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?





Reflections on #EdCampHome


I had the best of intentions when I got started blogging a few years ago: sharing experiences, encouraging dialog, learning from others. Where I've come up short is actually doing it regularly. The interest is definitely there. I have learning experiences: AHA! moments during quiet times focused on something else. Then there are the subtle nudgings and proddings of fresh ideas from out in the ether. Three such nudgings persuaded me to try and blog again.


I participated in #EdCampHome the Saturday just passed, January 4, 2014. It was my fourth #EdCamp. An #EdCamp is a gathering of people involved with or interested in education in the K-12 space. The first three I attended included #EdCampWT, #EdCampDallas and #EdCampATX; the '#' sign, by the way, is a Twitter hashtag you can search to learn more about that tag/topic. Anyway, #EdCampHome was different than the others. It was virtual. To me, this made all the difference.

In previous on-the-ground #EdCamps (Q: How do handle the same hashtag used more than once in a blog post? — seems like I'm using way too many #'s) it was harder to make individual connections with people given the need to dash from one session to the next. The virtual nature of #EdCampHome meant I could focus on finding then connecting with (usually via a Twitter or Google+ follow). I'm thinking next time I go to an #EdCamp I'll wear a tee or hat or something with my @urbie handle on it to make it easy for others to reach out and share with me.


The way an #EdCamp works, insofar as what gets presented, goes something like this:

  1. Write down in a central location (tyically sticky notes on a table or wall) topics they're interested in
  2. The organizers of the event figure out by some arcane arithmetic means which topics had the most interest. The most popular topics, thus identified, are laid out in a schedule and posted somewhere for people to choose which they will attend.
  3. Someone steps up (or is volunteered) to lead or present information on the topics.
  4. At the appointed hour everyone rushes about to find a spot in a session they're interested in.
  5. Information is presented (the best ones IMO are participatory — with the audience actually jumping in with comments and not just asking questions). If you don't find a session interesting you are encouraged to vote with your feet and go to another session.
  6. When a session ends there's a mad rush to the next session; except for a few laggards who hang back to talk with the presenter.
  7. Steps 5 and 6 are repeated until the clock runs out; there is a lunch break in there as well.
  8. The #EdCamp event concludes with a sort of mashup where (brave) people get up in front of everyone and present something they found cool. Some of the events had prizes they raffled off. This was how I learned what a Chromebook was (at #EdCampWT).

The sessions I was interested in included Show Your Work, Collaboration SI, and Student Ed Camp Model. I left Collaboration SI after a few minutes as it didn't seem like something I could put to use right away in my work. It was in this way that serendipity stepped in and led me to Concept and Practice of Rebellion. Getting up and leaving one session for another is something I hadn't done before. It's like a rule (for me anyway) it's impolite to get up and go once a session has started; this is at odds with how #EdCamp works, as people are encouraged to vote with their feet.


I joined Concept and Practice of Rebellion around the middle of the session. Almost immediately I chimed up that I had a problem with 'rebellion'. I thought 'critical thinking' was more appropriate. You can decide. The Google+ session was recorded and you can see it at

Even cooler: all the sessions were recorded and are available on youtube.


What got me into attending #EdCamp? Hunger basically. I am hungry to for personal and professional development (PD). The PD events I've attended in the past have been expensive. They also seemed to be focused more on tools than experiences real people have to learning. While the best included content on processes they were often too specific to be of much value. Worse was the level of audience participation: neat rows of quiet people. So one frustrated day in late August I found EdCamp.


I decided after #EdCampWT in Abilene, Texas to make Low/No-Cost PD my mantra for the coming year: PD on a shoestring. One challenge I had to overcome was that while my home is in central Arizona I work in south eastern New Mexico. As near as I can tell there aren't any #EdCamp events in NM. I was happy to learn there's TONS in Texas. So off I went, driving as much as 600 miles to attend #EdCampATX.

I also joined the Texas Computer Education Association. If I hadn't gone to #EdCampWT I'd have missed out on a golden opportunity for PD: webinars, learning about events in Texas much closer to my location, and being able to connect with even more people like me: educators deeply committed to learning.


Looking back at the last few months I think that, while I haven't presented at an #EdCamp yet, I have shared at least two things that I know: that the one or two teachers in my life that have profoundly impacted me did so (40 or more years ago) by teaching like a pirate (sidebar: you have to follow @burgessdave) and that people of a certain age/generation might be more receptive to 'critical thinking' rather than 'rebellion'


I like to think I'm a critical thinker. I enjoy getting under the surface, researching how others are finding new ways of knowing and new ways of doing. I suppose that rebellion is a better word choice than critical thinking in the context of PD. I have learned a lot more over the last two or three years from reading tweets and blogs and digging deeper than from going to venues for expensive events. Satureday's #EdCampHome experience really brought it, literally, home. Connecting with a few people and speaking up rocks.

As I started to write this post I had intended to follow @nancyrubin's blog process. Looking over this, the result of a weekend's reflection and an hour or two of intermittent typing, I think I need to keep working at it. It seems a jumble of loosely connected thoughts. Oh well. Maybe practice..



