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10 building blocks for the future of schools

As Dean Shareski and I worked together on our new book, Different Schools for a Different World, (released this week!), he encouraged me to update my list of building blocks for the future of schools. Here’s the new list (now 10 items instead of 8):

  1. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments that emphasize greater student agency and active application of more cognitively-complex thinking, communication, and collaboration skills.
  2. Community projects, internships, digital simulations, and other problem- and project-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work.
  3. Competency-based education and standards-based grading efforts that shift the focus of assessment from seat time to learning mastery.
  4. 1:1 computing initiatives (and concurrent Internet bandwidth upgrades) that give students powerful digital learning devices and access to the world’s information, individuals, and organizations.
  5. The expansion of digital and online (and often open access) information resources that increase the availability of higher and deeper learning opportunities.
  6. Online communities of interest that supplement and augment more-traditional learning communities that are limited by geography and time.
  7. Adaptive software and data systems (and accompanying organizational models) that can facilitate greater individualization of learning content and pace.
  8. Alternative credentialing mechanisms that enable individuals to quickly reskill for and adapt to rapidly-evolving workforce needs and economic demands.
  9. Flexible scheduling that moves students away from 50-minute time chunks – and a prescribed number of hours and days in a prescribed location – and toward opportunities for students to learn longer, deeper, and in more places about important life skills and concepts.
  10. Redesigned learning spaces that accommodate flexible, student-centered grouping and learning tasks rather than classrooms that are dictated by instructor or janitorial needs.

What would you add or change?

10 building blocks 001

10 building blocks 002

Featured at Forbes

It was an honor to be featured on the Forbes web site last week. Robyn Shulman highlighted five ‘education entrepreneurs’ and included me on the list along with Vicki Davis, Will Richardson, Kristen Swanson, and Angela Maiers.

I know Robyn has more names on her list and will be sharing those over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for more!

Suspended for a tweet?

Suspended for a tweet

In Michigan, a student was suspended for using ‘profanity’ in a tweet that encouraged his district superintendent to clear the snow in the school parking lot. In Maine, a high schooler was suspended for tweeting that poor student treatment by administrators meant that “they’re asking to be the next Columbine.” And in Florida, a student was suspended for ‘cyberbullying’ a coach with a single tweet that allegedly just reciprocated the same insult that the coach had called her earlier.

As these and other instances show, one of the more recent challenges for school administrators is students’ use of social media to express their opinions. As Deron Durflinger, Superintendent of the Van Meter (IA) Community Schools notes,

The world we live in today provides ample opportunities for everyone to express their opinions on a variety of topics through social media. The focus in our district is always on helping kids learn how to use the tools that they have at their disposal in the appropriate manner. We want them to share what they are thinking, but we want to help teach them the right way to do it.

What Durflinger describes is frequently a difficult task and it’s not altogether clear that we’re navigating an appropriate balance between school concerns and students’ constitutional rights, particularly when our youth express themselves off campus.

Private schools have it easier – their ability to regulate student and educator speech is governed by contract. If they wish to enact tighter regulations, they merely change the attendance contract and then families decide whether they wish to comply or go elsewhere. Public schools, on the other hand, must navigate a whole host of constitutional protections, state laws, and court decisions.

The general parameters are relatively clear for public school administrators who face student speech situations. The U.S. Supreme Court said in its landmark Tinker v. Des Moines decision that the default rule is that students have constitutional speech rights and that schools must respect those absent a ‘material and substantial disruption’ to the school environment. Later Supreme Court cases articulated some additional exceptions, saying that schools can regulate student speech if it is vulgar and on school grounds, part of the school curriculum, or advocates at a school-sponsored event for the use of illegal drugs.

The same speech that may result in discipline at school, however, often can’t be regulated if at occurs at home. For instance, a school can’t suspend a student for swearing in his backyard even though it could at school. Similarly, a student that expressed unhappiness with her teacher verbally to her friends at home wouldn’t be disciplined, so it’s unclear why putting the same statement in electronic form makes a legal difference. The requirement of a ‘material and substantial disruption’ still applies.

This doesn’t mean that students can say whatever they want off campus. Student threats to cause real harm – like the implied threat in Maine – typically aren’t protected. And sometimes students fall under codes of conduct that accompany extracurricular participation. But in general, students are allowed to have opinions and they’re allowed to express those opinions, particularly when they’re not in school. School leaders can’t suspend students for off campus speech just because they don’t like what they said or how they said it.

