Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Future of Education and Other Matters

"Linked Together" by willowmina

The Future of Education is Mobile"
by Daniel Donahoo
The revolution in technology, and subsequently educational technology, is an opportunity, but not a guarantee.

"10 Facebook settings to check right now!" by Mark W. Smith
As Facebook becomes the window to the Web for its more than 500 million users worldwide, the security of the social network has never been a hotter topic.

"Apple is Killing the WWW"  by Ben Camm-Jones

Venture capitalist thinks the company's iOS app model is winning the battle for the internet.

"Peak Social" by George Siemens

Social is one of those lovely words that can be added to anything to make it better.

"Bring Your Own Device Catching on in Schools" by Jason Ohler
It is especially important to understand how students use mobile devices for learning, and how educators can encourage that use, so that technology is not incorporated without a positive impact.

" . . . Please Make My School a Prison"  by Scott Mcleod'
A school superintendent in Michigan has written a public letter to the editor asking Governor Rick Snyder if his school can become a prison instead.

This week the Drive-thru begins its twice-a-week summer schedule.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Six Short Education Quotes for Your Weekend

Jean Piaget

I think that human knowledge is essentially active.

Cathy Davidson (via Will Richardson):

Learning’ is the free and open source version of ‘education.

Overheard from a "Job Coach":

"Educators like to measure success in activities rather than results."

Gwendolyn Brooks:

A writer should get as much education as possible, but just going to school is not enough; if it were, all owners of doctorates would be inspired writers.

John Dewey:

The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs.

George Siemens:

When faced with learning in complex environments, what we need is something more like network-directed learning – learning that is shaped, influenced, and directed by how we are connected to others. Instead of sensemaking in isolation, we rely on social, technological, and informational networks to direct our activities.

Next week the Drive-thru will go on its twice-a-week summer schedule.

"Take Out" with generous permission of americanvirus

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


This TedIndia video was passed along to me in an email that was shared with some Challenge Based Learning junkies. I can see why. Kiran Bir Sethi describes an initiative at Riverside School in Ahmedabad to make India's cities more child-friendly. Her design includes features what we strive for in CBL:

If learning is embedded in real world contexts-- if we blur the boundaries between school and life-- then children go through the journey of

AWARE (see the change)

ENABLE (be the change)

EMPOWER (lead the change)

She then describes a challenge issued to the children of 32,000 Indian schools (sent out in eight different languages):  Take One Idea, Choose One Week, and CHANGE A BILLION LIVES.  As a consequence, students devised solutions for "big ideas" like loneliness, literacy, alcoholism, fixing pot holes, and child marriage.

Oh, and there is no evidence that "academics" suffer at her school.  Performance on standardized testing is top echelon.

Thanks, Katie Morrow, for including me in the mailing of this link.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Interesting Perspective on Teaching

Circumstances have conspired to allow me lengthy conversations with my brother-in-law this year.  Even though he married my wife's sister over thirty years ago, I never considered that we had much in common and polite chat was the norm when we got together now and then.

But Fred is a pretty amazing guy.  A couple of years ago he decided to change careers.  He was doing well with a steady job underwriting insurance for a profitable company.  He had regular hours and good compensation.  However, he had come to loathe aspects of his work, and rather than grit his teeth until retirement, he decided that he wanted to become a teacher.  That meant tons of course work, student teaching, the whole bit.

So now he's teaching, and though he's traded off many of the material benefits of the business world, he's happier.  I really admire that.  I've worked with a number of teachers who seemed to grow unhappier as the years went by and behaved as though they were trapped in their lives.  They became pretty bitter.

But bitterness and life's choices are not the themes of this post.  Instead, I want to offer two of Fred's perspectives on teaching that I think are pretty significant.  He's been subbing throughout his region in all kinds of schools, and he has been struck by . . . .

1) The technology divide between schools and the outside world.  He felt that the schools that he visited were "30 years behind" the business community.  He saw technology in classrooms that was not being used either because A) the technology was relatively useless or B) the teacher was pretty clearly clueless.  He also was asked to develop lessons where "anything goes" if the student was doing it with media instead of text.

In my view education is incredibly insulated from modernity.  Besides the fact that many teachers have a great deal of autonomy, stakeholders in the process-- like parents view old teaching methods of instruction are the right ones, because that's what they know.  Despite a kind of ongoing chronic crisis in USA education, traditional approaches to "information delivery" as instruction remain the norm, even though a global communications revolution has occurred in the mean time.

2) Teachers talk about collaborating, but in many schools the level of collaboration that exists is insignificant compared to business work environments.  Fred described an insurance organization that operated through different groups of teams where members were interdependent and the whole benefited from the individual assets that each team member could bring to bear on challenges.  Fred has visited school districts which are very generous to staff in terms of "prep" time.  But too often, he observed that teachers retreated into their solitude to grade work or follow solitary routines.

