Category Archives: creativity

You Know Enough – Now Start

2015-06-14 13.25.53

Starting…..

It’s hard. It requires taking that first step. Of following it with another. Of having to get back up if you fall down. Learning to walk is tough but small children soon learn all the complex steps in taking one step, then another, then another… then they’re running.

Getting started on making change or reframing the work you do is the same way. It’s hard to get started. You cling to the furniture around you, balancing yourself, looking longingly at the open space in front of you yet not wanting to fall. Maybe just a bit more studying that space….

In a world filled with so much information, when will it be enough learning before it transfers into motion forward.  Maybe if I read more a few blogs or papers or books….. but there isn’t enough time to read it all but maybe just a few more…. the open space beckons you.

but it’s not just the information. It’s the fear. Fear of failure. Fear of going unnoticed. Fear that it won’t work out.

Fear… it holds us back, whispers all sorts of discouraging words,keeps us from even trying. We often don’t have to worry about failure because fear keeps us from trying.

Starting……

When I first began teaching I wasn’t very good. I might have been awful but for the fact that there were other teachers around me whose classes were a lot less exciting than mine. Mind you, I taught Arts Ed, Phys Ed and some English and there were days when it was VERY exciting.  In art – all kinds of things happen when you give 26+ grade 7’s some coloured ink, lino boards, paper and rollers and  instructions that aren’t quite as clear as you thought they were!

Graphic Art!

But I started. Each day, I’d try again. Each evening I’d spend hours trying to figure out what I could do differently or what I might change or….. it was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time but I knew I was missing something. I’d walk past classrooms and … well my classroom wasn’t like that!

Starting…..

Somewhere along the way I began to study teaching: teaching strategies,  methods, assessment, planning….. I began to think that if I could just read the right books or find the right method or strategies then I would become a “good teacher”.

Heck, I wasn’t even shooting for “great”! I wanted to be good. Solid. Not stellar. No way, because then you would stand out and people would up their expectations.

Good Enough…. but that wasn’t me.

I was always trying new strategies and methods in the classroom, experimenting with new configurations for learning, different assessment strategies and ways of students presenting their understanding. Somewhere along the way I stumbled across Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, Tomlinson’s Differentiation and then both together! Rubrics, feedback, multiple assessment options for students. No two years were the same – with each class I learned that I would have to make changes to meet their learning needs – even though I didn’t really know that was what I was doing at the time.

Starting….

Along the way I was fortunate to work with some great teachers. I mean, really great. What made them great? Their planning? The strategies? The assessment? I spent time trying to figure it out and it was right in front of me all along. See, great teachers begin with the end in mind – they begin with student. Relationships are the foundation. They don’t give up on students. Student growth and development are their focus. They ground their work in the relationships they build with their students.

It took me a long time to figure that out because I was looking in the wrong place to start. I was looking for the method or plan or organization or strategy when, all along, great teachers begin with relationships. All they do is linked to the relationships they develop with students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and community members.

Starting…. 

They aren’t afraid to try new or different things for fear of making mistakes because they know that those mistakes are great opportunities for learning with their students.

 I think we need to do serious hard work in producing alternative models without being tied down to what can be implemented in the short run. I think if we take industries like aircraft, or any big industry, they are spending large resources on planning for the day when they know that what’s cutting-edge today is going to be obsolete. The education world has to learn to put a fraction of its resources into what cannot be done today, but can be, but which can stand there as experimenting, as working with visions of a possible future. Seymour Papert 

They don’t shy away from incorporating technology because they understand that when pedagogically driven, technology can enhance the learning experience. They are always reading and questioning what they do in the classroom because they are a true life-long learner, curious about the world around them.

They aren’t afraid to start even though they don’t know all the steps. See, these teachers have a secret that they share with everyone and that secret, which took me so long to figure out was …….

Just Start

Reframe the Story

It begins with the relationships in the classroom. You can be innovative and creative, I sure was, but I didn’t pay attention to that relationship piece. Somehow I missed that part. See, lost in the search, lost in the reading and reflection, missed in the implementation was just how key relationships are to the classroom.

For me, it took my own struggle with “what am I missing?” and the frustration of not “getting it” to finally cast aside my preconceived ideas about what it meant to be a “good teacher” and reframe – what made me a good student? What drove me along? Why was I motivated to learn?

