Teaching (and Learning) Like A Pirate

Intro: Reflections

It’s been a year since I attended #EdCampWestTexas, my first ever EdCamp, in Abilene, Texas. It’s a different sort of professional development (PD) for learning and development (L&D) types like me. Hosted by K-12 educators for educators they’re free unconferences held at school facilities. Though they tend not to have agendas they do have a common framework. It goes something like this:

  1. People meetup at 8:30 am for saying hi to old friends and making new ones (networking).
  2. Around 9 am attendees are asked to write on sticky-notes things they want to learn at EdCamp and things they can share (ideation).
  3. A half hour or so later the camp’s hosts arrange the notes by subject and quantity. They ask for volunteers to facilitate the most popular topics. This is the cool part: facilitating. The best stuff I’ve learned at EdCamps has come from people who are new to the topic (anti curse of knowledge).
  4. At 10 am people go to the location of the session they’re most interested in. They’re encouraged to vote with their feet and try another session. I’ve done this twice. Sessions usually go 50 minutes.
  5. Towards the end of the EdCamp there’s usually an app smashing event. Participants are asked to give a shoutout to sponsors. There is usually a giveaway (uber fun).


The best part about EdCamp is meeting new people. Each new friend I make brings a fresh perspective on something that interests me a great deal: helping others learn. Sometimes I learn something new in the moment; like how learners need to feel they matter. Other stuff takes time: for reflection, soaking in, whatever that thing between “Oh?” and “Aha!” is called.


I can’t think of any. Even after participating in a dozen EdCamps I can think of only one suggestion for improvement. Chairs. EdCamps are sometimes held in elementary schools. It’s been ages since I was able to fit in a second grader’s desk.


If I had to pick one thing I learned this past year that stands out against everything else it has to be #tlap. It’s a Twitter chat held Monday nights at 6 pm PT (sort of sure). It’s the Teach Like A Pirate professional learning community (PLC) that was founded (I believe) by teacher and author Dave Burgess. During #tlap chats people talk about ideas for whatever the topic of the week happens to be. I have really changed my practice during this past year thanks to #tlap.

Outro: Plans

I’m facilitating a session on what I learned over a year of low or no cost PD (#LowNoCostPD) at the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn Conference and Expo. It’s my first conference event. I’ll let you know how it goes.



For some odd reason I'm up earlier than a body has a right to be on a Sunday morning. True to form, whatever the hour, muscle memory and habit kicks in and so my day begins. Over breakfast this tweet catches my eye.

Screen capture of eye catching tweet

I read the Compassion Based Learning blog post, but not in its entirety. I learned from my coworker @masantosiii the other day that our attention spans, for a variety of reasons, are getting shorter. Jumping to the hot parts of the blog post (yellow highlighted text, bold faced font, red shaded text) I probably came away with a skewed view of what its author intended. Apologies if I got it wrong.

I blog, but infrequently. I'm okay with this as I'm driven by some need to be understood when something I hear or see resonates. The significant learning events I've had over the past year have mostly come from personal face-to-face contact with others. This has been my year of #LowNoCost professional development (PD) where I travel, sometimes quite a long way, by slow (car) means.

It started last August. In a funk about feelings I'd been having on missing something, I dunno what exactly: fun, cool, whatever. But I felt something was missing that had the potential to leave a smoking gaping hole in my PD if I failed to heed the call. A tweet I saw said something about an #EdCampWestTexas (I know. Seems like every one of my blog posts this year has been about the EdCamp experience. Just go with it.). So I went. I got there late: forgot about a time zone going from Roswell, NM to Abilene, TX.

New stuff came to me in a rush of sights, sounds. The things that lasted were from these two people I met: @ChristyCate and @Sciology. It'd take a much longer post (you probably wouldn't read all of it anyway) to describe how profound it was for me. But through these two educators I learned, in the mythic-fable-like way of things that lead you to hold a thought near and dear about Teaching Like a Pirate, Genius Hour, Flipping, #EduAllStars and so much more.

So yes, by all means blog. Optimize your search engine keywords and whatnot. But at the end of the day (end of the week actually as most EdCamps are on Saturdays) reach out and meet others who share your interests. The best part from all the takeaways are applying what I learn from my K-12 PLN to the instructional design (serving a mostly adult t-pop).

Takeaway: get out from behind that screen and share and learn with others.



Teach Like a Pirate for (supposedly) Grown-Ups

Turns out they're right, sort of. Who's right? Moms and researchers who say successful multitasking is a myth. Last night I tuned-in to two social media enabled professional development (PD) experiences. The first was the wildly popular #TLAP (Teach Like A Pirate) tweetchat; the other: an exciting 40 minutes of #EDUALLSTARS video blog.

Person multitasking with too many balls in the air


Here it is the next day and I have barely a wisps of memory of what both were about. But oh what wisps they are. My take-away from the #TLAP is that #EDCAMP, since August 2013 my preferred PD modality, is like #TLAP for (ostensibly) grown-ups. Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, argues that there are three things teachers need to really engage their learners: content knowledge, mastery of teaching strategies and presence (presentation style). Last night's #TLAP chat was mostly about schools holding teach like a pirate events over an entire class or school. Being that I support adult learners I couldn't really contribute directly to the chat. So I focused on the video blog. #EDUALLSTARS' format includes Todd Nesloney and Chris Kesler interviewing school administatior Benjamin Gilpin. During the interview Gilpin said something that resonated bigtime with me: the importance of being authentic; of making mistakes and owning up to that; of acknowledging, in a positive way, everyone you meet. This stuff really grabbed me.

The #EDCAMPS that I've been to, nine so far, are populated by real people: educators of all stripes coming together to share. It takes the newbie only a few moments to realize that learning starts by sharing: asking questions and listening. Share what you know: There are probably others nearby that want to learn what you know and vice-versa. Which brings me back to #TLAP's main premise: presentation and passion. You have to care enough about what interests you to be able to grab and keep the attention of others. Learner engagement is what you get when you share what you love.

Educators sharing what they know

Today I shared my passion for educational technology by making a small spreadsheet that lets my team track a project we're working on. They're excited to want to learn more. This is a good thing because being the new person on the team I depend on them to share their know-how. Mutual sharing enables increased trust which encourages more sharing: a virtuous cycle if there ever was one.


I think grown ups, unlike first graders, fear mistakes. Maybe there's something to that fear. But if you keep playing it safe, not taking chances and trying new things and sharing what happens where do you end up?

Be a pirate! Be passionate about what you do. Acknowledge the positive in those around you. Share. Learn.



Tonight's #Lrnchat topic was staying ahead of the curve. This is a subject near and dear to my heart.

Image of hashtag lrnchat stating tonight's tweet chat topic is staying ahead of the curve

My belief is that if you're ahead of the curve you're in a no man's land of the unknown. It's also where the excitement is. Paul Shoemaker, author of Brilliant Mistakes, observes that making mistakes is an essential step towards success. What matters is for us to make the right mistakes.

For example, a pet project of mine involves developing a training program for learning Spanish. I'm asking lots of questions of language arts and Spanish teachers. I'm keenly interested in how teachers use content, learning strategies and presentation. How will I test what I come up with? By developing lesson plans and uploading them to Teachers Pay Teachers and then seeing what kind of response they get. One way or another I'm bound to learn something that will lead me to a better result.

So get out there in front of the curve where the fun is. Ideate. Design. Develop. Test. Thoughts?



Wiggle Room


I'm hitting a major milestone in a couple years. Over my life I've learned a lot and have forgotten tons. It hit me this morning how much I don't know that's right in front of me. A little earlier today I was browsing #dtlearning on Twitter. Its tweets came from participants of an #ASTD2014 conference on pDesign Thinking workshop. One tweet had a photo of several people writing on sticky notes and then posting them on a wall; the tweet said they were ideating, taking in all sorts of ideas while neglecting none. The first thing that popped into my head was “Wow! It's just like what we do at #edcamp.”


The first 30 minutes to an hour of an EdCamp involve networkng, moving about a space making connections, learning about others' passions and challenges whilst sharing your own. The thing is, butts-in-seats doesn't figure into the process. You have to, more or less, wiggle your way into conversations to meet, greet and learn.

