Learning to be an Explorer of the World

How do you view your position in the world? Are you an active participant? A passive observer? Somewhere in between?

I’m not really sure where I fall. I do have a habit of jumping feet-first into new experiences, but I’ve also spent plenty of time simply observing the world around me. Most of the time, I’d prefer to get lost in a really good book and explore that world instead.

This semester, I’m learning to be a better academic researcher. Well, actually, I’m learning to be a better qualitative researcher. But really, I’m learning to be an explorer of the world.

Throughout the next couple months, I’m going to be digging into How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith to “document and observe the world” around me. To anyone reading this post, I hope you’ll consider joining me as I learn to become an Explorer of the World.

Exploration #16: Survey

For my first exploration, I initially chose Exploration #12: Fifty Things, and I intended to travel to the Baytown Farmer’s Market to complete it.

Mother Nature had other plans. High winds and dropping temperatures closed the farmer’s market down just before we arrived, so I’ll save that one for the next month’s farmer’s market or maybe another setting and move on to Plan B.

Lesson #1: Right now is not always the ideal time for a study. Sometimes it’s better to wait for the right time.

pages 60-61 of How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

Exploration #16 has a couple of components, and it took me the weekend to complete. First, “create a simple survey of at least five questions” and “give it to a sampling of people.” Then once I have responses, “document the answers in a way that is interesting and readable.”

I chose this exploration first for a couple of practical reasons. It didn’t require me to leave the house, an important consideration with the current weather. It’s simple enough to complete through social media. It’s familiar to me, I mean, who hasn’t seen those social media surveys or quizzes floating around (often looking to gain your private information, but that’s a topic for another day). Plus, creating a cool visual to document the responses sounds like a great excuse to play with Canva, which is one of my favorite things to do!

I also chose this one because it gives me an opportunity to learn something new about people that I already know and about the world around me. That is the point of these exercises, right?

The Survey

For my survey, I chose to use books and reading as my topic. I’ve been obsessed with books since I learned to read, and I’ve been obsessed with writing since I learned to write, so it felt like an obvious topic.

I chose five simple questions that I thought could spark some interesting responses. I opted for a more informal structure rather than writing them out as questions.

  1. Favorite book from your childhood
  2. Favorite book from your adulthood
  3. Least favorite book / worst thing you ever read
  4. Favorite place to read
  5. Favorite time to read

Lesson #2: Choose a research question that is interesting or that you care about.

Before the Results

When I first posted, there were a couple things I was curious about when it came to the responses I would get, aside from my desire to add new books to my Want to Read list on Goodreads.

First, I was curious about how much detail people would share. I wrote, “Feel free to answer simply or expand with reasoning.” I knew some would stick to just giving answers, and I wondered how many would want to provide descriptions or reasoning for their choices.

I was also curious about people’s ability to choose one favorite. I personally struggle with selecting one favorite book or one favorite time or place to read. I have shelves full of books I love and I can read anytime, anywhere. I know I’m not the only bibliophile in my group of friends and acquaintances, so I couldn’t wait to see how many responses listed more than one for each answer.

I wondered who from my friends list would respond to my survey. My family? My teacher friends? My college friends? Fellow graduate students and academics?

And finally, since I posted this survey as a Facebook post, I was curious to see if any conversations would spring from the responses. Would people comment and reply to each other? Would I see comments like “I loved that book too!” or “How could that be your least favorite? It’s great!” or “What is that book? Tell me more!”?

Lesson #3: Be curious about the results.

The Results

In the 24 hours following my original post, I had 12 survey responses on my Facebook post, plus two responses that I received via text message (not counting the “I don’t read” response that I also received via text message).

There was surprisingly almost zero interaction outside of responding to the prompt. Not counting my own engagement, only one response received a “like” and one person posted that they had “come to steal the answers.”

To begin the second part of this Exploration, I copied and pasted all 13 responses into a Google Sheet, seen below.

Exploration #16 uses the words “interesting and readable” to describe the visual documentation. This spreadsheet may be full of interesting data, but it’s not very interesting or readable on its own.

My initial intention was to create a separate visual for each question, summarizing the results with images of book covers and creative graphics. However, as I copied and pasted each response into the Google Sheet, I realized that the interesting part of the data wasn’t the actual responses, it was the intersections between responses.

Lesson #4: Sometimes the answers lie not in the data themselves, but in the intersections between the data.

I started by creating a quick list of things that I noticed as I looked over the complete dataset. I looked for gut reactions, patterns, and surprising findings. Then I opened a blank canvas in Canva and started working on an infographic to summarize the key findings.

As I always do in designing, I allowed the data to drive the form, inserting graphics as necessary to aid in conveying the message. I chose the light orange background color in honor of the book itself, which is printed in black-and-white with orange accents. I chose images of ripped book pages for section dividers to keep with the bookish theme. I used pictograms where appropriate to further visualize the data. As I created the key points, I adjusted the organization several times until the takeaways were grouped meaningfully.

