Writing about learning

I run a publishing company called Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. At this time, we have twelve books published, most of them written by educators. These books represent a wide array of content, but all are about creating modern, creative learning opportunities.

Educators often ask me about writing their own books, and I highly encourage it. I’m not just looking for new authors, even though I’m happy to talk about joining the CMK Press team. I believe that there are multiple benefits to writing about education, both for the world and the writer.

  1. The world needs to see real models of learning. I hear all the time about how all schools are boring test-prep factories and that will never change. Yet I talk to educators daily who are breaking the mold and doing amazing, creative, wonderful things with students. People don’t believe it because they can’t see it. You can fix this.
  2. Nobody else can do this. The New York Times or Oprah is not coming to tell the story about how wonderful your classroom is. We can’t wait.
  3. It will be eye-opening for you. There is nothing like trying to write down what you do every day to make you think deeply about your own process.

What’s stopping you?

  1. I don’t like bragging. Teachers especially worry that talking about what they do looks like self-promotion. Get over it, it is self-promotion. But that’s different than bragging.
  2. What I do isn’t special. I talk to teachers EVERY DAY who start by saying, “Well, this isn’t that great but…” and then proceed to tell me a fantastic story.
  3. It’s hard. Yes it is. So are most things worth doing.

Getting started

If writing a book seems impossible, do it a step at a time. You know the saying, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. No one sits down and writes a book all at once!

Blogging – Blogs are perfect platforms for compiling a book. A typical book is about 50,000 words. Most blog posts are about 1,000 words. That’s 50 blog posts. If you write once a week, you will have enough for a book in a year. You do not have to attract a following or be “popular.” It does not matter if no one ever comments on your blog. You are the audience.

Podcasting – Similar to blogs, podcasting is a way to start small and work your way into more content. If you want to turn your podcasts into a book, there are amazingly inexpensive transcription services that can take your audio files and send you a document in no time at all. Most people speak at about 150 words per minute, so if you make a 20 minute podcast episode, that’s about 3,000 words. Let’s say 2,000 because there is always extra stuff in podcasts, so that 50,000 word book is only 25 podcast episodes.

Find your way – Both blogs and podcasts have an advantage of spacing out your thoughts and letting you find new ways to express yourself. You may find that as time goes on, you start to focus in on different aspects of your topic, or find a new topic that consistently comes up. Be flexible. Don’t restrict yourself to only what you think you “should” write.

Presenting – If you have ever spoken at a conference or event, one great exercise is to take each of your slides and try to write 1,000 words about each one. Since you have already gone to the trouble of making slides and thinking about what you want to say, this is a jumpstart into writing.

Play with genre – There are LOTS of different ways to write a book. Not every book about education is the same, there are plenty of ways to capture your topic. Think about the variety of books that influenced you at various points in your own journey as an educator. Or you may want to try to write a how-to book about a particular method, tool, or model you use.

Be the expert + share your passion – These may seem like two different things, but they are a matched pair. You won’t get far if you aren’t passionate about your work, and the reader won’t find it compelling if you don’t present the tale, or share the content with a confident voice.

Getting over your fears – One of the hardest parts about writing is that it exposes everything you worry about yourself. I’m not interesting, I’m not good at writing, I never have the right words, I can’t spell, my grammar is terrible, there are thousands of people better than me to say this, what I want to say has been said before… the voices in your head will pound you into the ground. The only way to get over your fears is to write anyway.

Outlines – I’m honestly not a fan of outlines as ground zero for starting a book, I think it’s unrealistic and a bit of a straitjacket, making you feel unnecessarily guilty if you have to deviate from the path you thought you had perfected. It often takes time to figure out what it is you want to focus on, and getting started with the writing is the best way to work it out. For my own work, I tend to write some, and then “chunk” it into sections, sorting what I’ve got into 5-7 piles and seeing what those piles turn out to be.

Just do it – Don’t worry about having the perfect idea, the right software, or a fully fleshed out plan. The only way to get started is to get started.

