Can This Be True? @corey_livieri @emmy_mccabe @krauseunc @phillklamm

Duty free lunch.

I’m hacking/tinkering/designing a bit.

The Avett Brothers Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise hits my Pandora and I cry.

Just a bit, a mist of a tear. But my heart flutters and I feel it. For the first time, I feel this school design and I want it bad.

Yesterday, my colleague/friend/thought partner, Corey Livieri, he emailed his entire building to tell them about the funky learning that’s been percolating.

We’re building now. Dreamers are welcome, designers, growers, workers, champion of youth voice & choice.

Haters are also welcome. We are ready for you. People touting forced-testing before human curiosity, we welcome you. It’s an us thing, and our non-negotiables are:

1. It’s about learning
2. People are brave, curious, and thoughtful
3. We build community where ever we go
4. Trust the learner, trust the process
5. The process is iterative, let’s create it together and refine it
6. Respect is essential, respect where the individual is on that individual day
7. Me, We
8. Create it locally, share it globally —> we can only keep what we have, if we give it away
9. This space belongs to the public, follow through from the individual to the group is essential to keep the space open to the public
10. We are all learners
11. Trust
12.  Total Improvement Depends on Everyone (TIDE)

We have a bus.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.31.32 PM


My superintendent is finalizing a deal in which a local bus company donates a bus to the District. The learners will then convert the bus to run on waste vegetable oil.  It’s hard to believe all of this is actually coming true. In a very short time, we could have a 1-room school house located on a 280-acre farm.

Since September 1, 2013, here’s what has already happened:

  1. Successfully received a grant for an outdoor apple orchard (farm to lunch initiative)
  2. Built a hoop house on the Edgerton Middle School grounds
  3. Submitted a grant to the Wisconsin Medical Society to place an outdoor fitness center at Silverwood Park
  4. Successfully planted carrots which will grow over the winter, (farm to lunch initiative)
  5. Cleaned up an abandoned house at Silverwood Park
  6. Received permission from the Friends of Silverwood Park to proceed with a school design
  7. Received administrative approval to teach a school design and Master Planning Process course second semester 2013-14.
  8. Received an acre at Silverwood Park to learn, create, and inspire


Here’s where we are going:

  1. Go through planning with the learners. In a typical school design, charter or any other, a group of adults build a new school. The adults settle on a pedagogy. They find a facility. They recruit the students. With this school design, the adults are intentionally staying away from pedagogy, scope/sequence, curriculum, and transcript. The adults want to go through planning with the learners. This is going to happen by Corey Livieri and myself co-teaching a school design and Master Planning Process class with students in grades 7-12.
  2. Once the bus is donated, we’ll house it at Silverwood Park and have people (learners & all community members) convert the bus from diesel to biodiesel.
  3. Master Planning Process whereby the farm is turned into a Dane County park is ongoing, and will be finalized July-ish 2014. The students of Edgerton School District have a unique opportunity to be a part of this process.
  4. Planning/Implementation grant for developing a one-room school house at Silverwood Park will be submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction by April 15 (lots, and lots, and lots of paperwork and meetings to occur before this is put into action; again, the students ((learners)) are driving this process and not being pulled along).
  5. Develop and implement an array of summer school programming for 2013-14
  6. Edgerton Educators Conference will take place August 1-4, 2014 at Silverwood Park.

Edgerton is on fire right now with learning. They went 1:1 with iPads. Last April, they crushed a referendum for facility updates to the tune of 72% approval. They brought in, and continue to bring in talent. But the culture of excellence needs to continue to grow on a daily basis, and we (I) need to put each child at the forefront. If we (I) envision a District of choice, then we need choices for all learners.

And if this goes…if this low floor, high ceiling, wide wall #school #design goes…then my kids, my beautiful daughters, and my other 6-hour a day kids, they’ll have a space.

And I will too. I will have a space to grow as an educator, explore the world as a learner, and tackle tough questions facing public education, democracy, and academia.

So I ask, can this be true? Can it be this easy? A lifelong educator passes away, she donates her farm to Dane County for educational purposes, a local school district sees possibilities for kids, families, and communities and then seizes the opportunity.

Can it be that simple?

Up until today, up until just a few moments ago, I had been holding back. School design is gut wrenching, it’s twice as hard as being dumped at the 8th grade Valentines Day dance while Boyz II Men plays. But to walk through a school created for kids who want to learn, lead, and dream; that is unlike anything else I can describe. It’s part wedding day, part birth of child, and part victory.



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Failure – When Facilitating PD Goes Wrong

“Failure is good.”

That’s something I say and write about often. 

But failure is painful. 

I just failed.

I was facilitating a Google Apps For Education (#GAFE) Intro to Drive for my colleagues. 

I didn’t fail to prepare.

I didn’t fail to identify the audience.

I didn’t fail to know my target.

But I failed.

I threw too much, too fast, and didn’t slow down.

Here’s the agenda.

My colleague absolutely nailed Google’s Forms. 

I however, was all over the place.

I could feel the room getting lost. I could feel their conversations. But rather than slowing down, taking a breath and adjusting to the moment, I surged through the fog and kept talking.

Faster. And faster. And faster.

Fortunately, my wife is also a colleague and on the same staff. As she was getting ready to face her kids at 7:50am, I said, “That was bad. Too much. Too fast, huh.”

“Yeah,” Emmy stated, “You just need to be more concise and stay on the topic.”

Growth is painful. What I felt immediately after the session was a comparison to my colleague who was concise and masterful in description of using Forms as a survey or formative assessment tool. What I thought immediately after the session was never again.

Never again will I present to the whole staff at 7am in a computer lab. 

Never again this.

Never again that.

I recoiled.

I wanted to go into my classroom and hide.

But then I realized I needed to drop my kids off at daycare.

Then I realized a sub was waiting to get into my building.

Then I realized I may, if I’m lucky, I may just get to do that again. Less than an hour out, and writing this is helping me to restore confidence.

I hope, I really hope I get another chance to do better- that’s why failure is good.

Failing sucks.

It’s hard.

I feel vulnerable.

I don’t want to be less than. I don’t want to be perceived as being bad at. But if I don’t put myself out their, then I’ll never get better at teaching, training, and coaching. 

This gig is tough, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to do what I get to do.

Finally, am I being vain or narcissistic for blogging this? Should this continue to go in my journal and only be seen by me? That’s my essential question for the day.

Enjoy the time with learners today! 


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Missing Advisory

I miss my kids.

The Kornerstone Krew. I miss Chris, Parker, Liz, Savannah, and Harlie-

I miss Green Bay. The Dragons of JDAL, I miss the Wizard, Iz-ak, and HalfSwag.

Opening circle.

Closing circle.

Learning and community are not the same without it.

That’s not to say anything against my current post, but something has to change.

I have to be a part of these kids lives in a way that I once knew.

I have to facilitate.

I have to plan with the kids.

The rubber band has snapped back. I’m seeing worksheets again. I’m hearing rumblings of kids getting points taken off for turning their head towards the back of the class.

The good news, and this I will be writing more about, is that we’re building again. My wife and I are once again a part of school/program design. Selfishly, a multi-age advisory is a must-have. It’s a non-negotiable. Sitting in a circle, getting better together, having student voice and choice as an essential school element; that’s the long view. That’s what will keep me in this.

What’s different though, I can’t step in for a year and leave.

Never again.

The students of Kornerstone School and John Dewey Academy of Learning will never know how much richer my life is because of them. The courage it takes to go on an adventure and join a new school in start-up in unlike anything else an adolescent learner can go through. To leave the familiar. To lead. To follow. To push. To listen.

I miss my kids. And yet, they are with me. They push me. They lead me. I am following them.

Can I listen?

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School Log – Day 1

It’s about rising at 4:45am

It’s about the excitement of getting to do the morning routine once again

It’s about tears- new beginnings sometimes lead to letting go

It’s a recognition of doing a job worthy of my full attention

It’s a recognition of  spending time with others who have listened to the calling and are serving it as a vocation

It’s a recognition of the privilege of having other parents trust us with their children

It’s being grateful for the journey

It’s being grateful for the new iteration

It’s being grateful for the opportunity to engage in such meaningful work and dedicating a live to improving society

Every child

Every hour

Every day

It’s about the kids

It’s a recognition of the kids

It’s being grateful for the kids

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#KWEC13 Analysis, Takeaways, Takebacks, What’s Next – Part 2

Part 1 of my #KWEC13 reflection, I focused on the journey out, and the type of conference in which practitioners work fro 16 – 20 hour days. This post is an analysis of #KWEC13 from my point of view. As such, it is flawed and filled with inaccuracies. Please leave comments, corrections, and nag in the comment box below the post. To my new friends, if I misrepresented you in the slightest, please let me know immediately and I will strike out the slight. 