Yes, part of it was a desire to learn but part, the part I wasn’t always aware of, was the relationship I formed with others as I learned and the key the instructor/teacher played in the learning. When learning begins with relationships, teachers begin to put that little bit of energy into developing for the future. They aren’t content with what they are doing today but are looking forward to see what might be tomorrow.

So, what does your today and tomorrow look like?

 

#saskedchat – November 12, 2015

Screenshot 2015-08-26 18.22.43

Our topic for the November 12th, 2015 chat was Moving from Teacher Competition to Collaboration. The participants were eager to explore this topic and had great insights into the reasons why competition sometimes masquerades as collaboration and how, at times, cooperation can be substituted for collaboration. Both Competition and Cooperation allow school staffs to get things done and to get started on initiatives and implementation. Teachers are “involved” in the the implementation but it’s not their implementation. Collaboration is not something most people do naturally. We’ve learned to cooperate with others but collaboration is more than just cooperation.
Professional Learning Communities co-creators Rick DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, and Robert Eaker would define collaboration as teams of teachers who work interdependently to achieve common goals — goals linked to the purpose of learning for all — for which members are held mutually accountable. This type of definition seems to take all the fun out of teacher planning time, but it is exactly what needs to be in place in order to build strong students and strong teachers.
It’s more than just working together and includes setting goals, timelines, data, checkins, planning, reflecting, sharing ideas, disagreeing, readjusting, and making adjustments. In my own experience, there is often a big emphasis on everyone getting together and not rocking-the-boat which often means that some things are ignored or let go in order not to make waves. Part of collaboration is everyone working together, putting effort towards achieving a goal/set of goals and, sometimes, crucial conversations are necessary to continue progressing. During a time of increased public scrutiny of education, a solid and united front becomes more important than innovation and creativity.
Competition is something that isn’t regularly discusses but can lurk in the halls and staffroom, undermining the best intentions of teachers and administrators. In a period of school ranking, student testing, and reform implementations, schools have become grounds for competition where one-up-manship can become more important than doing what’s best for students. Educators get caught up in “Edu-speak”, discussing education and learning in such a way that few outside their own circle can understand what they are saying, creating a further barrier.
Another dark side is the implementation competition in which schools are compared to one another in the relation to how well they are implementing particular programs. In all these cases, instead of sharing and collaborating on projects, schools and teachers are “compared” to others to see how they measure up with the general public being brought into the mix through published school rankings.  Often competition becomes a comparison with winners and losers. Social media can act as yet another avenue for school competition as schools, instead of collaborating to improve learning, become a “Look what we are doing!”.
Don’t get me wrong, teachers need to connect and share, working together to be better but they also need to leave the ego at the door, be willing to try things, admit mistakes, participate in reflective discussions about the work that is being done and explore innovative and new ideas about learning. It won’t be easy or without issues, there may even be disagreement. But, if the goal really is to do what is best for students, can anything less be acceptable?

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

Screenshot 2015-11-10 16.06.11

A Show Case of Learning

As a teacher, I began having students create portfolios as a way to show what they were doing in class. The first portfolios were Show Case portfolios in which students would included their best work. Each student would select a number of assignments which they thought demonstrated their best work and during Student Led Conferences,  would show these to their parents and talk about the work they were doing. Over time, and with the introduction and access to technology, I began to experiment with different types of portfolios using a wiki with different pages for subjects, a set of linked documents and finally a webpage that students created. Students would embed images of their work. However, this was still a variation of the Show Case Portfolios just in digital format.

I was also experimenting with my own variations of portfolios, trying different formats to see how I could begin to develop my own work for others to see. I realized that I was limiting myself by only focusing on education related items. There was more that I was doing but wasn’t including. Thus began a long journey that continues today of trying to find my own voice as a person.

The Next Stage

As technology changed and it became easier to collect and manage the different items in a portfolio, I began to have students not just show their best work but also started to expand the use of the portfolio to include  drafts of work so they could show the progress of their learning and began to include a reflection portion to the portfolio to have students discuss what they learned and what they might want to add.

Today portfolios can include any number of different types of items from images and documents to sound recordings and videos. All these items can be incorporated to show the growth of student learning. But what if these portfolios were to include not just what the student was doing in school? What if portfolios were include items from outside of school? How might this change how students define their learning?

As you begin to look at portfolio use with students, here are some questions that I believe are important to answer before you embark:

Why use portfolios?

