January 23rd, 2014

Making and Learning

Phil Shapiro:

Treating human beings more humanely can never be a mistake. Learning by making is one of the most humane ways for students to learn. If we were wise, we’d move all our schools—private schools and public schools—rapidly in this direction. In years hence, youth will laugh at old movies showing students sitting obediently in rows of desks in a classroom. “What were they thinking back then?” our youth will mutter. “Were they really so clueless about learning?”
Yes, we really were so clueless about learning.
January 21st, 2014

Announcing: Educating Modern Learners

Today, I’m happy to announce that my friend and colleague Bruce Dixon and I are starting a new membership website, Educating Modern Learners (EML). It’s a site and an accompanying newsletter that’s aimed specifically at helping school leaders and policy makers from around the globe be better informed about the huge technological changes that are impacting education, and to help them make better, more pertinent decisions for the students they serve. And I’m equally excited to announce that we’ve hired one of the best education bloggers / thinkers we know, Audrey Watters, to be the editorial director / lead writer for the site. Our official launch is scheduled for mid-February.

Our hope is that EML will offer a reader-supported, independent voice to help articulate what is as yet a struggling but growing new narrative in the school reform discussion, one that provokes serious conversation at the leadership level around a more learner-centered, inquiry-based, technology and access-rich school experience that more powerfully and relevantly serves children in this fast-changing modern world. We’ll be commissioning some of the best writers and thought-leaders in the world to produce analysis and commentary on all aspects of modern learning, from local, state and ministry level policy issues, new literacies and pedagogies for 21st Century learners, effective change-centered leadership, new technologies, and best school practices, among others. Also in the mix are regular whitepapers, live events, podcasts, and more. More details to come.

Here’s some of where we’re starting from in our thinking about this:

  • We believe that we live and learn at a moment of rapid and radical change across institutions and cultures, and that technologies are in large part driving those changes.
  • We believe that today’s students will be immersed in creative and connected technologies throughout their adult learning lives, and that they require new skills, literacies, and dispositions to succeed in the modern world.
  • We believe that the web and other technologies can be a powerful source for good in the world.
  • We believe that schools must move away from “delivering” an education to, instead, empowering students to organize their own education.
  • We believe technology implemented with vision can be a powerful part of effective teaching and learning in schools.
  • We believe that relevant reforms are occurring too slowly because not enough of our efforts are aimed at those who make decisions regarding technology’s role in learning in schools.
  • We believe that top level decision makers often act without a relevant, global, modern lens for how technologies can best serve progressive teaching and learning. This is through no fault of their own as much as it is the consequence of leading at a moment of rapid and radical change.
  • We believe there is a real need for a diverse set of expert voices to use a global lens to intelligently curate and contextualize the changes, new technologies, future trends, best practices and more on a regular basis.
  • We believe this is a time of unprecedented opportunity. A time for boldness, and a time for well-informed leadership to shape new thinking around what schools could and should be; about where, when, and how learning takes place.  A time for us to truly rethink the possibilities that technology offers education, and a time for creative and courageous leadership to show the way.

EML is hopefully just the first step in what we hope will be a collection of resources and events that will help expand the contexts for learning and leading in the education leadership space. If you’d like to be notified when we officially launch, just sign up on our "Coming Soon!" page

January 14th, 2014

Making Ourselves Vulnerable

George Siemens:

Learning is vulnerability. When we learn, we make ourselves vulnerable. When we engage in learning, we communicate that we want to grow, to become better, to improve ourselves. When I first started blogging, I had a sense of fear with every post (“did that sound stupid?”), loss of sleep soul-searching when a critical comment was posted, and envy when peers posted something brilliant (“wow, why didn’t I think of that?”). When a student posts an opinion in a discussion forum or when someone offers a controversial opinion – these are vulnerability-inducing expressions. On a smaller scale, posting a tweet, sharing an image, or speaking into the void can be intimidating for a new user. (I’m less clear about how being vulnerable becomes craving attention for some people as they get immersed in media!). While the learning process can’t be short-circuited, and the ambiguity and messiness can’t be eliminated, it is helpful for educators to recognize the social, identity, and emotional factors that influence learners. Often, these factors matter more than content/knowledge elements in contributing to learner success.

Walk down the vendor floor of any big edu-conference and you’ll see our obsession with making learning less messy and less “vulnerable.” Struggle, patience, courage, persistence, failure, passion…none of these are quantifiable to the degree that reformers or most edupreneurs need them to be to “count.” Yet schools will spend time and money (lots of it) on stuff that organizes, compartmentalizes, personalizes, standardizes, and captures “learning” in order to be compared “successfully” to other districts down the road.

If we fail to recognize the inherent risk that goes with learning something new, we fail our kids. Yet we try to mitigate that risk in almost every decision we make. 