8/1/2013 – Into Thursday

I took a nap. I slept from Boston, Massachusetts to Nobleboro, Maine. I arrived at the Kennedy Learning Center at 4:24 am, found a nice warm room lakeside, with a comfy bed already turned down, and I crashed. Approximately two hours later, I rose. After a quick clean up, I went upstairs for breakfast. Right away, I was greeted by counselors from Kieve-Wavus[1]. They were attending the Kieve Wavus Educators Conference 2013, which made perfect sense. Little did I know how impactful these 20-something folks would be on my journey. Following breakfast, there was a brief intro from Thomas & Lisa Steelemaley (Kieve-Wavus staff who organized, facilitated, and led the conference). Lisa’s opening ice breaker was money. I want to take a moment and share the process so that other’s may “harvest[2] it. The process for the ice breaker is:

  1. Each person gets a small sheet of paper for each letter in their name. For example, my name is Michael; therefore, I get seven sheets of paper, and one letter goes on each sheet. See example [3]
  2. The facilitator (Lisa) then collects all of the slips of paper from each person participating in the activity. Once the letters are collected, they are mixed together.
  3. The facilitator then provides the following prompt to the entire group, “You will be given back the same number of letters in which you gave me; however, they will not be the same letters. Your goal is to trade letters with the people in the room, and form your name once again.”
  4. Additional prompt from facilitator: “There’s a catch though, in order to get a letter from someone, you must tell that person your name, and something interesting about yourself. No repeats, so if you tell someone an interesting, you can not use that same tidbit again.”
  5. The participants in the activity then get a stack of new letters and begin trading letters.
  6. Once someone has successfully spelled their name, the facilitator states, “Now, lets put our names on this table scrabble style. The leftover letters, if there are any, can be put over at this space, and can be used to spell additional words.” See example

The activity lasted for somewhere between 5-10 minutes. It was an excellent way for people from all over the country to begin to know each other. I could see this same activity working with four year olds, adolescents, and adults. It was a great way to build community. Following the ice breaker, Lisa- as facilitator, commented on what she saw the conference participants doing. Right away, Lisa pointed out how the counselors sat at one table, and the educators sat at another.  Lisa and her husband Thomas used this observation to launch into the next discussion. The pace of the conference was intense. We went from the ice breaker into a discussion based on the two following essential questions:


To see the questions in the context of the conference, go to the Hackpad entry marked Opening Remarks[6] which served as the wiki for #KWEC13

We divided into two different groups. Thomas and Lisa were conscious to mix the groups with teachers, administrators, and camp counselors. I was with the group that headed outside to the front of the Kennedy Learning Center There was about eight of us, and we entered a free flowing conversation focusing on the two essential questions. There was a response to the first question from someone that especially struck me. The man sitting on my left stated, “The expectation for outcome is set by the adults.” Whoa, Blake Keogh[8] got the conversation deep, and he took it deep quickly. Blake is fisherman. Blake is intense. Blake faculty member for The Bridge Year[9] at Kieve-Wavus. 

Blake is the Why.

Blake’s statement floored me, in part because I had never articulated the thought as eloquently as he did. Immediately, I wrote down his statement in my design journal (which was furnished by the good folks of #KWEC13). 

“The expectation for outcome is set by the adults.” Blake Keogh

How many times, at the near top of a lesson plan, just under the letters SWBAT have I set the expectation for outcome? How many times over the past six years? Far too many, even when heading into an opening circle or advisor activity[10]. Far too many. Why is that? Why does his statement nag at me so deeply? With my four year old, and even my one year old, we strive for free play every day. Being a detective, being an athlete making up games, being whatever-whenever. But as soon as I get into the formal learning setting, all of my training and instinct towards instruction and facilitation is directed towards knowing or anticipating a desired outcome. Thank you for the punch in the face Blake.

There were two other statements made by people during the discussion that made it into my design journal, and I would like to take a moment and dive into each of them. Lisa Steele-Maley stated, “What do I believe about children to be true?” I’m still sifting through this statement. With all of the training and attention put into the myriad of initiatives, how many of the initiatives start with Lisa’s statement? This ought to be a required interview question. How about prior to entering a room full of people examining your worthiness to join forces to engage in the greatest profession known to humankind, you are faced with a sheet of lined paper, provided a pen, and the heading on the paper reads: What do I believe about children to be true? Who would dig into that question? Who would flee? Who would Google the question on their device of choice looking for the best-practice answer? I have known Thomas Steele-Maley for over two years, but #KWEC13[11] was my first experience meeting Lisa.  She is an incredibly brilliant woman. Her depth, her candor, and her ability to read the group dynamic was astonishing. I look forward to watching her work with The Bridge Year, and I hope to have more in depth conversations with her in the years to follow. The final statement I wrote down was by Professor Ed Brazee[12]. He stated, “Kids know what’s real.”  His comment came in a stream-of-consciousness TEDtalkworthyflow in response to the second essential question. The questions was, what questions do you have about education and the world. Kids do know what is real. I can talk to a student-athlete time and again about the impact of drugs and alcohol. I can look them in the eye and quote statistics about a single night of drinking destroying up to ten days of training. I have had moments in coaching where I feel connected in a way that’s inversely felt when asked, “Why do I have to know how to factor this trinomial?” When I respond with the importance of learning to jump through hoops, I feel like I’m cheating the young poet/author/artist out of a real explanation. At that point in the dialog, I’ve lost all of my ALEKS math cred and have to turn to Salman Khan for a better explanation.  In the Omnibox, I only have to type in “t” then “r” then “i” then “n”, then Chrome highlights the rest:

See example:


That’s what’s real. Computational websites and video lessons are much better at teaching factoring of trinomials than I am. Thank you Conrad Wolphram[14]. Thank you Salman Khan. Kids know what’s real. When do adults forget? The rest of the morning, afternoon, and evening was a blast! And a blur! I will try to recreate it to the best of my ability, but my journal is bit sketchy on the order of events from 8/1/2013 from the morning discussion on. I heart Project Foundry. I am a fanboy of their product. Project Foundry[15] allows me to carry out the following:

  • Passion-based curriculum
  • Student-directed project-based learning
  • Teacher-directed project-based learning
  • Course design
  • Group project design
  • Multiage learning –>multiple grades –>multiple abilities
  • Create, monitor, and tweak Personalized Learning Plans
  • Track 1:1 weekly meetings
  • Progress monitor like crazy –>1000’s if not 10,000’s if not 1,000,000,000’s of data points –>Real-time and longitudinal

The guy who has grown Project Foundry from the ground up is Shane Krukowski[16]. Shane is based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Beyond being a great guy and being incredibly brilliant, he’s the rarest of salesman, he lives his product. Anyone who has worked with Shane, knows he lives the project-based lifestyle. Here’s a quick example. I started nagging Shane about developing native apps other than the highly anticipated iOS app. Right away, he says, “Let’s get a date on the calendar.” On October 17, I’ll be taking a group of students to Milwaukee to go through the design process and begin a project in which students help to design native apps. Shane is open to learning. His Project Foundry Uncoconference known as #PFUNC was one of the first unconferences around (need citation); in fact, Shane helped to launch the EdCamp movement by donating to the inaugural event (citation/folksonomy lacking). I’m going on and on about Project Foundry and Shane Krukowski for a reason. In the morning of the first day of #KWEC13, conference participants were introduced to Project Foundry through a workflow crash course. All of us had logins created, and as we stumbled through the process, we could actually see what a project proposal looks like. Although we didn’t actually have time to create much of a project, we were able to see the tool. Either prior or following our Project Foundry experience, there was a lengthy discussion regarding James Beane’s Curriculum Integration [17] Thomas and Ed led the discussion. This is something I really enjoyed about #KWEC13, the blend between academia and experiential education was excellent! I walked away with readings for the next several years. If you’d like to see all of the resources, check out the page created by Thomas Steele-Maley on the Hackpad, linked here[18].

