Tag: learning (page 2 of 5)

Mistakes Are Not the End

"...fail as fast as you can." -Whurley

“…fail as fast as you can.” -Whurley

Among the hottest trends in education right now is this idea of teaching students to  embrace mistakes. For decades, researchers have known the value that can be gleaned from errors and missteps. Today, scientists can even watch as the brain learns through trial and error. However, until very recently, education had few practitioners who actively applied the researchers’ conclusions. The numbers are still relatively small, but they do appear to be growing. The basic thrust of the idea is that we learn from our mistakes, and we shouldn’t be so mistake phobic when it comes to our students’ work. This is admirable, but there are some who justifiably worry we might be creating a culture that over-glorifies mistakes at the expense of good work. The difference, I believe, is where we place mistakes in the learning process. A typical classroom process might look like this:

  1. Teacher presents lesson.
  2. Students complete assignment.
  3. Teacher grades assignments and returns them to students.
  4. Teacher and students move on to the next lesson.

In this scenario, the grade is the ultimate conclusion to the teaching and learning process. Students get their one shot to impress with their levels of mastery. Mistakes come at the price of a reduced grade. This, of course, can have negative consequences, such as failing courses, being held out of extra-curricular activities, having the X-box taken away at home, etc. Little wonder that students therefore dread mistakes and the resulting red ink.

Some schools are implementing changes to this decades old practice. Mistakes are not seen as the end of the process. Rather, they are seen as steps along the path to mastery. The process might look like this:

  1. Teacher presents lesson.
  2. Students complete assignment.
  3. Teacher grades assignments and returns them to students.
  4. Students examine and reflect on errors.
  5. Teacher works with students to correct errors.
  6. Students re-attempt the assignment.
  7. Teacher re-assess student work.
  8. Process is repeated until mastery is achieved.

Mistakes gain importance because they provide insights into students’ learning and mastery levels, and they are stripped of the negative consequences of traditional assessment. This is more in line with the way research confirms that we naturally learn. It also reflects more accurately the way that most important innovations, inventions, and creative ideas come to be.

Image source: http://blog.inventright.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Chaotic-Moon-Labs.jpg

Image source: http://blog.inventright.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Chaotic-Moon-Labs.jpg

This weekend, Seguin ISD held our 11th annual Technology Fair. One highlight was a presentation by William Hurley (@whurley). Whurley is an energetic bundle of creative energy. He shared several projects undertaken by his successful Austin company, Chaotic Moon Studios. A recurring theme of the presentation was the value of mistakes as part of learning and innovating. He encouraged students to “fail as fast as you can.” Whurley shared through story after story how Chaotic Moon embraces and expects mistakes along the path to innovation and invention. A video of a smart shopping cart being developed by the company showed numerous missteps, such as the cart not understanding commands or almost knocking over a display of wine bottles. It also showed how truly creative ideas have to master the art of reflecting on mistakes and trying new approaches until success is achieved.

Now more than ever, in an educational environment of high-stakes assessments, no-pass-no-play policies, and stressful hyper-importance placed upon grades and class standing, ed tech can lead the way to a new appreciation for mistakes. Students who are given the opportunity to create, to code, to tinker, and to invent with technologies have unique opportunities to engage in productive mistake-making. The processes involved in writing a program, building a robot, or creating a 3D object with software and a printer are inherently mistake-laden. All one has to do is note the frequency of updates to a computer’s operating system or the apps on a smartphone to see how developers respond to and learn from mistakes. When we give our students hands-on, sometimes messy opportunities to use technology in these kinds of ways, we are preparing them for something bigger and more important (no matter what a state agency might believe) than being able to pass a test. We are equipping them to be the minds of tomorrow who will stare down society’s problems and create solutions that obliterate them. So, in the spirit of Whurley, let’s get our kids out there making mistakes as often and fast as we can.

Toward a Learner-Centered Pedagogy

Wired magazine recently shared a great story about Sergio Juarez Correa, a teacher just across the border in Matamoros, Mexico. Mr. Correa was young but already disenchanted with teaching and in search of new pedagogies and more professional fulfillment. He took the radical step of taking control of his own learning, finding professional books to read that exposed him to new ideas. He became particularly enthralled with the work of Sugata Mitra and his learner-centered ideas. The Wired story relates what happened when Correa committed to changing his practices, and he began to make learners the central focus of learning. His story is really an amazing account of what can happen when a teacher is willing to get off the stage and put students squarely at the center of the classroom. It’s also something that most teachers are unwilling or unable to do (often due to mandates from above to teach this and do it this way). This is despite the fact that in the vast majority of pedagogical debate, the majority of educators would likely wholeheartedly agree that this is the ideal way for kids to learn. In reality, of course, classrooms are rarely places that are either exclusively teacher-centered or exclusively learner-centered, however. They usually at some point along a scale between the two, and very often in a different place from one day to the next or even one moment to the next. Teachers dip their toes into the learner-centered pool whenever the curriculum allows it to fit naturally and comfortably.