What is the purpose of creating the portfolio?

Who will “own” it? Will it be assessed? How?

What will be included?

Who will decide what is to be included?

Who can access the portfolio?

Can it “move” with the student and beyond?

I know that I didn’t think of many of these things and had to do a lot of backtracking and adjusting in the process.

9 Ways to Use Portfolios with Students

  1. Helping students Digital Fluency skills  – the ability to communicate, collaborate, connect, create. critique and collate – using digital tools is important for students. Students can use portfolios to practice and develop these skills not only for school work but for the different passions they have in their lives and bring them together in one place. Have students include drafts and changes as they work through the process of refining the work they are doing.
  2. Encourage curiosity and ask questions – asking questions that drive learning takes practice. A portfolio can become more than just a place where Show Case items are stored. By helping students develop their ability to ask questions, teachers can support a process of learning, differentiating the support students need as they learn and grow.  Have students include questions they have about a topic or inquiries they have about ideas and concepts. Include mindmaps and brainstorming sessions as processes of developing ideas. Get students to include I Wonder statements and What If ideas.
  3. Engage an authentic audience – through connecting with others, students can receive feedback and assistance as they explore different ideas and create work that has meaning for them. By creating for an audience other than themselves and their teacher, connect what they are doing with what is happening outside of school through interactions with others. Have students connect with other students for feedback and input. Get students to comment on the work of others and offer guidance to providing constructive feedback. Look for ways to connect students work with others through social media and provide opportunities for students work to get beyond the school by sharing with parents.
  4. Develop their own unique voice – In his book Louder Than Words, Todd Henry  discusses how “brilliant contributors commit to the process of developing their authentic voices through trial and error, by paying attention to how they respond to the work of peers, heroes, and even their antagonists, by playing with ideas, by cultivating a sharp vision for their work , and ultimately by honing their skills so they have the ability to bring that vision to the world”. Portfolios provide a place for students to begin this process of developing their own unique voice through practice, failure, reflection and retrying. Have students share stories, videos, podcasts and other work as they practice finding their own authentic voice.
  5. Explore different passions – instead of just including school-related items, students can include the different passions they have and explore different ideas over time. What might be of interest today may not be tomorrow but in a week or month become interesting again. Students have the ability to reflect on what they have done in the past and make connections to where they are now as learners. Have students include what they are doing outside of school. Have them include pictures and videos of things they are doing and talk about them.
  6. Explore multiple ways of expressing their learning and understanding – a portfolio allows students to include all sorts of items which they can use to demonstrate their learning. Videos, podcasts, music, writings, drawing, pictures – all these can be used as part of demonstrating their learning. Have students create different items and explore different ways of expressing their ideas and include reflections of what they did well and areas they see where they need to improve or find more information.
  7. Get feedback from multiple people – students can reach out to different audiences to get feedback and input about the work they are doing. Have them connect with other classes or individuals for feedback and input on what they are doing. Have them explain what they did or what they were hoping to accomplish and receive feedback from different people.
  8. Engage experts in a field through connecting – having the ability to connect with experts in a field provides students with access to knowledge they might not have access to otherwise. Feedback and insight from people who are experts provides students with an opportunity to push beyond the confines of the school. By developing a Personal Learning Network, students have access to support and assistance whenever they need it, taking learning beyond the confines of the school walls.
  9. Develop a cycle of learning – by building a body of work that continues to grow and change, students can develop reflective and generative habits of learning which apply to all areas of their lives. Instead of learning being what is done at school, students can incorporate their learning and the different things they are creating and receive feedback and input from various sources both in school and out of school. Have students identify things they want to learn about – both in the context of school and in other areas of their lives and build reflective practices as they progress.

These are just some of the ways that portfolios can be used with students. I created a personal Portfolio as an example of different types of portfolios and some of the tools that are available to create portfolios. If you click on the highlight with the SMYA presentation it will take you to my examples. Instead of learning being something that happens at school, it becomes connected to all areas of life, where what they do outside of school becomes part of their learning experience in school.

The Human Side of School

Screenshot 2015-10-08 19.32.35

In a recent Switch and Shift article How Technology is Challenging the Human Side of Business, Pam Ross discusses her role in helping leaders bridge the technology/human  relationship gap.