January 9th, 2014

Balancing Act

Suw Charman-Anderson commenting on a great post from David Weinberger:

I wonder too if my lack of blog writing is related to a lack of blog reading. My RSS reader became so clogged that I feared it, wouldn’t open it, and ultimately, abandoned it. And then Twitter and now Zite arrived to provide me with random rewards for clicking and swiping, showing me stuff that I had no idea I wanted to read. Instead of following the writings of a small cadre of smart, lovely people whom I am proud to call my friends, I read random crap off the internet that some algorithm thinks I might be interested in, or that is recommended by the people I follow on Twitter.

This resonates pretty deeply for me. I’ve always been somewhat an angsty blogger, or angsty about blogging. It’s been a long time since I felt like I’ve blogged often enough, or, more importantly, “well” enough. (So many truly brilliant people I read today make me feel totally unworthy.) I know every writer struggles with these demons (I can’t read those that don’t,) but what Suw writes above cuts to much of my experience over the past few years. 

But then there’s this: At the beginning of last year, I lost all sense of balance with social media. Trying to start a weekly parent newsletter (which will be back in some form at some point, I promise) meant non-stop reading and thinking and writing to the point where my brain just started to fry. And then did fry. 

No surprise then, looking back on it, that I started running again last June. And I’ve run or done something workout related almost every day since. I may actually be in the best physical shape of my life. And it’s because something just clicked and said “step away from the Twitter.” Not that I’ve been absent completely, but I find myself less and less inclined to put all of this before my kids, my wife, my sanity. I’m physically away enough already. I’m choosing to be present in a way I’d forgotten. I’m learning to carve out important offline time to write and create. And it’s good. 

I still believe that these technologies provide us huge opportunities to learn and to create and to change the world for good, but I’ve been realizing more and more that for me, at least, they can also distract in ways that aren’t wonderful. Kudos to those of you who don’t share in that struggle. And to be honest, I’m just weary of the egos. I’m thinking the best way forward might be to follow “the writings of a small cadre of smart, lovely people whom I am proud to call my friends” and let the rest of it just float on by. As Suw says, that may or may not be a good thing. Serendipity and randomness have their merits.

Three basketball games to watch my kids play this afternoon…don’t expect me on Twitter. 

January 2nd, 2014

Please, Make it Stop

From the “We Just Can’t Seem to Understand How Learning Really Happens Department” I bring you Crystal Hunter, CEO of Edmodo:

From my perspective, 2013 demonstrated that teachers are more connected than ever before. These connections give teachers the ability to build relationships and share content worldwide, including app recommendations, alternative approaches to lesson plans, links to videos, and more—all of which save them time and augment student comprehension of subject material. As the industry determines how to define success in education, it’s important to allow educators to lead the dialogue. Teachers are the ones shaping today’s youth, one student at a time, and much can be learned from the ways they collaborate. In 2014, we’ll see how much these connections positively influence student success.

No need, obviously, for teachers to actually create anything with these technologies and connections. And I’ve been waiting for something to “augment” my kids’ “comprehension of subject material” for some time now. And I’m just tickled that the “industry” will define success and…wait for it… “allow” teachers to lead the dialogue. Wow! How exciting!

If this is the best that 2014 has to offer, we might as well close up shop.

(And not for nothing, but if teachers using blogs to connect  their kids to global others is “best practice” in 2013, then what was it some 12 years ago when we were doing that in my lit and journalism classrooms? Mercy.)

January 1st, 2014

It’s Not About Feeling Good

Benjamin Bratton:

Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about “personal stories of inspiration”, it’s about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualisation: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins.

At a societal level, the bottom line is if we invest in things that make us feel good but which don’t work, and don’t invest in things that don’t make us feel good but which may solve problems, then our fate is that it will just get harder to feel good about not solving problems.

Is 2014 for solving problems?

December 17th, 2013

If Every School Said This…

Castle View (CO) High School’s “The Mosaic Collaborative:”

Enough. It’s time to take bold action. It’s time to reveal our fantastically creative DNA and reinvent our profession. If not for our sake, but for the sake of our students, many of which have reached a startlingly blunt conclusion: school stinks. The time is ripe for bold leadership. Leadership that creates actions and responses that pushes through defensive posturing and behavior. It’s time to focus our energy, all of it, on student-centered models of instruction.

A public high school, in a Common Core state, being bold. 


December 17th, 2013

Why Business Loves the Common Core

Erin Osborne in Salon:

Until the creation of Common Core, businesses have found breaking into the K-12 market very difficult. States have historically written their own curriculums and standards, buying suitable materials and textbooks as they saw fit. Creating content that was accessible to multiple states was difficult and being able to approach the districts within their tiny budget window was nearly impossible. The nuanced field of state, local and federal funding and regulations that companies are forced to navigate takes years to master and states were the ones controlling the checkbook.

