Here are my notes from Day 2 of our elementary school technology integration workshop with Matt Gomez… [often in Matt’s voice, not mine] You also can see my notes from Day 1.
- Our agenda and resources (including Matt’s slides)
- Our backchannel
- Crowdsourced ideas
- Lesson / activity redesign
- We spent 15 minutes thinking about redesigning what we do – individual reflection then conversation with others in room
- In Matt’s district, there aren’t separate math blocks, or health blocks, or science blocks – the entire curriculum is integrated
- If you want to see what students are excited about, give them choice and see what they gravitate toward and finish first – most often it’s the activities that give them greater agency and creativity
- When I started sharing what’s happening in my room, I realized that we had better be doing good stuff! – that meant giving up some control and focusing on deeper thinking work – our one rule is ‘be brave!’ and we take it from there – it takes about 3 weeks to get my kids up and running at the beginning of the year – then we roll without dozens of rules about everything
- Rather than seeing a bunch of kids at one center as a problem, see it as an indication of success – how can we do more of that tomorrow?
- Every year my class is first or second of our five kindergarten classes on standardized tests
- Get kids excited about learning – little things like rhyming or site words come along as part of the process
- App reviews
- Every day we start with a daily wonder
- My kids run into school and class each morning to see what the day’s wonder is – others tell them not to run – I say, ‘they’re excited about school… let ‘em run in here!’
- Geared toward 2nd to 4th grade – may need to translate / paraphrase for younger students
- This helps me find out what my kids are interested in – sometimes we spend 3 minutes on this, sometimes it launches new learning inquiries/activities and an hour later we’re still going
- Each morning they have a wonder journal – they start a page, draw a picture, and write down what they wonder
- Kids are good at telling you what they know – not so good at sharing what they don’t know – in the journals, they can’t write about what they know, they can only write about what they don’t know or would like to know – ‘I’m glad you know about [x], but I want to hear from you what you don’t know’
- If the topic is polar bears, when they come to the carpet, they ask questions like ‘I wonder why they’re white’ or ‘I wonder why they don’t get cold’
- Second semester their wonder journal becomes a KWL (Know, Wonder, Learn) journal – this 10 to 30 minutes depending on their interest
- Each day my kids write 3 journal entries – Wonder/KWL journal, reading response journal, and a regular writing journal
- My team collectively writes lesson plans each week – I’m not afraid to deviate from those
- If you’re going to make your classroom student-centered, you have to follow the students’ lead
- The app stinks, use the web site
- Matt’s Top 50 Wonderopolis activities
- Never buy headphones without volume control – kids need to adjust their sound
- Suggested headphones
- The kids never care about background noise – only adults do – we like products, we want it to be perfect – they’re just having fun learning
- An app designed for telling stories
- The first time my students use the app, their job is to make one scene/page – later they’ll do two, then three…
- Example – students make a scene in Toontastic to make sense of their learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. – the best way to understand if my kids learned is for them to tell me stories – I can see what they understand, what they’re still struggling with or where they have misconceptions – helps me know what to review
- The background can be whatever you want – great for explanatory videos
- When kids watch each others’ videos, they’re reviewing our learning over and over again – kids learning from kids is incredibly powerful
- Upper elementary students in our school use Toontastic for vocabulary – have to use several of the words in the story
- How can we connect this to Iowa standards?
- Audri’s Monster Trap video
- Kids will get this excited about learning if we set up the environment right
- Chatterpix (not Chatterkid)
- Chatterpix allows you to email the final product
- Take/import a picture, add a mouth, record audio…
- Kids will self-differentiate a lot – e.g., taking a picture of any set of blocks/shapes, but then explain in Chatterpix how many there are of each – explaining about an animal or a book character or a historical figure – reading sight words (you can type in the app)
- How can we connect this to Iowa standards?
- Examples – screenshot a book page and tell what the characters are thinking (inferencing, motivation, feelings) – screenshot anything and describe its attribute – snapping a picture of a stage of work and explaining that step for a how-to video (then string multiple ones together) – write a poem of an inanimate object (then take a photo, read the poem) – pretend that no one likes your animal baby and convince someone that your animal baby is the best (persuasive speaking/writing)
- Great for prewriting
- Story Buddy 2
- The app that we use in my class to make books – kids can draw, add text, add pictures, and change the background – also can add audio to each page – can add multiple pictures to the same page
- Wonderful for digital storytelling, sharing with other students or classrooms – great for nonfiction
- The paid version allows you to add audio and work on multiple books at the same time
- Example – field trip to the arboretum – took two cameras and took photos of everything – imported into Story Buddy 2 and told the story of our trip – groups of four wrote books
- Example – watching the Olympics – writing about / describing the Olympics
- Example – animal research book
- Example – list of weather terms – these are the words I want to see in your book – write a story
- Example – color words – take a picture of something that’s red – make a sentence that uses the word ‘red’
- Once the book is printed, the kids own that book! – they read each other’s books over and over again – these are all on the class bookshelves for each other – if they can’t read something, they’ll go ask the author
- I expect the kids to write and spell at their level
- In our district we don’t have thematic (topical?) units – our curriculum is broken down into concepts (e.g., water systems, how are things connected) – science, social studies, health all tie together – in my class, we investigate kids’ interests
- I’d rather have 1 iPad than 20 every other week – it’s much easier to use them when you know what you’re going to have and what you’ll have access to – everywhere I go, people are having trouble with carts – sharing iPads across classrooms is tough
- Explain Everything
- The mother lode of all creative apps!
- Similar to Educreations but this one costs money and is more powerful
- Instead of me regurgitating what I know about the butterfly life cycle, my class and I co-create a video on the butterfly life cycle – they learn the concepts and vocabulary as we go
- I fill the iPad with butterfly life cycle pictures the night before but I don’t choose which ones – they pick from many options – we talk about why we’re selecting each picture (e.g., ‘I like how we can see the eggs in that picture’) – I try to get 8 to 12 options for each stage of the life cycle
- We should use real pictures, not cartoon clipart – helps them connect to the real world – for career day, pick diverse images (e.g., male nurse, female doctor, Latino lawyer, etc.) – we need to be thoughtful about this – my Latina girls shouldn’t have to think that all doctors are white males
- Using pictures that shouldn’t go in the book is a great way to see if they know what they’re doing – e.g., did the kid put a reptile in her mammal book? did the kid put a spider in his insect book?
- They know each others’ books (just like they know every other kid’s backpack but their own!)
- Sight word books – finger dots under each word – these ebooks have helped lots with our sight words
- Use this app a lot in my reading groups – take a screenshot of a book page or import a book PDF – circle some words to emphasize – have the kid read aloud and record it – this is a great running record, able to be shared with parents – easy to show how much kids have gained in their reading skills – I can show parents what kids are reading and what they need to work on
- I take a video every month (or more often) of every kid’s language acquisition, reading, etc. – great documentation for the teacher and parents
- Ask kids at the beginning of the year what they like – make a word wall with 5-6 photos from what they tell you – put on their lockers – kids use these as sight word helpers all year (e.g., I need to know how to spell the word ‘bike’ – Brianna likes bikes so I will go look at her locker)
- Kayden + rain video
- Learning is about experiences – the only way you can understand rain is to feel it
- My goal as a teacher is to give my kids as many experiences as I can
- The thing I’m most proud of in my room is our 3 terrariums, not technology
- If you can find kids’ interests – if you can tap into their interests – learning can’t help but occur – where interest lies, learning occurs
- When I went to school, when I went to college, I had lived my whole life in a bubble – I don’t want my kids’ lives to be like that
- We don’t teach empathy, we give kids opportunities to be empathetic
- Global connections and collaboration
- Why Twitter? – student voice, digital citizenship, global connection, spark interest, post anytime
- What on Twitter? – daily review, answer questions, geography, document learning, shared writing
- My kids learn to tweet when they’re 5 – we always ask ‘is it safe? is it smart? is it nice?’ before we post – when we’re talking online, it’s like we’re talking to a stranger – we wouldn’t give a stranger the same information we would give a friend
