April 21st, 2014

The Committee of Ten…Corporations

Mary Ann Reilly:

I often wonder how different school might be had the NEA task force, Committee of Ten, (a group of 90 elite men) determined that observation, reasoning, and judgment could be cultivated through multiple methods and studies as opposed to tying each to a discrete subject. I often wonder how different their recommendations might have been had a few women, some newly arrived immigrants, some people of color, some students,  and representatives who hailed from work other than teaching been part of the committee.  How might the recommendations have been different? Replacing 90 elite men who served on the Committee of Ten in the 1890s with corporations in the 2010s who are informing the Common Core really isn’t much of a change…

If you take 90 men, hailing from elite schools (college presidents, headmasters, professors) and ask them to name what an excellent education contains—we should not be surprised that their answers (all were in agreement) will reflect their lives, their truths. Habermas told us that without a metalanguage to challenge the given assumption, power tends to  serve up itself as the model of excellence. Today it is Achieve, Inc., Pearson, McGraw Hill, ETS, state DOE, federal DOE who are the new Committee of Ten.

April 19th, 2014

"Our" Curriculum vs. "Their" Curriculum

Sam Levin:

When people talk about student voice, they’re talking about feedback sessions and letting students be part of hiring committees. When they say, “Let’s give students a voice,” they mean, “let’s give them a seat at school board meetings.”

That’s not what they need. They need a lot more. We need to give them a pen and a microphone and a hammer and a shovel and a chalkboard. We need to give them a classroom and an audience and blank sheet that says “curriculum” at the top. We need to give them a budget and a building.

Kids are disengaged. They aren’t learning, and a lot of what they are learning is no longer relevant to the 21st  Century. Fortunately that’s becoming more kosher to say. It’s no longer radical; people are starting to see the problems. But unfortunately, a lot of the proposed solutions aren’t radical enough. They’re superficial.

People talk about giving students a voice. A seat at the table. If we’re going to solve these problems, we’re going to need more than that. We want kids to be engaged in learning, to be excited to show up and happy about school? Give them real agency in their own education.

We want kids to be learning, to be passionate about their work? Let them learn things that have real meaning to them. Make them the authors of their curriculum.

Read the whole thing.

I’ve been arguing more and more of late that “curriculum” is a major if not the major problem in schools right now. And it’s not just that our current curriculum is in many ways outdated, irrelevant, and bloated. (I was talking to a teacher at an international IB school last week who described in depressed tones that much of his new curriculum could be summed up by one word: “more.”)

The institutional curriculum almost necessarily denies students agency over their own learning. And this is especially damaging when most kids now have the ability to create a personal curriculum around the things they truly care about learning out of the abundance of information, people, and tools they now have access to. Nothing especially new here, but worth saying again.

But creating (not giving) agency for students to build their own curriculum changes the whole game. It requires equity in tools and access. It requires trust. It requires a whole different narrative in terms of what exactly it is that we’re preparing students to be able to do. It requires being ok with not reading Shakespaere, or not speaking French, or not knowing (or caring) what a polynomial is.

And a lot more.

But why wouldn’t we work toward giving kids “a classroom and an audience and a blank sheet that says “curriculum” at the top?” What are we scared of?

April 10th, 2014

Students as People or Profile?

Audrey Watters:

We have to ask more questions about the collection and analysis of student data that is feeding algorithms that promise “personalization.” What do technology companies actually mean by “personalization”? We have to consider if we are reducing students from people to profile — and we must ask these questions, knowing full well that education institutions have never really done a good job recognizing students as people.

How might the marketing promise surrounding “personalization” steer us away from self-direction and into pre-determined, pre-ordained pathways? Can we have “personalization” if it’s built on top of standardized of content?

If, as I said at the beginning of this talk, this is a great time to be a self-directed learner, how might technology be used to dull rather than empower learner agency?

What are the repercussions of competency-based and mastery-based learning? What are the repercussions of choice? What are the repercussions of distance? What are the repercussions of scaling? Who gains? Who gains from “choice” — how do we reconcile the individual’s needs, how the individual benefits — from society’s?

