How OPENing My Classroom OPENed My Mind

Grab any sampling of school mission statements and you are likely to come across the words “life long learner”.  This is such a wonderful sentiment, but what do these words actually look like in practice?  What are the identifiable traits of “life long learners”?  What types of activities do these learners engage in and how are they sustained ‘life long’?

Spending the past few months in the open (through #IMMOOC and utilization of Open Pedagogy in my online course) has opened my eyes to this notion of true continuous learning.  Learning in open forums (and encouraging the same of my students) has helped me experience, first hand, a learning cycle of critical consumption, reflection, creation, and finally – contribution.   

Original Image from Empower by AJ Juliani & John Spencer


Continual engagement in this learning cycle is how I envision ‘life long learning’ playing out in…well…real life.  Most educators engage in consumption – on a regular basis: begging, borrowing, and stealing (with permission), great ideas from whomever and wherever we can.  The best consumers then reflect on this content, become inspired to create their own works and ideally, openly contribute them back into the cycle and back into the field.

This is extremely exciting for educators and learners alike, because this experience of creating and contributing openly transcends the restrictions of both physical classroom walls and online learning management systems.  In fact, authentic participation in this continuous learning cycle can’t occur inside a classroom or LMS because the cycle craves a larger audience and bigger stage.  Plus, courses end, grades close, programs are completed, and students graduate.  And when they do, manufactured learning opportunities disappear. 

In the past I worked really hard to mimic the real world in both my face to face and virtual classrooms.  I spent many hours attempting to recreate real world situations and craft real life experiences in my classes.  I was spending a good amount of time and effort orchestrating the creation of fake real world scenarios when the real real world was right there all along.

How OPENING My Course OPENED My Mind:

This term I took a new approach (inspired by Robin DeRosa and local Open Pedagogy discussions- check them out at @actualham & #USNHShare).  I asked my students to immerse themselves in the field of education in concert with current, practicing educators.  I asked my learners to utilize open forums to share their learning, interact with colleagues, authors, and thought leaders of whose work we read in class.  I facilitated real real world learning tasks that asked students to reflect on their learning consumption then create meaningful artifacts that contributed to their personal learning communities.

Doing so facilitated a REAL real world immersion that even the best of my previous mimicked lessons couldn’t touch.  Working in the open naturally increased my course’s rigor and relevancy as my assignments grew in audience, purpose, and value and my students became contributors to our field.   My students were empowered to take an active role in the creation of real content and in the experience of real conversations in their respective fields.  Learning expanded naturally and exponentially, as the connections, discussions, and purpose for my course’s work become much greater than a LMS or classroom could ever hope to provide.

Ideas for OPENing Your Class:

  • Move online classroom discussions out of your Learning Management System and into the open (through social media and/or blogging).  Use a course hashtag to track posts, replies, & comments
  • Exchange a required online discussion for a live Twitter Chat (organize your own, or invite students to participate in a chat of their choice related to a course topic, content area, or age group they are interested in)
  • Ask students to blog weekly as a vehicle for sharing their reflections.  Ask learners to share and comment on one another’s work, pushing their collective thinking and making connections to other existing works, blogs, chats, and discussions.
  • Invite students to share their course artifacts in the open (through a Creative Commons license and on an open platform like  FlipGrid or Padlet.
  • Transition assignments from ‘Disposable’ to ‘Renewable’ (@actualham).  “Disposable assignments” have an audience of only one (the teacher).  They have little purpose and/or the actual product has little relevancy to the real real world as evidenced by their final destination…a trash can or electronic archive).  Renewable work, though, has purpose, meaning, and value in context.  These assignments are created to meet the actual needs of a real (and wide) audience and as a result are living, renewable, and valuable.

BE an OPEN model

What better way to model, foster, and encourage lifelong learning in our students than by openly modelling continuous learning ourselves?  Continuous engagement in the reflective process of critical consumption, creation, and contribution is life long learning in practice.

Let’s free ourselves from the exhausting work of learning in isolation.  Let’s quit the tiring task of recreating real life inside the constraints of our classrooms.   Let’s agree to make, remix, revise, and GIVELet’s break into the OPEN.  THIS is what will sustain a profession.



4 Miles = 4 Blog Ideas | Generating Blog Post Ideas

Creativity is something that many people (myself included, until recently) believe you either ‘have or don’t’.  Our fixed mindset culture leads us to believe that creativity is a God given, natural talent that is simply part of the personalities of a lucky minority.  Similar sentiments are thought about artistic, musical, and athletic ‘talents’, leading us to believe that these traits are either gifted to you at birth, or … not.

For me, creativity was one of these ‘magic traits’ that I deemed myself ‘not blessed with’.  Sure, I had other ‘talents’, but out of the box thinking was not one of them.  That is, until something happened- I caught myself HAVING AN IDEA!

