a new collage


heatherinprivateFor a long time, both in rhetoric and in active contemplation, we have wondered Where is Heather? If you’re new to this conversation, here’s a brief history: Heather was a 9th grader featured in the iconic Private Universe video. This program began with interviews of Harvard students on graduation day being asked to explain causes for seasons and moon phases. Heather and several classmates attending the public school across the street expressed similar confusion about these topics. Many science educators were introduced to alternative conceptions, conceptual change, and qualitative research via this video. This articulate 14-year-old showed us that the bright student could misconstrue ideas in all kinds of amazing ways, and at the same time enamor us with logic and resourcefulness.

The problem is that Heather isn’t a 14-year-old anymore. Like others who “grew up” into science teacher educators, during each science methods course we pull the video off the shelf as if Heather is a preserved specimen in a jar. However, Heather is not the character we have contrived. Science educators cobbled together an involved narrative about Heather based on a few hours of classroom video and a handful of individual interviews. This fiction does not describe who Heather is now, nor ever was. We should be embarrassed that we turned a 1987 ninth grader into an unwitting paragon for science education. Further, we ought to be ashamed by our complicity since no one gave Heather any influence over her persona. True: her mother signed a video permission form. However, the science education community treated this as a license to invent stories based in a reality as thin as the VHS tape on which Heather was recorded.

Heather engages us in making our own mistakes.

Heather encourages us to embrace mistakes. (All photos by Ron Proctor)

Through a series of serendipitous events and surreptitious efforts, we have been able to follow-up with the real Heather. When the two of us talked with her over an extended lunch about her life since the Private Universe, she dished out considerable food for thought. When we invited her to share with a larger audience, she brilliantly devised ways to communicate her musing by engaging the attendees at the 2014 Crossroads in a collective craft project. Along the way, we became acquainted with the real, genuine, adult Heather who, like all of us, is a collage of experiences, relationships and aspirations for the future.

Making art with Heather

Making art with Heather

But are we falling into the same trap once again? Here we are: talking about Heather, posting images of her in a manner reminiscent of the actions by the Private Universe creators. This concern was voiced during our Town Hall session at the end of our conference. Interestingly, this revelation was magnified as our time with Heather increased. She interacted with the conference attendees for twice as long as she had with Private Universe videographers. Along the way we learned that Heather embraced her role in science education, and that she was more than her 9th grade self and those misconceptions. In retrospect, this should have seemed obvious; but we have been enculturated. Moreover, so many of us had “used” Heather, her image and her youthful eloquence, to such good effect for so long that we’d forgotten that Heather was substantially more than a voice describing indirect light in ways that confound scientists but are reasonable to architects.

Although we went to great lengths to make bring Heather into the conversation on her own terms and as her own self, we realized the potential for not representing Heather as she wants to be. It would be reasonable and responsible to ask Heather makes of all of this. It turns out she described it before we had the chance to inquire. Incidentally, we agree with her that this professional learning event is better than Disneyland. In fact, we’ve been especially delighted to see that she intuits Crossroads better than most:

The goal of this activity is to leave the conference
with two pieces of original art. One piece is purely
yours. The second piece is a collaborative artwork.
These two artworks represent the purpose of the
Crossroads conference; you leave with both the
progress you’ve made on your own work, alongside
the impressions made by participating with your
colleagues’ work.

The literal and metaphorical use of a collage was a gift from Heather to all of us. We produced something not by avoiding mistakes, but by embracing them. We worked together, side-by-side and eventually left with new pieces contributed by others that we packed into our bags. In turn we gifted pieces of our own background, experiences, and ongoing efforts towards the ventures of colleagues. The exchanges occurred while producing cut-and-paste craft collages as well as through our collegial conversation. People brought their Vexations and Ventures and left with them thoroughly cut apart and reworked.

XRoaders dig in to collage making.

XRoaders dig in to collage making

During our time with Heather, we learned that despite our imaginations we still were not fully prepared for what would transpire. Initially, there was the awe that we had forged an intersection between Heather and ourselves. Those who know us well just nod (or shake) their heads and say “of course you invited Heather.” It was all in a day’s work/play: the same whimsy and gumption that created Crossroads in the first place. Still, our amazement that Heather-of-Private-Universe was our contracted presenter was replaced by a collective awe of Heather-the-artist/teacher/mother. We did not fully realize all that we could learn from Heather. And yet somehow she knew and took the license and liberties we granted her. The most important lesson was not that Heather’s misconceptions didn’t disable her for life – although that’s important to note. Rather we were reminded about the necessity of continually reaching out to others for fresh perspectives, advice, and inspiration. That’s why Crossroads first came into existence. From now on, each time we see the 9th grader in Private Universe, there will be the reminders about the real Heather and the important lessons she continues to craft for others.

Despite all the lessons about graciousness and generosity, many at Crossroads asked to be photographed with Heather. Each request began with: “I’m sorry, but is it too weird to ask if we could get a picture together?” Heather knowingly accepted the role she had in so many of our science educator trajectories, gladly posing for those portraits. John and I were just as pleased as anyone else.

Heather & John

Heather & John

Adam & Heather


professional learning


Hear that? It’s the shuffling of papers back and forth as John and I are reviewing proposals for this year’s conference. This is one of those episodes of my work life that I look forward to. Really. It’s lots of work, but the kind that I want to dive into and indulge in. People submit problems and pose real solutions, and I get to be one of the first two people to interact with this. Generally, John makes a run through with edits and comments along with his advice and recommendation; and then I get to follow, either adding to or countering the advice he gives. There’s this strangely effective and engaging trialogue going on between the original author and the two reviewers. This gets captured in the margins of the page and our colored-font appendices of each of your papers, and it often extends into the final draft and presentation.

