blog

Do you want to form an alliance with me? (Version 3.0)

*Cross posted from http://ilearntechnology.com*

“Do you…want to form an alliance…with me? “

It was January 3, 2010, that I first created a blog post of this title. It was initially inspired by a blog post that I came across on Problogger titled, “Let Me Show You Inside a Secret Blogging Alliance.”Of course, any time I heard the word “alliance,” this moment from The Office immediately came to mind (clearly a blog title too good to ignore).

I had no idea that those words, penned a decade ago, would absolutely and forever change me and the trajectory of my life. It was in 2010 that I invited educational bloggers to form an alliance with me (no need for secrecy). This Alliancewas a group of edubloggers who were committed to working together for the mutual benefit of all members of the Alliance. The goals were pretty humble in hindsight:

  1. To encourage educators in their blogging endeavors, whether they be new, established, or otherwise.
  2. To create a united network of educators working toward a larger goal of being heard by those not in education. I wanted the general public to know us for the highly qualified professionals that we are.

That was it. Humble beginnings. The edublogger Allianceirrevocably changed my life in all of the best ways possible. I was introduced to incredible educators and bloggers who challenged my thinking, encouraged me, inspired me, and mentored me. They became friends and the voices I still seek out before any others on all matters of education.

They say that you become a compilation of the six people you surround yourself with, choose wisely. The stars had to be aligned in 2010 because overnight, 50 of the most exceptional educators surrounded me sharing their voice, their gifts, and their inspiration regularly.

The person I am today is a direct result of these beautiful souls who decided to jump with both feet into a crazy idea thrown out there in blog form.

Without the 2010 blog alliance, I wouldn’t have started a school(it was their mentoring and inspiration that had me believing impossible things). Without the Alliance, I wouldn’t still be running a school (it was their encouragement that kept me going). Without them, I wouldn’t have conceived of The Learning Genome Project. The conversations, playful curiosity, challenging discussions, and camaraderie have meant so much to me. To my original alliance members: I cannot thank you enough for answering the call and shaping me so profoundly! I’m forever grateful to you!

With the dawn of a new decade, I thought that it might be time to launch a new sort of education alliance — this one with a slight twist. Before we get to that, a little background on where I find myself in 2020 (friends who have been with me the last ten years, please feel free to scroll):

2010 was a big year for me personally and professionally. I started hanging question marks on all those things I had taken for granted in education. I started asking questions and challenging my own thinking. It was also the year that I had to leave the classroom for health reasons. In that year of questioning and reflection, I created The Learning Genome Project.If I couldn’t change education from within the classroom because of my health, perhaps this would be the way!

The Learning Genome Projectwas an idea that came to me while talking with some of my edublog alliance members over a Twitter chat. I was listening to Pandora (remember when it felt so magical to have technology create a playlist based on one song and get it right?!), and I was having a real geek-out moment about this phenomenon. I kept thinking if technology can predict something that feels as personal as a song and gets it right, why couldn’t we use technology to create customized learning playlists for kids? Why were we still stuck in a system of the boxed, one-size-fits-all curriculum? I couldn’t let the idea go. I started digging into the back end of Pandora and discovered it was called The Music Genome Project, based on the Human Genome Project (the one that maps DNA). The Music Genome Project took a similar approach to music, mapping it based on 400+ attributes of music and then having music “experts” tag each piece of music with its attributes.

*Cue my light bulb moment!*

Learning has attributes, what if we could tag curriculum (not the boxed stuff but real learning experiences and resources) with those attributes? If we knew who a student was, we could create customized learning opportunities for every student. I went to work building out a wireframe of this technology, talking with schools and investors about the possibilities. After a few months, I faced down a painful truth: we do not have an education system designed to see students as individuals. No matter how incredible I made this technology unless we change the model of education, it just wouldn’t work.

I started blogging ideas of what this model could look like on my other blog, Dreams of Education. One day the family of a student who I used to teach called me out of the blue with the words, “I heard you are starting a school!” I had joked often with my edublog alliance friends that we should start a school, with our collective intelligence, it would be incredible! But no, I had zero plans for actually starting a school…because that is terrifying!! Also, who am I to do such a thing?

Famous last words.

In August of 2011, I opened Anastasis Academywith five teachers (oneof whom I had met because of the original alliance!) and 54 students.

