There are ideas that sit in the back of my brain for what seems like a long time. Slowly they bond with other ideas, growing imperceptibly. Bobbing to the surface, glinting just enough to be noticed.
One of these is a moment towards the end of the series Breaking Bad. Without spoiling anything major, the main character, Walter White, a chemistry teacher turned drug producing kingpin, says (and forgive me as I paraphrase) “I didn't do it for my family, although I said that was the reason, I did it for me. I was proud of what I created.
I thought I was joking at the time when I made a note titled Walter White and teachers as makers. I knew it would be tricky to write, it was a good hook with dark implications. It wouldn't do to have people think that I was advocating teachers leave the classroom for any reason, let alone to follow his dubious vocation, but the writers of the series had something there. The pride of creating, of putting something out into the world is powerful and often inaccessible to teachers.
If teachers are seen as curriculum clerks who manage a yearly churn of students, where is the intrinsic reward of crafting something in the real world that matters to a wider audience?
This question floats in my mind, like that scene, as I read INVENT TO LEARN, Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager 2013, with a great book club of teachers exploring the ideas, materials, philosophy, and pedagogy of a constructionist education. The authors quote Mark Frauenfelder, editor of Make, describing the virtuous circle of the Maker ethic. He talks about creating something, posting it online and having others use this idea as a jumping off point. Sure, he is talking about chicken coops and robotic light switches, but it resonates with my experience writing about video creation for my classroom. I see how this same virtuous circle works in the world of teachers writing about what they build for their class, whether it is a lesson, an ebook, a video, or even a puppet.
In an earlier part of the text they describe students in a MakerSpace learning tools and then creating tutorials for other students. This cooperative creation is a generative force.
If I think about it much at all, I can see a direct thread back to the poetry workshops I enjoyed in college and grad school, the spark of invention stirred us and when those sparks landed and ignited something in another writer we all basked in the light. Not to get too far into my metaphor, but this is the process of inspiration. In this book I find a clear argument for creating an educational space that fosters inspiration and supports learners as they build ideas into things that do real work in the world.
Why blog? Because sharing your ideas can have more power than you know and when your idea inspires others, that power comes back to you. This is the virtuous circle of sharing your learning process.
I am on the way to a conference to talk about how flipping your class gives you more control over time as a teacher, it breaks the oppressive linear nature of time in which a moment in the classroom is gone once it passes. My argument is that by recording the right moments in your class you can save time, literally, and allow your students control over how they use that time.
There are many other benefits to teachers creating recordings of class content, but the one I want to call out here is the simple act of making your work shareable. Before I explored recording my class each day started, passed, and was done. I had handouts, and plans, and always the looming stack of papers or notebooks, but to anyone outside my classroom there was nothing to show for it. Once I started recording, I had a something. It often was pretty or even ready to share, but it was there. As I made recordings I used my blog to share them out. I got feedback, often very “constructive” about the quality or length of the recordings and as I tried to make my recording “less bad” I also worked to make them more useful.
As with any tool, the more I used recordings in class, the better I got at making them. The more recordings I made, the more useful they became to my students. I should say, I got better at recognizing opportunities to make recordings that could be truly useful in both my classroom and the wider educational community. Now I see video creation as an important tool in my kit and when I work with students on video creation I have a library of examples of mistakes they should avoid.
But above all of this, I like making videos. It amuses me and it feeds me in a vital way. I wouldn't want to equate my videos or puppets with Walter White's drug empire, but the act of building these pieces and sharing them is a powerful force in my professional life. I don't advocate that everyone begin sewing puppets or making videos, but I do advocate that teachers find a way to build something they can share with others in a community.
Check out Ray Feraday's great response.