Author Archive

March 20, 2009

THINKING Pt. 1 – Not Just Cutting The Grass

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The fellow sitting next to me clearly had not agreed with my comments. We were at the Adobe Summer Institute, it was the wrap up session and I had asked a question which tested an underlying assumption. Apparently that was not a good thing to do. To me this phrase and this attitude is the very anathema of all that is creative and insightful. Being creative frequently means testing your most basic, fundamental baseline assumptions.
lawn mower shadowed final small.jpg
The value of this testing lies in the truths that the process can reveal. For example, you might use a classroom that appears to be attentive as a positive reference point. The trouble is, you are assuming attentive = learning. Experience shows that the equation does not always work. Beware, though, doing this testing is not easy. If you test these baseline assumptions then you may lose your reference points and that can leave you in what I call free fall. You have released yourself from the norm, and you cannot know where you will land. If you ask these questions you may discover that the products you create so carefully are irrelevant. You may learn, as did one of our clients, that your assumptions are blocking your view. One of our designers and I were sitting chatting with this client. He proceeded to describe a situation in his factory and then offered us three different options to solve the issue. Which of these, he asked, would we use? Here is the funny thing – neither Danny, the designer, nor I knew in advance that he was going to ask this question. We could not have rehearsed our answers, and so it was rather dramatic when we both, simultaneously, replied, “Don’t do any of these. Remove that step from the process – you don’t need it.” Two designers using design thinking and no assumptions led us both to this interpretation. It was not what our client had expected. His deep immersion in his processes had convinced him that there were no other interpretations available. We changed that, without even meaning to, and our client learned a valuable lesson. So- how does any of this relate to cutting the grass?
It is early spring time up here in southern Ontario – time to re-find the garage. That meant finding and moving the lawn mower… and that is what started my line of thought. Looking at this simple machine I wondered just how often do we take these activities and machines for granted. Do we ever ask if there could be a better way or do we just cut the grass? As I thought about that I recalled one situation in which the creators of a product had definitely not just cut the grass, and Flash CS4, their product, had become much stronger because of it.
It was at the 2008 Summer Institute and we were being shown a preview of Flash CS4. The Flash team leader was on stage demonstrating several new features. These were fabulous, powerful new features that took my breath away. The Flash team had challenged their baseline assumptions – about how a piece of software works and Flash CS4 had grown because of that. Flash CS4 is so much more accessible that teachers should now consider it when experiences with past versions may have suggested otherwise. But, what about that idea of testing your fundamental, baseline assumptions?
I see many applications for this thinking, especially in our school settings. Teaching can never be a problem with a single answer. Our students learn in so many different ways that we must always try to reach out to them using different approaches… but are our approaches really all that different? Use this testing to see if your “different ways” are different and to see if they actually work. The answers may require you to revisit some very basic beliefs. Read on in THINKING Pt.2 – Storyboards? Sort of… for those answers and more.

9:39 AM Permalink
December 27, 2008


There is a special serenity at this time of year which encourages reflection. As I look back over the past 12 months I realize how incredibly fortunate I have been – one might even say, blessed. Many of these blessings were experienced as brief moments – hence the title to this entry. They come and go so quickly they could easily be missed. Here are a few of mine in no particular order- may they help you recall moments of your own.
One of my grade 11 students is virtually stone deaf and ESL – can you imagine learning a new language when you cannot hear? This young person, it turns out, wants to be a designer – but has very limited experience with computers and is in my class. There is a teaching assistant who comes to the school once a week to help her with all of her subjects but she is on her own in each class. Oh my. It turns out she is very smart and very determined and willing to work. We set a goal for her – a first term mark of 60% – she blows that away by earning an honest 81%. She came to the parent-teacher interviews with her mom and dad. Her mom, it turns out, was a medical professional in their former country. Here in Canada she is working at a coffee shop serving donuts and coffee and learning English slowly. The whole family broke down in tears when they spoke of the help and support their daughter received here – tears of gratitude and appreciation. That on its own was a moment frozen in time. But it was later, the last class before Christmas, when this student came to me after class to give me a present from she and her family. They have absolutely no extra money, much less money for a gift. My heart plummeted when she gave me the gift but I knew I had to accept it to allow them all this opportunity to say thank you. That small box of chocolates was my whole Christmas.
Its July in San Francisco and I am there for the annual AEL Summer Institute – that on its own is one enormous moment. But there is more. I am biking across the Golden Gate Bridge… thank you Megan for suggesting this. It is incredible. Absolutely incredible…
I have a student who regularly scores in the 60’s – never really tries, never really gets fully engaged. This one day we had finished using Photoshop and had moved on to audio software. Looking at his screen it was obvious this was too much for him, but this time I approached it differently. Instead of asking how he was doing I simply crouched down beside him and very quietly said, “Looks like you’re having trouble. Let me show you an easier way – easier is good!” He smiled at that idea and gave me his mouse and – something shifted, something changed. He listened. In that sacred moment learning happened because he opened his mind and he really, truly listened. We spent about twenty minutes together – he moved forward and I…. well, I was given another moment.
Today CS4 arrived!! YES!! I go to load it…. oh… I need to download XP Service Pack 3. I hated doing that – early builds had been full of problems but if Adobe says they need it, then I guess its okay. It all turns out fine. I go to load CS4 again…. I’m ready, I’m really really ready…. oh…. not enough ram. Damn ram…. fine… I get more ram. I go to load it again….. it takes two hours but it loads! Hooray!!! “Whats that? You need all my marks for the report cards? You mean I have to wait to play with CS4? Fine.” Not all moments are created equal…. LOL. P.S. – I am using CS4 and loving it! More on that soon.
My photography club is asked to take photos of female students made up with stage makeup to look battered and hurt because they are speaking out against violence against women and they need our help to record the event. We watch as the teacher applies the makeup and it is almost too convincing – this is the reality of the situation really coming to life right in front of us. Two of my students start shooting and the whole situation takes on a life of its own. These kids are totally, absolutely engaged – the models, the shooters and we the teachers who are helping, suggesting, and watching. THIS is why we teach…. The display covers the entire front lobby wall and is fabulous. It is even left up for the grade 8 parent night (the grade 8 students and parents from our feeder schools come for an orientation / open house). Thank you to the new principal for letting the display stay up so the kids could show their work and their concern about the problem. More moments…… watching my students shooting, observing the models working, watching other kids read the display and look at the pics.
Speaking of photos, the picture at the top of this entry was yet another moment. I like to get up early on Sunday morning and drive down to Lake Ontario to shoot photos if there is anything interesting. On this day about three weeks ago I caught sight of this momentary image and immediately raced into a parking lot and ran down to the shore to capture the light before it disappeared. I got the picture, the clouds shifted and the image was gone.
Its been quite a school year – and we have only just begun. Happy new year to all – may you have many moments of your own.

7:05 AM Permalink
September 21, 2008


hands rev1 image.jpg
Click on the picture, mouse-over, left click…. ah yes, the power of a paradigm shift. Thirty kids in a class suddenly become thirty teachers with answers and insights to share with the whole group? Is it really that easy to see our classes differently so that all of those questioning students suddenly become helpful teachers?
After spending almost ten years teaching this digital technology to high school students I have come to realize that I cannot have all the answers. I cannot know every detail of every bit of software out there…. but I am supposed to be “The Teacher”. If this sense of being all-knowing can be a concern for me, what must it be like for any new teacher out there? Especially any new teacher who has no experience with digital technology? Can there be a realistic solution? I would suggest that there most certainly is a solution – and it is as simple as the title of this blog entry.
I was working with one of my digital classes one day, and as I watched them work through their project (commercials created using Photoshop and Flash) I had a radical change of perspective. I “saw” the class differently – they were shifting back and forth between being kids/students and kids/teachers! They would ask each other questions and get those who knew more to show how they had accomplished some effect or process. They were teaching each other constantly, and I realized that this was a power that needed to be put into use a lot more often. All that was required was a change – in me. I had to stop being the great all knowing one. I had to be willing to openly share the role of teacher with any of them. I found the change to be an easy one.
This shift requires that you, the teacher, see yourself in a different light. There are so many reasons for you being up there at the front of the class – and being all knowing about software isn’t one of them. Sometimes we forget this and that can undermine our self confidence. Its time to remember all of those reasons and its time to share. These days I openly tell my students that there are 30 teachers in my classroom. Some look a little taken aback – that’s okay, I just give them more time to get used to the idea. Others have come up to me later and thanked me for saying that – they like the idea of making them teachers. We still need to know the basics and there can be no substitute for actually spending time exploring the technology we use and teach. But we can also share.
This is a fabulous way to give students leadership roles. It recognizes their value and skills and builds a sense of trust and involvement that is so important in a class. It can be how a new teacher puts a class’s energy and skills to work. It can be how we elevate a student who needs a boost. It can be how we release ourselves from a very confining role and find a much bigger and more productive and satisfying one. Thirty teachers in a class? Absolutely.

2:21 PM Permalink
January 2, 2008


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There is a soft, muted “click” as the camera shutter gently works, capturing another image. The soft feel of a fresh snowfall on a winter’s day and it’s – on film? No – captured by a CCD, ready for more playing, more development in Photoshop. After saving for many months I finally took delivery of my new Pentax digital SLR and its special lens – shooting good pictures is possible once again. As I stand here up to my knees in freshly fallen soft snow waiting for the morning sun to find its way into my small part of the world I am again reminded of how magic our work can be.
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Magic – the perfect word to describe the creating and sharing of images, sounds, animations, videos – everything that we do every day, with our students, with other teachers, with each other. In these moments all of the politics and narrow minded restrictions are removed. All of the negative comments from some disparaging voice at the back of the room disappear. A look of intense interest glows in someone’s eyes as they start to “see” all of the possibilities ahead. And I am reignited by the act of making pictures – by the act of making magic.
There was a Greek philosopher who maintained that teachers, to be effective, must actually do, as well as teach. I like that approach – it means that there is a greater chance that the magic will find its way into a classroom because there is no equivalent to actually doing. Looking around the forest where I am shooting I see the fresh tracks of a rabbit moving into the bush. Can I find that wandering bunny? More to the point, can I find and shoot that rabbit? As I follow the tracks I am led into a grove of trees and the sun suddenly lights up the snow and there is a warmth now that needs to be captured. The shadows and the sparkling light are dancing in front of me – it’s time to make pictures. And you’re going to convince me that you can learn this by reading a book? No – that’s simply never going to happen. The magic of being in the forest, washed over by that morning sun – that is a teachable moment that only personal experience can generate. That personal involvement is part of the magic.
We have a new year ahead of us. So far it’s looking a lot better than the one I, for example, have left behind. Too many challenges, not enough accomplishments – it’s time to turn that one around. Its time to find the magic – wherever that magic may live in each of our lives. Its starting well – the fellow at our local high end camera shop was talking to me about my camera (heart stopping moment when he told me they were completely sold out – I found one in a small city many miles from here – thank heavens for that) – and then he saw the Adobe Ed Leaders name on the front and asked if I would like to teach Photoshop Elements to their customers. Turns out they have a small classroom set up in their basement complete with digital projector and seating for about 25. Many of their customers have requested demonstrations and classes as well as an explanation of why Photoshop should be their software of choice. No problem, I said, I’d love to do it – and suddenly a whole new opportunity is opened in front of me. That is part of the magic, too. New opportunities, old skills and old passions reignited, creation and sharing actively pursued – yes, these are all part of the magic of what we do. It’s going to be a good year.
May you too, find your version of The Magic. May it warm you and drive you and may it find its way, every day, into your classroom.

5:47 AM Permalink
August 22, 2007

Photoshop – Bracket Key Bliss

The brackets tool works equally well in Photoshop Elements 5.0 – what a great tool. My students will be impressed that even Elements has these features.

6:09 PM Permalink
July 30, 2007

Web 2.0

Our sessions at Camp re: Web 2.0 reminded me a presentation made at our Canadian conference, Leading Learning 2007 in Feb of this year, by Tim Hawes. Tim, by no small coincidence, is the Asst Manager IT of the Ottawa Carlton school board which has three schools involved with the Adobe Youth Voices project – he is very proactive, pro-student and open minded.
There are two links I think people will want to follow from his piece
– this is a wonderful film he showed that was created by Asst Prof Micheal Wesch, Kansas State University which really captures some of the idea of web 2.0
– these are Tim’s slides which will help to explain his point of view re: Web 2.0 and parts of it sound resoundlingly similar to what Kim Cavanaugh had to say. I hope all of this helps us better understand where we are going and how we’re going to somehow get there… and of course, all of this is still in beta form (LOL)

11:49 AM Permalink