It became evident pretty quickly that we were on to something with this new model that we were innovating as we went. By year 3 of Anastasis,we had hundreds of educators visiting us each year to see what we were up to. In 2014 we decided that we needed a better way to share and started the 5Sigma Education Conference. Our goal was to share what was happening at Anastasis, to give people a behind the scenes view of our process. More than that, we wanted to expose others to those who have inspired us along the way. To share the people who have been so instrumental in our thinking.

5Sigma is in its 6th year this year. Which brings me back to an invitation for you: Do you…want to form an alliance…with me (us)?

We want to expand 5Sigma beyond a conference. Into an alliance, a consortium if you will.

Education conferences are wonderful; they are inspiring; they connect you to a network of learners; they promote change and innovation. 5Sigma has had no shortage of all of these moments. There is only one problem (and it’s glaring): they are fleeting. Those incredible conversations, the idea synergy, the innovation tend to end with the conference. Back in the classroom, the daily demands creep back in, and it all ends up on the back burner of “someday.”

Like you, I want learning to be better. More meaningful. More creative. More intentional. More fun. 5Sigma was born with the desire to bring together educators with world-changing thinkers and innovators (not unlike my original Alliance) and start conversations that would transform the educational landscape.

The 5Sigma Consortium will be a network of educational change makers. In addition to our February conference, the 5Sigma Consortium will offer access to year-round inspiration, conversations, studio sessions, and the tools that promote change and innovation in real-time. The Consortium will be limited to the first 50 applicants (not because we wouldn’t love for EVERYONE to be involved, but because I have to be realistic about my own bandwidth to take this on!).

So, what does this Consortium/Alliance look like? We are envisioning three levels of participation options.

Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 3.00.55 PM

A ticket to the 5Sigma Education Conference- included in every level is one ticket to attend the 5Sigma Education Conference held in February (this year is February 21-22).

Access to the 5Sigma Consortium Facebook Group- Conferences are a great time to meet other world changers and start transformational conversations. We want to keep those important conversations going all year long in this closed Facebook group for those in our Alliance. Each month, we’ll share a new topic to keep the ideas flowing and reflection going all year long.

25% discount on any Learning Genome Project Products- Although the full technology of the Learning Genome Project got moved to the back burner as I started Anastasis, it lives on in a series of products that are crucial to the Anastasis model. The product line increases every year.

Learning Genome Genius Hub Sites- Inside access to the ever-growing Learning Genome Genius hub sites where we share the resources we are using for learning at Anastasis, easily searched, and implemented.

5Sigma Studio Sessions- Quarterly studio sessions where we will gather in-person to learn, discuss, and innovate together throughout the year.

Book of Choice- Choose from our library of books from the authors that keep our curiosity alive!

So, the next iteration of the Alliance is born. The question stands, do you want to form an alliance with me? This is a first-come, first-serve situation for the first 50.If you are in, raise your hand by filling out this form.

Let’s join together, making our voices louder through a shared vision and mission; let’s make this year a year of radical change for learners everywhere!

Soul Sighs, finding the online space that feels like home

Where good ideas come from

In 2007, I started an educational technology blog, iLearn Technology. When I started the blog, I did it for myself with little (read: no) thought about audience. I’ve always been a journal keeper. I write EVERYTHING down because I find that if I write it down, I’m more apt to remember it and to use it for something.

In 2004, I got a job as a technology teacher. There was a slight catch: I had never taught “computers” AND my degree had nothing to do with educational technology.

And yet, life had led me to a computer teacher position and a brand new iMac lab to contend with. Being the geek that I am, I went to the library and picked up “Mac OS for dummies.” Before the school year began, I endeavored to learn all that I could about how my new classroom worked. I also performed about a zillion Google searches related to educational technology. Incidentally, at the time, there wasn’t a lot out there, what I did find was exciting! I started a notebook (the spiral with lines kind) and would write down every URL I came across that I thought would be useful. Then, I color coded based on whether it was a site that I needed to go back to for reference or one that I would use with students. Soon, that wasn’t enough and I went back through my notebook(s) and added details about how I could use the site with students and what subject the site was related to. It wasn’t long before my small living room was covered in notebooks and pens. One day my husband came home, surveyed the damage of the living room and said, “I don’t know why you don’t just blog this stuff…at least then it would be searchable.” He walked me through the steps of setting up a domain name (iLearn Technology). The next day, I played around with WordPress until I had the basics down. I started adding my notebooks full of links to the blog so I could easily search when I was looking for something related to what I was teaching. I remember getting a text in the midst of this transfer from my husband, “see..all the hot blondes are blogging!” Attached was a link to iJustine who had broken into the blogging/live casting scene with her phone bill. When my mother-in-law (a third grade teacher at the time) heard that I was blogging, she introduced me to this amazing teacher online “Technospud” who was doing collaborative projects with Oreos. Soon, I was following Technospud (who as it turns out is Jen Wagner), she led me to David Warlick. Brilliance.  Other educators do what I was doing. Brilliance AND validation!

