Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In a world driven by love Part I

If you have ever been in a relationship of some kind - so that's all of us - then you know that love is complicated. I mean love is simple and profound and it is complex and riles up all other emotions stretching parts of our being we never knew could be stretched so far. And still we participate, again and again, in this experience of love. I often wonder if we do, because we are energy beings made from and of love. I know this can sound sappy...but after a quarter of a century of my life parenting I know what love can do. Love has driven me to be more, to stretch myself out in ways I didn't think possible, to re-think belief systems I held deep within, to hold to hope and faith in ways that are beyond my limited capacity for understanding. Love has asked me to re-imagine life again and again and it has not done this quietly. And love shows up differently. For me, love shows up in the conversations I hold with my children, the time we take to dive into deep topics of import and when we hash out problems together trying to find a common understanding. For my husband, love shows up in his steadfast hand at work, his disciplined way of ensuring he has done his part to provide for our home, and in the careful choices he makes when he calls a day off to volunteer for our kids school activities knowing he will lose a day of pay. Even our budget is made of love. We make careful decisions about how we will spend our money, choosing to use it on those things that reflect our values and beliefs. These are all driven by love. 

So how does this understanding of love show up in the world? 

At the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference the opening keynote speaker, Michio Kaku, spoke about the fourth wave of wealth creation in our society: technological advances.
I listened to all the exciting advances being made from the internet on contact lenses, digital wall paper and flexible screens you can unravel from your phone to human ears being digitalized and grown from human cells. One has to wonder, what drives all of this innovation...what pushes us forward to learn more, to know more and to desire more. 
There is a natural curiosity that is innate in children and we seek to find out the why of life. As we become older, life becomes more complex, and unraveling the why can be harder to do. In Western society we like answers that are concrete and seem finite. The more challenging the questions in life, the harder it can be to find the finite answers. But we persevere, like in our relationships, we persevere, when we discover something new we change our belief systems. Why? I argue, science is also driven by love. There is a desire to know and to seek to understand, to solve complex problems of the life of matter. Maybe these waves that Michio Kaku talks about are really waves of love that are just showing up differently in our world. What is wealth anyway, if not abundance? And abundance is a quality of the spirit, in the world of matter it shows up as wealth. When I think of the fourth wave that Dr. Kaku talks about in these terms, then we are entering a time when love is exponential! If love is a force, an energy - which I believe it is - then what an explosion of love we are seeing in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and quantum physics. And love will do what it does - it will stretch us and demand more from us! Is it any wonder that we are being challenged to question those things which we have always held dear: What does communication look like today? What does it mean to be connected? How do I understand all the information that is coming at me? 
So this fourth wave of love will demand more of us - as Dr. Kaku says, it will ask us to be more creative and more innovative in our thinking. After all, robots are just adding machines and because of their speed they create an illusion of intelligence.  Robots, do not have that animating force within each of us that binds and connects to each other...asking, by simply existing, that we be more. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Shifting learning spaces...start with culture!

Needs of today's learners are changing the needs of space

I like it when presenters, facilitators, people in the conversation of creating change start with the why! Sometimes the conversation around change, especially in education starts with judgement and ignorance: 

We have to change the way we teach because children and youth today are tied to their technology, that's all they know.

Kids these days have so many distractions with their game consoles, so we need to make learning entertaining. 

These are shallow understandings of the exponential changes taking place in society and in our global learning culture. 

In many circles that I am engaged in - alternative healing and health, Baha'is and other people of Faith, environmentalists, indigenous prophecies and communities - all agree there is a shift of energy taking place in the universe that is causing people to awaken and move energetically from a different place of being.
I know - this is intense talk for some folks to take in - but our children and youth get this naturally and are ready to move at this rhythm, as a matter of fact they cannot help it. Our indigenous elders prophesied this time and said any decision should be made with the 7th generation in mind since the impact of any decision we make will reach out that far. 
And though for many there is this quantum shift happening globally with a clear understanding as to why, for others there is confusion and they are not sure why these rapid changes are happening so quickly. A great unifier of this discussion is technology. Everyone can latch onto the realization that technology is shifting our world dramatically and we need to think of how we are responding to this shift. Technology is a great way to engage this discussion and ask these questions:

