideas, and presenting about some of the things in which I'm passionate, but the story of my trip to New Jersey was that success for New Milford and most schools lies below the surface in the deep roots of the school, the roots that honor diversity and the roots that foster trust.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ideas- The Core of Connected Educator Month

It has taken me a few days to figure out the thoughts that I wanted to share about Connected Educators Month. I get so excited about being a part of a connected network of passionate educators that the words flow very quickly, but I believe that so many others have already been able to articulate the core and essence of the month, so I went searching for the wisdom in the niches.

As I dug to the core of the my energy surrounding being a connected education, I found that ideas were at the core. I know for others it's about the people as it brings a strength from having allies in the battle to change the world through education, and for others, it is about the resources as the release of trapped wisdom into the marketplace amplifies the best ideas and allows them to infect additional learning spaces, but for me, it's the ideas.

Connected educators and and so many others bring fresh ideas and thinking into a system that has a record of lagging in the inspiration to change and holding tight to legacy ideas and practices. We need ideas. We need a fire hose of ideas to bathe the learning of all adults and students. Connected learning provides this opportunity. Blogging, online conversations, and the sharing of the trivial bits and bytes of our days spawn new connections, new schema, and new action. To me, this is the true engine of connected learning.

To allow this to happen to its fullest, connected educators have to pledge to not allow their personal learning network to become an echo chamber where the same ideas are bounced around and confirmed without thought, but instead, we have a responsibility to search for a broad and diverse set of ideas. We must also look for thoughts quite different than ours to ponder and give deep consideration. Finally, we must look for ideas outside of education that can be molded in a sensible way to work in our system as it is transformed into excellence.

There has never been a better moment to be in education. Our opportunity to truly change the world is more robust than ever, so encourage everyone to connect for the people, the resources, and especially the ideas that can power our mission for kids.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Window into Struggle and Opportunity

Do we really get how hard it is for so many of our kids? Can we have empathy without having experienced this reality? Are we willing to talk openly about the full solution? Do you have the energy to be a part of the whole solution? Watch this video and sharing the conversation that emerges.

Friday, September 27, 2013


This week I've been intentional about taking time to notice. Life moves too fast, and I've seen that if I just take a moment to appreciate the ordinary that joy permeates deeper within me. I think that seeing the incredible images that friends, families, and allies provide me on Instagram pushed me to break my routine, pause, and notice. There is so much natural beauty around that is purposed for filling our souls with wonder and delight. Take notice. Smile. Stretch the time of the day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Are we chasing the wrong things?

These three questions are dominating my thinking lately.

What is the best school that has come from our high stakes testing environment?

Is that school currently good enough for the learning that the students need for the next decade?

If not, why are we chasing the same model?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Last 48 Hours

The final 48 hours in Guatemala were a complete blur. After we had seen the sights in Antigua, we walked in the dark to an Italian restaurant that was near our hotel. I should mention that our hotel was incredible. It truly was hotel as art. It had beautiful furniture, an interior courtyard, and more. It would have been a wonderful place to stay for three or four days as you explore Antigua. During dinner, we spent some time processing the week, and started the final game planning for our meeting with the Ministry of Education. Though it would have been nice to plan and create our presentation earlier in the week, the final vision for phase one of the Global Learning Exchange Initiative (GLXi) didn’t take shape until that day in Antigua. We stayed simple with our slides, and we featured photos of kids learning at the schools that we visited. 

The Minister herself took almost a full hour with us discussing our ideas to bring complimentary reading services to Guatemalan schools in grades K-3 during after-school programs using a technology-rich environment. We were excited to get a meeting with her, and blown away that she took a full hour with us. She too recognizes the power of focusing on literacy at early grades, and the Ministry of Education is very interested in how technology could be a part of that. Everyone did a fanastic job on short rest. After our visit, we had a synergy meeting with the Central American Lutheran Ministry Society (CALMS) folks. They are doing an incredible job with their work in small villages in Guatemala. We discuss the tenants of truly helping those in need without amplifying the fatalism that exists in many of these communities. I was pointed to a text called Helping Without Hurting. I’m excited to get more deeply focused on making sure that our work remains true to these tenants. Following lunch, we traveled to the book store to create our first box of travelling books. Our hope is to bring technology-rich guided reading to our programming while also providing additional supplementary texts for independent reading. 