Lisa Steele-Maley, Ed Brazee, Shane Krukowski, Thomas Steele-Maley; you are the Why.

Lunch was awesome. Every meal was incredible! A shout out to the wonderful hospitality shown from the folks of Kieve-Wavus! I was well fed and well caffeinated the entire stay. Following lunch, the dialog shifted into student-directed project-based learning (PBL). Kieve-Wavus is beginning a new program in the fall of 2014, called The Bridge Year. For learners finishing 8th grade, they can actively participate in a one year program at Kieve-Wavus called The Bridge Year. From their website, [19]  the program focuses on:

  • Personalized Learning Plans
  • The Advisory Program
  • Projects
  • Seminars and Workshops
  • Field Studies That Challenge
  • Leading Edge Technology

#KWEC13 was an intense study of each of these different focuses. I like to jump into student-directed PBL through the passion project. During the afternoon, just prior to a quick break, I facilitated an abbreviated passion-to-project affinity process

Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 8.54.11 PM[20]

(the finished version of that activity is the header of this blog). We then had a discussion about using the tools to facilitate student-directed project-based learning. At 4:30pm we took a break. Shane and I went kayaking in the lake and had talked shop. The rest of the group took a swim by the dock and talked shop. In fact, if it were not for Mollie Williams[21]I may have never kayaked Damariscotta Lake, or swam in the Atlantic Ocean. Mollie was open to suggesting necessary breaks in the conference routine, none that was more memorable than Essence, more on that in a bit.

Following the lakeside discussion, and prior to dinner, the team met back up around 5:30pm-ish and prepped for the field study. This was an entirely new pedagogy, and I thought Thomas Steele-Maley did an excellent job introducing the field study process (Field Studies Packet[22] &  The Field Portfolio[23]).

Of the suggested readings listed on the conference wiki under Field Studies, linked here[18] , I had only read John Dewey’s The School and Society (1900/1905). If anyone would like to begin a book study, I would commit to one of the books between now and the end of 2013. I’m open to having regular videochats and some other asynchronous methods to tracking the dialog. I hope I can jump in and out of the faculty seminars with The Bridge Year, but I’m not sure I can commit to the extensively rigorous academic process they will undergo. The literature Thomas brought into the dialog clearly articulates the importance of place in learning. However, @steelemaley went even further, he brought in necessary tools to have a rich field experience. Here’s a list and brief description of the tools:

  • Evernote ( – more than just a notetaker, in fact, this robust product works on most operating systems and web browsers. If you were an early adopter to Evernote, and have stepped away, it’s time to come back (I have, I mean full fanboy-sticker-on-backpack-and-phone-case back). Also, Evernote integrates with Penultimate ( and this tool works nicely for jottings[24].
  • Fulcrum – ( iOS & Android app in which you can upload routes, trails, and other items from Openstreetmap.
  • Openstreetmap – ( For folks trying to keep their data to themselves and out of the hands of Google, Microsoft, or others- good luck, but if you want a slick open source map software, check out I’m starting to explore Open Street Map more and more. I like Google Maps. I like Bing Maps. But for learning and teaching, I want to get students thinking about their mapped pressence, and Open Street Map may be a better alternative to the commercial mapping engines.
  • Project Foundry
  • Notebook, pen, ziplock baggy – yes, a design journal is key!
  • Smartphone – the ability to capture photo, video, and precise GPS locations is crucial to the field study

Admittedly, I’m still plowing through Nate Silver’s The Signal and The Noise, as well as Michael Hartl’s Ruby on Rails Tutorial and reviewing Kelly Gallagher’s Deeper Reading. Reading is work for me. Work I enjoy, but work I have to dedicate time to. I am a terribly slow reader. So at the moment, I do not have the words of Rottenberg, Wang, Stilgoe, or Roberts in my psyche or marinating throughout my soul, but I did go through a field study, and I did walk away with many many questions- and a spark. On Thursday, in the early evening, Thomas ran an activity, which in my opinion, was designed to scaffold the field study experience for folks like me- noobs. I’m paraphrasing, but Mr. Steele-Maley stated something like…I want you to go somewhere and spend some time with the tools and the environment, and create a few jottings…Thomas encouraged us to notice the environment and spend time with place. I found Evernote on my WindowsPhone the perfect tool to go along with my design journal and pen (a few days later in Boston, MA, I explored using Evernote on my 4th generation iPad, and also loved it!). I sat on the deck of the Kennedy Learning Center[25] in an adirondack chair. Provided with just fifteen minutes, I was able to resolve all tensions about the unknown field study experience which awaited me the next day. I think that’s a vitally important takeaway for my interaction with learners in the future. I prep all the time for modeling, but rarely, do I preview. I need to preview the unknown. There was a level of whimsical comfort I had on Friday’s field experience I may not have had without the field study prep activity on Thursday. I don’t think I can overstate this, and I need to come back to this nuance of learning more- but for me the field study prep activity stripped away all of the appearances of learning and allowed me to fully engage with my environment. Meaning,  the next day, the following concerns never crossed my mind:

  • Am I doing this right?”
  • What if I fail?”
  • “What grade am I going to get?”
  • How will I look in front of my peers when I don’t know what any of this stuff is?”
  • Will I appear to be dumb?”

When seeing Old Man’s Beard for the first time, I was able to ask, “What’s that?!?” and was greeted by Shem Dixon with a response that Bill Nye or Bear Grylls  would envy.[26]

In my own teaching practice, I have set aside full weeks in the school year to provide “experiences[28]” for students. But what I have clearly failed to do, is to scaffold the learning opportunities in a way that students can interact with their environment, and document their learning. I have used many of the tools, but never in an organized and systematic way to document the learning experience in a similar manner as an ethnography would document a culture. I am deeply appreciative to the participants of #KWEC13 for sharing their knowledge of their local environment. I walked away with a deeper passion to understand the process of designing, facilitating, and documenting a field study. After the field study prep activity, we ate supper. It was now getting dark. Twelve hours into the day, and my traveling companion starting looking like a corpse[29]We both needed rest[30]. Thomas was full of energy, he informed the group a keynote presentation was about to take place. The three keynote speakers were fantastic. I’d like to take a moment to break from chronological order of conference and talk about my interpretation and takeaways from each speaker. Each keynote was a video chat via Google+ (commonly known as a Hangout).

Keynote 1 – Thursday Evening Mike Gwaltney[31]
From his website[32], Mike Gwaltney mentions he has been teaching history since 1991, and he currently teaches at Oregon Episcopal School and Online School for Girls. He spoke eloquently about incorporating project-based learning within the classroom. After just a few moments of listening to Mike speak, what struck me was how flexible the pedagogy of project-based learning is. I had been making notes during the plane ride out about three different spectrums, all of which fit into a project-based model of schooling when multiple learners come together. The three spectrums were:

  1. Student motivation or disposition to learning –
  2. Openness of curriculum
  3. Instructor driven to student driven

I was fired up. It’s not every day something from the design journal makes an actual connection within a half dozen hours.

Screen shot 2013-08-22 at 10.39.11 PM[33]

What I was wondering at the time, and what I have a difficult time articulating in a verbal dialog, is this: how do these three spectrums connect two dimensionally? This is something I would love to study further. The top spectrum, what if a student plotted weekly how they felt about learning? Would the student who walks into school empty, remain empty? Would a student who is on fire with learning remain on fire? For many purely student-driven PBL schools, one of the elephants in the room is the incredibly high turnover rate of students during the first few years of the school being opened. That’s not a knock on the model of school, it’s my observation from limited experience working as an advisor in three different student-driven PBL charters. Some students enter school and design apps for their first project. Other students, well, they want to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Then, there’s another set of students who don’t want to do a damn thing. They are empty. I’m painting three very different scenarios, but all three exist. So, how does a learner change over time? Further, is the curriculum closely aligned to standards and determined outcomes by the adults? Or, does the learner shape their curriculum over the course of their academic careers? How does this decision impact the students trajectory through the school? Finally, if over a long period of time, several thousand data points were available for a specific learner, would a straight vertical line exist across the three spectrums? Or, would the line zig and zag?


