steven johnson

Do you want to form an alliance with me?

In March of 2010, I wrote a blog post that ended up connecting me and amplifying good in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, the title of that post: Do you want-to form an alliance-with me? (Best when spoken like Dwight’s character in the TV show the Office…American version).

https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/embed/10a0aa37-f334-436c-9e70-eaec5c97266e?autoplay=false  Anyway, it was this blog post that originally showed me the power of connection. This bloggers alliance introduced me to some of my very best education friends around the world. The alliance is the reason I fell in love with inquiry, the reason that I was able to see education from new vantage points. It made 2010 an exceptional year of growth and learning. Today, I invite you to start a new alliance with me, allow me to explain below (Originally posted on KT’s Blog):

 

SMLXL

It was 2010, when I first saw “Where Good Ideas Come From” by Steven Johnson on YouTube. Soon after, I’d read his book by the same title. For me, this video will always be titled “When Hunches Collide,” because it is this idea that has so resonated with me. It was this moment of pivot when I recognized the power of collective intelligence. In school we learn about a lot of incredible characters in history. Inventors, explorers, accidental geniuses. All of their stories are told as if they are in a vacuum. They seem super human, like they possess something spectacular, and rare. With this video was the recognition that nothing happens in isolation, rather, it is when ideas have the opportunity to collide with other ideas that big things happen. Innovation isn’t about solo genius, it’s about collective genius.
I saw this first hand following this blog post “When Hunches Collide.” Inviting others to dream with me, voicing the impossible suddenly made it possible. Collisions started happening regularly and suddenly it felt like everything was connecting. Starting a school wasn’t something that I thought I would do. I didn’t have the resources, the experience, the courage. But when you put your ideas out there, when you invite the collision of ideas, things suddenly feel more doable. A tribe rallies, makes you believe in impossible things. A year after writing this post about hunches colliding, I was months into running a school that I founded. I was seeing my dream realized. I was seeing that innovation is actually collective problem solving with those in my tribe adding their unique experience and point of view. Injecting honesty into my dreaming.
In the day-to-day of running a school, things become much more practical, much more one-foot-in-front-of-another. I find myself doing the things that must be done and my dreaming becomes much more localized. In the summer months, I have a different cadence to my days. My to-do list is as long as ever, but the different pace gives me the room to let my mind wander, read the book that I’ve been inching through at a better pace. Each year, I start a new notebook. A “common place” book where I write down quotes I come across that I want to remember, take notes on the books I am reading, and let my mind wander. These notebooks are always at the ready. As I was writing some quotes and thoughts in this year’s notebook, it struck me that I don’t often go back through the notebooks and re-read my thoughts. I guess I just like knowing they are there if I need them. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading through my notebooks from the last 6 years (back to the start of Anastasis). All of those things that inspired me along the way were once again packing a powerful punch. How could I have captured all of this and not gone back to remember?!
It was through this process that the idea for KT’s Place was born. I needed to unleash some of these ideas, give them space where the hunches that I was having could collide. I wanted a place where I could extend the invitation to solve problems together. A place where your gifts, and talents, and worldview could collide with mine and others. A place where I remember that I shouldn’t expect to do any of this in a vacuum. Know that this is a place of willful naivete. This is a place where I am choosing to close my eyes to the thought that these dreams are impossible. I’m impatient to see dreams realized (mine and yours!). When we work together, possibility exists that did not exist before. That is powerful!
I believe that:
  • We are better/stronger/braver together than apart.
  • We all have unique gifts, experiences, and worldview that offer important perspective and nuance when they come together.
  • We can work together to spread and amplify good.
  • People who know who they are and living ‘in flow’ are the happiest and most fulfilled in life.
  • Sharing > Hoarding/Hiding
  • We should have a bias toward action.
  • My skills are limited.
  • More beauty and good should exist in our world.
  • We are better served sharing ideas than protecting them.

 

There is nothing really special about KT’s Place, I’m just setting the stage where we can unleash our collective genius around common problems. So, there you go. That is what this site is all about, sharing crazy ideas and giving them a public place where they can collide with your genius. I’ll start blogging here about each of the projects listed, give you the back story to the idea, the inspiration that is spurring me on along the way. Each will come with an invitation for you, what do you have to contribute? Who might you know that I should know? You certainly don’t have to wait for these posts to add your 2cents, this is a place where you can contribute ALL the time!
Additionally, if KT’s Place, or one of my hunches has inspired something you are working on, or you have a totally new hunch of your own that you would like to open to collisions, let me know and I’ll share it on the “Fellow Dreamers” page.
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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.”

