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Dreaming bigger for Iowa education

RETHINK

Lately I’ve been trying to dream a little bigger about Iowa schools. Feel free to map this onto your own state or province…

Background

Bottom line

What if…

  1. every Urban Education Network of Iowa district had an ‘alternative’ high school for low-achieving students that focused on creative inquiry, collaborative problem-solving, and community contribution instead of worksheet packets and self-paced online courses? (some may already)
  2. each regional Area Education Agency had the capacity to help its districts create project-based learning ‘incubators?’ (kind of like Iowa BIG in Cedar Rapids)
  3. the Iowa Department of Education worked with the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Chambers of Commerce, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and others to help superintendents, school boards, communities, and postsecondary institutions envision a more transformative learning future for students?
  4. given our tremendous grassroots movement toward 1:1 computing environments – 200+ out of 331 districts (and counting!) – Iowa was the first state in the country (other than maybe Maine) to place its instructional technology emphasis on enhanced learning and teaching, not just access?
  5. like in many private schools and Rhode Island, high school seniors had to complete a deep, complex, multidisciplinary capstone requirement in order to graduate?
  6. every high school student in Iowa had the opportunity to do a credit-earning, community-based internship before graduation?
  7. there was statewide pressure from school districts on educator preparation programs to be more relevant?
  8. one or more Iowa universities worked with external partners to design and deliver a ‘Future Ready’ leadership graduate certificate that would give teacher leaders and administrators the skills necessary to foster 21st century learning environments?
  9. we utilized hands-on, engaging STEM activities more often in core math and science courses, not just in electives or extracurricular programs?
  10. Iowa Learning Online dramatically expanded its offerings to include electives such as Agricultural Engineering, Design Thinking, Sustainable Development, Digital Marketing, or Computer Programming and students not only could get high school or university course credit but also microcredentials that could be used for employment?
  11. our various statewide education summits were targeted, focused opportunities for us to work together and craft solutions, not just sit and listen?
  12. we trained district curriculum leaders in various blended learning models?
  13. we had regional exemplar schools across the state like Waukee APEX, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, or the urban National Academy Foundation schools, with an emphasis on intentional dissemination partnerships to spread best practices to other schools?
  14. we scaled competency-based education to the next level (like in some other states) rather than it idling in the pilot stage?
  15. like some states and districts, we created open access textbooks and taught teachers how to curate open educational resources (OER), thus freeing up textbook monies for other purposes?
  16. we did a much better job of raising the (inter)national visibility of Iowa’s amazing educational initiatives through better utilization of social media channels, online communities, and digital branding and marketing strategies?
  17. the Governor’s Office, the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Farm Bureau, and other partners collaboratively approached a major education foundation, corporation, or government grant program and said, “We’re deadly serious about thinking REALLY big here. Help us make it happen?”

Each of these would be big. Many of these together would be amazing… What do you think? What would you add to (or remove from) this list?

The core of education needs to take into account the people that are in it

Sir Ken Robinson said:

[The standards movement is] well intentioned to raise standards, but the mistake it makes is that it fails to recognize that education is not a mechanical impersonal process that can improved by tweaking standards and regularly testing. . . . It’s a human process. It’s real people going through the system and whether the system takes into account who they are, what engages them, isn’t incidental. It is the core of what education is.

By the time [kids] are educated I want them to come out knowing what they are personally good at and interested in, what their strengths are and where they might like to go after school. I want them to feel confident that they can face the challenges that life will throw at them and they can begin to make their way to become productive members of the community.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/sir-ken-robinson-has-a-lot-to-say-about-u-s-school-reform-it-isnt-good

The roars of approval as we revert back to what we’ve always done

Applause

George Couros said:

Sometimes when the statement is made, “it is not about technology, it is about pedagogy”, you then hear the roars of approval, and off we go on our merry way with nothing changing for many students.

In reality sometimes it is about the technology, and the opportunities that it provides that were not there before for a student.

via http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/5250

Image credit: and the crowd went wild, Tim Bayman

Schools, baseball teams, and casinos

Baseball

Ramona Shelburne said:

[Baseball] franchises that remain static will eventually regress and deteriorate. People, too. So the antidote is to be proactive. Change before you’re forced to. Keep putting yourself in the best positions to succeed. When things break the wrong way, break new ground.