Keynote 2 –Friday Evening Matt Henderson [35]
This guy rocks and I want to take more time to follow his journey! I don’t know what else to say other than that, when I went back and looked over my notes from his keynote, here’s what stood out: Matt took time out of his vacation in Winnipeg to talk with us on a Friday night. Even better, he chatted-in from a pub, because that was the only place with wifi that met his standards. So right away, given just those two facts, I wanted to hear what this guy had to say. Then, he started talking about the projects his students were doing. How about students designing solar powered goodies or writing books on subjects from historical fiction to in depth studies of place[36]. I mean, his kids have done great work, very meaningful work!  In prepping for this post, I took some time and stumbled around Matt’s Google Site, found here:[37].  What a slick site, I’ll give a gold star to the first person who can spot the Alfie Kohn quote and put it in the comment box. I say that his site is slick as the ultimate compliment. It is very difficult to create a school site that works for students, parents, and other educators. Matt’s site does an excellent job of that.  One of the incredible experiences of #KWEC13 was meeting people who I want to continue to follow, and hopefully develop long term friendships with. An even more incredible experience was to see the entire room come to life during the last keynote. But before I forget, Matt, you are the Why.

Keynote 3 – Peter Wieczorek  Peter is a colleague, thought partner, and someone I consider a friend[39]. The school where he is fortunate enough to call home is like no other in the United States. Peter is going into his second year as Director of Northwest Passage High School[40] in Coon Rapids, MN (NWPHS).Prior to being the director, Peter was an advisor. NWPHS is a project-based school built around providing expeditions to the students. Students in groups of 8-15 go such places as: the boundary waters, the Badlands, and this year China. Here’s how the former Director Jamie Steckart once put it to me, “Hey, you guys read House on Mango Street, right? Yeah, we do to, and then we go down to the border and work side-by-side the folks who call that community home.”  During Peter’s keynote, not only did he highlight the great work his students and staff are doing, but he took several minutes to breakdown the relationship his school has with a wildlife organization in the State of Minnesota. This partnership has been built over many years. Take a moment and explore what the Wolf Project has done for students at NWPHS, and what the learners have given back to that community. In fact, if you are this deep into the post, check out an amazing student-driven teacher collab here:[41]

I’d like to take a moment and rant. If I am off on my facts, please check them and let me know. Some pundits choose to classify. They label schools generally, and further their writing careers by throwing bricks at glass houses. They use their platform to draw distinctions which do not exist (note: all charter schools are public schools, how many unionized teachers are aware of that?), creating myths only to make hasty generalizations stating “But the myth just exploded.[42].” There are many small, progressive schools making a huge difference. Northwest Passage High School is one of those very schools. They have an amazing team of dedicated staff. For a decade or more Jamie Steckart and Peter Wieczorek worked tirelessly with the rest of their staff and built their school from the ground up. During the first few years of the school, the staff of NWPHS completed a dynamic school redesign, in which, they made the student experience the focus of the school. “It’s their school. Not my school, it’s their (the kids/students/learners) school.” Jamie stated this over and over and over. In Minnesota, charter schools are independent school districts, and while this frightens many in the state I call home, this level of autonomy mixed with professional educators who have listened to the calling and have the courage to teach, has led to fantastic small schools.

Thank you Jamie.

Thank you Peter.

Thank you for making the commute. Both of you drive (drove) hundreds of miles each day or each week to make the school happen. Thank you to your family and spouses for sacrificing. Thank you for putting the students first and for building something epic for learners.   

[Sidebar] An essential question I get all the time is: Why can’t what’s happening in these charter schools be done in traditional school Districts? —> I have a few ideas what some of the hurdles are, but one thing to think about right off the bat is this: not many of the innovation and learning hubs spend 85% – 88% of annual budget on paying the adults. So until everyone, yes everyone, including myself- is willing to take less, it’s going to be tough to give our students more. It’s not just less income. Folks at the highest point of the hegemony need to bust open and share their power and decision making authority over to the people who typically distribute curriculum. People who regulalry distribute curriculum need to hand over their power and decision making to the learner. And the learner, well they need to expect more of themselves and demand more of their institutions in which they walk in and out of every day.

[Sidebar] Direct instruction is dead. That’s my takeaway from Rubenstein’s post [43]. It’s time to start killing off bad pedagogies rather than types of schools. How about we work together to broaden the definition of teaching and learning within schools?

Friday, August 2, 2013

This day started with a delicious breakfast. Little did I know the conference was going to last until 1:44am on Saturday, if I did, I might have eaten a bit more for breakfast. There was a wonderful mist throughout most of the day, and when we board the large passenger vans, a palpable zest of excitement pushed through the seats. We drove towards the boat which would take us to Hog Island. Captain Bill, a Mainer, a citizen scientist, and a master storyteller, he took us out to Hog Island. Rather than document step-by-step the entire Field Study, I would like to share my jottings, and the pictures tell the adventure.

Hog Island




Screen shot 2013-08-23 at 12.54.48 AM[47]

Upon returning from Hog Island, I was a bit overwhelmed by the discovery of fairy houses. We feasted on a regional lobster casserole, we had conversation. We built community. That evening, we were treated to Matt Henderson’s keynote. As I stated above, I walked away from his keynote with gratitude that people like Matt are choosing the teaching profession, and a desire to get better at my own craft.

Following the keynote, Mollie Williams dropped a great game on the #KWEC13 crew, and if we hadn’t built community before the game, after Essence, we certainly had. The rules for the game are as follows (note, I did not jot down the game mechanics, so please correct my errors, this is from memory):

  1. One person is the “guesser,” and they close their eyes while step 2 occurs
  2. The rest of the group nominates a person that is “it.”
  3. The guesser opens their eyes once the group has alerted them they have selected the person that is it.
  4. The guesser asks five different people questions about the essence of the person who is it. Such questions asked, “If I were a section of the New York Times, what kind of section would I be?” Or, “If I were an item at a state fair, what would I be?”
  5. Once the guesser has asked five different people questions, they can go back to three of them and ask follow up questions. This concludes the round.
  6.  The guesser then has three chances to guess the person who is “it.”
  7. The person who was “it” becomes the next “guesser.”
    Please direct all questions to Mollie Williams, she did an incredible job facilitating the activity. She also drove home the point that question asking is a skill necessary to building community.

Essence was a powerful game. The game wound down sometime around 11:30pm, at which point and time Phill Klamm, Blake Keogh, Nathan Sokol and I had engaged in the #KWEC13 after party. We talked all things education, world, and #hyperloop. Phill dropped the #hyperloop (link to 57-page design ) concept on the rest of us. We got better.

The Kennedy Learning Center never really slept that night. Just as the four of us were going to our rooms, Thomas Steele-Maley was rising to take Shane Krukowski to the airport, or the bus station in order for Shane to get to the airport. Either way, one group was fading while another was rising[48]. As I was awaking from a brief night of rest, Thomas was pulling the van back into the Kieve Wavus campus. Our Saturday started off with the keynote from Peter, and went into closing circle.

Anyone who has been a part of a closing circle process knows the ceremonial experience is something felt, and probably better left at that.

A closing circle is transformative.

I’ve had a difficult time getting that experience across to students on a daily basis.

In the past, I’ve tried to end each week with a slow clap. A tradition stolen from the triple jump runways where freaks go over 50′ deep.

I have rarely if ever cried at an opening circle or ice breaker activity. But in a closing circle, in a place where community has been built, rather than just theorized, I have cried at a few of those. I have cried in the closing circle’s of Chippewa Falls (enter sllc link). 

I don’t go into a closing circle hoping to cry, but sometimes, the funk just takes over. In Nobleboro, Maine, on the third day of August in the year 2013, it got funky in the Kennedy Learning Center.