When hunches collide

Lately I have had the overwhelming feeling that education is on the brink of something big.  Something that will so dramatically change the way that we think about school and learning that we may hardly recognize it as being such.  I feel like I am on the brink of something big within my own thinking, but it is like I can’t quite grasp it.  It is elusive like the word that is just on the tip of your tongue.  More accurately it is that my mind is racing with so much that I want to explore, but I don’t have time to slow down and think deeply about it because I feel like the run away trail of thoughts is leading to something important.  As I read through my Twitter stream and Google Reader I realize that I must not be the only one to feel this way.  I can’t be the only one with sticky notes all over the house, and scribbles on the back of receipts, and notes on my iPhone, tweets to myself, voice recordings in various apps.  Yesterday, I ran across this video that is an illustration of a TED talk by Steven Johnson called Where Good Ideas Come From.  In it, Johnson talks about how good ideas come in the collision between smaller hunches so that they form something bigger than themselves.  You have to create a way for those hunches to come together to form a breakthrough that is bigger than the sum of their parts.  I’ll let you watch the video (about 4 min. long) and then give you my thoughts.

As it applies to me:  This was really encouraging, I’m not the only one who thinks this way, who has a lot of hunches but can’t quite string them together into something coherent…at least not yet.  But, I am connected.  I am constantly letting my hunches collide with other hunches through collaboration on Twitter, blogs, and face to face conversations.  I’ll follow this line of thinking a little later in this post.

As it applies to students: Are we allowing students time to have good ideas?  Are they even provided time in the school day when they can even begin to have the smaller hunches?  If they are given that time, do we ever allow them to collaborate and let those hunches collide?  Is it possible that children could solve the world’s problems if we gave them time to develop their hunches and collaborate to the point of breakthrough?  As I think about great inventors and thinkers, it strikes me that the invention often happened in spite of their schooling (and often outside of it) instead of as part of their schooling.  This video reinforces the idea many companies are beginning to use of the 80-20 rule where employees are given 20% of their work time to sit and work on what they want.  Often what ends up happening is that the hunches begin to collide and breakthroughs in thinking occurs.  Google does this and has been wildly successful.  What if students were provided the same opportunities?  What might that look like?

Here are some things that have been percolating in my mind for the past week.  I have been meaning to write about each one separately but hesitated because I couldn’t pull the full vision together yet.  But I don’t have to be the one with all of the answers, I can offer my hunches, see what hunches you have in return and wait for the collisions and breakthroughs.

1.  The problem with curriculum and textbooks is that they complete thoughts.  Curriculum and textbooks give the impression that learning has an end.  That when you have made it from cover to cover the job is done.  I know in my own schooling this was true, I thought that school was teaching me what was important and that anything outside of the curriculum wasn’t important or relevant to my life…wouldn’t they have included it otherwise?  How did curriculum get this way?  Well, people realized that there was no possible way to cover every facet of learning, so they stripped it down to what they thought was important.  The problem? What is important to you may not be what is important to me.  What’s more, something that is very important to me may have been cut all together so I don’t even get the chance to know that it is important to me.  Humans tend to like things that are definable, we like things that we can put into a neat, orderly box and carry out in a predictable way.  It feels safe and manageable.  This is what led me to the following hunch:

What if curriculum was more flexible?  What if curriculum/schools/learning looked more like Pandora.  If you aren’t familiar with Pandora, it is an online radio station that plays the music that it thinks you will like.  You type in an artist or song and it creates a customized radio station just for you.  It is remarkably accurate.  Pandora almost never gets it wrong for me.  It is like they have a direct line to my brain and can predict what song I would like to hear next.  When it is wrong, I can give the song a thumbs down and it apologizes profusely for the error and promises never to play that song again on my station.  The other thing I love about Pandora: I can have multiple radio stations.  Because sometimes I really couldn’t think of anything in the world better than Frank, Dean, and Sammy; but other times  I also want a little Timberlake, Whitestripes, or Bangles.  What if curriculum looked like that?  What if learning happened as a result of typing in one subject or topic that a student was enamored with and a completely personalize learning journey began playing out for them?  What if students were led through a journey that was completely customized?  What if they had several stations mapped out for them?

It has always bothered me that I only had access to the teachers I had access to.  Let me explain that a little: I had some really incredible teachers growing up; my first, third, and fifth grade teachers were beyond exceptional.  I think about them often and model my own teaching on what they did.  I had an incredible creative writing teacher in high school.  I had an Algebra teacher who made me believe that I was a gifted math student.  I also had years with so-so teachers, teachers who didn’t really inspire the best in me.  That is not to say that another student didn’t connect with them and remember them years later.  It always bothered me that I didn’t get to pick ANY teacher in the world to be my teacher.  I knew that there were amazing teachers out there, why didn’t I get to learn from them?  Would my education have been different if I was matched up with the very best teachers in the world?  Would I be a different person if EVERY teacher I had inspired me the way that the 5 had?  Maybe what I needed was a mix of educational e-Harmony and Pandora.  A way to be matched up with the very best teachers for me alongside a curriculum path mapped out based on my passions.  That isn’t to say that I would ONLY be learning what I felt like learning, but if Pandora can get my song preferences right, and introduce me to some I didn’t know I liked, why couldn’t a curriculum do the same?  I’m not quite sure how that all plays out which is why it is hunch #1.

