Tuesday, July 29, 2014

School World vs. Real World: A Great New Whitepaper from @GAllenTC

Lunch at a predetermined time with no food in between...

No control over when you do different activities during the day...

Entrance exams and counselors who help us "decide" what we're qualified to learn...

Have lunch and snacks whenever you want...

Organize your day around your strengths and talents...

Determine what you want to learn, learn it, and WOW your team....

Are our school systems today really preparing students for the REAL WORLD?

In a recent whitepaper, my colleague and researcher Gayle Allen explores the differences between the school world and real world. The real world is one of abundance. Conversely, she argues, the school world is one of scarcity. We need to escape the scarcity mindset (limited content, tools, courses, teachers, etc) to help our schools become more relevant. (Read the entire whitepaper here!)

To me, this task has incredible urgency. Many of the rules that we create in schools exist for many reasons. However, these same rules can often be changed with a bit of buy-in and creativity. So, as we stare down the exciting prospect of another year, what rule will you change to make schools more REAL WORLD?

Even choosing one rule could make a big difference! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scatterplot Brainstorm - A Great Technique to Vet New Ideas

Let's face it; all ideas are NOT created equal.

Choosing what we will NOT do is just as important as choosing what we will do.

Therefore, after the dust settles from a furious group-brainstorm, it's absolutely necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff. (That's a Pennsylvania-way of saying that a bit of filtering has to happen!)

However, deciding which ideas "make the cut" can be tricky and team members' feelings are often involved. No one wants to see that their idea was not selected. No one ESPECIALLY wants to feel like they had a "bad" idea.

Often, choosing ideas can leave a negative vibe in the room. If done very poorly, it can even inhibit future brainstorming sessions.

But don't despair! By using specific protocols that emphasize analysis, you can arrive at meaningful decisions without injuring the morale of the group.

Last week, I had the pleasure of learning a few new team-thinking techniques from Paul Gould at the Maya Institute. Here's how he suggested to manage the idea selection process:

See? This process helps you analyze ideas without making judgments about the people who created them. It also helps to give structured feedback to everyone in the room. By simply observing where all the post-its end up on the matrix, you learn what the group values and believes is possible.

Hope this helps!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Perceived Costs of Saying “I Don’t Know”

I was recently reading Think Like a Freak from Levitt and Dubner. The text seeks to describe the kinds of analytical thinking that made the duo famous, including their ability to offer unconventional wisdom on topics from sumo wrestling to crime rates.

In the beginning of the book, the authors cite the inability to admit the unknown as a critical barrier to innovative thinking. They take an interesting look at the incentives behind this common adult behavior, saying:

“If the consequences of pretending to know can be so damaging, why do people keep doing it? That’s easy: in most cases, the cost of saying ‘I don’t know’ is higher than the cost of being wrong – at least for the individual.”

Levitt and Dubner go on to say that there are rarely consequences for incorrect predictions, especially those from experts in the field. To me, this intuitively makes sense. There are few (if any) prediction police squads out there. Therefore, as adults, we’re highly incentivized to offer an opinion, idea, or prediction. Not only do we look “smart” in the moment, but also we rarely incur negative effects later on.

Given this incentive against innovation in our systems, how can we be intentional to honor and celebrate every “I don’t know” that’s uttered by our educators and learners?

What if we clapped, celebrated, and offered kahoots for every “I don’t know” that we hear as leaders?

What if we shared weekly awards for problem-solving humility in our schools?

What if we actually used the open air created by the phrase “I don’t know” to find different solutions to our problems?

Saying “I don’t know” is the first step to innovation. 
Just make sure it’s followed up by iterative action that leads to fresh solutions.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From Bell to Bell: The Ways Schedules Impact Learning

We’ve all been there – our students are deeply immersed in the middle of an engaging lesson when the bell rings suddenly. Within moments, students are scrambling to their next class or learning experience via a Pavlovian-induced habit.

Clearly, time is one of our most precious learning resources. However, we often make decisions about time in schools based on a myriad of extraneous factors (sport schedules, busing, credit accumulation, etc.). As teachers, we’ve been bemoaning the impact of the schedule on learning for years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I’d love to do ____(insert innovative learning practice here)_____, but I just can’t because there’s not enough time.”

While I recognize that these challenges are real, it leads me to propose a critical question:

----Aren’t these schedules ultimately man-made? Can’t we simply change them?----

Hey, if we can’t best change the ways that time is used in our schools, who can?

As you write those rosters and prepare for September, here are 3 things to keep in mind:

1) Adults in the workplace are using time more flexibly than ever.

As industries become more knowledge-driven and interconnected, adults are using time differently at work. Most offices (ok, perhaps not Yahoo!) offer generous “work from home” policies as well as flexible start and end times. This allows everyone to work when they’re at their personal best and it also encourages people to create ecosystems that effectively balance life and work.

2) Using time wisely and navigating the “always on” elements of modern culture is a 21st century competency.

With 24/7 access to email, files, and texts, it can be hard to step away from work. However, school often doesn’t reflect this. We’ve created finite learning boxes instead of open-ended opportunities that students must effectively manage. Sometimes we do this to scaffold time management for learners, but we put our students at risk if we never remove the scaffolds.

