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

Aligning the 10 building blocks for future ready schools

A growing number of schools are recognizing that they must start transitioning their learning environments toward deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and robust technology infusion. Making those transitions is complex work, however, and many school administrators and teachers aren’t exactly sure how to proceed beyond some vague ideas about doing things differently.

One of the themes of my InnEdCO Leadership Academy keynote this year is the idea that there are multiple paths to future ready schools. That said, as I work with educators around the world, I see future-oriented schools playing around with some, or all, of these building blocks:

  1. Project- and inquiry-based learning environments
  2. Authentic, real-world work
  3. Competency-based education and standards-based grading
  4. 1:1 computing initiatives
  5. Digital and online (and often open access) information resources
  6. Online communities of interest
  7. Adaptive software and data systems
  8. Alternative credentialing mechanisms
  9. Flexible scheduling
  10. Redesigned learning spaces

Much like children exploring with Legos, TinkerToys, and Lincoln Logs, schools are experimenting with various combinations of these components to see what interesting things might emerge. One school might dive deep into student inquiry and flexible scheduling to foster greater student motivation via passion projects. Another might focus on its 1:1 initiative, bandwidth upgrades, and the use of open educational resources to create new instructional opportunities. Yet another might work toward integration of its teaching staff into online, project-based learning communities of practice, with a goal of sparking more student-driven learning in its local classrooms. Variations in configurations and depth are what give innovative schools their unique identities.

Whatever the combinations look like, it is imperative that they be driven by shared understandings and commitments and be aligned with other school and district initiatives. Too many school organizations are guilty of implementing numerous disconnected change projects, none of which is deeply understood, seen as truly important by front-line staff, or implemented well. When done in combination and with fidelity – and when owned by those charged with front-line implementation, each of these building blocks can be a powerful lever for change. Each also can be disastrous if implemented poorly or in isolation.

Educators and policymakers need to be exposed to various school models to see how these building blocks can be used together to accomplish future ready schooling environments. As varied as innovative schools are, they share one aspect in common: they’re amazing places for student learning.

10 building blocks 001

[cross-posted at InnEdCO’s new Innovation in Colorado blog!]


QR codes on the streets of China

Thomas Friedman said:

China has moved so fast into a cashless society, where everyone pays for everything with a mobile phone, that Chinese newspapers report beggars in major cities have started to place a printout of a QR code in their begging bowls so any passer-by can scan it and use mobile payment apps like Alibaba’s Alipay or Tencent’s WeChat Wallet to contribute to the beggar’s mobile payment account.

Chinese men and women friends tell me they don’t carry purses or wallets anymore, only a mobile phone, which they use for everything – including for buying vegetables from street vendors.

“America has been dreaming of becoming a cashless society,” Ya-Qin Zhang, president of Baidu, China’s main search engine, remarked to me, “but China is already there.” It has “leapfrogged the rest of world” and is now going mobile-first in everything.

via https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/07/opinion/trump-china-trade.html

Most of us need to be paying far more attention to what’s happening with technology in the developing world…


If I was teaching Social Studies today…

Chichen Itza

Some folks know that I started my education career as a middle school Social Studies teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. If I was still doing that now, I would be incredibly excited because so many wonderful resources would be available to my classroom. For instance, if I was teaching Social Studies today…

My students and I definitely would be tapping into an incredible diversity of online resources. The American Historical Association offers over one thousand Civil War newspaper editorials, for example. It also offers a YouTube channel on which historians discuss their work, making history come alive for contemporary youth. The UC Davis California History Social Science Project frames current events within their historical context, connecting students’ present to the past. Like many teachers, I would tap into the the Library of Congress, which would give me tips for teaching with primary sources, including quarterly journal articles on topics such as integrating historical and geographic thinking. We’d also have access to historical documents from the British Museum – such as notes from an English merchant in Syria in 1739 – and to the prisoner of war archives from the Red Cross. Washington University in St. Louis has an amazing collection of interviews from the Great Depression. And, if I was stuck for an idea for class, I could access the Social Studies lesson plans at Educade or the 400+ lesson plans at the EDSITEment! web site from the National Endowment for the Humanities, including a very popular set for AP U.S. History.

