Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Four Opportunities to Learn about Mindfulness at this year's NAIS Conference

Chances are that like me you are racing around doing all the things one needs to do, both at home and school, to get things in order before leaving to attend this year's NAIS annual conference.   I encourage you to stop, catch your breath, relax, and consider taking the opportunity to learn more about the practice of mindfulness.  An increasing number of educators, including yours truly, believe that developing a mindful life is vital for our students, our colleagues and ourselves.

While the practice of mindfulness is trendy at the moment, it is not a passing fad.  People have been practicing mindfulness for millennia.  Now, thanks to science, we are obtaining meaningful data about the benefits of this practice.

Opportunities to learn more about mindfulness at this year's conference include a three-hour workshop and three one-hour workshops.  NAIS is also providing us with two opportunities for conference attendees to practice mindfulness together.  Both group meditations will take place at 7 am.  On Thursday we will meet in Room 301. On Friday we will meet in Room 311.  An online space has also been created where our learning about mindfulness can continue.  You are invited to join us at https://muut.com/naisac15#!/mindfulness

More information about the sessions being offered at the conference follow:

Wednesday's three-hour workshop, February 25, 1:00 - 4:00 PM($180)

W15. Mindfulness Approaches for School Administrators: Keep Calm and Carry On

Experience mindfulness meditation, see it used in a variety of educational environments, and load your laptop and mobile device with easy-to-use applications, all of which cultivate a focused awareness on the present moment. Get informed and inspired by learning how mindfulness can help you decrease stress, empathize with others, and use your leadership opportunity to improve school climate.
Presented By Julie Faude and Maggie Powers, The Episcopal Academy (PA); Andrea Sarko, Chill Expeditions (PA)

One hour-workshops include:
Simple Practice, Big Impact: Bringing Mindfulness Training to School Communities 
Thursday morning at 8 at room 101

Consider the implications the current research on mindfulness meditation has for independent schools and learn how an independent 6 – 12 school designed a training and practice program that is generating strong enthusiasm among faculty, administrators, students, and parents. Get a brief introduction to mindfulness and consider how the practice may benefit your school and how to successfully introduce and promote it.
Presented By Sam Shapiro, The Athenian School (CA)
Explore What is mindfulness? Why does mindfulness matter to schools? How can I get my school community excited to offer mindfulness training? 

The Mindfulness Revolution Arriving at Your School 
Thursday at noon in room 204
Experience a comprehensive survey of mindfulness programs at independent high schools nationwide. Take an in-depth look at one successful mindfulness program as you uncover tools and immersion opportunities to develop your own mindfulness program.
Presented ByPatrick Cook-Deegan, Patrick Cook-Deegan Mindfulness Mentoring and Consulting (CA); Jessica Morey, Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (MA); Douglas Worthen, Middlesex School (MA)
Explore What is happening with mindfulness at independent high schools across the country?  What does a successful mindfulness program look like?  What organizations, resources, and immersion opportunities exist for my school? 

Mindfulness: How to Change Your School Culture by Doing Nothing
Friday at 8 in room 311
By practicing mindfulness (doing nothing – on purpose – for a given amount of time), we can reinvigorate and transform ourselves, our students, and our schools in positive ways. Benefits of mindfulness include improved academics and emotionally richer lives. See how cultivating mindfulness in schools is highly conducive to a design thinking culture.
Presented By Larry Kahn, Iolani School (HI); Christa Forster and James Houlihan, The Kinkaid School (TX)
Explore What is mindfulness, why is it so popular, and how and why does it work? How do we cultivate a mindfulness practice for ourselves, our students, and our schools? How is mindfulness related and conducive to design thinking? 

 I'm looking forward to exploring mindfulness further and learning with others, face-to-face at the conference, and online after the conference.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why I Attend NAIS

I first started attending NAIS several years ago to help Dr. Chris Bigenho with his Classrooms of the Future Initiative.  In those days, Chris enlisted the help of several progressive technology educators to lead conversations with NAIS attendees about things they were doing to enhance learning in their classrooms by leveraging new technologies.

When the grant for that program ran its course, I continued attending.  Why?