And then there’s this anticipation, like the one I start to develop as I look at a summer concert lineup or a beer tap list. We get to see these pieces and not only help with their development, but also imagine how they’ll pair with others in incubator sessions as well as the overall program. It’s a very human endeavor, complete with a true excitement. Those of you attending this fall will see John and I hopping up and down like little 8-year-old boys, delighted to see our friends and the party that has finally started after all those months of planning.

All this has been swimming in my consciousness as I just saw that our publication about Crossroads has just come out to press in the slick pages of ASCD’s Educational Leadership:

Settlage, J. & Johnston, A. (2014). The Crossroads Model. Educational Leadership, 71(8), 67-70.

You’re welcome to cite this often. It’s also useful to show to deans, spouses, and others who may doubt that this meeting and its format could be a real thing. Some of you are even described and photographed within this 4-page documentary.

The piece is inserted into a focused issue entitled, “Professional Learning Reimagined.” We thought that Crossroads was a good example of this reimagination, and this gave us a good forum to present and document the model. Yet, the most striking thing to me is that within this issue our model is sandwiched in between descriptions of a MOOC model and a “flipped” model for professional development. These are both perfectly legitimate and important in this day and age, but as I’ve described the human elements of the conversation before and during Crossroads, I realize that our very simple, low-tech model of describing a problem and talking to one another may actually be a genuine innovation. When we crafted Crossroads, the impetus was a frustration that other conference structures — including every technology introduced to meetings — actually place barriers between people. If Crossroads does nothing else, I hope that it continues to forge connections between us and between our professional efforts. I can’t think of anything more vital in professional learning.

plans and crafts, calls and invitations


by Adam

A few weeks ago, John and I spent a few days in Portland, Oregon, and there we schemed and crafted a plan. Or, really, a collection of plans. I hardly know where to start, but I suppose that the best way to start is to announce the

Call for Papers

for Science Education at the Crossroads 2014

at the Heathman Hotel

in Portland, September 25-27.

There are details, and there are stories, and we’ll be happy to tell you all of these and how they’ve derived at the bar of the Heathman, in between Incubator sessions, or perhaps even during our initial reception. For now, here’s what I think is important to announce:

We’ve always been deliberate in our inviting and encouraging submissions from people that we consider “polite dinner guests” that have Vexations and Ventures, as well as offer a diverse set of views. At the same time, we recognize that we can’t possibly know everyone that we need to extend invitations to, especially those who are new to the field or otherwise on the fringes. So, we are making a call for nominations of individuals that we should invite. If you’ve been to Crossroads, then you have a feel for how the meeting works and who both needs and can contribute to the meeting. We need you to send us a note and tell us about this person. A former student? Great. A new colleague? Fantastic. A teacher you work with and would like to have contribute to the discussion? Wonderful. In addition to these, what would be best of all would be someone interested in …

Professional Learning
We play around with different features to add to the Vexation and Venture format each year, and this year we would like to promote the specific theme of “professional learning.” We’re especially interested in V&Vs that are about your own endeavors to work with teachers, scholars, and other professionals as they practice and develop their craft. We consider Crossroads to be one example of this, and, in fact, we are pursuing external funding to support the 2014 meeting and our efforts to present this as a model to others. Our strategy is to bring together those who are making strides in professional learning, both to learn from them and to offer the Crossroads model as the backdrop for those discussions. So, we encourage your contributions along these lines (and, frankly, we’ll favor those contributions in the selection process), as well as all of the other possibilities that will respond to our …

Call for Proposals
The call follows our typical format of Vexation and Venture, with the additional encouragement to work on proposals that focus on your own professional learning opportunities (professional development for teachers, mentoring of new scholars, development of a new writing conference, etc.) described above. These are due by April 26th, a Saturday, per our tradition. And, earlier is better. Early contributions bring us joy, make the spring sun shine a little brighter, and give us something to do other than grade papers. And, they especially help us build up an expectation and high hopes for the pile of contributions we should expect. We expect a lot, because we have some plans …

Conference Setting
John and I are rational people, most of the time. Yet, while putting together details of this fall’s meeting, things kept coming together in beautifully coincidental ways.  The Heathman Hotel is just one example with its perfectly sized meeting space and cozy atmosphere. The meeting rooms are adjacent to a library filled with first edition, signed books — each autographed by the authors when they stayed at the hotel. There are close to 3000 of these titles … and John and I decided we really ought to finish writing our Crossroads book. The hotel emphasizes the arts in all forms, including original Andy Warhol compositions on every level. Over lunch with our keynote speaker, she talked about using Warhol in classrooms where she volunteers. Which prompted an excursion back to the hotel to show her the artwork. There we bumped into our friend the Sales Manager who was excited to show us the dedicated Andy Warhol suite that had just been vacated. As luck would have it, our keynote presenter is going to model professional learning by incorporating arts and crafts into her presentation. But that’s not even why we contacted her in the first place. That’s another story, and eventually we’ll explain. We haven’t even told you about our field trips that we hope will turn into an excursion during our last evening in Portland.

It’s been a long two years for us to wait, and we’re very, very excited at the many prospects. So, get to work. Send us names and emails of people you feel would be good attendees based on the theme of expanding the craft of professional learning. We are excited to assemble everyone, new and old, together in September.