Other Random Thoughts & Analysis:

  • As Bridge Year heads into their planning year, a robust node of learning is certain to explode- and hopefully open for a long time to come. With folks such as Blake Keogh engaging in faculty studies facilitated by Thomas Steele-Maley, the community of practitioners leading Bridge Year for the 2014-15 school year will be more equipped than any other coming out of planning. In the charter-verse, most teams going through planning are also teaching at another school, the intense singular-focus to building Bridge Year will pay off for years to come.
  • Education is far too politicized. From time to time, but very infrequently, a political topic would surface in conversation. Vouchers, unions, or political leaders; some hot button topic, and Thomas or Lisa would direct the conversation back to learning, pedagogy, community, or some other relevant topic. The time has come for practitioners, researchers, and consultants to cross lines and unite- regardless of the type or affiliation of school. Public, private, charter, independent, we as schools must work together to better forge ideal learning environments for our kids. How else will we equip citizens in a democratic society?
  • Process, process, process. Must refine, redefine, and iterate the process.
  • Academia can be experiential, thank you #KWEC13 and Maine-ers for reminding me of that.
  • During Matt Henderson’s keynote on Saturday, just prior to playing Essence, I had a burning question, I wanted to know how Matt managed to navigate through professional jealousy. Anytime the media is covering great work teachers are doing, colleagues in the building could potentially get upset.  When educators innovate, forces pull the rubber band back (see Ian Jukes), that’s where my mind was going… It was at this point and time in the conversation of the conference I experienced tech interruptions. The tech got in the way of the dialog.
    I stated, “Matt, I have a few questions for you, the first revolves around professional jealousy.”
    Thomas was managing the tech, at the front of the conference room, he stated, “Michael McCabe has professional jealousy.”
    And my question was lost. Tweets were fired out. Folksonomy captured some of it. Matt handled the conversation well. To steal from Phill Klamm, I’ve heard him say many times this summer, “There’s time when you have to push, and times when you have to pull.” In the past, I have not been very good at knowing how, or even caring to read the situation to know when to push and pull. My course of action has been to push, push, push.  I want to get better at brining people into initiatives; especially, if what I believe is good for kids and learning. That’s the crux of what I was trying to get at with my question. Had Matt been in person at the serene Kennedy Learning Center, rather than at at noisy pub in Winnipeg, I think I could have gotten to the heart of the question easier.

#KWEC13 Going Forward – A Call To Action

  1. Let’s continue the dialog by having Google Hangouts the last Thursday or Friday of each month. Let’s have a topic, and let’s keep this dialog going!
  2. For those who want to continue the student-directed PBL process, let’s create a project with Project Foundry and work together to support each other. Who knows, we may even be able to have a gallery walk or celebration of learning at #KWEC14
  3. What if we each led a field study in our own community and reported back to the group our experience?


My #KWEC13 experience was only half over as of Saturday, August 3. My #wiAmigo Phill Klamm and I explored Boston, MA. I put my toes in the soil where Battle Green took place.  This plaque struck me:

They nobly dar’d to be free!! Lexington, MA

#KWEC13 was a transformative experience.

I walked away wanting to work together, wanting to unite, wanting to make a better series of schools.

I loved MIT. That space is made for people to interact and ask questions. I want to go back to Boston and spend more time exploring the city and robust learning environments.

Perhaps the best part of the journey was the unexpected ride back to Boston. Phil and I caught a ride back with Nathan Sokol. His classroom is Boston. He’s teaching at Meridian Academy[49].

Nathan gets it.

He’s teaching on the daily.

He’s pushing forward.

He’s the real deal.

He’s the reason Why

In order to provide my children with the best learning experiences possible

#KWEC13 is the How

Through developing a new type of school, capable of allowing learners to live out their passions and always get better


School design.

Nathan, Blake, Shem, Sara, Ed, Thomas, Courtney, Mollie, Phill, Lisa, Shane, Kayleigh, Michelle, Argy, Captain Bill, and Samantha. If these people continue to dance[50] if they grind, if they teach, if they fight for their beliefs about what they believe to be true for kids, then this race has been worth running.

To bottom line it: if the people of #KWEC13 continue doing their important work, my kids are going to have the learning opportunities they deserve. If you’ve gotten to the end of this post, and the previous few paragraphs seemed like funning rambling, please please take another 18 minutes of you life and watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, then take four minutes and buy his book. Then reread the last few lines.

[Sidebar: When I started this post on Tuesday, 8/14/2013, my wife said, “I don’t want to interrupt, but I’d like to read you these two quotes.” My wife doesn’t interrupt, she inspires, a thanks special thanks to my muse, my rock, my inspiration for allowing me to take a week away from home to find my spark again. Here are the quotes: “I don’t want to live, I want to love first and live incidentally.” – Zelda Fitzgerald  “I don’t need anything except hope, which I can’t find by looking backwards or forwards, so I suppose the thing is to shut my eyes.” -Zelda Fitzgerald]

Footnotes (Thanks for showing me how to do this)

1Kieve-Wavus Website, Homepage:

2Definition of term, “harvest,” a link to the public note:

3Picture from ice breaker activity:

4Picture from end of name formation from end of ice breaker activity, 8/1/2013:

5 Image from design journal, Michael McCabe; 8/1/2013; Kieve Wavus, Kennedy Learning Center, Nobleboro, Maine, USA; #KWEC13

6 Opening remarks to #KWEC13, Thomas Steele-Maley; created July 2013 Retrieved 8/21/2013.

7 Image of statue at entrance to Kennedy Learning Center, Michael McCabe; Nobleboro, Maine, USA; #KWEC13

8 Link to Twitter page for Blake Keogh,; Retrieved 8/22/2013

9 Link to The Bridge Year homepage”; Retrieved 8/22/2013

10 Advisory Guide & Advisory Lessons, Michael McCabe; Ongoing Retrieved 8/22/2013 –>Please take this, make it better, and let me know what is good for learning and building community @Teach4aLiving

11 Kieve Wavus Educators Conference 2013 hashtag, curated 8/22/2013 –>Note: come back and curate via Storify or other tool.

12 Professor Ed Brazee’s website; Retrieved 8/22/2013

13 Example of how learners attack Algebra problems in August 2013,, Michael McCabe; Curated 8/22/2013

14 Link to Conrad Wolfram’s Wikipedia entry:

15 Link to Project Foundry Homepage;  Retrieved 8/22/2013

16 Link to Twitter page for Shane Krukowski; Retrieved 8/22/2013

17 Link to Amazon page for Curriculum Integration, James Beane (1997)

18  Link to KWE Hackpad, entry: #KWEC13 Readings and Media, compiled by Thomas Steele-Maley, created July 2013; Retrieved 8/17/2013

19 Link to a description of the curriculum offered at The Bridge Year, ; Retrieved 8/21/2013

20 Image from Tweetdeck screencaputred via COMMAND + SHIFT + 4. Retweet by Thomas Steele-Maley on 8/21/2013. Retrieved by Michael McCabe on 8/22/2013. Full documentation of Passion to Project Activity can be found here:; previous blog post of activity can be found here:

21 Link to Twitter page of Mollie Williams; Retrieved 8/21/2013

22 Link to KWE Hackpad, entry: Field Studies Packet, created by Thomas Steele-Maley, #KWEC13; Retrieved by Michael McCabe 8/21/2013

23 Link to KWE Hackpad, entry: The Field Portfolio, created by Thomas Steele-Maley, #KWEC13; Retrieved by Michael McCabe 8/21/2013

24 Link to KWE Hackpad, entry: Field Notes Process: Jottings, Fieldnotes and Evernote, Created by Thomas Steele-Maley, July 2013; Retrieved 8/22/2013 –>This piece is incredible!!!!! So much to learn from this specific section of Thomas’s design.

25 Link to KWE Hackpad, entry: Place, Created by Thomas Steele-Maley, July 2013; Retrieved 8/22/2013

26 Link to my SkyDrive Account per not allowing embed of pictures, iframe, or other media from Skydrive.[27] Might be time to start looking for a new blogging platform.

27 Link to a forum I spent way too much time in trying to figure out how to embed images from Microsoft’s SkyDrive so I could adequately curate the field experience on Hog Island, Maine.

28 Link to, my blog post on October 29, 2012.

29 Link to by Phill Klamm, published on 8/5/2013. Retrieved 8/21/2013

30 Link to Part 1 of 2 of my #KWEC13 posts.

31 Link to Twitter page of Mike Gwaltney; Retrieved 8/21/2013

32 Link to Mike Gwaltney’s website:; Retrieved 8/21/2013

33 Tweet asked to @MikeGwaltney during his #KWEC13 Keynote 8/1/2013; Screenshot captured 8/23/2013.

34 Link from my #KWEC13 SkyDrive Folder. Jotting remixed on 8/23/2013 via Evernote’s Penultimate tool on an iPad 4th gen.