Pat Bassett's Visionary Leadership

It has consistently been a pleasure to see who Pat Bassett tapped to speak to us at NAIS over the years. Standouts have included John Hunter, Guy Kawasaki, Carol Dweck, Sugata Mitra, Sal Khan, Mizuko Ito... the list goes on.  However, Pat Bassett's own words, both in writing and in person, have inspired my thinking as well.  His student-centric, global, and project-based vision of 21st-century learning has inspired my own work. His series on the 5 Cs  (later the 6 Cs) is a terrific example of his thinking.

In my role as Chief Technology Officer (or as I like to say, 21st-Century Learning Evangelist) at The Kinkaid School, it has meant a great deal to me to know that the leadership of NAIS has embraced the notion of shifting our school cultures to both enhance the environment for learning and to prepare young people for their futures.


Over the past few years, by leveraging several social media tools, I have cultivated a Personal Learning Network (PLN) with many NAIS colleagues who have become my teachers. While I greatly value my online relationships with these people, it's always a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet with them, even if it's only once a year, in person at the NAIS annual conference.  NAIS is also a terrific space in which to meet new visionary thinkers to add to my PLN.

This Year's Conference

I'm excited about this year's conference for several reasons:

danah boyd:  Having been a devoted fan of danah boyd's research and blogging since she was a graduate student, I'm particularly looking forward to having the opportunity to see her in person.

Cathy's Davidson:  Her important book Now You See It was one of my favorite reads of 2012.

John Chubb:  This will be the new NAIS president's first opportunity to speak to us. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

Wireless at NAIS! We have been excitedly awaiting this for years. The backchannel should be rocking!

Collaborations:  Next week I have the honor of collaborating with many terrific educators at NAIS.

Wednesday afternoon:  The Connected Educator, learning and leading in a digital age (W16), with one of my heros, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, 1:00 to 4:00 pm, room 122A

Thursday afternoon: Vinnie Vrotny, Marti Weston, and Renee Hawkins and I will share ideas on how to educate parents about the shifts in learning at the Parents Are Learners Too session, 1:30-2:30 pm, Room 115C.

Thursday evening: Join many independent school technology leaders at the ISTE SIGIS meet up/dinner being held at The Farmer's Cabinet. Tweet @drjillbrown to register!

Friday morning: The NAIS 21st Century Curriculum/Technology Task Force is leading the first un-conference session in NAIS history.  Come learn with us from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm, or 1:30 to 2:30 pm, Hall G.

Friday afternoon: FinalSite CEO Jon Moser and I will talk about ways to leverage social media and mobile learning to enhance learning from 1:30 until 2:30 pm, room 119A.

A terrific week of learning lies ahead.  I can't wait!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Sounds of Silence

Over Christmas break my wife, Susan Lucille Davis, and I enjoyed a fabulous week in Venice.  Going into the trip, I expected I would have Internet access in my hotel and at other spots around the tourist destination.  After all, we'd enjoyed being connected, at least on a limited basis, three years years ago when we traveled to Prague. However, that turned out not to be the case. While our hotel was wonderful in all other respects, its only Internet access was a painfully slow connection from a laptop kept in the hotel's lobby for guest use. For the most part, I had no access to the Internet for an entire week.

In a word, that experience was liberating.  I felt freed of the need to check-in, share, catch up, make sure all was well at work, etc.

During that week, instead of my wife and I being on our respective devices, as we are as I'm writing this,

we spent our time enjoying each other's company, reading out loud, and solving the New York Times crossword puzzles that I'd downloaded to my iPad before we left the States. I came away from that experience determined to bring back to my life some of that mindfulness, of being wholly cognizant in the moment of my experiences, that I felt during that wonderful vacation.

Of course, as soon as I got home, I happily got back on the grid. Still, I made a conscious effort to change my practice. As I was curating the plethora of junk emails I had received while away, instead of simply deleting them, I requested to be removed from future emails.  I also began to think more deeply about such distractions and their influence on my life.

Reading Net Smart

About that time, I started reading Howard Rheingold's Net Smart.  Rheingold's book had been nominated by my friend Vinnie Vrotny for the ISTE SIGIS fall book discussion for 2013. The timing of my picking up this book could not have been more perfect. Rheingold deftly describes the attention problems we create for ourselves with new media and devices and how these problems are solvable as we become more mindful in our practice.

My copy of Net Smart has become so marked up that it looks like it's been vandalized by graffiti artists.  I've also picked up extra copies for colleagues at work. More importantly, I've started visiting classes at my school and having conversations with students about the importance of mindfulness, with particular emphasis on technology.  This topic has also worked its way into my interactions with parents. Just as students get all worked up about the pyrotechnics of the technology itself, parents become so concerned about technology safety for their children that they stop being mindful of their own actions. Parents need to learn to be more mindful (as I am working to become) themselves.

Conversations with Colleagues

 At my school we have a wonderful three-week mini-semester that frequently serves as a sandbox for teachers to try doing new things in new ways.  It's also a time for travel. A teacher, who was on a trip to China discussed with me how some of the kids purchased Internet connectivity from China before they left on the trip. Another group of students had no access to the Internet.  She found that the students who had no Internet access were happier on the trip than were the students with access.  I shared my experience on my trip to Venice and the importance of following up such epiphanies with greater deliberate mindfulness upon my return. As Howard Rheingold points out in Net Smart, "not drowning is not the same as swimming" (p. 98).

 Conversations with Kids

Pure happenstance, a colleague of mine, Christa Forster, taught mini-semester class on mindfulness and writing.  She invited me to join her class for a day. After we meditated for 10 minutes, we had a terrific hour-long discussion about being mindful when using technology. The day after my visit Christa had her students reflect on the lessons we learned from our discussion together.  A couple of their reflections follow:

It's clear that the students I worked with enjoyed learning that adults are struggling with the same issues that they are.  They clearly want to have conversations with adults who care about them about mindfulness and technology.  Most of their prior interactions with adults involved negative lecturing.  Nobody likes being lectured to.

 Conversations with Parents 

Interestingly, when working with parents, I usually bring up how important it is for them to model mindful behavior with regard to their own cell phone use. Nervous laughter inevitably follows. Although their laughter is most likely an admission of guilt, we can't really blame them. All of this is new. None of us has been trained in how to use these tools. However, their recognition that they should be more mindful of how their behavior affects their kids serves as an important starting point for further learning.

Next Steps

Leading a mindful life, like being a life-long learner, has always been a noble goal for all of us to aspire to in our culture.  However, both paths have become essential 21st-century skills. Conversations on mindfulness need to continue. All of us need to know how to think before we click. We need to learn how to own new media, instead of having the media own us.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

Another Day, Another Discovery

This afternoon, Susan Davis and I were putting the finishing touches on a presentation for the Association of Independent Maryland Schools Technology Retreat. We had been collaborating using a Google Docs Presentation and had planned on downloading the finished presentation to a PowerPoint, because once can never be certain of Internet connectivity at a conference.

While trying to open up the presenter's notes feature we stumbled upon the fact that the presentation software in Google Apps has a feature that allows viewers of a presentation to have backchannel discussions automatically displayed while the presentation is flowing. What a wonderful concept! To access this feature, you click on "View together" after you click on "Start Presentation".

Playing with this feature for a few minutes, we discovered that while a presentation is being displayed, a backchannel can be viewed to the right. I love it!

However, this feature also seems to allow any participant to take control of the presentation and see the presenter's notes. Uh-oh, that could be dangerous.

So, from our quick test, we believe that this feature will be great when working in a small, trusted environment. I look forward to playing with this feature more.

If you have any experience working with this feature, please share your experiences.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Conversation

My background, to condense many years into one sentence, is in music and information technology. When I transitioned in 1999 from working in the corporate IT world to working as a technology director for an independent school, schools at that time primarily saw technology as a tool to support their infrastructure (email, grading, school store, library, cafeteria, business office, etc). To enhance learning, the school where I worked employed computer labs, used a few laptops in carts, and became an extremely early adapter of wireless technology.

In 1999, both within the school and outside the school, professional networking took place primarily in the form of emails. These one-way or two-way conversations may have been read by groups of people, sent to grouped email folders, or shared on listserves, but email was the primary means of communicating. For the most part, both adults and students worked on computers in isolation from one another. Collaboration took the form of emailing a document to a colleague for feedback.

I first learned about the revolution in social networking by being instructed to stop it. We learned that students were using a new form of technology as the means to converse with strangers. This new form of technology involved the establishment of virtual communities of young people. These communities were growing exponentially and attracting young people to them like moths to the flame. The perception at that time was that no good could possibly come from these communities.

A word about school technology directors. Like most teachers, we tend to be quite conservative about what we do. By nature we are quite protective and cautious. We wish to protect our networks, protect the kids on our networks, etc.

Frankly, the first student pages I visited on MySpace (remember MySpace?) were quite unnerving. In addition to being off-putting simply because this type of media was so new, most of the pages I visited at that time had a horrid sense of design, their authors were revealing far too much information about themselves, and students were seemingly connecting with anyone and everyone. It was about that time that my first thoughts relating to teaching students about “media literacy” came into being, although at that time those words would have never entered my head. I began thinking that we needed to teach students how to navigate these spaces safely. Unfortunately, at the time, I had no clue about how to do this, nor did most of my colleagues. So, in order to better guide our seemingly reckless students, I set about the task of learning about these new social networking media. Four years ago, I brought Alan November to my school, and we learned that young people networking didn’t have to be all bad -- some students were doing amazing things at school by connecting. Three years ago, I enrolled a team of 5 teachers into the Powerful Learning Practice program. While I was enrolled in that program, a shift took place in my thinking. Two of the top educational technology leaders in the country, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, were extolling the virtues of leveraging these new social tools in schools. Still skeptical, I decided to lean into my discomfort. I forced my self to start a Facebook page, signup for Twitter, enroll in and take part in Ning communities, and create a Second Life avatar. In no time at all, I started making connections and having meaningful conversations online about educational technology. And, via a contact I made in Second Life, I had my first experience connecting students at my school with an expert from another country. This led to experiences and conversations that enhanced both their learning and mine.

Now, via my personal learning network, I connect with hundreds of people around the world who share my interest in learning and technology. I started a music blog that I now co-author with a friend, an it has attracted close to 1,000 readers from around the world. I’m currently enrolled in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at the University of Manitoba where I’m learning about Connectivism as a learning theory. The course’s leaders, George Siemens and Stephen Downes, brilliant as they are, are not my only teachers. In addition to participating in the synchronous semi-weekly online sessions, I’m learning from the community we have created, a community comprised of the universe of people who are extending this course to our Facebook group, on Twitter, and in Diigo. And they are learning from me, which is, in fact, the point. We are all learning from each other 24x7x365.

Learning together -- that is the shift.

I encourage you to join the conversation.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Call me RSSable

I have been using Real Simple Syndication (RSS) for a few years now. How has RSS changed my practice? Why do I keep using it?

In a nutshell RSS has become a window into my Personal Learning Network (PLN). Here is where I go to read the news from the sources I like to follow, read blogs that I like to follow, etc. It's changed my daily practice because RSS provides me with a one-stop shop for the type of information that I like to consume and contribute to. That's why I keep using it. I can't think of any downside to it.

I use RSS every day. How about you? Is RSS an integral part of your PLN?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Check out our students blogs!

I'm happy to write that we have students blogging in all 3 divisions (lower, middle, and upper) of our school.

LS: These blogs are still somewhat locked down. If you would like to collaborate with our LS students please contact me!

MS: The 7th grade science classes have just hatched ducklings! They incubated the ducks in the classroom for 4 weeks, studied embryonic development, watched them hatch, and are now taking care of them. Check out their blog for pictures, videos, and updates over the next couple of weeks: http://ducks2010.blogspot.com
Check out and please comment on the photo/video blog of ducklings being hatched and raised.

US: Students in an Intro to Computer Science are programming in Python. Links to their blogs follow:

This is Harlan's (the teacher) ipad and python programming blog:

This is Ankush's blog on programming "laser blast" in python

This is Matt's blog - he is a second year student (currently in AP, too) who is writing "Demon Attack" in Python:

This is Luke's Blog. He is writing Mario Bros. in Python:

This is Patrick's. He is writing some sort of pokemon game in python. Right now, he has his character walking around on a map.

This is Charles' blog. He is a freshman, and he's picked an ambitious program - super mario bros.

And this is Graham's blog. He is a former AP student and a senior. He is writing Bomberman: