Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Only 1:3 Students Are Hopeful, Engaged, and Well - It's NOT Enough

As educators, we often wonder if we are reaching all of our students. We engage with them academically, ask them critical questions, and take interest in their personal lives.

But, are our efforts working?

Data from Gallup's State of America's Schools suggests we have a lot of work to do. A survey of over 600,000 students in grades 5-12 reveals that only 1 in 3 students have high levels of hopefulness, school engagement, and well being.

That means that 66% of our learners don't have what they need to succeed.

While it might be easy to point fingers at educators and say "care more" or "do more," I don't think it's that simple. Educators (specifically teachers) are some of the most caring people in the world. I can count on one hand the educators that I've met in my career who don't have kids' best interests at heart. We all really, really want this to get better.

But the data shows that our efforts aren't moving the needle. So, what exactly, is it about the system of SCHOOL that isn't meeting kids' needs? After checking out what's happening in hundreds of schools, here are the common themes I see:

1) "School-life" and real life are very far apart. 
Most schools don't look like the junior version of real life. Instead the systems look like "school," a distinctly unique beast all its own. Kids figure this out very early on (sometimes as early as 3rd or 4th grade) and it causes them to see school as less valuable than the rest of their life.

2) Our curriculum is not life worthy. 
How many things do you really remember and use from your K-12 education? (especially high school!) You probably remember some things, but there are likely many things that you've never used beyond high school. (That extensive unit I did on the French Revolution doesn't really help me in the day-to-day...) Despite the excitement and fervor we may bring to these curricular topics, it's hard to mask the lack of value that many topics exhibit. So-- let's change it. I love David Perkins' new book Future Wise as a guide for making this happen.

3) Our assessment systems often give kids the ability to opt-out.
The assessment is over, and a learner does poorly. What happens next? Too often, the answer is NOTHING. Kids are able to squeak by, pass, and move on. What if we kept learning and exploring until we truly reached mastery? What if every score was replaced by GOT IT and NOT YET on our assessments? How would that change the ways that kids feel about school and feel about our classes? I bet it would give kids the room they need to fail forward and truly innovate. (assuming the work is authentic, of course)

I'm certain that these large systemic changes won't happen overnight. However, the small decisions along the way start TODAY. What small choices will you make in your classroom right now to make schools more like the real world?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Evaluating the Media? Begin With Questions


November's issue of Educational Leadership focuses on talking and listening. As I believe that explicit teaching of speaking and listening (especially in digital spaces) is absolutely critical for today's learners, I was delighted that ASCD included one of my pieces in the edition about media evaluation.

Here's my favorite part of the article:
When hearing anyone speak through any medium in today's world, it's necessary to begin with questions, not confidence. The advent of digital networks and media sharing has enabled just about anyone to share his or her words online. And although this growing ability to connect and listen has enormous value for our students, it makes critical consumption of information more important than ever.

The entire text is available freely here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Teaching Creativity

"Every child is an artist. 
The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up." ~Pablo Picasso
Picasso by thewhoo, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License
   by  thewhoo 


Over time, the pressures of every day life lead many people to discard divergent thinking. It's common to awake every day seeking to embody competency, efficiency, and accuracy. Unfortunately, the problems facing our world will likely not be solved by using existing methods with greater speed. Instead, we'll need to build unknown solutions. Such creative solutions arise from, well, being creative.

You're not creative you say? We'll you're in luck.

Creativity is a discipline; it can be practiced. 

Brain science is beginning to show that intentional practice and routines can increase one's ability to devise unique solutions.

In her recent book called Sparking Student Creativity, Patti Drapeau does a great job of operationalizing creativity for both adults and kids. She cites four domains, inspired by the work of Paul Torrance, that we must emulate in our classrooms and in our lives to become more open to insight.

They are:

Fluency - The ability to generate MANY ideas.

Flexibility - The ability to change DIFFERENT KINDS of ideas.

Originality -  The ability to generate UNUSUAL ideas.

Elaboration - The ability to ADD DETAIL OR EXTEND ideas.

As educators, we must design learning experiences that allow students to practice the four domains of creativity. This can be as simple as changing a closed prompt into an open brainstorm, teaching students to use "yes and" language, or having students identify their most unusual idea instead of the most "correct" one.

I'm going to make a point of engaging in each one of these domains over the next week. By making this a part of my active learning process, I hope to become just a little more creative.

What do you do to spark creativity?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

#Edcamp Online: Edcamping Beyond Time, Space, and Place with #Unhangouts

Despite what you hear in the press, teachers are pretty amazing people.

Last week, 100 teachers hopped online on a Saturday, to dialogue about teaching and learning with
each other. Using a tool created by MIT Media Lab called Unhangouts, the results were spectacular.

Here are a few of the highlights:

1) An Amazing Schedule Creator FINALLY!
Grif Peterson (of MIT genius) found a great tool called the "Question Tool Instance Chooser." While the name isn't exactly exciting, the functionality is! Essentially, anyone can go to the site, post a question/session, and others can vote on it. No logging in, no muss, no fuss. It worked PERFECTLY for us on Saturday. Here's a sample of the schedule board from Saturday's event:























2) Fewer Technical Issues, Better Conversations
The team at MIT made some significant improvements to their Unhangout platform this year. 100 people were easily able to float from session to session. Although there were a few people with access issues, the number of issues was minor compared to last year. This meant that there were better conversations and discussions about teaching and learning. Many sessions generated shared notes which were then tweeted and distributed to everyone. Great work!


3) New Faces!
One of the things that made this event so exciting was the sheer number of new faces! Many of the folks on the organizing team were new to the event, and many of the participants were new to Edcamp. It was great to see folks learn about the Edcamp community even if their local town hadn't hosted an Edcamp yet. (Yes, we had Ryan from Ghana on hand too!) Truly, learning has transcended time, space, and place!

As the Edcamp Foundation continues to grapple with innovative ways to connect educators, it's clear that Unhangouts and the MIT team have pushed our thinking with this tool. We are really running out of excuses to NOT learn from each other. You know!??!

Happy Edcamping!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Exploratory Learning in Physical Spaces - The Sequel

A few weeks ago, I shared my experience touring the Q?rius area of the Natural History Museum. Well, I'm back at it again with some insights on the new media creation center at Ritenour High School in St. Louis, MO.

I was at Ritenour for the EdSurge Admin Summit last week, and we began our day with student-led tours of the new learning space. Although the space was amazing, it was the ownership and professionalism of the student tour guides that was most impressive.

Without further ado, here are my field notes!

Main Collaboration Space

Field Note #1: Spaces without a clear "front" make it harder for didactic pedagogy to happen.
As you can see from the photo, the main area for the media center is adorned with wall-to-wall whiteboards and filled with rolling furniture. When I entered the space, there was music playing, students working in small groups, and a teacher somewhere amidst the learning. It was hard to tell who the teacher was in the room. This was partly due to the fact that it was unclear to EVERYONE where the front of the room was. How strategic!

Ritenour Radio Studio

Field Note #2: Professional equipment evokes professional behavior and pride.
My adept student tour guide took us to the radio studio within the media creation space. It was clear that the radio station was much more than an academic exercise; the entire town listened to the station. After announcing that they were the only high school in the state to have an FCC regulated station, my student guide went on to describe the type of programming. "We're always learning what people like," he said. He went on to describe how they change their approaches based on what their student listeners request.  Sounds like someone who's "college and career ready" to me!

"Work in Progress" TV Studio

Field Note #3: Evolution matters.
The dreams that students had for the space outpaced the current funding. To that end, there were several images near the television studio showing mock-ups of what the space would look like after the funds were raised. Not only did this give students a high level of ownership, but it also directly taught students that progress over time was critical to success. Everyone recognized the value of identifying a "work-in-progress" as compared to "good enough."

The spaces we design deeply affect the learning experiences we have. Let's be intentional. Nice work, Ritenour.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Survival vs. Investment Mindset


Survival.

Just the word creates a series of emotions: fear, anxiety, stress....

And if we're striving for survival, we're not actually thriving. Instead we're searching for a solution for the next fire, or crisis, or immediate need.

In schools, we often operate at the survival level. Consider these questions:

  • Are you just trying to get through the day/week/month?
  • Do others drive your work or do you drive your work?
  • Do you forget the goals you set because you're just SO BUSY?


Operating in a way where survival dominates your time actually changes your brain. Consider this research from Scarcity by Mullainathan and Eldar:
When scarcity captures our attention, it changes how we think—whether it is at the level of milliseconds, hours, or days and weeks. By staying top of mind, it affects what we notice, how we weigh our choices, how we deliberate, and ultimately what we decide and how we behave. 
Clearly, this does not support the innovation and time needed to be successful. If our lives are dominated with the things in front of our face, then we'll never be able to change the systems that shape our lives. In essence, external stimuli will drive our outcomes in the world.

However, all is not lost. When it comes to survival, we often have a choice. The alternative to "survival mode" is "investment mode."

When you invest, you spend time on long range items that will likely pay off down the line. I consider these to be "loose bets" that will alleviate survival stresses down the line. Spending your time on investment behaviors allows you to minimize stress and the desperate need for survival over time.

This idea between survival and investment comes from Daniel Yoo, the founder of Goalbook, and I find it to be an incredibly helpful frame.

Let me give you an example. I write. A lot. I often cite blogs, quotes, and whitepapers in my writing. When in survival mode (and up against a deadline), I search for the research I needed and save links on a digital sticky note which are then saved in unsearchable stacks on my desktop. Clearly, this process (although quick) does not build a sustainable set of resources I can easily access later.

So instead of surviving via digital sticky notes, I spent an afternoon investing in the creation of a tagging system in Evernote. This tagging system allowed me to file, save, and search all the quotes I find and use. Although building this system took a bit of time, it's saved me hours in time over the last few months.

Microdecisions either focus on SURVIVAL or INVESTMENT. Being cognizant of these choices can make the difference when it comes to innovation. Innovation can't happen in survival mode. So, invest - each day and every day - to build the infrastructure for innovation.

How will you invest?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Exploratory Learning Realized in Physical Spaces

Often, the design of a space will greatly influence the things that you actually do in that space. For example, I've seen that the mere arrangement of chairs in an Edcamp session actually dictates how much different people will interact during the learning.

So, I've become fascinated by the ways that space, items, and furniture can influence the types of informal learning and social interactions that occur organically in a space. To be clear, I see this as less of a "classroom upgrade" and more of a "using public spaces well."

Last week during my trip to D.C., I spent some time with Richard Efthim from the Smithsonian exploring the Q?rius section of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. As always, the conversation with Rich is stimulating, constructive, and exciting. However, I was intrigued by the design of the space and how it facilitated the exact types of interactions in which we engaged.


Here are a few "field notes" from my trip. These are likely directly relevant to any learning space you are curating in your life.

Field Note #1: Clear lines of sight across all areas of the space create curiosity.
As you can see from the photo below, you can peer into almost every area of the space with a clear line of sight. This allows you to feel both safe and curious about all of the other things that are going on within the space. It's inviting and interesting, spawning free movement across all areas of the space.



Field Note #2: Flexible furniture creates a feeling of empowerment.
All of the fixtures in this section of the space are on rolling castors. This allows the furniture to be moved very easily by almost anyone. Such flexibility allows small groups to carve out spaces or to use the furniture to adjust the space as needed. Putting the people, not the furniture, in control fosters an ethos of empowerment.



Field Note #3: Creating a system for digital records creates the ability to reflect later.
One element of the Q?rius learning space is that people can create a digital field book of their experiences. As they collect different experiences, they can record them using photos, text, and videos either on their mobile devices or at stations around the perimeter. This permanent record (which reminds me of a Twitter feed at an Edcamp) allows people to revisit their learning and increase metacognition.
Being intentional about spaces and places can change the interactions and learnings that evolve over time. How will you change your surroundings to support the types of learning required in today's world?

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