ajoBlog Teaching

Operational Definition of Learning

What does it mean to learn something? How do we define when we have learned something?

I recently saw the movie John Wick (a fantastic, epic action movie) starring Matrix’s Keanu Reeves, and Sweden’s Michael Nyqvist as the lead bad guy. And that’s when it struck me – Nyqvist is doing his job, acting, in a second language. And that, for one, must be a pretty good definition of having learned something to a decent level.

As a fellow Swede, and having immigrated to the US in 1996 when I was in high school, I think about language a lot, and especially the art of learning a language, and using it. I too perform my job, and live and communicate, in my second language every day. But is that a good enough definition of having learned something? The mere ‘practice’ of it, as in practicing medicine? I certainly think it’s a good measure.

I struggle with the language learning in school. Not from a “I’m better than you” point of view, but from a societal, functional point of view. Why is it that we, in the US, don’t really value foreign language acquisition the way others in the rest of the world do? How come we assume everyone will be able to interface in English when we meet them? Why is it not a priority to grow the world culture by being able to communicate in someone’s native language as a guest?

Who knows, maybe it will even be profitable, as in the case of Nyqvist above, who certainly profited off of being able to act in a foreign language. Maybe there’s untapped potential for our students abroad if only they were able to communicate in the language of the countries they visit. I wonder when Nyqvist started to learn English? I bet it was early… I’m going to ask him on Twitter.

UPDATE – see response from Michael Nyqvist:

Response from Nyqvist

ajoBlog Edtech Teaching

Six Hatting the Zax!

We read a lot of Dr. Seuss at home, particularly before bedtime. That time of night also happens to be the prime time for my brain to plan for PD sessions, or anything else that needs attention. Sometimes, and unfortunately so, the brain keeps going until one or two in the morning…

Here’s what happened the other day, when planning for a session on collaboration, technology, and some simple, but powerful processes all meshed together. And of course, a bit of Dr. Seuss!

The general idea for the session was to introduce collaboration as a skill and process, rather than overwhelming the participants with new tools like Google Docs, TodaysMeet, and others. Instead, I wanted to lay the ground work for collaboration itself, as a separate entity, and deal with some of the tools later.

As such, one of the processes that I chose was DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats, which can be very low key, low stress, and anything from simple to very complex. In a nutshell though, the Six Hats strategy lends itself very well to collaboration, especially in teaching critical thinking, and parallel thinking to students at any age.

I wanted to introduce the Six Hat strategy using a problem set that this group of teachers could take directly back to their students, and use with a high degree of success. As such, lying in bed, and having just read it to Emelie, I picked the story of Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Zax’. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the story, and I’ll leave it at that:

The Zax is a lesson about the importance of compromise. In the story a North-going Zax and a South-going Zax meet, quite unwillingly, face to face in the Prairie of Prax.

Because they refuse to move east, west, or any direction except their respective headings, the two Zax become stuck, as they refuse to move around each other. The Zax stand so long that eventually a highway overpass is built around them, and the story ends with the Zax still standing there “Unbudged in their tracks.”

I started by introducing the Six Hats method to the teachers using some role cards I made up, and that had been taped below some random chairs. Kinesthetic learning, also, I think… I then read The Zax out loud from my compilation book of various Dr. Seuss stories that I had pried from my daughters unwilling hands. “You may not take it with you, daddy!”

The Zax lends itself well in generating a basic problem, yet easily solvable, and using Six Hats then, we deconstructed and analyzed the issues. In case you’re not familiar with the Six Hat strategy, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re planning on teaching thinking, meta cognition, problem solving, and collaboration to your students. And I know that you do, right? Read more about Six Hats here.

Either way, you could apply Six Hats to any problem, however small or large, P-21, in any setting. We use it at home, for example, all the time. “How do we get to IKEA this weekend, and get what we need, and still keep the kids in good spirits?”

After the conversation where we six-hatted the Zax, I asked the group of teachers to reflect on what skills / behaviors make great collaborators. We used a bit of technology here, TodaysMeet, which lends itself well to quick reflections in a public medium.

Overall, and based on some feedback I got already, I think the mini lesson went very well. This particular group of teachers I’m working with are great, and takes things in stride (including me, and my humor) , which I appreciate very much!

Have more questions? Contact me directly, and I’d be happy to help!


ajoBlog Edtech Portfolio Teaching tech

Evernote – A Possible Workflow for Digital Portfolios

Here’s what I’ve been working on, in regards to a possible workflow using Evernote / Digital Portfolios. We’re planning a test run at an elementary school next year…

Here’s the workflow (PDF): Evernote PK Portfolio Workflow

ajoBlog Going Places Teaching

The Foundations of Place-based Learning

Here’s a great resource on Place-based learning!

