Learning about learning
I love Chris Pappas. At least I love his work to support the world of elearning. His blog post yesterday in the eLearningIndustry blog Tips to Use Learners' Imagination in eLearning hit a nerve for me. I've been slogging through a project management course for PMP certification and am getting to see the torture that we put our learners through when we assemble uninspired elearning.
Don't get me wrong. The course is very professionally produced. There is video footage and synchronized slides expounding on the vocabulary of project management. The lectures don't repeat word-for-word what is on the slide, but rather support the intended message. They are chunked out into 5-8 minute segments. As far as lecture production goes, the course gets an A. However, after nearly two hours of this format, I have not done a thing to apply the project management vocabulary I've being "taught". I feel like I'm sitting in a lecture hall listening to a professor drone on and on, despite the professional actors' they have used to present the information. Have I learned anything? Not really, and that's not just because I've been doing project management for 20 years. I also don't think it's because I'm not taking copious notes on the talker and his slides. It's because the goal of this course appears to be to provide the mandatory 35 hours of prep time to sit for the PMP exam, which from everything else I've seen, is four hours of answering multiple choice questions about this kind of content. Some of the prep sites I've seen include math related analysis questions, so I live in hope that we shall leave the halls of the lectures and apply things soon.
what should they be able to do?
This kind of course design flies in the face of good instructional design because there is no application of the learning. There's also no engagement with the learner. The production values are great, and I suspect cost a fair amount of money based on the price tag for the prep. But if in the end, I can't DO project management, and can only pass a test, what have I achieved?
I start every learning project by making my SME answer one question: At the end, what should the learner know and be able to do? If the subject matter expert cannot answer that in an single sentence, they do not know what they want. Whether it's curriculum, a module or a course, if we don't have the learner DOING at the end, why are they learning it?
After reading Chris' article, I imagined many possibilities for this boring PM course.
The list goes on. I have to wonder. There must be explanations why the designers never thought about the learner when they built this.
There are 33 more hours left of this course. I'm not terribly hopeful that there will be wonders in store for me.
I was wandering on a path of tangents from Twitter this morning, and stumbled on Six Word Memoirs. What a brilliant writing prompt! I would love to use this in a class somewhere. I was pondering what my six words would be for 2014, since this has been a year of transition.
If I use this as a scratch pad for 2014 I come up with:
I suppose I could get all Freudian about what came out there. But I won't.
What would your six words be?
active learners are better learners
The maker movement has been gaining a foothold in K12, which makes sense. Kids like to experiment and figure things out. If you're new to the Maker Movement, here's a great primer article from ASCD's Educational Leadership called Tinkering is Serious Play. Here's an excerpt from the article with an interesting set of definitions as to what it looks like from the framework of the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium, a museum in San Francisco.
What learning in Tinkering looks like
I'd love your thoughts.
Here are my slides, which unfortunately didn't get to be projected because of a bit of a snag changing out the light bulb, but what the heck, I've done enough training that I was able to punt. There isn't much detail on the slides, so I've included the text below if the symbols of Christmas are new to you. Many major religions celebrate a holiday in December. For me, it's Christmas, and celebrating the life changing difference that knowing Jesus means to me. I'd love to tell you more about that some time if you aren't sure what Christmas is really all about.
If a martian landed in the United States during December, it would be hard pressed to understand what the frenzy is all about, unless it happened upon a church on a Sunday. Many keep the focus on shopping for the right presents, cooking special foods, partying with friends and getting together with family. From a commercial perspective, certainly there is an economic boom in this time of year as many dollars are spent on those gifts.
A Birthday Party with No Guest of Honor?
Imagine hosting a large birthday celebration. The cake is made, the house is decorated, the presents wrapped, and the guests have all arrived. The candles are lit, but there is no guest to blow out the candles! In many ways, that's what we, even in the church have done with Christmas as we get caught up in the bustle of the holiday and the preparation for the pageants and special programs.
What Have We Done to the Holiday?
In all fairness, we do live in a society that is changing. My friend Jane Bozarth posted this comment on her Facebook page:
"Heard people who work in HR of all places, lamenting the fact that the holiday party is now called a "Christmas party". Our staff consists of 2 Jews, a Muslim, three atheists and a Wiccan, and I don't know what else. smh."
She raises a great point about office parties. Certainly none of us wants to be celebrating something we don't believe in. One of her friends commented that we should just break the party down into 15 minute increments and let everyone celebrate the holiday of their choices.
In government offices, there is a great hullabaloo about putting up a Christmas tree these days, now that the putting up of the manager scene is long gone away. That doesn't mean that churches must stop celebrating!
Our country has changed as more and more nations are represented in the population. When we were predominantly European, Christmas was an assumed heritage as much of the population had Christian roots. Today, we are varied. That does not mean that the message must be silenced and the good news sealed up. Many of the holiday symbols we view as generic still have Christian roots, and those of us who celebrate Christmas can be reminded of the message they contain and share the good news they proclaim. Just as Jesus used every day objects as teaching props, we can too, if we know their stories. Let's examine our holiday symbols and see their origins. Much of this research comes from Angie Mosteller's Christmas Traditions pages if you'd like to learn more.
Symbols of Christmas
There are some obvious symbols that we see at Christmas time that need no explanations. The angels represent the angels that shared the story with Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, and the star reminds us of the star of Bethlehem that led the wisemen to Jesus. What about the secular symbols?
- Colors of Red and Green
Red reminds of of the blood of Jesus. Leviticus 17:14 says the life is in the blood. Without blood, there is no life in animals. In the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed to provide atonement for sin. In the New Testament, Jesus died on the cross to provide forgiveness for our sins. Out of his death comes life, and the connection to green.
Green represents life. We choose evergreens to remember the eternal life we have when we believe in Christ.
In many areas of the world, red and green are the only bright colors that survive in nature during the winter. In fact, at a time when most plants are barren, those that remain green and even blossom like holly with its red berries and the poinsettia with its brilliant red leaves captivate attention. (1)
So red and green remind us that Jesus brings life out of death.
- Christmas Tree
The Christmas tree has many legends of its origin. The dominant one is that Martin Luther saw a beautiful snow covered evergreen tree one winter and wanted to capture its beauty so he cut it down and brought it in, tying candles on the branches. Luther scholars have no record of this anywhere, so we can't really capture that.
In the 7th century a wise monk was said to have used a tree as a teaching object. The triangular shape helped point out the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The tree always pointed up to God, and if he hung it upside down in the church, it would remind us that Christ came to earth to be God with us. When he went back to heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit as a lasting reminder. There is documentation of trees being hung in other churches for that very reason.
In Medieval times, evergreen trees were used in the Paradise Plays, also known as the Mystery Plays. A tree was used to represent the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life, two trees at the beginning and end of the bible. Adam and Eve at the fruit from the tree of knowledge, bringing death from sin into the world, yet Jesus died on a tree (the cross, made of wood) to bring life back from death, allowing us to eat from the tree of life in Revelation 22 as we live forever in heaven. Proverbs 11:30 says, The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that wins souls is wise.
By the 1600s trees were popular decorations at Christmas time. In Scandinavian countries, apples were hung from the branches, their pretty red color reminding us of the blood of Christ, and the symbol of the apple served as a reminder of the fruit that Eve ate in Genesis, and the need for a savior.
In Isaiah 11:1, a branch from the line of David is promised, signifying Jesus. We can consider Jesus like the branches of the Christmas tree, and believers as the beautiful ornaments hung upon them.
The Christmas wreath is round, which reminds us of the eternity of God, who has no beginning and end. They are generally made of evergreens, reminding us of the eternal life we have in Christ. In Greek and Roman eras, wreaths were placed as crowns to honor people. We honor the King of Kings in Jesus at his birth at Christmas.
In many parts of Europe, holly is known as Christ's thorn. The green and red connect with new life and the blood of Christ, and the sharp points on the leaves remind us of the thorny crown he wore on the way to the cross. The leaves are shaped like flames, which remind us of the burning love of God for us. Holly wards off insects and mice, so homes would be protected by boughs of holly, even as life in Christ protects us the evil the devil would throw at us. In the US, we don't decorate as much with holly as with evergreens, but the song Deck the Halls clearly indicates that it was a favorite Christmas decoration. That song first appeared in 1862.
Poinsettias, with their star shaped red flowers remind us of the star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to Christ. The Aztec people call it star flower, and it only blooms at Christmastime. The red and green remind us again of the blood of Christ bringing us new life. In Mexico, the Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night) shares the legend of a field of weeds bursting into color on the night that Jesus was born.
- Candy Cane
The legend of the candy cane is often attributed to a candymaker in Indiana, but candy sticks had been around long before the United States. Most believe that the candy was modified from candy sticks by an ingenious monk who was choirmaster for a children's choir who needed to keep the children quiet during the long holiday masses. The symbolism includes first the shape, which is like a shepherd's crook. Shepherds saw the angels who announced the birth of Jesus and went to find the baby in a manger. Jesus calls himself our shepherd, and his sheep hear his voice. Turned over, the cane becomes a J, which begins the name of Jesus. Putting two together makes a heart, which reminds us of the incredible love of God for us.
The candy is hard, reminding us that Jesus is our rock. It is flavored with peppermint, which has healing properties for sore throats and upset stomachs, just like we are healed from our sins in Christ. The red represents the blood of Jesus, but if you look closely, you'll also find a thick stripe and three thin stripes. The thin stripes remind us of the whipping Jesus endured prior to the cross at the hands of the soldiers. It is by his stripes that we are healed.
We hear the bells ring out at Christmas time. Bells were long used to call people to come together, but are also run at times of celebration. We certainly have much to celebrate in the time of Christ's birth. In the Old Testament, priests also had bells sewn on their garments.
Christmas occurs in the wintertime, which is a season that in many parts of the world includes snow. Each snowflake, just like each individual is completely unique, fashioned by the hand of God. Frosty the Snowman, another iconic figure at Christmastime, is made of snowflakes. He comes to life with a magic hat. In Christ, we receive new life as we are born again.
- Christmas Presents
We give gifts to one another at Christmastime, as the wisemen brought gifts to the Christ Child. God uniquely gifts each of us, and of course, in Christ, we receive the greatest gift of all.
- Christmas Shopping
It's a bit of a stretch to connect Christmas shopping with Jesus, but it's more than likely that the town of Bethlehem was as busy as your local mall in December when Christ was born. After all, the town was so full of people, there was no room for Mary and Joseph to stay, so Jesus was born in a stable. Think about the smell of animals, and laying a baby in a cow's feeding dish. Not something I'd want to do!
- Santa Claus
The all-knowing gift-giving Santa appears to have characteristics like God, which creates problems for many, and creates controversy in the church as to whether or not he should be included in the Christmas celebration. Santa Claus is based on a real person, St. Nicholas, who lived in the third century.
According to Celebrating Holidays, Nicholas was born in the in 280 AD to wealthy Christian parents in Patara (a harbor city in modern day Turkey). It is probable that Nicholas and his parents could trace their spiritual heritage to the Apostle Paul, who stopped in Patara on his third missionary journey 200 years earlier. His parents died of the plague while he was 9 and left him a large inheritance. As he grew up, Nicholas was known for his generosity, sharing with the poor and always giving in secret. He was chosen as Archbishop of Myra (a harbor city just south and east of Patara) when he was in his early 20s. This was a time of persecution, and it is likely that it touched his world.
St. Nicholas Day used to be celebrated on December 6th to honor him, but has been combined with Christmas to the chagrin of many. While Santa is not the centerpiece of Christmas, certainly the kindness of St. Nicholas is something to be remembered and honored by Christians, as we share what we have with those less fortunate.
Christmas lights twinkle on the Christmas trees, on houses, and in homes. We also light candles at Christmastime. The light reminds us of the star that led the wisemen to Jesus, but also of the light of the world in Christ. In John 1, it says that the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness could not comprehend it. Many missed Jesus when he lived on earth even though he was very visible. Many rejected him, even as many do today. The bible calls Christians light of the world. We have the opportunity to bring light to others as we share Christ with them.
Pointing the way - Learning to be the light
If the story is new to you, listen to Linus share a part of it from Luke 2 in a Charlie Brown Christmas, then check out the latter slides in my presentation above, which tells an illustrated version of the story from the beginning.
Here's What christmas is all about
- Celebrate and change. This year I led my team at work to win three national awards, then left the company in November. I am so proud of the Piggy Pilots and all we became together. I celebrate all that I learned in my time at NECB, and look forward to the change that a new job will bring.
- Celebrate and change. This year my daughter and her family moved back to Rhode Island, so the six grandkids live nearby again. That means more interaction, and planning space for them in life.
- Celebrate and change. I finally redid my website. It's about time, since the first version was built about 10 years ago. Definitely time.
- Celebrate and change. This year I also spent considerable time reflecting on what really matters in life. I was able to spend time with friends, and celebrate with them as they experienced changes in their lives.
This year I was able to spend time with two women who pulled me out of my comfort zone as I walked through the upheavals of life with them. Stephanie is 22 and I cannot imagine living through the horror and abuse she faced in her first 18. I came out of a mess, but it pales by comparison to hers. Yet today, Stephanie is a mirror of God's grace. I have watched one of the most remarkable transformations in her over the past five months, but also some of the most intense suffering as she battles to regain custody of her daughter unfairly taken away at birth. Some days life just doesn't seem fair. But God is faithful, and knows the bigger picture.
Celebrate and change. For me, it will be a change moving into another job. As I've been going through the interview process, I've been able to redefine who I am and what I want in my career. I'm not changing who I am by any means. I'm just sharpening the focus a bit. I've realized how much I enjoy leading and teaching others, and look forward to working with another team. I also recognize the maverick that I am, and that creativity leads to innovation. However, many are threatened by it so I need to learn to tread lightly.
With change, comes predictable patterns. I anticipate the ups and downs of the new year with the changes, but I'm making a point to celebrate along the way. I hope you are too.
Teacher by training, learner by design.