It’s a silly distinction to make, I know, objecting to “personalize learning,” as a term for describing the current flavor-of-the-week in education reform/transformation conversation, preferring instead, “personal learning,” .
As an advocate, I cannot fault the use of either label for student learning that is personal, needs-based, unconfined and empowered by personal passions and skills. That’s my immodestly paltry characterization that fits both terms.
I could, if I thought it would be the least bit helpful, call attention to semantics, suggesting that one is a verb, “..produce (something) to meet someone’s individual requirements..”, and the other an adjective, “..belonging to a particular person..”
|But I guess what disturbs me the most and prevents me from letting go of this argument is that one can be
to superintendents and legislators,
The other liberates learning.
It is with enormous pleasure that I will be part of the American School of Bombay’s 2014 Un-Plugged event in Mumbai, India. It is also an even bigger privilege to be working with International educators again. I’ve said many times that if I was in the beginning of my career, this is where I would be, expat’ing in some exotic land, making great friends, teaching great students and growing in educational institutions where innovation is part of the currency of success.
Even though my workshop, on Friday and Saturday, will be about visual literacy, and contemporary literacy will be part of the underlying theme of the day, this workshop will primarily and overwhelmingly be about something that I believe is the
Coolest thing on the Net,
Infographics and Data Visualization
Of course this, and most all of what we do in our classrooms concerns basic literacy, “The skills involved in using one’s information environment to learn what you need to know to do what you need to do.” (my definition)
As a teaser, here are two word clouds. The first is taken from the descriptions of ASB Un-Plugged pre conference and hands-on workshops from 2012. The second comes from the same category of sessions to be held next week in Mumbai.
2012 Preconference & Hands-On Workshop
2014 Preconference & Hands-On Workshop
Of course, this is a small sampling of the themes that are part of the conversations hosted by the American School of Bombay. However I found a couple of things interesting. First of all, might it be that we are finally getting over this whole 21st Century craze. After all, we’re good and there. Also, design seems a little more prominent and create and maker/making have emerged.
I’m so looking forward to next week and counting on the journey being less challenging than last week.
Finally the images fade to a map of the world done in negative relief, appearing as it did millions of years ago. A timeline appears to the right of the map beginning at about 200 million years ago. A citation also appears in off-white indicating a Web site that was the source of their data. Immediately, a pointer, starting at the bottom of the timeline, starts to move up slowly. Simultaneously, landmasses begin to move in a motion with which the students are already familiar. Many of them have also used this animation from the Smithsonian Institute’s Web site.
The team is not downgraded for using the familiar animation. However, the class becomes noticeably more interested as splotches begin to fade in and out in specific locations on the map. Numbers are imposed over the splotches as they gradually expand and become more opaque and then shrink to transparency. Soft but intense music plays in the background, credited to a talented student who had attended Bacon school two years earlier, a short citation appearing in the lower corner of the display. Samuel speaks over the animation and music, describing periods in the planet’s relatively recent history of mass extinctions and seemingly spontaneous raises in species diversity.
“Each rise and fall has corresponded with some dramatic change in global conditions: ice ages, planetary collisions, volcanic or seismic calamities…” Samuel speaks on eloquently.
As he continues, Ms. Crabtree is taken back to a conversation she had with the boy during their work on the ecology project. Samuel is thought by many to be a technical genius. He has a genuine gift for understanding and using technology. He also has a flair for using these tools to communicate persuasively. She had convinced Samuel, however, not to handle the programming and data manipulation for this project, that he leave that up to Johann – that Samuel only be allowed to give Johann verbal directions. She had also asked Samuel to do more of the copy and script writing on this project, an activity that she knew would be a challenge for him.
Several Days Earlier:
Sally entered the school media center, a faint electronic click registering her entrance from the chip in her nametag. She stepped aside, so as not to block the doorway, and surveyed the room. The media center has far fewer books than it did when she went to middle school in the middle 1980s. There is a section in one corner that consists of shelves with books of various sizes and colors. They are almost exclusively fiction books that students check out for pleasure and for assignments in their humanities classes. These books remain because it is a deeply held belief that students appreciate the experience of reading a story without the benefit of electronic appliances. Regardless, most reading is done with tablet computers and smaller pocket text and audio readers.
