Sunday, October 30, 2011

Creating a Platform for Student

Next Installment of my not so weekly Podcast series.  Thoughts about why Wikipedia has succeeded and what we can learn from it.


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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's On The Television?

I'll admit it that my kids watch television.  There are several shows that I wish my kids never watched and fail to see why they find some show entertaining.  To be fair, I'm sure my kids wonder how I can sit and watch a game a not root for a specific team.   However, I am intrigued by some programs my kids (ages 8, 8 and 4) will sit down and watch. 

They are big fans of DIY's Yard Crashers.  On DIY Network's Yard Crashers, landscape expert Ahmed Hassan waits at stores looking for homeowners who could use help revitalizing their yards. Once he finds an agreeing participant, Ahmed and his team completely transform their yard in a matter of a few days.  They will also choose to watch Cake Boss or Top Chef and have figured out how to DVR these programs.  Lately, the younger ones have also developed a liking for Project Runway.  On Project Runway The contestants compete with each other to create the best clothes and are restricted in time, materials and theme. Their designs are judged, and one or more designers are eliminated each week.  Through a series of elimination challenges one designer is selected as the winner.

I have never sat down and formally surveyed my kids about why they find these shows interesting.  I can confidently assume that they are both entertained by some of the designers and are amazed at the finished product.  For someone who struggles to put anything together, I am blown away with what designers are able to execute.  Despite the challenges or better yet intentional obstacles embedded into each episode, participants are able to think so far outside the box that the outcomes serve as a source of inspiration for the audience.  This is evident in how popular these shows have become and how many different demographic groups find interest in design-inspired showcases.

To an extent, I think some of these design inspired shows such as Top Chef or Project Runway can inspire conversations about education and in particular, experiences occasioned for learners. These shows are about creativity, problem solving and the design process (with a little TV drama built-in to the filming as well).  These three principles can serve as a guide as educators conceive of creative problem-solving endeavors within a course, independent study, capstone project or internship opportunity.  Using these shows as a template, we have to encourage students to consider innovative approaches when solving complex problems and mentor students to construct unique processes to produce outcomes that represent growth and understanding. 

So while I hope that my kids spend their time wisely and for productive pursuits, I also do not mind if they are learning from the creative energies of some talented individuals. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Are the Kids Ready

Over the past week I have started to formally observe teachers.  I have been in multiple classrooms each day conducting observations of non-tenured staff.  Additionally, I have been hosting pre and post-observation conferences.  I appreciate the chance to dissect a lesson with teachers and to discuss possible experiences for students.  Everyone benefits from the opportunity to engage in genuine discourse about teaching and learning.

There were a couple of moments form these observation that stood out. I was observing an English teacher who was using Twitter for a backchannel discussion.  Student were expected to transition between the physical and virtual world to exchange ideas about a core text.  Primarily, the expectation was for students to lead an in-class discussion and use Twitter as place to post questions and archive a quick thought.  The instructor encouraged students to start posting some thoughts on Twitter as a way to initiate the in-class exchange.  Subtly the teacher transitioned students to begin exchanging ideas in the physical world.  However, something happened when the discussion shifted from the virtual to the physical.  It appeared that students froze and were unsure of what to do.

I offer this observations not to criticize anything the teacher did or did not do.  It was an engaging and challenging lesson.  I was taken back by how students reacted to the expectation of having to simultaneously participate in-class and on Twitter.  The idea of a backchannel discussion was foreign to them.  What seems like a manageable task, posting questions and comments while participating in a whole class discussion tested students and their ability to seamlessly move between both worlds.

To an extent, I should not be surprised.  As we have developed blended learning environments, students have been hesitant to embrace the virtual world.  Teachers have had to push students to offer genuine feedback during forum discussions on Moodle or reply to a classmates blog post.  This has not always been the case, but it has been a trying process for teachers to develop consistent student participation in furthering virtual learning communities. 

I also sat in on a Latin class.  Introductory Latin course have been redesigned around the premise of a self-paced learning environment.  In Latin students are empowered to determine a plan as to how they will progress through various stages of the program.  Elements of the program were infused into units last year by our Latin teachers and in earnest since September.  It has been a messy process.  Students were uncomfortable when the responsibility for directing learning was shared.  Students were waiting to be told what to do as opposed to taking an active role in designing a learning experience.  Some students felt as if they were not learning and others claimed that the lack of structure hindered performance.  A month into school has revealed quite the opposite for kids.  To steal a line from a friend, the self-paced Latin class I observed was rocking.  For an entire block every student was thoroughly engrossed in a variety of activities and conversations. Students were confident and passionate about their studies. It appears as if they have embraced the notion of being empowered to make decisions and assuming ownership over the learning space.

I also should not be surprised that out Latin teachers have had to deal with push back from students.  Last year several teacher revised midterms to offer students multiple avenues through which critical understandings could be demonstrated.  Choice was presented to students.  However, students were unsure of how to proceed or even glamored for a traditional assessment structure. 

I just found it curious as to how students, not all, but enough still appreciate either a traditional system or fail to fully embrace ways in which digital tools, resources, platforms and systems can enhance the classroom experience.  These observations highlight the need for educators to mentor students across the K-12 spectrum.  For us to reshape or even revolutionize our educational system, students need to reflect upon our actions as life-long learners.  Our willingness to continue to learn and be innovative will be a driving force in initiating change for our students.

Friday, October 7, 2011

What's In Store For Next Year

Some thoughts about possible courses for next year.


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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Re-Thinking Leadership In Schools

I have always wanted to read High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them by J.F. Rischard.  According to Rischard, an economist for the World Bank, the next twenty years will be of critical importance (book was published in 2002) How the global community approaches problems delineated in the book will determine the fate of our planet for future generations.  I always thought the premise of the book would make for an interesting class.  Students could be challenged to examine issues that threaten the global community and collaborate to problem solve viable solutions.  What could be more authentic, genuine, empowering than examining complex contemporary issues.

In one section of book, Rischard discusses how traditional hierarchies are ill-equipped to deal with the demands of addressing problems that plague the global community.  Rischard says the following:

Government units or agencies, multilateral institutions, churches, multinational companies, large outfits of any kind-tend to reflect a hierarchical organizational model inherited from the industrial age, even in a way from the agricultural age. In periods of intense and complex change, traditional hierarchies fall short-the future belongs to flatter, faster, more network-like organizations.

There are three inherent faults in a hierarchical organizational model.  These organizations lack flexibility, fail to inspire employees and leaders at the top, who are supposed to control everything and call the shots, end up swamped when the rate of change is high.  All points are valid, but for schools, Rischard's commentary about the morale of staff is worth spending a few minutes reflecting on.  Success, not matter how one defines it, would be difficult to achieve if key contributors lack motivation and are never inspired to achieve greatness.  Unfortunately, schools are set up as traditional hierarchical structures with professional educators serving as middle men, facilitating information down the line.  To guard against an unmotivated organization, Rischard urges that people need to be empowered to act as independent agents.  Through empowerment stakeholders are inspired to make a critical difference within the organization and overall, a sense of ownership grows through taking pride in being a driving force for change .  

A greater sense of distributed leadership needs to be extended in our schools.  I see this as something more than educators "collaborating" or what is believed to be collaboration.  Teachers and even administrators need to view themselves as leaders and provided with the access to initiate change.  This is certainly possible if educators are open and willing to connect with one another.  Through the exchange of ideas and resources, educators can build the collective knowledge and will to make critical and enduring changes in schools.   As opposed to sporadic meetings, there is a consistent discussion about what needs to be addressed and how to address it.

We need to be consistent.  We cannot ask students to assume ownership in the classroom and not extend the same principles when it comes to educators.  Why support Unconferences for professional development but not extend the same spirit of Unconferences to govern decisions in schools.  Without a sense of ownership and pride, morale does suffer and change can become glacial.