Here’s where I stand (currently, anyway…):

  • Despite it looking like the weather was on the verge of changing (into spring), that’s not happened. So all the wood-based projects have to continue to wait a bit longer. Which is fine, in reality, because I’ve not yet finished designing them.
  • A bunch of new framing projects just fell into my lap- the re-discovery of some art by my wife means some large frames (30×44″ for the work itself, with the frames being somewhat larger than that…) need to get dealt with. Also mats. And glass.
  • I’ve been working on a new “Required” list- a compendium of readings, movies, music, and items that I feel are/should be required in my world. Inspired by Tom Sach’s latest notebooks and the references in the back. Take a look at his here. I do keep a relatively-up-to-date “Required Viewing” YouTube playlist here, if you want to work your way through that.
  • Working on a new project for myself, and I’m hesitant to give to many details yet. It’s one of those where I’m not sure anything will ever come of it, or if it’s just a step to the next thing. Regardless, I’m getting all organized with notes and lists and folders and whatnot. It feels good to get the juices flowing, sometimes, regardless of what might (or might not) come of it. Building things is good, you know? Even when those things are just knowledge structures.
  • Starting to read up on the rigging of zip lines. Kids want one, but I’ve only ever rigged them with rope, and this would be a wire-rope situation, so there’s plenty of differences. Learning is fun. Have I mentioned that?

Personalized Video Learning

Dan Meyer just put out a nice blog post pushing back against some promotion of “Personalized Learning.” You can find the article here:

He’s not wrong- the applications the original article talks about are basic and only interesting if you compare them to pretty terrible teaching techniques. I’m not here to pile on about it, because there’s no need and Dan nicely covers the bases. I’m here because his article triggered an idea, and I needed a place to work that out.

In his response, Dan brings up the oft-touted benefit of video lectures: that students can rewind and review parts of the lectures to “further” their understanding, or to “clarify” difficult concepts. He also (rightfully) points out that that’s not how this really works- you don’t ask someone to repeat exactly what they said again when you miss something the first time. You ask for the variation- the alternative take. Another angle on the whole thing, that might better clarify that difficult concept.

But what if we could?

I’m not sure of the specifics of implementing something like this, but it seems like it might work like this:

  1. An instructor does a short video about a difficult concept. For that video, we follow current best practices and keep the video sub-six minutes, we have good graphics, speedy and natural delivery, and all that goodness.
  2. The same instructor records several other takes- and that’s not variations on the first video, but alternate methods. Maybe a metaphor. A real-world example. An animated version. Whatever.
  3. The student is eventually served that first video, and at the end of viewing, is presented with something like a “Got it?” button. If yes, move on to the next thing. If no, student gets served one of the alternate videos on the subject. Repeat until the answer is yes.
  4. Over time, analytics show which video versions are most useful (as they’re likely the last version watched…), and we can start feeding that data back into the creation of video segments (so, for example, if the animated graphic version seems to do best, that becomes the primary video in the future).
  5. Indeed, most LMS systems would allow those video analytics to be collected per-student, and you could eventually begin to serve each student individually the version of the video most (statistically) likely to suit them. You’d want to keep that model somewhat fluid, as students will find different variations work best/better on different subjects.

I’ve not seen this done, but in retrospect it seems pretty obvious. If you’ve seen this work somewhere, could you send me a link? I’d like in on that action.


Since I went to EdCamp Boston a bit ago, I’ve found myself thinking about the session Dan Callahan led about the Chaordic Path. It was a great session, and the Chaordic Path idea slipped nicely into my existing structure of understanding of learning spaces.

My issue (or, rather less judgmentally, my thought…) is more centered around the graphic commonly associated with that idea.


There are a bunch of topics that I’ve spent time dealing with in classrooms over the years (mostly in regards to themes in literature) that students have struggled with, and many of those themes seem to have the same thing in common: they occupy a spectrum. Or, if you’d rather, a continuum. Things like “Good vs Evil” or “Light vs Dark” or “Male vs Female” come up over and over, and while student at first gravitate towards them, as the inherent complexity becomes more clear, they find themselves struggling with the ideas. What they want initially is a nice binary choice: things are either good or evil (but not both). It’s ok if a character switches from good to evil, but students want to treat that like a switch- one moment they’re good, the next and they’re evil.

But that’s not human reality- people (fictional or otherwise) are rarely wholly good or wholly evil. More often they’re complicated mixes of the two that vary both based on the time but also based on your perspective as an observer. And so: we find ourselves trying to explain continuums. They are, of course, familiar with a number line, but they are not used to applying that sort of model to other aspects of human life. Gender. Sexuality. Order and Chaos. Good and Evil. Light and Dark.