35 Link to Twitter page of Matt Henderson; Retrived on 8/21/2013

36 A collection of student projects: & something every teacher and parent should do because writing and books are cool–>×240

37 Matt Henderson’s stellar Google Site for his classroom:

38 Link to Twitter page of Peter Wieczorek; Retrived 8/21/2013

39 A favorite passage of mine from the book Red and Me by Bill Russell is chronicled in Coach Bob Starky’s blog it goes: “A big part of our foundation was that we didn’t want anything from each other except friendship. So it wasn’t necessary to share everything about ourselves. It was more as if we were saying, “You’re here now, and that’s sufficient.” We both knew what was important, in basketball and life, and what we irrelevant. That was how we overcame our differences.

Another quality I admired in Red — and this is a critical aspect of how to be a man and how to be a friend — was that he knew how to listen. If I told him something that was important to me, let’s say, as a player, he would not only listen carefully but also absorb it and then act on it to somehow help me or the team. In fact, he was the best listener I have ever encountered. It was the secret of his success: great ears. Listening was how he first discovered that we perceived most things the same way. Another key element was that everything Red did in relation to me was thoughtful. Normally, friends slip up on occasion and say or do something uncivil or rude. I can’t recall Red ever saying or doing anything uncivil or rude to me. He always behaved sensitively and carefully with me because he valued my respect.” –> What does it mean to be a friend?

40 Link to Northwest Passage High School

41 Great blog. At this school, they take iPad’s all over the world and write about their adventures.

42 Blog post by Diane Ravitch 8/9/2013.

43 Blog post by Gary Rubenstein, Driven by Data…Right Off a Cliff 8/9/2013

44 Image of a Hog Island Maine from a topographical map picture taken on 8/2/2013

45 Link to video of Captain Bill explaining the local surroundings near Hog Island, Maine 

46 My second time in a kayak, the first being the day before. I believe my kayak is making it’s way around the northern side of Hog Island, right around the ridge. At this moment, I felt serene. I had my phone in one hand taking an picture, and was writing in my design journal with right hand, that’s when I thought take this in. Put the phone back in the back. Put the journal away, and take this in. Looking back, I am grateful for the picture and the notes, but I’m also glad for the experience. Now I have something to hold on to. I have a story to retell to my kids and to myself.

47 Deep in Hog Island, we stumbled upon this…

48 Lucid connection made 7,000 words in. While in Boston, I watched The Departed (2006) for the third time. This exchange was great: Screen shot 2013-08-23 at 1.12.36 AM —>Note, need to read Hawthorne.

49 Link to a a great post about Meridian Academy in Boston, MA by Grant Lichtman, @GrantLichtman,, someone I’ve added to my PLN thanks to @steelemaley

50 Over coffee, on two different occasions, my friend @MarcBusko has caught me when I’m talking about the grind and he’s redirected me, “That’s what Seth Godin calls the dance.” Thank you Marc. Thank you for living your passion and guiding me to this great post: -“It’s a dance, not an endless grind.” Finally, if you haven’t done your Golden Circle, do it now. Watch Simon Sinek’s 2009 TED Talk

Apologies for any of the arrogance, had to put this out there- warts and all. Thanks Kevin Schmitz (@KSchmitzLMS) for the inspiration and latitude to produce content from the heart.

Posted in Radical School Design, Reflection, Teaching, Training | Leave a comment

Expanding Learning – #KWEC13 Reflection Part 1 Journey

Essential Question: what is community?

I am breaking my #KWEC13 blog post into two parts. Part 1 is the journey, and will focus on the experience of the conference. Part 1 is a stream of conscious reflection of the entire journey out and back. Part 2 is the takeaways, takebacks, and what’s next. Part 2 combines all of the media, goes into detail about the Keynote speakers, and attempts to make sense out of what the impact of the Kieve Wavus Educators Conference 2013 has had and will continue to have on my professional practice.  

The Quest Out (typed on the way flight back from Logan to O’Hare on August 5, 2013)

It’s been an incredible five days.

My mind is moving fast. My mind is mush. But I must force myself to get a draft out.

On Wednesday, the last day of July in the year 2013, I picked up my traveling companion Phill Klamm at 7:17pm. We were running late by my standards, we had a 10pm flight to catch out of O’Hare. At 7:08pm CST, I hit up @phillKlamm with the following text:


I had maxed out on patience, and as I strolled through the charming Wisconsin lakeside supper club, I spotted Homeboy Phill. He had a plastic bib on, he was reading his phone with his left hand, and shoveling lobster (Lob Sta) with his right.

I did not proceed further, rather, I turned back towards the Prius. Stewing. Anxiety, rage, remorse- the all collected. See, Phill was at an expensive lobster dinner with a table full of friends. They were seated late, and he was out early; probably, two full hours early. Phill had been at an Inclusion Conference in Wausau, Wisconsin for the three days previous to leaving for #KWEC13. He got home. He said hello to his wife and four children. He departed for Nobleboro, Maine. All to make himself and his community better. Students, staff, colleagues, and new friends got better and will get better because of the sacrifices Phill Klamm made.

Phill got his gear into my car, and we departed at 7:17pm. The owner of the supper club threw him desserts on his way out the door. Phill entered the car a bit disheveled. I think he could smell my anxiety about making our flight. “No worries,” He said, “we’re going to be just fine.”

A rain storm mixed with a traffic accident on I90 put us at the Economy Parking Lot of O’Hare at 9:38pm. When I opened my trunk, I noticed Phill had a bunch of clothes scattered, remember that, I didn’t really connect anything at the time, just that a bunch of his clothes were scattered throughout the vehicle. I ran towards the raised train shuttle that would take us towards Terminal 3.

I was tired.

My day started with a 4:45am rising.

Last Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to spend the day in the woods with students. About a hundred 14-15 year olds spent the day at a ropes course right outside Dodgeville, Wisconsin. It was awesome. Rappelling, climbing, hang gliding, swinging, circle discussions, it was a really cool day. And this is the first time I have been able to reflect on any of that. Because at 9:38pm on the last day of July, I had a plane to catch. As we entered security, Phill warned me, “I always get pulled out Dude.”


What else could I say, the tech in hand told us our flight was on time, and would be in the middle of boarding the second class folks by now.

I made it through security. And as I did, I noticed Phill was in the position he told me he would be in.

Toothpaste. A full tube of toothpaste in his carry on caused the following dialog.

Just go Dude.


Yeah man, just go. I’ll catch up with you.

No way man, I’m not leavin’ ya here.

Go! Really, just go.

At about that time, Phill was cleared to go, and we ran. We were those two dudes playing frogger in Terminal 3 at O’Hare. In a later retelling of this story, I would hear Phill say,

Some girl told me, ‘slow down man, you’re going to have a heart attack.’

It had to be a half mile sprint. I arrived at the gate at 10:04pm. Winded. It was the first running of any kind I had done since I fractured my foot on June 3. I was greeted by a friendly young man at the American Airlines counter, “You are fine. We haven’t even started boarding.”

When Phill and I gathered, we were both sweating as if we’d just completed a 5K. Suddenly, Phill started peeling off shirt after shirt. Polo. T. Dry Fit. Polo. It clicked, a connection was made. All of the clothes in my car had been layered.

We both busted out laughing.

Tough to get a load of laundry completed and fully dried when conference hopping. Any traveler has had an experience like this. Experiences shared together build community. Little did I know just how many experiences I would have over the next five days and how much community would be built.

At 1:18am, the first day of July in 2013, a friendly Livery named Mike picked us out of the crowd. His sign read, KIEVE, a phrase, a word, a place I have already romanticized (I struggled with butchering the pronunciation, and was nicely told by Michelle, “Think ‘Key and then waive without the W.”) I hopped in the backseat of the Lincoln Continental and fell out. I woke up in Maine at 4:24am. Phill and I found our room. We awoke at 7am, and then the real work began.

#KWEC13 – Beyond Learning By Doing, this is not your regular conference

First off, what has to be framed is the context of the conference, this is not your regular conference. Registration was set at a max of 20. The chief architectures of the entire event are/were Lisa & Thomas Steelemaley. In order to understand the what, Kieve-Wavus must be understood (please forgive my layman Midwesterner explanation, and please correct my interpretation in the comment section below). Kieve-Wavus is a sanctuary for learning, personal growth, and building community.  That’s the setting of the conference. The participants, and co-creators of the conference were amazing people. I hope I do not miss anyone in this post, and know that any misrepresentations are always correctable, just comment or tweet at me.