The thing is, technology impacts our workplaces and our culture like never before. To the same degree, it also provides ways to better connect, communicate and engage with your employees. I am excited to join Switch & Shift to write about how leaders can understand and use technology to create awesome culture and more human workplaces.

One of my main focuses has been the intersection of relationships and technology at the school level and in education in general so I was intrigued. Pam covers three topics in the post, We are always connected to work, We have the ability to work from anywhere, and We share our experiences fritionlessly. The same goes for students and teachers, which should come as no surprise. I recently read of two highschools that are experimenting with no substitute teachers when teachers are absent. In these schools, teachers have the option of not having a substitute teacher come in and, instead, having students work on their assignments in a common area.

Both districts said skipping substitutes is a natural extension of increased technology use. They’ve already been using online lessons in the classroom, and, in Farmington’s case, asking students to work on them from home on snow days. Why not try it when the teacher’s absent?

Both schools say a teacher is available to help students who need assistance.

The Human Side of Learning 

In the examples above, what is important to note is that the human factor is still an important part of the equation. As someone who has been a proponent of relationships in schools, I believe that these are so important and cannot be replaced with technology. Instead of viewing technology in a binary This or That conflict with relationships, it needs to become part of an integrated system of learning where students can access information from anywhere but where other people – teachers/peers/experts – have a relationship that supports the student in their learning.

As Pam Ross states in her article:

The good news is that technology not only creates engagement challenges, it also creates huge opportunities to alleviate these challenges and to create more engaged and human workplaces.

There is a new form of literacy in the world of work. It’s what I call “Digital Fluency”, and is critical in today’s fast-paced, social and digital world. Digital Fluency is the ability to use technology to communicate, collaborate and connect with customers and coworkers, and the proclivity to learn and adopt new technologies to get work done.

A Focus on Digital Fluency

As Pam points out, there is a need to assist people in developing digital fluency. A recent article Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web in The Atlantic by Alia Wong explored a similar issue. Students might be growing up with digital devices but they need guidance.

Indeed, although many of today’s teens are immersed in social media, that doesn’t mean “that they inherently have the knowledge or skills to make the most of their online experiences,” writes Danah Boyd in her 2014 book It’s Complicated: The Secret Lives of Networked Teens. Boyd, who works as a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, argues that “the rhetoric of ‘digital natives'” is dangerous because it distorts the realities of kids’ virtual lives, the result being that they don’t learn what they need to know about online living. In other words, it falsely assumes that today’s students intrinsically understand the nuanced ways in which technologies shape the human experience—how they influence an individual’s identity, for example, or how they advance and stymie social progress—as well as the means by which information spreads thanks to phenomena such as algorithms and advertising.

Part of issue is that many teachers continue to struggle with technology and the incorporation of technology. Although some schools and districts/division are incorporating a blended learning approach, the subject of digital fluency and the human side of technology is not usually discussed.

Portfolios and Body of Work

As an educator, I’ve been using portfolios for about 18 years. These began as simple folders where students would gather their best work to be used during Student Led Conferences. Since then I’ve been using a variation of portfolios with students as a way to help document their learning and growth. One of the most exciting turns was when I was able to shift to a digital format – first with wikis and then with various other platforms – that allowed students to included a variety of different formats – pictures, videos, drafts of writing, podcasts – allowing students to not just show a final product but to show their learning through stages.

Over time, I have begun to view portfolios as the next stage in the shift in learning. Students, working on a variety of topics, can build a portfolio of  the work, from in school or out of school – A Body of Work – that grows as they progress in their learning. Teachers guide, support and challenge students to explore, helping student formulate significantly deeper and more complex questions to explore. It would also help students develop digital fluency – communicating, collaborate, connect, create, critique and collate – all as interactions with other people. As the article by Pam Ross shows, these are important skills.

Technology and relationships are not incompatible but until we shift how we view them working together to build stronger relationships, there will continue to be a deficit attributed so someone depending on which side of the argument you happen to stand.

Are you Failing or Flailing?

Screenshot 2015-10-26 14.09.05

Failing or Flailing?

On a resent episode of  Mitch Joel’s podcast Six Pixels of Separation, Mitch talks with Seth Godin about his book What To Do When It’s Your Turn and It’s Always Your Turn . During the interview Seth Godin talks about Failing and Flailing as being the difference between learning from failure and doing something that has little chance of learning moving to success. As Mitch points out, it’s one letter difference but it’s a big difference.