From a business point of view, why go to them when you can make them come to you? Many of the people who financially aided the creation of Common Core have investments in place in companies that would do quite well with the standards implementation. By using financial clout and political connections, billionaires, not teachers, were able to influence the landscape of our education system. If states wanted a chunk of the RttT money, they had to adopt Common Core. If they adopt Common Core, they have to pay for the assessments and proprietary materials that come with it. Products that are “Common Core Aligned” have flung the door to K-12 wide open. Still not convinced Common Core is more about money than education? Check out the American Girl back-to-school accessory set children can buy, complete with a mini Common Core-aligned Pearson textbook.

So, there ya go.

December 15th, 2013

Vision Before Tools

Just a quick observation:

The fact that Chris Lehmann at Science Leadership Academy has moved away from full-fledged Apple laptops to a “90% solution” using new Dell Chromebooks certainly can be debated in terms of whether or not Chromebooks fulfill the true vision of 1-1 computing in schools. As with any decision like this, there are many layers involved, primarily budgetary in this case. Because of his track record as someone who not only understands the opportunities to learn with technology but who has one of the most compelling visions around for teaching and learning in a traditional setting, I’ll trust Chris’s process in this.

But here’s the the biggest concern, for me at least. The $300 (or so) price point will make (and in many cases, already has made) many districts think that Chromebooks are the answer to their 1-1 dilemma, but that only depends on the vision for their use. As Chris states in the article:

Lehmann said he hopes that partnership will result in a national platform to tout SLA’s “inquiry-driven, project-based” approach to learning, which he described as an important counterexample to the “tutorial” model of personalized learning  (in which technology is used to deliver tailored content to students) gaining traction around the country. 
"People can come to SLA and see personalized learning that doesn’t just mean the same content at a slightly different pace, but actually kids with their own skin in the game and designing projects and doing work that represents their own best ideas, that represent their interests, that represent their own passions."

Without that last part, it doesn’t matter what technology we put into kids hands. And I still haven’t seen many districts that are willing to really put the effort into the long term conversations necessary to rethink it, not simply deliver it using the tool du jour. 

December 9th, 2013

"Are We All In This Together or Are We Not?"

David Simon:

The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It’s a juvenile notion and it’s still being argued in my country passionately and we’re going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?


The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.  Right now capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process.

This last part is what should concern us all, and what should be a focal point in our kids’ educations. Ask kids if they understand the root of the dysfunction in Washington right now and see what they say. Then ask them how they’d fix it. Now that would be an interesting assessment. 

And by the way, if you’re waiting for big business owned politicians to amend education policies and move away from standardization and dysfunctional teacher accountability schemes, you’ll be waiting along time. As Simon suggests about capitalism in this piece, it’s all about keeping score, and so we’ll continue to focus on efficiencies and measurables. May not be what’s best for kids, but it’s just easier that way.

December 6th, 2013

The “Defining Moment for Public Education in America”

Mike McGill, Superintendent of Scarsdale (NY) schools in his “State of the Schools Report" (.pdf) to his board last month:

Today, we’re witnessing a struggle for the soul of America’s public schools. Is education a test score or something more profound and transformative? Are we mainly interested in making schools more efficient or in providing an education that’s more effective? Are we buying a commodity or investing in the future? Is the goal to spend just enough to provide a “good enough” education according to conventional standards or to enable our youth to reach out toward their horizons, invigorate our democracy and improve the world?

And later:

More broadly, though, we live at a defining moment for public education in America. Scarsdale may not have asked to be a beacon. Nonetheless, that’s what we’ve been called to be. This community’s choices will define expectations and determine actions elsewhere in our nation and in the world. For those others who seek direction or partnership or reason or hope, we - what we aspire to be and what we do - can make all the difference. 

I’ve written about Scarsdale before, but I can’t say how impressed I am with the vision that Mike articulates in this piece. Please read the whole thing. And if you haven’t yet read the overview of all of the innovations currently happening at Scarsdale (.pdf), I’d urge you to do that as well. 

This is a high bar, to be sure, but education leaders at local levels need to aspire higher right now. I wonder to what extent these types of questions are being asked by other superintendents around the country. I wonder how many of them aspire to be “beacons” leading a new conversation around schooling. I wonder how many dare to innovate the way Scarsdale has instead of just resting on past “successes” as measured by traditional expectations. I wonder how many have the courage and humility to admit, as Mike does, that now, “nobody can be sure what ‘school’ should look like” and that “schools must adapt if they’re to take advantage of [technology’s] promise.”

The vision that Mike articulates in his message to his board is clear and urgent. Scarsdale has decided to lead rather than follow. My issue isn’t so much which the people in charge of our schools choose to do. My issue is when they choose to do neither. 

December 4th, 2013

Sooner Than We Think

David Atkins:

But a funny thing is going to happen when the machines start taking the jobs of doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, managers and professors. We’re not quite there yet, but the day is coming very soon when many of what had traditionally been considered untouchable jobs will be done just as effectively or better by machines. Diagnostics and radiology will be handled by machine, with basic examination and nursing work the most common medical professions. Humans won’t be needed for legal services beyond the courtroom and mediation room itself, computer programs will pick investments better than any human, employee evaluation and workforce structuring will be better assessed by analytics than by any middle manager, and mass online education programs will render teachers and professors little more than test proctors and homework readers. None of which assumes the actual intelligent robotic AI of science fiction, which is a whole other story and is also likely coming sooner than we think. Some people see this as utopia, some as dystopia. But either way, it’s coming and coming soon.

Have I mentioned that I own two teenagers, kids who are going to come of age at a moment when all bets are off when it comes to jobs and work and careers and…

I’m seriously interested in hearing from anyone out there that has changed their approach in terms of preparing kids for…for…for goodness knows what. I have this vague sense that cramming curriculum and demanding compliance isn’t the best way to help kids develop the mindsets and dispositions they need to think and create their way through what’s coming at us. Color me stressed, but if you think doing better on the Common Core and PISA is gonna make everything ok, think again.

December 3rd, 2013

PISA: The Best of the Past

Yong Zhao on the latest PISA results:

The East Asian education systems may have a lot to offer to those who want a compliant and homogenous test takers. For those who are looking for true high quality education, Finland would still be a better place. But for an education that can truly cultivate creative, entrepreneurial and globally competent citizens needed in the 21st century, you will have to invent it. Global benchmarking can only give you the best of the past. For the best of the future, you will have do the invention yourself.

Unfortunately, the reactions to our middlin’ at best PISA results here in the U.S. is all about getting “better” instead of thinking differently. Not saying there aren’t some valuable things that PISA measures. But, a) those things don’t necessarily have to be measured by a test that then ranks everyone in the world and makes education a contact sport, and b) PISA doesn’t measure a whole boatload of stuff that might be more important than what’s on the test. 

So it’s not just about inventing it. It’s about rethinking it, recontextualizing it, and then designing a different path. A messier path. A path that few of us will feel comfortable with at first, but one that will serve our kids better than the one they’re sticking to in Florida:

Joe Follick, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, responded by focusing on the benefits of taking such snapshots of student achievement. “By continuing to measure our performance, our students will meet the challenges necessary to succeed in college and career,” he said.


December 1st, 2013

Understanding the Opportunities and Challenges of Social Media

Alice Marwick, in an excerpt from the new book Status Update:

While social media helps people stay in touch with loved ones, find emotional support, and get up-to-the-minute information, it can also create problems. In social contexts where virtually everyone lifestreams, social media brings its own set of anxieties and difficulties, which emerge without clear methods of handling them. While the use of Twitter or Instagram should be a matter of personal choice, people often feel pressure to participate in networked public life; they fear being left out, or even that their career may be compromised without visibility. We live in a world where, for the first time, everyday people can commandeer the huge audiences once available only to politicians and celebrities. Celebrating social technologies uncritically, or condemning them piecemeal, does us a disservice. Instead, we must recognize both the great opportunities and new challenges brought forth by these new tools.

That fear of being left out is particularly acute for kids. The sooner we parents and educators start figuring out the “clear methods” for dealing with the new pressures that social online media brings the better.

November 27th, 2013

When Our Distribution Monopoly Ends

From the “Quotes That Could Easily Be About Education Department,” Marc Andressen:

So this has been—the media industry is a microcosm of the changes that are happening, and it’s been fascinating to watch. People are always going to love music, movies, TV, and news—it’s evergreen; people are always going to get value out of media. So it’s not a question of whether people want media or not. And in fact, global consumption of media is rising very fast. It’s a huge growth market.

The challenge I think is that in newspapers, magazines, and television, in particular, and books to a certain extent, you had businesses that looked like they were content businesses but were actually distribution businesses. They had controlled distribution rights on the newsstand, on your front porch, on the cable or broadcast dial.

The problem is, you remove the distribution constraint, all of a sudden you get a massive oversupply of content in each of those categories, and then of course prices come crashing down. And then the adjustment process for an incumbent that’s used to being a monopoly and has a high cost structure, then has a big problem relative to all the new entrants that have tiny cost structures or, you know, user-generated content, like YouTube, with no cost structure.

Not too much of a stretch to see the parallels. If we see the value of schools as delivering content mastery and simple skills, we have a “big problem” on our doorstep.

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