Archive | August, 2011

Proposed education reforms must address students’ day-to-day classroom work

IowaeducationsummitLinda Fandel, Special Assistant for Education to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, wrote:

Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds will make draft recommendations for how to give all Iowa students a world-class education by Oct. 1.

The draft recommendations will focus on the three key areas addressed at the Iowa Education Summit in late July: (1) getting a great teacher in every classroom, a great principal in every building, and providing the support they need to do their jobs well; (2) raising academic standards and putting in place strong matching assessments; and (3) innovation that boosts learning.

To which I commented:

‘Great’ in the sense of quality (i.e., “really good” or perhaps “better than what we have now”) or ‘great’ in the sense of ‘exceptional’ (rare, unique)? Because the former is much more achievable than the latter. ‘Exceptional’ is exceptional for a reason; this is not Lake Wobegon (where every educator is above average). In every profession, there will be a continuum and there’s a natural curve under which only a certain percentage can ever be deemed to be ‘great.’ Unless we are going to have fewer educators overall (allowing us to dip less deep into the available talent pool), we are going to have a hard time meeting this goal without focusing heavily on talent recruitment, preservice and inservice training, and talent induction/support/retention. Education traditionally has a very poor record of doing these things because they’re quite difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

I’ll also note that many current educators are going to be offended that the Governor doesn’t think they’re already ‘great.’ Deming noted that nearly all of the problems that we have with individuals is due to the systems in which they’re embedded. We’re going to have to decide if we are just going to focus on educators (and maybe colleges of education), which will be perceived by many as blaming and shaming, or we also going to recognize (and emphasize) the far greater (and thorny) problem of the systems in which they’re embedded. I hope the latter. Question: how do we know we don’t already have ‘great’ educators who are simply trapped in dysfunctional systems?

We’re also going to have to decide just how much we care that our state ranking has declined on national tests that emphasize low-level factual recall and procedural knowledge. Personally, I’m much less concerned by this than I am the fact that the overwhelming majority of Iowa schools – even our supposedly best ones – still aren’t adequately focusing on the higher-order thinking skills, technological competencies, intra- and interpersonal competencies, and other skill sets that will make our graduates truly ‘globally competitive.’

Final thought: If our proposed reforms don’t dramatically change what kids do on a day-to-day basis in the classroom, they’re going to be political theater rather than substantive change initiatives. So we need to think and talk robustly about what we want our kids to be DOING, not just what we want them to be learning. In other words, the HOW is just as important as the WHAT.

Please come join the conversation and take the opportunity to chime in BEFORE the blueprint comes out. The Iowa Department of Education is a little slow when it comes to approving comments but yours should show up eventually!

Image credit: Iowa Department of Education

What do the world’s most successful school systems do regarding homework?

MorehomeworkAs the Smithsonian reports, they don’t give very much:

David Baker and Gerald LeTendre, professors of education at Penn State, found that in countries with the most successful school systems, like Japan, teachers give small amounts homework, while teachers in those with the lowest scores, such as Greece and Iran, give a lot. (Of course the quality of the assignment and the teacher’s use of it also matter.) The United States falls somewhere in the middle – average amounts of homework and average test results. Finnish teachers tend to give minimal amounts of homework throughout all the grades; the New York Times reported Finnish high school kids averaged only one-half hour a night.

Does anyone have successful strategies for working with our local schools to opt our children out of homework we consider to be busy work?

Image credit: More homework?

Reclaiming my blog: Moving back from BigThink

FiveDangerously Irrelevant’s fifth birthday occurred quietly last week. After much soul-searching and a very helpful conversation with my CASTLE co-director, Justin Bathon, I decided to move the blog back to my own platform (as some of you may have noticed this morning).

I had moved to BigThink because I thought it might raise my profile and allow me to reach new readers. As I have mentioned (and been criticized for) before, I am unapologetic about wanting to spread my message to larger audiences. We have significant changes to make in our schools. For those of us who care passionately and want to influence others about what those changes look like, I don’t think we get there with small listener bases.

But the past six months have helped me clarify why I’m blogging and what I care about. In addition to being a space where I can have a voice, I always have viewed my blog as a listening station, a place for community and conversation, a learning platform, and a place for me to offer resources to others. Because I was embedded within a larger, different platform over at BigThink, I lost many of those things with the move. I thought the tradeoff of a larger, different audience would make up for it but I have come to realize that I probably will always need a space that is uniquely mine.

My move back shouldn’t be interpreted as a knock against BigThink. The folks there have been great. Their site was just named one of the top 50 web sites of 2011 by TIME magazine and next week they’re launching a new initiative, The Floating University, in conjunction with Harvard, Yale, and Bard. Even though it wasn’t a great fit for me as a blogger, I’ll still be a regular reader and encourage you to be one as well. There’s always something interesting right there on their home page.

For me, I’m back on WordPress. If you have any trouble accessing the site or the feed, let me know. Otherwise, thanks for bearing with me, both during this inward-looking post and during the transition to and from BigThink. I’m looking forward to the next 5 years (and more) of talking with and learning from you.

Image credit: Five


Let the kids touch the computer

TrappedEric Marcos says:

Let them touch the computer. That’s how the world changed for me, for all of us. If you give kids a little bit of trust and let them try out some stuff, they’re going to come up with fascinating things that will surprise you.

