The Purpose of Education is…

One of the most interesting sessions at this year’s Educon was facilitated by Chad Sansing and Meenoo Rami, both of them Science Leadership Academy faculty.  The title was Hacking School: the EduCon 2.4 Hackjam.  I didn’t know what to expect – and what actually happened was beyond all expectations.

They gave groups of four or five of us, collections of objects (tiny cotton balls, crayons, blocks, etc.) and a complete Monopoly set. We were instructed to play the game, but told that players, as part of taking their turn, were required to change the rules in some way.  On my first turn, I was at such a loss that the best rule I could make was that if you couldn’t come up with a rule, then you had to figure out a way of wearing a colorful pipe cleaner.  Someone may have uploaded a photo to Flickr.

The rule I took away from the game was to never play monopoly with anyone more than 40 years younger than you.  None of us took the activity very seriously.

However, as the debriefing began, it became apparent that there was intent behind this exercise.  That follow-up conversation became part of the game.  We continued to change the rules, to hack our own insights – as we exchanged our exceedingly diverse experiences.

Then Sansing and Rami introduced us to Hackasaurus, a tool that enables you to take most any web page, examine it’s underlying code, and then hack that code to change the look and content of the page.  Learning about Web coding (HTML & CSS) is the ostensible purpose.  But I kept thinking about the playful learning that might result from asking students to hack particular web pages about their current topic of study in history, science, etc.

Then, what really kicked me in the head was when someone said that..

“..anyone who is not a programmer is part of the program.”

The earth trembled under my feet, as I began to parse out the statement’s meaning, and my previously held notions about teaching and learning broke down and recombined into something new.

“What is the purpose of education?” It’s a frequently asked question these days and I have long said and written that the purpose of education is to prepare our children for their future.  Now I believe that,

The purpose of school is to prepare our children
To Own Their Future!

Are we (educators) making programmers,
or are we just making software?

Should they Know it in 20 Years?

A couple of weeks ago, I started a blog post recalling a course that I once took as part of my Masters degree. The 1992 course was about developing applications using dBase (look it up). The buzz in tech circles at the time was about Gopher, Veronica, FTP, and something brand new called the World Wide Web. The course was mostly programming – and I loved it. I suspect that many of my classmates (mostly educators in the same degree program) were not so thrilled nor the least bit interested in programming.

The gist of this story concerns the final exam.  A couple of weeks before the end of the semester, I sent an email to the professor suggesting that real programmers, as they worked, almost certainly did not rely on memory alone. They had reference books open on their desks so that they could look up various obscure coding options and syntax that might help them solve problems peculiar to the task at hand.

“Shouldn’t we be tested the same way, with the book open on our desks?”

He bought it, announcing at our next class meeting that, “Thanks to Mr. Warlick’s suggestion,” the exam would be open book. “Cheers!” He added that he was changing the exam appropriately. “Silence.” I suspect that some of my classmates felt more confidence with the memory of the solutions to problems they had studied.

I got my “A.”  But it occurs to me now that the difference between the exam given and the one intended, was that we ended out not being tested on what we knew – that is to say, just what we’d been taught.  Instead, it tested us on what we could do with what we’d learned.

I initially intended for this story to promote open book or open content learning. But I want to come at this from a different angle, owing partly to several pre-Educon blog articles I’ve recently read.  You see, if I were to take the originally planned dBase test today, under the originally intended conditions (memory only test), then I would fail it miserably — and I would probably be none-the-worse for the knowledge I’d lost.

However, if I were to sit down and take the test the professor actually administered, with appropriate reference materials available to me, I would probably do respectably well — even 20 years later.

My point is this. What should we, as educators, really care about? Is it just what students can recall at the end of the year or the course? or is it what they can do and whom they will be 20 years later?

If it’s the long haul that we are about, then I wonder, as we write our final exams for the students in our class – or end-of-year state tests, shouldn’t we be willing to ask ourselves, “Can I reasonably expect these children to be able to pass this test 20 years from now?”

If the honest answer is, “No!” then we’re just playing a game.