Aren’t books over?

You might think that in this digital era, books are not the best way to get your message out. But, actually, books are exploding. Books give people a way to dive into a subject, to read, think, jump around, and really dig in. Around the world, book sales continue to climb, while e-book sales have plateaued. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t offer an e-book version of your book, in fact, many people tell me that they have purchased Invent to Learn in both paper and e-book versions, and use them both for different reasons.

However, there has been little take up in interactive books like Apple’s i-book platform which was supposed to “revolutionize” book reading, and then “revolutionize” textbooks… and then didn’t.

Will it make a lot of money?

No.

Do I need a publisher?

No, in fact, I think it’s a better idea to start with your own ideas and start the writing process yourself. Now, if a publisher has approached you and asked you to write a book, that’s a different story!

There are multiple options for publishing a book, and only one of them is with a traditional publisher. It used to be that a publisher was the only way to get your book into stores where people could buy it. Now, there are many options for publishing, because there are more options for buying. I’ll share some of these options in a future post.

Pre-Service and Inservice Professional Development Papers (open access)

Teachers and teacher educators are facing great challenges teaching during this worldwide pandemic. With many conferences either cancelling or postponing their events, these sources of ideas and best practices are not available when critically needed.  

SITE-Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education shifted its spring conference to an online event this past April and which featured many timely sessions on the challenges of teaching during the pandemic. I keynoted this conference on the topic of making, hands-on, and PBL during this crisis.

In order to support teachers and teacher educators around the world who are working through the COVID-19 crisis, a collection of papers, many from the conference, documenting best practices have been published in a special issue of SITE’s flagship Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (JTATE).

This JTATE Special Issue highlights numerous and varied efforts by teacher educators, researchers and practitioners across the globe as they rapidly responded to remote teaching and learning.

View this special issue

CMK 2020 Cancelled – Save the date for CMK 2021!

CMK logo

It is with great sadness that we are forced to cancel Constructing Modern Knowledge 2020, our annual summer institute. We have waited for months to make this decision, hoping that the COVID-19 crisis would end and we could all learn together in Manchester, NH this July. Sadly, many states have closed school for the year, travel may still be limited in July, and it would be very difficult to maintain adequate social distancing during the hands-on activities of CMK.

This breaks our heart. CMK is our life’s work and is needed now more than ever. Each year, educators like yourself prove your competence and creativity while demonstrating that things need not be as they seem. The lineup of guest speakers we assembled for July 2020 was spectacular. Our hearts go out to our colleagues in Reggio Emilia, Italy who have also suffered unspeakable tragedy and are unable to join us in July.

The good news is that Constructing Modern Knowledge 2021 is scheduled for July 13-16, 2021 in Manchester, NH. All of the guest speakers scheduled for this summer have been invited to return next summer. Equally stellar replacements will be made if necessary. Our colleagues from Reggio Emilia should be able to join us as well for a spectacular workshop on documentation. We hope we can count on you to join us and help spread the word once life returns to some level of normalcy.

If you would like to learn more about CMK 2021 and other learning adventures as we move forward, please subscribe to our occasional newsletter.

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ISTE 2020 – Accepted and waitlisted sessions

I’m honored to have the following proposals accepted for the ISTE20 program. ISTE 2020 will be in Anaheim, California in June 2020. I will be leading two sessions, maybe more, if some of the waitlisted sessions are accepted!

Maker 2.0 – Now What? 
You have “making” going on in your school, or maybe even a makerspace! Congratulations… but now what? This session will help educators, both teachers and administrators, build a roadmap for their own making and makerspaces programs that will succeed now and in the future.

  • Scheduled:
    • Tuesday, June 30, 9:00–10:00 am PDT (Pacific Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

STEAM to the Future: The 4th Industrial Revolution is Here! 
Let’s time travel fifty years forward to see what science, technology, engineering, and math will be like, and the prominent role that the arts, design ,and creativity will play. This session will provide entertaining and thought-provoking insight into the challenges of adapting today’s classroom and curriculum for the future.

