I feel it is vital that we each continue to discover the power behind flexibility and changing routines. Simultaneously, that we strengthen healthy habits, adapt but also develop trust throughout periods of uncertainty, and also tap into our personal creativity as we learn new skills. Quarantine forced its hand in this process and I am thankful.
“I was able to go paddleboarding for the first time this spring. I bought a new inflatable paddleboard and went out with a friend – it was a beautiful day and the new paddleboard works great. I’ve been outdoors a lot this spring – going for long runs, walks and bike rides, and now paddle boarding. I’ve lost about 20 pounds and have been really getting fit. It’s been a welcome change, and a good by-product of the confinement and working from home.”
- Long daily walks
- Personal workouts (One of My Favorites)
- Yoga (Thanks Adriene)
- More frequent bike rides out into the outskirts of Bangkok
- Podcasts (One of my favorites)
- Twitter more active (@mpiercy35)
- Digital portfolio / Blogging~teaching reflections
- Time just being with our cats!
- Daily coffee and enjoying the morning birdsong
- Making teacher YouTubes and screencast tutorials
- Vegetarian lifestyle (going on completion of the 5th month!)
- The Last Dance
- Got to Call Saul
- House of Flowers
- Dead to Me
- Sick Note
- Tiger King
- How to Get Away With Murder
- Love Sick
What might we expect for the 2020-21 school year? With the endless possibilities, stringent measures, and unavoidable conservative changes being considered, one word encapsulates what I am feeling. An omnipotent word that wakes me up at night and during the daylight hours, blinds my mind’s eye. Lilluput. A fictional island of Gulliver’s Travels, Johnathan Swift’s timeless satirical classic. Lilliputians, symbolic of the excessive hubris we humans often exhibit. A pride that in effect shrinks our very existence. Where structure and bureaucracy become too thick to even wade through. Impossible 10-point plans schools hurriedly are designing, so learning can be brought from on-line to in-person once again.
This was the culmination of our unit titled, “Connections: Past and Present.” The title, “Back to the Future” sought to encourage students to meet the two objectives:
- Identify what changed and why
- Identify how the object might change in the future
All in all, I was extremely pleased with how students performed and the entire project was completed during virtual learning (COVID-19). We, as a team, already are very aware of how limiting our standards-based approach can be. This being said, it was especially rewarding to observe how dedicated students were at each step of the process. Chris’s video above is but one representation of this. He demonstrates a high-degree of professionalism in presenting and the virtual model he created clearly exhibits pride. Though creativity is on the rubric (see below), it is not something we assess (yet!). Rather it is a school attribute and we are beginning to consider how we might more routinely web school attributes into our project work.
Back to the Future: Summative Project
Understands that studying the past helps us understand how the world has changed and how it might change in the future
(Future Product & Flipgrid Presentation)
|I can identify how my object changed through time and how it might change in the future at a limited level.||I can partially identify how my object changed through time and how it might change in the future.||I can proficiently identify how my object changed through time and how it might change in the future.||I can identify how my object changed through time and how it might change in the future at a sophisticated level.|
Develops new and imaginative ideas that have impact
(Future Product &
|I explore new ideas and use limited imagination
in my future product and Flipgrid presentation.
|I explore new ideas and use some imagination
in my future product and Flipgrid presentation.
|I explore new ideas and use my imagination
in my future product and Flipgrid presentation.
|I explore new ideas and use huge amounts imagination
in my future product and Flipgrid presentation.
Invitation to Parents:
Dear Mr Piercy,Yesterday we watched a few videos and we were impressed with the ability of the students to deliver a presentation. It was also a moment to reward __________ and to discuss his work and _________’s one (both chose the glasses) to look for improvements that he could have done. It was a really nice, positive and constructive discussion.Kind regards,Daniela
I am thinking today on life experience and my good fortune of navigating through cultural differences. Travel has at times provided glimpses of this but actually setting down roots for a year or more at a time, has made a more indelible mark upon my identity. The choice for a more divergent path in life, leading to a welcoming of “the different.” But also, a deep seated curiosity, sustained by a high degree of comfort in being an outsider looking in.
