Week 2, Episode 2, prompt 3, Season 2 #IMMOOC

Discuss one of the “characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset” below in a give an example of how you exemplify this in your work (teaching or leading).


I guess I will talk about “reflective.” In the days long before blogs, I always kept a journal about teaching and  learning. I know that when I was responding to a supervisor’s classroom observation once, they were surprised that I could so readily call upon a series of my own notes and reflections, and that I wanted a discussion. I can’t tell whether the idea of continual reflection came from my teacher training or my scientific training. Either way, it’s always been important to me.

I try to carry that to the classroom; it can be asking for feedback for a project, or simply to ask my students to think about a lab experiment as part of their analysis. In a comment to another teacher about the importance of “why”, I almost always will toss that back to kids whenever they give an answer! It develops critical thinking, it empowers deeper learning, and (in science at least) it makes the responder think about what evidence they have for their response.

Same for me – If I were drawing – or redrawing this graphic, I would put “refective” in the center since I think all the other characteristics connect through and to reflection.

While I have aimed to be a reflective teacher always, I have recently been working with some of the strategies from Marzano, et al “Becoming a Reflective Teacher” .  I know that my best work comes through reflection. As a department chair of many young teachers, I want my colleagues to learn the value of it, too. Some things in the book, I admit I look at and go ~ meh ~.  But it’s well chunked up, and I think it’s because after 20+ years in the classroom, they’ve been bundled in my mind. That said, there’s a benefit to un-bundling at times and reverting to a detailed step-by-step reflection.  Going through the book to refine my own practice of reflection has been a worthwhile exercise.

(image from: http://immooc.org/2017/03/04/episode-2-and-blog-prompts/)

Week 2, Episode 2, prompt 2, Season 2 #IMMOOC

gotta work on titles….

Review the “Critical Questions for Educators” in Chapter 2.  Why are these important to understand those we serve in education?  What other questions would you ask?

  • The questions are:
    • Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
    • What is best for this student?
    • What is this student’s passion?
    • What are some ways we can create a true learning community?
    • How did this work for our students?

While this chapter was validating for me as an educator, I think there is one huge question missing: Ask the students – what can I, and then we, do to help you learn; to improve the project/lesson?

And that is not even phrased well. In getting feedback from the students, there must always be a component of “how can we improve this?” Ask the kids what worked and what didn’t. Ask them why – when you have shown that you are invested in their learning; they will be very honest and give you constructive criticism.

In my school, we crafted an interdisciplinary project for that horrible, awkward time between Thanksgiving and Winter Break. It’s intense and the organization of the groups is a nightmare (I teach at an independent boarding school, with many international students, so we work hard to make sure the kids are in groups that have domestic and international kids, day students and boarders… since the there isn’t 100% parity in the sections  – some kids are in an honors level, some are in a different course, we need to make sure that there is at least one person who is in both courses doing the project, and that each student has at least one partner in each class. Despite this, it’s my favorite unit of the year.) We’ve done the project for several years now and as part of the peer reviews, we ask the kids about what could/should we change.

The important part is – we go back and discuss their feedback with them. If we feel that something shouldn’t be changed, we discuss the reasons; we implement many of their ideas. The learning has strengthened each year, and the kids are (mostly) willing participants.

  • I start my year, when asking my students all that student inventory stuff, to include three things that set the stage for me:
    • I want to more about ___ .
    • I wish the teacher knew ___ about me.
    • In this course, I am most nervous about ___.

I try very hard to make sure I get feedback routinely from my students; I find it is worth the time and makes for a much better experience for everyone.

Week 2, Episode 2, prompt 1, Season 2 #IMMOOC

In Chapter 1, innovation is defined as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. What are some examples that you consider innovative?  How is it new and better than what previously existed?


  • holding (some) meetings virtually – in the case of professional organization chapter meetings; it enables me to participate even when my day might not easily allow a trip to the on-site venue.
  • Data collection in lab classes – provides more authentic experiences, and allows us to get enough data to focus on the critical thinking aspects rather than the mechanics and cook-book activities.
  • Coffee pods (whether refillable/recyclable or one time use [boo]) – coffee is always fresh and can be customized for the user. If the refillable: less waste.
  • digital books: a whole library at my fingertips; in the classroom – the option for lighter backpacks.

One thing I’ve noticed as I try to come up with examples: I see a down-side to each innovation I cite. I know that I have to consider the end-goal, and risk-benefit analysis along with my personal biases as to whether or not I see something as innovation.

(image from: http://immooc.org/2017/03/04/episode-2-and-blog-prompts/)


Still catching up: Reflections on Intro, Season 2 #IMMOOC

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” ~ Albert Einstein.

Ok then. I am done. That sums up why we need innovation in both our teaching and learning.

But that does not a blog post make, really.

Like most introductions, this one lays out the plan. It’s a good one, in that it gets you going and invites you to keep reading. If I pick just one thing as my take-away (maybe because it coincides with my personal objectives for participating in this MOOC), it is that developing an innovator’s mindset is necessary for moving forward and must be embraced by all… as Couros notes: all hands on deck.

I originally bought the book from a recommendation on AJ Juliani’s blog, http://ajjuliani.com/ as I was becoming more intentional about genius hour in my classroom. That happened because of a few quick words with the author of a textbook I use… I’ve used it for a long time now; still haven’t found a book I like better, but I needed to shake it up so that my teaching didn’t get stale. I’d skimmed it, and read parts – was very excited to read in the intro that culture and action were section themes. But I didn’t read it closely until the opportunity for the MOOC came up. The first session did not happen for me, because I chose to focus on implementing Genius Hour in my high school chemistry class.

Having seen the power of that, and the positive outcomes that the kids have unknowingly transferred to their “required” learning, made it imperative to follow through in this second session.

So, reviewing the intro again got the juices flowing…. even if I’m off to a slow start – and still catching up!



Still catching up: Episode 1, prompt 4, Season 2 #IMMOOC

Your choice from the book on the YouTube Live session: (p27:3) What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but also necessary for our students?

Had to sleep on which one to pick; because I think I’ve addressed them without realizing it in the very first posts.

I think i’d have say the internet – now so pervasive that the Oxford Dictionary has demoted the “i” to lower case. Because of the internet, I can search intentionally for a new teaching idea, read blogs and books and websites of those I consider expert, or I can just stumble across something that sparks an idea on any number of social media sites.  I can find the resources I need almost in an instant.

For the students, as I noted in an earlier blog, we have a “democracy of information” that makes it critical that we move beyond read this, memorize this, get tested on this. Even the best written tests cannot fully address how students must use the information. By innovating our teaching, we can better present the necessary whatever in ways that engage the students and get them excited to learn more… and be able to apply their learning in more authentic scenarios.

Still catching up: Episode 1, prompt 3, Season 2 #IMMOOC

If you started a school from scratch, what would you see as necessary, and what would you take out from what we currently do?

Well now.

I’ve actually had that honor to co-found a Nativity School, a middle school for inner city boys. They had to have strong aspirations to learn, not necessarily the brightest children, but their teachers felt that they were getting lost in their large classrooms, and these boys had the potential to do so much more.

What was essential:

  • For the students:
    • time to read for fun,
    • recess,
    • the opportunity to interact with the adults in a non-threatening environment,
    • community service,
    • sports times,
    • study time,
    • safety.
    • Hands-on learning across all disciplines.
    • We made time to talk to the students and get to know them as individuals.
  • For the teachers:
    • We made sure that we had regular professional development meetings with the teachers. Some topics ours (they were new, Americorps volunteers) and some were theirs.
    • It was important the PD was always linked to a relaxing, social event.
    • We celebrated the teachers on a regular basis, even if it was just donuts and coffee on a Friday.

What did we take out?

  • For the students:
    • We did not administer standardized tests.
    • We did not assign detentions, but the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
    • We assessed our students in unconventional (at the time) ways.
    • We took out fear (as much as we could) – of bullying, of failure, of embarrassment.
  • For the teachers:
    • We encouraged learning, trying new things.
    • We encouraged reflection on the practice.
    • We tried to reduce fear of failure.

It was the hardest and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.



Still catching up: Episode 1, prompt 2, Season 2 #IMMOOC

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”  How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?

Always learning. Always refreshing my teaching. I have explored Genius Hour in my high school chemistry classes. It was great, and needs some retooling. No worries.  I saw so many positive outcomes with my students. Simplest said: they are more willing learners. I’ve given assignments as “FedEx challenges” and had wonderful results from even my weakest kids. I ask for more student feedback. Sometimes I close the book as we discuss education and learning in the classroom with the students.

