Zones of My Proximal Development

PROLOGUE

How do I self-motivate when the going gets rough, tough, boring or other? Someone asked me that the other day. Here’s my take.

Photograph of a tilted water tower

AND THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET IS..

Reflection. I hold myself up to my existential bathroom mirror and take a long look. What does it feel like my eyes do when seeing something new?

Zones_of_my_proximal_development.jpg

  • Eyes rolled up 
    • I’m in my “Oh no!” zone. I don’t feel safe enough to start learning right away.
  • Eyes level
    • I’m in the “Let’s do it!” zone. What are we doing just standing around? Let’s have at it!
  • Eyes down (frozen on the spider/alligator/puppy-poop at my feet)
    • I’m in the dreaded “What the..?” zone. I’m having a problem fitting what I have to do with what I know has worked or not worked in the past (sometimes going back decades).
THE NEXT MOAN YOU HERE
 
The hard part, once I’ve reflected and figured out which zone I’m in, is not zoning out. That is, how do I overcome the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) Factor and apply some grit and adopt a growth mindset approach and get on with learning? It’s easy to fall into the woe is me trap. Speaking from experience, it can be a lot harder to level oneself and just do it.
 
What I do is remind myself that I’m [most likely] not alone. (It’s a little like the OODA Loop I learned and practiced in the US Navy a long time ago.) I have support and help available. All I have to do is ask for it. Sometimes it may not feel like it. Depending on how peers and managers respond can kick one back a few steps. I’ve occasionally asked myself if it’s really worth it to keep trying?
 
EMPATHIC (ME)
 
A while ago, I think it was towards the end of 2013, I stumbled upon a different way to do Professional Development (PD). What I tripped over in my dark was EdCampWestTexas, now in its third year. Basically it was K-12 teachers coming together on a wet and rainy Saturday morning in Abilene, Texas. In a few short hours I was exposed to new ways of knowing. While most of what I left with was skewed towards educational technology, the main takeaway, the jewel, was Design Thinking (DT). DT is a problem solving methodology grounded in empathy, reframing problems, and prototyping.
 
It makes me a little sad, when I reflect on my past years practicing the art and science of instructional design, how technical I was. I should have empathized with the people I supported more. During my first-pass at design thinking, at a law enforcement training academy, I began the analysis phase of instructional design with a soft-question: What did it feel like doing/learning this thing? It made for a more human/humane approach I think. It had some serious benefits, too. The rest of the process took less time. The team was more involved than ever before. A complaint I often hear from other instructional designers is how hard it can be for people to keep meeting and deliverable commitments. Once I adopted a design thinking approach that reluctance to contribute gave way to some serious collaboration. 
 
If the empathy, caring, is there then so am I. If it’s not, it’s time to ask “Am I in the right place?” Maybe it’s time to move on?
 
EPILOGUE
 
I’ve been trying to learn something new for a few months now. I don’t want to get too deep into the details here. I’ve been in the “What the..?” zone for a while. I think I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel though. I’ve sought some serious help from some smart, dedicated and caring people. The hardest part has been learning by making mistakes. I still make some significant ones. Not giving up, continuing to pick myself up and owning the mistake, communicating clearly to clients and peers has made all the difference. 
 
How do I motivate myself to learn new stuff? Design thinking.

 

Unrequieted Love

INTRO

My Bebop2 drone by Parrot met its end a couple of Sunday's ago when it decided to “fly away” into a pecan grove somewhere between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.

Artist sketch of a red Bebop 2 drone crashing into a pecan grove

A LOVE AFFAIR

I loved that drone. It was the replacement for the fifth one I bought. I got each one at Best Buy because of their liberal return policy. The drone is a dream to fly. It gives my view a little more reach.

OUTRO

I love it so much I got another one. I can't wait to fly again.

 

Size is anything

PROLOGUE

I got a drone the other day.

SIZE ISN'T EVERYTHING — IT'S ANYTHING

Coming back from an EdCamp Sunday I stopped to fly my BeBop 2 drone. I'd had it aloft a few times already. But those were in my backyard to get familiar with its controls. The spot I picked to see what the drone could do was about an hour west of Phoenix, Arizona far from any airports. It was nestled among two hills that would probably keep larger aircraft away.

I flew the drone up and down this way and that for a while. It was fun let me tell you. After a while I remembered the Bebop 2 is good for about 25 minutes flying time before the battery is completely drained.

That's when I noticed the tower.

Photo of a water tank

I flew the drone towards it. Not being sure how far from my iPad (an app on it lets me drive the drone) the control signal was good for I moved briskly with it. I decided to try a flyby.

Anyway, now it's a couple of days later and I've just read a blog about PLN (Personal Learning Network) size shared on Twitter by @elearning.

Screen capture of a tweet leading to blog post

Its author, @Tracy_Parish, wrote about these rings of PLN scope.

Sketch of concentric circles

Here's the thing, when I engage with my PLN it's usually in one or two ways: conversations on Twitter or long drives to gatherings. Most of the gatherings are with people outside the instructional design discipline.