I’m currently re-reading Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From the Natural History of Innovation.” As it turns out, this thing I was doing with notebooks? It is nothing new. In the 17th and 18th century, people began keeping “Commonplace” books of quotations. This was a place where they would record learning and things they were pondering and quotations that spoke to them. This idea of, “lay a fund of knowledge from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.” My dad did this. He kept tons and tons of notebooks as I was growing up. I can’t remember a time when he was without a notebook of some sort that he was adding to. When I was really young, he would get up before dawn every morning with a pot of coffee and just write. Dream. Ponder. We had this wooden cube that he built that housed the notebooks until they were overflowing and needed a new home. As an adult, this practice resonates with me. I still keep hordes of notebooks. I still have a notebook nearby any time that I am reading something new or catch a hunch while watching TV, or in a conversation. In many ways, these have become my version of the “commonplace” books. Steven Johnson calls out an important feature of the Commonplace books of the 18th century, they were intended to be gone back through so that circling ideas might find a landing place.

As it turns out, I’m a technology geek. I had no idea how much I enjoyed technology and what it makes available until I spent the summer learning about it, used it with students, and blogged about it. It was a few months into my blogging adventure that I began to realize the point of blogging: audience. Prior to this, I was really just blogging for myself, so that I would have a way to search back through my ruminations about different sites.

That I could connect to others and share ideas with a wider audience? Nothing short of magic!

This connection with others and audience gave me additional purpose in my writing and led to sharing what worked (and what didn’t) with students. It caused me to grow as both a writer and an educator. I had to evaluate tools with a keener eye. I had to consider a lot of different students. I was laying a fund of knowledge that was reaching farther than my spiral notebooks. I felt a different responsibility.

It strikes me that Twitter, blogs, Instagram, and Google Plus have become our Commonplace books. The place where we share quotes and work to remember. That is certainly what iLearnTechnology became for me. This leaves me wondering, how often do we go back and re-read our own online work? How often do we use it as a place to reflect and allow for hunches to collide? This is common practice for me when I write in notebooks, I often go back to reread. I rarely go back and read through my Tweets, occasionally I’ll reread a blog post I wrote (usually when I’m looking for something specific.) I wonder how many posts we’ve written where hunches are waiting to collide if we would only go back and remind ourselves? I also wonder, how our online Commonplace books have allowed us to connect those hunches with a much larger audience? Amplifying and connecting ideas in ways that have never before been possible? I know that it was hunches colliding in personal and online space that led to the Learning Genome Project, and the same for starting a school. Without the collision of both worlds, I would likely be in a very different space.

I love that feeling of coming home. It is like this incredible soul sigh that just feels right. I feel it every time I walk into my house. It’s the lingering scent of my husbands cologne, the afternoon light pouring through the windows into the dining room, the celebration my dogs throw that I came back to them. In many ways, my scribbled notebooks give me this same soul sigh. They are a place where I record life. Where I remember things that are important and meaningful to me. They are the place where hunches are born. Digital space allows for this as well. My blogs feel like a place I can record and share life with friends. I use online social networking tools for different purposes. My blogs have become public Commonplace notebooks where I hope to allow the collision of ideas. Twitter is a place where I record quotes, top-of-the-mind thoughts, readings that resonate with me. Twitter is also the place where ideas get challenged and refined. Instagram is the place where my visual life lives. This is where I marvel over the every day amazing in nature and where I connect with others who love the in-between moments of life. The art. The fashion. The food. Nature. Family. Facebook is the place I connect with family and close friends. The place where I am often frustrated. The place where I am brought to tears. The place where I laugh.

It strikes me that so often we dictate the tools that students use to collect and share hunches. I try to imagine what that would be like for me. I wonder if the vulnerability and usefulness would be the same if the tools I used were dictated. While there is generosity in sharing the tools, and exposing kids to new things, I wonder how many “hunches colliding” moments never happen because they are forced to use a tool that doesn’t feel like home? What if instead of dictating what a student used as a Commonplace book, we gave options and let them find the place that felt like home? For some this might be a place where they can tell story and remember through images, for others it might be a blogging platform. Some might find 140 characters to be just enough. Some may not be ready for global vulnerability and the spiral notebook is enough.

“Lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”