  • If smartphones are small computers and are in every pocket, is there a better way to maximize them to support a culture of learning everywhere?
  • Does everyone know the capacity of the mobile devices they carry? 
  • If the time of Big Data is here, how do we maximize this capacity to support a more sustainable lifestyle? 
  • Since I can connect with anyone, anything, anywhere, anytime...shouldn't I be able to maximize this potential in my work and learning environments?
  • Are work and learning environments different today?
There are so many great questions to ask about our learning spaces today and recognizing that learning spaces are no longer - well they never have been - just in the classroom. Access to information and our technology have blown this concept out! So how do we help people cope with these changes? 

Approach: The door you enter, when you want to create change it can open up conversation or shut it down. Today, at the ISTE Conference, folks who are finding an interesting door to enter this conversation. Fran Siracusa and Jennifer Williams are using an approach that is today globally accepted and understood: Start-up culture! This is not to say people really understand start-up culture, but we do as a global society, recognize the power of these start-up groups/companies as holding real potential for creating something powerful and unique. Fran and Jennifer, along with others, are exploring the culture of start-ups as one way to create powerful learning spaces for students. 

So when we think of creating a new dynamic and shifting learning space, we want to start with culture. The culture of start-ups are a great place to start:

  • It's an authentic space without attempting to be something, they are looking to do what has never been done before
  • It has it's own personality and everything in that space reflects this
  • It is agile, willing to move as needed to accommodate it's purpose
  • There is passion that is palpable in the start-up culture
If this is not what we are asking our students to do, then I'm not sure what is! THIS is a learning culture and it's exciting!
So how do we replicate something like this in our learning spaces? Here is a brief list of steps to begin thinking this process. For further detailed ideas, reach out to Fran and Jennifer! 

  1. Change the culture Flatten the hierarchical structure of our educational system. I know this sounds huge, but if we are serious about meeting the needs of the 21st Century, then the learning space of our students needs to reflect these needs. In start-up culture they want to hear everyone's voice - what is working, what isn't - and make changes immediately! The teacher can go to the superintendent with ideas and they would be heard and considered valid. The goal is to create something dynamic, unique and useful! 
  2. Be Purposeful Ask students what they want in their learning space. Consider spaces for different purposes: one that invites reflection, another that asks for creation and ideation and still another that allows for brain breaks - start-ups understand we need to play to be able to create and innovate more effectively.
    Giving spaces for play in a learning space comes from the culture - if as educators (this includes parents) we trust our students as active agents of their own learning, then we will trust them to know when they need a brain-break!
  3. Class Identity What is your class identity and does the learning space reflect this identity? Your class identity should shape and show up in your classroom.
  4. Finally, Physical Space There is a long list of resources and ideas for furniture in changing learning spaces - I would only add to consider re-purposing old furniture. Low-long bookshelves can become standing desks with shelves being used for each students personal working space as one example. 
One of the biggest challenges any organization faces when it is trying to embrace new ideas is change. What I find challenging about this struggle in K12 or Higher Education is these are learning organizations! Learning is about change - so this is what we do! Still, change can create fear. This is why, learning the elements of a learning culture like those in start-up cultures is so important! The one that stands out for learning organizations like ours is agility: the willingness to move as needed to accommodate it's purpose. Our purpose is learning. We serve our students. Change is not an option. We cannot sacrifice the future of our students. We must move - now.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Remembering what we know, but forgot: Learning about limitless learning

Like a lot of folks, I LOVE toddlers. They do what we are inherently meant to do and then forget or are taught to forget: We were made for limitless learning! Unfortunately, between misguided - albeit well-meaning - parenting and teaching, we teach kids not to trust their intuition, not to follow the call of their heart, not to explore and mess up and make mistakes. What happens when a toddler spills the milk when he grabs his cup? Or when the 5-year-old wants to pour her milk in her cereal and gets it all over the place? We are frustrated, we tell them what they did wrong AND we tell them how to fix it! This can create the false assumption that there is a right answer and they need to learn it. Rather than letting them figure out what went wrong. Rather than guiding with questions of inquiry to see why what happened, happened. A line of inquiry for learning with a young child of 5 who just spilled their milk, might go something like this:
Oh no, the milk spilled. How'd that happen?
I don't know, I was just pouring it.
Well, what should you do now?
Uhm, I can get something to dry it up?
They get a cloth or something and start drying it up.
Now what should you do?
I can try pouring it again.
Okay try it. What happened last time when you poured it? How did you do it? Maybe we can figure out what went wrong?
Uhm...I held it like this and then poured it...but it came out to fast.
Oh maybe that's the problem! How do you fix that?
Oh, oh what if I hold it more carefully and go slower?
Okay try it!
They try it and with a few drops spilled are successful.
You did it! Now what do we do with the dirty towel?
Yes, this takes time. But so does learning. If children are not given a realistic experience of the learning process - trial and error - then they become in danger of feeling bad about "not getting" things like others do as they get older. This is so important if we are going to encourage children, youth, adults to be global learners, to be innovators and new idea makers!
Limitless learning means developing new lines of inquiry, thinking in divergent ways and asking meaningful questions about what we already know and what we seek to know.  These are ideas that need to be held and nurtured within a culture of learning. There may be elements of these ideas in our learning cultures, but often by mistake. We need to be purposeful about creating these opportunities. If we are to develop new ideas and continue to make discoveries and break new ground - then we need a learning culture that has the conditions to create innovative learners.

As a Western society, we have stated for a long time that parents are students’ first teachers. If this is true - which we know it is - then by default, their homes are the first learning spaces. Today, this is more true then ever. What we may not have really reflected on is that these learning spaces - whether at home or in a classroom - all carry a learning culture. The learning culture carries within it the belief systems of that learning group (i.e. parents, teachers, etc.) Because of the transformational advances that push and stress the dominant cultures we live in, we can no longer afford to think of a learning space as static or linear or even that one way is the "right" way. Learning has become global and dynamic, ever shifting in what it holds to be true depending on who or what is present. This has always been true, but because up until now we were able to live in a somewhat homogeneous group in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, etc. it is not something that necessarily landed on our doorstep. Even today, this is not always a welcome knock on the door. With smartphones in every pocket, the learning space is now mobile and the conversation is constantly stressed by global participants entering our personal learning spaces.
We know education is being transformed significantly by technology. Anywhere a human being exists a culture of learning is present - we are learning all the time. Today, with the access to information so readily available, learning is exponential! Learning does not only take place at a desk and in a classroom. Our learning spaces have shifted dramatically and we need to ask ourselves are we giving students and ourselves the opportunity to shift in this global learning space? Can we continue to assume a learning culture that says there is one truth and one norm: ours; is today valid?
Today I'm at the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Denver, Colorado. I always look forward to this conference as a lover of learning, ready to dig in, knowing it offers participants the opportunity to test their mettle as learners by stretching their belief
systems to what is possible, to what challenges us, raising our consciousness to the global enterprise we are engaged in as educators. The conference is often set in cities that are also trying to engage globally, emerge as technologically savvy, with drastically shifting cultures that try to embrace all things new and innovative:
  • Sustainable living
  • Gender neutrality
  • Art integrated purposefully in work and living spaces
  • Alternative modes of transportation
  • Blending of science, food and technology

I am excited to see how all of these experiences will lend to the learning opportunities and possibilities facing learning communities today. What it will do to stretch me and my colleagues to go back and dig in deeper. To identify what needs to be done in this powerful work of education. To create learning spaces that allow for the opening of truth held within each student, teacher, other words, all of us.

We need to go back to what as a toddler we inherently knew to be true: we are limitless beings and today we are ready for limitless learning!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Is Technology Driving Us Apart: Part III - The Fear Factor

For many folks technology has quietly become a part of life . But if you’re a parent, it has arrived screaming at your door. Kids are wanting smartphones very early on - kindergarten is pretty common now for a smartphone. For various reasons parents buy into the technology drive and get their kids smartphones. At any age,  parents wanting to get their kids smartphones is really the parents’ business...I’m more interested in if they know the door they’re opening and ready to take that walk with their child/ren?