I probably spent far too long on this part of the exercise, but I’m quite pleased with the end result.

There were several things that surprised me about the results that I received. I expected to see more overlap in responses, where there was actually very little. I also expected there to be more conversation in the comments about books, but again, there was actually very little.

I believe this is a good thing. It’s great to have your suspicions or beliefs confirmed, but the more interesting phenomenon are the ones that are unexpected.

Lesson #5: Let the data surprise you.

Reflection

This was a fun activity to start my exploration journey of this semester. I believe it taught me to look at data little differently, looking for patterns and intersections between responses rather than at the individual answers.

It also emphasized a trait that I believe I’ve always had: flexibility. As a teacher, it’s common to see that a lesson is not going to plan and make adjustments to improve the learning experience for students. I’ve always had an innate ability to identify when I need to change something and when I need to stick with it and let the lesson play out. I changed course with this activity a couple times, the first time being in my simple choice of exploration to complete. I also considered posting the survey to Facebook and Twitter to compare responses, but decided that I likely wouldn’t get any different people on Twitter than were already on Facebook. I revised the wording of the first two questions to avoid saying “adult book” as I was afraid that could be misinterpreted. I adjusted my entire plan of action in creating the visual, allowing the data to redirect me several times. Flexibility is an important trait in a teacher, and I can see that it is also an important trait in a researcher.

Throughout the experience, I discovered little qualitative researcher lessons along the way, and they’re sprinkled through this post. Here they are again:

  • Lesson #1: Right now is not always the ideal time for a study. Sometimes it’s better to wait for the right time.
  • Lesson #2: Choose a research question that is interesting or that you care about.
  • Lesson #3: Be curious about the results.
  • Lesson #4: Sometimes the answers lie not in the data themselves, but in the intersections between the data.
  • Lesson #5: Let the data surprise you.

I’m not quite sure yet how this experience has changed the way that I interact with the world. This is just step one in my journey to be an explorer of the world. I can’t wait to see where this path takes me next.

#disconnected

Last week I did something that seemed impossible.

Let me start by setting the scene with a brief description of the devices in my home. In my office, I have a desktop computer with a second monitor, plus a television. I also have a work laptop that I use sometimes when I need the Mac or just need a third screen. Like any good bookworm, I have two Kindle Fires and a Kindle Paperwhite. I have a gaming laptop in the living room and a smaller laptop that I use when I need something more portable (gaming laptops are heavy). I also have a Nintendo Switch Lite (though I’m in the process of upgrading to a full-sized Switch, and I’m so excited). Oh yeah, plus my cell phone.

All of these screens help me keep track of all my various roles, including three Microsoft Teams accounts, five email accounts, and several social media accounts, both professional and personal, plus they help me relax and engage in my hobbies. It can all be a bit much sometimes.

Cartoon-style image of a frustrated woman surrounded by computers and other electronic devices

Last week, I disconnected. I mean I DISCONNECTED. Completely. Entirely. No screens. No email. No Teams. No messages. No social media.

It was more intoxicating than a mojito-filled pineapple on the beach in the Bahamas.

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#AECT21 – A Return to Conventions!

When I was a kid, I loved going to VFW Conventions with my mom. As an undergrad, I attended my first professional conference when I presented at NCTE 2013 in Boston. As a young professional, I jumped at any opportunity to attend an NCTE or ISTE conference, though I found it to be a struggle to find funding and time off for professional conferences. Like many others, I haven’t attended a conference in person since before the pandemic, when I flew to Vegas in 2019 to accept an award for a journal article that I co-authored. Even then, as it was during the school year, I was only able to get a substitute for three days of that convention.

Last week brought me back to the world of conferences in a big way, and after getting full-time immersive experience, I am contentedly exhausted from a week of attending AECT 2021 and exploring the city of Chicago.

I have a terrible track record of writing these reflections after attending an important event (Exhibit A: the April 2021 TxDLA reflection that is still sitting half-finished in my drafts folder), so this time I’m taking advantage of some airport WiFi to reflect on my experiences while they’re still fresh. Or at least get started in my reflection before I board my flight home.

Side note: As I’m becoming more of an academic and a researcher and learning about various research methods, I’m wondering if these blog reflections constitute a form of auto-ethnography.

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Once a teacher, always a teacher

This morning, I took the dogs outside and when I didn’t immediately melt under Texas heat, I realized that it is September. In fact, it’s almost the middle of September. Since I left teaching middle school, I’ve found myself far less capable of tracking time. I thought time had no meaning during the pandemic lockdowns; I had no idea people with “regular” jobs had to work so hard to know what month it is!

This year was the first year in my entire life that I didn’t have a true summer, and I honestly frequently forgot that it was summer until I’d walk outside of the house. Between working full time as an Instructional Designer and taking two intensive 10-week doctoral courses, June to August was actually the busiest couple months of my year so far, maybe even of my life so far.