 

…Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

So Here’s What I’d Do

I can not remember when I have thought so little about work for so many days.  It was probably 25 years ago. This has been a wonderful holiday season and I have been a relentless participant. Alas, among my gifts were an iPhone 4s and an iPad 2. I’m back to work.

But I’ll insert here that I’ve enjoyed this time outside my professional box and will selfishly be seeking more of it. I’ve been practicing education for 35 years now and ed tech for 30 of it — and it’s time to start considering my next great passion — what ever that is.  🙂

Until them, I’m still around, and this all comes around to what got me up this morning, an article posted by Tim Holt in his HOLT THINK tumblr blog. It’s number six of his 10 Bad Trends in Ed Tech 2011. He wrote it on the 21st, but I caught up yesterday, thanks to Stephanie Sandifer’s Tweet. His sixth bad trend is “Ed tech gurus not offering solutions.”

Photo of a lighthouse

A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways. ((Lighthouse. (2011, December 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11:57, December 29, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lighthouse&oldid=466924292))

I agree with some of what Holt says, but take exception with a great deal of it.  Scott McLeod expresses much of what I would add to the conversation and brings a great deal of balance. Be sure to read the comments, to which I may add something after I’ve finished this post.

For 2¢ Worth, I’d like to turn it into a challenge, “What solutions would you have, David, if you were back in that rural North Carolina school district you left 22 years ago?”

I would consider the following ten-action plan is based on my past and current knowledge of that school districts, and would almost surely be altered by a closer association.  But here are the solutions that this challenge brings to mind.

  1. Eliminate paper from the budget and remove all copiers and computer printers from schools and the central office (with exceptions of essential need). “On this date, everything goes digital.”
  2. Create a professional development plan where all faculty and staff learn to teach themselves within a networked, digital, and info-abundant environment — it’s about Learning-Literacy. Although workshops would not completely disappear, the goal would be a culture where casual, daily, and self-directed professional development is engaged, shared, and celebrated — everyday! Then extend the learning-literacy workshops to the greater adult community.
  3. Establish a group, representing teachers, staff, administration, students, and community. Invite a “guru” or two to speak to the group about the “Why” of transforming education.  Video or broadcast the speeches to the larger community via local access, etc. The group will then write a document that describes the skills, knowledge, appreciations and attitudes of the person who graduates from their schools — a description of their goal graduate. The ongoing work of writing this document will be available to the larger community for comment and suggestion. The resulting piece will remain fluidly adaptable.
  4. Teachers, school administrators, and support staff will work in appropriately assembled into overlapping teams to retool their curricula toward assuring the skills, knowledge, appreciations and attitudes of the district’s goal graduate.
  5. Classroom curricula will evolve based on changing conditions and resources. To help keep abreast of conditions, teachers and support staff will shadow someone in the community for one day at least once a year and debrief with their teams identifying the skills and knowledge they saw contributing to success, and adapt their curricula appropriately.
  6. The district budget will be re-written to exclude all items that do not directly contribute to the goal graduate or to supporting the institution(s) that contribute to the goal graduate. Part of that budget will be the assurance that all faculty, staff, and students have convenient access to networked, digital, and abundant information and that access will be at least 1 to 1.
  7. A learning environment or platform will be selected such as Moodle, though I use that example only as a means of description. The platform will have elements of course management system, social network and distributive portfolio. The goal of the platform will be to empower learning, facilitate assessment, and exhibit earned knowledge and skills to the community via student (and teacher) published information products that are imaginative, participatory and reflect today’s prevailing information landscape.
  8. Expand the district’s and the community’s notions of assessment to include data mining, but also formal and informal teacher, peer, and community evaluation of student produced digital products.
  9. Encourage (or require) teachers to produce imaginative information products that share their learning either related or unrelated to what they teach.  Also establish learning events where teachers and staff perform TED, or TELL (Teachers Expressing Leadership in Learning) presentations about their passions in learning to community audiences.
  10. Recognize that change doesn’t end and facilitate continued adapting of all plans and documents. No more five-year plans. Everything is timelined to the goal graduate.

If the institution of education is not transforming fast enough, I do not believe it is because the “gurus” are not getting their hands dirty enough fixing the problems of specific high-need school districts.  I believe that every student deserves educators who are capable of adapting to changing times.