We want to represent the complexities of life as simply as we can- that’s part of the efficient transmission of information. But we must learn to be careful in classrooms to not adopt such simplified models that we loose the inherent meaning imparted by the continuum. Instead of allowing binary choices to abound, it’s time to start showing students that most of what they think of as binary simply isn’t, and to treat is as such is reductive. It is a cheat- to reduce something complex to an overly simple model allows flawed thinking and cognitive fallacy.

It’s ok for things to be complicated. It’s ok for there not to be easy answers to seemingly simple questions. And it’s ok for our answers to change based on when/where/how/who is doing the asking (and for the questioner’s perspective of our answers to shift, too).

Asking a student if a character is good or bad is a fine start, but by broaching the idea of there being a full spectrum of good vs bad (and that a given character’s position on that spectrum might not be a simple thing to answer) allows students safe ways to begin to understand that complexity.

Dan’s presentation of the Chaordic Path was very good (clearly, as I’m still thinking of it several days later…), but it’s the graphic I want to address. The interlocked rings are a good start (and, for the purposes of the session, likely the right choice). But I find myself thinking that a line- a simple line representing the spectrum of spaces between Camos and Stifling Order does a good job of illustrating both that these gradations exist, but also that an environment can easily slip between these areas over the course of a lesson or day. In my mind, it’s a spectrum with “sweet spots” on it where especially useful conditions seem to exist.

EdCamp Boston 2017

I went to EdCampBoston this last weekend, and I thought I should share some thoughts here (and take the chance to digest and capture what I learned while I was at it).

It was a nice big (though not overwhelming) crowd in a lovely space (thanks, Microsoft!), and the organizers did (as always) a great job… organizing. Big thanks to them!

If you’ve never been to an EdCamp (or to an UNconference), they’re pretty neat- there are no pre-set sessions: just  bunch of rooms and time slots and a stack of post-its for people to use to propose their own sessions. If you’re not in love with what you’re seeing, you can start your own session. In practice, I’ve found it works really well- many of the sessions aren’t about people standing up at the front and presenting, but more about conversations that people want to have.

I went to four sessions before I had to leave. First, a conversation about using VR in classrooms (in which I was able to relate some of the experimenting I’ve done on the subject…). I was happy to hear about how much of this was going on in K-12, and it reaffirmed my belief that there are applications aplenty for it in High Education. As the methods for consumption (and creation) become more mainstream, it’s really only going to get easier to integrate.

Next up was Dan Callahan’s session about The Chaortic Path, a lens that I’d not spent too much time thinking about (though I will now). Somebody much more talented than I made a lovely graphic for it. I got to contribute this comment:

Which now, a day later, reminds me of this recent Kevin Kelly tweet:  

Then, I went to a nice quiet and thoughtful session led by Ben Schersten about teaching introverts, and as a result I’ve added Susan Caine’s Quiet to my reading list. I also got to trot out my perpetual recommendation for Make Space, an outstanding guide to helping design spaces that foster creativity. I’m still amazed by how many folks equate introversion with either anxiety or shyness. Totally not the same thing, folks.

After lunch it was back to Dan’s session about designing PD that people will LOVE– not something I do a ton of these days, but a subject that’s always worth talking about. Great graphics coming out of that, and some really impressive work. Groups left with full-blown plans for PD that (with a teeny bit of polishing) would be ready to roll out in any district.

So: a wonderful use of my Saturday. I got to see a bunch of friends I’d not seen in far too long, got to talk with some talented and driven folks, and got to learn a few things as well. Maybe I’ll see you all there next year.




  • I’m headed to two conferences shortly- EdCampBoston, and Nercomp. EdCampBoston is March 11th, and Nercomp is March 28th and 29th. I haven’t been to a proper conference in a while, so it’ll be good to see some people and get myself exposed to new ideas. And be social, I suppose.
  • Parts list for the two bookcases I need to build are growing- starting to work on cut lists, too, so when the weather turns and I can get working it’s a draw-the-lines-and-cut instead of standing around mumbling and muttering.
  • Working on finding a receiver hitch for my car. I’m planning on keeping the car another 2-3 years, so in the meantime it’d be useful to be able to carry a bike (or two…) with me. I’d like to be able to stick a 2″ hitch on there, but all the hitches built for my car are 1.25″, so… it might be roof-rack time. We’ll see, I suppose.
  • I’m trying to get myself to start shooting more video again. Right now, the aim would be to practice visually telling stories, but there are one or two projects hanging in the wings that’d make use of some of these things, so it’d be good to not be out of practice if those ramp up. For the short term, I’ll likely start again with my phone, but it’d be good to get the bigger camera out again too.