You can read more about Eric and his students’ project. Beginning this fall (and every year afterward), start asking your child’s teachers - or, better yet, your principal, superintendent, or school board members - this oh-so-important question:

You know, it’s a digital world out there now. How much time per week does the average child in this class / school / district get to use computers as part of his or her learning experience?

If you get an answer of more than 30 to 60 minutes per week (that’s only 6 to 12 minutes per day), you’ll be lucky. And, no, that’s not enough.

Image credit: Curious

Shift Happens v5 – Iowa, Did You Know? [VIDEO]

TrappedThe Did You Know? (Shift Happens) videos have been seen by at least 40 million people online and perhaps that many again during face-to-face conferences, workshops, etc. This week saw the release of the latest version, this one focused on the state of Iowa. Titled Iowa, Did You Know?, the video is aimed at Iowa policymakers, citizens, and educators and is intended to help them feel a greater sense of urgency when it comes to changing our schools. Right now there’s a fair amount of complacency; the average Iowan isn’t coming to his or her school board or politician saying, “Hey, why aren’t you preparing my kids for this digital, global world we now live in?!”

Take a look at the video and see what you think. Even if you don’t live in Iowa, I think you’ll find it quite pertinent to your educational context too. More thoughts and resources after the video…

Additional resources

We are hopeful that the video will be shown to groups all over the state. It comes with a facilitator’s guide to help spark conversation as well as PDF versions of each slide. The idea is that any local group – school, Rotary club, senior citizens’ center, community group, or book club (or even just a small bunch of neighbors) – can convene for 30–60 minutes, show the video, and then start talking and acting. Additional resources and information are available at the Iowa Future web site to help these groups. We need a groundswell of Iowans to start advocating for 21st, not 19th, century schools.

Leadership Day 2011

TrappedIn addition to announcing Iowa, Did You Know?, this post also is going to serve as my Leadership Day 2011 contribution. If our schools are going to ‘shift’ and prepare students for the next (rather than the last) half century, school leaders are going to have to be much more proactive about engaging with parents, community members, and policymakers. Whether it’s pulling snippets from this blog or Mind Dump and mentioning them at every possible gathering, showing videos like this one and inviting discussion and action, or finding ways to regularly and visibly highlight innovative student and teacher uses of higher-order thinking skills and digital technologies, principals and superintendents can’t just focus on what occurs within their school systems. We MUST engage the public and we MUST engage the people who make policy at the state and federal levels. Right now we’re not doing this nearly as much as we should be. For example, we debuted Iowa, Did You Know? at the School Administrators of Iowa conference earlier this week. I heard lots of comments afterward from administrators about how excited they were to show the video to their staffs. But nary a single one said that he or she was excited to use it to help spark needed conversations with parents, citizens, or legislators. If we don’t have these latter conversations too, we’ll continue to run into the external mindset and funding/policy constraints that surround and hinder what we do, regardless of how innovative we are internally.

Does every state need a video like Iowa, Did You Know? Probably. If not a video, then a report or a recorded speech or something that galvanizes citizens to start putting pressure on school boards and lawmakers to do something DIFFERENT when it comes to learning, teaching, and schooling. Right now most of the discussion regarding educational reform is simply tweaking what we’ve always done, trying to make it a bit better or more intense. Given the transformational impacts of digital technologies on learning, communication, the global economy, our jobs, entertainment, and just about every other area of life we can think of, tweaking just doesn’t cut it.

With gratitude

It is with great appreciation that I thank:

  • Troyce Fisher, School Administrators of Iowa, and everyone else involved with the Iowa Future initiative for being so patient with me as I worked to get this done, for insisting that the video have an encouraging ending, and for having the original vision for a visibility initiative to reach Iowa citizens and legislators, not just educators.
  • XPLANE, who now has done the graphics on 3 of the 5 ‘official’ versions of Did You Know? and who came through yet again despite a very tight timeline. I can’t emphasize enough how creative the folks there are and how wonderful they are to work with. I have absolutely no hesitation recommending them for any project, any time. They are truly amazing and gifted.
  • All of the wonderful Iowans, educators or otherwise, who will help spread this video across the state and maximize its impact. I’m thanking you all in advance; it’s up to us to make these conversations happen!
  • Karl Fisch, who started the whole Did You Know? phenomenon and has graciously included me on every step along the way.

Previous videos in the Did You Know? series are available at the Shift Happens wiki. Source files for Iowa, Did You Know? will be available there soon.

Happy viewing!


How much flexibility do Iowa schools really have?

TrappedWho says you can’t have a good conversation on Twitter? [be patient; this might take a few seconds to load]

Image credit: toe touch

When it comes to learning and teaching, why do we ignore the voices of students?

TrappedToday Seth Godin blogged:

When the truth is just around the corner … what’s your posture?

When your organization has a chance to see itself as its customers do, do your leaders crowd around, trying to glean every insight they can about the story and your future, or do they prefer the status quo?

There are more mirrors available than ever. Sometimes, though, what’s missing is the willingness to take a look.

How many schools make changes in their day-to-day learning and teaching practices based on actively-solicited feedback from students? Not many.

Is it because we don’t really want to know? Or because we don’t know what to do with the information that we’d receive? Or we don’t think that students have anything to tell us? Or … ?

Image credit: love sign