 

 

What if Curriculum was an Adventure?

Rules, in game play, are traditionally static — printed on the lid of the box. Is this so in real life? How many innovations are rule-changers?

I had the opportunity last week to participate in a conversation that was arranged by ISTE, exploring some of the potentially pivotal emerging issues in the ed tech and broader education domains. I was asked to go first, as I would not be able to stay long — and was consequently put on the spot, to think quickly, and clearly articulate ideas to some really smart people. So I blubbered something about a niche for some new and compellingly relevant digital and networked learning platform that will so effectively, efficiently, and elegantly facilitate all of the education philosophies that we are all so urgently trying to describe that it will change education as we know it.

Peggy Sheehy, being Peggy Sheehy (and rightly so) intercepted my fumbled explanation, campaigning for games as an integral part of that platform. I understood where she was going, said so, and she acknowledged it — because we’ve had the conversation before.  But there is a frustrating problem with Peggy’s mission.  Most people still see games as play and learning as work — and although many of us have become convinced of the learning potentials of video games  and begun to promote their use, the game is still what happens after the teaching.

Periodically, I’m asked to do a presentation called “Video Games as Learning Engines,” which is an introduction to video games (mostly for non-gamers) and an attempt to show how games are actually a form of pedagogy.  Yet, I suspect that what most attendees are actually looking for directories of flash-based educational games designed to help students master their multiplication facts or identify parts of speech. Those games are certainly out there, but they do not interest me.

One of the lingering mysteries that continues to intrigue me, in the waning years of my very long career, is what makes it a game — or more to the point, what makes it fun? ..and can we unfold the elements in such a way that they become handlebars in that learning platform I was trying to describe, from which we can hang more engaging learning experiences for our students.

I guess that a learning platform, integrated with games and play would be characterized by
More Less
  •  Surprise Predictability
  •  Rules that change, can be changed and are inability Static and constraining
  •  Focus on accomplishing personal goals Focus on achieving institutional goals
  •  Frequent, meaningful and empowering rewards Scheduled, symbolic rewards

For instance, one interesting quality of the games our children play is that they do not require you to learn the rules before you play the game. Learning about roles and rules is part of the playing, and they are often a surprise that has to be earned.  They’re a secret. In solving a puzzle or simply exploring, the player finds a magic coin, potion, or relic.  As a result of the find, she is endowed with new powers of flight, invisibility, or speed. The powers are a surprise and they change the rules.

Ewan McIntosh recently described a very simple but explicit illustration of this, concerning a school he is working with in Sydney, Australia.  There is a fairly nondescript and unreferenced book in a classroom that when moved, releases a switch that turns on a light.  Students find it by exploring the environment.  They explore because they expect to find secrets.  It’s an example of what McIntosh calls Secret Spaces, one of Seven Spaces of Technology in School Environments (watch the video).

So what if this learning platform held hidden information switches, such that when a student references a particular document in his work, he is suddenly endowed with new powers, an opportunity to visit previously blocked resource or tool, or an invitation to formally explore a topic of personal interest, or awarded points or admin rights to further configure his profile page with options and colors that were not available before.

What if curriculum was an adventure, and learning was the reward?

The Page is Dead! Long Live Curriculum


After keynoting
the recent SchoolCIO Leadership Summit and then facilitating their “Digital Content” discussion cadre, I was asked to compile some of the highlights of our case studies and conversations into a 100 word scenario for the SchoolCIO Magazine’s followup articles. The word limit made the task feel like a job.  But it is in that sort of efficient deconstruction, reflection, and reconstruction process that we gain new insights — that I learn.

One of the linchpin moments of the recent SchoolCIO Leadership Summit was when one of the attendees, in a rather off-handed remark, said — and I paraphrase:

We should not simply be transitioning from print to digital content.

We should be facilitating a transformation from an old and obsolete way of teaching and learning to a new and more relevant way of preparing our children for their future.

This remark brilliantly packaged a lot of the issues that had been struggling with for quite some time.  It suggests that we take a step or two back and shift our focus away from a new device for content delivery and refocus on something much broader and suggestive of how the game is changing.