As it turns out, creativity is not something that God has only supplied to a lucky few.  It is a characteristic that with time, attention, careful thought, and focus, can be developed, strengthened, and cultivated.  In fact, I now can’t think of a character trait that isn’t this way.   We aren’t __________ (athletic, musical, math, artistic, creative…) people.  Rather, we are who we commit to being through focus, hard work, perseverance, and passion. 

Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, often shares the frustration he experienced when a colleague told him that designing and implementing off the wall engaging learning experiences was “easy for him, because he’s creative”.   On the contrary, Dave’s ideas (as he explains in the text) don’t appear to him in blinding flashes of light or drop from the sky in a fury of perfection.  Instead, they are honed and crafted by thoughtful “engagement in the creative process” which include trying new things, cultivating passions, and asking the right questions.

Generating engaging, relevant, and meaningful blog post ideas is one area of creativity that I often wish would present as a flash of genius in perfectly timed moments.  Instead, (like all things worthwhile) my creativity requires sustained focus, commitment, and hard work.

Engaging in the Creative Process:  Ways to Spark Blog Post Ideas

  • Actively Seek Inspiration:  Actively seek inspiration for your writing.  Learning in ‘Open’ spaces (blogs, Twitter, etc) embraces the notion of sharing and remixing one another’s ideas.  Take the time to experience the content in your field, reading, reflecting on, and thinking critically about others’ contributions.  Honor differences in opinion, using the opportunity to challenge your own thought patterns, learn, and grow.  Reflect on these experiences in your blog.
  • Journal:  Keep a journal (or two) of ‘blog worthy’ notes.  Notepads and paper in your car, office, bedside table, etc, are great for jotting down inspiration as it comes.  Record specific quotes, questions, and ideas to be unpacked at a later time.
  • RUN:  Aerobic exercise has been shown to encourage growth in the hippocampus, potentially helping to spark ideas and create connections.  Running typically yields me a minimum of one blog post per mile.  It works so well that I’m currently working on devising a system for ‘journalling while jogging’.
  • Prioritize Time for Creativity:   Honing any skill takes focused attention; and focused attention takes time.  Set aside time in your weekly schedule for actively working at the skill of generating ideas and fostering creativity.  Identify what it is that helps  get your creative juices flowing and schedule time in your day to practice.   Some things that work for me (some better than others) are: listening to music, going for a walk with my dog, reading, spending time in quiet reflection, journaling, reading the Bible, playing sports, and going for a drive – certainly nothing Earth shattering and nothing I haven’t engaged in before, but doing so with the specific goal of generating ideas has been quite helpful.  Identify what it is that helps fuel your creative fire and make time in your day to commit to fostering the skill of brainstorming.
  • Cut Yourself Some Slack:  Allow yourself permission to write – to write and share.  Not every idea will be (or needs to be) fully fleshed out before publication.  Open Education embraces and encourages ideas that are ‘not yet’ fully developed, fostering both sharing and collaboration as we work to reuse, revise, and remix one another’s work.
  • Stop Thinking That You Aren’t Creative:   A huge contributor to my ability to ‘become more creative’ was belief that I was capable of producing creative ideas.  Reflect on your personal creativity goals and articulate them as you would when working to achieve any new PR.  Then, shed the fixed mindset, set your sights on becoming uber creative, and actively work to go get it!


You just can’t “unhear” that… How assigning homework shoots ourselves in the foot.

When my preteen daughter sees something that she deems disgusting she says “wow- you just can’t unsee that”.

I’ve found myself thinking a similar sentiment in response to connections shared during our recent #IMMOOC series- particularly the live sessions with Jo Boaler and Alice Keeler and this thought provoking post by Katie MartinWhy Are We Still Assigning Homework? 

There are some things that you just can’t “unhear”.   Some words have so much power, influence, and impact, that once they have taken hold in your mind, your thought patterns are forever changed.

Hear this:

“Homework is one of the biggest causes of inequity in the classroom”

Jo Boaler

This is worth saying again: Homework is one of the biggest causes of inequity in our classrooms.  Did you hear that?   Homework causes inequity.

Hearing (and I mean truly hearing) this requires us to pause and examine this practice.  As educators (and people) aren’t we working hard to break down bias, overcome barriers, and promote equity for all? Assigning homework is counterproductive to this work.  The truth is that assigning homework in math actually widens the achievement gap.  Every homework assignment we give, then, shoots ourselves in the foot in the fight for equity in our learning spaces.

John Hattie’s research of the relative impact of various classroom strategies corroborates this notion.  Hattie notes that: ” homework for some reinforces
that they cannot learn by themselves” and that homework “can undermine motivation and internalize incorrect routines and strategies”.   Any strategy we select that has even a small potential to “undermine student motivation” should be thought about carefully.

Once we have truly heard these truths, we have a responsibility to reflect, listen, and, as Katie suggests, “examine traditions in education, like homework, that may actually get in the way of learning and innovation”.