Tag Archives: learning

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

Question Mark Cookies

[Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership?]

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

Human achievement in every field is driven by the desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?

Young children have a ready appetite to explore whatever draws their interest. When their curiosity is engaged, they will learn for themselves, from each other, and from any source they can lay their hands on. Knowing how to nurture and guide students’ curiosity is the gift of all great teachers. They do that by encouraging students to investigate and inquire for themselves, by posing questions rather than only giving answers, and by challenging them to push their thinking deeper by looking further. (p. 135)

Others have noted the power of students’ asking their own questions – not just answering those of others – and using those inquiries to drive meaningful learning:

When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill. (Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Harvard Education Letter, 27(5))

Unfortunately, as Postman and Weingartner noted long ago in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say) . . . Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. . . . Mostly, they are required to remember. . . . It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. . . . Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know . . . [However,] what students are restricted to (solely and even vengefully) is the process of memorizing . . . somebody else’s answers to somebody else’s questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this fact. The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school! Moreover, it is not “taught” in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if you can think of many schools that include question-asking, or methods of inquiry, as part of their curriculum. 

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

What could you do as a school leader to hack at some new possibilities for curiosity- and inquiry-driven student learning…

  • in the next two weeks?
  • in a one- or two-month spring pilot?
  • in full-force implementation next school year?

[HINT: think some students, not all; some teachers, not all; some blocks of time, not all; some locations, not all; etc.]

New Year Leadership Challenge 1: Same-age grouping

Bluegrass Stockyards

[Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership?]

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

The principle of linearity works well for manufacturing; it doesn’t for people. Educating children by age group assumes that the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture. In practice, different students learn at different rates in different disciplines. A child with natural ability in one area may struggle in another. One may be equal to older children in some activities and behind younger ones in others. We don’t apply this batching principle outside of schools. We don’t keep all the ten-year-olds away from the nine-year-olds, in separate facilities. This form of segregation mainly happens in schools. (p. 37)

New Year Leadership Challenge 1: Same-age grouping

What could you do as a school leader to hack at the deficiencies of same-age grouping…

  • in the next two weeks?
  • in a one- or two-month spring pilot?
  • in full-force implementation next school year?

[HINT: think some students, not all; some teachers, not all; some blocks of time, not all; some locations, not all; etc.]

Image credit: Bluegrass Stockyards gates, pens, and corrals in black and white; Anthony

We cannot continue to educate students in classrooms designed for a world that no longer exists

Hazel Mason said:

We can’t make America great again, or Europe only white by trying to recreate the world of the past. The era of well paying industrial jobs with amazing benefits and pensions is over. The problem America and other industrial nations are facing is the girth of their populations who are not just ill equipped but not at all equipped to compete in the Modern Learning world. In a sense I suspect we are in for some difficult times because the folks who are being disenfranchised by the changes we are experiencing need for someone to blame. They can’t blame themselves and their inability to adapt and re-learn, so it must be the fault of the immigrants. What they may need to start to grapple with is countries like India, China, Singapore etc. already realize they need to change.

If educators are still unconvinced moving to a Modern Learning environment is a moral imperative, I hope they are beginning to come around. We cannot continue to educate students in classrooms designed for a world that no longer exists. The unrest we are beginning to see is a testament to the change we are facing and we have a professional obligation to ensure our current students are ready to adapt to an ever changing horizon.

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

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

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

Lecturing v. active learning

Annie Murphy Paul said:

a growing body of evidence suggests that the lecture is not generic or neutral, but a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students. This is not a matter of instructor bias; it is the lecture format itself — when used on its own without other instructional supports — that offers unfair advantages to an already privileged population.

The partiality of the lecture format has been made visible by studies that compare it with a different style of instruction, called active learning. This approach provides increased structure, feedback and interaction, prompting students to become participants in constructing their own knowledge rather than passive recipients.

Research comparing the two methods has consistently found that students over all perform better in active-learning courses than in traditional lecture courses. However, women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more, on average, than white males from more affluent, educated families.

via https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/13/opinion/sunday/are-college-lectures-unfair.html

Schools are supposed to help students master the dominant information landscape of their time

Our new information landscape is digital bits in the ether instead of ink dots on paper. There is no foreseeable future in which we go back to analog. One of schools’ primary tasks is to help students master the dominant information landscape of their time. Schools are knowledge institutions preparing students to do knowledge work. So let’s be clear about what our new information landscape looks like:

Our new information landscape

The characteristics of our new information landscape listed on the right side have seismic implications for how we communicate, collaborate, connect, and create. These new characteristics are transforming every single information-oriented industry, upending business models, and destroying traditionally-dominant enterprises. Our new information landscape requires citizens and workers who are fluent with technology tools and online environments and is reshaping how we learn, interact, gain the attention of others, and engage in civic togetherness.

The schools that are doing a good job of preparing students for the right side of this chart are few and far between. Many are still arguing whether technology should even be in schools and/or are trying their best to lock down students’ access to digital environments as tightly as possible. We are hobbling our own children’s life success.

What are we waiting for? How many more children will we disadvantage? How many more generations of students are we going to turn out who are primarily prepared for the world of yesterday?

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The chasm between math research and classroom practice

Elementary student multiplication problems

Steve Leinwand and Steve Fleischmann said:

In mathematics instruction, a chasm exists between research and practice. For evidence of this gap, look no further than the mismatch between what research says about developing students’ conceptual mathematics understanding and what we actually do. An example is the way we teach math content in elementary and middle schools. A growing body of promising research shows that if initial instruction focuses exclusively on procedural skills, then students may have difficulty developing an understanding of math concepts.


On post-tests, the students who received only meaningful, or relational, instruction performed better in applying the procedure and solving the equations. In contrast, the students who first received procedural instruction on how to solve an equation tended to resist new ideas and appeared to apply procedures without understanding. [emphasis added]


the form of instruction humorously but accurately characterized as yours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply may not enhance the performance of many students. Alternatively, instruction that places a premium from the start on meaning and conceptual understanding may improve classroom productivity.

And yet, despite Common Core and other efforts, our procedural emphases still persist in many, many math classrooms. And parents clamor for them.

FYI, this is from twelve (12!) years ago…

via http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept04/vol62/num01/-Teach-Mathematics-Right-the-First-Time.aspx

Image credit: maths, Shaun Wood

New literacies, anyone?

Iowa Core

The Iowa Department of Education is soliciting feedback on the state’s literacy standards. Here’s the comment I left:

The Iowa Literacy Standards represent traditional, foundational conceptions of literacy. They do NOT reflect the 21st century literacy standards articulated by NCTE, however. Nor do they reflect digital and online multimedia literacies related to interactive media (see, e.g., the interactive storytelling and virtual reality narratives created by The New York Times), transmedia, augmented or virtual reality, and other evolving mechanisms for presenting information and conveying narratives. In short, the Iowa Literacy Standards do a decent job of articulating old literacies but not what the scholars call ‘new literacies.’ As such, we continue to prepare students for yesterday, not today and tomorrow…

And, no, the separate and thus non-integrated 21st century skills section of the Iowa Core is not enough.