I am delighted to participate in a MOOC for the first time: Designing a New Learning Environment through Stanford, powered by Venture Lab.

Class is just beginning, and as we introduce ourselves I’m already learning and engaged.

As a writer, teacher, student, learner, collaborator, and brainstorming addict, I have found a niche online this summer, through a little PD, a little PLN:

 

Teachers Write!

 

So excited to learn from, with, and about Kate Messner and co.

 

 

Today, I heard historian and scholar Yehudah Bauer speak about many things, all of them interesting. But at one point I found myself fascinated by his discussion about language. He says that the word Holocaust is not a good word, but it is the word we have, so it will have to do. Then he talked about the word tolerance. To paraphrase, he said something like, “Who wants tolerance?! You can tolerate someone but really and truly despise them and wish them away! Tolerance is not enough!”

I nodded hard enough to hurt something; I have had this very same thought.

The word Holocaust might be the only word we have for the genocide that happened in the 1930s and 1940s, but we have better choices than “tolerance.” I don’t really want to teach tolerance. I want to teach acceptance, kindness, and inclusion.

On Friday, I attended an event called Memories Matter: Stories of the Holocaust. To my right sat Holocaust survivors. Behind me sat students ages 13-18. In front of me sat local and state officials. To my left, representatives of philanthropies. We came together to celebrate middle- and high-school student for using writing and art to reflect what they learned from Holocaust testimony. This was a room full of stories and storytellers.

When keynote speaker Esther Safran Foer made her presentation, you could feel the collective awe.

The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Foer now directs a synagogue in Washingon, D.C. One of her sons, Jonathan, wrote “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Her other son, Joshua, wrote “Moonwalking with Einstein.” I had heard of her sons, and read their work. Her short presentation at the awards ceremony had an incredibly powerful impact, however — much like testimony can.

I can’t do justice to her story, in which she recounted her quest to learn about the half sister she never knew. I can only tell you that no one could have done a better job introducing a day intended to celebrate story, memory, learning, testimony, and survival. The students who won prizes each received cash, and a study trip to Washington. They, like Esther Safran Foer, had the chance to read their work aloud in the auditorium on Friday. A poetry winner read his prize winning poem about how conflicted he felt facing a bright future watching the testimony of a woman who appeared about the face a bright future until the Holocaust robbed her of almost everything. She, now in her 80s, sat in the chair just in front of me and to my right. She nodded as she listened to the poetry, to the young man who said he prayed for her, and I noticed she remained dry-eyed, while I wept quietly behind her.

I can’t think of a better prize for such a contest than a study trip to Washington, D.C. where they will get to meet again with the remarkable Esther Safran Foer.

I was humbled to be in a room full of such powerful storytellers, teachers and learners, both young and old.

Today I spent the day at PLAY! As part of a working group (affiliated with PLAY! — Participatory Learning and You!), I had the great fortune to contribute to a diverse gathering of educators researching, designing, and implementing participatory professional development. Some of the people in the group are widely published thought leaders, and others are dedicated practitioners, yet even in our own group, we worked hard to define our most basic terms, asking key questions like, “What does participation mean?”  These questions led us in fascinating and important directions, as we debated if a lecture could be participatory, confronted the danger of top-down language, and determined that we do not, in fact, all need to share the same definition of participatory, as long as we unpack our own definitions via our work.

Anyone who has worked with me previously will appreciate how much I enjoyed discussing the necessity for participatory design for participatory professional development; it’s something I’ve advocated for over the years.

Full of reading, writing, thinking, brainstorming, wondering, talking and working, today was brain candy. I am fascinated by the way educators learn, and in turn how they then are best empowered to create learning experiences for others.

I have a passion for designing professional development, but today I was the one developing professionally, and in a very transparent, organic, participatory way. What could be better?

I have my parent hat on right now. Bear with me.

My son has a math disability. We have suspected this for some time, and we have explained it to the teacher at the start of the school year, at parent conferences, and in our email exchanges. We have discussed how he needs a curriculum that meets him at his ability level. He doesn’t have number sense yet, even though he is in second grade. He is still learning to add and subtract single digit numbers, and it’s hard. We work with a specialist, because no matter how many kids I’ve worked with, it’s not the same when it’s your own child. We have even paid the specialist to go teach the teachers the techniques that work best with our boy. We have tried to show the school manipulatives, number lines, and strategies.

Last night, my son’s homework was a worksheet packet full of columns of decimals and fractions. I looked at it, then at him. “Son, how much is 4+2?” He put up four fingers on one hand and two on the other, then counted. “Seven!” he announced. I wrote a note on his homework to the teacher. “I will be giving him other work to do. This homework does not meet his needs.”

It makes me frustrated when this teacher tells me over and over and over: This is the curriculum I teach. I never thought of myself as teaching a curriculum before. I always thought of myself as teaching children. The curriculum was the tool, when I was in the classroom.

 

My husband and I were talking about the importance of good foundations, when he told me a story. He said he read in a carpentry book that the first important lesson for a carpentry student is to build their own workbench. They have to make it “true.” If not, everything they make on that bench will end up with a warp to match the bench’s flaw.

We can’t keep overlooking and underspending with regard to the early years of education. K-12 is vitally important to our country, our economy, our future. Not to mention that moral imperative thing.

We need a “true” K-12 system if we don’t want to warp everything we build.