Sunday, November 19, 2017


It's been over a year since I last wrote here, and not without reason. For the much of the last twelve months, I've worked on a project that required me to learn a completely new technology, and to solve a simple problem in a novel way.

This was not an easy task. It took a lot of effort just to reach the point where I understood what questions to ask to solve each of the little problems I encountered. Often, issues compounded one another, and the challenge seemed insurmountable.

I write this as a specific, isolated example, but don't be misled: this was not the sole challenge life presented me, just the most apparent. I'll describe my experiences as related to this work challenge, but leave out other life events that occurred during this time. I promise there's a point to this, beyond my need to bloviate.

Part 1: the Struggle

I'll be honest: I went through a whole range of emotional and cognitive responses during these challenging times. There were occasional victories, when I grasped a new abstract concept, or when I finally identified the cause of a symptom, but those moments felt few and far-between.

The overriding state, the place I existed almost continually, was a state of confused frustration. It seemed that each time I'd figured out a problem, the next problem would be insurmountable, or the previous problem would arise again in a new context. Any small accomplishment was quickly obscured and forgotten.

Part 2: the Aftermath

In hindsight, I can now see and understand each fragment of learning and how it contributed to the overall project. I can see the results of my hard work, not just in the product of the work, but in how it helps others.

Life (and work) has a way of moving on, and I've moved with it. I can, almost daily, see how what I've learned has improved how I work, and what I can accomplish. It took some time to sink in, but I feel better equipped to meet the challenges I face, not because I know the solution, but because I feel equipped as an effective learner.

Part 3: the Point

I'm fortunate, because the learning with which I struggled so greatly has a tangible outcome; because my prior experience with learning has been positive; because I'm a stubborn person, and determined to understand things; because my life experience has prepared me to meet challenges like this one.

Our students - our children - will face a great many challenges, and at times, it's likely they will respond in a less-than-constructive way. School, life, adults, even their peers will all pose challenges as children grow, and the resilience they'll need doesn't necessarily come along with these challenges. Ensuring that children are equipped with the right strategies when they endeavour to solve problems should be the primary goal of not just educators, but parents and society.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Focus Trap

As an adult, it's easy to fall into a pattern. 

We all do it. Wake up, brush teeth, get dressed, go to work, drink coffee, ...

As a data nerd,
I have an irrational
craving for patterns

Patterns are fine. They're comfortable. Reassuring. We know what to expect. But there comes with patterns a hidden danger. It's easy to focus on procedures, which can take many forms. Take the same route to work every morning. Deliver the same learning in the same way. Assess understanding in the same way.

But that's dangerous. What if my pattern of assessment doesn't match my students' pattern of learning? Am I getting accurate assessment information, or am I missing something? Would I see different things if I looked at the situation in a new way?

Don't focus on one specific outcome.

Or, more accurately, don't focus solely on outcomes. Focus on the learning. How will students navigate new problems?

Are you assessing their problem-solving strategies, or are you measuring their ability to memorize?