I would like to offer the following (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) quiz to assess how far along the teacher-centered to learner-centered spectrum your practice falls. For every “true” response, give yourself 1 point.

  1. The district or school curriculum is faithfully and thoroughly followed in my classroom. We have walk-throughs, you know. (True/False)teachercentered
  2. The arrangement of classroom furniture is a carefully crafted, scientific plan created by me for maximum discipline and efficiency. (True/False)
  3. My students are well-behaved. My voice is the most frequently heard voice in the classroom. (True/False)
  4. You can have my interactive whiteboard and document camera when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers. (True/False)
  5. I work hard to master my subject area knowledge and skills, so that I can impart my brilliance on to students. (True/False)
  6. Time is precious, so the day must be planned down to the last detail in order to ensure we cover the material. (True/False)
  7. Students should study what interests them, absolutely. Right after their homework is finished. (True/False)
  8. I take pride in being a magnificent lecturer. Students have literally cried after my recount of the Gadsden Purchase. (True/False)
  9. Risks are the natural results of poor planning. (True/False)

Scoring: The higher the score, the greater the likelihood you prefer a traditional, teacher-centered approach. The lower, the better the chance your students have greater influence over teaching and learning.

Now do one more thing. Close your eyes (after reading the rest of this). Picture your favorite teacher, the one who inspired and engaged you and who you strived to be like when you started teaching. Rate them using the same quiz. Where do they fall? Who we respect and admire speaks volumes about who we eventually become, doesn’t it?

Finally, if you didn’t before, read the Wired article. It will take a little while, but it is a really compelling argument for giving learners more control over what is learned and how it is learned. Also of interest to me was the reaction of a Mexican bureaucrat to the happenings in Mr. Correa’s classroom (Shows how alike our countries can be.).

What’s your take on teacher-centered versus learner-centered instruction? Is it a valuable shift in practice, or is it a fad that will likely fade and be replaced by the tried-and-true teacher leader practices we’ve employed for centuries? What barriers exist to becoming more learner-centered?

(Almost) Rapid Response to TCEA Area 7 Conference

I had the privilege of once again attending and presenting the TCEA Area 7 conference up in White Oak, Texas this past Friday. Before they leave my cluttered mind, I wanted to share a just couple of moments of inspiration or semi-clarity that I gained from the event.

Key Notes From the Keynotes

The keynote speaker was the always amazing and inspiring Diana Laufenberg. Diana’s talks are always filled with fascinating and powerful personal anecdotes focusing on the power of inquiry/project-based learning and truly giving students ownership of their own learning. The following are a few of the big ideas and reactions that I noted via Twitter during the presentation (Follow-up thoughts today in green.).

  • School superintendents rank “comfort with no right answer” as least relevant indicator of creativity. So, so wrong!! (Misguided and misinterprets the attainment of 1, single correct solution as the end-all-be-all of knowledge. Innovation does not happen that way. Innovation is filled with missteps.)
  • “We found that the knowledge gained from success was often fleeting while knowledge gained from failure stuck around for years” -NASA
  • “We (teachers) set up barriers around the possible.” Yep–positive, happy, feel-good, self-esteem run amok. (Clarification–fear of damaging the psyches of students leads us to protecting them from failure far too often.)
  • John Dewey –“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”
  • Fostering inquiry by scaffolding curiosity.
  • If you truly value student voice, they must know that their ideas can direct the path of learning. (Too scary for many teachers to venture into such uncharted waters?)
  • “I want them to know what it’s like to stumble.” Yes, yes, yes–failing to succeed!

One Big Idea

Diana also shared a really exciting project where social studies students asked hypothetical “what if” questions about historical events. For example, students might ask:

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aunullah/5563371805

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aunullah/5563371805

  • What if the Confederacy had won the Civil War?
  • What if Prohibition had not been reversed?
  • What if President Kennedy had survived the assassination?

The same type of activity could certainly be applied to science (e.g. What if the earth’s gravitational pull was 25% stronger?), literature, math, etc. To answer these types of questions requires both a great deal of factual knowledge and a great deal of critical thinking, as there are potentially endless ripple effects of changing the world in such ways (Think butterfly effect.).  This type of learning activity is very student-centered and results very open-ended. It promises to be both engaging and very intellectually challenging, and I actually find myself very envious of classroom teachers who might try such a strategy.

That’s it for now–just wanted to reflect and get these ideas out there as soon as I had the chance. I’ll be presenting at ISTE next week–first time for that (Wish me luck!). I look forward most of all to the chance to connect to as many great educators as possible and be further inspired. Hope to see you there!