2.  What if every single school was built like an athletic team?  A dream team of passionate educators.  What if schools were marketed according to the dream teams and students could attend with the team that made the most sense for them?  Athletic teams are hand selected to meet certain needs, every football team needs someone who can throw well, someone who can run well, someone who can block, a strategist.  Schools are no different, they need teachers with different strengths and abilities to make up the dream team.  What if schools traded teachers every few years within the district, state, country, or world so that other students had access to those dream team teachers?  Forget about bad teachers, if schools were built this way only the best would be hired.  Maybe if we had dream team schools, teachers would begin to be viewed by the public as the professionals they are.  Schools would be known by the incredible professionals that make them up.  When the community starts viewing teachers as professionals, the pay scale should begin to shift to reflect that.  Dream teams would show the community and students that education is valued and important.  What message are kids getting now?  At this very moment a documentary and numerous media events are painting the problem with education as being directly in connection with “bad teachers”.  As a student, do you think education is valuable if you are being told that your teachers are bad?  Of course not!  We need parents to stand up and shout for their team (school) to tell the world that their teachers on their dream team are the best in the world.  How do we make that happen?  Again, I’m not quite sure…which is why it is hunch #2.

3. Most local businesses and larger corporations like to have their employees involved in some type of community service.  My husband’s company is involved in several community service ventures but they are more involved with the Boy Scouts of America.  They donate money, celebrate accomplishments, and show up at big events.  Since companies are already doing this (most half heartedly because they aren’t particularly passionate about it), why not use it to improve our schools?  What if the hours that companies committed were to schools?  Businesses could pledge time each year to be involved in the school.  Large companies could be involved throughout the year, smaller companies more sporadically.  Those within a company that naturally gravitate toward working with kids may be more involved.  Let’s get professionals in the schools showing kids where their learning is leading them.  Let’s give our students time to work along side a welder, carpenter, graphic artist, CEO, fireman, chef, restaurant owner, grocery store manager, etc., etc., etc.  Kids need to see what is possible and that learning is important.  Some don’t learn that until they are out of school.  How do we make the shift in the way companies think about serving in the community? Again, I don’t quite have it nailed down: hunch #3.

4.  The documentary Waiting for Superman has just come out in select theaters around the United States.  As a result people are talking about education as they never have before.  They are being critical of education and the school system (and they should be…it has been a long time coming).  There is a lot of talk about what is wrong and what isn’t working.  For the record, I think they are completely missing what is really wrong with education and focusing on the low hanging fruit (money, bad teachers).  Now that the focus is on education, why aren’t we standing up and doing something big?  Why are we letting Oprah and anchormen talk about education as if they know something about it?  What if each incredible educator in the nation put together a 60 second Superman/woman video?  60 second videos that show what is good in education, what is working, and offering ideas for change…solutions.   What if those videos went viral?  What if every teacher in every state wrote their local news stations and gave them access to the videos?  Would parents and community members start to get a more realistic picture of what is happening in education?  I’m ready to make this one more than a hunch!

5. Yesterday I was catching up on some Twitter conversation, I had just missed #cpchat where administrators get together for a live Elluminate session and talk education, leadership, and learning.  I saw a comment from @Cybraryman1 to @gcouros saying: “Wish we could start The Twitter Academy with all the great teachers and supervisors here. It would be a phenomenal school.”  I plunked myself right into the middle of this conversation and responded: “why can’t we start Twitter Academy? Let’s stop wishing and do it!”  What resulted was immediate excitement from several educators chiming in and calling dibs on their part in Twitter Academy.  I made up a hash tag #twitacad and before I knew it, a logo had been created by @mrsenorhill.  

Now, I’m not sure about everyone else, but I was serious when I asked why not?  I was serious when I said let’s stop talking and do it already.  The only people getting in our way is us.  Why a Twitter Academy?  Well see #1 paragraph 3 and you will have my answer, then take a look at #2.  A dream team.  Why not?  This is still hunch #5 because I’m not really sure how to make this a reality.  Could the dream team be virtual?  Could the dream team help to make #1 a reality?  Ideally Twitter Academy would be an actual location…but since I haven’t yet convinced you all to move to beautiful Colorado, I’m not sure that it is realistic.  But, what nuggets could we take of this idea (and those hunches above) to collide and create a breakthrough here?  I don’t think it is impossible, we just haven’t come up with the exact framework yet.  Those of you who attended the Reform Symposium, may have caught Monika Hardy and her students presenting on TSD innovation Lab.  They are on to something here and I think that this is the beginning steps of what Twitter Academy could look like.

Alright, now it is your turn, what hunches do you have?  What ideas can we bring together and make breakthroughs with?  How can we take steps to radically rethink education and then take action-today?  Who wants to be involved in Twitter Academy and what ideas do you have that will make it a reality?  Maybe it is arrogance or ego on my part, but I feel like I have been dropped into this point in history with connections with all of you for a reason.  I refuse to believe it is just so that we can talk education.

I believe it will be us.

We will be the individuals whose ideas collide together and transform education.