Now that I’ve made it to the other side of that stressful semester, it’s time to take a step back and do some reflecting. As I do at the end of every semester, I like to think about what I’ve learned, what I’ve gained, and what I need to keep doing, but this time I’m finding myself in the middle of an identity crisis.

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Reflecting on the Pandemic Journey

Anybody that is a frequent visitor to this blog probably knows by now that I like to use this as a medium to complete my coursework as much as possible. It helps me to think through the assignment when I reflect on it here, and I think it makes for a better submission than a plain old paper.

This weekend saw the start of my first summer semester of my doctoral program. I’ve taken summer classes in the past, but they were short, intensive 5-week courses. This summer, and my next several summers, will be filled with two full 10-week courses. And this summer, I’m taking Statistical Methods and Distance Learning. One of those courses is much more terrifying to me than the other. Can you guess which one?

Anyway, the first assignment in Distance Learning is to reflect on how the pandemic changed the way we used technology to live and interact in work and school, an apt and timely reflective assignment.

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Mrs. Hebert’s English Class: ONLINE EDITION

On this blog, I’ve reflected on the successes and failures surrounding my teaching career. I’ve written about the activities and assignments I’ve designed and redesigned. I’ve written about my own views and feelings relating to education and technology. This blog started as an assignment in my first masters class three years ago. I’ve been striving to continue posting here because I believe it’s important to reflect in this profession, on the big things and the little things.

It struck me pretty hard when I opened up this blog and saw that my last post was one from the first week of school, when I had the privilege of seeing Nic Stone speak. How far we’ve come since the start of the school year.

Just a few years ago, I wrote about the heartbreak of starting the school year late due to Hurricane Harvey. Now, I sit here thinking about the heartbreak of closing our school early, and the struggles and successes of moving to fully remote instruction.

Once again, a natural disaster of sorts has drastically affected our school year. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has shut the doors on schools across the country, but that certainly does not mean that the school year is over.

Just this morning, I posted the handout and assignment for our seventh week of online instruction.

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Technology: It’s Not Just for the Students

In case you were not aware, today was #DigitalLearningDay. As far as I’m concerned, just about every day in my classroom is a digital learning day, but I am not one to pass up an opportunity to show off my EdTech prowess and design something extra special for the occasion.

For the past week, I worked with one of my favorite teacher besties who is also my across the hall classroom neighbor to build out an Escape Room activity. It was pretty rockin’ if I do say so myself. Even our admin team thought that it was a great learning experience for our kiddos.

Me and my across the hall teacher bestie with our Digital All-Star stickers and rocking our AVID shirts! ❤
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Reflecting on Experiences

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

Sitting in a session about the effect of teacher education on teacher attrition and retention, I heard this quote from John Dewey, and it struck me deeply. I have been sadly lacking in this reflection since I completed my masters this past August. Of course, I knew this would happen. Many of my reflections in this blog centered around my masters coursework; in fact, the original creation of this blog was an assignment. However, having earned my degree certainly does not mean I am done learning or done reflecting.

I am, of course, proud of having completed my degree and of my several subsequent accomplishments. I’ve started drafts of posts about those accomplishments, but without a deadline or a requirement, I haven’t completed them. Even this post is coming a solid month after I attended the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention and heard this quote. Continue reading

The Promise and Hope of Our Students

I haven’t had much of a chance yet this semester to sit down and talk about the two classes I’m taking in this last spring semester of my masters education (just one or two classes this summer and I’ll be done!). I think it’s time to remedy that.

This semester I’m taking another professional seminar class that is split into three mini-courses taught by three different professors, just like the one I took last semester. This time, the three topics are Best Practices, Leadership, and Social Justice, but I’m going to focus on Social Justice here. Continue reading

“Miss, I think you turned me into a reader.”

I am a teacher. I love my students fiercely. I do everything in my power to ensure that they are successful, not just on state assessments, but in life.

I am also human. And I get discouraged. And tired. And many days I question how long I can continue in such a mentally demanding and draining profession. This STAAR overloaded time of  year is always hard for me. I get hung up on the feeling that no matter how much I help my students, it’s never good enough. There’s never enough I can do. I let myself get overwhelmingly upset about students who I know are growing and learning and doing their best but still can’t pass.

During these times, it’s easy to get lost in the negativity and it can be hard to find the positive. I know that it is so important to focus on and celebrate the positives. My advisory class this morning watched Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk about the happy secret to better work. We discussed what he said about happiness coming before success, not the other way around. If you have a free 15 minutes, I suggest watching it. I watch it at least once a year to remind myself to calm down and look at the good.

I have had a lot of successes recently in my classroom that I need to celebrate (and maybe brag a little), starting with the Outside Reading Project. Continue reading