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Why Not take a risk?

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We can not expect teachers to take a risk and try something new if we ourselves are not willing to try something new.

I held a PD session for K-12 teachers after school today. It was one of 5 technology sessions we offered to teachers in what is known as TECH Wednesdays. Basically one Wednesday a month is set aside for tech PD. Today’s sessions included:

Blogging: (Brought 15 more teachers online)

Netvibes: Learn about Ginger and the new Universe function (Netvibes is the dominate RSS reader at our school)

Photoshop: Basic photo munipulation (resize, crop, rotate, etc)

Beginner Basics: For those who need just basic computer help at a beginner level

Why Not?: My session which focused on the question Why (BYOL=Bring Your Own Laptop session).

Not only did I want to try and help teachers understand why we need to be using technology to teach but I also wanted to demonstarte how one of these tools could be used in a classroom setting.

If I was asking my teachers to take a risk in their own classroom, then I felt I needed to show that I too was willing to take a risk with my presentation and push myself to try something new. So, I set up a chat room using chatzy.com. As people filed into my session I had them open their laptops and helped them to log into the private chat room.

I was taking a risk on a couple of different levels.

  1. I had never used chatzy.com before and was praying that it was stable enough and easy enough for teachers to be able to figure out with little instruction.
  2. I was worried that our wireless access point would not deal with more than 20 laptops in the room. So earilier in the day I asked the IT department to install two other access points…praying we could make it work.
  3. We are in China…and there is always the “China Factor” that you need to worry about.
  4. Would the teachers take the chat room seriously or would it, like it could with students if not structured correctly, become a place to play rather than to think deep?

And of course…just in case something failed I brought chocolate! Teachers, after a long day of teaching, will forgive you when you fail if you have chocolate….I always have chocolate. πŸ™‚

I began the session by explaining that I was taking a risk, and quickly explained what a back channel conversation was and how it could be a very powerful learning tool in a classroom. I of course, couldn’t watch the chat on my computer as it was playing videos and held my notes for the session (I did however have two spys in the audience that I had asked ahead of time to try and focus the conversation if it did get off task…teachers are the worst students πŸ˜‰ )

So I began where you usually begin when you are talking about change…the beginning. I started with the constructivist theory of learning seeing that all of us in the room went through teacher school learning this theory. It’s not a bad theory and one that I do believe in. The problem is it was created in 1967 and things have changed since then. It’s a good theory that needs a couple updates. In comes the connectivism theory. A theory that looks at the connected nature of information today and the role networks play in the learning process.

So we have a theory that states: individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences.

and a theory that states: Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.

So together we get:

A theory that states: Individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. Experiences that occur within nebulous environments of shifting core elements.

We’ll call it the Constructive Connective Mashup Theory of Knowledge Acquisition for now. πŸ™‚

We talked about the two theories for awhile and how in a world where information is chaotic connected and complex that we need to find ways to make that relevent to our students and engage them in creating new meaning from what they themselves have experienced.

We then went on to talk about how Bloom’s Taxonomy of High Order Thinking Skills has been revisited based on research that learning is an active state. Therefore, Bloom’s Taxonomy needed to be updated to reflect this by using verbs.

external image Bloom_1.jpg

Again, remember as I’m explaining all of this the room of about 15 teachers are chatting in the private chat room and I don’t have any idea of what they are saying. It’s an interesting moment when you look up to get an audiences reaction to something you just said to find that not one person is looking at you, but instead staring at their laptops. I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing…but it is different and it is something that as presenters and as teachers we need to get use to if we want our audience to engage in reall meaningful conversations (again creating meaning from personal experience).

After I had my 15 minute talk. I opened it up for discussion on what teachers were thinking and any thoughts they had on using the chat room. We had a quick discussion about the theories and the taxonomy but not one comment about the chat room. I started wondering if it was just to much for the teachers. Did they not get it? Should I have explained it more? To late now…..

I then showed two videos and asked that they just reflect on their message and use the chat room to learn and think from each other.

