More on what Matters…

J.D. Wilson commented on yesterday’s blog post, Should it Matter? and he got me thinking about several things. Here is the first paragraph of his comment.

What concerns me as a high school teacher is getting the content into the class. I think the tools the new technology offers are impressive and do enable me to expand the boundaries of my class room. But I have difficulty with those that think the technology by itself is going to make a subject interesting. It is like trying to get someone who does not like baseball to like baseball by changing the rules of baseball to make the game look more like football…

Ditto! Technology, by itself, will not help, and I think that his comparison with sports rules is very effective.

I often ask teachers who are seeing new excitement and increased learning gains, when they start using something like blogging, “What do you think is the reason that your students are doing so much better?” ..and I often (almost always) hear, “It’s because ‘It’s Technology.'”

Now I have not been in these classrooms and haven’t seen the students working, but I can’t help but feel that this is not the true reason.  First of all, it isn’t technology to our students. There’s nothing special about blogging or working with simulations to them.  Participating in large, ongoing, and nearly always available conversations, and playing with simulations is a part of their childhood.  It’s part of their culture.

We are just now starting to pay attention and to understand some of what our students are doing, but it still looks like technology to us.  We see the machines, because we’re looking in from the outside.  To them, it’s the information.

I think that it has a lot more to do with what they are doing with the technology — and more than that, it’s what they are doing with the information.

It is what it is and must be appreciated on its own terms. Students who dislike Chaucer (I am an English teacher) are not going to like Chaucer just because he is being studied using social networking tools. I struggle with maintaining the rigor while trying to make the material as interesting as I can.

I agree that Chaucer is not going to come to life just because students are using social networking tools.  However, he may come to life, become relevant to their world view, and even become enjoyable because of the conversations that are having in the social networking tools. 

For instance, you might ask them to share comebacks from the fellow travelers Chaucer wrote about (sometimes insultingly).  What might that lazy cook have said back to Chaucer, if he’d been able to read and write.  Show students the Where the Hell is Matt (2008) video and ask them how what Matthew Harding did is like what Chaucer was doing.  How might Matthew Express his travels without a video camera and with the Internet?  Find other traveling bloggers and find comparison, or ask students to find comparisons.

I can’t really give a good example, because I’ve never taught Chaucer.  But if reading his work was not useful or interesting to someone, we wouldn’t be teaching it.  I’m convinced that if we can include our students voices in the conversations, causing them to invest themselves in the study, then Chaucer becomes something else.

I agree that a teacher cannot do any more than the community in which she or he teaches will accept and most communities seem to be more interested in talking about reform than in doing the very hard work that reform requires. I think as a culture we have bought into the idea that there are simple solutions to every problem and that is rarely true.

This is so true.  It’s not that generating the big ideas is easy.  It isn’t.  It requires that we get out of our boxes and look back in with different lenses.  But we’ve become very good at saying things like, “Learning is conversation,” and “Students will learn better through networks of other learners.”  The question now is, “What does that look like?”  “What exactly are you seeing when when this is happening?”

Right now I’m sifting through the comments posted during a session I did at Educon, where I asked participants to share examples of information-rich learning activities, and many of the answers were brilliant.  But very few of them truly painted a picture of what students and teachers are actually doing.

We need to start doing a much better job of visualizing and describing what learning 2.0 actually looks like.

It is my experience that modern education is becoming more about documenting what we do than about doing anything. I think the definition of a public school teacher is becoming someone who documents in great detail what they would do if they had time to teach.

This is brilliantly said, J.D..  It reminds me of something that Yong Zhao said when I saw him speak a few weeks ago.  He said something like, “We seem much more interested in doing ‘it’ right, than doing the right thing.”

However, I do not think that simply getting rid of the documenting — the testing — is going to be enough.  We need to have something to replace it with, something that is complex, but can be described simply and compellingly.


Now I have to rush to the gate.  I’m in the Pittsburgh airport, and it’s a lively place!

Should it Matter?

Flickr photo by Andy Carvin

Educon 2.1 is over and I have so many regrets — so many people I did not get to talk with.  Entirely unsatisfying.  Next year, I’m there for three-days.  I sat in on some fabulous sessions, and they were conversational in nature — as advertised.  I did hear that some of the sessions ended out being presentations, and I suppose that’s fine as long as it was clear from the start that folks were there to listen and pay attention.

I guess that the greatest “aha!” realization to me happened with the early morning panel discussion.  I live blogged my notes here.  First of all, Chris Lehmann “gets it.”  I knew he “gets it” before the panel.  He’s not the only person I know who “gets it” and he wasn’t the only person on the panel.  But I can’t think of anyone who is in such a perfect position to test “it” and demonstrate what he gets.  There are folks I know who are cultivating similar situations, and they are going to be worth watching, but SLA is there..

However, there were two elements of the panel’s conversation that — quicken my heart.  One was Gary Stager’s opening and the list of what he believes — and just about everything else he said.  I was especially taken with his demand that reform needs to happen locally.  I didn’t realize the importance of this statement until a conversation that I had with Steve Hargadon at the end of the day.  Stager questions a lot of what I say and write, and I learn from his challenges, but he sees the evils of what has happened to education during the past several years, and he hammers it ruthlessly — and I thank him.

On the other hand, there were two other panelists who stirred my soul a bit, and in the other direction.  I do not clearly remember which of the panel members they were, so I’ll not use names here.  But on several occasions during the conversation, the importance of “data” to education today was expressed.  Now I get data.  I understand its value under some circumstances.  Yet when I hear people exulting data collection as a principle way of educating children, I feel that we are being drawn away from the things that I truly value in teaching — in being a teacher.  It’s because I am, admittedly, a romantic when it comes to education.  It’s about relationships, environment, and activity.  I know that disaggregated data can help, but there’s something about the scale that bothers me.  Enough said…

Flickr Photo by Setev

My main point is, “Should it matter?”  When I try to think about and try to visualize learning 2.0, I’m still getting a fairly blurred picture.  It’s the purpose of these conferences, to clarify that image.  But I am fairly certain that in the classroom that effectively leverages the contexts and opportunities of our times, our students and their native information experience, and today’s dramatically new information environment, I can’t see that it would matter if the students are tested at the end of the year, or that data is constantly being extracted about their learning. 

What will be happening in that classroom will be so exciting and so compelling that tests and data will be nothing more than mist on the breeze.

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Reform Panel at Educon 2.1

Photo taken above my head…

[Live blogged!  Please forgive spelling and awkward wording]

The question to the panel has changed to what does education reform look like, in light of a new president.

Lehmann says that accountability has to be a richer more complext conversation.  Should be less conformist in nature.

Marc Mannella (Principal, KIPP Philadelphia).

Betty Manchester, of the Maine Learning Initiative, comes from 1:1 learning environments.  She now manages the Maine International Center for Digital Learning (cool).  She says there are eight things that have to be present for reform to work and support to take place.

  1. Having a moral purpose
  2. Commitment to changing everything
  3. Focus on deep levels of learning
  4. Intelligent accountability (evidence of learning that students bring in)
  5. Assessment for learning
  6. Lateral capacity (building those networks)
  7. Paying attention to the energy
  8. Long level of leadership

Mike Wang, of Teach for America.  They recruit college students to teach for two years.  What nice about today is that, while we use to have to talk about theory, today we have some data on ways of

  1. Human Capital (people)
  2. The use of data
  3. Unyielding exceptions expectations

One thing that is unique thing about the Obama administration is that his administration seems able to dive into contentious issues and find consensus.

David Bromley has been a high school teacher, school founder, director, and district administration.  Now is with the big picture company.  They form forward looking schools.  He is cautiously optimistic.  School is still the only industry that still doesn’t get it.  We have to fundamentally change how we look at kids, or else we are not going to make the change.  We have to change everything.

Gary Stager “I dream of America where the person who is in charge of education is qualified.”  Someone else has changed him immediately about Arne Duncan.  He goes on to say that we know a lot about what works, and we’ve known it for a long time (referring back to Dewey, et al.).  He seem unoptimistic.

But, he believes

  • We must not rank or sort,
  • decisions should be made by teachers and parents,
  • art dram music, thinking, computer science, (We could provide a computer for every kid and a cello)
  • School should represent the best 6 or 7 hours of the child’s day
  • intiteld to a talented passionate teacher.
  • Multi-age homogeneous environments
  • learning is nature
  • always wrong to be mean to children (teacher shouldn’t scream at children — says it seems to happen at testing time)
  • External assessment is aways disruptive to learning.

Considering replicability (?), Lehmann says that processes can be replicable.  But curriculum can not.  It’s about people.

Question: Can we do with with the teachers we have? Gary Bromley says that the are making a change with kids with today’s teachers.  There are a lot of teachers who want to work differently with kids.

Betty speaks as the oldest member of the panel speaks for older teachers, who taught in the 60s and 70s still have the passion and the desire to do it a different way.  But the policy and the message from the top has to change at the national and the state level.  There also has to be a feedback, and open feedback system (pay attention to the teacher).

Mike says, “Are we going to let perfect be the enemy of good?”  I’m not sure a understand what is meant by this, but want to.

How do you deal with administration that just doesn’t get school reform.  We have to show them models of success.  We need more democracy.  Parents can make decisions.  Teachers should be able to work in places where they share in the leadership.  You can ask parents which teachers is the most creative, which teacher uses the most worksheets and they know.  Speaking out against single soslution, one-side-fits-all.

Should NCLB die.  Stager says, yes.  It isn’t that we haven’t fully funded it.  He says, “Thank God!”  We’re beating kids with the buts of rifles because we can’t afford the bullets.”  I love it!

Marc says, “This is a very fun panel.”  Says he agrees with 92% of what’s being said.  Says, “Minimum expectation is our lofty goal, is what’s wrong with NCLB.”  Says that data disaggregation is a major move forward.

Lehmann says that standards-based state testing is not improving education.  Others are saying

I just twittered: “The point of ed reform is having classrooms where it just doesn’t matter if kids are getting tested — to them or the teachers.”

What about diversity in teachers and other educators who are looking to retool teaching and learning.  We look around the room, and the majority is white, though diversity is higher than it usually is in these meetings.  Betty says that it is usually about money.

Educon Bound

I just learned that my session proposal for Educon 2.1 has now been scheduled, 2:30 to 4:00 on Sunday (Jan 25).  I didn’t even know for sure that I would be able to attend until yesterday, when Brenda worked out my transportation.  I’ll be at the TRLD conference in San Francisco until mid-day on Saturday.  She has me flying across that evening, where I spend the remaining hours in a hotel in downtown Philadelphia.  Then, bright and early to educon on Sunday.  She also arranged a train trip for the next day to Western Virginia for the Virginia Association of Independent Schools Heads of Schools Conference in Hot Springs.

I’m more than a little disappointed at what I’ll miss while I am facilitating my session, not the mention by missing the first two days of the conference.  How could you not be disappointed at missing anything at Educon.  I probably shouldn’t have proposed anything at all, but so rarely do you get a chance to do a purely unconference session.  Still, the rooms will be a buzz with bleed-throughs from the previous days, and it will all be thouroghly blogged.

There are so many ways to see how exceptional this conference will be.  But perhaps the most interesting way is to scan through the list of attendees.  Those who have listed themselves on the wiki will be coming from 18 states, two provinces of Canada, and Victoria, Australia.  He’ll certainly win a prize.

The image to the left is a collage of photos taken at last year’s Educon and uploaded by attendees to Flickr.  You can see other photos and blog entries from last year’s event and the upcoming Educon 2.1 at the conference Hitchhikr page.

Hope to see you at the Science Leadership Academy, 23-25 January.  I’ll be there on the 25th.