Learning Spaces

In the courses I design or more often (lately) the many projects I manage I'm mindful of how people learn. Lessons, online or face-to-face, have to be engaging, brief and (ideally) have learners moving around and doing stuff. In the #dtlearning photo people are doing just that: moving around doing stuff. They're not sitting down passively or taking notes. Learning requires exposure to something new, practice and feedback from a knowledgeable source before anything like mastery can be attained. Learning in a space filled with other motivated learners provides the perspective of many minds. All this happening in real-time, over a short time, builds excitement.. which helps the new skill drive deeper into learners' minds.


Sometimes I like to think of the things I know as existing in a room. It's a useful analogy. Some things, old memories of my grandmothers house, the doilies she painstakingly starched and pressed for example, are off to one side: seldom recalled but something I know is near and I can draw comfort from. Other stuff, the day-to-day of family, chores and books I'm reading are nearer to windows: I can look in as needed; I can open a window and grab something or say something easily. The heavy stuff are near the doors to my things-I-know room. I see myself walking into my things-I-know room, walking along heavily tracked paths and drawing from skills and know-how on demand. It's easy to get in a rut though, walking familiar paths, reaching for the easy to get to solutions.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking for me means integrating empathy into the ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate) instructional design model/process or the other models I use like ARCS. Too often we analyze needs in terms of tasks and outcomes become abstract numbers that are easy to count. That we, training and educational professionals, serve humans is too often easy to forget. Reading the ASTD2014 backchannel, the learning space where physical attendees tweet their observations and perspectives, helps connect us all in a very human way. Mostly strangers to each other on Twitter, sometimes though not often ever meeting, we pick and choose what interests us. It's design thinking in action.


Being older now I spend more time reflecting on my life. Some things, like making connections with what I already know to what I need to know, come slow. I am happy to be a design thinker. EdCamps have really made that possible. It's amazing when I take a quiet moment to think about what just happened, what I just learned. Was it really something new? Or was it something outside myself that nudged me a step off a well-worn path into an insight I hadn't known existed?



Down-Time PD


Here's two cliches you may be familiar with:

  • The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
  • The spirit is willing but the body is not.

I had hoped to travel the 300 miles from Phoenix, Arizona (home) to Palm Springs, California to catch the Saturday session of CUE14. I was home instead of in Roswell, New Mexico (much nearer to where I work than Phoenix) getting ready for my move to Southern California in two weeks.


Waking up at 2:00 a.m. Saturday (it's a four hour drive to Palm Springs) I gave the CUE14 Saturday schedule a last look. Two things immediately occurred to me:

  1. I had to pay $170 admission.
  2. The list of events I was interested in were the same ones I've been learning about at the #EdCamps I've been going to.

So I thought, “Why go then, if I can get the learning for free?” I still intended to go, because getting input from diverse sources is a good thing. What kept me from leaving for Palm Springs was #satchat, a Saturday early morning gathering of (seriously motivated) educators on Twitter.

I was immediately immersed in the conversation, which had to do with digital tools in the classroom. That's my interest, my reason for being in education: applying technology.


I was hooked alright. For the next hour I read, reflected and responded. It's an odd thing that the highly rated high school my kids go/went to doesn't really use #EdTech, so far as I know. I asked my youngest daughter, 17 year old junior, if she had lessons or assignments using digital tools. Her reply: “We use Word to write reports.” wasn't satisfying to me. A couple of years ago, during curriculum night, I was dismayed to hear her science teacher brag about the black box in his lab coat pocket that disabled cell phones. My last tweet said I'd call the school to learn more.

The question I'll ask the administrators and teachers is “How vital are digital tools like devices and software to the learning experience?” The problem is that today, Monday, is my last day home before going back to Roswell. Today is also the last day of Spring Break so I'll have to go with the phone and email to reach out.


I like asking questions in person, face-to-face with the person with the answers. Email is too simple for me, too plain. I usually stuff emails with chatter to make me feel the information exchange is more human. A phone call is better, because the sighs and pauses umhs and ahs convey non-verbal information that sometimes says more than words. But missing are all the other non-verbal indicators of connection, of understanding. But, given my work situation, far from home, what else is there?

Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, that's what. These and other digital tools enable real-time I see you you see me conversation. Only I don't know that the school supports it. I have had the hardware and software necessary to do so on my iOS device for years. Does my kid's school? Another question to ask.

All this went through my mind while I should have been fathering my digital gear and heading out the door to CUE14. So no, I didn't make it.


I blog infrequently. This post and the last one were made possibly be by #MadWriting, a Twitter phenomenon I recently became aware of. Really smart people (scientists I follow turned me on to it) I'll probably never meet, though I'd love to, silently urge me to write. I suppose they feel the same from me: write, write, write!

Which brings me back to the title of this piece: Down-Time PD (Professional Development). I learned something while I was doing something unrelated to learning. I was motivated to do something, to ask something of my kid's teachers. This is huge for me. Being a mostly remote father it helps me engage with my kid's life.

One more thing: two #EdCamps coming up March 29. I'll be in California the weekend after. It'll be my new home away from home while working with the Veterans' Health Administration. #EdCampTulsa, 550 miles from Roswell or #EdCampESC5, 750 miles away. That's how motivated I am to learn more about my craft, to mingle with other energized people and learn on a Saturday.

Here's to down-time learning!

Practical SoMe: #MadWriting, post-#EdCamp


What happens to learning that isn't used? A high point of my life-long learner odyssey has been my discovery of #EdCamp last fall. But, given that EdCamp attendees come mostly from K-12, there isn't much that I can actually use right out of the box. I have to reflect a lot on what I see and hear. Which brings me to what happened a little while ago.


When I opened Twitter just before lunch this morning I saw the #MadWriting hashtag. Some of the people I follow use the hashtag to encourage each other to write, intensely I think, for periods of time of varying lengths. The writing session I had seen was for 30 minutes. It got me to thinking.

I'm an episodic blogger at best. Aside from the writing I do for work (I'm an instructional designer) the only other writing I do regularly is tweet. I like participating in #lrnchat, #chat2lrn, #txed, #tlap and some other tweetchats in the education and training spaces.

Curious, I asked the MadWriters (who happen to be scientists) if I had to be a member of that population to participate. I was happy to learn that no, it wasn't limited to scientists: anyone could participate.

So thus encouraged I decided to give it a try.


In February I participated in three EdCamps:




As I mentioned earlier, I'm an instructional designer. I like to create engaging learning experiences for the learners I support. I'm always on the lookout for new things to try: learning strategies, activities, alternative assessments to name a few. Some of things I've learned at earlier EdCamp sessions include things like Genius Hour, Problem/Project-based learning (PBL), Flipping, Teaching Like A Pirate (TLAP), Gamification, and Design Thinking (DT).


The first time or two I learn about something, Genius Hour and Gamification for example, I pick up enough to know I'm interested in finding out more. This is like a college 100 series class: some general knowledge and a desire to find out more, or not. A few more EdCamps and it's like TLAP 300 or PBL 400. By this time I have a good idea what it is and am beginning to figure out how it can inform my work and how it might be applied.


Of course during each event I'm taking notes. I started out scribbling rapidly, desperate not to miss something. Only of course I did. Later I tried Sketchnoting with mixed results. Lately I'm having more success with doodling my notes and taking pictures. Lots of pictures that I upload to Flickr. I think the photos and doodles help the most because they connecting me in an analog sort of way to the experience and I can remember more.


So the MadWriting session began at 1:30 ET and here it is some 42 minutes later. It's helping. Even though I'm immersed in the writing of this blog post I'm conscious that there are others writing, too. So the motivation isn't coming from encouraging words heard or read. It's knowing there are others out there banging away at keys or scribbling or whatever.


There are pressures though. My lunchtime is just about over. So the post has to draw to a close. I suppose I could save this and continue later. Only that's where my problem was before: not writing. So I think I should close on that note. Maybe later, during other MadWriting I'll start out with an outline rather than, more a less, just do an information dump. With practice comes mastery, right?