Accordingly, I’m not certain that the Michigan student should have been suspended. Yes, he could have been more polite. And, yes, he could have used different wording. But the ‘profanity’ he used was on the lower end of the offensiveness scale (we hear it on network TV, for instance) and there’s not any indication that he was being anything other than a cheeky youth at home. (know any of those? if so, do they deserve suspension?) The suspension of the Florida youth is similarly troubling, particularly if her coach had used the phrase about her first (double standard?) and since bullying typically is legally defined as a pattern of behavior over time, not a single incident.

There are many more examples worth mentioning. The school hockey team captain in Alaska who made racist and homophobic comments on Twitter on his own time. The Wisconsin student who tweeted “eat sh-t” to the state high school athletic association. The Washington student who tweeted the same to the school superintendent. The 20 Oregon students who were suspended for retweeting. And the 12 Colorado students who were disciplined for ‘liking’ a fairly innocuous tweet from a classmate. All of these raise important issues about the balance between school concerns and student rights.

Yes, we want to help students learn polite and appropriate communication. And, yes, we want to prevent bullying. But we also must remember that the First Amendment is intended to protect speech that is unpopular and maybe even upsetting. We must recognize that students have a constitutional right to free expression – sometimes even when it’s coarse, antagonistic, or hurtful – particularly when it is off school grounds. The Supreme Court said in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette:

That [schools] are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.

As school leaders, we must take seriously our obligations to comply with the law, educate our students and communities, and model democratic citizenship and the protection of Constitutional rights. As Durflinger notes, “We can’t get caught up in putting rules into place that not only might violate student rights but also really only apply to 1 to 2 percent of our students. In other words, ‘don’t kill a fly with a sledge hammer.’” If the moral / ethical / legal / administrative angle isn’t persuasive enough, consider also whether we wish to pay six-figure settlements to our students for infringing upon their legal rights.

Let’s advocate that our students be more thoughtful when they tweet. And let’s be more thoughtful too about our own responses…

[cross-posted at Front and Central]

Image credit: Twitter (via Cañon City Daily Record)

Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate…

Radio tower

The teacher transmits information to the student.

The textbook transmits information to the student.

The online tutorial or learning software or YouTube video transmits information to the student.

  

The student’s role is to be the recipient of what is transmitted.

The student’s role is to regurgitate what was transmitted with enough fidelity that the teacher or software system can check off that the student ‘knows’ it.

The student’s role is to be obedient and compliant.

 

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is of interest to the student. 

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is meaningful or relevant to the student.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated can be found with a quick Google or Siri search.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated can’t be applied beyond the narrowly-conscribed classroom setting.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is forgotten by the student just a few weeks later.

 

What matters is that the student holds in her brain what was transmitted and regurgitated long enough to get the grade. We need to check the box. We need to move on. We have things to cover. Hopefully, enough of what is transmitted and regurgitated will stick – individually and collectively, across all students and all buildings – for those end-of-year assessments of factual and procedural regurgitation that we use to determine educator and school ’success.’

 

Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate… Why do we believe that this model is adequate for the demands of a complex, global innovation society?

 

Image credit: Transmitting, Tim Haynes

White collar professionals are not going to like it

Alan Blinder said:

American computer programmers have already felt the sting of offshoring. But as of now, accountants, lawyers, editors, radiologists, and the like really have not. So this will be a new experience for them, and it is predictable that they will not like it.

In Offshoring of American Jobs: What Response from U.S. Economic Policy? (p. 42)

Every day, the knowledge and skills necessary to justify the premium wages and benefits of workers in developed countries get ratcheted up a notch…

The importance of common, shared understandings

Fortune cookie: We all have extraordinary coded within us, waiting to be released

I had the chance recently to work with an awesome teacher-led school here in Colorado. Because the school already is pretty amazing, we spent most of our day and a half together fine tuning a few aspects of its work.

One of the core values of this school – stated front and center in its mission statement – is its commitment to guiding students to become self-directed learners. However, although the school had been working on this front for several years, there was still a lack of agreement across faculty about what that really meant. There were some great student projects occurring, but there weren’t common understandings across classrooms and grade levels. So we spent a significant amount of time in a structured process that allowed them to pin down a definition that they could all agree on (woo hoo! success!). Now in this school, if they’re going to call a student experience ‘rock star quality student self-directed learning,’ it’s going to have most of the following 7 elements (each of which they defined in detail) most of the time for most students:

  1. student choice
  2. student voice
  3. student as director of own learning
  4. student engagement
  5. student risk-taking
  6. student reflection
  7. teacher as facilitator

If the student experience doesn’t have any of these elements, it won’t be considered ‘self-directed learning.’ And if the experience only has some of these elements, it will be considered one that is ‘working toward’ the end goal of ‘more student self-directed learning, more often.’

