Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Learning Personalized - A Practical Path Forward

Personalized learning is a progressively, student-driven model in which students deeply engage in meaningful, authentic, rigorous challenges to demonstrate desired outcomes. ~Zmuda, Curtis, & Ullman

This is the type of learning we strive for in our classrooms, schools, and districts. While I would venture to guess that almost all of us agree on this, a larger question looms:

How do we actually enact personalized learning at scale?

That is the exact question posed by Zmuda, Curtis, and Ullman in their text Learning Personalized: The Evolution of the Contemporary Classroom.  And, unlike many who have come before them, the actually lay out a very practical framework for achieving personalized learning at scale.

The authors begin by asserting two fundamental hypotheses that drive the text's framework:

1) Personalized learning is a better way to attain current learning outcomes.

2) Personalized learning is a better way to grow children.

After providing a clear definition of personalized learning and dispelling many common myths about the subject, they explore a series of tenets to move from theory to practice. Their recommendations are supported both by experts in the field and examples from real schools.

Here are the 12 elements they explore:

1) Disciplinary Outcomes
2) Cross-Disciplinary Outcomes
3) Mindsets
4) Task
5) Audience
6) Feedback
7) Evaluation
8) Process
9) Environment
10) Demonstration of Learning
11) Time
12) Advancement

Importantly, they do not provide an "all or nothing" philosophy regarding these elements. They show ranges of empowerment, allowing for choice and flexibility throughout the process. There's a rubric for each element that describes the ranges of personalization available.

If you're working with staff this summer to rethink learning to attain greater student voice and agency in your district, read this book. It's the closest thing I've found to a comprehensive, accurate, practical tomb on the subject. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Productivity v. Distraction - The Dichotomy of Mobile Devices

You're sitting in a team meeting with your favorite colleagues. It's a good meeting, there's lots of chocolate, and you are genuinely excited about the work. However, amidst the collaboration and good vibes, you hear an infamous chime. It's your cell phone.

The chime causes your mind to race. Is it your significant other, reminding you of an appointment? Is it your child who mentioned he was feeling ill today before he boarded the bus?

Seconds, then minutes, pass. You finally gaze at your phone, notice the unimportant message, respond, and sigh a bit of contented relief.

This dichotomy between productivity and distraction isn't an isolated incident - it's a confirmed pattern of behavior reported in a recent issue of TIME.

Over 57% of smartphone owners report that their phones make them feel distracted, and 79% of those same smartphone owners state that their phones make them feel productive.

As we manage the distractions our phones provide, it can make us feel incredibly productive. Often, this productivity can be addictive with a withdraw as uncomfortable as skipping your morning cup of joe.

If we're feeling this as adults, just imagine how our students are feeling. Especially if we ask them to power down in our classrooms. However, this research allows us to create guidance for our classrooms around managing mobile devices.

1. Provide students with brief, structured times to "check in." 
Mobile device addiction is real, and it's something that grips many of our students. Giving them 1-2 minutes to "check in" on their mobile devices can reduce stress and anxiety for students in the classroom.

2. Teach students to monitor their mindfulness when using mobile devices.
Often, students (and adults!) stare into the screens of their mobile devices without a true purpose. They swipe listlessly from app to app. By teaching students to name the desired task/activity aloud before activating the mobile device, it helps students maintain focus and reduce distraction.

3. Honor socialization through mobile devices as a valid form of interaction.
It's common for adults to criticize or devalue socialization through mobile devices. Statements like "You're always texting!" can serve to alienate or confuse youth. It's best to honor the ways their interacting and strive for moderation.

Our mobile devices aren't going away. However, it's more important than ever to help our kids (and colleagues) navigate these ferocious waters.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Create the Conditions...

Despite the fact that we’re not that good at it, we actually like to think.We are naturally curious, and we look for opportunities to engage in certain types of thought. But because thinking is so hard, the conditions have to be right for this curiosity to thrive, or we quit thinking rather readily. ~Daniel Willingham

Yes, thinking is hard.

In a world filled with distractions, bite-size media, and constant conversation, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of endless info consuming.

And, perhaps, instead of adding to our students' stream of information, we need to reorient our roles as educators. Daniel Willingham, a respected cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia, reminds us that telling is wholly less effective than asking.

So... I ask you the following question:
What if we created the conditions for learning instead of the learning itself?

Perhaps documented curriculum is less about facts and more about problems...

Perhaps classes are more about serving authentic audiences than seat time...

Perhaps being "future ready" is about a lot more than devices...

Daniel Willingham, in Why Students Don't Like School, notes that solving problems is satisfying. Not listening. Actively figuring something out is what gets our mojo going. We've all been there - whether it's finishing that crossword or figuring out just the right protocol for an upcoming staff meeting - we love the 'eureka' moment.

The conditions for the 'eureka' moment are often dependent on two questions:
1) WHY?