Having spent 36 years in the classroom, I know how hectic a typical school day can be.  There just never seems to be time for anything.  But of course there is time. Case in point:  we started and online forum to discuss issues about education at our school.  The response was pretty good, but some teachers complained that they didn't have time.  Oh, please.  It's a matter of school culture, priorities, and motivation.  I know when our CBL Pilot group of teachers were determined to collaborate, they found a common meeting time an held it sacred.  A stronger team attitude at my school would be a plus and I hope we can work harder to make it a priority.

"Desert Palace" Flickr CC photo by CYNICALifornia

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Challenge Based Learning Pep Talks

I always enjoy hyping CBL projects with my students. I urge them to consider how important making a difference for our "Big Idea" will be.  I ask them to set the bar high and be willing to fail doing something important rather than settling for something ordinary.  I tell them that this is the special something they get by having me as a teacher.  I jump around a bit and shout.  I look them in the eyes and convince each student I am talking to her.

I think I do the motivating thing well.  But the best motivational efforts for CBL this year did not directly involve me-- it came from the students, themselves.  Lynn, Mike, and I were planning our "Fight Apathy!" event.  The two of them teach ninth graders and wondered how passionately some of them felt about the challenge.  They suggested that I send some of my sophomores across the hall to see if that sparked more enthusiasm.  This worked beyond my own expectations.  It was clear that the ninth graders were very locked in when the tenth graders were talking.  Though I did not ask them to prepare, one pair brought screen shots of their intended project solution.  Sarah, who did most of the talking in both classes, was well prepared and spoke to them very personally.  I learned more about my own students' approach to and understanding of their challenges.

These pep talks were ten/fifteen minutes of the best quality time I have experienced this year.  Good team work by all concerned!

Flickr CC photo courtesy of M.V. Jantzen

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Baker's Half-Dozen Quotes

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.
--Henri Bergson, French philosopher (via Joanna Seymour, ADE)

Lesson plans should be that, plans. Students and teachers should have the ability to transform lessons into authentic learning opportunity.
- Jackie Gerstein EdD, Argosy University

In today’s schools, students typically learn individually and at the end of the school year, we certify their individual achievements.  But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more we need great collaborators and orchestrators. For a more inclusive world, we need people who can appreciate and build on different values, beliefs, cultures.  The conventional approach in school is often to break problems down into manageable bits and pieces and then to teach students how to solve these bits and pieces.  But in modern economies, we create value by synthesizing different fields of knowledge, making connections between ideas that previously seemed unrelated, which requires being familiar with and receptive to knowledge in other fields.  
- Andreas Schleicher- Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division at the OECD.

Using CC allows downstream users to customize content, and in some cases can help students save money on textbooks. Chuck Severance, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, was able to publish a textbook in 11 days (available to his students for $10) because he remixed an existing book offered under an open content license.
-Timothy Vollmer - Policy Coordinator Creative Commons

“My business is circumference,” Poet Emily Dickinson writes. This is also the business of leadership. To understand the significance of circumference we need to acknowledge the new mindset required of leaders for integrative whole mind learning. As we struggle with new discontinuities, fragmentation and sudden change it is vital for leaders to think in more complex and holistic ways. This involves a shift in focus from a narrow and reductive emphasis on individualism based upon an industrial model of managing where the leader is the strong dependable self-made individual or hero towards a style of leading which expands the circumference within which the leader leads.
- Michael Jones- leadership educator, writer and pianist

Getting teachers to put themselves out there and blog is the challenge. Too many of our educators believe in “Do as I say, not as I do” teaching philosophy. We need more transparency in education. We can make that happen with more thoughtful and responsible educators blogging to the world.
- Tom Witby -- Adjunct Professor of Education at St Joseph’s College in New York.
Flickr CC Photo courtesy of quinn.anya

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Time with M-Hub

I recently sent out this missive to the friends of M-Hub, our online project for networking students with adult experts within our high school learning community.

Lest you think that M-Hub has fallen by the wayside, I thought I would give you an update on our feverish behind the scenes activity:

We are now working directly with the school web designer on the web site for M-Hub.  Our leadership team developed the home page and essential additional pages.  He did not blink when the girls asked for assorted bells & whistles, but their proposals were thought through with intelligence and careful consideration in regard to how first time visitors might respond.  They are intent on creating a clean, user-friendly environment.

Some of M-Hub's finest!
On April 18, two teams of students met under the supervision of Susan Smith, alumna and Art Department Chair.  They designed features for our student profile page and data collection page (The one that we will be inviting many of you to visit in the near future).  I passed their ideas on to the web designer who has already installed them on the site.

Essentially, there was much more work and planning for the web infrastructure than we ever imagined, but thanks to the terrific support of Will Gervais (Administration) and Julie Earle (Advancement), we remain undaunted and have made amazing progress in creating a site that is surpassing our wildest dreams.

Obviously, we still lack data before M-Hub can be rolled out as a useful networking tool for our students.  So that will be an immense task for Fall.  Then, attendant upon that chore, we will have a major educational task for members of our learning community.  But we have every reason to believe that M-Hub can be operational for the 2011-12 school year.  

Some final notes:

* Those of you who participated in our Zoomerang beta-test made a very valuable contribution to this year's progress.

* The M-Hub Project has remained student-driven.  What you will eventually see will be the result of a marvelous collaboration between our dedicated students and various adults they have tapped for expertise.  The goal of M-Hub is "to help MHS students build learning networks which leverage technology."  Essentially, building M-Hub has provided this very type of experience.

* We are trying to be foresighted in terms of creating a basic site to which modules can be added if M-Hub becomes as robust as we hope.

* School Administration has given unqualified support to our venture.  They have encouraged the girls every step of the way.

Thanks for your interest and support,


Sunday, May 8, 2011

I Failed!

Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.   ~John Dewey

When we received our ADE Training two years ago, the class of '09 was taught to celebrate failure. After all, it is fundamental to learning and success.  So rather than making this post a show and tell, I'll dance through some of this school year's failures, and remark what I have learned.

See through Cycle
Early in the school year I came up with the idea of our staff experiencing a "see through cycle" for six days-- staff would visit each other during six consecutive school days in a conscious effort at transparency and collaboration.  It was a terrific success, but had no legs.  I was not really surprised that this experience could not be sustained.  But it was an important experience for what lay ahead-- the terrific challenge of effecting change in a school culture.

Fantasy Candidate
I am glad that Cindy (my government teaching collaborator) and I threw open our school's mock election, allowing the kids to basically draw up the experience from scratch.  No regrets in this respect, but my brain storm of having the students create fantasy presidential candidates and create their campaigns was a bit of a fiasco.  Some of the zaniness of the fantasy campaigns drowned out the rest of the experience.  Allow students to create and  administer their own election was a fine learning experience, but the fantasy candidates became a distracting sideshow.

Passionate Collaboration
I think that my strategy of designing an in-service experience around "Pitching Your Passion" to fellow staff members may have been my greatest success in terms of promoting collaboration and challenge based learning at Mercy.  However, I would judge my own participation in the project to be in large measure a failure.  First, I was not fully engaged with my "Fight Apathy!" team at the inservice session.  Then I did little to bring us together before our spring launch.  I sort of forged ahead on my own, communicating very little with my teammates.  They were both dealing with younger, smaller groups which probably meant I was not blazing much of a trail.  We pulled together in the late going, and we were all happy with how the event turned out.  But it is more than a little ironic that my own collaborative experience was more shallow than many of the other teams I helped to organize.

Last October, I reflected on how Everett Rogers' model for the adoption and diffusion of innovations might apply to my attempt to promote a new learning design (CBL) with colleagues through professional development training.   Rogers describes "laggards" -- those in an institution most resistant to change.  At times I've been rather stunned by how extremely resistant to new ideas some persons have been.  At times this has been expressed through outbursts, but commonly, it has been completely passive behavior along the lines of Bartleby the Scrivener-- who though continually reasoned with by Melville's narrator offers nothing but his signature "I would prefer not to."  

Back in the Fall I vowed to ignore the inevitable laggards and focus on the true innovators.  Alas, the laggards have been difficult for me to dismiss.  More than a few nights I've come home grinding my teeth over some ridiculous passive aggressive behavior.  Though my efforts have not been particularly well served by this distraction, the laggards have only made me all the more determined and make sure that the final failure is theirs.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Baker's Half-Dozen Quotes

"half dozen farm eggs"  Flickr CC by bimurch
The future of Ed Tech is “Bring Your Own Device”, (BYOD), and schools will more than likely move away from providing devices for students sooner than later.  While BYOD is far too radical for many school districts at this time, it is inevitable that this is the future.  The sooner districts embrace this future and begin to plan for it, the more effective this transition will be.   -- Scott Meech

[The] web is the long slow death of the middleman. - Mike Wesch

Unfortunately, the vast majority of teachers are still waiting…for something. What is it? Permission? Direction? Inspiration? Enlightenment? - - Will Richardson

What makes the biggest impact in online classes I believe is how you cultivate a classroom community. Some teachers do that with synchronous tools such as Elluminate, others do that by having students get to know one another asynchronously. One of the best online teachers I know does weekly, if not daily 5 minute webcasts to update her students on how the class is going.   -- Bethany Smith

PowerPoint   . . may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch .  --  Edward Tufte

Information is no longer something humans seek – it is now starting to seek us. -- George Siemens

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Assessment through Reflection

I absolutely love having kids do video reflections!  They have been such an authentic way for us to understand our students' thinking, where they are in the process, how they are feeling about the process, and what they are learning.  It's hard to describe the element that is captured in a video reflection that you don't always get in a written reflection.  It's like you can see them thinking as they speak and also hear the emotion and passion in their voices. I've always felt that reflection is an important part of the learning process for both the teacher and the students.  I don't know why it didn't occur to me to use video as one way to reflect but it is definitely in my reflection toolbox going forward.

I agree with Elaine. Audio and video reflections are an extremely effective way at getting at important aspects of learning.  What did the student learn from her mistakes?  What skills did she acquire through her collaboration.  How hard did she work?  In what respects did she show initiative and leadership?  Did she engage in activities that did not show up in the groups' presentation or final solution?

At Mercy, we are engaged in exploring ways to teach Tony Wagner's Seven Survival Skills.  I believe that Challenge Based Learning is an effective vehicle for addressing these.  Consequently, I have shared two of my recent student reflections in a recent slide presentation in order to provoke a discussion on how to effectively assess for these skills.  Here are the slides:

After having required numerous reflections, I have found it critical to invest thought and time into developing good prompts.  Without specificity, the students sometimes drift into superficial commentary.  If the prompts are too specific, the respondents more or less treat them like a check list.  In the audio reflection below, Madison is responding to the following:

1) What concretely did you contribute to your group’s research and solution (I don’t mean suggested and idea . . . . What did you do like conduct an interview or edit a video).
2) Assess your individual contribution to the group’s in class presentation.  Describe your performance and your personal contribution to the slide show.
3) What did you personally learn from your project?
4) To what degree did you offer your best effort and maximize your talents in this project.

Madison's Audio Reflection

The consensus of the teachers who have listened to both reflections, agree that the following video piece is even more personal and authentic than the audio

I believe Elaine Wrenn's enthusiasm for video reflections is borne out by videos like this one.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Professional Development End Game

As I mentioned in The Other Side of the Coin post, I have heard repeated calls to assess CBL-- particularly our school's Dallas Team pilot.  On the one hand this is ironic, because no educational venture at our school has been more studied and transparent.  And on the other hand,  the call is premature since the majority of our teams have not even implemented their plans.  Don't get me wrong, I think CBL needs to be assessed-- but so should the rest of the curriculum.

Consequently, I am asking the teams of staff which are planning new CBL projects to participate in “CBL Pilot 2”at Mercy High.  Since we have plunged into CBL in order to address Tony Wagner's Seven Survival Skills for a New Economy, I have asked the teams to consider how those skills will be assessed by their new CBL projects.

I proposed that we help position our Curriculum Council with a framework for planning and assessing instruction for the Wagner Survival Skills.  The framework would invite assessment of CBL and other forms of instruction.  In other words, CBL would not be scrutinized in isolation.  If CBL does not accomplish what we hope to achieve then we need to change in more effective ways.  But change itself cannot be rejected merely by throwing stones at CBL.  If we are teaching the Survival Skills across our curriculum than any academic department should be able to demonstrate how they are attaining them.

You can see the "End Game" proposal to the CBL teams, below.  Next time, I will describe how we move from this to a (hopefully) serious contemplation of assessment.

Two of my students check out iPod touches.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Other Side of the Coin

I admit to some fatigue with the PCG thing.  But I have revved up my engines for one last push after Easter Break.  Before I make that push, I want to reflect on an area of frustration.

It seems like some folks will take a swipe at CBL at every opportunity.  A portion of the skepticism and criticism is no doubt valid, but more than a tad is motivated by those who just want it to go away because it calls for changing old ways.

On the one hand, this frustrates me because it is hard to discuss the issues with CBL that I see, without opening a discussion up to the slings and arrows of those who resent anything related to our professional development efforts.  I hear myself becoming a booster rather than a problem solver.

However, my greater frustration comes from biting my tongue about seeing an elephant in the room when CBL is subjected to criticism: Why is CBL  subject to special scrutiny?  People want proof that it works and and assurance that it will not cut into more valuable activities.  I want to ask them to prove that those other activities work.  Can they show me that the students have attained mastery by all those homework assignments, lectures, and discussions?  Assessment is essential, but across the board.

I think I have fashioned a constructive way to  address this issue of assessing CBL.  That will be the subject of my next post.

Flickr CC Photo by woody1778a

Blog Archive