Instead of being limited to my teaching and our textbook, we’d have access to an entire planet of experts. We could participate in a number of free Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), including over a dozen on Chinese History from Harvard University. We could listen to podcasts on the geography of world cultures from Stanford University. We could learn about maps and the geospatial revolution from a professor at Penn State University. And so on… 

Without a doubt we would be living on Pinterest since it has dozens of pinboards – and tens of thousands of pins – related to history, including awesome resource sets from the Stanford History Education Group. We could search for pins on Native American history, Middle East cultures, Japanese history, government, geography, sociology, psychology, economics, and numerous other topics. Additionally, we could make our own sets related to local class topics and presentations using a friendly curation tool like Educlipper

My class would be in YouTube heaven. Whether we were watching National Park videos from the 1930s, digging through World War I and World War II videos from the National Archives, or perusing the channels of the Presidential Libraries, we’d tap into the incredible diversity of historical sources that can be accessed with a few clicks of the mouse.

Over on Flickr, my students and I would be looking at Industrial Revolution photos from the University of British Columbia, Matthew Brady’s Civil War photos from the National Archives, news photos from the 1910s from the Library of Congress, and Great Depression photos from the New York Public Library. We’d also check out the historical photos of Texas, Mexico, and Teddy Roosevelt from Southern Methodist University and the World War II advertisements and posters from the Library Company of Philadelphia. We’d examine historical images of Native American life from the Museum of Photographic Arts, other historical photos from the U.K. National Archives, and maybe dig through the 5.3 million book images from the Internet Archive. 

We’d have a variety of Social Studies simulations and games available to us. For instance, we could use the Civilization video games to learn and blog about political power and civics. We could find history games at Playing History or Flight to Freedom. We could engage in government simulations at GovGames or iCivics or Cyber Nations. We also could learn through ‘serious games’ about world issues, including poverty in Haiti, farming in the developing world, the impacts of the oil industry on our environment, or the 1979 revolution in Iran.

Even more exciting than what is available for us to peruse and consume, however, would be the technologies that allow us to interact, create, make, and do things together. Let’s take maps, for example. As fun as it is to explore the maps collection of the British Library, it’s even better when we roll up our sleeves and get to work. So I’d acquaint my students with mapping tools like OverlapMaps to improve their geographical sense of scale. Or I would send them to interact with the historical geography atlas of the United States from the University of Richmond, where they could trace the geography of the women’s suffrage movement over time. We could explore the Farm Security Administration photos from Yale University, perhaps drilling all the way down to a particular county. We’d learn how to make our own maps using Google’s mapping tools, then check out the maps that others have made. We’d add photos to our maps and investigate other mapping tools as well, including possibly making floor plans of locally-significant buildings. We might even take a cue from Michael Hathorn’s high school history students in Hartford, Vermont and use tools like Google SketchUp to make a historical model of our city or town.

On the podcasting front, we would listen to Social Studies podcasts such as Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and Mr. Hunt’s Geography podcast. We’d subscribe to feeds and listen to podcasts from the U.S. government as well. As part of our class, I’d model to my students how to set up RSS readers and subscribe to podcasts, which they then could extend to other classes and their extracurricular interests and hobbies. We also would watch TED and TEDx talks like those from David Christian, Niall Ferguson, and Kirk Citron. We’d learn about historical 3D mapping from Eric Sanderson, the digital re-imagining of Gettysburg from Anne Knowles, escaping the Khmer Rouge from Sophal Ear, and the decline of violence from Steven Pinker. We’d also look at some teacher- and student-created video channels like HipHughesHistory and the Lens on Climate Change project. Then we could either host our own TEDxYouth event or perhaps create our own podcasting and/or video channel.