The biggest portion of the room is devoted to work areas that Isaac calls “Knowledge Gardens.” Most of these workspaces consist of a table, with a 19-inch display, attached to a folding cradle that can swivel 360o. The display can be assigned to any tablet in its vicinity when the owner touches the print login pad. Scattered around the table are small, but efficient, keyboards, each of which can also be assigned to any tablet with the touch of its print login pad.
There are also two small stages with 4×8-foot display boards where teams can practice their presentations. She also sees a number of work areas that are much more casual, with homey lamps, bean bag chairs, low sofas, and assorted pillows. The media center is set up for knowledge construction, not just information accessing. Students come here to work, and mostly to work in small groups. It is rarely a quiet place.
Sally found the Reptiles and walked over. All four were together discussing their defense of one of the information resources they are using. She caught Samuel’s eye and asked if he would join her for a minute. She had read through the talented young man’s text document for the project, which was comprehensive and well organized. It appeared, though, that he had paid very little attention to grammar and sentence structure.
They sat down at an unoccupied table and she laid her tablet down, saying, “I wanted to talk for just a minute about your report.”
The story continues here.
At the ring of the bell, Sally rises and walks over to the door, shaking the hand of each student as he or she enters the room. She smiles as she sees Alf walking rapidly down the hall to join the group as it enters her classroom. A tall young man with uncombed curly brown hair, the dark complexion of a boy who spends a lot of time outdoors, and the customary awkwardness of teenagers who are growing too fast, he shakes Ms. Crabtree’s hand, but does not look up at her, moving away and toward his seat in the rear of the room.
As she turns to her classroom, she recalls the morning visit from Mr. Ball, their balding and portly principal.
Earlier in the Morning:
Ms. Crabtree looked up in mock irritation as the 31-year educator spun one of the rolling student desks over to her work area and sat heavily in the seat without consideration of his greater than average size. Sally and Mr. Ball had been friends for all of the eight years that he has been the chief administrator of Bacon, both professionally and personally. Their long friendship and professional relationship did not require niceties. He began with the heart of the problem. “Alf Greeley was taken in by the police last night for vandalism,” he says.
Sally sighed and replied, “It was probably another fight with his mother. He is still hurting so much from their split, and she simply does not know how her reaction is making things worse for her son.”
“All we can do is to try and keep him engaged in his projects and help him in anyway that we can,” Mr. Ball says. “I just thought you should know, so that you can handle things accordingly.”
“His team, the Reptiles, is making their ecology movement presentation today.” Sally finally smiled at her friend and boss. “If you were to casually come in to watch, it would be an encouraging gesture.”
Mr. Ball stood and said, “Send me a message when they are getting started and I’ll do what I can!”
As the principal shoved the abducted seat back in the direction of the other desks, Sally pulled up her e-mail utility, addressed a message to Mr. Ball, and wrote the note, “Reptiles are starting their presentation! -SC-“. She set it for delayed delivery, to be sent directly to his pocket tablet upon her click of a Send icon that suddenly appeared in a corner of her tablet.
The story continues here!
As the B2 bell rings, Isaac sits at his desk in the media center and touches icons on his tablet causing a white document to appear on the display, a diagram of the Bacon School campus. He then taps with his finger the location on the map corresponding with Ms. Crabtree’s classroom. Suddenly a full motion, real-time video of the classroom appears on his tablet, captured by a camera that is mounted in the back of the room near the ceiling.
An additional document slides out of the video window that lists the owners of a few dozen outside computers that are also monitoring that classroom. There are usually five to ten viewers of any one class, usually parents who are monitoring what their children are doing and how they are behaving. Many pop in just to learn. However, when there is going to be a team project presentation, many more parents, other residents of the community, and often teachers and students from other schools drop in to watch. All teams maintain Web sites that represent the progress of their work, including their work logs, considered resources, defenses, and their presentation date.
As the students begin entering Ms. Johnson’s classroom, Isaac thinks back to an encounter he had with Desmone this morning just before A2.
Earlier in the Morning
Ms. Shuni, the other Media Center Professional, had just walked into their office area from one of the classrooms, where she had been consulting with a teacher. “Konichiwa,” she said as she passed Isaac’s desk. It is Japan week.
“Konichiwa, Margaret-san,” John replies, with a prayer bow gesture.
The 32 year library media specialist walked over to her desk, fit her tablet into its cradle, and touched the print login surface of her keyboard with her thumb, causing a virtual connection between the two devices through the room’s wireless network. As she began typing an e-mail message, a group of students ambled into the media center. Mr. Johnson rose from his desk and strolled out into the larger room to see if he was needed.
Desmone, a member of Sally’s Reptiles, said something to the group she was with and then walked over to Isaac. She was visibly anxious. “Mr. Johnson, Alf got in trouble again last night.” The young man motioned to a nearby unoccupied work area, and they both walked over and sat. “Have you heard from him? Have you seen him here at school yet? Will he be here for our presentation today?”
Isaac asked the girl for her tablet and then pressed the print login with his index finger so that the information appliance could reconfigure itself for his access. He then pulled up the school’s information system, and learned that the boy’s nametag has not been registered for the day. “He isn’t in the building – yet,” said Mr. Johnson.
The library media specialist then accessed the call-in register to see if Alf’s mother had called indicating that he will not be in school that day. “His mother hasn’t called in. Right now, it looks like he will be here.” After a pause, Mr. Johnson says, “Just a minute!”
He pulled up the work folder for the Reptile’s project and accessed Alf’s video presentation, the part of the project in which he had been most engaged. Mr. Johnson touched the icon for the student’s file, then touched the menu bar at the top of the display to select “Info” from the drop down list of options. A small white document appeared with statistical information on the file including its size, type, location and other data. Mr. Johnson touched the word “history” and a second document sprang out. After reading the list of entries there, he looked up at Desmone, smiled, handed the tablet over after touching an icon to erase his configuration, and said, “I think Alf will be here today!”
As she reached for her tablet, Desmone noticed that her friends had gathered their things and were headed out of the room. She quickly thanked the educator, with some uncertainty, and turned to join her friends.
It continues here.
Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction
by David Warlick
Sally Crabtree sits at her desk as her A2 students amble out of her classroom, most talking in pairs and threes, some glancing at their tablets for messages from friends, parents, or project collaborators. Sally crosses her legs, lays her tablet in her lap and begins dragging icons around on the smooth bright surface using the stylus she slides out of the holder on the edge of the information appliance. As she busily works at her device, the information on the large plasma display at the front of the room begins to change, some sections of text and images moving around, new ones appearing, and others disappearing. Blocks of information slide down into view illustrating weather conditions, Web-cams in other parts of the world, and finally Arabic music, care of a Baghdad radio station.
Outside her classroom, students stroll down the halls toward their next class, B2 (B period, 2nd day of the week), or huddle in groups, talking, drawing at their tablet displays with fingers or styluses. Most of the conversations are purely the social exchanges between newly pubescent middle-schoolers. However, a significant number of the interactions are discussions of the class projects in which teams of students are constantly engaged. Projects are the primary activity of Bacon School, and most other schools in 2014.
As she prepares for B2 to begin, Sally thinks back to her drive to school that morning with her young and excitable friend Isaac Johnson, one of the school’s media center managers.
Earlier in the Morning:
Sally had just picked Isaac up at his small rental house, almost exactly half way between her family’s home and The Bacon School. She had been listening to John Grisham’s latest book being read to her in a Mississippi accent by her tablet. She touches the Stop icon on her tablet, as her nearly silent hybrid car glides to the curb in front of the refurbished mill house. Isaac, who has been sitting on the porch scanning the news on his tablet while sipping his customary breakfast cola, drops his tablet into his canvas messenger bag, jumps off of the porch, and slides into the passenger seat. As Sally pulls out onto the road again, their conversation goes directly to Sally’s beloved “Reptiles,” one of her student teams. Isaac is aware that they will be making their project presentation this morning during B2, since he works intimately with most of the school’s teams on a daily basis. She has especially enjoyed the “Reptiles,” since the day at the beginning of the year that they chose their name. It was Alf’s idea, but each of the other members came up with a particular reason why the name fit.