We are hoping that schools throughout the US may see the power of bringing these books to towns and villages in Guatemala, and I’m hoping to help coordinate these efforts. After this stop, we went to JMDR, a public school in Guatemala City for our final school visit. This visit brought us a new set of realities. This schools was ringed with a street market and poverty just inches outside of its walls. We arrived at recess, and the place was a bit crazy. There were lots of students running around on a small playground, and there were many others very interested in us. We met with the principal of the school, and she was very receptive to us bring there. It was clear that she had a lot of pride in her school, and we would soon realize why. We also saw a new computer lab that was in the principals’ office. It consisted for 8-10 “thin client” computers networked together. They were a pilot from Microsoft and the Ministry of Education. The internet connection was very slow, and we weren’t able to see kids using them during our visit. From the beginning of our trip, we thought that this urban public school would include a lot of illiterate children. It was awful that we had that mental model to start because the brilliance of this third grade classroom was amazing. They were eager learners. They asked for tougher books. They wanted to play the math game over and over. This visit confirmed that, urban or rural, public or private, the GLXi project can be effective in any space. 

After our visit, we were quite weary and truly on empty after this completely full week of learning. We had 45 minutes to rest, only for it to be interrupted by the biggest earthquake that I’ve ever experienced. Dave, who led our trip, is a native of CA, so it was a little tremor for him. Later, we would realize that over 30 people were killed in the earthquake closer to the epicenter. The final push of the evening came from a farewell dinner from our “host family” the Bonillas. Jose is the in-country coordinator for GLXi, and was responsible for our flawless itinerary and trip. Jose’s father Eduardo, served as our driver for the week. He was a crafty driver in the crazy street of Guatemala City and a race car driver outside the city. Mrs. Bonilla allowed us to share her family for the week, and her smile and energy sparked us throughout our tired moments. This project wouldn’t be possible without this dedicated family. Dinner was incredible, steak, sausage, potatoes, salad, and drink, and the beauty of Guatemala for visitors is that it was quite inexpensive. Lots of hugs to end the evening, and lots of promises to return. I can’t imagine being in Guatemala City without being with the Bonillas. The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning for the final push home. I’m in the air about an hour from Saint Louis as I write this. There is at least one more blog post coming from the trip after it all sinks in a bit. I’m not to the takeaways yet, but I do know that I’m ready to build a network of kids, teachers, and more around the efforts of the GLXi because from those that have much, much is expected. This sense of service and empathy is a critical piece of building the whole child and more.

A pretty rough football game at JMDR School. 

The principal was very interested in the support of GLXi.

Dr. Henke and Dave Barford chat with the Minister of Education. 

Having a long audience with the Minister and her assistant was a blessing. Our work is designed to complement the work of the government in K-3 literacy. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Antigua Guatemala

Today was an opportunity to prepare for our meeting with the Ministry of Education. Throughout the day and well into the night we fine tuned our message and left with a clearer purpose of how the Global Learning Exchange Initiative will do to support the literacy work in Guatemala. Included in our day was some time to explore Antigua Guatemala, a city that was the capital of all of Central America, many years ago. We took time to see the sites including the wonderful vista, the cathedral, the open air market, and the jade museum. Tomorrow is a full day of meetings with key players in the country as well as our final school. I'll be home in 40 hours, and it is hard to believe how much we accomplished. 

The view from above Antigua. The volcano, Agua, is in the distance. 

Our in-country coordinator, Jose, sporting his University of Missouri shirt.

The beauty and peace of Antigua filled our afternoon. 
Fish for lunch, the whole fish 

From the ruins...rises a new start.

The best power strip over.

The cathedral facade in Antigua.

Jade is only found in two places in the world, and one of them is Guatemala.
These women are working to polish the jade.
One of many open air markets.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Guatemala- A Design Thinking Challenge

Over the last few months, I have been working with an organization called the Global Learning Exchange that has a mission to bring technology-infused reading experiences to the children of Guatemala and beyond. Over the past year, our group has developed relationships with an initial set of schools, and my journey this week took me into those schools to learn the logistics necessary to bring our programming to their space. We learned a lot, and we were intentional about using design thinking as part of our growth process this week. We didn't want to bring our solution to a space without considering the needs of those that we were serving. We talked about the needs of those that we were trying to serve throughout this process. This led us to building a problem statement that reads:

The young, eager learners that are beginning and emerging readers in Guatemala need to experience the best practices of reading instruction that maximize engagement so that they can progress into lifelong readers and learners.

In order to tackle this issue, we have spent time in the ideation phase looking at a variety of ways to bring a solution to the table. One idea has emerged at this point. We want to bring technology-infused reading experiences to students by coupling the compelling nature of the XO Android Tablet with a projector in after-school spaces in the schools that we serve. We tested this potential solution over the past week in country, and we have had solid results in the how it draws students into the learning.

We have recognized a set of logistics that emerge when we take this project from our one time test to bringing systems into schools that are sustainable over time that we need to overcome. This is where we need some assistance from the wisdom of the masses. We are in need of a mobile learning system that allows us to have the following conditions in place.

1. We would like a lockable box that can be secured with all of the technology in one space. We also need this box to be able to be locked to a wall for additional security.

2. We would like for the box to house a projector with the following conditions: allows the fan to function to avoid overheating, serves as a space from where the projector can project without removing it from the box, sits at a height that can project onto a wall for visibility in the classroom.

3. We would like a space in the lock box for a universal power supply that could be removed each night for charging by the teachers who live in the town below.

4. We would like spaces to store 3-5 XO Tablets in the box.

5. We would like a space to store some additional supplies (30 portable white boards, a laser pointer, HDMI cable, etc.)

6. We would like a space for a backpack to be hung or stored on the box. This is backpack that will be used to haul the battery down the mountain each evening for charging.

7. We would like a storage container that has wheels for easy movement between classrooms in a rural environment.

8. We would like for the container to handle the weather (high humidity and some precipitation) without being compromised.

9. We would like the container to cost between $200-300 and be replaceable quickly.

With these things as guiding thoughts, I turn things over to the children of the United States and beyond. We are open to new, innovative ideas on our process, product, and storage needs. We looking forward to thinking together with all of those working on this project. For more details, please reach out to me at: rdillon25@gmail.com

Guatemala- Day Four; Our Trip to San Miguel

We woke this morning with a single mission in mind. It was to travel into the hills to see if our ideas for bringing technology-infused reading experiences could be effective and replicated in the rural sections of Guatemala. The group boarded our new vehicle capable of handling the extreme road conditions on the way to San Miguel, and we departed. The biggest early surprise was the beautiful town of Huite (wheat-tay). It was a clean and beautiful town with great homes, flowers, and parks. The road was straight up from there for about 20km until we reached the village of San Miguel. Pigs, goats, dogs, cows, and people littered the road to the village that climbed thousands of feet from Huite. 

We arrived, and there was instant interest from the kids like there has been in each school. All of the white people create quite the stir. We talked with the principal teacher and a few teachers. I should say that Jose, our translator, talked to these folks. I have tended to get really shy in these moments, part discomfort and part embarrassment that I have so much to offer, but nothing without language to share. Soon we realized that the school at San Miguel functions with no electricity. This was a surprise for us, but the school said that they could pay their neighbor who would loan us some electricity to showcase how our OX Tablets and projector can reshape reading in their classrooms. 

The next 30 minutes were complete chaos as all of the teachers left their rooms to meet with us, and they left all of their classes to do whatever. We were also trying to get the electricity run. This meant running an extension cord out of the window of the classroom (it was really three wires with a junction box attached on one end and a plug on the other), and then throwing the wire over the barbed wire fence that surrounded the school and attaching the cord to a second extension cord (attaching means jamming two wires into a plug on one end of the cord). This cord was run across the road before it was thrown over the neighbors hedges. From there, it was run through a hole in the wall in the neighbors home into and outlet for power.  