What was important about this process was not the variety of different facilitation techniques that we used or the ‘correctness’ of the end result. You might define ‘rock star quality student self-directed learning’ differently, for example. What was important was the productive, goal-oriented dialogue and that the school faculty was able to come to agreement about what will work for them so that they then could identify concrete ‘look-fors’ and action items. In other words, common, shared understandings are prerequisites for common, shared commitments.

I love doing this kind of facilitation work with educators. Too often in our schools we use big, important ideas or terms – critical thinking! technology integration! student inquiry! academic rigor! social justice! – that mean widely different things to different people. Because we never take the time to really pin down and define common, shared understandings (or, worse, we try to impose our understandings on others), we see significant variability as educators attempt to implement those ideas in their day-to-day practice. If we want to get an entire system to extraordinary, we have to get everyone in agreement about what that means…

As a school leader, when was the last time that you engaged in a structured dialogue that allowed you to see if your staff really agrees on what some big ideas mean in your school and what they look like in practice? Are you just assuming or hoping that everyone has common, shared understandings? 

K-12 tech integration versus higher ed: Flipped?

[I’m one of five Digital Pedagogy Faculty Fellows this year at the University of Colorado Denver. I’ll be sharing my thoughts all year on this experience, starting with my time at the Digital Pedagogy Lab in Vancouver, Canada.]

Just a quick thought…

In K-12, we struggle with access. Most schools are trying to get more technology into their classrooms. It’s not a given yet that students will have regular access to digital tools and adequate bandwidth in their learning spaces. That said, most schools have expectations of teachers that they will integrate technology into learning experiences whenever they can and provide often-mandatory professional learning for instructors on how to do that with the students in their classrooms.

It seems to me that the opposite is usually true in higher education. Bandwidth is pretty robust on most postsecondary campuses and most students are bringing computers of some sort with them to college. Access seems to be less of an issue. That said, institutional expectations of instructors for technology integration in classrooms are fairly low. Professional learning opportunities for faculty are mostly invitational rather than mandatory and tend to focus more on moving courses online than on how to use technology with students in face-to-face classroom settings.

In short, access and expectations regarding usage are flipped:

K 12 v Higher Ed

[download this image]

Agree? Disagree? What is your experience?

[cross-posted at Thinq.Studio]

Is there room for creativity and sharing in a professional preparation program?

Shannon Falls

[I’m one of five Digital Pedagogy Faculty Fellows this year at the University of Colorado Denver. I’ll be sharing my thoughts all year on this experience, starting with my time at the Digital Pedagogy Lab in Vancouver, Canada.]

I help prepare principals and superintendents. Like other educational leadership programs across the country, my program is supposed to prepare teachers and administrators to take on new leadership roles. Students come to us with expectations that they will learn how to be successful in new, usually very challenging, administrative positions. Sometimes we do that well, sometimes we don’t. 

One of the biggest complaints about many educational leadership courses and programs is that they’re too theoretical and not practical enough. This is true. Many of us faculty aren’t as connected to the day-to-day work of practice as we should be. The most common rejoinder – particularly from research faculty (folks who literally are paid to think) – is that narrow, time- and context-bound leadership preparation doesn’t foster graduates’ ability to work in different settings or across varying policy and practice eras. Both sides are right.

I wonder if there’s a third dimension – beyond the thinking v. practice dichotomy – that’s also worth considering. When I think about the times in my life when I feel most energized and ‘in flow,’ many of them revolve around opportunities to be creative. I write, I take photos, I create slides and presentations, I design a new course or workshop experience… and I usually share those publicly with others. As I was driving up and down the Sea to Sky Highway yesterday attempting to capture the natural beauty with my camera, I began to wonder what skills and talents, interests and passions, and professional and hobbyist expertise the students in my new Boulder principal licensure cohort will bring to our collective learning experience. And whether they feel as energized when they do those things as I do when I do my stuff (no matter how amateurish).

Can we bring in students’ “outside,” perhaps non-education-related, expertise and experiences into a professional preparation program that’s designed to get students ready in real, practical ways for incredibly complex and demanding jobs? I’m not sure, but I’d like to try…

[cross-posted at Thinq.Studio]

The hidden cost of an achievement-oriented curriculum

Rainesford Stauffer said:

As children, we’re trained to avoid failure, not learn from it. It’s presented as a sign of inadequacy, even worthlessness. I think this is the hidden cost of a K-12 curriculum that is achievement-oriented. Failure is never presented to us as a different kind of educational experience, a universal (and ceaseless) part of being human.

via https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/opinion/dropping-out-of-college-into-life.html

Men behaving badly

Bang

Lindy West reports

the anti-free-speech charge, applied broadly to cultural criticism and especially to feminist discourse, has proliferated. It is nurtured largely by men on the internet who used to nurse their grievances alone, in disparate, insular communities around the web — men’s rights forums, video game blogs. Gradually, these communities have drifted together into one great aggrieved, misogynist gyre and bonded over a common interest: pretending to care about freedom of speech so they can feel self-righteous while harassing marginalized people for having opinions.

At the online video conference VidCon a couple of weeks ago, the feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian took the stage for a panel on women’s experiences online, only to find the first two rows of seats stacked with her online harassers, leering up at her, filming her on their phones.

Ms. Sarkeesian has been relentlessly stalked, abused and threatened since 2012, when she started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of YouTube videos critiquing the representation of women in video games.

In retaliation, men have threatened to rape and murder her, dug up and disseminated her personal contact information, called in mass shooting threats to her public events and turned their obsession with shutting her up into a competitive sport. All of this, they insist, is in defense of freedom of speech

And there’s GamerGate:

many people will still try to tell you that ethics in game journalism are all Gamergate’s really about.

The problem with that argument is that Gamergate’s biggest “protests” don’t appear to have any relation to ethics or journalism — not even a tangential one. Instead, anonymous hackers posted Quinn’s personal information, including her address and nude pictures, shortly after her ex’s blog went up. Conspirators on Twitter purportedly made sock puppet accounts to spread the “scandal,” then bragged about it on 4chan. Some of the people sent Quinn death and rape threats so specific, so actionable, that she fled her house and called the cops.

Meanwhile, the male journalist whose ethics were (purportedly) at the center of the whole kerfuffle is still writing for Kotaku — which, for the record, ruled that neither he nor Quinn did anything wrong.

Initially, the “movement” appeared to be about Quinn — or at least about what she represented to a band of angry, anonymous gamers. But within days, Gamergaters had also attacked Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist writer and media critic, after she posted a new video in her ongoing series about women and gaming. She, like Quinn, was forced to leave her home.

Shortly after that, two other women who wrote about Quinn and Sarkeesian — Jenn Frank, a gaming journalist, and Mattie Brice, a game designer — announced that they would withdraw from the industry over the resulting harassment they received. Frank articulated the real issues at hand in her essay for the Guardian, which would later get her bullied offline: Gamergate, she wrote, is less about ethics, and more about drowning out critics of traditional, patriarchal, dude-dominated gaming culture.

For the record, the “drowning,” in this instance, wasn’t just run-of-the-mill Internet nastiness. In many cases, these women received highly graphic, disturbing threats — the stuff of “SVU” episodes. And in a few cases, anonymous Twitter trolls went so far as to include the woman’s address or an exact time of attack, making the message a “true,” i.e. criminally punishable, threat.

And there’s our own Audrey Watters:

some of the posts I’ve written have resulted in some pretty awful comment threads. When I write critically about Khan Academy or Apple, I know I’ll hear an earful — and it isn’t simply an earful of disagreement. The comments get incredibly hostile, the attacks personal. 

And there’s the ongoing problem of female harassment in technology companies:

a string of revelations about how venture capitalists have mistreated women entrepreneurs over the years, an issue that was in the past largely swept under the carpet. The disclosures gained momentum after the implosion last month of a small venture firm, Binary Capital, whose partner, Justin Caldbeck, apologized to women after several spoke on the record about his behavior. . . . more than two dozen female entrepreneurs who described unwanted advances, touching and sexist comments by investors. . . . some venture capital firms are privately grumbling about having to deal with the issue, said some investors. “Some men have the feeling that the conversation has turned into a witch hunt,” said Aileen Lee, a founder of Cowboy Ventures. “They’re asking when people will stop being outed.”

And much, much more… It’s incredibly dismaying. And frightening.

It’s easy to dismiss these incidents as concerns that occur outside of school. But we ‘educated’ these men. And as much as I’m a speech advocate, I think we bear at least some responsibility. We can be for free speech and also stand against hate. So here are some questions worth pondering:

  • As digital tools and online communities continue to proliferate, what are our schools doing to have conversations with our boys – particularly the older ones – about the fact that these behaviors constitute misogyny, hate, and sexual intimidation? 
  • How are our secondary schools fostering meaningful discussions with our young men about online respect, digital citizenship, and face-to-face treatment of girls and women that result in actual conversations and reflection, not just trite slogans, hectoring, and finger-wagging from adults? 
  • Does anyone think that their school is doing a good job of having these discussions with its young men? If so, what are you doing?
  • How do we start stemming this ongoing problem of men behaving badly? (see some ideas from danah boyd)
Image credit: Bang, Nicholas Erwin