I’m a (nascent) practicing positive deviant..

The other day @janebozarth tweeted about a blog posting by John Stepper. John wrote about how trying to change the organization one works for will probably end in disappointment. I had got up to the part where he talks about persevering when I recalled some of the Positive Deviant (PD) tenets Jane had talked about in her Tips fo the Positive Deviant webinar, namely asking unscripted questions, not complaining, counting (anything) and writing.

So when my manager came up to me the other day with a list of archived webinars from the Training Magazine Network I couldn't help but become excited. He asked me go through the list (there seemed to be hundreds) and pick out a dozen webinars or so that I felt might help the training staff with their professional development.

I selected 17 webinars using the comments from Kirkpatrick Level 1 evaluations to suggest areas for improvement.
It doesn't end here of course. Since I started listening to podcasts from HBR, Stanford, TEDx and others I find on iTunes U I've started taking risks: coming up with ideas, writing, and so on. The other night on the way home from Roswell I learned whilst listening to an HBR Ideacast how REALLY effective brainstorming happens while you're alone. So I came up with an idea about how the curriculum where I work doesn't include anything on the organization's culture. When I mentioned it to my manager he seemed excited. Some time later he came back and said “Oh, about that idea: I told everyone at HQ about it. Have a paper on my desk by next Wednesday.”
So maybe I'm experiencing one of the periods of joy Stepper writes about in his post. I can't wait for the inevitable lows he says are coming. Innovation and creativity thrive, I've learned, during period of adversity.
Who knew?


Another IO experience: positive deviance revisited

A little while ago I read a story written by Brian Fanzo, Director of IO.OSĀ® Technology Training at IO. In the story he recalls how an experience in Iraq led him to a cool job. The story was a serendipitous read for me four a couple reasons

First, IO is an acronym for the Indian Ocean, which was where I was on a certain day in the Fall of 1978 when Fanzo and I, in a metaphysical sort of way, met. Fanzo, in his story, relates how an experience in Iraq with a CONEX (you'll have to read his story to find out what that is) led to a job some years later at IO. I had a similar experience with a Navy CONEX (milvan in Navy jargon). Mine was welded to the deck of the USS Elliott; I had my CONEX moment when I had to go out and do some repairs on one housing communications and intercept gear one afternoon while the ship was anchored in the lagoon at NavComSta (now NavSupFac) Diego Garcia.

Anyway.. fast forward to the present day. I'm the instructional designer at the Border Patrol's Basic Training Academy (BPA) at the Federal Law Enforcment Training Center (FLETC) in Artesia, NM. It's in my nature to be looking out for and trying new things. It's been surprising me of late how sometimes new is actually quite old. Case in point: Postive Deviance (PD). The way I understand it PD is when someone in a community, working within the same environments and using the same resources as other community members, is successful at something: everyone else, not so much. The community then seeks to identify the positive deviance from the norm and gets others to act this new way and so change thinking and behaviors. I thought PD was new. It turns out I was wrong.

I had my first PD encounter during my deployment to Diego Garcia. It was 1978 and we worked under primitive conditions. Support and resupply from the States, while reliable, often took a long time to arrive. We had to make do. For instance, shortly after my arrival one of the CT first class petty officers took me to where the freshest fresh water was: a 55 gallon drum lined with trash bags under a mesh screen fed by rain water hitting a corrugated aluminum panel. This Rube Goldberg-esque contraption had been there for some time and was ably maintained. It was also replicated by others throughout the island. When the 40,000 case shipment of Oly beer failed to arrive on schedule (it was bumped from the ship by a load of heavy equipment) someone in the community figured out how to make coconut (there were plenty to be had on our tropical island) wine. This was improvisation, making do with what one had. What kept this from being a true PD process was that it was unguided: they were kludges that just happened. Contrast this with my recent serendipitous PD experience.

At BPA the other day one of the senior staff sent me a message through my manager Riley. In it the staff member asked me to see what it would take to get webinars from the Training Magazine Network to play on our conference room PC. The message contained a list of several webinar topics; right there at the top was one by Jane Bozarth on Positive Deviance.

I think I'm a positive deviant. The literature suggests that most everyone considers themselves one. Anyway, if it turns out that I'm not a PD natural I'm happy to say that it can be learned.

We're beginning to use PD at the BPA. The first step in our process involves pulling together some of the course developer/instructors (CDIs) to watch Bozarth's PD webinar. Aftwards we'll debrief and come up with a plan to start asking unscripted questions, find things to count and share our findings with others.

I'll let you know how it turns out. I suspect it will be a long drawn out (fun) affair.

Once more into the #ds106 breech dear friends..

I've learned quite a lot about motivation and creativity whilst participating in Stanford's Venture-Lab #mooc this last year. I'm looking forward to continuing to be a member of the #ds106 community.


Once more into the #ds106 breech dear friends..

I've learned quite a lot about motivation and creativity whilst participating in Stanford's Venture-Lab #mooc this last year. I'm looking forward to continuing to be a member of the #ds106 community.