The team is uniquely diverse in terms of academic characteristics. Two members, Desmone and Johann, are random thinkers and attention deficit. Samuel is a high achiever with an excellent memory and analytical mind. Alf remains emotionally traumatized by the unfortunate and vicious separation and divorce of his parents a year ago. Neither of the parents have much interest in supporting their thirteen year-old son through his turmoil, each too engaged in their own bitterness and adjustment. Regardless of this odd diversity, the team has jelled into an exciting force for producing surprisingly insightful work.
Isaac describes how the team has been working after classes, with Desmone and Samuel completing the text report version of the project and Johann and Alf polishing up their audio/visual. He adds that Alf has just as often been working by himself on another component of the project that remains a mystery.
“Finding the resources for their visuals was not a problem,” Isaac said. “But, validating them was a useful challenge. Each of the team members took a section of earth history, and created Web shelves in their personal information libraries with resources that they identified. They shared their Web shelves and used the information as a basis for their evaluation. It was an interesting learning experience for the team. I’ve asked if components of their shelves might be included in the Media Center Common Shelves.
“It was brilliant requiring Johann to handle the audio/visual editing and telling Samuel that he could only support him verbally,” Isaac continued, admiringly. “Frankly, I was afraid that I would be pulled into supporting Johann more than I would like, but I found that he called on Samuel at least as much as he called on me. Also, he grasped the concepts and developed his skill, and he really seems focused on the communication, not technique.”
Sally smiled at the reference to her scheme. “Thanks for supporting me on this, Isaac.”
In 2004, Linworth Publishing Company released Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century. They had come to me more than a year earlier to write a book about technology for educators, and, being so flattered, I agreed. However, as I commenced researching and planning the book, I came to realize that it was not technology that was impacting the work of educators nearly so much as the changing nature of information. What we read was changing in..
- What it looked like,
- What we looked at to view it,
- How we found it,
- Where we went to find it,
- What we could do with it and
- How we communicated it.
Discussing this with my editor, Donna Miller, we concluded that what was needed more than a book about technology, was a book about literacy, and how our notions of literacy are affected by an increasingly digital, networked and information abundant (overwhelming) world.
To set the stage my first chapter was a story, set in a middle school in 2014. It was perhaps more of a thought experiment for me, imagining the technologies that would almost certainly be available in schools in 10 years and then learning how they might be applied, by telling a story about the school’s students, teachers and community.
This first chapter is a work of future fiction. I do not call it science fiction, because I have every reason to expect that schools can change this much, and that it could happen during my career. If they do not, it will not be because the technology is not available, but because we did not have the courage or vision to make such dramatic changes in the way that we prepare our students for their future.
Some of what you read in this short story will seem unbelievable. However, if you are aware of the advances in computers and networking over the past ten years, it will not be the technology that surprises you. It will more likely be what learners and educators do while they are engaged in teaching and learning. So let us remove the veil of our own industrial age upbringing for just a few minutes and see one possibility. Welcome to The Bacon School, 2014.1
Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.
After finishing up the last episode of Breaking Bad Brenda and I applied ourselves to finding another moderate to long-running TV series to binge-watch, two episodes a night. We were looking for another character-based crime drama, though nothing so emotionally stressful as BB. Martin suggested The Wire and we gave it a try. If it had been just me, I would have nixed the show after the first episode.
“What’s going on?”
“What did he say?”
But, as is often the case, three episodes in to this series created by author and former police reporter, David Simon, and we were hooked. Essentially, the show is about life, death, business and politics in neighborhoods that the rest of America would rather pretend aren’t there. In the show, they are “the projects,” “the towers,” “the vacants,” “the east side,” “the west side.”
One of the aspects of The Wire that most impresses me is its portrayal of both good and bad, wisdom and near-sightedness, compassion and cruelty, loyalty and treachery on both sides of the criminal code.
But mostly, it’s about thriving in economically depressed Baltimore in the first years of the 21st century, facing drugs, disease, murder and gangster politics.
And, in season 4, a new evil threat emerges from Eric Overmyer’s scripts, reaffirming the futility of trying to rise out of the streets of east and west Baltimore. You guessed it. It’s the effects of high-stakes testing on the lives of children and their teachers.
I find it interesting that a major network, even if it’s a limited-view premium network like HBO, has placed, along side violence, disease, and dysfunctional government, the debilitating effects of an education system, based increasingly on bubble-sheet compliance.
