#teachtheweb week 3: learning on the open web

This week on #teachtheweb, I thoroughly enjoyed the open web and the freedoms it affords us to create and play (and play and play) with friends from around the world. I also appreciated the chance to reflect and build on what open means. Essentially, I took the opportunity to play with new friends and our developing community of connected learning. And then I made this:

Open web mixed metaphors

However, I haven’t really slowed down to reflect on Laura Hilliger’s original post about the open web, so here goes.


I believe that learning is at its best when it’s decentralized and in the hands of each learner. I believe that the most important groups we form are the ones we create for ourselves, not the ones in which other place us. I believe that true authority comes from mutual trust held between people and never in one place or institution.

My classes go best when each kid tackles work in which she believes. They go poorly when I demand too much attention and protest the “importance” of things that are not important at all when delivered as curriculum. Teaching and learning can be decentralized even in schools with hundreds of students. It is not the community that makes it difficult to decentralize and differentiate in schools; rather, it is how we let authority devalue and disassemble community amongst our kids that is the problem.


I believe that teaching is at its best when it is transparent and of clear and honest use to the learner. I believe that the most important lessons we teach are the ones that have immediate connections to our lives and dreams for the future, not the ones that reference standards. I believe that true teaching comes from following, mapping, and predicting where learners will go.

My classes go best when I learn how to teach my kids by watching them learn. They go poorly when I pick a strategy or teacherly trope to obfuscate the triviality of a decontextualized lesson. Teaching and learning can be transparent and, in fact, they are at their very best when teaching clearly matters and students’ work stands for itself as evidence of excellence or inquiry. When teaching and learning aren’t transparent, I think we move toward a future like that of The Evaluation.


I believe that the best lessons are adaptable and remixable by design – they are approaches to opening multiple pathways – and that the best learning is transferrable across contexts – much like problem-solving carries over from activism to code. I believe that the most important hacks we make are those that invite people in to learn things the system wants to keep from them in places the system wants to keep them from occupying. I believe that true hackability comes from the courage to say, “This does not work and it could.”

My classes go best when I put hackable materials and ideas on the classroom kitchen table. They go poorly when I ask students to do exactly what I do. Teaching and learning can be hackable if we think of education as a process of discovery, documentation, and publication of content by students, rather than as a scripted set of teacher-delivered standards and tests.

Here are some of the ways I work in the open:

  • I blog frequently on what we do in the classroom – on how I approach my work and how students go about theirs.
  • I tweet the ideas, practices, and experiences that spark something for me or my kids.
  • I travel and speak about unpacking the power of play to transform professional practice.
  • I stay nerdy and child-like regarding wonder.
  • I hold my anger about the way things are in one hand and my hope for how they could be in the other. I try to keep the angry hand behind my back and the hopeful hand open in front of me.
  • I open my room and experience to as many people as I think I can at once.
  • I accept the risks of working this way in the open inside a closed system and protect space for my kids to make as many choices as possible for themselves and their learning.
  • I ignore as many of the false distinctions between subjects and structures as I can so that my kids can reason for themselves how their chosen work connects to reading, making, and communicating.
  • I try to learn new things in spaces that are new to me, especially as I age.
  • I never take myself too seriously, cause everybody knows fat birds don’t fly.

Essentially I hold absolutely to the judgment that learning is good and I refrain as much as possible from making relative judgments about what students want to learn – or from shorting out students’ inquiry from a position of illegitimate, institutional authority. I trust my kids to learn about things that bring them wonder. Even in classes in which I feel less able to compromise with the system than I would like, I try to bring in, hack, remix, and graft what’s working in more independent classes to the circumscribed teaching and learning in more traditional spaces.

I get better at teaching and learning from watching my kids learn, play, struggle, and problem-solve in the open. They generate the solutions that I cannot.

I license most of my work as CC-By, with some of it tagged Non-Commercial (NC) and No-Derivatives (ND) in cases in which I haven’t decided what to do with what I’m sharing. I just want to share it as early as possible.

Here are some pieces of my work that I think capture how I go about openness:

I have stopped making strident stands against our system of public education, though I do wholeheartedly support and invite you to take part in building #openschools. I would rather make something than destroy it; I would rather help those stuck in the system than tear it down around them. I am, as I once was (always have been?), a clown, but one who pays increasingly careful attention to people and to how we learn and create, discover, and organize our selves through play. If I can help you and help you help others do the same, I am a tweet away.

And given how much I’ve said and learned in the open over the past half-decade, I’m sure that in this post or that I’ve put lies to much of what I say here, but here I am, and all the rest is an invitation to talk openly about how we change when we find ourselves and our selves in the open.

While I learned joyfully this week in community over the open web, my joy is like a beacon reminding me to hold close to my heart the values, people, and sacrifices that made the open web, that keep it open, and that make it possible for people to stand beside one another the world over when joy is nowhere to be found.

We are rediscovering that the world is makeable. We should be open about that and about how we can help each other get past traditions of teaching and learning that insist, hypocritically, that knowledge is at once and only sacrosanct, dissectible, and consumable.

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