3) Exploratory learning and real-world problem solving takes longer than 42 minutes.

We all agree that students need to tackle real-world problems from real-world audiences. However, that rarely happens within 42 minutes. If we continue to “issue” discrete chunks of unrelated learning, it’s unreasonable to expect students to dive headfirst into a complex problem.

Practically, this means that we need to explore and expand the ways that we use time in our schools. Consider what your school would look like if you involved all stakeholders to answer the following questions:

  • What if we allowed students to have flexible, competency-based periods of time where they could collaborate with adults, experts, and peers?
  • What if they could schedule meetings with their teachers to help them achieve specific goals?
  • What if students could truly learn anytime/anywhere and school was an optional resource to support real-world learning experiences?
  • What if competency, not time was the determining factor for school?

How have you reimagined time in your school?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Danger of Implied Rules

Two of my best friends are finally getting married! (Insert claps and joyous applause here.) Upon my return from some work-related travel, I was delighted to find the invitation to their upcoming beach bash in my mailbox. As I casually completed the RSVP card, I noticed that my friends asked for a song recommendation.

Now, I've known these two my entire life. (Since first grade to be exact...) There was NO WAY that a single song recommendation was going to cut it.

Naturally, I began to ignore the "rule" on the card and listed a litany of songs. About 10 minutes into this exercise, my sister (via a Sunday-night Skype) picked an argument. It went something like this:

Me: Hmmm. Any other songs we should list?
Her: You can't do that.
Me: Do what?
Her: List all those songs. The card says "your favorite." That means one.
Me: So?
Her: Well - it's rude.
Me: Really? I think this will be really helpful.
Her: I don't.
Me: Awkward video-chat silence.
Her: More awkward video-chat silence.

In the end, I decided to send my enormous list of songs. After receiving it, my friends texted me to thank me for all the songs. They shared that it was really going to help with the upcoming DJ meeting, especially since many people were leaving the line for a song blank!


Although at first glance this might be a simple "I told you so" story between sisters, it's actually much more than that. In our schools, districts, and classrooms there are thousands of real and implied rules. Sometimes these rules are critical, and they cannot be broken. Other times, we fabricate these rules based on informal observations and complicated versions of whisper down the lane. Often, rules are simply implied and no one's even sure how they came into existence.

This year, as you prepare your classrooms, schools, and districts, beware of implied rules. These implied rules may be holding you back from innovation. However, chances are, they don't even really exist. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The 2014 Horizon Report Focuses on Pedagogy

The horizon by __MaRiNa__, on Flickr

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
   by  __MaRiNa__ 

The Horizon Report, an annual paper that focuses on the emerging trends for technology and schools, is often recognized for the ways it analyzes TOOLS.

However, this year, it's taken a different approach. The insightful group of educators (including my boss, Rob Mancabelli) guiding the report decided that the two fast trends for teaching and learning with technology are strongly focused on PEDAGOGY. 

Specifically, the two fast trends are cited in the report as follows:
  • Rethinking the roles of teachers
  • Shift to deeper learning approaches
In short, the changes that are happening this year specifically relate to the way we teach and the way we learn.

Authentic audience is a critical element within this shift. The Horizon Report states, "A major component of this trend is the rise of students who are learning important lessons by creating projects, products, and services that directly benefit the world around them."

We need our classrooms to look less like school and more like the real world. The only way for that to happen is for teachers to change the ways that they construct and implement learning experiences. Innovative, social, interactive, job-embedded professional development is a strong lever in this endeavor.

So, if we're going to achieve these changes in our schools, we need to take specific next steps.

Here are my top 5:

1. Allow teachers to talk carefully and deeply about their new roles with other educators.

2. Create policies that support teachers in the messy implementation of deeper learning.

3. Recognize and celebrate teachers and classrooms that are changing the way learning looks.

4. Provide mentors for all teachers by matching educators via social media tools.

5. Provide scheduling flexibility so that teachers can decide the chunks of time that support redesigned instruction.

Which horizon are you chasing?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

An Edcamp for Edcamp Organizers #ISTE2014 #edcamp

550 events.
4 years.
Dozens of countries.

Yes, I'm talking about Edcamp.

This year at ISTE 2014, over 100 Edcamp Organizers came together to talk about best practice when organizing Edcamps.

How, you may be wondering, did we discuss these issues?

We had an Edcamp of course!

Attendees proposed 10 different sessions where organizers from across the globe (even New Zealand was represented) debated and collaborated on best practice. Check out the entire schedule session below. If you click on the image below, you'll find that each session has a Google Doc with collaborative notes. It's the best way to check out the learning an ideas if you couldn't make it.

During the session, it was great to see people pulling chairs apart, leading conversations, and building better Edcamps. The room felt infused with collegiality and collaboration. It was amazing to see approximately 100 people (or 1/3 of all Edcamp organizers worldwide) share their expertise.

The Edcamp community is a great one. If you can, thank an Edcamp organizer today. Quite frankly, they deserve it! #eduawesome


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