Once we had power, we showcased the potential power of the projector in these spaces. It was well received, and we discussed the possibility of bringing this technology to this space for future use. After walking the village a bit, we boarded the car to discuss the logistics to make this work in the poorest of conditions. We need help with this, and we are calling on experts, students, and solutionists to help us achieve our goals. More details about how to make this a successful project are coming soon. 

Our team preparing for the day. Lots of driving to get from Zacapa to San Miguel. 

The beautiful children of San Miguel. 

Sixth grade readers were reading at a first grade level at this school.
Our best work has to be with the toughest of places. These
students were so excited to learn and read. 
Recess in every place in the world looks a lot alike. 

Beyond the fence and the barbed wire about 20 meters is the electricity that this school desperately needs.
Never thought that we would be game planning around schools that have no electricity. 

Engagement is a beautiful thing to see in action.
These young learners are so ready to experience learning in a new way. 

With a projector and a tablet, we create our own interactive whiteboard along with a broom handle pointer. 

Some mom from Weikel Elementary School donated this shirt a long time ago, and it ended up in the mountains of Guatemala. We are such an interconnected place.  
The vista from San Miguel was magical. The fertile valley below, and the mining mountains in the distance. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Guatemala- Slowing to Think

I've been in Guatemala now for about three days, and I'm not sure that I've taken time to breath. There is so much to reflect on, and I'm just sort of getting comfortable being in this space where I can't talk to anyone at any length because I am arrogant enough to only know English. This country is beautiful. The land, the people, and children are really special. It is hard to imagine so many genuine smiles on the faces of so many obstacles, but I continue to laugh, smile, and enjoy space with so many different people. Guatemala has problems. Rural Guatemala is disconnected except for cell phones, satellite television, and the internet. There is a different face of poverty than I expected. I thought dirty clothes, incredible alcohol use, and laziness, but instead, I see workers, cleanliness, and not a bottle to be found on the side of the road. I'm in a real state of mental model confusion based on these items, but also in the fact that I keep going to nice malls and great restaurants, but 20 meters away someone is cooking tortillas on a wood fire stove, armed guards on standing outside car washes, and dogs and animals fill odd spaces on the landscape. Systemic change here is almost impossible to think about, but little moments of breakthrough seem economically feasible in short order. The air population of diesel engines hangs in the air, and the water in the rivers leaves me longing for clean water to drink. There is poverty here, but it looks different, feels different, and sounds different than I expected. Tonight I'm in a hotel with a pool, air conditioning, and more, but across the street is one of those stands that sells Coke and Fritos. I ate tacos tonight, and so many in this town ate nothing. I haven't seen a house that looks like any house in Saint Louis in three days, but I've seen kids loving learning everywhere. There is confusion in my head. Guatemala is complex, confusing, bold, and bright. More time to process this space is needed, but for now, I'm exhausted as the day was filled with pouring yourself into giving.

Guatemala- Day Three Recap and Pictures

The first task for the day was to beat the traffic out of Guatemala City. This meant a 5:45 a.m. departure. We worked our way out of the mountains, on very, very windy roads. The vistas were beautiful with cloud capped mountains on both sides. Guatemala is a beautiful volcanic land with folded steep hills throughout the country. Following breakfast that seemed like it was at Dennys, we reached a beautiful agricultural valley. This area was rich with fruits and vegetables, and it was clear that this was a special place. It was a humid place with lush tropical trees sitting next to cacti. Workers could be seen walking up and down the road with their tools of the trade preparing to harvest bananas, papaya, and more. Road side stands filled the way offering varieties of vegetables and fruit.

We reached Zacapa around 10 a.m. for our first school visit of the day. It was to the Lutheran school attached to the University. The grounds were very nice, and it was clear that much attention was giving to the learning in this space. We met with the principal of the school, and while explaining to him the mission of the Global Learning Exchange to bring a technology-infused reading experience to the schools of Guatemala through a variety of different shaped programs, we also had a chance to observe the students in the school. All of the students were eating lunch and playing. The variety of foods ranged from traditional Guatemalan dishes to traditional junk food. Some of the student bought from the vendors in the school courtyard and some brought their lunch. This school was considered a middle class school. It costs about $40 to attend this school every month. This rules out many of the students in Zacapa, but it provides a strong school for some. Next, we had an opportunity to showcase how our XO Tablets worked with a projector as well as how the XO Tablets worked with small groups. It was amazing again how the engagement level went through the roof, and how small hands that had never touched a tablet devices took to the mechanics of getting to content that they preferred.

At the school, we found two of the major things that we need from our partners, a space for this type of learning and a teacher or more that are interested in bringing this to their students. We found a teacher that looked like a natural leading with technology. This situation was a contrast to the day before where we were working in a back yard after school program that served the poorest of the poor. The second visit for our day took us to the town of Gualan. As we crossed over the bridge, you could see this beautiful hillside school that had views of both the river and the mountain. We met with Luis, the school leader, and it was clear from the beginning that he was someone that understood the power of literacy and the amplification power that technology can have on learning. We took our learning experience to a first grade class. This school clearly has order and learning taking place. The students were eager to interact. They were welcoming, and they were practicing their English. Thank goodness. The students showed incredible interest in using the books, math games, and memory games that we showcased, and the staff and students were eager to know when we could bring this experience to their space full time. It is an easy space for our partnership, but I believe that it is important to get easy wins in this difficult work. There was much debate in the car about whether our program should be targeting schools that were even poorer or whether we should be OK with supporting these middle class schools.

I'm not sure that I know the answer, but I do know that we need school leaders and teachers that can embrace this project to make this really work. In addition, we are fine tuning the opportunities that schools throughout the United States will have to support this program. We are looking for partners, and we know have a better sense of how we can all work together on this project. Below are some photos from the day with captions.
Our first visit today. A beautiful space for learning attached to the University. 

A classroom space

Jose and Dave discuss the mission of the Global Learning Exchange with the principal in Zacapa.

Lunch is served in Zacapa. 

I'll never complain about my computer lab again. They were using this room the best they knew. 

Our second visit today. A beautiful, progressive school in Gualan with a great view of the river and mountains. 

These students had computer access once a week for 30 minutes. Yes, there were on Facebook and YouTube. 

The power of a technology-infused reading experiences is seen here. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Guatemala- Day Two in Pictures

My morning started with a strategy session about how to bring Global Learning Exchange to schools in Guatemala in a way that was digestible for the folks teaching in these schools while maintaining a rigor necessary to make meaningful changes in literacy in a country that doesn't have the most robust literacy culture. From there, we traveled to the largest mall in Central America. It was beautiful. It was probably a better mall than any mall in Missouri. It was beautiful, clean, had every store that you could have asked for, and it oozed of luxury. Miraflores was a great space, but it wasn't representative of the reality check that was yet to come. Lake Amatitlan is a beautiful crater lake that is home to villages and squatters that exist in the most poverty that I've ever experienced. I was embarrassed to be there. I felt like I was a voyeur to a space and time that isn't acceptable to anyone. This was the first space that we were bringing the power of the Global Learning Exchange, and my first reaction was that there is no way that we could make an impact in this space. We toured the space with the gentleman that serves as doctor, mentor, and caretaker of this property. He hosts 26 children in his after-school space from 1:30-7:00 p.m. on every day that he can. He knows the importance of education, and he works to support these children every day. Only one of the 26 children have a mother with a sixth grade education, and the homes of all of these children are squatters' homes. The doctor running this program called where they live, which is across from the after school space, "the belt of misery". The children learning in the space maintained an energy for learning, and continued my believe that all humans have the curiosity to learning and the desire to love fellow humans. We introduced the XO Tablets, the projector, and the fresh opportunity to be a part of a digital learning space to the kids, and my gut which was telling me that this was a hopeless space turned to a place of hope and tears as I watched the technology tools of learning begin to do their magic. All of the students were reading orally from the projector for a long time. I doubted their stamina, but they maintained their reading and showcased their comprehension. When we placed the tablets in their hands to explore, the learning and engagement intensified. For hours, students were exploring, learning, and enjoying being in a learning community with fellow learners. It definitely has me believing that schools in the states can and should support this work. We need book drives for our schools. We need digital image dictionaries for our youngest learners. We need blogger to talk about life in the United States. We need student making simple childrens' books. Before the day was over, I got to play soccer with the kids, take pictures with them, and dedicate myself to this project in a deeper way. Five schools to go, and five more parts to this story. Everyone deserves a chance.... 