Place Based Learning Resources

Here’s the source:

ajoBlog In Review Teaching

Teaching is a privilege!

“Teaching is a privilege.”

– Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master

I’ve had the privilege in my short, atypical teaching career, of teaching about 900+ students, in grades 6-12. I started, in my first assignment after graduate school, teaching a multicultural studies class at Fairless Middle School, teaching all of the 6, 7, and 8th grade students in a trimester fashion. It was a great experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It not only gave me great perspective, but allowed me to start class three times in one year – valuable, and very powerful for a new teacher. My 6th graders are now in high school. I hope they’re doing just fine!

When I moved on to Nordonia High School, teaching 10th grade social studies, and more specifically, modern U.S. History and Economics, I had the privilege of teaching some of the most amazing young men and women. Adjusting to a new group of people, new students, and new circumstances all allowed me to grow as a person and professional. I could have not asked for a better mentor in Steve Testa, one of the most skilled educators I’ll ever meet. Steve and I still teach a blended hybrid course for high schoolers called Going Places, even though I’ve left Nordonia.

Throughout my time at Nordonia, I had the privilege of forming special relationships with students, beyond the classroom – the kind of relationship that develops organically, and is based on mutual levels of respect, and awe, of capabilities, skills, and personal traits.

In the last year of my tenure there, a group of students, seniors, came to have lunch with me on my planning period, and I often just sat in silence, eating my lunch, as they briefed each other on daily agenda items, the latest on shopping, work, school, and future ambitions. It was a privilege to be part of their inner circle (as much as they let me…), and it was an experience I’ll value for a long time to come. I learned a great deal, not only about them, but about how young people function, think, deal, handle, and process. I hope they connect back in the future, and look forward to their future success. E, S, N, A, and S: Do well in life!

I had the privilege of working for some fine administrators, who, although struggling with various issues of financial stress in the district, managed to keep the ship afloat, and keep as all motivated. Teaching in a district, and in a building, for the last year, already knowing that you’ll get laid off at the end of the year is tough. It was a privilege to spend it with fine educators, leaders, and people. I hope they’re all doing okay.

Teaching truly is a privilege. It’s a career, not a job, and something that drives you from within. I will always teach, instruct, show, model, train, demonstrate – whatever you want to call it, I’ll keep on doing it.

In my current job, as an EdTech Consultant, I now have the privilege of working with teachers directly. I look forward to impacting even more students than before. The passion that burns inside me is just getting hotter, and I’m not about to burn out! Teaching is a privilege, and I hope I’ll be allowed to do it for as long as I live.

ajoBlog Going Places Teaching

Chinese fortune / good pedagogy!

One of our students, Brian C., on a recent trip with the Going Places program, shared what he had heard about learning in general, and it went something like “you remember 60% of what you say…” Here’s from a Chinese fortune cookie I had today:

“I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.”

Coincidence? Maybe. Or, the universe is telling us something!

Assignments Going Places In Review Teaching

CLE Museum of Natural History + PNC SmartHome Reflection

We had our first trip with the Going Places program today, and it started off with a brief parent / teacher / student meeting at the high school. Andreas and Steve laid out the expectations for the course, and explained and described how trips work, the website, and how to submit reflections and the weekly assignments.

History Teaching

The McMillan Plan – Washington DC, sort of…

Here’s a cool map of Washington DC that never was. Sort of. (The McMillan Plan)

Edtech P-TECH Teaching

Technology in the Classroom: A Practical Approach

Need help getting started with technology in your classroom? This workshop is for you:

“Technology is a part of everyone’s life.  You know how to use a computer, but do you know how to inspire your students – and make your job as a teacher easier – through the use of technology?  We will give you practical advice and solutions so that you are ready to make the most of your teaching experience and give your students the best learning platform from the very first day of class.”

Sample Topics:

  • WordPress, Twitter, Google Forms, troubleshooting, etc.

See the Workshop Website here!

The workshop is hosted by Kent State University, so please go here to sign up:

Summer, 2011

  • Mon / Tue, Aug. 1 and 2
    8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • 1 undergraduate credit hour, $411
    ITEC 40093, CRN #13802
  • 1 graduate credit hour, $317
    ITEC 50093, CRN #13803
  • Parking, $4

Summer Workshop, Day #1

Currently at the summer workshop at the Cuyahoga County ESC for a Teaching American History grant program. Week long, lectures, trips, hands on works, and getting stuff done. Looking forward to it…