Paying it Forward / Paying Back

One week ago, on Wednesday, November 20th, I had the unique opportunity to engaged in two online experiences which simultaneously allowed me to both repay individuals who have been instrumental in the recent success that I am enjoying while at the same time, hopefully, pay it forward to encourage and inspire others. Encouraged by another “yoda” of mine, Bud Hunt, who challenged people to say something nice, I am taking a few moments out of my day today, on American Thanksgiving, to acknowledge and reflect on my experiences last week.

During the evening, Kevin Jarrett asked me to participate in a Google Hangout to talk about STEM, STEAM, and why building our Innovation Lab was crucial for educators and the parents, students, and administrators for the district who asked him to present. When KJ first asked me to help him, I simply had to make sure that I that this opportunity would not be interrupted by my evening commute. I gladly jumped at this opportunity as KJ was one of the first people to affirm me at many points along my journey. He was the first friendly face who warmly greeted at the first EdubloggerCon at the 2007 NECC/ISTE Conference in Atlanta. At that point in time, I was just beginning to become a connected educator. I had just recently started my Twitter account, begun to explore podcasting, and writing in this blog. I still didn’t understand the value that it represented and how it would transform my professional practice and my life in such a profound way. More recently, at last year’s EduCon 2.5, he provided a sounding board, validated my path, and nudged me a bit towards implementing a Minecraft After-School Club.

So it was a great honor that he was asking me to help him. During my five minutes, I shared what I have learned thus far in the implementation of our Innovation Lab/maker space. That STEAM is important, because:

  • It is first and foremost a mindset, not a curriculum. 
  • Even though not all students will end up in STEAM careers, that two things are important – that we provide awareness and experiences so that those who may be interested become aware of the possibilities.
  • For those who will not pursue STEAM careers, my hope is that they will build skills that take them into an advanced beginner/intermediate level. Brain-based research suggests that moving into level of skill begins to rewire the brain in such a way that we begin to see the world differently. The more ways that we can see the world, the more chance we will have to develop new and imaginative solutions to the problems the come our way.
  • That too much education is focused on content acquisition and our students are too scheduled and structured. They no longer color outside the lines.
  • That many essential skills, the soft ones such as perseverance, time management, the ability to troubleshoot a problem, are the result of going through a process of discovery and exploration, many which are tied to the hands-on, problem based curricula that STEAM courses typically offer.
  • Students learn quickly to play the game of school, limiting their opportunities and pigeon-holing themselves rather being at a point in time that the world should be completely open for them to explore. We want to unleash their inner-kindergartener.

The next day, I got a wonderful email from KJ thanking me for my participation and how Sara Hunter and I, Kevin’s outside experts, were the stars of the evening. No, Kevin, you were and I will always be indebted to you for continuing to appear in my life at the opportune times to help provide the confidence to go in the direction that I instinctively feel is the best to pursue.

At the same time, I was also engaged a Facebook conversation with a great friend, Jeff Whipple, now a principal in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I also first met Jeff in Atlanta in 2007, but our relationship has been cemented with both of our attendance and participation at the Lausanne Laptop/Learning Institute for the past six summers in July. Like Kevin, Jeff has been to help validate my thoughts and ideas as I have evolved and grown as an educator and person.

On this particular Wednesday, Jeff shared how they school had gotten their littleBits and Makey Makeys had arrived at his school. In the exchange, Jeff noted that, “thought you would like that..I hope you know just how much you have influenced our school leaders and the learning direction of our school.. and you haven’t even been to visit us…yet!” Later in the thread, one of his teachers, Jacob Lingley, shared, “Vinnie – Checked out the vid last night. Speaking about scratch I have a couple of students coding a choose your own adventure math story with student made illustrations as sprites! Man am I glad Jeff and Tasha got me to stick around for your Wednesday session at LLI13.”

This conversation highlights how being a connected educator gives you the opportunity to both pay back those who have helped you along the way. Professionally, in the last seven years, there are far too many to list that I am thankful to for fear of omitting someone who was crucial to my current success. It also provides a forum to share and inspire others, to pay it forward. For me, the greatest benefit I gain is being able to help the students who I touch, the children, adults, teachers, parents, who benefit.

Lastly, I want to congratulate those recognized last week by the White House, especially Bud Hunt, Carolyn Foote, and Jenny Magiera who I know personally.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


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