Jose and David project our first book on the XO Tablet for  the kids. 

Eduardo and Jose, our driver and translator, have the biggest hearts of all of us.
They want to change their country, one school at a time. 

Digital learning can happen anywhere. This girl looks like she has been handling a tablet for year.
Swiping, pinching, and learning from the moment it ended up in her hands. 

Lake Amatitlan is a beautiful place with the harsh reality of poverty everywhere.
 It was a great place to Lead Strong. 

Deep poverty should erase hope, but there is beauty in every space and every person.
We must bring a chance to every child. 

Running water changed the equation for this single mom. Her home was humble, but her heart was rich. 

Beautiful souls. Let us not consign them to less than we would want for our children. 

Guatemala- Day Two

Here are some initial thoughts. I needed to write something for the Affton community surrounding technology, and this is what came out. It was raw, unfiltered, and in the moment.

I've had a chance of a life time to bring digital learning to Guatemala this week. I'm in a church/clinic/school with 12 students that are so hungry to learn and the three tablets are feeding their minds and souls. There were tears earlier when I realized that this can work. Across the street is a squatters' neighborhood, and these are the kids that are learning.  This experience which we will replicate five times this week reminds me of how much more we can and should do with our technology resources. We have an opportunity to support global learning as a district in the next few months and I hope we rise to the challenge. See everyone Monday. Allow this week to be one with tears about what we can do for our kids in Affton.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Questions that We are Asking

What does it feel like to go to a school with no electricity? What does it feel like to go to school in a classroom where the teacher doesn’t show up to work? What does it look like to be in a school with no connectivity? What does literacy mean for a rural Guatemalan family. Can these students compete in the global marketplace at a high percent? What are your dreams when your education space is so narrow? Do we have any responsibility to teach the world’s children? What does empathy look like in the solutions that are needed in these spaces? How do we design with the schools not for the schools? What truly is our problem statement in which we are building a solution? These are the question that we are asking as part of the Global Learning Exchange. Is anyone else asking these questions?

Our Day in Guatemala City

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary day. This midwest gringo landed without a word of Spanish, and I have survived. I've tried a few phrases, and I've failed poorly. Thank goodness for our translator Jose. He and his father have been our tour guide throughout the day taking us to places that we couldn't have traveled on our own (zone 3) and giving us a chance to see a real view of Guatemala from those living on the side of the hill, to those with deep nationalist pride to those eating at Applebees. Seriously there is an Applebees here. It has been a tiring day, but one filled with the small moments that matter on trips like this. There was a beautiful vista, great music, and beautiful weather. Dr. Henke joins us tonight. Every new person brings a fresh dynamic to the system. Tomorrow starts the busy day of school visits and more.

 A view from the top of the mountain
The National Pride is Easy to See Here

Fox in Guatemala showing Cumbia Ninja, makes reality TV seem OK

Bieber Fever in Guatemala?