EPILOGUE

So why did I get the drone? Officially it's for an RFP response. Unofficially it's because in the past year I've seen some members of my PLN light up about drones. The first time was during CUERockStar Vegas when teachers got on the floor on their bellies to see a drone in action. The second time was at a San Diego CUE event where someone I know through Twitter won one.

As my drone flew around the tower at an altitude of about 15 metres I stopped worrying about how far the control signal reached. I was deep into the WOW zone wondering where the drone might take me.

So how big is my PLN? A few at a time.

 

Hours of Code

INTRO

I've been hearing lots and lots about Hour of Code during PD and Twitter chats. So the other day I got an app and started playing.

PLAYING WITH PUZZLES

I asked a teacher the other day how I might start my granddaughter Carly on learning to program. She said puzzles. Get her puzzles and puzzles and puzzles. So I thought, maybe I should do puzzles first and see what it's like. So I did.

Screen capture of a Lightbot screen

This puzzle took me hours over several days to solve. Solving the puzzles leading up to this one I hadn't yet figured out how a kid would learn programming fundamentals beyond memorizing terms.

At the end of this one, 4-6 on the Lightbot iOS app it hit me: patterns, patience and practice. Check out this video showing how it works. Notice how the bot appears to go back on itself? Early on I would stop it, thinking that it was bad. I didn't let it finish. I learned to quiet my mind and let the iteration run to its end. Another thing I learned is that there may be more than one correct puzzle solution. I have to talk with others about this to make sure.

OUTRO

Anyway, the idea that me, an instructional designer would be playing with programming puzzles seems, on its face, weird. But the thing is, it's fun solving puzzles. Fun made the learning experience very engaging. I can definitely use that in my craft.

 

 

 

EDU Rocks

INTRO

What happens when we're not expecting or ready to learn and we witness something amazing, do we learn anyway? Or put another way: If a father is helping his eldest daughter haul a mattress across town and he hears something amazing during a podcast but there is no one around to test him on it has he really learned?

EDU

Some time ago a peer I respect greatly explained how education and training are two different things. Education, as I understood him to say, is foundational systematic learning involving a teacher. Training, on the other hand, is teaching skills or behaviors to someone.

Then and now I'm not so sure education and training are all that different. Both involve a teacher. What does foundational mean anyway? When we learn don't we build on what we know already? One more question to mull over.

ROCKS

Anyway, I get to go to CUERockstar Vegas in 10 more days. I have been anticipating this since CUE15 last March. I feel like a 30 year old again as I pour (drool?) over everything I can find about it.

Today's CUERockstar Aha! moment came to me thanks to @adnanedtech and his The Convergence of Education Productivity & Technology podcast, episode 19. He interviewed CUERockstar's papa, @jcorippo. Several things said brought me up short. I had to stop what I was doing and give a serious listen to him explain:

  • ROCKS is a web domain available for registration
  • Educational research is six years behind what teachers are practicing today
  • How @davidtedu's ideas expressed in his blog make him cry

I have been a little worried the past couple years when I try something I learned alongside teachers at an EdCamp or CUE conference or Twitter chat. Some ideas have worked straight out of the box. Others didn't go over do well at first. I haven't failed outright (given up) just yet though. Maybe it's grit or something else but I love learning about and trying ways to improve my instructional design craft.

Sketch of a researcher six months behind teachers teaching

Hearing researchers were years behind how teachers practice teaching today made me smile. Hearing that someone else gets emotional while learning from others made my face break out in a wide grin.

OUTRO

I think CUERockstar is a learning experience like no other. I am looking forward to all the goofs I'm going to make on the way to mastery. I can't wait!

Oh yeah, one more thing. I registered urbie.rocks. It'll go live August 5th at CUERockstar Vegas.

** I saw Paper Towns yesterday. I like how Margo Roth Spiegelman explained capital letters in the middle of words.

 

Heroes Journey

INTRO

During an EdChat the other day I learned about The Hero's Journey as a learning metaphor and process.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO MLEARNCON

CUE cap on my head and suitcase in hand Monday afternoon I opened the front door of my home. I was eagerly anticipating my road trip to Austin, Texas for the eLearning Guild's mLearnCon (mobile learning) conference.

I was surprised to find Mrs on the other side of the door about to use her key to unlock it. She was coming home from a job interview. Long story short we had agreed she'd stay home with our granddaughter whilst I went to the conference. She asked if she and the baby could come. Saying no to Mrs is hard to do 24 years into our marriage. Off she went to pack.

AUSTIN

Some months ago I was encouraged by @lnddave tweet asking for proposals to present at a mobile learning conference hosted by the eLearning Guild. This was my Call to Adventure. Two of my proposals were accepted. More on these a little later.

Getting to the venue in time for the mLearn conference, from June 10 to 12 came with challenges. Through a lottery I got a chance to go to EdCampUSA in Washington, DC in late May. It was great learning and growing and connecting with other educators. Mrs and I spent the next day together playing tourist taking in the many historical sites the capitol region has to offer. This ate up our vacation budget for the year.