The more that learners provide the answers to those questions, the better learning environments we'll have. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Scaling Unhangouts: Our First In-District #Edcamp Online

Meg Roa, an amazing administrator from Volusia County Schools, attended Edcamp Online last October. From that moment, she imagined a world where she could provide anytime, anywhere learning to all of the staff at Volusia.

And so it began. She embarked on the exciting quest to create an Unhangout with Volusia event.

Meg's twitter profile says it all. It begins with the quote, "Don't settle for a spark; light a fire instead!" Using the amazing wits and expertise of Srishti Sethi and Grif Peterson from MIT Media Lab, she assembled a digital space where learners could propose their own sessions, use the rule of 2 feet, and seamlessly connect amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

I had the pleasure of being on her planning team. I was constantly impressed by her ability to model risk taking and ooze enthusiasm for the kinds of learning her teachers need most. She's a rockstar, and it was great to collaborate with her.

The event spanned about 2 hours on a Monday evening, and participation was a choice. We had about 40 educators join us, and many participated while in the car, at sports practice, or while cooking dinner. It was a diverse mix of individuals with unique interests. Topics spanned from learning walks, to lesson study, to blogging.

And while the evening wasn't entirely free from tech glitches, things went smoother than any virtual Edcamp event that's come before. Srishti's new session proposal tool is EDU-AWESOME, and the overall set up for the event was pretty minimal.

Here are a few quotes from participants:

  • Thank you Meg for bringing this to VCS. What a great way to connect with our PLN AND we can use more than 140 characters!!!
  • Feeling excited about the possibilities with Unhangout. So glad I gave this a try.
  • Thank you- will share with colleagues.
  • I hope you have this again soon! Wish I could have been in on all the conversations. Thanks for doing this!

I really think we're getting there folks -- Edcamps are truly going online. Ok, who's district is next?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Drawing the Line Between Success and Mastery #ASCD15

Every so often, I'm asked a critical question about one of my learning practices.

Why do you keep volunteering so much time to Edcamp?
Why do you write a blog, even though there's no formal reward involved?
Why do you travel on weekends to connect with other educators and learn from them?

My lizard brain prattles on after these questions are asked. I wonder...
Shouldn't you be with your family? Taking care of your home? Cooking perhaps? 

And, to be frank, I've always struggled with these questions. What DOES drive me to continue this pursuit to improve and change learning? Certainly there's an easier, more logical path available.


Well- I'm not so sure. And seeing Sarah Lewis at this year's annual ASCD conference further illuminated the tension.

WHY? Because I clearly see the difference between success and mastery.

In this profession, we must be on the journey to mastery. In her talk, Sarah Lewis reflected, "It's about focusing on your craft and not your career. Masters are not experts because they take a subject to its end. They are masters because they realize there isn't one."

I do what I do, not because I'm going to be rewarded. Instead, I do what I do because I want to figure it out. And the more work I do, the more I realize I'm incredibly far from the answer.

This journey drives me. And, yes, we must balance our pursuits with our many other aspects of our lives. But still, we must also continue our journey. If we are to succeed at all, we must first realize that we will never "arrive."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

All Change Is Local

Sometimes the people you meet help you do amazing things.

Last week, I had the opportunity to collaboratively create a professional learning experience for learners across the state of Pennsylvania. A part of the Research Institute at BrightBytes, the event tried to bring together local experts to discuss best practice.

Amazing people shared their life's work, including Aaron Sams, Lisa Palmieri, and the entire team from Fort Cherry. It was a great day filled with authentic conversation and sharing. We were intentional about a few elements of the day, and I thought I'd share them here.

1. Taking Chances With Time/Structure Pays Off - Kevin Connor and Matt Friedman both suggested to try "lightening talks" followed by short breakouts. Using this model, we were able to feature lots of local practitioners and keep people moving throughout the day as well. Innovating around time/structure made the day feel different.

2. Change Is Local - Throughout the day, we intentionally featured almost all local presenters. This was critical because I believe firmly that all changes in classroom practice must be local. By seeing local examples of change, it can spread and grow throughout a community. I was honored to be among such amazing learners and participants.

3. Innovation Thrives When the Right Conditions Exist - There was a lot of conversation about the conditions necessary for innovation. Our shared conversations revealed that we all had a shared vision for transformative learning, but we needed to create systemic conditions where that vision can thrive. The most important takeaway I had was that we can only count on ourselves to create those conditions. That means that advocacy at all levels IS THE NEXT STEP.

Thank you to everyone who made our first Research Institute on the East Coast valuable and relevant. I'm grateful for edu-amazing colleagues!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Edcamp US DOED Is Back! #edcampusa

The second annual Edcamp United States Department of Education will be on May 29, 2015. The Edcamp Foundation is delighted to be partnering with the DOED again this year in Washington. We hope that this year's event will build on the conversations and ideas that were started last year, especially the ones about teacher empowerment and teacher voice.

As space is limited, we'll be running a lottery again this year. The lottery is free and anyone is eligible to enter. You can learn more about that at the event's website here.

You can check out my reflection from last year's event here. I hope to see you there friends!


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