My Life in Table Contents Form:
I. USA / Kansas ~Childhood and Adolescence
II. USA (Kansas, Washington, Oregon, Colorado) ~ University
III. Australia ~ Study abroad
IV. Ecuador ~ First international teaching post
V. Mexico / Central America ~ GAP year for travel and self-discovery
V. Hungary ~ Second international teaching post
VI. USA (Georgia) ~ Rural teaching
VII. USA (Hawaii) ~ 10 years teaching at international boarding school
VIII. Tunisia ~ Third international teaching post
IX. Thailand ~ Fourth international teaching post
Borrowed from: Erin Meyer, “The Culture Map.” Culture Matters
Reflecting on the contents of my life’s “table,” I actually am surprised when I consider how nearly half of my life has been out of the United States (excluding the Aloha state). Moreover, all but 5 years have been in the classroom! Yet, the transition this past year to Thailand provided possibly the starkest example of how cultural patterns can be dissimilar. A comparison of Tunisia to Thailand might be like comparing a wolverine to a platypus. In direct opposition really, or perfect juxtaposition. In figure 7.3 above, Tunisia would undoubtably be in quadrant A, no stranger to confrontation and extremely emotionally expressive. The waving of hands, face to face shouting matches a way of life. People of the same gender routinely greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and a big hug. Fender benders result in belligerent posturing.
Whereas, Thailand unquestionably is positioned in quadrant D. The Thai culture notorious for being gracious, accommodating, and calm at all costs. Strict social norms and identifying with group-orientation, Thais avoid confrontation. Further, similar to the Japanese but maybe not to the same degree, Thai people are more likely to be emotionally unexpressive. Or, if anything, quick to smile even though this may not accurately reflect one’s thoughts and feelings. If anything, it’s likely the emotions and disagreement are further clouded by the utterance of “mai chai,” which translates as “not yes.”
The contrast in life here in Asia versus North Africa was anticipated, yet continues to be a facet I curiously pursue.
3 Virtual Learning Take-Aways:
- It takes time to develop a classroom culture. Moving into the 9th week, the learning curve has been a little steep but I have come to realize that one of the roles I do not need to fulfill is that of “cheerleader.” It’s counterproductive and actually a lie to act as if everything is “normal.” Beginning Zoom sessions with a rah, rah, rah…”Good morning everyone!” has taken a backseat to a more invitational approach. “I’m unmuting your microphones so you can all say ‘hello’ to each other.”
- Be okay with breakout rooms sometimes resembling a space for students to watch paint dry on a wall. Sometimes they will be flat, especially if time isn’t taken to carefully craft the right “mix” of students in a breakout room.
- Come to peace with an unfamiliar quiet. Maybe even appreciate how this hiatus provides students with an opportunity to improve listening skills.
2 Big Questions
- How do ethnic and home cultures of a student impact what they “bring to the table” in a virtual setting?
- What creative strategies might I be able to employ in effort to better “read the air.”
- I’m absorbed in Erin Meyer’s, “The Culture Map.” What really grabbed my attention early in the book is the difference between low and high context cultures.
“Low-Context: Good communication is precise, simple, and clear. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition is appreciated if it helps clarify the communication.
High-Context: Good communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Messages are both spoken and read between the lines. Messages are often implied but not plainly expressed.”
Meyer’s continues by sharing how different countries fit on this sort of low/high context continuum. An island nation, such as Japan, more likely to be insular and steeped in thousands of years of shared culture. Furthermore, its homogeneity also adding to a greater degree of nuance and layering of language. How very different than the United States, the country I call home.
This has me reflecting on the nature of communication in our classrooms, especially if this is a skill we assess. Additionally, in our current Zoom classrooms, there are countless factors to consider that may be effecting, shaping, bending, and possibly blasting the classroom cultures we attempt to create. Who would have thought about the role of distracting avatars and virtual backgrounds, or the need to mute student microphones because of the clanging of dish washing as life goes on in the houses of our students?
In a recent blog post by James Birchenough titled, Leading through the fog, we are reminded of the essential roles of kindness and empathy. Being a leader of any organization during the trying months of COVID-19 presents challenges that no GPS could guide us through. A seemingly shifting terrain with ever-changing weather patterns.
“Whichever camp we sit in, we need to be kind to each other, try to empathise and understand each other’s perspectives, and give each other a little extra grace: we’re all doing the best we can.” (Birchenough)
So, in the forefront of my thoughts is this, yet occupying seemingly larger recesses of my mind, is the question many are considering; begging for time to answer. “What will school look like post pandemic?” I consider myself humble, yet there is ONE thing I do definitely know. With all the speculation and ambivalence that everything will go back to normal, or a “new normal,” I flat out disagree. There is no going back! If nothing else, students, teachers, and families have all eaten from the “apple” that fell from the tree. Call it the Tree of Knowledge or better yet, the Corona Tree. In this case knowledge gained from direct experience.
Why an Apple?
Bing Crosby sang about apples in his 1939 hit, “An Apple for a Teacher.” And before this, popular lore dates back to the 1700s where in Sweden and Denmark, baskets of apples were given to teachers as a sort of payment for a child’s education. Then there are stories connecting apple giving to teachers as a result of a popular phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Gifting a teacher with a healthy snack was a token of appreciation and a possible way to get on the teacher’s good side. Is it ironic if we further consider that this same fruit is the name of one of the world’ largest computer companies? Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. is quoted as saying the origins of the company’s name were, “Partly because I like apples a lot and partially because Apple is ahead of Atari in the phone book and I used to work at Atari.”
Post WWI and WWII
No one would be so naive as to claim that life post either of the World Wars, just went back to normal. Facts and stories about this have compiled volumes. Lives the world over, cultures forever changed. The effects being almost written in the human DNA. For simplicity sake, take the role of technology pre and post WWI as but one example of change. “France only had 140 aircraft when war began, but by the end of it, it had used around 4,500” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/45966335). But what about the role of women, medical innovations, and political borders?
The effects of the wars were gruesome and violent yet, inherent in survival was change. A moving forward and not expecting life to be how it was. Positively, there was a surge in arts and a sort of counter-revolution. The arts a means for memorializing the dead. Sculpture, painting, song, and memoire but a few examples. It is possible today’s war with Corona is stimulating a similar shift. Sidewalk art, along with rainbows and teddy bears in windows are glimpses of both solidarity and artistry. Yet, what I imagine is more pervasive in its invisibility but also ubiquity. The whole world over, the pandemic has forced our hand to adapt. And humans are masters of adapting.
Whether we like virtual learning or not, and regardless of our deeming it a success or not, both may as well be mute points. For the reality is, the wheels on the bus continue to go round and round. The pandemic has forced our hand. Virtual learning it is! Many critics point to the ever-widening achievement gap and expanding inequities. I would agree. Yet, looking at where we are and where we want to be, seems to be the gravest consideration. To do this, it would behoove us to answer the question, “What is the purpose of school?”
The deep-seated roots of and role of tradition, combined with “this is the way it’s always been” practices of the institution, are collapsing. At least during the reign of Corona. Steeped in nearly 400 years of structure, compliance has overshadowed our school houses. Virtual learning has not provided for this control. There no longer is a “front” of the classroom, though a teacher may still be able to “mute” a student. The lecture approach neither captivating nor effective. For many, virtual learning is an experience of less than 8 weeks. We cannot forget how in the scope of education as we know it, this is but a blip in time. Yet, one that continues to leave an indelible mark.
I just hope we open our arms and hearts wide to the possibility of what school can be. For me, this means continuing to expand in kindness, empathy, and creativity.
~Coronavirus, both disruptor and catalyst for change in education
Spring 2020 is an unprecedented time. More than a billion students worldwide are learning in unfamiliar ways. We are at a crossroads. Where virtual learning is redefining what is “real.” It is the road less traveled. Families and teachers alike must take it. For many it is uncomfortable. Yet as Robert Frost surmised, this “road” will make all the difference.
Virtual learning is a grand opportunity, an adventure of sorts. One that cannot be painted with a single brush. Though some may be crusaders; either remiss, disapproving, or outright rejecting alternative approaches to education, the fact remains, the status-quo is not an option. Meaning, the situation worldwide is one in which the traditional learning within the confines of brick and mortar school houses, is not even lawful. So, this “battle” mentality will not serve students because this is not a war. Further, it is wholly myopic to abridge the current Coronavirus crisis and the challenges it presents to education. Whatever the case, future focused education is now pushed into the crosshairs. 21st century skills, learning, literacy, and life skills, no longer a postscript.
Silver Linings Abound
Though some educators may try to put new wine in old bottles, this quickly grows tiresome. Holding fast to a model of learning contingent on information, and simply attempting to replicate the physical experience by bringing it all online, is daunting but also nearly impossible. Recording lecture videos, digitizing assignments and entire curriculums is but one futile step along the “road”. This is because what beckons is a more human approach, couched in creativity and collaboration. Where we can streamline feedback but also design a type of learning where students feel a more invitational approach. A venue for personal learning.
Standing for a few minutes in a Starbucks and listening as customers put in drink orders, attests to novelty but also personalization. “Grande, quad, nonfact, one pump, no whip, mocha.” Followed by, “Venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, light ice, no whip.” There are few repeats. Next, consider the impact of Netflix. Video streaming allows us to watch whatever, whenever, and wherever. This begs the question, might education begin to follow a similar path to personalization? With the demands of high-stakes testing in a seeming state of decay, the time for personalized learning has never appeared riper. Further, might the current COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on outdated models of teaching and learning, be the straw that broke the camel’s back? The impetus for a change long overdue? A paradigm shift in education.
How We Might Move Forward?
Clearly, of primary concern during this strain, is students feeling cared for and understood. A central tenet of teachers’ motivation to educate is to develop relationships with students. It is critical to harken back to this motivation as Teaching Tolerance elaborated in a March 23, 2020 article titled, “A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus”.
As educators and families move past the panic, a new more optimistic mindset must be in motion. COVID-19 is forcing us to think differently about all segments of the way we work, but hopefully also about how students might be able to learn. Where experiences are created that motivate but also empower students. Invitational approaches as opposed to mere mechanisms of compliance. Where context presides over content. And where learning is more guided and supported, than directed or controlled. Digital platforms such as Zoom allow for connection and collaboration. According to Samantha Murphy Kelly of CNN Business, “On Monday March 23, Zoom was downloaded 2.13 million times worldwide, up from 2.04 million the day before.” With virtual learning on such platforms, the valuable skill of collaboration is not only possible but necessary to utilize.
As hierarchies continually dissolve in our flattening world and systems, Zoom breakouts are but one example, where a teacher is able to pop between student discussions, yet trust is necessary. Trust that learners will stay focused because they can, but also because they care. In a traditional physical classroom, a teacher may have comfortably sat in error atop an omniscient high horse, eavesdropping and feeling like they could see and hear all that transpired within the four walls of their classroom. Containment provides a sense of control. Now, the walls are removed. The Zoom lesson may be expected to be recorded and some parents even watching. So, vulnerability and trust are vital.
From Consumers to Creators
The current pandemic situation is an opportunity for educators to determine how students might learn differently. Where they might be provided with greater autonomy, and opportunities to develop their strengths while pursuing their passions. The Information Age, caused by the advent of the world wide web has not entirely passed us by. Only now, we find ourselves swimming in what is being called, the Experience Age. There is no denying that COVID-19 has us fully immersed in this “experience”. It only seems sensible that education mirrors the times. The factory model of education is six feet under.
Virtual learning presents an opportunity for students to experience; to be more engaged in meaningful processes. In turn, processes which result in products designed with purpose and audience in mind. Part of the Experience Age and project-based learning, is the prevalence of the “gig” economy and freelancing. According to Fast Company and Jessica Klein, a freelance journalist herself, “35% of the U.S. workforce is now freelancing—10 million more than 5 years ago.” Students are not “moving into” a world commanding them to know how to be creative and autonomous. They already are living in this world!
Just found out about this amazing man, Paul Salopek, and his “Out of Eden” walk around the world. He thinks the coronavirus may change our values to slow down and savour life. https://t.co/uoQWust8n9
— Elizabeth Woodworth (@Abettervision) April 6, 2020
Amidst the pandemic, teachers have some decisions to make. After defining how they can best meet the needs of students, they must determine what is the essential learning. Simplicity is a lesson already learned by early adopters of virtual learning. Further, the design for essential curriculum requires close consideration of what will be sustainable over the long haul. Whatever districts, schools, and departments decide, flexibility and navigating ambiguity are essential. As is, the critical need to be poised, patient, and observant. Slowing down in this already ramped up world might be one gift of quarantines and lock-downs. National Geographic explorer, Paul Salopek, is seven years into his walk across the planet, a “road less travelled” as he steps 21,000 miles. Traveling at such a slow pace allows him to get to know people and then tell stories imbued with hope, resilience, and connection.
COVID-19 has forced us in many ways to slow down. This slowing down paramount. Barren city streets, shuttered businesses, and social distancing has definitely illustrated strangeness. Finding calm amidst the pandemic storm often feels illusory. The chaos, fear, and panic pervasive. “Keeping Quiet” (partially excerpted here), a poem by Neruda, reminds us of the value of stillness and silence, but also the reassuring fact that we are in this together.
For once on the face of the Earth
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness