Beginner’s Mind and Continuous Learning

little-buddhist-monksPlay is a very important concept at Wheelock College. It is a cornerstone of Froibel’s theories and of Lucy Wheelock’s work. Even more now than in their time the world is in a state of swift and continuous flux. The only way to keep up with it is by embracing a model of continual learning, trial and error practice and a sense of playfulness. Trial and error and play are virtually synonymous as play is not about formal learning—more like tangential learning – learning in the course of doing something else.
To navigate this new world we must become like children. A child’s normal state is one of continuous learning. They are learning to navigate the world. The difference between children and adults is that of being fearless in the face of something new vs. being afraid. To children, new things attract and intrigue. To adults, new things startle and cause distress because adults assume that they should already know how to do or use whatever is encountered. They may be afraid that they will break it (toys are made to be broken) or that they will look silly or incompetent. There is a solution to that.
In Buddhism there is a concept known as “beginner’s mind.” This is the state of being totally open, non-judgmental and playful with everything that is encountered.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” –Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

As adults, particularly when encountering technology, it is vital to cultivate beginner’s mind. It will remove the stress that blocks learning and open the way to being calm and comfortable in one’s learning experiences. It will make the process of continuous learning a part of life again.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Using Pinterest in the Classroom

There are A TON of incredibly creative people in the world, and I, unfortunately, am not one of them.

Fortunately however, I am a fantastic laminator. So when I’m doing a display for the Earl Center, or daydreaming of magical displays for the public library, my go-to for inspiration is Pinterest.

Right now, at the Earl Center, we’re spotlighting weather. Wheelock College is an ambassador for the National Weather Service’s Weather-Ready Nation campaign. A few people here at the Earl Center put together an awesome display of weather-related materials we have here (and that you can/should totally check out)! We have some children’s books, lesson plans, and a few weather tracking stamps that can be used to make a weekly or monthly weather chart like this one:

So for every display we work on, we try to incorporate some sort of craft or activity, even if it’s just cutting out little construction paper aliens for our Space display. The Earl Center has so many great craft supplies, it’s difficult to not feel crafty once in a while. I went to Pinterest and put “weather” into the search box, and up handmade weather stationpopped a bunch of suggestions: weather activities, weather crafts, weather unit, weather chart. I chose “weather activities”. I came across this neat printable weather station. It’s completely interactive. You can move the little red pointer from rainy to sunny, the temperature scale from hot to freezing, the sliding scale of windiness, and dozens of removable weather adjectives. Here’s what it looks like on Pinterest:

If you click on the picture, it will bring you to where you can download the PDF. All you have to do is assemble it – and by assemble I mean cut a few dotted lines and glue a few pieces here and there. I decided to laminate the pages because of my classroom weatherstationhigh hopes of all the people who will be touching this beautiful weather station every day. Here is our version of the weather station.

We decided to include all of our extra adjectives on the board, just in case the weather needs to be changed due to an unexpected snow storm in the month of September or any other strange weather scenarios that happen in the city of Boston. All of the adjectives are stuck on with Velcro for easy removal. This would be a great addition to any classroom, especially during a weather unit.

Personally, I like to follow libraries and librarians to get ideas for book displays and library programs. One of my most recent favorites is Dawn Krause:

Fun Pinterest activities (unrelated to weather):

Upcycled Soda Box Pencil Case:

Post-It Note Art Show:

Map of the US – Puzzle:

Wooden Play-Food Pieces:

Bingo for Books:

Character Facebook Status:

And lastly, here’s a list of cool Pinterest boards for educators: (These are all printable!)




facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Are You an Autodidact?

“Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn. “- Herbert Gerjuoy, quoted by Alex Toffler.

In a quote often attributed to Alex Toffler the illiterate of the future is described as “someone who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn.” The speed of development and ubiquitous nature of technology has turned many things upside down, not the least of which is education. This speed demands a kind of learning that is continual. No longer will completing a degree or a class be enough to keep up. It becomes an iterative process that demands continual revisiting of the material. The material of today may well evolve into completely different material tomorrow.

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” – John Dewey

Luckily the means to do this is evolving as rapidly as the information. It is a learning-on-demand world. We have video courses, on-line courses, MOOCs and specific organizations like Khan Academy, Udemy, Coursera. EdX, Open University, and many other groups and platforms that deliver the rapidly evolving information in many different formats addressing many different learning styles and preferences. Often classes through these vendors can be taken without cost. Some even provide certificates of completion or, for a relatively small fee, even college credit.

At Wheelock we offer access to a site that offers thousands of video courses on a multitude of topics, many relating to technology, the fastest changing field of all.

It is possible to construct an entire college-like program by stringing together related courses. In some fields, particularly technology-related fields, there are still options of getting a well-paying job by self-educating, especially in areas where little formal training exists as yet. In a world where 8 year old children are teaching themselves how to develojan7p viable apps it’s a wide open field.

Two commercial companies that are good are Coursera and Udemy. Coursera’s courses are usually free and held through major universities. Udemy charges for their courses. If you get on their mailing list they run frequent ‘sales’ which make signing up a good deal. One of their advantages is that you own the self-paced courses for life and can take and retake at any time. Registering is often as simple as name, email and a password. A site called Open Culture ( currently lists over 950 free courses with another collection of paid courses it’s enough to keep anyone well educated well into the future.

Where do you start? You can start with Go to the site, choose Login through your organization or school, choose Wheelock as your school and put in your email and email password. Happy learning!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Graphite: Rating the Best Apps

graphite screen shot

There are thousands of educational apps available with more coming all the time. It can be overwhelming trying to find, try and evaluate just the app that will bring your class or teaching or project into fruition. Now there is a site that can help you find just the right thing, connected to the right learning outcome, without taking up all of your time. is a site developed by CommonSense Media

commonsense logo

that offers comprehensive reviews and ratings of educational apps. You can search on a number of different levels including:

  • Type
  • Subject
  • Grade level
  • Price

The apps that they feature are all vetted by working teachers, not by companies trying to get you to buy their app.  Apps connected with language arts and math are available now. Science is in development. You can also look for apps that aid productivity such as Evernote.  Whether you are exploring apps for yourself or trying to integrate them into the curriculum Graphite can save you time.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Free Mini-Courses for Educators

2014-02-06 17_38_00-The New Media Consortium _ Sparking innovation, learning and creativity.The New Media Center Academy offers free mini-courses for educators serving grades 6-16. It is a collaboration between HP, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the NMC, and more than 30 universities and NGOs in 15 countries. The success of the project was summed up in “Sparking Innovation in STEM Education with Technology and Collaboration” (

You can check out the list of courses here

The New Media Consortium (NMC) is an international not-for-profit consortium of learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies. They publish the Horizon Report which looks at the emerging trends in technology in education and the world.

NMC Horizon Report 2014

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

News from the Front

Hall at FETC conferenceI have just returned from the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC). Sad to say the weather in Orlando wasn’t much better than here. The conference has been going on for 35 years and participants have seen incredible changes in that time. While the conference was framed around technology, the message that it conveyed was one of creativity, community, compassion and cooperation.

I was particularly stuck with the advances in assistive technology for people with disabilities. What was once very esoteric and expensive has now become part of many common devices. Specific applications are almost magical. One in particular that was showcased was a free app called Taptapsee. It is a camertaptapsee logoa for blind and visually impaired people. By pointing the camera at an object, a scene or something that the person wonders about and tapping twice the camera takes a picture and searches the web. It comes back with a description of what the camera sees, be that a five dollar bill or the Dallas Cheerleaders. It is eerily accurate.  There is also a Tap Tap app for people who are deaf to alert them to loud sounds nearby. That one costs $2.99.

STEM and STEAM products and sessions were everywhere and there was a sense of the importance of play. Play was stressed in the keynotes as well as the sessions.  Students creating content, real life-changing content was another thread that ran through it all. The stress wasn’t on preparing students for future life and jobs but on making real life significant contributions now. Not having the right tools to accomplish this is no longer a problem.  It was generally acknowledged that the jobs of the future may not exist yet.

Gaming was a very hot topic. Minecraft in particular has become very popular with the minecraft landscapenew release of Minecraft for Education. There are modifications that allow teaching quantum mechanics among other things.  Cooperation, physics and architecture were commonly cited as outcomes in class. The quantum physics part was cool– I actually understood it! Along with coding (another hot topic) there are a tremendous number of resources to assist teachers to incorporate game design, coding, robotics and use into their classrooms. All of these possibilities come with core relationships built in so that the justifications are available when you want to incorporate them into curriculum. We will be offering resources to explore these things in the Earl Center and you can also ask your nearest 11 year old.