I have requested that somehow my administration gives me a way to help those colleagues that are tentatively exploring new ideas. (As we work to change our educational culture, we ar finding that some teachers need an “official’ nudge – even if they are already so inclined. Adults need the freedom to fail as much as the kids do.)

I admit it – I am often in the “ask forgiveness, not permission” category.  Living on the edge.

(image from http://immooc.org/2017/02/27/immooc-live-episode-1-and-blog-prompts/)

Still catching up: Episode 1, prompt 1, Season 2 #IMMOOC

What do you see as the purpose of education?  Why might innovation be crucial in education?

So much to learn, so little time. My mantra.

I want for my students to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge so much that they never want to stop learning. Anything. Anytime. I want them to ask good questions, and to be able to discern high quality answers. It is not about the content. In my mind, it never has been. If electron configurations are important to a student’s passion, then they will learn them. If not; I am happy if they realize that there is something about atomic structure that defines, predicts, requires a particular behavior. I do not see it as “settling” for lesser knowledge if that abandonment of specific detail means that they understand there are details they don’t know, but may need to ask about – and oh, by the way… how does science do x, y, or z – that’s a win.

Jeff Hoffman gave a talk at the end of 4th Deshpande Symposium (http://www.brainshark.com/uml/jeffhoffman) that was inspiring. He gave in one line, in my opinion, the reasons we must be innovative in education: it today’s world we have a “democracy of information” that transcends traditional boundaries. And it’s how we use that information that is at our fingertips that is so important.

We are educating in a different world. We know things instantaneously, and don’t have to wait  for the morning newspaper, or even the nightly news. It is our responsibilities as educators to enable and empower our students to understand and progress the world they live in.

(image from: http://immooc.org/2017/02/27/immooc-live-episode-1-and-blog-prompts/)

Getting caught up (3) Season 2 #IMMOOC

What does innovation mean for education, and should every educator be an innovator?

Taking the second half first. Knowing that the semantics will get in the way: yes, every educator should be an innovator. We’ve all had that teacher or college professor that comes in with the ancient binder full of yellowed notes; they can’t deviate from the script.  It. Is. Oh. So. Boring.

Every educator should constantly be looking at their work and the students they teach. Is this still the right format? Is it the right time to introduce this? This lesson was awesome 5 years ago, but it seems trite now. In the now classic “Shopping Cart Video” Kelley explains that innovation isn’t always completely new, but it might be just adding something different that makes a product better. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taJOV-YCieI) Education should be the same.

Using Couros’ definition that “Innovation [is] a way of thinking that creates something new and better,” (The Innovator’s Mindset, p18), then I think it should be a mandate that education is innovative. As he also notes (p20) it need not be a long stretch to bring innovation to the classroom. Didn’t we do it when we added projectors in addition to overheads (or dare I say film strips)? whiteboards over chalkboards?

In many ways we need to recognize that educators are inherently innovative, and it’s not something wicked to be feared.

Getting caught up (2) Season 2 #IMMOOC

How do we start to innovate inside of the box?

I started this journey originally with an online course from San Francisco’s Exploratorium on the ‘Art of Tinkering.’ (https://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/ ) I’d gone hunting because generous parent donations had enabled me to upgrade a good deal of equipment in our science department. I knew it would take months if not years to revisit curriculum to get some of the cool stuff I wanted to get into the hands of the students. I proposed a weekend activity based on tinkering ideas (I teach at a boarding school). The proposal was accepted and the path was marked.

That’s a long way to say that to innovate inside the box must begin with one of the tenets of tinkering: start with what you have. I am lucky to have administrators that support creative tools for learning; and that I have the ability to try something new without fear of losing my job!  But I think that comes partly from being a life-long learner myself; and always reading and keeping my mind open and wondering if that or this new idea would work for this or that. In addition, as a scientist, I know that most things are not going to work the first time – I have to be able to see the positive nuggets and pull those out for a new setting, a different twist etc.

I don’t think it’s the “how” that is often the impediment, nor the fear of failure. I think it’s the idea that innovation must be new and radically different. I once took a course on technology in STEM education. The first lesson was how the pencil was technology – it was a tool that made a job easier. And that’s all it takes.