We watched

Pay Attention


Do Schools Kill Creativity?

I had more to share and planned on bringing it back to some of the things that teachers are doing already in our school but we ran out of time. We finished with a discussion about the two videos and again I asked about their experience with the chat…and again no response. The nice thing about chatzy is that it archives the chat so I sat down tonight and went back through to see what the conversation was about. Here are some of my favorite thoughts from the chat.

how do we set up the chatzy?

As long as you structure your lessons to make the use of the technology tool it will work

The diversity of opinions is key… especially with our population. So many of our students still want to be told what to think.

The Web = Chaos – we have to make sense

Why aren’t we all aware of a new Blooms? Should we be sharing it? Who decides

perhaps it’s also – can we ourselves create new knowledge? how can you teach creation without experiencing it yourself?

cell phones give our kids confidence, (
My 6 yr old) had access to one the other day to play by herself and she utilized it like a pro

Go to http://www.ceap.wcu.edu/Houghton/learner/Think94/NCmarzanoThink.html for a link to Marzano’s New Blooms

i love that comment about the students only asking a question every 10 hours, the tech they can access is so much more immediate and real to them than that

DEAR is spent reading blogs in my class, twice a week

I can’t believe that even 39% think school will matter later in life

IPod + podcast = anytime learning… I need to put that in my elective description.

creativity requires thinking

risk taking

success in NCLB is not on how well teach the test but on how well we teach kids to think…personal experience has taught me that the best teachers teach kids to learn not a content

And to create an environment of risk-taking the teacher cannot serve as the know it all… they serve as the facilitator of the creativity!!!

absolutely – facilitating activities, providing models to tweak etc

The HS digital media club impresses me and is almost all student driven beyond what we have ‘schooled’ them in. Students drive the creativity though like jim says the test driven format of HS limits us and them.

We can all end up at the same point it is how we get there that makes the difference

I think that young child stop taking risks and stop being creative when they stop playing or when we organize their play too much

I think there is far too little time for PE for our elementary kids – they need to run and play more often!

one of the best experiences I had was when I had a classroom without desks and every lesson we used the outdoors to learn things. the kids were engaged and interested and thinking. I didn’t have paper assessemnts I watched the students and assessed them. basicly the students played at tasks while I watched and then we talked about their learning. And this was with grade 7’s and 8’s. I would love to have a classroom like this again

The chat: can be used in so many ways

Now I don’t know how they actually felt about using the chat as a back channel as none of them spoke up to tell me. But I learned a lot by going back and reading the chat and there is a part of me that wishes I could have been a part of it. Note to self…next time bring two laptops. One for the preso and one to chat. πŸ™‚

[tags]21st Century Learning, connectivism, presentation[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Sounds like a great session. It sounds like a good way to channel side conversations into something productive.

    And thanks for link to the chatroom. I was hosting one on my own site but it wasn’t quite working.

  2. I think your session was a huge success and I think schools should be doing more things like that. There are many teachers who want to learn but need the encourage and support of others. You made this possible by offering this session.

  3. Sherry Hegstrom Reply


    Thanks for sharing, what an great session you provided for your teachers and I think they got a lot out of it, I know I did in reading your blog. I particularly enjoyed watching “Do schools Kill Creativity” by Sir Robinson. What a wonderful speaker, and funny to boot. His clip should be viewed by all educators. It really ties into parts of the connectivism theory. The world is changing faster everyday and we have no idea what is coming down the road. We need to prepare our students for a quick, ever changing world spurred by technology. In killing creativity, we are killing there ability to make their own connections and to truly synthesis information.

  4. Great post! Thanks for sharing your risk taking (glad it all worked out). I have a presentation at the end of April and chatzy sounds like a great tool–I’ll remember to bring 2 laptops πŸ™‚

  5. The thing is that your brain can’t pay adequate attention to both the speaker and what is being read.[the keyword being “adequate”] This bothered me last night in trying to listen to something on UStream. I wasn’t getting as much as I could have from the actual chat itself because of the conversation going on in the back channel. [and it was hard to keep up with that – even to respond to a question being asked directly of me] So what skill do we expect to develop with this medium? Do we want our kids to process the information coming from the speaker or what’s coming from the chat? I’m not sure that we can effectively do both. Can we really process information while it’s coming to us or do we need to having some “thinking time?”