In some school systems they have replaced children with robots—that is, children who can’tvgo robot attend school due to health or other conditions can now attend as a Vgo. This is a shiny white robot on wheels with a screen face and a camera and microphone. On wheels, like a Segway it can roll around a school allowing the student to attend classes and interact with teachers and peers. The student at home controls the Vgo with a laptop.

As I sift through the 25 pounds of literature I collected and re-listen to my recordings and notes I will be sharing more. Stay tuned.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

No Handwriting on the Wall

handwriting - hand with pencilI received a note from my son’s school the other day informing me that cursive handwriting wouldn’t be taught after fifth grade. Having seen a marked improvement in his writing throughout fourth grade I found this disturbing. He still had difficulties reading cursive writing and relying on printing individual characters while trying to take notes was just an exercise in frustration.

I had recently seen a piece in the Washington Post about this. It reported that this was one of the changes the common core will precipitate.  In another recent article it was stated that in kindergarten, all children would have to be able to type whether it was developmentally appropriate or not. All of the tests would be computerized. I’m the last person one would accuse of being a Luddite but really, no handwriting?

Immediately I could see a number of potential problems. Keyboards are not built for children’s hands. Imagining kindergarteners trying to navigate the keyboard with more than one finger is daunting. I know adults who still type that way. The keyboard itself is at risk. With the proliferation of tablet-like devices with pictures of keyboards on the screen, typing is becoming a hunt and peck exercise. It eliminates use by people who are blind and can’t see the screen. At the same time online tools like Siri or Dragon Dictate  software operate through spoken commands. This is  moving computing devices totally away from physical interaction. That has alarming implications also. Picture it, a classroom full of kids all talking to their computers. No more getting in trouble for talking in class. It would solve the problem for the blind kids but test taking would become untenable.

Edward Tenner interviewed neurologist Frank R. Wilson, author of The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture. Wilson states “Although the repetitive drills that accompany handwriting lessons seem outdated, such physical instruction will help students to succeed…these activities stimulate brain activity, lead to increased language fluency, and aid in the development of important knowledge.”  “Handwriting has also been surprisingly relevant technologically. What has Steve Jobs always cited as a formative experience? A course in calligraphy at Reed College.”

What are we losing here? Is it another one of those cases of make the change and figure out the consequences (or unintended consequences) later? We may be losing an opportunity that we never knew we had in terms of how children learn. There is a researcher in Canada , Dr. Barbara Arrowsmith -Young, who runs a school for children with learning issues. Kids come to her with ADD, ADHD and an entire alphabet of other labeled disabilities. In her school the children (and even adults) learn how to re-pattern how their brains work using a technique that looks suspiciously like cursive writing. By tracing sequences of cursive-looking symbols for set periods each day they are able to re-pattern how their brains work, improving not only word-based issues but time telling, facial recognition and a host of other issues, all in a relatively short period of time. Does it work? Apparently. Arrowsmith-Young herself had crippling issues with dyslexia as a child and teen. She couldn’t tell time or recognize faces. Instead of succumbing to her disability, she studied it.  She developed clocks with multiple hands and over time was able to teach herself how to tell time, and tell time in multiple ways. Her TED talk: in which she relates her own story of disability and discouragement is compelling. She is considered a leader in the field of neuroplasticity—brain growth and development and something akin to cursive writing is at the heart of her success.

So what if the cursive writing that generations of children have been doing has been re-patterning their brains in ways that we don’t understand or recognize? Are we on the verge of losing something that we didn’t even know that we had?


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Do You Tweet?

new-twitter-logoDespite the flippant name Twitter has emerged as a powerful for tool for research, personal knowledge management, making connections and teaching. It is a social tool that can keep up with literally breaking news because it is powered by public participation.  During the marathon bombing Twitter was used by Boston Police, The Boston Globe and innumerable members of the public to post second-by-second news about the event. From the moment it happened it was documented, in a completely self-directed fashion. This is one of the unique features of Twitter.

With a little bit of experimentation you may find it a useful tool for your digital toolbox.

Twitter is a form of social media called a microblog. It has a limit of 140 characters although that can be adjusted by using additional tools. You can also exchange images and videos.  Because of the 140 character limitation (about 25 words) many people shy away from it. Often links are included to get to expanded content and “link shorteners” are used to shrink long links down to a few characters.