This had me thinking about change in education.

In my experience, the change that takes place in schools isn’t clearly explained for everyone. The “Why” of the change is sometimes fuzzy. ‘It will improve ___________ ‘ – is one of the main reasons touted for the change yet it doesn’t really delve into the nuances of why THIS is important. The process is started – the ‘What and How’ are meticulously laid out for everyone and a timeline for implementation is set. People move forward implementing change, data is collected but the ‘Why’ is left up in the air, an unspoken truth – “All good teachers know why”. A great deal of flailing is happening and, maybe, some success but it becomes hard to separate the success from the over-enthusiasm for failure.

Failing has almost become an end in and of itself – “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying” is something I’ve heard quite often. Yet, what are we learning from this Failing? Why is it so important that we need to fail? Why are we doing this? How will we know if we are successful?

FAIL has become an acronym for First Attempt In Learning. It’s a great way to visually show students that mistakes happen and it’s okay. But what is learned from the failure?  As I’ve written about before, is there a plan for reflecting on failure so it can lead to success? As Carol Dweck points out in her discussion of a growth mindset

We also need to remember that effort is a means to an end to the goal of learning and improving. Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: “Great effort! You tried your best!” It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning. The growth-mindset approach helps children feel good in the short and long terms, by helping them thrive on challenges and setbacks on their way to learning. When they’re stuck, teachers can appreciate their work so far, but add: “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.”

Failing is part of learning but it’s not the goal of learning. Understanding ‘Why’ we have failed is important in learning to succeed not an end goal in the process. If there is no process for reflection and new action, then failing really is flailing.

Things to Think About

How does a failure help you in moving to success?

What are you doing to support others to learn from their failures in order that they may succeed?

Is there failure because there is a lack of clarity about ‘WHY’?

Let’s Try Re-Framing

The First Follower

This is one of my favourite videos about leadership and being willing to take risks. Early in my career as a teacher, and then as an administrator, I often was so focused on my own agenda that I often missed out on helping others who were more talented that I was as particular things. As I learned through experience (which is only a good teacher if you take the time to be reflective and developmental about your experiences) being a good leader was about helping other people achieve goals, finding ways people can use their talents to grow and improve, searching for ways to allow creativity and innovation to be part of the school environment, allowing others the opportunity and space to be risk-takers and innovators, and building community where adapting and changing are core elements of learning and growing.

Challenge Others to Change

As a leader,  creating an environment where ideas thrive is foundational to making changes that substantially change the learning environment of a school. High expectations are important – helping people reach them is the role of leader. Holding people accountable is important but providing them the opportunity to try new things,  make mistakes and deeply reflect on the what they learn is essential to improvement. People who are afraid to try will stop if they perceive that the consequences for trying are negative or are not connecting to a vision of improvement in learning. To give people room to meet the challenges ahead, leaders need to provide the support for taking risks while also having the expectation that if something isn’t successful there will be reflection making adjustments and moving forward. Leaders create an atmosphere for growth when they use questions to challenge others to see where things might lead, to introduce different perspectives, and provide opportunity for there to be multiple solutions.

Re-Frame the Challenge

The current frame for education is something along the lines of “You need to go to school and do what you are told to do in order to be successful in your future.” or something along those lines. The point is not what the exact frame is but that it really isn’ about challenging or creating wonder or enthusiasm or fun or development or innovation. It’s about showing up and doing school. As an administrator, I often had parents of students who were struggling comment that the student needed to pass and get a grade 12 because without it they wouldn’t be successful in life. There was this “grin & endure” frame. Even successful students would often comment about the lack of connection between what they were doing in school and what they saw as opportunity once they were finished school. There seems to be a “we all survived it so that’s what students need to do.”

But what if school leaders and teachers began to explore the question of “Would students still come if school wasn’t mandatory?” What if the mindset was to open up the discourse around education and what it means to be “educated” in today’s changing world? What challenges are we missing with the current framing of education as “have to” and “endurance”?

What would change if leaders and teachers did a cntrl-alt-delete of the current framing of school?

Why would school be important?

Why would students want to come to school?

Why would teachers want to teach?

Simon Sinek, in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Action, discusses how leaders often start with the What or How of what they are leading instead of the Why. A great example he gives is how Apple, Inc., doesn’t start with the company selling computers or iphones or ipods but, instead, explains that Apple, Inc. begins with:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.

