Following Through, Implementing, Design Time

I’ve been out of commission blogging over the last month for a good reason. This November, I participated in National November Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo).  About a dozen of my students also went on the journey. It was strange to close out the tab of my nanowrimo dashboard and the tab of my google doc I used to create the novel on. I came to enjoy the daily update of word counts. I started doing something else as the month grew on, I started getting organized. Writing 1670 words per day forced me to set aside dedicated time. I would either write early in the morning or late at night. The more dedicated quiet time I could set aside, the more creative I became. Most impressive about this journey, was how my students took it over. I had a handful of dedicated students who became consumed with writing. One student organized a write-in at our school, in which a half dozen community members joined a half dozen students for a three hour chunk of writing. Today, I pulled all of the novelist in the room. I went over publishing options. To my surprise, and to something I haven’t quite figured out yet, only two of the students wanted to publish. I broke the scenario down in three different ways. I talked about publishing to have proof of work- no interest. I talked about publishing to sustain cool activities and make #NaNoWriMo a re-occurring thing at our school- no interest. I talked about publishing to share our stories with each other- still no interest. I was struck with this thought as I wrote this paragraph, I don’t want to publish either. Writing the novel became a personel quest, and a creative journey. But in that journey, I reveal areas of my life in that novel that I don’t feel comfortable sharing with the world. I also swore a half dozen times to give credence to the characters and dialog; using inappropriate language in my Intellectual Property is not something I feel comfortable sharing with my 12 -16 year old students.

[sidebar: over the past two weeks, while in Advisory, I’ve had my students share new ideas. Last week, we circled three full times on a moments notice. Over 40 new ideas were put forward. Incredible, amazing ideas. Widgets to document learning easier. Digital helplines for students, and so many other incredible thoughts. Today, I gave the students seven minutes to design their ideas further. No homework assignments were provided, no prompts to tell them to remember their ideas. Most of the students took off with their same ideas or put new ideas out there and had pretty solid designs. What happens in advisory stays in advisory, but I hadn’t heard oohhing and aaahhhing like that in a while. It was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of in a while. I’m thinking about setting aside solid design time regularly for students to push out new thoughts. It got me thinking, what if the most valuable commodity learners need is time. When given time, I could write 10,000 words in a single day. What can these young learners do with time? Especially if it’s scaffolded. Right now, project-based learning is chunked in 75-90 minute sections, there’s three in a day (the shortest is 60 minutes). What if students had one 4 – 5 hour chunk for projects? Would math and literacy still get accomplished even if all students weren’t designated to do so? tangent concluded]

While noveling, I also participated in Movember. I stared a team for my school. I only had three team members and we raised 10% of what the team I was on last year raised. I’ve always told myself I was incapable of growing facial hair. I’ve always thought it was impossible for me to have any masculine hair growth. It was an odd feeling, shaving my moustache on December 1 at 12:01am. Many folks, including family, ridiculed me growing a moustache. I didn’t campaign hard this year, I was noveling, coaching basketball, failing miserably at fantasy football, teaching, and being a husband/dad. But I did do what was previously thought impossible in my own mind, I grew a moustache. I would not have had the follow through had it not been for the rules put forth by Movember. It was a blast, even better than last year. Next year, I hope to raise much more awareness and funds for prostate and testicular cancer.

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I had a very very specific reason for noveling and growing a moustache. I wanted to model for my students process. Writing a 50,000 word novel is only possible by writing most days, and on most of the most days, the writing is not always enjoyable. Growing a moustache on a face that’s not used to hair, can bring ridicule and embarrassment. Both of those things combined seem to summarize the learning experience to me. Learning is not always enjoyable, in fact, it can be monotonous. Learning, especially authentic learning can bring ridicule and judgement from people knowing nothing of the journey the learner is on. I teach in a school where we preach following passion and developing unique gifts. But even on that quest, following passions includes tasks needing to get done in order to continue on the journey.

My wife is an artist. She recently launched her own small business. She is the best example of monotony of the learning process. She loves painting in water colors and combining pastels with the dark ink of a sharpie. For her graphic design business, she uses Photoshop and Illustrator. She’s doing things that I cannot fathom. And she loves it. One errant brush stroke with water color and a piece she’s been working on for months fails. In Photoshop, she works with layer after layer after layer and goes through a proces to yield amazing results. Through her process, she’s engaged with a medium in a way that’s unique only to her. She can see the product, she knows the process, and that’s all that really matters. Over the past year, I’ve seen my wife make the transition from being a high school art teacher to a stay at home mother. She’s launched two businesses, and yet, she still finds time to engage in her artwork. She is also the best example of DIY (Do It Yourself) learning I have come across. She’s taught herself so many things over the past five years. Watching her learn Adobe’s Illustrator off of countless video tutorials has been energizing. She certainly knows how to take advantage of the public library system.

Seeing the example of my wife, I have been prompted to do a little DIY myself. Over the next six months, I’m implementing a few major pieces with my teaching practice. Students are developing portfolio’s representing their summative assessments, documentations of learning, and regular reflections. There’s a three part scaffolding process. First, students begin their portfolio’s on Blogger. Through blogger, they learn the basics of HTML & design. Second, students take their Blogger portfolio and transform it into a Google Site. This transition provides students with more options and greater flexibility for mapping learning experiences, but may limit dialog with audience. Third, and probably at least a year away even for the most advanced students, students create a professional portfolio. Here’s where the DIY comes in. I’m modeling the third part. I’m using WordPress.org to launch my portfolio. It’s so rugged I hesitate putting down the URL, but the learning is the important piece. My portfolio is http://www.michaelmccabe.org/ — it’s a vanilla install. I’m going slow, very slow. I want to document each step along the way. My plan for introducing WordPress to the students is to overhaul the current school website and replace it with a WordPress site. Through this process, students will learn code and advanced design concepts. I don’t expect every student to know how to code and how to put together their own site.  I do expect every student to know how to to document their learning, reflect on it, and have a passion to communicate what they’ve learned with the world. With those things accomplished, the portfolio will follow easily. I’m hoping the re-design of the school website can occur of the summer. This ought to launch students on to the same trajectory as me for developing portfolios that truly represent the value and uniqueness of the individual learner.

Another piece I’m working on for Kornerstone School  is the Community Mentorship Program. I’ve written extensively about the design of this program in the past. To summarize:
Year 1 – 3-5 job shadows in various professions
Year 2 – a professional from a job shadow the previous year co-manages a student project    (secondary advisor in Kornerstone dialect)
Year 3 – 20 week internship with that same professional

Questions regarding sustainability for this design have already arisen, and we’re just in the first year of implementation. Students are going on job shadows. They are much harder to arrange and require a ton of followup dialog. In order to pull of this program, it’s going to be a .50% FTE (Full Time Equivalency) job going forward next year. I’m not sure we’ll have that for our small school. I’m hoping this wasn’t a design flaw. The mission of Kornerstone School is to prepare students for their profession of choice and get have them make a positive impact on their community. The Community Mentorship Program, if fulfilled, provides tangible data allowing the program to live up to the mission. I’m going to put all of my energies that went into noveling into these two programs. The startup of the Community Mentorship Program may be monotonous, but the product could be a masterpiece.

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About Michael

Do Work!
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