  6. Pingback: It Is What It Is : Chatzy and the Thinking Stick

  7. I love posts that really provide an insight into the “hows” of what others are trying. I’m curious, how long was your session with the teachers?

  8. Jeff,
    Love how you ran your PD session.

    On another note, I wonder if we can change your opening sentence to this:

    We can not expect STUDENTS to take a risk and try something new if we ourselves are not willing to try something new.

    and look at learning from our students perspective. They observe everything we do, and our actions speak volumes. (I know this is a different blog post but that opening resonated with me.)

  9. A couple of thoughts:

    Diane: Do I want students to pay adequate attention to both the presentation and the chat? Not really…I want them to pay attention to where they’re going to learn most. Some teachers only wrote two or three things in the chat room and found focusing on their attention on the presentation was the best way to learn. Others found the conversation in the chat room more stimulating and allowed their attention to go there. Was learning happening in both places? Yes…it’s being able to give up the control and know that they are not going to be adequate attention that is the tough part.

    I had the same experience with Ustream. Sometimes I listen, sometimes I only chat and tune in and out of the stream. My attention is were learning is happening for me in that space and time.

    Ann: Session ran just about an hour. The two videos and me chatting for about 15 minutes. We paused twice for discussions in there as well.

    Karen: Agree and in this situation. I was the teacher and my teachers were my students. So you’re correct in that’s pretty much what I meant. πŸ™‚ As teachers we have to be willing to take risks and we have to be willing to fail.

    We talk about wanting students to take risks and teaching them that it’s OK if you fail, you tried you learned something, now move on. But do we model that in our classrooms. How many teachers have a lesson that goes really bad (we’ve all had them) and stood up in front of their class and said, “Look, I tried something new and it bombed…that was a horrible lesson…of well we’ll try it again tomorrow.”

    How powerful would that be in the classroom? Would that model for our students that it’s OK to fail and try again?

  10. I don’t know Jeff. I have a hard time with the concept you’re stating in your last comment especially when I read David Warlick’s account of a workshop he participated in with Pat Wolfe. Jane Pollock’s work with curriculum and instruction would also back up Pat Wolfe’s presentation as would Eric Jensen and many others.

  11. Great post. I have been learning so much from reading the blogs of experts like you. Thank you so much for some very good information. I can truly see how your ‘taking a chance’ was indeed a success for the different types of learners that were present in your session. Thanks again.

  12. How did you know? I would be one of those teachers in the room. I am trying to take a few more risks in advancing my professionalism. Reading your blog introduced me to the connectivism theory. Thank you. Finally, a theory I fit into. I’m feeling a bit more connected already.

  13. Hi Jeff

    As for the revisited Bloom taxonomy, is the upper levels miss the synthesis level because the latter is included in the upper level-creating?

  14. Nicholas Michalek Reply


    Congratulations for attempting to broaden the horizons of educators. A lot of teachers do not realize the power of these new technologies and with more and more of them popping up everyday, they are getting more and more user friendly. I completely agree with you that if you are going to ask others to take a risk then you have to lead by example. I was wondering since some time has passed since your post, how have things been working in your Tech Wednesday’s? Also, I assume that all of you use Power Point for presentations. Have you ever thought of really exploring that program. Power Point has some really amazing features on it especially with the new Microsoft Office 2007 version. If you are really familiar with the program, see what your colleagues experiences are because their may be features they don’t even know about.


    Nicholas Michalek

  15. Great post! I really enjoyed reading about how you set the example and took a risk to show others how to take risks in their own classrooms. I think technology in the classroom is huge! It’s such a big part of our world and we need to stay current with it. I’m glad this session was a success for you.

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