Tag: PBL (page 1 of 2)

Rapid Reaction: Most Likely to Succeed

The latest education-themed book I have finished is Most Likely to Succeed, by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith. It is a compelling, challenging book that questions a vast list of things that we take for granted as being fundamental in education: subject areas, daily schedules, grades, traditional assessment, standardized assessment, college entrance exams, college in general, and much more. It should generate powerful, change-inducing discussions if selected for a school or organizational book study. It is a fascinating and entertaining read, as well, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I had the opportunity last night to view the related documentary, Most Likely to Succeed, at a screening in Austin. The film is much narrower in scope than the book, as is almost always the case. Rather than visiting a wide range of schools and taking on all of the issues of the book, the film focuses on 2 classes and, primarily, 2 students in the very non-traditional setting of San Diego’s High Tech High School. There is just enough historical background and future predicting to give context and purpose to the narrative of the students, then we are presented with a brief view into the day-to-day lives of the principle subjects. It is an entertaining documentary and has you rooting for the students to succeed. As a father and educator, it struck several chords with me and, honestly, made me a bit emotional at times. The following are a few takeaways from the film for me.

  • Traditional school curriculum is soul-crushing. We rely on perky or entertaining teachers to make our students’ days bearable and, occasionally, enjoyable. Make no mistake, though, most kids are riding it out, disinterestedly waiting for the bell day after pointless day.
  • The entire purpose of school as we have created it is to pass tests. Unit tests, benchmark tests, practice tests, state tests, college entrance tests, on and on. We don’t admit it, but that is our purpose as educators–not to help them succeed in life, but to help the kids pass tests.
  • committeeof10We are at the mercy of a bunch of rich, powerful men who died a century ago. The power and sway that a group of elite, white academics and industrialists still holds over education in the United States is baffling. Not that their intentions were bad–their world was simply an entirely alien place that bears no resemblance to ours, yet we still run our schools as if we arrived at work in our Model T’s.
  • Parents have a really hard time letting go of the past, Strangely, most adults do not recall how boring and meaningless much of our educational experience was growing up. Our lack of accurate reflection makes it extremely hard to imagine our kids surviving and thriving in a world without bells, subjects, and textbooks.
  • Students, especially high achieving ones, have the same hard time as parents. Top ranked kids know the routine, know what’s expected of them, and often don’t want their attention to be diverted to anything but gaming the system, getting a high SAT score, and getting into the Ivy League. New paradigms and routines can be very hard for these kids.
  • Is “college for all” really in kids’ best interest? This is especially thorny when kids experience a school like High Tech High or other bastions of creativity and imagination, then get to head off to the land of talking heads and academic loftiness (where they get to drop a couple hundred grand for the privilege).
  • Students engaged in meaningful, challenging work will exceed our expectations. It truly was staggering to see the quality of work of everyday, ordinary kids in the film. Likewise, the grit, leadership, and self-motivation they displayed was a beautiful thing to imagine.
  • hopeThere is hope! I see more evidence all the time of a trickle of  radical, powerful, completely new models emerging. They are models that put kids first, not tests, not rankings, not college acceptance. Strangely, their kids seem to do quite well on “the tests” and at the next level, probably because the challenges they have undertaken already are of greater complexity, difficulty, and meaningfulness than what they face in the established system. It is not an easy thing to achieve. It involves critical self-examination, humiity, open-mindedness, creativity, extreme working hours, new goals, communities with vision, and more. But it is occurring, and that gives me hope and faith in the profession I’m called to.

Image source, Committee of Ten

Image source: Hope

Sowing Seeds of Innovation in the Classroom

Original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cimmyt/8208414926/sizes/l

Original image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cimmyt/8208414926/sizes/l

I have been struggling mightily lately with just how best to give our students more opportunities to imagine, invent, inquire, and create. I have witnessed so many formerly great teachers succomb to the quicksand of assessment preparation in recent years, abandoning the activities and settings that once inspired their kids to do amazing things. I am not judging these teachers. I realize the bureaucracy and profit-driven, immensely powerful forces that work against genuinely beautiful teaching and learning today. But we cannot just cave in and become glorified tutors, not if our kids are going to achieve their dreams and solve the problems we share tomorrow. We must find ways to inspire new ideas and dreams, and achieving exemplary scores on the state tests is, frankly, completely irrelevant.