There’s a very powerful strain of American individualism — and California exceptionalism — that permeates technology: personal responsibility, self-management, autonomy. All that sounds great when you frame this — as I have repeatedly in this talk — in terms of self-directed learning. But how do we reconcile that individualism with the social and political and community development that schools are also supposed to support? How do we address these strains of individualism and libertarianism — anti-institutional, anti-governmental, and pro-“free market”? What do we do about the ways in which these ideologies are embedded deeply within many aspects digital technology in society?

I’m sure these questions are being considered in admin team meetings in schools across the country and the world. 


April 2nd, 2014

The Limitations of PISA

Yong Zhao:

Even if PISA had done everything properly and indeed children of factory workers in Shanghai scored better than children of lawyers in the U.K. and the U.S., it does not necessarily mean they are better educated or prepared for the modern society, considering the limitation of PISA test scores as I discussed in Part 3 of this series. It could mean something entirely different: while PISA scores can be achieved with little resources and intense repetition of narrowly defined, uniformly prescribed content and skills, what truly matters—talent diversity, creativity, and entrepreneurialism—cannot. The multiplication table can be learned with a piece of paper, but it would be difficult to force anyone to play the piano without a piano. Everyone can be forced to memorize the Hamlet, but it is unlikely to force anyone to invent the iPhone.

But testing for “narrowly defined, uniformly prescribed content and skills” is just a whole heck of a lot easier.

March 13th, 2014

Classrooms as “Shapeless and Unmoored”

Grant McCracken:

Here is my present idea of the corporation, give or take. The corporation is a thing of people, processes, places, and products (give or take). And these 4 Ps are relatively well-defined, organized, boundaried, and anchored (more or less).  

But that’s a problem. This corporation is deeply at odds with the future. Because the future is never defined, organized, boundaried, or anchored. Really, it’s all just hints and whispers. Fragile melody, no refrain.

Hence, the great antagonism between corporations and time. A creature that defines itself out of definition, organization, boundary, and anchoring, must hate a future that is shapeless and unmoored. To the corporations, the future looks like the enemy, a risk that can’t be managed, an idea that can’t be thought.  

The corporation puts a particular boundary between now and the future. And it guards this border ferociously. New ideas are scrutinized with tough mindedness and high indignation. If we can’t see the business model, we’re not interested. If we can’t see how to “monitize this sucker,” we’re not interested. When the future manifests itself merely as a murmur of possibility, we are not interested.  

Too bad. There is really only one way to live in a world of speed, surprise, noise, and responsiveness, and that’s to visit the future frequently. And, if we have the intellectual capital, maybe get a pied-à-terre. Well, and if we’re really committed, we need someone to take up residence full time.  

Most of all, we want a corporation that is porous in ways it was not before. We want it to cantilever out into the future. We want to make pieces of the future to happen inside the corporation. We want pieces of the corporation to happen out there in the future. In sum, we want the corporation and the future, once so completely separated from one another, to have a new reciprocity and transparency.

Now, go back and read that again, replacing the word “corporation” with “classroom.” It’s not a perfect fit, but you get the idea. There’s a lot here that compares.

Most places I go, the future (and to some extent, it’s a future that’s already here,) feels like the enemy. That’s why 98% of our technology use in schools conserves the past. That’s why the bar for innovation is set at “flipped classrooms.” We’re not thinking about “making pieces of the future happen in the [classroom.]” And while we may not always articulate it in the same way, we educators abhor a future that is “shapeless and unmoored.” There’s no curriculum in that.

The tension with “inventing the future” is that it doesn’t happen in isolation. While some may be busy with “invention” in schools, it falls against a larger backdrop of invention all over the place. The contexts for our work to invent the future is constantly changing, and if we’re not constantly relearning and embracing those contexts, we’re simply reinventing the past.

(H/T to Britt Wattwood for the link and for an equally thoughtful post.)

