Atomic Learning: An Inquiry into the Water of Knowledge

How can public reflection promote the growth of new teachers?

This question is valuable to me because I have experienced the first year of a teacher when aided by public reflection. Without my own cataloging, questioning, and sharing during this time, I would never have garnered the kind of useful feedback that teachers need in order to grow strong out of challenging situations.

The philosophical background to my decision to blog my whole first year is that I believe in sharing and creating knowledge together. Neither do I believe we are empty vessels to be filled (by teachers or whomever) nor that we are wells waiting to have knowledge drawn out; on the contrary, we won’t get any water at all or find a use for it unless we can put hydrogen and oxygen together. It’s the combination and the connection of those elements which makes water and nothing else. There is no planet where water is from alone, no way to create it from nothing either. It takes two very separate nucleii (well, three if we’re counting atoms and not different elements) to make bonds, then we get water.

Knowledge is like water in more ways than just its creation. We are satisfied by it, quenched by it, and it is the most ubiquitous part of any culture or being. Water is versatile and adapts to its surroundings, it changes form so it can stay together.

How can we, as learners, address the bonds that we need to make? What questions will guide us to the nucleus of our problem and how do we know whether we’re an H or an O? Water’s chemical composition is static and vital to its use in any sense. If you add even one extra oxygen atom (we’ve now got H2O2) then you’re swimming in, drinking, and skating on top of hydrogen peroxide. With knowledge, we have to have the right balance of the familiar and the strange in order for it to apply to our practice.

Hydrogen is the most basic of all elements, for all intents and purposes, everything was once arranged like this element with the most simplistic atomic structure. Oxygen is more complex, boasting a diatomic structure (think of it like a set of identical twins that have to be together and wear matching dresses). It also has a perfectly filled outer shell, something hydrogen only wishes it had with its singular orbiting particle. But when you put these two elements together, the most simple and familiar and the highly organized and complex, you get a magical new creation capable of so much more tha the two separate.

When we consider the water-like characteristics of knowledge, it becomes clearer to us as learners we need to marry our own experiences (which seem simple and familiar to us) with the confusing complexities of something else. The bond that we make when ready to encounter new information is strong. If we’re able to model this atomic curiosity for our students, this flexibility to find learning anywhere, and our bond with that learning presents itself, then our job as teachers becomes a little bit easier.

If we can use our personal understanding of how learning works, then our experience will more directly translate to students.

What is it about public performance and reflection that deepens our sense of self-understanding?

As teachers, it is clear that the profession has been shifting from a more isolated and individualized job to a more collaborative professional field. In the most forward-thinking  schools, teachers are empowered to share best practices with their peers and seek continual improvement through conversations and open demonstrations. There are no business secrets or competitive programs pitting teacher against teacher. The most successful schools embody the ideal that brought all of us into the profession: sharing in the learning experience with students.

How do you take your students on learning journeys? What elements of public reflection do you practice and model for students as a learner yourself?

Why Teachers Should Join Twitter

I know what you’re thinking. Oh please, not Twitter. I could care less what Aston Kutcher ate for lunch, but stay with me folks. Twitter is a tool for communication, just like email, Web pages, and blogs; just give it a chance to earn your respect.

The bottom line is: this tool can help you get the most out of a community of professionals. Whether you have a cohort of useful teachers at your disposal every day or not, Twitter can connect you to so much more. You don’t need to spend all day online, you don’t need a fancy phone, and you don’t need to be a technical wizard. You just need the right guide.

Twitter allows you to have (or simply watch/read) short conversational exchanges with people anywhere in the world. With the National Writing Project, you can track conversations at sites all over the country at the click of a mouse.

If you’d like a simple preview of the conversation for a group of teachers on Twitter as a proof of concept, click HERE .

Don’t be scared, there are some symbols that you need to know about before you deem it gobledygook. The “@” and “#” are operators that help track who you’re talking to (@stevejmoore, for example) and about what (#nwp for National Writing Project, for example).

If you’re still curious, unsold, or flustered. Please don’t hesitate to comment! I promise you, there is so much to explore, share, and learn about from tens of thousands of wonderful teachers on Twitter.

Extra Credit: Check out these how-to sources on twitter’s best education resources.

The Anna Karenina Principle

I was driving back to Kansas City from Springfield along Highway 13 while listening to the audiobook of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, & Steel when it occurred to me that I was one third of the way through and had heard next to nothing about Guns. It being the most primary titular component, I expected its theme to present first; alas, I was driving disappointed. As the second period of this most actionless hockey game of a book progressed, Leo Tolstoy’s name caught my attention.

Diamond was talking about why certain large animals have never been domesticated when he paraphrased the Russian master’s opening line,

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

When I heard this, I slowly stopped thinking about the reasons pachyderms can’t be pets and found my thoughts in a more familiar place: school. I may be struggling to keep my attention on the dissertation-like structure of Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning piece, but he checked me from behind with this device for examining a complex system.

Like a family or a phylum of animals, a school system can be examined with the Anna Karenina Principle. I started to think about what it was about schools, learning, and teaching that was observable in successful examples. As I do with many important questions, I looked to my personal learning network online for responses.

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Here’s the audio of my question too if you’re curious. Feel free to interpret the question personally, your own modified answer may address something more interesting than what I’ve asked (as my students sometimes do).

Writing Until It Hurts

This past Saturday I spent four hours taking the Scholastic Leadership Licensure Assessment as an addendum to my Master’s Degree in Administration. The test was grueling but I’ve become a fairly decent standardized test taker over the years, so my studying and pacing habits paid off.

The first part of the test was 100 multiple choice questions, but the second was something I haven’t done since the days of my English degree exams: a 100 minute essay set! I was excited to put my linguistic athleticism back to the test, but I forgot how much I rely on typing now rather than handwriting.

Wow. My hand got sore very quickly.

I had to have strategic wrist resting sessions between each of the seven questions. At first, my script was neat and orderly on each page, but by the last of the twelve it had become manic and appeared to be yelling back at me to stop already.

Needless to say, it was making me think of one thing as I wrote: how much I need to buy some nice new pens for GKCWP before Monday.:-)

I’m so excited to begin writing for myself again. I’ve spent the past 18 months writing mainly for my Master’s with only periodic blog entries to belay my withering writer’s soul. Even with the blog, I’ve changed the way I write now. I wonder what the ISI will bring into the equation. How will I write differently after the Summer Institute?

Tags: blog, isi, reflection, writing