I tend to go cheap to the PD events I participate in. I usually drive a long distance in my 11 year old Honda Pilot, now pushing 380,000 miles. On really long trips, over 500 miles, I sometimes camp out under the stars. With Mrs and Carly, our 21 month old granddaughter, along for the ride the trip to Austin was shaping up to be a grand quest.

THRESHOLD

Carly is a wonderful kid. She is very good at playing the toddler role. At times a joy to be around she would occasionally have issues. If you're closely associated with small children you know what I mean. She learns quickly, mostly through trial and error. She is fearless. She usually overcomes challenges. Sometimes she's distracted by a shiny object but even that's okay as it's another learning opportunity.

REVELATION

My first mLearnCon AHA! moment happened far from Austin. Carly is the poster child for mobile learning.

Photo of my 21 month old granddaughter painting

At 21 months of age telling Carly what life is about doesn't have much impact. There's too much cool stuff for her to experience.

ABYSS

So we make it to Austin late on the 9th. Unfamiliar with the area we get lost for a while before finding our motel. Once in the room we notice Carly looking flushed. She has a fever. Thankfully a Walgreens was across the road from us. A few hours later her temperature falls and so we sleep.

Only we wake up too late to catch the mLearnCon keynote and opening excitement. A big reason I had for going was networking. I had hoped to grow my PLN (Personal Learning Network).

TRANSFORMATION

No worries. Mrs and Carly Uber to The Thinkery, Austin's children's museum. I uber to the conference venue. I catch a session on interface design. It's 2:30 pm on Wednesday June 10 and my session on teaching strategies I learned through a year of EdCamp is up. My Google slides for the session are here. I tried a presentation strategy I learned at #CUE15: setting permissions so anyone could edit my presentation and providing the url to the file on Google drive. I got done with my presentation about 20 minutes early, hoping to start a conversation about stuff that participants had added. Only no one had. I have to rethink this. At CUE15 participants had added dozens of slides. I can feel a transformation coming. I'm going to participate in CUERockstar in Las Vegas in August. I have questions to ask and ideas to try out. Something is definitely up.

ATONEMENT

Thursday I gave a talk on appsmashing. You can access my presentation file here. I think we connected, the participants and I, during my talk. A highlight was when I demoed Paper and Plotagon. These are my fav apps. Paper is amazing for sketching. It's the virtual napkin where many of my ideas are born and fleshed out. Plotagon is a different tool. In a nutshell it creates 3D clips working from text you enter. You pick scenes and characters and Plotagon does the heavy lifting. In minutes you have a working, moving, and talking prototype of a script.

I've been an instructional designer for over 16 years. I think I've gotten better in my practice over the years. Sharing what I learn from teachers and others in K-12 does me good. I hope I'm helping others along their journey, too.

OUTRO

I had this idea the other day. What if I packaged snippets of what I learn and practice into little snippets of know-how and put them out there? Call it a six minute EdCamp. The conversations I have with teachers is the fuel. I'm evaluating some apps to make it happen. The best part: The Heroes Journey begins anew. By the way, I say heroes in the plural because it's about us learning together. Smashing is not just for apps. It can be about people smashing ideas, too.

 

 

 

 

Lucky Break

PROLOGUE

I caught a lucky break the other day. A nasty bug sent me to hospital for a few days of rest, recuperation, and reflection.

LUCKY

It's been like a prolonged visit to the movies, sneaking from one theater to the next to watch them all for the price of one.

Photo of a movie theatre refreshment counter

I got to watch some old movies on Netflix and catch up on some reading. Or I would have read some books on cognition and learning except that they suddenly seemed painful to read. I realized that laid up as I was I needed to read something fun rather than a title to increase my professional knowledge.

BREAK

The book that found me was Andre Norton's Time Traders. It was really hard to put down. It wasn't just the story, it was how it made me feel.

Ages ago, whilst serving with the U.S. Navy I read voraciously, mostly sci-fi and fantasy adventure titles. I loved how authors like Anthony, Asimov, McCaffrey, Asprin and many others spun tales that took me to all sorts of places where my imagination could take flight.

Something happened about 20 years ago, a little after I became a parent and had to settle down. I read for my kids but less and less for myself. A little later when I switched careers from electronics engineering to learning and development I began reading technical tomes about cognition, psychology and the textbooks that go with a masters degree in education. Interesting stuff but nothing in the same league as Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.

EPILOGUE

Andre Norton's Time Traders made me realize something profound. At least profound to me. When I travel to EdCamps for professional development I sometimes feel like an outsider. While I am an educator I serve adult learners. The teachers, librarians, administrators, and support staff that make up EdCamp's intended population work with children in K-12. My outsider feeling changed reading Time Traders. Norton describes traders as people who move about from place to place sharing information. They look and act a little differently because they are different. I don't have to worry about where I fit in. I just do.