“The mindset in everything we do is to be the casino,” Friedman said. “We want to be the house. We’re going to make a lot of decisions. It’s a high-volume business. We can’t be afraid of making mistakes. The key is to be right more than we’re wrong and … trust that it will work out well.”

via http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/12630518/the-los-angeles-dodgers-forward-thinking-front-office-force-reckoned-with

True for schools too, not just baseball teams and casinos…

Image credit: Baseball, Peter Miller

Option 3: Actually USE the smartphones

Door sign: Cell phone prohibited

Murphy & Beland’s recent study is making the rounds online, particularly among those who are eager to find reasons to ban learning technologies in classrooms. The economists found that banning mobile phones helped improve student achievement on standardized test scores, with the biggest gains seen by low-achieving and at-risk students. Here are my thoughts on this…

The outcome measure is standardized test score improvement. Is that all you care about or do you have a bigger, more complex vision for student learning? For instance, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving are difficult to assess with a standardized test. Most schools I know didn’t adopt their learning technology initiatives for the sole purpose of test score improvement. (if they did, how sad is that?)

The accepted dichotomy in this study and the media seems to be 1) doing low-level knowledge work while smartphones are banned, or 2) doing low-level knowledge work while smartphones are present (and, presumably, distracting). Neither of these two options addresses the fact that decontextualized, low-level work isn’t very interesting or engaging to many (most?) students, particularly those who already find that traditional schooling doesn’t meet their needs very well. So, faced with the opportunity to do something else, many students do. Youth today aren’t any different than when we were young and adults made snarky, woeful comments about us. They just have different opportunities and resources. How many times were you bored in high school? Lots, so admit that if you’d had access to a smartphone or your friends on Facebook back then, you would have turned that way too. I know that I sure would have. Let’s stop blaming students and/or demonizing technology as an evil succubus and address the real problem, which is disengaging learning environments. The solution to that problem is not to try and force students to pay attention to and comply with our boring lessons. That’s not teaching students ‘grit.’ That’s an indictment of our failure to differently imagine learning and teaching.

How about a third option, that of doing higher-level learning and USING the smartphones to help with that? That sounds pretty good to me. Why isn’t this ever brought up as an option to be considered?

Image credit: Cell phone prohibited, SmartSign

Online sharing is not digital leadership

More

Using social media to share with your community? It’s a start, but it’s not enough.

Using social media to connect with other educators? That’s awesome, but that’s not enough either.

Using what you’ve learned from social media to significantly change the day-to-day learning experiences of students (and teachers)? Now you’re getting somewhere…

In other words, the branding and the PLN work is great. But true digital leadership is much, much more. Let’s hear more about what kids and educators are doing differently, please.

Image credit: More, Thomas Hawk

That’s not a given

Discard an axiom

I loved hearing Will Richardson say at the Iowa Association of School Boards conference last November that ‘curriculum is a strategy.’

Because he’s right. Standards are a strategy. Bell schedules are a strategy. Bubble-sheet testing of low-level recall is a strategy. School calendars, grade levels, siloed content areas, instructional methods, grading systems, discipline policies, and sit-and-get, one-and-done professional development sessions are all strategies. All of them. None of them are given. None of them are essential, handed-down-on-a-stone-tablet components of schooling. They are all voluntarily-employed strategies that can be modified. Or deleted.

If we’re going to change learning experiences for students, we have to stop thinking of legacy strategies as givens. We have to put things back on the table for consideration. We have to move from ‘yes, but’ to ‘why not?’ and ‘how can we?’

Or we can stay stagnant, content to tweak around the edges of mediocrity.

[practice saying with me… “You know, that’s not a given. We could change that.”]

Image credit: Oblique strategies, Bastiaan Terhorst

The problem with ‘any time, any place, any path, any pace’

Any time, any place, any path, any pace

In most online courses and/or ‘adaptive learning systems’ …

  • Students do low-level work at times that are convenient.
  • Students do low-level work from places that are convenient.
  • Students do low-level work on their own, unique path.
  • Students do low-level work at their own, unique pace.

But it’s still low-level work. 

Digitizing, chunking, and algorithmizing worksheet-like learning tasks doesn’t move them out of the domains of factual recall and procedural regurgitation. The modality doesn’t change the substance of the learning task. Until we are willing to address the kinds of work that we ask students to do on a day-to-day basis, not just the delivery mode, the any time, any place, any path, any pace mantra isn’t going to change a thing…

Let’s be honest about annual testing

Testing pencils

Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.

All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.

Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.

Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?

Image credit: perfect, romana klee

3-month updates: Digital Leadership Daily, School Visibility Initiative

Digital Leadership Daily Photo

Three months ago I launched both Digital Leadership Daily and our School Visibility Initiative.

Digital Leadership Daily is now up to 714 subscribers across its text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook channels.

The School Visibility Initiative now has 66 participating schools from 29 unique states and countries.

Awesome!

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