Other initiatives might include participating with other youth across the country in KQED Learning’s Do Now Roundups, discussing important political and societal issues. Like the 4e Gymnasium school in Amsterdam, we could use Facebook’s Timeline tool to make historical timelines on topics such as the Soviet Union, inventions, fashion, or Magellan’s voyage. We could use Minecraft to design our own self-sustainable towns. We could play Fantasy Geography. We could create our own social justice project like Bill Ferriter’s middle schoolers. And we could go on virtual field trips to expand our global awareness, visiting famous government sites as well as places like Pompeii, Stonehenge, and Colonial Williamsburg. We also could immerse ourselves in virtual reality stories from the New York Times.

Indeed, the more I could put my students to work, the better. As John Dewey noted, we learn what we do. So my students would do Social Studies, not just read about it. One inspiration would be the entirely-student-run Online Model United Nations. Another would be Wayland (MA) High School’s yearly student history projects, in which students engage in digital storytelling projects, scanning historical images and creating audio podcasts, interviewing local Vietnam-era veterans, and analyzing the papers of the commander of the Dachau concentration camp after its liberation. Maybe my students would write their own textbooks like those at Beachwood (OH) Middle School. They could make a local history wiki or, even better, make contributions to our global information commons by directly creating and editing Wikipedia pages. They could participate as ‘citizen-historians’ in crowdsourced projects such as those from HistoryPin, the University of Iowa Libraries DIYHistory project, or the Washington State Historical Society’s Civil War Pathways Project

As a teacher I’d have numerous resources available to help me use all of these technologies and digital environments effectively. From Jeremiah McCall’s book and website, Gaming the Past, to Historical Thinking Matters to TeachingHistory, I would have access to incredible thinking and teaching from educators, historians, geographers, and other social scientists. I could utilize the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media software tools for historical research. I could incorporate Stanford University’s amazing library of historical critical thinking assessments at Beyond the Bubble. I could garner ideas from the City University of New York’s American Social History Project. And I could tap into the American Historical Association’s suggestions for teaching difficult legal or political topics or teaching with new media

If we want our students to understand and appreciate history, they need to DO history. If we want them to learn and care about government, they need to DO government. If we want them to be good citizens, they need to BE active citizens. As Dan Carlin noted, we have a tremendous ability (and obligation) to energize and engage our students in Social Studies. It’s never been a better time to be a teacher in this area and I could easily share numerous other resources on these topics. Many Social Studies teachers aren’t aware of the vast diversity of online resources to them. What are your favorite online Social Studies resources that we could share with them?

Image credit: Chichén Itza, Daniel Mennerich


Privileging an ideology of individualism

Audrey Watters said:

These new technologies, oriented towards consumers and consumption, privilege an ideology of individualism. In education technology, as in advertising, this is labeled “personalization.” The flaw of traditional education systems, we are told, is that they focus too much on the group, the class, the collective. So we see education being reframed as a technologically-enhanced series of choices – consumer choices. Technologies monitor and extract data in order to maximize “engagement” and entertainment.

I fear that new normal, what it might really mean for teaching, for learning, for scholarship.

via http://hackeducation.com/2017/05/24/new-normal

As a history major and former Social Studies teacher, I believe in the idea of common schools and education as a common good. We also know, however, that one-size-fits-all models don’t. How we balance collective societal good versus individual learning and life success needs is incredibly challenging. No easy answers here…


Judging school success by test scores. And only test scores.

John Merrow said:

Apparently it’s pretty simple for the folks administering the Broad Prize in Urban Education: Successful School Reform boils down to higher test scores. There is no public sign that anyone at the Foundation is questioning whether living and dying by test scores is a sensible pedagogy that benefits students. There is no public evidence that anyone at the Foundation has considered what might happen if poor urban students were exposed to a rich curriculum and veteran teachers, which is essentially the birthright of students in wealthy districts. Just the dismal conclusion that traditional districts are incapable of reform, followed by its decision to double down on charter management organizations, despite the truly offensive record of some of them of excluding special needs children and driving away students who seem likely to do poorly on standardized tests.

via https://themerrowreport.com/2017/05/12/the-canary-in-the-mine