A 50 word cloud, generated by Wordle, compiling more than 20 definitions of curriculum from the Internet

The word Curriculum comes to mind as one way of labeling this broader view. Admittedly, the word is fairly slippery, already having different meanings to different people — even among professional educators. Formal definitions range from a zoomed out departmental view, “..the subjects comprising a course of study..” to a closer micro perspective, “..a predefined series of learning events designed to meet a specific goal.” Scan the word cloud to the right.

But as I worked through my notes from the Summit, struggling with the language for my scenario, it occurred to me that a precise and universally accepted definition of curriculum simply has not been very important. Teachers had the textbook; a physical, reasonably durable, easily understood (and operated), dependable, and trustworthy tool that was carefully designed for instruction by experts. We had a practical point of focus that rendered curriculum, as a term, lighter than air, floating to a high and misty place, where its Latin lineage evoked a classical aura to the profession. At least that’s the way I see it.

Today, the textbook, consisting of printed pages glued or sewn together and bound in covers, is obsolete.  I believe that its role as the central, dominant, and trusted tool for instructional delivery is been based on a myth and is equally obsolete.  Our information landscape has morphed into something that is larger, more dynamic and vibrant, highly personal and yet broadly shared — and almost entirely unforeseen.

This new info-environment has radically changed how we learn.

Therefore, it must also radically change the practices of teaching and the institution of education.

This is the last book that I bought in order to learn to do something (2000). Today, the idea of buying a book to learn a new programming language seems ludicrous. If we’re not buying textbooks to learn after school, then why should we force them on our children’s learning?

As the textbook (in the form that I used it in the 20th century) declines, becoming only one optional component of an expanding and shifting array of resources and opportunities, the role of teacher will change.

This notion of  crafting learning experiences by orchestrating webs of content, tools, opportunities and connections implies a broad, partly informed, partly intuitive, and largely personal act of crafting curriculum. It happens as a result of education; experience; professional conversations; research; information resources, tools, and skills; a connection to the community; a genuine caring for children and their self-fulfilling future success; and a professional obligation to be a constant learner and model that practice.

This vision of teachers as curriculum curator is inconsistent with a central and arrogantly authoritative blueprint for everything that learners need to be doing for hours, days, and years of their childhoods and youth.

Curriculum should empower learning, not merely guide and filter teaching.

By relying on teacher currated curriculum over state-adopted textbooks, the transformation we may well see is a shift from classrooms of compliant students to environments of skilled, resourceful, and habitual learners.

…Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

12 Ways to Provoke Supportive Learning Conversations at Home

I wrote a blog post last week about home conversations about school.  It ended with a question  of sorts,

I wonder how a school or classroom might start that dinner table conversation by sharing everyday glimpses of teachers and learners exploring, experimenting, discovering, and sharing passionate and inventive learning.

So I thought I would compile some of the responses I got, with just a few of my own insertions into this 12 Ways to Provoke Supportive About Learning at Home.  The items are re-phrased in my own words.  Please return to that original post (So What did You Do in School Today?) to read comments in their original wording.

(cc) Flickr Photo by Flatbush Gardener

Edited with Pixelmator

But I want to start off with something that my nephew, Ethan Warlick, student at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, wrote:

Three years ago, when I was a senior on high school, I had nothing to tell my parents when they asked what I had learned in school. After graduating from high school though, I have noticed that I want to tell my parents what it is I have learned in college classes. I think one of the issues with my high school experience was that I was being taught rules and principles instead of life relevant problem solving tools. (Ethan Warlick)

I still don’t know how he found my blog, but his comments feed wonderfully into the first item of this list.

  1. The first thing to do is to ask yourself the question, “What happened in my classroom today that the parents of my students would be genuinely curious about?” (Ecaterina)
  2. Find creative and effective ways to share with parents (and the community) what is being learned this week in my class, how it is being learned, why it’s being learned, and what my students are doing with it. Suggest questions that might be asked of children at home to provoke dinner table ((I’m using “dinner table” as a generic term for any chance family members have to talk. For me, it was riding home from a family visit, in the back seat of Dad’s ’52 Ford Wagon, with my chin resting on the back of my parent’s seat (before we had seat belts))) conversations. This can be done via letters and newsletters. But most of today’s parents are probably more accustomed to getting information via their computers, tablets or mobile phones. Consider a Facebook page for your class (observing safety policies), a Twitter feed, or daily updates to your classroom Web site. (Christina C & Alfonso Gonzalez)
  3. Ask students (periodically or on a daily basis) to take inventory of their newly gained knowledge and skills and to write a letter to someone at home describing how they are growing through learning. (Christina C & Cary B. Todd)
  4. Make learning more engaging for students by integrating the creative arts. Asking learners to express their learning through art, music, or performance helps to grant them ownership of their learning, and it gives them something to take home on paper, a thumb drive, or a web link. (Christina C)
  5. Encourage students to engage their younger siblings in dinner table conversations about what they are doing in school and to share what they remember about their experiences in those grades. (Jennifer T.)
  6. At open house, encourage parents to periodically excavate their children’s book bags for homework and test papers, letters home, unfinished art work, etc. The artifacts that they find can raise useful entry points for family conversations about school. (Jennifer T.)
  7. Integrate social networking into classroom and school operations (observing safety policies). Encouraging students to engage in networked conversations, within the context of curriculum, and then making those conversations available to parents, can give those parents a window on the learning experiences of their children. There may also be opportunities to invite supportive participation from parents. (Ashley Bitner)
  8. Engage students in edgy classroom activities that will not only inspire their curiosity, but also the curiosity of their parents and the community. (Sean Wheeler)

    Sean’s high school English class just built a chair as part of a quarter-long project. I’m curious as to why!

  9. Record (video or audio) students working or performing, engaging in discussions, and other learner-active experiences, and share with parents through the classroom web site, blog or via email. Update publishings frequently (observing safety policies).
  10. Look at the PBS and BBC web sites, how they often include text and other media to extend specific programs. Here is an alphabetical listing of PBS programs linking to web pages that expand on the issues of the program. If students could enhance some of their reports and presentations, utilizing a full range of media, and publish these multimedia expansions as an integral part of your classroom web site, parents (and community) would want to come in and see, learn, and engage at home.
  11. Set up an ongoing online survey or Tweet out questions to parents (and grand parents) asking how the current curriculum topics connect with their work or personal experiences, drawing that information into the classroom through their children. “Have you ever seen a volcano or experienced an earthquake?” “What were your grandparents doing during World War II?” “Do you ever use algebra?” “Do you use chemicals in your work?”
  12. Enable and empower learners to necessarily, resourcefully and responsibly teach themselves. When they earn their knowledge and skills, they own it — and students will take home with them what they own. (Heather F)

So What did You Do in School Today?

Look what we did in school today

(cc) nordicshutter

It has been a while since I’ve written, though it’s not for lack of anything to say. I’ve been re-strategizing some of the functions of Citation Machine for the approaching peak usage that comes as the semester hastens forward. Most of my strategies have been abandoned, but some may be fruitful. We’ll see.

Nice to have digital grease under my fingernails again 😉

Last week, I ran (via Skype) an unconference session for a PadCamp in Long Island, NY. It was one of those events I’d love to have been there for, where just the right people are having just the right conversations — and that pretty much characterizes my unconference session on the future of the textbook.

There were lots of progressive ideas that resonated loudly in that room. However, I kept wondering how these ideas might resonate in school board chambers or among elected legislators? I kept asking, “What’s the story we need to be telling?”

Of course, that was the wrong question, because that simply got more high-minded ideas percolating. What I should have asked was, “Who should tell these stories?”

I keep coming back to the kids.

A principal of a special project school of kindergardeners described some of the fabulous things going on there and I asked, “What do those kids say at dinner, when their parents ask, ‘So what did you do in school today?’

The initial answer was, “Oh, nothing!”

But then they corrected themselves realizing that we were talking about kindergardeners. These young children are excited about school — and their parents are excited about school. So might we ever expect middle school or high school students to talk excitedly about what happened in school today?

I suspect that the answer to that question, with notable exceptions, is, “No!”

