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?

Upcoming North Carolina Science Conference

Someone took this picture of me in The Cave, a virtual reality space at Duke University. It was part of ScienceOnline2008.

With tightening (and disappearing) budgets, especially for professional development, making it to conferences that are not core education events has become difficult. Yet, it is these field-oriented PD opportunities that teachers, intent on transforming their classrooms, need to be attending — Real World.

One such is ScienceOnline2012. I attended some of the earliest of these conferences which seemed to be spinoffs from the earlier BloggerCons of a half decade ago. The desire was to explore how the work of scientists and science journalists could benefit from the World Wide Web 2.0. They were fascinating conferences, because they were at their essence, about literacy, (accessing, working, and communicating information) within a context that is real, important, and huge!  From their web site:

Every January since 2007, the Research Triangle area of North Carolina has hosted scientists, students, educators, physicians, journalists, librarians, bloggers, programmers and others interested in the way the World Wide Web is changing the way science is communicated, taught and done.

The focus of the conference has broadened substantially beyond blogs, wikis, and podcasting.  This year will include presentations from leaders in the fields of infographics, data visualization, and how gaming is being used to conduct science research.

Links

There’s not much that’s better, for this confirmed and long-time nerd, than being in a room filled with scientists. Teachers and students should feel this thrill as well.

This years ScienceOnline will be held at the McKimmon Center on the campus of North Carolina State University, January 19-21, 2012. Links to the agenda, program, and registration are in the box to the right.

Organizers have always wanted to bring precollege educators to the conference, and especially teacher-student pairs.  Event sponsors are providing for scholarships for just such attendees, and you can apply for one of these opportunities here.  In the box at the bottom of the form, include your name, the name of the student, grade, and subject(s) taught.

I sure hope I can talk Brenda into sponsoring me 🙂

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.

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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.

The EducationRevolution – What’s the Difference

What are the contributing factors for success? It’s a huge question for any institution that seeks to improve itself. For us, in education, much is said about the critical importance of the teacher – but also for technology, class size, economic advantages, school size, etc. Studies show one thing and then new studies show something else.

The other day I was listening to a New York Times podcast, and the speaker was interviewing Patricia Cohen, the Arts Beat blogger for the newspaper. Cohen was asked about a post she had just written, Angst Before High School, discussing a working paper by Roland G. Fryer of the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard and Will Dobbie, a predoctoral research fellow.

The paper (Exam High Schools and Academic Achievement: Evidence from New York City) examines the academic impact of selective (exams-based) high schools.  They looked at New York’s Brooklyn Technical High School, the Bronx High School of Science, and Stuyvesant High School and specifically the students whose entrance score were close to the cutoff point.  They wanted to compare students whose score were close together, some barely making it into “an environment of high achievers, more advanced coursework and higher expectations,” and some just barely missing out and attending a regular public high school.  These were talented students with similar ability and achievement but, assumedly, attending dramatically different high schools.

Their findings?

..the impact of attending an exam school on college enrollment or graduation is, if anything, negative. There is also little impact of attending an exam school on SAT reading and writing scores, and, at best, a modest positive impact on SAT math scores. ((Dobbie, Will, & Fryer, R. G. (2011). Exam high schools and academic achievement: evidence from new york city. Informally published manuscript, Education Innovation Laboratory, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/MvGql))

There results were consistent across genders, baseline state test scores and type of middle school.

Now there is much that these conclusions do not explain and there are many ways to explain the findings.  But Cohen said something during the interview that struck me and my world view as true.  She said that (and I paraphrase)

The motivated, talented, interested student is going to do well, no matter what school.

The Student who cares.

Sir Ken Robinson, Ewan MacIntosh, and others will be talking later on today at TEDxLondon, The Education Revolution and I plan to watch and Tweet it.  It is my own humble opinion, though, that any revolutionary school must be a place that inspires students to creatively cultivate skills; to resourcefully seek out, gather, and grow knowledge; and to care about it.

You see, I worry for those students of similar talent who, for any of a number of reasons, do not care, may not graduate, will not continue their education, will continue their lives as failures and the cost to them — and to us — of their wasted talents.