The best way to get started is to sign up for an account. You will create a Twitter “handle” which is a name by which you will become known and searchable.  There is ongoing discussion about having a personal account separate from a work account. Keeping two accounts can be onerous and the general consensus is that one account is preferred and to not be afraid to be yourself.

Once you have signed up you can start searching for people or organizations to “follow” and in turn, as you develop an online flavor for your account, people will follow you. By judicious choice of who you follow you can create and curate a body of constantly updating information on topics you are interested in. The difference between this and a service like Google Alerts is that you can also interact with the sources posted, ask further questions, make professional contacts and make use of the best of the social connection.

Once you have an account you can begin to customize your experience and use Twitter to its full advantage.


You can follow people or groups who are key in your research area. You can also create and add or search for created hashtags (#) as in #wheelock, which will limit the online messages to only messages that contain that tag. In a classroom you can have the students tag their tweets with something significant to your class, it’s name or a topic, to track a running conversation.

The data of Twitter itself can be mined as in the recent The_Time_Machine_Classics_Illustrated_133research project looking for time travelers by searching for events reported before they happened. None were found.


Following your interest is a way to connect with people who may be key in the field but traveling in a different circle than yours. The ability to contact them and establish a community of practice that can extend across the world is very powerful and can lead to novel insights. For students it may be an opportunity to learn about primary content.

Information Curation

One powerful way to share information is in the process of “retweeting.” Twitter allows you to take something that you have read and send it back out in your own account. In this way you become a curator of information, sharing with like-minded people who will follow you for the flavor of your content. You can be, or emerge as an expert in a field by the quality of your tweets and your comments and/or sharing of other people’s tweets.

Managing the flow

While scanning tweets can be an absorbing experience it can be time consuming to manage all the traffic in and out. There are tools to manage the pace and spacing of tweets so that you can do all of your searching or writing at one time and have the tool send them out at predefined times, days and dates. You can preload an entire collection of tweets to be dispensed over a sustained period of time. If you are using Twitter in the classroom you can schedule tweets to coincide with your syllabus or holidays. A couple of useful tools are:

Buffer shares your content at the best possible times throughout the day, week or month to make sure it gets to your followers.

TweetDeck works like a dashboard to give you control over all your Twitter feeds.

If you haven’t gotten your feet wet with social media yet, or you would like to add an absorbing tool to your digital toolbox, Twitter is the way to go.  If you would like to follow me my handle is @zazencoyot. Happy Tweeting!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Computer Science Education Week

cat and computer

December 9-15 is Computer Science Education Week

CS Education Week celebrates the birthday of Admiral Grace Hopper, the founder of modern computer science. Despite the fact that many countries including China, the United Kingdom, and Australia require it or will soon require it as a subject, in the United States 90% of K-12 schools do not teach it.

It’s not as hard to learn as people think. You can teach yourself the basics of computer programming or coding as it it referred to. Over the next week an organization called is promoting a campaign to get 10 million people participating in the Hour of Code. A variety of self-guided tutorials will take you through coding and will award a certificate at the end. It not only demonstrates the use of computers in self-directed learning activities, it also demonstrates the power of immediate feedback, the challenge of earning badges (or trophies as they call them) and a completely absorbing intellectual activity that is actually fun.

Intrigued? Go to and sign up.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather

Greetings Wheelock Community

Mare Parker-O'Toole pictureMy name is Mare Parker-O’Toole and I have been working as the Assistant Director of the Earl Center for a month now. I am totally impressed by the scope of vision that has brought this wonderful Center into being.

study groups croppedIt’s a busy place. On a daily basis it may have tours going through, students studying alone or in study groups (every seat filled!), classes meeting in the ‘glassrooms’ or doing activities hands-on in the art area, people browsing the shelves of the circulating collection of objects, watching videos on the multiple screens available or just socializing. At other times it is the destination for events honoring Wheelock City Year participants or hosting an opening for parents of kids acting in the Hobbit at Wheelock Family Theatre. Whew!

Behind the scenes we are working with faculty to figure out best practices to support innovation in learning and teaching, getting technology like tablets and laptops populated with software to explore and inspire, and planning a whole series of events to give everyone the opportunity to think not only outside the box but far into the future. This future is coming at us faster than anyone could have imagined. Exciting? Absolutely!

Are you curious? Do you have wild ideas? Share them with us. Come by and say hello, ask questions, get involved. We can all shape the future together in ways we haven’t even conceived of, yet.


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather