A Day in Texas

I’ve been at home for a couple of days doing some planning for upcoming events — and trying to find a better Linux distribution for my netbook.  Linux can be a real time-sink for someone like me, who would really “..love it if my computer could do this too.”  Anyway, I settled on something called Crunchbang Linux, a derivative of Ubuntu with the Kuki (pronounced “cookie”) kernel inserted in.  Kuki has been enhanced for the Acer Aspire One’s peculiarities.  I hope that those last two sentence impresses you.  I don’t understand it worth a flip, but it’s working just great, and I’m blogging on my Netbook right now at Starbucks.

The Athletic & Fine Arts Center.

The buzz from my day (Monday) at Region XI in Texas is still ringing in my head.  I knew that it would be a different sort of day, when I walked into the “Fine Arts Center,” whose sign actually read, “Atheletic and Fine Arts Center.” I walked in, through a wrought-iron gate, across a high cellinged entranceway, through another opening out into a huge football statium.  OMG, I’m going to be soooo late.

I walked back into the entranceway where there was a ticket office, a worker having just entered through the glass door.  I followed her in and asked about the Region XI event.  In typical Texas friendliness, she ushered me out to some double doors, just outside the gate, and up some stairs, where folks were preparing a huge room for the event — the inclined celling echoing the statium seating above.

It was a good day, however, with, by my approximation, between two and three-hundred folks.  The intended audience was library media specialists, but many of them brought teachers, principals, and even superintendents with them.  The topic was contemporary literacy and the information environment that it rises out of.

I took three things away from the event.  One was the graying,  yet rather aggressive school librarian, who launched her hand into the air when I asked the younger educators among us to share their experiences with social networks.  She insisted, and many concurred, that social networking was no longer the exclusive domain of the young.  This rang true, considering a blog I recently discovered, Social Networking Watch.  In a January 14 post, (Older Adults Among New Members on SNS), Mark Brooks graphs Social Network Service members by age, revealing that a full 36% are older than 44 — 7% older than 64.

The second thing I came away with was a story about a fourth grade class who visited the local Rotary Club (May have been Lions Club) to inform community leaders of how they were using technology in their classrooms.  They did their presentation, and then went about talking withmembers during lunch, taking pictures and video clips, and conferring with each other in the back. 

In the back, they were mixing the content they had collected and they ended the meeting with a video conveying what they had just learned about Lions Club International (May have been Rotary Club). The members were so impressed that the local Chamber of Commerce commissioned the class (4th graders) to attend one of their meetings and to create a promotional video for the organization.

The third thing (and their may have been a fourth, but I can’t remember) was a conversation that we had at the event and that I am starting to have with myself — about project-based learning (PBL).  What got me started on PBL was another conversation I had with a superintendent from California recently, where he reminded me that PBL is outlawed in his state.  All instructional techniques must be directly related to standards and research based — and project based learning was not allowed.

I remember when this happened and it was years ago, so I’d figured that this edict had faded away — and most certainly there are many inventive educators in California who have found ways to include PBL in their classrooms.  But I wonder if there is some distinction about what that Texas educator did and what many of us usually think of when we have students doing projects.  My notion of projects has been to have students take a topic that is curriculum related but something that they have a genuine interest in, and then asking them to research, become an expert, and then prepare some sort of presentation for the class.  It might be a personal performance, a multimedia product, or just a report.

The distinction I wonder about is the difference between project-based learning, and job-based learning.  In this example, the students were working on a project, making themselves experts, and producing an information product that might be of value to other people.  Another example, I heard from Rowland Baker of TICAL, whom I worked for last week in Arkansas.  The EAST Project (Environmental and Spatial Technology)

…focuses on student-driven service projects through the use of the latest in technology. EAST schools are equipped with classrooms containing state-of-the-art workstations, servers, software, and accessories, including GPS/GIS mapping tools, architectural and CAD design software, 3D animation suites, and much more. Students find problems in their local communities, and then use these tools to solve them.

Rowland told me about an Arkansas school where students, involved in the EAST project were saving their county millions of dollars a year.  One of the students wanted to learn how to use GIS and GPS, so he started studying how the local farmers used water (552,000,000 Gallons a year).  He learned, through his study, that with a series of reservoirs, ditches, rises, and pumps, farmers to recycle more water instead of having to drill new and deeper wells. [link]

This is a pretty dramatic example.  The simple difference that I see is that a job-based learning activity produces something of value to others and its value/impact extends beyond the walls of the classroom or school.

There is NOTHING new here, and I am not suggesting a change in educational terminology.  It’s just that the idea of learners using their education as a tool for benefit or change is one that deserves repeating every now and then.

You can learn about the water project and others from this TICAL podcast.