Reflections on Educon 2.5 – Jeff Pulver

Educon 2013 is over and I’m on my way home, the Carolinian, Train number 79, on time with a passable WiFi connection.  During this year’s conversations, I tried a new app and technique for taking notes.  The App is GoodNotes, which is like a couple of dozen other stylus-based note-taking apps.  What I like about this particular one is your ability to connect it with the iPad’s camera and integrate pictures into your notes.  

Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, Dr. William Hite
This, I believe, would be extremely valuable when attending presentations that relied heavily on diagrams and other visual media.  It wasn’t ideal for Educon, who’s conversations were less dependent on slides, but I did include pictures of the presenters as a reminder, when reviewing the notes. (see right)

I typically use a mind-mapping program, so that I can organize ideas in relation to others. But I’ve always missed the freedom of a blank page.  Writing notes with a stylus has all sorts of disadvantages, but I can already see that I am going back to review my notes much more frequently than I have ever scanned my mind maps.

I confessed to a number of people yesterday, that I attend these things, not so much for new knowledge as for new language. I do not manage a school or classroom, so I am not looking for solutions. I need new ways of talking about education in the age of opportunity – which is often counter-intuitive to the my audiences’ vision of classrooms.  New angles, phrases or new stories help to produce shakabuku.  They sneak up on the listener and surprise them with new realizations.

Jeff Pulver

The first thing I think, when seeing a panel for educators made up of non-educators is, “Why do we assume that business inherently does it better?”  I have to confess that after the panel discussion was over and and I was trudging back up to my hotel (why’s going home always up hill?) through the (more slippery than it looked) snow, I asked myself that question – probably out loud.

But rehashing parts of it early the next morning and reviewing my notes, I see lots of ideas that, when unpacked, apply wonderfully to teaching, learning, and classrooms.  Here are some phrases from Jeff Pulver, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

  • Teachers should model entrepreneurship! I include this statement only because It comes up frequently during unconference sessions on education and entrepreneurship.  If we want our children to be creative, then we need to practice creativity in front of them.
  • Voice is an application! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this one, but according to Wikipedia, “an ‘app’ is computer software designed to help the user to perform specific tasks.”  One could say that giving voice to learning helps learners to accomplish something with what they’ve learned.
  • The fuel for disruption is passion! This one makes a lot of sense to me.  Disruptive technologies, techniques and processes change nothing unless someone is passionate enough to audaciously and heroically use them.  Learning is disruptive.  If it wasn’t, what would be the point?  

    Are we fueling our students’ learning?

  • Be willing to break the rules! I keep playing around with the idea that rules, in school, are designed to contain the learning.  However, in the real world, rules are a way of mapping the perceived constraints of reality.  Those who accomplish goals creatively do so by rewriting the rules – reshaping the confines of reality.  Personally, I prefer “changing the rules” or “re-writing the rules” to “breaking the rules.”
  • Find People who don’t know it can’t be done! Is this an overlooked value of new teachers.  I keep thinking that there is great potential to pairing experienced teachers with new teachers, when solving education problems – so long as each is willing to learn from the other.
  • Make exercise fun!  This one hit hard.  It’s one of my regrets, as I approach the end of my career, that I have not thought enough or talked enough about our children’s physical education.  I think that Pulver, from his own recent experiences in losing so many pounds, was spot-on, that “Exercise should be fun.”

    But, for many, it’s not.  I’ve never gotten anything from endorphins, though my wife use to claim an addiction to her afternoon jogs.  Perhaps its an A.D.D. thing, because the only effect I feel from the (prescribed) stimulants I sometimes take is that I can suddenly express myself in a little more linear fashion. But no other physical sensation.

    Some people don’t like sports.  I was good at baseball and football, and played on school teams.  But I never took the whole winning/losing thing very seriously – and never had fun playing with people who did.

    Some people aren’t good at sports.  One of my brothers could run faster than anyone in four blocks.  But he never learned to catch a ball gracefully.

    How do you make exercise fun?  Here are a few thoughts.

    • Sports should not be limited to those who are good at it and only for the good of the school.  Invite everyone to play and celebrate the play.  Playing is fun.  Winning requires losers.
    • 1987 Infinity Recumbent
      Find new ways to ride.  I’ve been a bicycle rider since college, although not like some.  But now, I find riding to be painful to my wrists, hands, knees, and, well, the obvious places.  So I’ve recently purchased a used (1987) recumbent bike, which is fun for me because it’s a new way to ride, and because I’m having fun learning how to ride it (and keep my feet on the peddles)
    • Find new human-powered routes.  Greenways are huge in large cities, and I’m starting so see them in smaller cities.  There are also some instances of walking and biking trails that connect towns, which is something I noticed a lot of in Germany.  I believe that there’s a trail between Richmond, Virginia and the shore.  Go to TrailLink to find trails in your state and community.
    • Find new places to walk to.  Just walking or biking is often not compelling enough.  There need to be reasons to be on those trails, places to go, reasons to be on your feet.  Making your community more bicycle and pedestrian friendly is essential.  But how do you make them desirable or fashionable to use.  Ask students to invest in them by devising solutions.  Take a picture of your downtown and ask students to edit the picture, adding features for the self-propelled.  Ask a Maker class to design and build bicycle racks for your community and work with stores and municipal establishments to install them.  Get creative.  Get going on your own two feed.

My Year-End Reflection

My reflection is fuzzy, but what's up ahead is clearly promising.

It is customary for us bloggers to write a year-end article, announcing our top ten “whatevers” for the year just ending. I’ve read some good ones written by smarter and more aware people than me. I would point you particularly to the series at Hack Education, written by Audry Waters – who is a true ears to the ground educator/journalist.

Me? Well I just haven’t been paying that much attention, applying myself more to specific production projects, including, but not limited to the 2nd edition of Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network (print | Kindle | iPad). Teaching myself to create an interactive iBook has been one of the most authentically enlightening educational experiences I’ve had in a very long time.

At any rate, at this point in my so-called career, I’m not apologizing for spending my time doing what I feel like doing. So, being less than qualified to list the top ten of anything for 2012, (did I mention this, or this, or this?), I’m going to come at it from a different angle.

Here are my hopes and wishes for 2013!

  1. I hope that we come up with a better target phrase than, “preparing our children for the 21st century.” It’s so 20th century, and we have, after all, got more than a tenth of the new century behind us.
  2. I hope that we can articulate a clearer distinction between personalized learning and differentiated (individualized) instruction. To often, when I hear people discussing personalized learning, they are actually talking about instruction. One is about becoming and the other is about being done to.
  3. I wish that we would really start using our hands more, that this whole maker subculture, some how, starts to become an integral and defining part of the culture of schools. Let’s replace our 30 pounds of textbooks with a tablet computer and a kit of personal hand tools.  
  4. I hope that we learn to bring fun back into learning, by recognizing the learning that happens when we’re having fun.
  5. I wish that the institution of education would stop taking itself so seriously. Our efforts to make ourselves more important by introducing complexity into the process just makes teaching less enjoyable — and it irritates the customers.
  6. I hope that teachers and administrators find ways to purposefully learn more and learn more in front of their students. ..to become “public learners.”
  7. I hope that we get digital content right and not simply convert it to digital. I wish that we could stop using the term “textbook” and find something less suggestive of a teaching object. What would you call a learning object?
  8. I fervently hope that we find a way to redefine and assess mastery, not by counting right answers, but by observing what students can accomplish by using good answers.
  9. I wish that schools of education could stop preparing prospective teachers for a 30-year career by simply readying them for a typical classroom of today. We need teachers who are ready to adapt and adopt almost any opportunity that arises, willing and able to retool their classrooms every day. The best we can do is to prepare prospective educators for the first five years of their career (at best) and assure that they are skilled in persistent and self-directed professional development.
  10. I wish that we might begin to see that the mission of education should not be our assurance that every student successfully learns the same things. It should be our assistance in helping every student discover and become the best person that he or she can be.

Here’s to an enlightened new year!

 

Since Twitter was Unavailable…

I’ve spent the last several days at the EARCOS Education Leadership Conference in Kuala Lumpur. It’s been an interesting conference for heads of school and board members of international schools from throughout East Asia.

They’ve been working me pretty hard, but I have had the opportunity see some friends, make some new ones and attend some sessions. Milton Chen delivered the opening keynote address, my first time seeing him speak. The second day was opened by Alan November, perhaps the best keynote I’ve seen him deliver. He shared an idea that he had suggested during the pre-conference workshop I facilitated on Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday).  Probably more on that later…

But it was Greg Whitby’s keynote on the third day that really spoke the most “truth to stupid” that I’ve heard in a long time.  The notes I took using Mindo on my iPad are available here (see right).  

Since the Internet access was spotty, at best, throughout the conference, I was not able to tweet statements out that I wanted to.  So I thought I would just tweet them here with a few more than 140 characters of commentary.

We shouldn’t be talking about schools of the future.

First of all, we have no way of knowing what schools of the future will look like.  What we need to be addressing is the schools our children need right now.

Whitby, in comparying industrial age schooling with what’s more relevant to today’s children, he said that we need to..

Make learning compulsory and attendance optional.

It’s an excellent shakabuku., but its practice would need to be explained, if possible.  Still, like so much of the conversation I’m witnessing at conferences today, the focus is on the learning.

Whitby also warned that we have to get this right and do so with a compelling narrative.  If we don’t, then someone else (Silicon Valley) will step in, and…

What we could get is good technology, but poor pedagogy.

This rang my HackEducation bell and the ongoing reporting of Audrey Waters.  But then he said something that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around.  He said that,

The more personalized the education experience, the more we know about the learner and the quality of the learning.

I’m not sure how this works except that personalized learning may result in more conversation between teachers and individual learners.

Another very simple statement that doesn’t need much expiation was that

Schooling today is (1) personalized, (2) de-privatized, (3) technology-invisible and (4) agile.

It was odd, a video that Whitby played during his keynote, about a school in Australia 250 students in one enlarged classroom and several teachers.  You see we were taught about “open learning spaces” when I was in education school more than 35 years ago.  I student-taught in an open space with a team of teachers.  The the problem was that we didn’t have a new narrative to attach the concepts to.  It stood no chance.  Today we’re trying to write and tell that story –– and we’d better not get it wrong.

 

 

 

 

Who But Professionals

This is a slightly different twist on yesterday’s blog post.

I Dunno, (cc) photo by Marinda Fowler

Yesterday, I was listening to Steve Hargadon’s chat with education writer Audry Watters, a weekly podcast conversation on what Watters’ has been writing about, recent news stories related to education and the various conferences they have recently attended and worked. I’ll put a plug here for Steve’s upcoming Hack Your Education tour (the blog entry) to cities across the U.S. I’m hoping to make it to Philly or Washington.

Their (nearly) weekly podcast conversation is an excellent way for me to keep up with happenings and from an angle that I often learn something new from.  Hargadon and Watters’ takes on things suit my 60s “question authority” sentimentality and the passion I have for the toolbox that computers have become for me.

They both mentioned something yesterday (or during Friday’s recording) that I immediately identified with –– but have since turned around in my head.  Recently interviewing Education Week’s founder and former editor, Ron Wolk, Steve asked if any of the major political candidates were speaking substantively about education.  After a moment, Wolk replied, “No!” –– and Steve and Audrey agreed that the script on education was pretty much the same across the parties: accountability, global competition and achievement (as measured by high-stakes testing).

But I got to thinking, “Should we expect to hear substantively conversations about education from political candidates.”  They’re not educators.  They do not hold education degrees, earned from schools of education.  They do not hold postbaccalaureate degrees of education specialty like half of the teachers in the United States (49.5% in 2007-2008). ((U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). The condition of education 2012: Characteristics of full-time teachers. Retrieved from website: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_tsp.pdf))

It’s a huge part of our problem today, that education in America has been captured and held political hostage by AMATEURS, whose message on the subject has more to do with the rhetoric that will earn them votes than deep and risk-taking conversations about the nation’s problems.  What’s worse is that part of their message seeks to demonize the very professionals whose leadership we so desperately need.  We have lost confidence in ourselves as educators and sometimes even bought into the global education reform movement’s (GERM) spittle –– with exceptions (Chicago).

It would make me happy to hear a candidate say,

It’s clear that the institution of education in this country is not working for our children and their future.  Even where performance is high, are we merely doing a better job of teaching children to take tests.

I don’t know what the answer is.  It is not my expertise. Formal education, in this time, is perhaps one of the most complex endeavors that a sophisticated society engages in, and it will take foreword thinking professionals to reinvent the institution.

I promise, if elected president (to Congress, the Senate, etc.) to assemble and consult the best and most progressive minds from the profession, to promote, legislate, and pass the best of their ideas, no matter how untraditional, and do all that I personally can do to make every school a point of pride for every community –– not because of the test scores, but because of the quality and creativity of the work produced and shared by its learners and graduates. 

 

A Walk Down Memory Lane and a Big Thanks!

2012 Learning 2.0 Virtual Conference
Several weeks ago Steve Hargadon invited me to deliver a keynote address for his Learning 2.0 Virtual conference, which he has been planning for Connected Educator month (August). I confess that I neglected to respond for some time, because, frankly, I do not enjoy these things and consider them a poor substitute to an actual face-to-face conference. It’s the old and old-fashioned teacher in me that feels that way. But, because I respect Steve enormously I finally agreed do a session, dreading its approach. However, I always, ALWAYS, end out enjoying the experience, feeling good about my contribution, and I’ve watched and learned from a number of the other presentations and keynote throughout the conference.  As my friend, Peggy George, said,

This is such an incredible opportunity for us to be able to learn and connect virtually wherever we are!

..and it was free.

Since I assembled my talk, “The Memory Lane of a 30-Year Connected Teacher and Learner,” specifically for this event, I did not have any online handouts, and since I ended out taking exactly my allotted hour and leaving no time for questions, I thought I would take this opportunity to scan through the chat archive and respond here to any questions or comments that strike a nerve.

First of all, this was not a “Here’s how you do this” sort of presentation nor did I tour through cool web sites or suggest cool  ways to use iPads. There were and will be plenty of presentations that fill that niche. My uniqueness right now is my age and range of experiences, and so I reverted back to my Southern heritage and shared some stories “..about some of the critical and revelatory moments of (my) long career.” You can revisit my talk here, as Steve is archiving all (?) of the presentations.

First of all, I was impressed by the number of learning20 hash-tagged (#learning20) postings on Twitter that were not in english.  In fact, I see now that some of the names in my chat archive included letters that are not among the 26 character Roman alphabet – more evidence of the increasing globalization of education.

Here are some links posted during my talk:

One of the really cool things about these virtual events, and about being part of the backchannel at face-to-face events is when people share URLs related to what I am talking about – and often they are web pages, of which I was not aware.  In a sense, the online handouts just happen. ..because learners are also teachers.

One point I’d like to double-click on is the WIRED magazine issue I’m reading on my iPad, the magazine’s first issue, published in 1993, and now available for the WIRED iPad app.  I love scanning through these old magazines because of the advertisements, seeing the sorts of technologies that were emerging 20 years ago, how big they were, and how much they cost.  There was a Sony GPS that gave you the coordinates of you current location at a cost of only $1,195 (USD).  20 years ago, that was fantastic. Imagine being able to know, at any time, your exact location in relation to the Equator and Prime Meridian. Fantastic!  Yet, I just bought a Garmin app for my iPhone that operates exactly like the Garmin GPS that I drive with, and it only cost 99¢.

We are preparing our children for THE FANTASTIC.

Do we truly grok the implications of this?

I have to delight at the recognition several members of the audience registered for the Radio Shack Tandy computers I talked about and their further references to the Sinclair, TI-99, VIC-20 (I had one) and Atari 400 computers, machines that all helped to define personal computing today.  It made me feel “not so old.”  I guess I’ll be old when I have to explain what a cassette tape is to my audience 😉

In contrast, someone mentioned the current tech-du-jour, Arduino and Raspberry Pi – off-the-shelf computer circuit boards that people (“makers”) are using to create all sorts of intelligent objects.  This is something I want to learn about and play with.  Someone recommended the Raspberry Pi.

Another participant asked about the old computer magazines that featured BASIC programs that you could type into your Atari or VIC-20.  “Compute!” was one of them and it was published out of Greensboro, North Carolina.  Orson Scott Card worked for them at the time – and some of you know him as the author of “Ender’s Game,” one of the best science fiction books ever written.

I told the story of a librarian friend of mine, Cynthia Wilson, who, back in the ’80s got some at-risk 7th graders to write children’s books using Apple IIe computers and FrEdWriter, and then emailed them to first graders down the street using FrEdMail (There really needs to be a Wikipedia article about FrEdMail). The First graders read the books, illustrated the them, and then brought their prizes back up to the middle school where the 7th graders did a book signing.  It’s a concept that has continued as the chat perked up at that point, with lots of ways that teachers and librarians are continuing to empower learners by making them authors. (see links above)

During several of my stories, which involved teachers and learners connecting to the real world, there was some conversation about teachers who are reluctant to allow their students to share their work outside of their classrooms.  I believe that it comes from a lack of confidence, and this is not wholly our fault.  It’s part of what I talked about at the end, how the empowerment that comes from “connected” teachers and learners has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the various social, political, and commercial interests who have traditionally enjoyed and employed that power – and have a need to exert more. I believe that causing communities to lose confidence in public education has been an explicit part of the school privatization movement that may well have begun with No Child Left Behind.

Someone commented, “Why can’t we have developers of apps working in our schools with our students on projects they are working on?”  I think this is a fabulous idea, and I remember reading about a school in New York that hires game developers to work with teachers and learners.  That has always seemed a brilliant thing to do.  But I wonder if this “developer” needs to be an adult, or if it could be one of, or a team of students.

Again, I thoroughly enjoyed presenting to the conference, from my home office, and am actually getting accustomed to teaching to that little green light at the top of my laptop display that marks the position of the camera.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Steve Hargadon for this and all of the “connections” that he creates and facilitates for educators around the world.  All the wires and cables that circle our globe come to nothing if there is not a community of interest, and that community doesn’t happen without an architect.  Thanks to Steve Hargadon for bringing us all together so many days of the year!

Learning Analytics and the Hands of Evil

Who’s Afraid of the Power

(cc) Flickr Photo by Emersunn

I just learned about “learning analytics” from Audry Waters, a blogger/journalist whom I am reading with increasing regularity. Reporting on the recent Learning Analytics and Knowledge conference in Vancouver, Waters shared a phrase that was used often at the conference, “data exhaust.”

The first time I heard digital data described as exhaust, was by Dave Sifry, the founder of the blog search engine, Technorati.  He said something to the effect of, “The blogosphere is the exhaust of the human attention stream.”  This was pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook, but it was a notion that intrigued me.  I continue to use it in some of my presentations – that we, through our varied and seemingly unceasing networked interactions, are creating an enormous and at least partly useful reservoir of content.  

But I wouldn’t call what we might do with that reservoir, “Learning Analytics.”

What appears to be coming from the conversation around this “new discipline,” as it is apparently called, has more to do with learning management than it does with learning empowerment – and that, in the right context, is not wholly unappealing to me.  The ability to collect the artifacts of ones own digital trails, visualize and analyze what we’ve learned, how we learned it, and what we’ve learned to do with it might represent a personal enticement to broaden, enrich, and more purposefully direct our own digital trails.

Yet, like with so many things, we must ask ourselves, “What might happen if this wondrous new tool were to fall into the hands of evil?”  

A couple of days ago, I posted on Facebook a reference to ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council.  They craft legislation of a specific philosophical leaning and get legislators elected who will pass such legislation under the guise of knee-jerk social issues, patriotic symbolism, and apple pie.

ALEC, which was formed in 1973, operated largely unnoticed until it was revealed that they had penned Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation, resulting in George Zimmerman’s shooting and killing of an innocent teenager, Trayvon Martin, simply because Zimmerman “felt threatened.”

ALEC’s aim reaches far beyond hoodied youngsters and they appear to have a special interest in education.  According to a May 1 Diane Ravitch article in Education Week, the recent..

..explosion of legislation advancing privatization of public schools and stripping teachers of job protections and collective bargaining rights..

..is the work of ALEC. There are so many other examples of short-sighted attacks on public education and the intellectual freedom of teachers (see “Who’s Killing Philly Public Schools?“) that I have grown fearful for our future and more than a little resentful that the learner-empowering tools that I have promoted for 30 years seem to be enabling those who would rather use them to “manage learning.”

When I originally sat down to write this blog post, I had in mind a list of reasons why marketplace education is so potentially destructive.  However, after including so many words into this writing already, I have come to believe that the issue is simple.  Learning, like breathing, is human.  It’s what we do and it is what has made us what we are today.  We breath, we observe, we think, and we learn.

Learning can’t be installed in assembly line fashion, with quality control at the end of each season.  It must be nurtured by a compassionate society and by caring individuals.   

Privatizing public education would be as inhuman as it would be to sell the air – though there are some (ALEC Education Taskforce July 2011) who might like to.

As for Learning Analytics?  It fascinates me, because I believe that there are potent skills we might develop and share, for learning important lessons from the digital trails of a billion people.  

But the power is not in “learning analytics.”  

The power is in ANALYTICAL LEARNING.

 So who’s afraid of the power?

After the Beyond the Textbook Forum

Photo by Joyce Valenza, who came in spite of her broken knee

I had originally intended to append yesterday’s blog post with more information about, and from the forum.  But I think that I have a little more to say than I left room for yesterday.

First of all, I left the Discovery Communication Headquarters yesterday with one of those deliciously contradictory sensations of both exhaustion and exhilaration. It was certainly an echo chamber of people who have the room, by choice or by definition of job, to think about and talk about the future of education. But even though we have largely drawn the same conclusions, when you get these familiar ingredients together in the same pot and stir vigorously, new flavors often comes out.

I’m not going to present a comprehensive report of the conversation here.  I would point you to better reporters, Audrey Watters (Hack Education) and Wes Fryer (here, here, here and here) and others who will come linked in the #beyondthetextbook Twitter thread that certainly continues.  Essentially, its all about rethinking education, being educated, teaching, learning, and curriculum.  I can’t add much to that.

Here, I want to focus in on just a few outlying ideas that I walked away with, especially from my internal efforts to put myself in the shoes of our hosts and an industry that has become one of the definers of education.

One of those ideas got pried loose when a Discovery person asked the un-askable, “How do we monetize this?”  It was the only time that the business of selling textbooks came up — and I can’t fault anyone for making a living.  It’s an important question, because they know that they need to be doing things differently, and I suspect that they are sincerely trying to get on the other side of just digital textbooks with animations, videos and flash games.  There were suggestions of repackaging the conversation, thinking in terms of selling pages (modules), or talking more about digital libraries that children take with them after graduation.  This intrigues me, that being educated is knowing, doing, and cultivating tools that help you to continue to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Much was said about resistance from many teachers.  Many feel that a classroom without a textbook starts to look like a classroom without a teacher.  In addition, few teachers have the time to construct their digital textbooks or supervise student-constructed learning materials.

But another barrier became evident to me that gave me – and this is going to open some eyes – a new sympathy for the textbook industry.  I’m for the kids and the future, and I don’t fault an industry for making a living from this endeavor.  Who among those of us in that room are not.  I do fault efforts to influence the shape of education in order to perpetuate a control-model that is clearly no long relevant.

I want to welcome anyone who wants to be a part of this new adventure.

My sympathy comes from the fact that the only way Discovery could run a sustainable education support business is to go where the money is, and the most uninterrupted money has traditionally been textbook budgets.  So Discovery has to frame its service as a textbook, as defined by legislation. It’s easy to say, we don’t need textbooks, that “..the Internet is the best textbook.”  But when many politicians hear, “We don’t need textbooks,” what they may be seeing another avenue for slashing education funding.  It’s one of those, “Becareful what you wish for…”

So, I think I may unapologetically continue to call it a “textbook.”  I could be writing this blog on my tablet (do a Google image search for tablet).

It just seems to me that with some imagination, a product, either commercial or open, could be designed to help children to develop the literacies of learning from their world and the authentic record of that world — and our world has never ever been so recorded.

I think that we could see something come out of this, that, as Steve Jobs might say, “We didn’t know we couldn’t live without,” and part of the compellingness of that product will not be so much in what it is, as in what it can become.

It’s what excites me about today’s tablets, their capacity to become new things.

 

 

 

Finnish Miracles & American Myths

skitched-20120123-072951.jpg

My work to move Citation Machine, Class Blogmeister, 2¢ Worth, et al, over to my new “uber” server is winding down. I’ve learned so many truly geeky skills – most of which I’ll probably never use again.  It’s okay.  It makes me feel young.

One advantage of this kind of work is that I can run videos on my iPad, which stands just left of my work screens – and I believe that I’ve already mentioned the thrilling tidbits I’ve been learning about prominant actors (via Inside the Actor’s Studio).

One of the most interesting videos I watched, however, was a talk by Pasi Sahlberg formerly of Finland’s Ministry of Education (notes here).  He’s just published a book called “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” that apparently explains a lot about the “Finnish Miracle” in education.  Here are just a few items that resonated with me.

  • Education has long been important in Finland.  For hundreds of years, according to Sahlberg, literacy has been a requirement for matrimony.  You can’t get married without proving that you’re literate.
  • Education in Finland is free – everywhere for everybody.
  • Students track down two branches, starting around year 10, with about 55% of students going to upper secondary school and on to university or polytechnic and 40% going to vocational schools and apprentice training.
  • Contrary to the “more is more” approach being promoted here in the U.S., Sahlberg said that Finland has followed a less is more strategy, with
    • Less per-pupil spending,
    • Teachers spending less time in instructional supervision and
    • Students spending less time being taught than in the United States and other industrial countries.
  • Also less attention is paid to grades (it is apparently illegal to apply any grade to students before 5th grade) and NO reliance on standardized tests. (Sahlberg, 2011)

Anu Partanen, a Finnish journalist based in New York, wrote a piece for the Atlantic, where she confirmed some of my own observations about conflicts between Finnish education and the American institution. According to Partanen, in What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success, Sahlberg told her that “..there are certain things nobody in America really wants to talk about.”

Our particular tinted glasses seem to be canceling out what is one of the most central elements of the Finnish solution – the most important of the top two, according to Sahlberg – equity.  There are almost no private schools in Finland and the few that do exist are financed by their government.  No one pays tuition, ever.  Even though equality is part of the American story, I sometimes wonder if we really believe in it?

Recently a presidential primary candidate defended his privileges in a victory speech, saying that this country (U.S.A.) is being divided by “the bitter politics of envy.”  Deciding not to include the long passionate political commentary I’d originally written here, I will simply say that we seem to believe that some people deserve a better education than others. The Finnish ideal and investment in equitable education is so foreign to our national story, that it simply does not register. This may be one of our greatest barriers.

Sahlberg says, according to the Atlantic story, that Americans consistently “obsess” over three questions.

  1. How can you keep track of students’ performance if you don’t test them constantly?
  2. How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?”
  3. How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? (Partanen, 2011)

The first of these questions puzzles me.  I left classroom teaching more than 20 years ago, but we tracked student performance the same way that teachers had for decades.  Teachers evaluated student understanding and mastery as part of the learning/teaching process.  Are our teachers no longer being prepared to evaluate the progress of their students?  Have we completely turned this over to the “testing industrial complex?”

Which brings us to question two.  I know that marketplace competition is part of the American narrative.  It works for apples, oil, shovels and automobiles to compete in a fair market.  But is this where I children belong?  I believe that we are forcing our schools to compete because it’s cheaper than taking the responsibility of providing the best education we can imagine for all citizens.

And this segues into question three.   Sahlberg says that “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish.”  He later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University that,

“Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

Aren’t teachers responsible for quality education in sufficiently supported schools? Isn’t that why they chose the profession? A while back I was having dinner with a group of education administrators (all from union states).   They had been or were at that time school principals.  After sharing some stories about teacher’s they’d known, they all agreed that,

“Getting rid of bad teachers is easy.”

“What’s hard, is keeping the good ones.”

Can we benefit from the Finnish model.  I believe that we can.  But we will not do so by trying to fit their miracle on top of our current institution.  We must first disassemble some of our fundamental beliefs and practices, construct a new American ideal of equity and quality, and then look to the miracle in Finland.

 

Sahlberg, P. (Writer & Performer) (2011). Finnish lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?[Web]. Retrieved from http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2011/12/finnish-lessons/

Partanen, A. (2011, December 29). What americans keep ignoring about finland’s school success. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/

 

 

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.

 

 

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?