A couple of weeks ago, I delivered several presentations to a school district in the mid-west, one of the numerous August back-to-school gigs I’m doing fewer of each year. It was a rewarding day, more so than many. Keeping the attention of hundreds of teachers, just back from vacation, catching up with friends, weighing in the politics of new leadership, and desperately needing to be in their classrooms makes this a pretty tough gig. Not so on this day.
After a presentations about expanding our notions of literacy, a teacher came up asking, “But what’s to be done about students accessing all the information on the Internet that is simply not true.”
I reminded him that I had just made the point that it isn’t just the Internet we need to be worried about. Then I gave him one of my usual responses,
If I was still teaching history, and my students turned in a paper, they would be waiting for the challenge. It happens every time. It’s part of the ongoing classroom conversation.
Placing a student’s paper on his desk and pointing to one paragraph, I ask, “How do you know that’s true?” If the student can’t answer the question, he’s going to lose points. Even if the paragraph is true, he’s going to lose points. My students would be responsible for their information’s appropriateness and the evidence that supports its appropriateness.
I wonder now if this response makes sense only to me, a figment of a private fantasy. So I thought I’d spend some bits trying to unpack this approach into something that better distinguishes a “new way” from an “old way.“
The difference is in what we call attention to. Our tendency, as teachers, is to address the problem by focusing on the mistakes, red-penning what’s not accurate, not reliable, not valid, doesn’t make sense. It’s logical because whats not true is a fundamental problem to education. We work to keep wrong information out of our textbooks, whiteboards, libraries and lectures. We foster a learning environment where we can all take comfort in the assumption that the information is “true.”
Our position, as teachers, is based on this assumption.
For the problems caused by the Internet, we create checklists to identify the breakage in information.
If you can check all of the above, then you can use the information.
We teach research and writing as a practice in avoiding problems,
..but not as a practice in solving them.
If we teach our learners to research and communicate in order to solve a problem, then we entirely change the approach. We assess their work through conversations about the “best way” rather than the “wrong way,” and learners become active defenders rather than passive accepters of judgement. The classroom conversation changes. Students become more active, empowered and invested. They become stakeholders in their learning, and ultimately, responsible to an authentic context/audience.
They own what they write, present or make, because they did the work and defended it. They’re accountable.
They own the learning.
One of several sessions conducted that day (and the day before) by the high school principal for parents about the 1:1 program
I am home from a grueling couple of days in Eldridge, Iowa, where I spoke to parents and community members of the North-Scott School District and then to the faculties of the junior and high schools. North-Scott is implementing a one to one program for secondary schools, and the superintendent and school board members thought it might help for me to deliver a couple of kickoff presentations. They’d seen me at the Iowa Association of School Boards conference a few months earlier. I must have been in the zone that day, because I’m spending a good bit of time in Iowa in the next few months. No other explanation.
First of all, the community session enjoyed an excellent turnout. Too often, when I volunteer to do these things, I’ll get only a dozen or fewer parents show up. Just too much else going on. But the seventy-some people who showed up were engaged and put me through rich and progressive Q&A afterward. There was a lot of concern about how teachers were going to learn to implement the devices and how they were going to keep up.
The next day, the principals and ed tech staff did something that I haven’t seen before. They ran and EdCamp-style event between the two presentations I delivered, three sets of concurrent sessions, which the teachers defined in the auditorium and one of the principals typed into a Google Doc schedule. Then they all walked up, took pictures of the schedule with the phones and set out to learn from each other.
I have to confess that I was a little skeptical about this experiment. Most EdCamps are attended by teachers who are already pretty Web 2.0 savvy and committed to the whole value-of-the-audience thing. But I’ve never known of this type of unconference PD being imposed on a group of teachers. These guys surprised me. I spent some time in about a third of the conversations, and they were active, rich with questions and answers, entirely focused on learning, and most had at least a couple of people who had experience with the topic at hand. All of the teachers were engaged and seemed truly appreciative.
I have spoken to lots of faculties, who were told to be there and I often get the sense that my goal is to get the clueless to get one, a clue. But lately, that whole thing seems to have changed. The clueless seem to be very much in the minority, and they are paying attention to their colleagues who have knowledge and attitude.
It was a hard couple of days for me, but incredibly rewarding and encouraging.keep looking »