  • Scheduled:
    • Wednesday, July 1, 8:30–9:30 am PDT (Pacific Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

Waitlisted proposals

I was very excited about this new session on ethics, empathy, and educational technology. It wasn’t accepted, but is waitlisted, so maybe it will have a chance!

Ethics, Empathy, and Educational technology 
Go beyond digital citizenship to innovative technology to help students develop ethics and empathy for others. Breakthroughs in AI, algorithm bias, bio-hacking, face recognition, digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, robotics, media manipulation like “deep fakes,” and digital fabrication offer interesting opportunities for students to learn about cutting edge of science and math, and how ethical decision-making can make the world a better place for all.

This session will dive into the role and responsibility of the educational technology community to offer be leaders in how students learn ethics. Ethical behavior is an outcome of identifying with other people, and students of all ages can learn about ethics in the context of cross-curricular projects that include both digital and physical components. This has always been part of school – we want students to understand how their behavior impacts others. But the new role of technology in every aspect of life expands this mandate.

In the past, ethics has been taught to younger children in the context of personal responsibility – knowing right from wrong, behavior, etc. As children grow up, they are exposed to a larger sense of the world – are laws fair, what is justice, how can we make good decisions as a local or global community. In this transition, the child gains a view of the world that grows from the self to the community.

However, the world is changing. There are now decisions to be made about the ethics of systems, of technology, and of inventions that have yet to be invented. How will our children learn about these? How will they make decisions and not feel powerless in the face of this uncertainty? And what can we as educational technology leaders do about this?

Other Waitlisted submissions (panels submitted by others)

  • Bringing Bio into the Makerspace: Accessible BioFabrication and Biomaterial Explorations 
  • Hot or Not? Trending Topics in EdTech Judged by… YOU! 

New report – Long term potential of making and makerspaces for learning

Makerspaces for Education and Training: Exploring future implications for Europe

A new Science for Policy report from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service aims to provide evidence-based scientific support to the European policymaking process regarding making and makerspaces in education. (PDF download)

Yes, it says “Europe” and you may not be in Europe, but it’s likely there is something in this report that will support making and makerspaces in any organization world-wide. Around the world, educators are working to implement makerspaces as part of long-term strategy for educational change—not just as the latest fad that will be tossed out when the winds shift.

From the abstract:

“This report explores the long term potential that makerspaces and making activities can bring to education and training in Europe. Through developing four scenarios with an outlook to 2034, the report supports anticipatory thinking and helps policymakers, makers and educators to better envision and debate the added value that makerspaces and making activities can offer for education and training in Europe. The report outlines three unique aspects of makerspaces which make them appealing to education and training.

  • Firstly, making activities naturally combine disciplines that are traditionally taught separately
  • Secondly, while exploring real world problems individuals acquire new knowledge and create meaning from the experience
  • Thirdly, due to informal ways of social interaction in makerspaces, a diversity of flexible learning arrangements are created (e.g. peer learning and mentoring, peer coaching). “

While focused on European makerspaces and making in education, this report has some interesting ideas about how to frame the benefits of making in both formal and informal learning settings. One of the issues with incorporating making in education is understanding how different it is, for example, to have making as a separate class, making incorporated into other subjects, or making in drop-in or extra-curricular activities.

This is a useful, extensive report that covers a wide variety of these different forward-looking scenarios. The report also introduces “drivers of change” as a way to envision these possible futures that may be useful for many different organizations working towards a longer term vision of educational change. It also manages to include issues of equity and inclusion, plus the often overlooked aspect of community and culture that grow around makerspaces.

Future scenarios for makerspaces and making in 2034

Finally, it offers drivers for policy conversations. It nicely integrates some of the seemingly conflicting goals of many “maker” implementations—for example, how can a makerspace be both exploratory and compulsory? How can making be about personal goals and social innovation and building job skills?

This report is nicely balanced between research, policy, and excellent examples of real-world making experiences. It’s well worth reading!

Let’s meet at FETC 2020 – Miami in January!

I hope to see old friends and new at FETC 2020 in Miami, Florida, January 14-17, 2020. I’ll be talking Biomaking, Inclusive Makerspaces, STEM/STEAM, The 4th Industrial Revolution, Creativity, Disruptive Leadership Lenses, Ethics & Empathy, PBL for Making, What’s New/What’s Next for STEAM, and more.

If you can’t make FETC – check out these new Invent to Learn workshops in February in Florida!

This is a new city for FETC – after many years in Orlando, the conference is moving to Miami. FETC is always a terrific conference, attracting an international audience with stellar keynotes, a huge exhibit hall, and featured speakers in multiple tracks for a wide variety of educator interests.

Future of Education Technology Conference | January 14 - 17, 2020 Miami Beach Convention Center, Orlando, FLA.

My sessions – collect them all!

Wednesday January 15, 2020

W151$ | Disruptive Lenses for School Leaders: Making, Agile Development, Design Thinking

  • Room: Lincoln Road C
  • Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C024 | PBL Gets a “Make” Over — Prompts and Assessment for Maker Classrooms

  • Room: 224-225
  • Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 1:00 PM – 1:40 PM

C065 | STEAM to the Future: The 4th Industrial Revolution is Here!

  • Room: Lincoln Road C
  • Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 3:20 PM – 4:00 PM

Thursday January 16, 2020

W205$ | Grow is the New Make: Bio-making and Bio-hacking

  • Room: 238-239
  • Thursday, January 16, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C150 | Making for All: Inclusive Maker Projects and Makerspaces

  • Room: 224-225
  • Thursday, January 16, 2020: 11:00 AM – 11:40 AM

C228 | Ethics, Empathy, and Educational Technology

  • Room: Lincoln Road C
  • Thursday, January 16, 2020: 2:00 PM – 2:40 PM

Book signing – NEW edition Invent to Learn – Main Exhibit Hall

  • Exhibit Hall Booth 2740
  • Thursday, January 16, 2020: 12:15 PM – 12:45 PM

Black Friday sale on CMK Press Kindle books

Our book publishing company, Constructing Modern Knowledge Press is having a Black Friday sale! From Black Friday( November 29, 2019) to Cyber Monday (December 2, 2019) all our Kindle books will be available for $1.99!

All Kindle versions of Constructing Modern Knowledge Press books, including the newly revised 2nd edition of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the ClassroomThe Invent to Learn Guide to 3D Printing in the ClassroomMaking ScienceThe Inner Principal, and Education Outrage will be discounted up to 80% from November 29 – December 2, 2019! (Offer good at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk)

Florida – Invent to Learn Workshops

Florida workshop map

2020 Florida Workshops
Feb 10, 2020 Fort Lauderdale, FL

Feb 12, 2020 Jacksonville, FL

Join me and Gary Stager as we host one-day workshops on coding, making, and physical computing in Florida.

This workshop will focus on the amazing opportunities for students to code and make across the curriculum using new micro-controllers like the BBC micro:bit. Even better, every participant will go home with a micro:bit of their very own!

More details and registration links. (Bring a buddy and save!)

Leveraging Emerging Trends to Produce Future-Ready Students (webinar)

A Q&A with FETC presenter Sylvia Martinez 

Originally appeared in District Administration magazine online

In this brief Q&A, Martinez shared insights on the key emerging trends in schools, thoughts on technologies like AR and AI, and classroom practices that are working best to leverage this tech. Read on for an introduction to some of the ideas you can expect to explore in her webinar and FETC session.

The recent advances in the area of physical computing make it something that can be introduced into classrooms in every grade level and subject area. Physical computing is the intersection of the digital world and the physical world. It incorporates things like robotics, but goes much further to include all kinds of things like wearable technology, understanding sensors, collecting and interpreting real world data, and more. Students who are interested in any subject, not just STEM subjects, can investigate physical computing projects that support their interests. New microcontrollers like the BBC micro:bit, combined with new easier to use software make building computer-enhanced inventions easier and more affordable than ever.