With the goal in mind of creating this type of classrooms, I would like to offer this quick guide to regaining “genius-inspiring educator” status:

1. Be curious. Teachers who love learning, and I mean really love it, ask questions, read, visit new places, seek out strange new worlds, make, and explore. We all say we love learning, but few live it. Curiosity is contagious, and curious adults beget curious kids.

2. Be bold. Don’t fear trying a new approach or a new resource. Buy that Raspberry Pi or Arduino and see what you can do. You might fail, but you might succeed magnificently. The good news is that your students are highly unlikely to be ruined for life.

3. Be nonprofessional.  Resist the sage-on-the-stage role now and then, unless you have something to say that inspires or prods a student in the directions that help answer their questions or put their ideas into action. Give up the all-knowing-one title whenever possible.

4. Be equipped. Invention and creativity are resource-intensive tasks. Keep your classroom well-supplied with varieties of paper, fabrics, cardboard, glue, tape, simple electronic components, wood scraps, etc. A simple not home to parents is the ticket to keeping your supply closet or box filled.

4. Be a failure. Plan, execute, and fail, then let your kids see how you respond productively. Don’t fail on purpose, but don’t hide it, either. Ever have a lesson that just fell flat on its face, then you regrouped, redesigned, and conquered? Oh, me either…cough.

5. Be a borrower. Look for ideas from other teachers for ways to make learning more engaging, inventive, and meaningful. Get a PLN if you don’t have one, and start asking questions. Really radical idea–look for ideas from your students.

5b. Be a giver. Share your triumphs, your kids’ moments of inspired genius, your great activities, your hits, and your misses.

6. Be an advocate. Brutal honesty here, but too many schools and administrations have stopped caring about kids and want classes to exclusively be test preparatory programs, often to the point of forcing scripted, horridly standardized curricula. No research on the planet supports this model of student learning. Fight to make your class better for the unique needs of your kids. This means being a bit of a rebel at times, too. It may even mean looking for other opportunities, if leadership can’t reclaim the vision that brought them into the business.

Latest Podcast: #17: Why Ask Why?

This is a 15-minute followup to the blog post about Beautiful Questions. Like I stated, this book has my head bursting with ideas and implications, and there will be more to come. Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone.

New Podcast: Why Have Conferences?

The genesis of my latest podcast is the reflection I’ve done on last week’s TCEA conference in Austin, and on some of the Twitter conversations that took place last Friday after the conference ended. The discussion centered upon the nature of most conference sessions, and whether or not they could get past edtech bling and focus upon how we teach and learn. Here is a sample exchange from some folks I hold in very high regard.

Jon Samuelson (ipadSammy) on TwitterJon Samuelson (ipadSammy) on Twitter-1

I share my thoughts on this discussion in the podcast. In Readers’ Digest version, I agree that we need more focus on pedagogy, less on the tools, but I don’t think the tools discussions are completely unworthy of our time or attendance. I’ve ranted against the “list” sessions myself, but I still manage to see a few things that I can use in almost every one I attend. I always try to imagine how the resource might help a student as they work on a project or promote a skill (creativity, critical thinking, empathy, etc.) that students need. I also think we have to remember that effective and desirable teaching practices (in contrast with what we use to teach) can’t possibly be covered in a typical conference session. We can pick up or share small pieces, but real change in terms of classroom practice takes lots of time, practice, collaboration, coaching, etc.

I also share a few thoughts about some sessions on project based learning that I had the chance to attend. Sometimes, you can learn more from mistakes than successes–I’ll leave it at that.

Please take a few minutes to give a listen, and I always relish your thoughts, questions, arguments, whatever!

New Podcast: Innovation Ready Questions

In this episode, I’m talking about the types of questions our students ask in the classroom, and how we can encourage them to ask better, deeper, more probing questions. These types of questions are often open-ended in nature and encourage our kids to experiment, create things, break things open, and ask still more questions. Examples might be:

  • What if we had a serious earthquake here?
  • Why do people bully one another?
  • Can we make the traffic pattern around our school safer and more efficient?
  • Could we make our classroom warmer without using more electricity?
  • How does my phone send text messages?
  • Could I make my own device to send messages?

As always, I look forward to your responses (even the ones that disagree!).

(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!

 

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