Secondly, this was a working conference. Thursday and Friday began before 8am and went until bedtime. Straight through, very limited breaks.

Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 10.20.54 PM

(Note: Friday’s conference ran until 1:44am on Saturday)

Without going into too many more details, because I plan on doing a full recap of the conference in my next post, I learned something this past week. People need an experience to learn. I had never gone kayaking. I had never gone paddle boarding. I had never heard of Old Man’s Beard. I had never gone on an actual expedition. My praxis as an educator is forever changed.

This was a transformative experience.

My next post on #KWEC13 will be a full run down of the conference co-creators, a full analysis of the activities, and thoughts for what is next. I’m hoping the entire experience can be curated in 10 hours, but we’ll see. There’s two dozen pages of notes, over two gigabytes of media, and many many posts to sort through on the conference hackpad.

I gave a blood oath promise I would have this post out before I slept tonight, and I’m glad I’ve kept to that word, but there is so much to be done!

There is so much to experience…

Posted in Reflection, Teaching, Training | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Documenting Has Changed, Will Schools Adapt?

In the arch of interacting with social media, a definite trend appears to have staying power. That trend is people documenting the funny remarks made by their young children.

I spend very little time on Facebook, and extraordinarily too much time on Twitter. Many of the truly laugh-out-loud moments I have with Facebook occur when my wife reads aloud a direct quote posted by a family member or close friend. These quotes often involve a kid said, adult response, then kid punch line rhythm. Here are two examples:

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 10.12.28 PM

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 10.03.58 PMHave children gotten wittier?

Over the past few decades, have young humans increased their ability to make connections, use language, and cause people to laugh?

I don’t know. I have not researched those questions, but I want to share a hunch. Here’s what I think used to happen, when my parents were raising me and my sisters, circa 1980’s-90’s, the process for sharing funny moments was very different than the process now. The previous process involved the retelling of a funny moment or phrase either in person or over the telephone. Whereas, current practice includes going to Facebook, posting the dialog, and receiving feedback from members other than just close family. Over 30 Likes when my wife posts a conversation between her and our 4-year old. This folksonomy of not only language development, but personhood development is created in real-time, and I have two big questions.

1. What are the externalities associated with this type of documenting? I was struck today for the first time in a long time. And I mean, I was struck with a big idea. I’ll get to that big idea in a moment, but first, what will it be like when my daughters are in their mid-teens and we play the classic car game, “remember when.” Will they have embedded tech pulling up direct quotes from 2011, 2012, and 2013 to pull back the exact conversation? And if so, what does this type of narrative do to the teens construction of their identity? Especially, if the narrative is documented through the lens of the adult? In both of the Facebook posts above, Josie does not go back to what my wife or I wrote and provide feedback. She does not have the ability to delete or remove the post.

This morning, I got to thinking about the collection of kid quotes on Facebook. My thought patterns were jumping a bit, they went from…—

I wonder if all of these posts will be aggregated into something really nice and clean?


What will wedding slideshows look like for my kids?


I really want to have another cup of coffee.


I wonder if they’ll still be playing the same style of slideshows at my kids high school graduations

To this:

2. What would school be like if each classroom or learning group had a full-time documentation specialist?

The method for documenting has shifted. Not just documenting dialog, but also documenting activities, pinnacle moments of achievement, and failure. I just finished facilitating a Minecraft Lab. Twenty five learners ages twelve-ish to fifteen-ish spent four hours a day doing extraordinary work. They gave up their summer to come to school and not just play video games, but build, create, explore, kill, fail, team-up, and dream. The kids arrived early, they stayed late, and they refused to take breaks. I’ll post more on this experience at a later date, but the realization for me as the facilitator and designer of the course was that I was drowning in content. I’m currently working on documenting all of their great work, and after just three weeks, I have nearly 7GB of content. That amount of video and photos would have filled up my $2200 Dell Dimension 4200 desktop computer I took to college in the year 2000. [Sidebar: my highly skilled colleague facilitated a Coding Lab with extraordinary success! Follow-up post to come].

Big idea: You know how many traditional classrooms in the United States with a high percentage of students with disabilities have an adult in the room to carry out the Individualized Education Plan- what if each classroom with a high number of content creators had a documentation specialist? (forgive the run-on)

Here me out…

For the past two years, I worked in two different schools as an advisor. These schools were multiage, and served 12-18 year olds. I had a multiage advisory of fourteen to seventeen students. I had a very difficult time keeping up with documenting the students learning. Whereas, the year prior (2010-2011) I had two different groups of eight students. It was much easier to document the learning of the group of eight.  If the learners are learning, and the teachers are facilitating, then who is the person playing the role of updating the learning in real-time and curating the content? In the case of the example used previously, who is the person in the role of updating Facebook about the clever comments just made by the toddler?

The laggards who like to draw math equations with chalk and think WolframAlpha is cheating may say, “It’s the job of the student.” No. Not always, the student is learning. And documenting is huge, but if all the student cares about is getting the exact perfect screenshot or framing a conversation just the right way for the camera, then isn’t a portion of the authentic learning lost?

The SuperhumanmultiawardwinningGoogleCertifiedAppleDistinguishedEducatorteacher may say, “It’s the job of the teacher.” Yes. But not always. The teacher/advisor/facilitator/designer is doing what they do. And putting all of the responsibility on that one individual is too much to ask; especially, in the era of over standardization whereby accountability is measured by dreaded four letter tests. I have seen and worked with amazing teachers who document learning (See: for an example of a sixth grade writing seminar/workshop and Twitter). Art teachers using Tumblr, Enter name here using Facebook Pages, Specific projects creating Twitter accounts and blog sites (my personal favorite; all of these instances of learning being documented are happening in places all over, but what’s not happening, is a coherent organization for documenting learning. How do we document learning in a manner that is scalable, sustainable, individualized, meaningful, and have it lead to richer learning opportunities?

Design is iterative.

So is learning.

The more I code, shoot jumpers, or write, the better I will be (not trying to dive into a mastery debate here, so please provide a bit a latitude).  Shouldn’t we take those same principles and apply them to documenting learning?

This past year, I was fortunate enough to work with over forty different pre-service teachers, they were students at the local university. A handful of which, I would love my own kids to one day have as teachers. Another handful of which, I would elect to homeschool my kids before having these humans “teach” my own children. And the great majority fell into that too soon to tell and lots of potential category. What struck me about many of the college level sophomores and juniors, was their inability to interact with students on the fly. The environment in which these future-teachers stepped into was very different from any other school most of them had ever been to. Student-directed project-based learning provides more agency to learners than  most pedagogies, and I think people feel that when they walk into a school. I think they feel that, “Whoa, this is different. No bells, no grades, no subjects.” But what shocked my senses, and what I repeated to my colleagues several times was this:
“I don’t get it, wouldn’t you think they (human paying large amounts of cash or debt to join teaching profession) would dive in and meet the students where they are at? Don’t they have passions to share?” I was never told by my colleagues to cool out, cut them slack, or get positive. It was a collective befuddlement.

Then, about half way through the school year of 2012-13, I had an epiphany. Many of these college sophomores and juniors would have graduated high school between 2010-11. Tracing the arch of their learning backwards, many of these college sophomores and juniors would have been in grades six or seven in 2004. Meaning, most of these students did most of their schooling during the standardization era. I cannot imagine how I would have developed, or the vocation I would have been called to had I been forced to sit through as much standardized testing as the students who have graduated high school over the past half dozen years. That was my epiphany.

Over the last few months of the school year, I started talked to future-teachers who fell on each end of the spectrum. The superstars, they had a story. They had a reason to teach, they were right out of a Parker J. Palmer carved narrative. The turds, well, here’s my favorite back and forth:
Me: Why do you want to teach?
Turd: I dunno.
Me: What are you going to do if you cannot get a job teaching high school social studies in either of the Districts you plan on applying?
Turd: Me, oh, well, I dunno. I’ll prolly just get a job with the city or county- same pay and benefits you know, and prolly even easier job.
He was clueless to my backhanded insult I added in later in the conversation when I asked him about being one in four hundred applicants. While at our school, he sent more text messages than any other student. Now, juxtapose the turd with the superstar. We had students from the local university lead group projects in which a gigantic dragon was constructed out of recycle materials. We had future teachers who created a workshop to teach people how to play the piano. We had future teachers who volunteered their time to pioneer a math lab in the summer time. We had future teachers who played at our first ever graduation ceremony and contributed to making the night a truly special occasion.

So here’s an idea, and maybe even a possible solution. What if pre-service teachers, serve as documentation specialist? Here’s how it would work: classrooms where content is being created at a high rate, think superhumanmultiawardwinningGoogleCertifiedAppleDistinguishedEducatorteacher rather than chalk, each of these classrooms would have an aspiring teacher putting in time to use tech tools to take pictures, video, screenshot, snapshot, capture, and interview. It’s a win/win. The best documenters would get hired on by the District; probably, for a lucrative wage of $9 an hour, but that’s equivalent to what they’d be making working the counter at Jimmy John’s and slightly better than most baristas. I am for teaching as an apprenticeship model, and I think this would be a positive shift in that direction. Superstars are grabbed and not allowed to leave the room or the profession. Turds are flushed and provided a box of chalk on their way out the door.

Now, I ran this idea by my wife earlier today, and she said, “To what end? Who is doing what with the learning that’s being documented?” Admittedly, I don’t have an answer for that. Right now, putting the content together in an organized manner in which learners are free to interact, take, create, recreate, remix, curate, etc- right now that’s a hugh step forward. Right now, providing future teachers with high expectations, high supports, and a professional role is a step forward. Right now, this type of practice is a needed antidote to the forced testing in the Standardized Era.

Documenting has changed.

I can’t wait to tell my Ma tomorrow about Margaret’s first pair of Jordan’s and what her big sister said to her in the car.

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“Personalization is a force that cannot be stopped.” -Doug Thomas February 2012, Speaking to Silver Lake College Learning Community

Posted in Radical School Design, Reflection | Leave a comment

Departing With Gratitude

In August of 2012, I was holding my daughter at home for the first time. My cell phone buzzed. I ignored it. I was deep in the moment of fatherhood. A moment when priorities are appropriately aligned. I knew what was most important, my daughter. She needed me. Not as much as she needed by wife, but nonetheless, she needed her father. After several jolts, my mind started to talk to heart. The number was unknown. What if it were someone or something important.


“Hi, may I please speak with Michael?”

“This is he.” What I remember of that day was going into a blur for the next hour or so. I had been home for a short time. My hospital legs and eyes were still with me. The adrenaline was fading. The permanence of this beautiful baby girl seemed to be settling in.

“This is Kathy K____ from Green Bay Area Public Schools.”

“Ok.” I had interviewed for an incredible position, but coming off of new baby experience, the interview in Green Bay seemed as if it happened months ago, rather than weeks ago.

“I’m calling today to offer you the job of Advisor at John Dewey Academy of Learning.”

“Oh. May I call you back?”

This was August. I had already accepted a job, after already accepting a job. Due to complexities associated with selling our house in Appleton, I could not begin my new job in Edgerton. I was fortunate to acquire a position at Fond du Lac High School. This position also included coach basketball in the boys’ program with a phenomenal coach. While holding my new baby girl, I tracked down my wife and told her about the phone call. She said, “Do you want it?” There wasn’t really a second thought. To work in student-directed Project-Based Learning (PBL) school is a dream of mine. To work at John Dewey Academy of Learning was an opportunity I could not pass up. The school was beginning its second year, and had a very good reputation from my network.

I called back the individual from Green Bay.

I accepted the job.

Fond du Lac was more than gracious, each and every person I came in contact with wished me the best of luck. Each and every person in the entire organization epitomized class.

My first experience with meeting the John Dewey Academy of Learning (JDAL) staff came at a staff retreat. We met in Door County. For two days in late August, magic happened. I have never bonded with a team so quickly. Ashley, Lee, Lindsay, Mike, and Molly; each played such an important part in my life over the past year. In a small school, colleagues become a part of a persons life. And I am grateful for having each of those educators a part of mine.

I could go on talk in great depth about each of these people, but that would make this a 5000 word post.

In a place and a year when forced testing results were trialed, translated to a complex percentage, and then equated to a letter grade, I found my calling.

In a place and a year when vouchers swept across the state with fury, and the District where I found myself teaching was put right in the crosshairs, I tuned out political dialog.

I blogged less.

I worked after 5pm much less.

And I coached much much less.

I lost fifty five pounds.

I started waking up at 4:45am to run, make breakfast, get right spiritually, and develop lesson plans.

All of this was given to me. I was provided with several gifts. Although I am trying to figure out the work-home-self balance more, this year brought incredible opportunities. Perhaps the greatest gift is this: I love teaching. I have found my vocation.  

Finally, working in Green Bay has made me less judgmental of urban ed. Some of the greatest people I have ever met in the education profession, I met this year at the Green Bay Area Public Schools. Committed and intelligent school board members, brilliant and fair administrators, dedicated and knowledgeable teachers. The next time I hear of a “failing” school or the next time I think I know what it’s like in any organization, I hope I remember the incredible people I met in Green Bay, Wisconsin from August 22, 2012 – June 10, 2013.  I saw measurable growth this year in a small school within a large District, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of that growth. No matter how small a part, there was not a day when I left work when I didn’t fell I had served. My only regret is not saying “Thank you”  more. In my life, the greatest area of measurable growth from last August until right now has to do with my buzzing phone. When I walk through the door tonight, it will be turned OFF. It will remain so until both of my girls are asleep. I might miss a few tweets. My inbox may get larger than “2”, but today I know what is important. And I have Green Bay to thank for that.

Posted in Charter School, Radical School Design, Reflection, Year End Analysis | Leave a comment

#NaNoWriMo 2012 Reflection

It’s done.

Well, almost done…

in 95 minutes national novel writing month ends & thne I need to return to using proper grammer, spacing, and such

It’s been a great month. I wish I would have stuck to my goal. The first eight days of the month, I woke up at 4:30am. My goal was to wake up that early every day (failed greatly).  After eight days, I had put out 43,000+ words. Once I hit 50,000 words, I lost all motivation to keep writing at such a pace.

Enough about me, let’s talk about the students!

As the picture below indicates, a group of twelve-ish students is closing in on 300,000 words! We had fifteen writeshops of ninety minutes, all held right at our school. The students organized a half dozen write-ins at coffee shops in Green Bay. And this evening, we are having an eight hour write-in at our school to end the adventure.

I had to throw on my headphones and crank out this blog post. The delirious laughter of overtired adolescent students and the smell of burnt frozen pizza is a sign the writing is starting to fade for most. It’s also a sign the community is stronger.

The kids are taking charge.

I’m not sure what #NaNoWriMo is, even though I’ve gone through it twice now. But what I’m sure of is there is a bit of magic in a group of people taking off on a month long question.

I am so proud of my students.

I will do this again next year (but not the 8-hour write-in at school at the end of a 50 hour work week, that’s is not smart. I am writing this not to myself so other keep me accountable….:)

On a side note, I write this post with my niece just twelve feet behind me. She’s closing in on her goal. She’s been counting out loud her goal. “Just five hundred more words!” And each time she says how far she has to go, the rest of the group cheers her on. My niece took a leap. Not only did she join a group of complete strangers, but she drove two hours to come to this write-in today.  The community of learners took her right in. I know I’ve acted annoyed at all of the Dr. Who references and rolled my eyes at Emilie Autumn’s electric violin, but I am so happy to be an annoyed teacher right now and I am so proud of  the young woman Moira is turning out to be.


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Apologies – #NaNoWriMo

It’s been less than 2 hours…

And already, I feel a need to apologize.

I apologize first and foremost to my family. There’s guaranteed to be water cups in the bathroom. Possibly half drank coffee cups by the bed, and maybe even empty Starbucks cups in the diaper bag.

I apologize to my colleagues. I’m trying to listen to the words that are coming out of your mouth, but I’m trying to think about bringing more action into the life of my protagonist.

Finally, I’d like to apologize to my body. Yes, I sacrificed breakfast this morning for 300 hundred words, and that’s just the beginning. Sorry for not giving you more sleep. Apologies for the copious caffeine.   To my waistline, I’m sorry, and I’m not quite sure what direction you’re going in. But based on last year, you’re probably going the wrong direction. To my tie collection, know that when December rolls around, you will once again be prepped with the proper shirt the night before, but for now, for November, you will go with whatever does not need to be ironed and smells clean.

Noveling has begun.


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