But can we help parents to instigate those conversations, to break through their children’s adolescent cool, and get them to talk about learning experiences that defy boundaries, generate curiosity, and where innovation and creativity are common and not the exception.

I wonder how a school or classroom might start that dinner table conversation by sharing everyday glimpses of teachers and learners exploring, experimenting, discovering, and sharing passionate and inventive learning.

What do you think?

It’s What I’ve Learned…

skitched-20111028-072827.pngBrenda and I went to a book signing last week at the celebrated independent bookstore, Quail Ridge Books & Music. It was Lions of the West, which has apparently already received much acclaim, Raleigh’s News & Observer saying the author “..should be declared a national treasure.” ((BARNHILL, A. C. (2011, Oct 16). Morgan looks westward through eyes of history. News & Observer. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/gFw4V))

North Carolina born Robert Morgan, spent about 40 minutes of that evening reading from a simultaneously published book of poetry, stemming from his research for Lions of the West, but most of that time talking about the history of America’s westward growth.

Known as a “poet, novelist and short-story writer” ((Department of english at cornell university. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.arts.cornell.edu/english/people/?id=97)) and recipient of an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Cornell University English professor has written one other history, a similarly acclaimed biography of the nearly mythical American icon, Daniel Boone (Boone: A Biography). Lions of the West starts with Thomas Jefferson, and the Louisiana Purchase, which included

…all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River; most of North Dakota; nearly all of South Dakota; northeastern New Mexico; northern Texas; the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. ((Wikipedia contributors. (2011). Louisiana purchase. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Louisiana_Purchase&oldid=458992606))

The book ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which added all or part of,

..California (1850), Nevada (1864), Utah (1896), and Arizona (1912), as well as the whole of, depending upon interpretation, the entire State of Texas (1845) that then included part of Kansas (1861), Colorado (1876), Wyoming (1890), Oklahoma (1902), and New Mexico (1912). ((Wikipedia contributors. (2011). Treaty of guadalupe hidalgo. InWikipedia, The Free EncyclopediaWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Treaty_of_Guadalupe_Hidalgo&oldid=459017384))

..and was negotiated by Nicholas Trist, Jefferson’s grandson, by mariage.

I found it interesting that a majority of people who came to hear the talk were at least as old as Brenda and I, most of them much older. This was a generation who grew up on westerns. But what became clear from this talk and much of the revisionist history that has emerged in recent years, is how little we know about this era that so defined a generation of youngsters.

And this brings me to the second thing I found interesting about Morgan’s talk. It was a compelling story that he delivered powerfully, eloquently, and certainly unhampered by the charms of his southern roots. But it wasn’t until a conversation with Brenda, during our drive home, that it occurred to me why his talk was so compelling. Brenda said that she liked the way Morgan wasn’t trying to sell the book, and I realized that it was his perspective. The story that he spun in his talk was about what he’d learned during his research.

One area he said that he dug into was Mexican history, written from that country’s viewpoint, by Mexican historians. Many of Morgan’s statements began with, “What surprised me was..” Among his surprises was that Mexico was supposed to have won that war. They were, according to European observers, far superior to the United States in almost every way. Another surprise was James K. Pope, the North Carolina born 11th president. The author now believes that Polk was one of America’s six greatest presidents. An especially unlikable man, Polk was the only president who accomplished everything he’d promised voters, including spending only one term in office. Another surprise was how many of the Indian wars actually involved Indian tribes as allies to the American “cavalry.”

But it was this angle that I think especially charmed me, that Morgan did not talk about what he knew. He spent a half hour talking about what he’d learned.

..and of course, this brings us around to one of my continuing themes, that learning, learning practices, the sharing of learning, and what you can building from your learning, are far more important today than even the very best practices of teaching.

“Here’s what I’ve learned,” I think, is a golden key for unlocking the learner-impulse in others.

Instituting Learning Habits

I had the pleasure of facilitating an unconference session at Friday’s CUEBC conference in Port Coquilan, British Columbia. I had just finished my keynote, so it was a great way to follow-up. Admittedly, I did not start things off very well (my prompting question was too complex), but the session turned out to be productive — in my opinion. There were quite a few beginners, but mostly some well connected educators, for whom this was probably not their first unconference experience.

There was a great deal of knowledge, experience, and vision apparent in the room and a variety of topics explored. However, what still discourages me is how often I continue to hear educators say that we need to “teach our students this skill” or “teach them that skill.”

This is not incorrect.  We have to teach skills. We always have and we always will. But it seems to me that a large and explicit part of 21st century learning and the transformed classroom is the notion that skills must become habits. We need to teach our students important skills, but we need to also craft and cultivate learning environments and experiences where learners are constantly provoked to use those skills as part of their learning practice.  We need to instill a learning lifestyle.

We teach reading at an early age. Then our learners use those skills throughout the rest of their schooling. We need to more fully describe the expanding qualities of literacy that reflects today’s networked, digital and info-abundant environment, and then make sure that learners are utilizing all of these skills as part of their learning practices.

I’ll say it again, We need to think about ”learning literacy”, not just literacy.

 

What I should have asked at the beginning of the session:
During the day, I had a number of educators come up to me explaining that they were still in university, or a first year teachers, or experienced but considering technology in their classrooms for the first time. They wanted to know, Where to go to begin to learn how to transform their classrooms for 21st century learning? ((What do we call 21st century learning when we’re more than a tenth of the way into the century?)) That’s the question I should have prompted the unconference session with.

Retooling Principal Ed Programs

Almost a month ago edtech administration guru Scott McLeod posted a request (How would you revise principal preparation?) for ideas about rethinking university graduate programs for school administrators. The comments continue to come in.

At the point that I was directed to his post, there were already a number of thoughtful and comprehensive ideas, so I decided to add a few less conventional or down right outlandish ones. I later dumped my comment into 2¢ Worth as a draft, thinking it might, at some point, be of interest to you.

skitched-20111017-101204.png

I arrived home yesterday, from the School Librarians’ Association of WNY conference, to my copy of What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Meda — by Scott McLeod & Chris Lehmann (editors).  What a treasure trove, with articles by Kristin Hokanson, Christian Long, Stephanie Sandifer, Vicki Davis, Steve Dembo, Wesley Fryer, Will Richardson, Karl Fisch, Mathew Needleman, Michael Barbour, Richard Ferdig, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Chris Lehmann, Pamela Livingston, Tom Hoffman, John Rice, Dean Shareski, Mary Beth Hertz, Carl Anderson, Richard Byrne, Scott Floyd, Miguel Guhlin, Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Diana Laufenberg, Mark Wagner, Alec Couros, Kevin Jarret, Kimberly Cofino, David Jakes, Liz Kolb, Sharon Tonner, Ewan McIntosh, Jeff Utecht, and Afterward by Christopher Sessums.

With that out, I thought I’d go ahead and post the suggestions that I added to McLeod’s conversation.

  • Make them read and talk about some selected science fiction books. School leaders need to think and make decisions with the next 10, 20 and 50 years in mind. Some of the writings of Cory Doctorow and William Gibson come to mind. “The Singularity is Near” by Ray Kurtzweil might be a good one. I’m sure there are others.
  • I would suggest that community-building and culture-crafting are two essential skills for school principals. You might figure out a way to include some sort of field trip, possibly virtual, to schools that are exemplary in terms of community and culture and engage future principals in conversations about those schools, including in those conversations the schools’ practicing principals and vice-principals, teachers, and students. Future principal might be sent out with microphones and cameras (or iPads) to those schools to create multimedia tours that would be used by future classes.
  • Require them to research and then design a new school library, retrofit an old building for digital learning, design a brand new school.
  • They should be able to describe their ideal school, the characteristics of its staff and then create a list of questions to ask prospective employees during interviews that would identify new staff.
  • Future principals involved in internships would be required to maintain a blog where they describe their experiences, learnings, and insights — understanding that their blogs may become part of the departments growing curriculum. Various blog entries would be selected and featured for current and future students’ considerations and conversations.
  • Much of this would be supported by a learning network of practicing educators that is cultivated by the department’s faculty. Educators who are in the program would also, as part of the program, cultivate their own learning networks that could be described and evaluated, and that would support them in their university work and be carried with them into their careers as administrators.