Allowing students to invent and be creative with technology does not mean that we favor technology above all other means of expression. We are simply adding tools to the creativity toolbox. If we believe, for example, that puppet shows are good (and they are), why shouldn’t the puppets have eyes that light up, or sensors that trigger sound effects, or have an AI module embedded in them? These opportunities invite all kinds of students to express themselves and make meaning in the world.

For technologies like AR, AI, adaptive computing, robotics,and other emerging tech, what is the key to making them relevant in education? In other words, how do we make sure they are enhancing learning instead of distracting from it?

New technology innovations will be adopted in one of two very different ways by schools. In some schools these innovations will be used to deliver old lessons with new bells and whistles. However, if new technologies possess educational “nutritional value,” it is incumbent upon us to find ways to use the new gizmos to expand what students can do. Using AI in a Scratch program you write, or building your own AR or VR simulation is enhancing learning. Using AI or VR to deliver a lesson, grade a quiz, or make a virtual frog pop out of a textbook is not.

The challenge is for schools to keep offering students real and relevant experiences and not fall back into ingrained habits. The focus needs to be on what students do, not what we do to students. Educators who have embraced technology can say “yes, and” to new things that are entrancing schools while keeping the focus on student-centered constructive creativity. 

What is one classroom practice you’ve observed that is working especially well to leverage emerging trends for the benefit of students?

Using students as tech leaders and mentors has enormous benefits in classrooms. One of the issues that educators face when introducing emerging technology into the classroom is the simple fact that there is a lot to learn, and it seems that technology changes so fast that there is never enough time! This may lead to procrastination hoping that someday it will all settle down and there will be time to figure it all out before introducing it to students. Unfortunately that day may never come.

Teaching students to become mentors for peers or near-peers offers tremendous benefits to all involved. Mentoring is a tried and true practice that helps both the mentors and the mentees. Students who are mentors learn confidence and become leaders in their schools. Teachers benefit from not having to be experts in everything, handing off responsibility to students. This also walks the talk of student empowerment and encourages the idea that invention and creativity come from everywhere and everyone in the school community.

Webinar archive

Sylvia Martinez’s sessions at FETC 2020

Wednesday January 15, 2020

W151$ | Disruptive Lenses for School Leaders: Making, Agile Development, Design Thinking
Room: Lincoln Road C
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C024 | PBL Gets a “Make” Over — Prompts and Assessment for Maker Classrooms
Room: 224-225
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 1:00 PM – 1:40 PM

C065 | STEAM to the Future: The 4th Industrial Revolution is Here!
Room: Lincoln Road C
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 3:20 PM – 4:00 PM

Thursday January 16, 2020

W205$ | Grow is the New Make: Bio-making and Bio-hacking
Room: 238-239
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C150 | Making for All: Inclusive Maker Projects and Makerspaces
Room: 224-225
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 11:00 AM – 11:40 AM

C228 | Ethics, Empathy, and Educational Technology
Room: Lincoln Road C
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 2:00 PM – 2:40 PM

Engagement is not a goal, it’s an outcome of trust and responsibility

You often hear people talk about how technology is so “engaging” for kids. But that misses the point. It’s not the technology that’s engaging, it’s the opportunity to use technology to create something that is valued by the community and by yourself. Yes, a new device can be entertaining for a while, but when the novelty value wears off, what are you left with?

empowerment cycle
Feel free to use — with credit!

Engagement is not a goal, it’s an outcome of students (or anyone) doing meaningful work. Meaningful to themselves AND to the community they are in. Meaningful because someone trusted them to do something good and they shouldered the responsibility. Trust engenders trust in yourself and in others. Joining as a citizen of a community, whether that community is a classroom or a virtual tribe, where you belong, and your voice is valued and encouraged. True citizenship is a two-way street, not a list of rules and punishments.

Engagement is not something you DO to kids or you GIVE kids, it’s the outcome of this cycle of experiences.