And we happen to make great computers.

Wanna buy one?

So, what would happen if instead of telling students “You have to go to school because you need to in order to be successful sometime in the future” school leaders and teachers reframed it to something like

“We believe that everyone can learn . We believe learning is a life-long skill. We challenge people to explore, question, collaborate and create and share with others as they are learning. And we happen to be a school. Wanna join us?

That’s just one idea for Re-framing that allows teachers and leaders to cntrl-alt-delete the current frame of school and  re-image learning and the school in a different way.

That Can’t Be Done! – Can It?

Often, as a school leader, I didn’t share the responsibility of change, keeping it for myself, often telling myself that I was helping the teachers by being a filter for what came down to us from above. And maybe in a hierarchical system, there is something to this but what I learned was that I wasn’t really protecting as much as I was limiting what we could do as a school. I wasn’t looking at the abilities and talents around me. I wasn’t embracing a community of learning. I wasn’t challenging everyone with getting better or seeking new alternatives. I was protecting what we were doing, incrementally allowing change to take place. That Can’t Be Done! was infact true but only because the way I was leading limited the capacity of others and the school to change and improve.

It took my own public humiliation to recognize that I was no better as a leader than the person who did that to me. I’d like to say that it was a lightning strike and I saw the light but it didn’t happen that way. It took me time and some deep reflection to realize that I was a main reason the school and teachers weren’t progressing and being all they could be.  Can It? I learned that, yes it can but it requires a leader confident in their abilities and, more importantly, confident in the abilities of those around them to meet BIG challenges, a leader willing to ask BIG questions and then give people time to go out and find ways to answer those questions.

I began to understand that a leaders role wasn’t always to be out front, that could in fact lead to  being a  Lone Nut. When a leader thinks small, limits input,  tells but doesn’t ask questions and swoops in to save the day, they demonstrate a lack of trust and community, not great leadership. Being a First Follower can be crucial to the kind of change necessary for schools to hit cntrl-alt-del and embrace change.

Re-Framing as Leader

Re-framing the whole premise of school begins with taking a chance to  reconceptualize what it means to be “educated”. It’s an opportunity to create something new. My experience is that it also means that leaders will come up against resistance, especially from those who are extremely comfortable with the status quo and the hierarchical structure of traditional schooling. However as David Penglase explains about Aspirational Leadership

You could, for example, choose to view and treat leadership as a position or role. Alternatively, you could step up and into your own value, accept and embrace the reality that your leadership role is a privilege and not just a position.

Aspirational leaders have three core principles: Relationships matter, Values and models integrity, and earns, builds and maintains trust.

The difference is how they see their role and the people around them. In re-framing schools, part of the process is re-framing the role that leaders have within schools as creative and innovate centres of discovery and learning.

Thing to Think About

  1. How do you see your role as a leader? If you were to ask others, how would they describe your role as a leader? Are you sure?
  2. Why do you lead? Why is it important to you?
  3. Would you be able to re-frame a new “Why” for your school? Could you work with staff and parents to develop a new re-frame?
  4. What would a new re-frame mean for you as a leader? The teachers? The students? The parents?

Friday Resource Review – Pearltrees

Screenshot 2015-10-30 13.47.44

Pearltrees is an online curation service that allows the user to store and share their own items, pictures, notes, writings and also collect and share items from the web.

Pearltrees, the place to organize all your interests, has gathered more than 2,2 million contributors, over 3 million monthly active users and 70 million items. In 2012, the company launched a 1.0 version and introduced a freemium business model that already generates significant revenue. Pearltrees has been featured multiple times by Apple, Google and Mozilla. Pearltrees apps on iOS and Android are consistently rated 5 stars and have been downloaded more than 2 million times. Press Release – September 23, 2015

In it’s most recent upgrade, Pearltrees added some great features that make organizing and sharing even easier. This new feature, Smartcloud, is “a set of features that lets people import and organize everything they’ve shared on social networks and stored on the web.”

As Lamothe, CEO and co-founder of Pearltrees comments: “With Smartcloud, you recover the memory of your life on the Internet. Each year, an average web user stores or shares several hundreds of contents that are buried in the depth of timelines. Now, with Pearltrees, web users can recover them and handle them. For massive imports, Pearltrees will automatically organize the users’ contents by topics and by collections. Now, everyone can have a visual organization of all their interests in one single place.”

Smartcloud is made up of three groups of features:

  1. Imports – Everyone can now recover their social networks’ history, the files of their cloud storage services and their search results. With a few clicks, you can add in Pearltrees hundreds or thousands of photos, tweets, Facebook posts, Drive or Dropbox files… Thanks to imports, Pearltrees becomes the living memory of your life on the Internet.
  1. The auto-organization  When imported contents are massive, the “Smartcloud” algorithm comes in and sorts them by topics and by dates. This automatic organization relies on two complementary sources: the millions of contents already organized by Pearltrees users and semantic links extracted from the web at large-scale. Thanks to this innovation, everyone can benefit from the collective intelligence of Pearltrees community and web users.

3. The instinctive organization – To add the last touch to your collections, you have to personalize them and re-organize them. For that, this new version offers contextually all the features of organization and personalization (collections moving, addition, edition…), according to current needs.

I’ve been using Pearltrees for about 3 years. It has evolved over time and has become the tool I use for archiving web clips, storing photos and sharing with others. Because it seamlessly works across devices, I am able to access my content from anywhere. As I organize items for #saskedchat, upload my own photos or share items with others, Pearltrees allows me to keep all things in one place and the ability to make collections and sort these collections is made even simpler through the drag and drop features. It also makes it easy to search for items because all things are located in one place, pictures, documents, videos, all stored in one place.

Pearltrees has a great offer for educators –

You’re a teacher and you’ve always been hesitant to use Pearltrees professionally? The offer we’re launching is made for you. It includes three plans, from free to premium, that each extends your educational uses of Pearltrees from creating lessons to presenting in classroom not to mention collaborating with students.

As an educator, being able to put pictures and webpages into a presentation allows for easy organization. “The first use of Pearltrees is to show Pearltrees collections in class. The free Assistant plan, exclusively for teachers, allows content presentation with its clean, advertising-free interface. ” If you looking for ideas and ways of sharing with students, Pearltrees has a great Resource page for teachers.  I’ve created a short screencast to show some of the different features found in Pearltrees. If you have any questions or would like some assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me through the blog or @kwhobbes on twitter.

Pearltrees Demonstration

Don’t Imitate – Innovate

Screenshot 2015-10-28 11.33.04

It might be flattering to have someone imitate you. You might feel it’s necessary to imitate a mentor. But creativity and innovation rarely happen through imitation. It might start with what someone else is doing but creativity and innovation use that as leaping off points. Apple, Inc. didn’t create the technology for the mp3 player but they used the technology as a leaping off point to create and innovate. We know what Apple, Inc. did. And the other player?

What Inspires You?

Last week I had the great fortune to attend the SMYA Conference in Saskatoon as a speaker and participant. It was an awesome experience. One of the highlights was meeting Dave Burgess author of Teach Like a Pirate and moderator of #tlap twitter chat. Dave was generous with his time and a group of us were able to enjoy supper with him on the first night. Throughout our conversation and during his keynote and presentation, Dave spoke of his inspiration for his ideas and the work he does. Dave’s energy and passion are infectious. At one point, Dave spoke of where he gets his inspiration and the creative ideas for the different things he does in the classroom. This had me wondering about the attendees, myself included, and the inspiration they have for the work they do in the classroom each day.

Dave repeated often that inspiration can come in many different ways. The key is to be aware of these ideas and record them. Recently I read Claudia Azula Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st Century. In this book, Claudia explains that to become better at creative ideas, you have to practice generating ideas.

Writing daily ideas is effective because when we practice making our brain sweat, consistently, we become idea machines. When we are idea machines problems get solutions and questions get answers.

It sounds easy but, many people think being creative and innovating is what “creatives” do, not what the rest of us do because we aren’t really creative. As Dave pointed out, that just isn’t true!

Innovate don’t just Imitate

As a teacher I was always looking for ideas to try in the classroom whether it was a lesson or a way of presenting materials, I was searching. My reason was that I didn’t think I had any good ideas myself. I thought that I needed to use others ideas that were “good” because I wasn’t very creative and I wasn’t able to be creative myself.

Over time, I’ve shifted how I think of my own ideas and what I can do. When I would find a good idea, I often didn’t mess much with it. I wasn’t comfortable with my own creativity or allowing myself to be innovative. Mostly, this was a product of the failures I had experienced which I owned and carried with me as reminders of why I wasn’t creative or innovative. Instead of seeing each of these experiences as learning opportunities or ways of improving, I owned them as proof that I just wasn’t creative or innovative. In some ways, this was a product of my own self-induced limitations that were created from images and reminders of what “good teaching” was suppose to be and look like. I continued to imitate and reproduce what I thought it meant to be a “good teacher”.

However, there was this nagging part of me that kept surfacing every once in a while that would remind me that there was more to teaching and learning than what I was doing. Eventually this nagging grew in intensity and in a bold move I decided I needed to try out a few of my own ideas and, instead of planning like they would fail, to plan for success. This was a turning point for my teaching and the beginning of a journey of realization about creativity and innovation. I didn’t have to do what others did, I had good ideas and, with a little effort and some planning, a few of them would be great.

Being Innovative

In his new book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent and Lead a Culture of Creativity, George Couros discusses how innovation is essential in school. There are many opportunities for change but, often, there is a lack of innovation taking place. Instead, just as I did as a teacher, educators and schools continue to see innovation as something that others can do.

Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later, so we can “get through” the curriculum. We forget that our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.

In my discussion with teachers, they often express how they wish they could be more creative or innovative but there is too many other things happening – new curricula, differentiation, planning, assessment – which drain their energy and limit what they can do. Often they feel powerless even within their own classroom as they are told to do this, use this program, integrate this technology, adopt this assessment format, etc. They often see creativity and innovation as what ‘other’ people do which in turn then becomes another ‘thing’ they end up having to find time to implement/do. On the surface, this can be seen as just a way to avoid having to change. However, many teachers I talk with want to change. They are apprehensive but aren’t against making change. The feeling of powerlessness inhibits what they believe they can do themselves. Their experiences, like mine, limit what they feel they can do. It’s safe to imitate, it’s a risk to be creative and innovative. Many schools do not seem open to risk-taking and innovation despite the rhetoric of  21st Century Learning.

We are All Creative/Innovative in Some Way

In the article 7 Habits of Innovative Thinkers , Harvey Deutshendorf outlines how innovative thinking is within the reach of anyone who is willing to work at it.

Many people believe that creativity and innovative thinking are traits that we are born with—we either have them or not. However, we have found that people who are highly innovative are a work in progress, forever questioning and examining themselves and the world around them.

These people are curious and inquisitive – sounds like most young students. As George Couros points out

To succeed, they [students] will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations.

Teachers need to do the same – to be willing to try something with the understanding that it might be successful but it also might not. However,  instead of seeing it as further proof of a lack of creativity and innovation, these situations need to become points of curiosity. Instead of just imitating what someone else is doing, teachers need to exercise their creativity muscle and innovate to fit their personality and the students with whom they interact. Build in feedback loops that allow for adjustment and changes to be made. Look at what was successful and what wasn’t. Know that one success will not mean it will always be successful as there will need to be changes and adaptations to fit the next context and situation. Developing relationships with students is so important to innovation. It’s not what you are doing but how you are doing it and the relationship with students which allows for innovation to grow and develop. Creativity and innovation in a vacuum or without relationship lacks connectivity. It becomes a performance not an experience.

Why Imitate When You Can Innovate?

Yes, one can imitate what someone else is doing and be successful. There are countless examples of people who are successful imitating. Just think of all the entertainers who make a living imitating the likes of Elvis and the Beatles. But they aren’t Elvis or the Beatles. Although they might be great imitators, they lack the ability to innovate and break new ground as Elvis and Beatles did. As Dave Burgess suggested, teachers need to be open to taking an idea and then innovating and becoming creative with it. There is no guarantee that it will be successful, the first time. Sometimes it takes reworking an idea numerous times before things fit into place.

Who was the innovator that created the mp3 technology? Creative Technology Ltd a Singapore-based technology company. Part of creativity and innovation is coming up with something new. But being creative and innovative also means taking something that already is there and using it in new and creative ways that make a difference in people’s lives – it creates an experience that resonates.

Something to Think About

What is keeping you from taking creative licence with what you do in the classroom?

Do you have to implement all you do exactly like the manual says?

Why do you consider yourself lacking creativity? Are you strengthening your creativity muscles or just accepting the status quo?

What are three things you can do with your current units that would be creative and innovative? Why not try one?