New Podcast: Dayna Laur on Project Based Learning

I had the great opportunity this week to attend project based learning training delivered by Dayna Laur (@daylynn), a Senior National Faculty member with the Buck Institute for Education, one of the premier organizations for promoting and teaching PBL. I only recently had the pleasure of meeting Dayna at TCEA, and she was highly touted as an expert on the subject of PBL. In the podcast, Dayna talks about challenges and benefits of PBL, the change in the role of the teacher  that is necessary, realistic expectations for newbies, and more.


Huge thank you to Dayna for foregoing her break time to share to me and for some outstanding professional learning time!


New Podcast: Failure to Succeed

Just posted a new podcast on the idea that our kids need more opportunities to engage in “productive failure”, or “failure to succeed”. The idea is taken from the engineering design process, and it focuses on the premise that high level problem solving will lead to many failures before it achieves success. I would very much welcome your thoughts on this. Agree? Disagree? How can we give our kids greater opportunities to fail to succeed in the curriculum?

1:1, Certainly

We are exploring some options for our district’s future student technologies right now. We have a significant need to increase accessibility for our students, but I’m not sure what that means, exactly. Does it involve a 1:1 program? Perhaps buying large numbers of wireless laptop/tablets and carts? Labs? iPads? Chromebooks? Laptops? Oh, my! Lots of questions in my mind right now, but I have come to a few certainties at this point, particularly after looking at quite a bit of the research on 1:1 programs. I’ve also received some great insight from colleagues trying different 1:1 programs around the state. In no particular order, my conclusions thus far:

  • Students are more than ready.Certainly, not every child is a budding, young Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. However, all students are quite ready to research, create, communicate, etc. using technology (and most are doing it without our assistance or blessing, anyway.)

    Why are some 1:1 programs more successful than others?y).

  • Teachers are, for the most part, not. Currently, most of the teachers I know either lack the technology know-how and experience, or they utilize a teacher-centered style that does not take full advantage of the capabilities of today’s tech tools. This isn’t an indictment–they are doing great things with the tools they have at their disposal. We’re just talking about a whole new set of tools, which leads to the next point…
  • Professional development is vital, essential, critical, mandatory, and supremely important. Teachers and administrators need to be trained so that they can, for starters:
    • Recognize opportunities to use technology to transform learning.
    • Identify available resources.
    • Understand methods of assessment of technology-rich products and activities.
    • Teach in a less teacher-centered, more problem- or student-centered manner.
  • Don’t rush the process. Districts who hastily rollout technologies without sufficient planning and training are committing themselves to struggling mightily for the foreseeable future and not likely to get much out of the resources. A small-scale pilot, heavy on the PD, can help head off problems before they are unmanageable.
  • Have positive, yet realistic, expectations. Technology offers students many incredible ways to improve their learning. It’s not a panacea, however, and it is not an overnight solution to what ails education. Test scores are unlikely to be directly influenced (Sorry, but read some of the research–it’s hit-and-miss here, at best.), but school climate is likely to improve, and students will have invaluable opportunities to learn and to gain needed technology related skills. The SAMR model is a great thing to keep in mind, too. It will take a few years to see the real impact happen (and only IF the necessary training and expectations have been provided). It takes real commitment to start seeing the maximum potential reached.
  • Students first. Every school’s population is unique, and so it stands to reason that there is no universal solution. It is imperative to resist keeping up with the Joneses’ shiny, new devices and instead looking for what will most benefit the kids we serve, based upon things like prior experiences, curriculum, academic needs, community expectations, etc. As I’ve said before, there is no perfect technology tool. If there was, we’d all have it, obviously.

We’re only beginning to embark upon this effort, so it remains to be seen how this will take shape here. I’m very encouraged at the conversations happening, though, even if they are in the very embryonic stages–at least conversations are happening. As anyone in a school knows, of course, there are many obstacles to an implementation such as this (e.g. infrastructure, money, staffing, money…did I mention money?), but it has to begin as a concept at some point. If it grows to more than that, I’ll do my best to share the process. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts/experiences here? Any other absolutes or experiences you might be able to pass along?

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vblibrary/8465390293

2-Minute Tech Challenge #3: iTunesU

This edition of the 2-Minute Tech Challenge is all about a great and often ignored tool that is on most teachers’ desktops: iTunes. Specifically, it’s about iTunesU, which is an amazing collection of lessons, lectures, demonstrations, and other resources on just about any and every topic imaginable. Elementary teachers can find math lessons on basic addition, for instance, while calculus teachers can take advantage of a large selection of lessons on math topics that might as well be in Martian to me. Seriously, it is an outstanding resource, and one that every teacher and student should explore.


And that is it–probably as easy as a 2-Minute Tech Challenge will ever get. Just post the title of the podcast/lesson you found in the comments and tell us why it interests you.

One more point I should make here is that Apple has created some great tools to allow teachers to put their content on iTunesU. If you’re a Seguin teacher who is interested in exploring how to do this, please get in touch with me, and we will make it happen. Have a great week!

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