Any decision we make is a step toward a path and a walk away from another - that’s how it goes. Sometimes this is conscious - I decide to go to college to become a teacher is a definite and conscious decision that will take me down a clear path, still with unknowns, but others have walked it and can leave guideposts for me to follow. Some decisions we make without really knowing what we’re getting into, either because it’s spur of the moment - like when I heard of a last minute Prince concert that was just added to the House of Blues at 1am and decided to go - or because it’s a new idea and few have embarked on this path - it is often this way with technology.

Technology has opened up a whole new path for parents that NO generation before ours has had to wrestle with having access to the world at any age! So how do we walk down this path when there is no history for it, especially when in parenting, we often use past experiences and learnings from our parents to guide us?!

Like all new information that comes our way, there is a steep learning curve and with technology it is on many fronts. Not only do we need to learn the technology tools, once we learn the interface of the tool, there is also understanding the virtual world it opens up and how to navigate this world.

Interestingly, with technology the driving discourse for parents is underlined with fear, and with fear comes a whole host of other elements: a need for control, judgment, push-back, retreating, etc. Often when I am invited to present to parents about technology I start with this idea right at the beginning. I know they are afraid. We are raising a generation of children who have access to a world we don’t understand and we don’t know where to find the key to enter this world. This is something that often eludes us - no wonder we’re scared! And to top it off, we have no parenting blueprint to help us navigate this world.

Thankfully there are folks who have ventured out into these parenting with technology waters and learned a few things, and when they came back to share, what they shared mattered less than how they shared. Many parents have gone to presentations, especially from law enforcement, where the speakers share with parents all the deep concerns they should have about the use of technology by children and teenagers. They tell them of sexting, cyberbullying and predators waiting to harm their children...all of which is part of the digital realm. It’s also part of the physical realm or “real world” as well. When you know little of a subject matter and hear about it from a position of fear, it can only serve to develop a negative perception. I discuss perceptions in depth in previous posts.

So I try to start with a positive perception when talking about technology. We’re already afraid of it and hesitant to use it. Worse, our kids are already using it and because we don’t understand it, we stay away and then really don’t understand what our kids are doing - good and bad - and have very little tools with which to guide them. Or we don’t just stay away from technology, we keep our kids away as well, and that in the long run can have negative consequences since health care and the tech industry are the jobs of the future.

Sometimes it’s helpful to think of technology as a pool. If in every home there was a pool - whether we wanted it or not - what would we do? We’d probably start by putting up a gate around it while we learn everything we can - to protect our kids especially. So now, while they are safe we begin by getting in the water slowly and learning how to move in the water. Maybe we take beginning swimming lessons, either by ourselves or with our kids. We learn how to maintain the pool and keep it in good health. And then, we get in the pool often to practice these new swimming skills and as the kids get better, maybe we take advanced swimming lessons. And the gate comes down, the kids know the rules for using the swimming pool and we know that at each age the rules are different and the guidance is also different. Maybe if we treat technology the same way we would move through it a little quicker and in the process, help our kids more effectively!


I try to take this position when talking about technology: yes, there are dangers and it’s important to know what they are and how to handle them, but there are oh so many benefits as well! And I show people what’s possible with technology - I share with them apps that I use in my everyday life right off of my phone that have helped make my life easier! Wunderlist to share grocery lists with my family before I go shopping. Waze to help me identify which is the fastest route to where I’m going using the awesome crowd sourcing tools it has. WhatsApp to communicate daily for free with my father who lives in another country. And Lyft when I need a quick ride somewhere and don’t have my car. Because I work in education, I also show them what students are doing with technology - using documents in the cloud like Google Drive to collaborate on projects. And by the way, because I have Google Drive on my phone for when I’m in a meeting and need to take notes unexpectedly or at a conference and want to capture the great ideas I’m hearing, I show people how I use these tools too - right on my smartphone! I show them VoiceThread and Padlet and the list goes on and on...their kids are creating and contributing to the body of knowledge in the world and it is exciting!!

When I think of parenting and technology, this is where I start...start with the wonders of technology...they’re already scared, I don’t need to scare them more. I want parents to feel empowered when they’re done talking to me - to know that parenting today is a humble path of learning and to know they too can become important contributors to this body of knowledge that is ever increasing with the diverse voices that are continuously streaming in!