February 13th, 2014

Making is Modern Learning

Gary Stager:

Maker faires, where adults and children are gathering in ever-growing numbers, celebrate the inventor in all of us, but they also seem to be brewing an anti-school streak among some parents and children. “School is boring” has given way to “School is destroying my child. Look at what they are capable of doing! School is oblivious to my child’s interests, talents, and expertise.” I am not willing to give up on school, simply because that is where the kids are. We can and should make classrooms more like Maker Faires.

Often parents are torn between their respect for the institution of school and their intuition that something is not working for their child. Be clear while making your case that although your plans may not look exactly like traditional school, you are not abandoning high standards or a quest for learning. The argument for making, tinkering, and engineering should not be as an “alternative” way to learn, but what modern learning really looks like.

February 9th, 2014

Discovery “Double-Talk”

Seymour Papert in The Children’s Machine (excerpted here.):

It is simply double talk to ask children to take charge of their own learning and at the same time order them to “discover” something that can have no role in helping them understand anything they care about or are interested in or are curious about.

This isn’t rocket science. Each one of us lives this. We learn what we have an interest in learning. The deeper our interest, the less we will let stand in our way. I’m struck by stories like that of Jack Andraka, 15 years-old, who wouldn’t let school stand in the way. (Listen carefully from 1:19 - 2:05.) 

It’s easy for a lot of people now to say “we’re moving.” Every kid has an iPad. We’re doing project-based learning. We’re flipping the classroom to make more time for problem-solving. And on.

I can’t speak for him, but I doubt Papert is impressed. Our hubris in education is still that we think we know what, when, and how every child needs to learn. While our rhetoric changes, we remain teacher / curriculum centered despite announcements that our “better” assessments, our “better” curriclum, our “better” uses of technology are transferring ownership of learning to children. 

They’re not. We’re not.

January 30th, 2014

Rethinking Our Roles

Clay Shirky:

The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.

Those of us in the traditional academy could have a hand in shaping that future, but doing so will require us to relax our obsessive focus on elite students, institutions, and faculty. It will require us to stop regarding ourselves as irreplaceable occupiers of sacred roles, and start regarding ourselves as people who do several jobs society needs done, only one of which is creating new knowledge.

It will also require us to abandon any hope of restoring the Golden Age. It was a nice time, but it wasn’t stable, and it didn’t last, and it’s not coming back. It’s been gone ten years more than it lasted, in fact, and in the time since it ended, we’ve done more damage to our institutions, and our students, and our junior colleagues, by trying to preserve it than we would have by trying to adapt. Arguing that we need to keep the current system going just long enough to get the subsidy the world owes us is really just a way of preserving an arrangement that works well for elites—tenured professors, rich students, endowed institutions—but increasingly badly for everyone else.

Read the whole thing. 

There are similar pressures on the K-12 level that make supporting the current system difficult. To date, however, we’ve been stuck almost wholly in preservation mode. 

January 29th, 2014

It’s the Delivery, Silly

Winter weather may have kept Bishop Donahue High School students home from school Monday, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have to go class.

So starts a story in a West Virginia paper yesterday titled “Snow Days Become ‘Cyber Days’ at BDHS.” It’s as if school is now taking on the postal service’s famous creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these teachers from the swift completion of their appointed deliveries of education…thanks to the internet.”


Words matter here, right? So, it’s interesting that the “cyber day” has nothing to do with learning. (The word itself is mentioned just once when talking about “distance learning”being offered by colleges.) Instead, it’s “the school’s answer to lost instruction time.” Because all that instruction time is just way more important than playing in the snow or reading a good book or going on Minecraft or watching a few hours of tv and just chillin’.

Words matter:

The principal says “This way, we can keep students engaged and continue with lessons with school is canceled.” Really? This is engagement?

"Teachers sent online assignments in the morning through email and students were expected to get the work done by early evening. Students could ask questions by email in the early afternoon and the assignments were graded at the end of the day."

And why can they do this? Because every student has an…wait for it…iPad “they can take with them to complete schoolwork.”


And here is the absolute worst part.

"It’s a benefit if a child is sick or hospitalized or if they are on vacation, they still have access to school. It’s a real benefit. You’ll never replace a teacher in a classroom, but this is an awful good way to still have education continue on days that would have been lost."

Now, read that again.

It still shocks me, the extent to which we continue to dumb down the affordances of the Web and technology for authentic learning in the service of keeping the system grinding no matter what the obstacle. It still shocks me that even before we get to the tech discussion, we can’t seem to even get to the learning discussion. It’s all about schooling. This is the narrative we need to push back hard against.

I’m sure most read this article and think “Progress!” Instead, we should be thinking “Why?”

(See also.)

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 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.)

November 26th, 2013


Kakul Srivastava:

One of the insights that we’ve come to is that the premise of how work is done fundamentally needs to change. We imagine these corporate environments (often very large companies) and we try to visualize how they might improve their infrastructure and communication patterns. The real revolution isn’t inside the company — it’s that the company itself is increasingly irrelevant.

The atomization of the corporation is very real and has been discussed at length. What’s discussed less is how increasingly critical our out[side] of work networks are to our ability to get work done. Millennials are more likely than any other previous generations to daily access their outside-of-work networks to get work done. The forces of micro-entrepreneurship are increasing making each of us our own “corporation”, reliant on our outside networks to make things happen. Finally, as our previous work experience becomes increasingly irrelevant to our future work problems, our real asset to bring to any endeavor becomes our network. FB and even Linked In are not capable of meeting these demands. We’ll see the rise of modern, personal networks for work, to allow these worker tribes to thrive and flourish.

I think for most of us, our PLNs are “sharing networks” in that the main currency in our connections are links and or ideas that, in theory at least, amplify our own learning about whatever it is we’re interested in. But seeing our networks as “critical to getting our work done” is a step up for most (not all.) That requires a willingness and a literacy in collaboration and transparency that I’m thinking most eductors (and others) still aren’t comfortable with.

The point here, however, is once again about our kids. If Srivastava is correct that “the company itself is increasingly irrelevant,” that’s a huge shift in the way we think about preparing our students. It’s not now just a personal learning network. It’s a “personal get stuff done with other people network.” We have a hard enough time with students getting real, important stuff done with other kids in the classroom much less online. All of which is why making and inquiry and PBL leading to authentic, shared knowledge creation and done in the context of outside-of-classroom networks should be a central focus of classrooms and schooling in general. 

How we doin’ with that?

August 1st, 2013

First Chance to Make a Learning Impression

So, the “Welcome to School” packet came last week. It was about 25 pages of papers, mostly forms and permissions and information about orientations and homerooms. The opening letter was one of welcome and expectations. You know the drill.

Just for fun, I set out to see how long it would take to find the word “learning” somewhere in the mix. Nothing on the first page, or the second, or the third…by the time I finally found the first instance I had stopped counting. It was a buried line in a letter from the principal explaining that due to NCLB, every teacher has to be “highly qualified” and that “every teacher continues life-long learning through professional development activities.”

Interestingly, I really hit the “learning” jackpot on the information page for the BYOD program, citing the effects of having a “personal learning device is school” as “greater productivity and satisfaction and access to information.”

That page was at the end of the packet.

My point? When the first thing you read (halfway down the opening page) from your chid’s new school is that they expect that “compliance [to the dress code] should begin on orientation day,” and the first thing you do is sign ten “consent” or waiver forms, you can’t help but get the message: Play by the rules and we’ll provide you with an education. Do not color outside the lines. Do not pass “Go” until you are told to do so.


What if that “Welcome to School” packet took a bit of a different path. What if that first communication home articulated a clear vision of what teaching and learning looked like in classrooms, supported by teachers and students telling stories of the authentic, real world work they were accomplishing on a regular basis? What if the quality of that work was at a level that instilled real excitement? What if parents were given a web address to see the work, to hear the teachers and students in their own words? Heck, what if there were an app for that? I mean I’m sure that work exists.

Why is it that rules and regs come before learning and making and creating in schools? 

Final wondering: I wonder how many other parents who got that packet were absolutely fine with the contents. 

Your thoughts?

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