Great Maya Music on Our Walk Today

Food Truck Sunday in Guatemala City

Welcome to Guatemala

Sitting in the airport with a mixture of thoughts, most of them are filled with excitement, the excitement that comes from a new adventure. This trip sort of snuck up on me. I have been so busy with the start of school that I haven’t thought about the implications of heading to Central America for the first time. I have lots of ideas about what to expect, but I wonder a lot about how my expectations will meet the realities on the ground. My purpose for this trip is to see in a number of different ways. See the reality on the ground concerning bringing digital learning to these schools. See a new place and experience the food, culture, and people. See that which comes from being in education for 15+ years. See inside myself a bit as I experience life in Guatemala for the first time. See this project through the eyes of the teachers here in the States. See. See. See. I’m also thinking back to my selection of langugage learning in high school and college. I decided to learn French in middle school because I liked crepes, and though it has helped me in Paris and while watching the Tour de France, I’m longing right now to have some Spanish as a part of my communication repetoire this week. I’m sure that there will be some universals in the world of education, but there will certainly be some connections that will be lost in translation. Hopefully, there will be a few folks that have an opportunity to view this blog throughout the week. I’ll be grabbing the five best pictures from the day (hoping to take hundreds each day) and provide them in this space along with my learnings, musings, and connections that arise from this adventure. To learn more about this project overall, you can go to Global Learning Exchange.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Trap

There is a trap set each school year in about the third week of school. It is the trap that catches you and tells you to resist change, follow the path of least resistance, and move to a safer space. No matter how many times you have told yourself that you plan to do things differently, this is the window of time when new and different collide with hard.  You have allies. You have support. Let your connected colleagues assist you through this trap that says that yesterday's success is good enough to today's kids. September is the perfect time to try something new, grow as a connected and digital learner, and build the student-centered classroom that maximizes learning and engagement.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Who lives in your bathtub?

I just finished watching Beasts of the Southern Wild, an interesting movie, about a community of folks that find happiness in the depths of poverty. It led me to ask, "Who in our schools lives in our bathtub?" The Bathtub in this movie was a low lying swampy area populated by a mixed bag of folks on the other side of the levee. This is the other side of the other side of the tracks. All of our schools have kids that live in The Bathtub, and it is easy to point to the ways that living this way is hard, but I think that it is important for us to remember that all humans find happiness, a time to smile, and rest even in the face of the pressures of poverty. All of our kids know those emotions and long for more of them. We don't have to teach our kids that live in poverty what joy feels like, but we do have to help them feel comfortable so the natural joy of the human spirit has a chance to rise more moments than ever before.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Speed of Cultural Change

After three days at Leyden's Summer Symposium, I've been brought back to an idea that it is important to focus on as leaders of learning. Change can happen quickly. We see this around us all of the time. Music and media change the world everyday. They are able to shape public opinion through storytelling, common language, and passion for the topic. Schools often feel that change is a long process that can't be accelerated because of the massive amount of persuasion that has to take place among the adults in the system. This thinking is inhibiting innovation, and opportunities to be nimble enough to seize real-time opportunities. Schools must move fast on the road to being different. It can be done and is being done by courageous leaders throughout the country. It is a rarity that a school system can move this fast, but it's schools can and must if they are meeting their moral obligation to serve all students in a way that meets the needs of today's learner. Thanks to Leyden for reminding us all that change can happen quickly when courage, trust, and determination are all in the recipe.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Caring Too Much about Kids

Are we approaching a time in education when we care too much about kids? At some point, we have to think a bit more about ourselves, our happiness, and our families. There just isn't enough time in the day to care this much about kids. It is tiring. It is exhausting, and we aren't being supported by families, the community or our democracy. 

Maybe we can pull back 10-15%. Spend all of that time on a new hobby, relax or binge another show on Netflix. Pulling back the amount that we care about kids would be healthy for me, my family, and my larger ecosystem. 

If I pulled back a bit further, I may have time to write that book that has been in my head for a decade or more. It would give me time to decompress and leave work at work. It would also allow me some distance from my kids to gain some greater perspective, stop making emotion-driven decisions, and hit the reset button. 

It is easy to care too much. You get sucked in, and you don't even know it. Twenty years later no one will reward you for caring about other people's kids, but a large section of your life will be lost. It truly does make sense to pull back, way back, and rethink whether or not we can do this education thing in a more high tech way without the high touch piece that is destroying people and robbing them of the balance that everyone needs. 

It is clearly time to care a little less about kids, and leave this education thing to those that are deranged enough to care.