Monday, June 20, 2011

It's All Social

I had a few free minutes the other day and started to go through my Google Reader account. It has been a couple of weeks since I devoted a few hours to leaf through the various feeds I follow. There were a few articles that caught grabbed my attention. The reason these articles resonated so was because I am collaborating with a group of dedicated educators to construct a framework for a professional learning plan.

The plan is rooted in a simple belief that learning is a social process. Learning is enhanced when in the presence of others. This is especially true today with the ease in which ideas and resources are exchanged. The ability to network and build rich learning communities has situated learning as a social process. Accessible and diverse social media platforms allow for important interactions to occur and to build global connections.

Take for example an article that appeared in The Guardian. Iceland is crowdsourcing a new constitution. Capitalizing on the fact that two-thirds of the Icelandic population has a Facebook account, citizens can comment or join discussion groups about proposed clauses. In similar fashion, Twitter is being used to help spread a message or join people behind a common ideal. Saudi women are pushing to drive their own cars in an effort to overturn a ban on female drivers in their country. Using the hashtag, #Women2Drive information about the initiative is being disseminated and support for the cause is taking on a global voice. In both cases, an end goal is being reached through social vehicles.

Schools have to function in a similar manner and foster important social connections. As mentioned before, I am working with fellow educators to develop a professional learning plan. The plan relies on holding Unconferences and building cross-disciplinary cohorts where educators can receive warm and cool feedback from peers. Additionally, curricular and instructional documents are constructed in a public format. Using Google Docs, collaborators are invited in to build a resource that is relevant and enduring. The paradigm of a teacher working in isolation no longer applies and instead, the exact opposite must transpire. Transparency and collaboration should be privileged in our schools.

In an attempt to promote important social interactions, I created a page on this blog where current projects are posted (Crowdsourcing Education). Initiatives I am involved in have been made public and are open for commentary. Feel free to access any of the links and if inspired, leave a comment.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What A Night

Last night we held the inaugural Classics Academy Night. In prior posts I have talked about the Classics Academy. Just as a refresher we started a theme based academy for 12th graders this year.

The Classics Academy is a cross-curricular experience for seniors who wish to explore the connections of Ancient Greece and Rome both to western intellectual history and, to their own lives. Through the study of classical literature, history, mathematics, art, religion and philosophy, students learn to produce and consume new knowledge while synthesizing complex understandings of the human experience.- Classics Academy overview

A cohort of 9 students traveled between 5 core classes (AP European History, AP Latin: Vergil, AP Literature: Classical Literature and its Resonance, Classical Math and History, The Symposium for the Classics Academy). All of the courses were linked through the study of classical civilizations and also through an overarching essential question. Last night students shared their answer to the following question:

In what way or ways is my present contingent on my individual and humankind's collective past

Through a public exhibition students shared personal insights to an audience of over 100 people. Each student was left to develop a medium to express their answer to the essential question. Exhibitions ranged from a wood carving of a Minotaur (see above), to an Encaustic painting, to a mosaic, to a pieces of literature, to a play written and directed by an academy student and to a symphony composed and conducted by a member of the Classics Academy.

The night was representative of how important it is to empower passionate individuals and to support interest-based learning. The night also affords the chance to write about the types of experiences schools should provide for students and teachers. I was thinking of sharing thoughts about the following:
  • the contrast between public exhibitions and traditional assessments (finals week starts today) and why traditional assessment structures are still supported
  • multiple pathways (variety in exhibitions was incredible)
  • collective actions (it was the night before finals and 23 kids volunteered to be part of the symphony and another 10 volunteered to act for the drama)
  • passion-based learning
  • theme-based academies
  • empowering stakeholders to assume ownership
However, I was struck by commentary from one student. In thanking individuals, the student left a final appreciation for the Classics Academy and shared that the 4 teachers and 8 other students had changed her life for the better because of the time they spent together. Not to turn this post into an after school special, but could any educator or parent ask for anything more out of a classroom experience. It was touching to see how much the kids meant to one another and how much they appreciated the chance to learn from each other.

Congrats to all on a great night.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Impact of Technolgy on Education

Came across this infographic on Twitter. Thought it was interesting for multiple reasons. However, the visuals bring up an issue we have to address. eLearning platforms are becoming a significant part of the educational experience. This is the case K-12 and for post-secondary education.

We are trying at the high school where I serve as a supervisor of instruction to foster "blended learning environments." There needs to be a thriving virtual community where classroom stakeholders can continue and further the exchange of ideas and resources. Folded into a blended learning environment is the notion of supporting global classrooms. Each course offering has to establish a social network that extends beyond the classroom to deepen the experience through connecting with experts and professionals. A blended environment that is organic and connected is valued and should be a consistent force in schools.

However, before embracing the eLearning world, we have to examine the quality of these services. A student's experience should only be of the highest quality and integrity. As opposed to outsourcing the eLearning experience I wonder how this can be developed in-house. An opportunity exists for schools to join forces to crowdsource resources and produce an abundance of rich and relevant open source materials. What interests are for-profit enterprises serving?

What are your thoughts about the infographic and what questions does it force us to ask?

How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Collaborative Design

Next installment of my podcast series about collaboratively developed curriculum. Also embedded is a video about the "Independent Project". This pilot program is referenced in the podcast.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Time to Think

How often is space provided for students and teachers to think? Do schedules governing the school day and lesson plans determining the flow of an instructional period provide time for an individual to reflect? Even further, as we move to a national model where standardized tests are frequently delivered, is there going to be time to think?

Thanks to those who I follow on Twitter, I was inspired to share these thoughts. The real inspiration was located in the resources individuals tweeted out. The tweets shared powerful links, that in their own way, challenges traditional academic structures and the expectations placed on students.

To be brief, do we create an environment where game-changing ideas are nurtured? I find it difficult to think that subtle changes to the system will result in academic environments where creativity and innovation is fostered and learners are compelled to be problem-solvers and pose questions to problems that need to be addressed.

Even while writing, I am reflecting on the two links. One was to a Youtube video about creating a school in three hours. The second was from Thomas Friedman in the form of an opinion piece in the New York Times. If you have a 20-30 minutes, I would suggest watching the video and reading the article. I was left thinking about school and expectations. Yes as an administrator I want students to pass state exams, but I would be more concerned that learners have the chance to think about global issues and possible ways to address problems that plague entire communities. Why not run a class where the course is titled “The Earth Is Full” and support the efforts of teachers and students to spend time engaged in analyzing and discussing pressing matters. This is not to say that classes fail to address relevant material, but it is in bits and pieces as opposed to being the foundation of any course, school or national initiative.

I am afraid that lost amidst testing and common standards is that school can be a place where one can think. The time and support is present for an individual to learn and intellectually prosper.

As always curious to see what others think.