- I don’t teach digital citizenship, we live digital citizenship every day through what we do
- Kevin Honeycutt: kids are playing on the social media playground but no one’s on recess duty
- Things to consider – protected or unprotected, profile name/picture, description, who to follow, favorite tweets
- I have two Twitter accounts: 1) professional account @mattbgomez and 2) my class account @mrgomezclass (which is protected)
- My class account is only connected to other kindergarten classes around the world, no individuals
- Start small and local and then grow it – when we started on Twitter, we tweeted with the class across the hall
- A physical Twitter map on our wall – throughout the year, we add location-specific cards with Twitter IDs – you don’t need 30 cards, you only need 2 or 3 – pick a couple to really get to know well
- Every day we did shared writing, but now we do shared writing on Twitter and then press ‘send’ to share with the world
- We read others’ projected tweets, we circle sight words – the content comes from other kindergarten classes
- Integrate digital citizenship into everyday activities – it shouldn’t be a standalone lesson or unit
- We learn a lot about other classes’ locations – we trade pictures of the outdoors, our lunch rooms, our classrooms – we share videos that we made
- Two years ago a tornado came through Dallas ten minutes before dismissal time – parents are in line in their cars, beating on the door to get in – very dramatic! – another class tweeted us the next morning to ask if we were okay – we replied – other classes saw the exchange and chimed in – my kids saw that these things happen everywhere, they have safe rooms too, their class had a safety bear, etc. – it all helped my kids make sense of it
- A class in Japan said they didn’t know anything about Texas – we talked about it and decided to make a book – it turned out my kids didn’t know much about Texas either! – we walked down to the library, got some books, did some research, made our book, and shared it with them – every year the 2nd week of March is Texas History Week because that’s when it is in the curriculum but this year we learned all about Texas because my students needed to know about where they lived – they had a reason for why they wanted to know – we received a book back in return
- Sometimes we follow experts – e.g., @cmdr_hadfield – when Chris Hadfield shared pictures from space, we would match them up with Google Earth – Pete Delkus, @wfaaweather – we sent 3 questions and he replied – every day we tweeted how close he was – in our class we worked with the number line and showed that he was close (predictions)
- Channel 5 News (@nbcdfwweather) heard that we tweeted with Channel 8 News – they set up a live tweet exchange with my class where we asked questions and got answers
- We have a research center in my class – as we tweet with other classes and experts, we write down terms and concepts that we run across (migration, bears, lightning) – we use that list on Friday to pick our books from the library for next week’s research center – a sheet of paper with a big box at the top for a picture, then lines below for writing – they draw and share what they’re reading in the research center
- Reading books on Skype to others – armadillos, dinosaurs, cars – I hear a lot from parents that they had to go to the library to get more books on what we’re researching
- Sharing about their flag with the other state/country (and vice versa) – peer-to-peer conversations that foster learning
- One adult reads to Matt’s class every Friday – Eve’s grandparents lived in China and Skyped in
- If they’re experts in their field, they’re passionate about their work and are eager to share it – I’ve never had anyone tell me no – authors, zoo scientists, meteorologists
- We play Connect 4, Tic Tac Toe, 20 Questions, and other games with classes around the world – we play on a shared Google Doc
- Sharing our learning
- Doing things in real time is much better (and easier) than sharing 5 days later in the weekly newsletter
- My class has a Facebook page for our parents – you’ll want to set up a closed group, not a private group – every family can have 4 members – they email names to Matt so he knows to approve them – keeps track on a spreadsheet
- Every day one of my kids takes home our plastic turtle, Tiny Tim – they have adventures, share pictures on Facebook, and write about it
- Video of red balloon hanging from ceiling – can you move it without touching it? – parents can see our learning about the concept of force
- Kids are promoting our learning to their parents – make it a space for students to share their learning, not for you to share updates and reminders!
- We share things as they’re happening in the moment, not days later – it takes 20 seconds – can do from my phone
- Matt deletes group members at the end of each summer (after warning parents), then starts a new group for the new year
- The Remind app is a great way to share messages/pictures to parents – you can set up scheduled texts
- Weebly is an easy way to set up a web site [I recommend WordPress instead!]
- The main thing is to find some way to share with parents
- Symbaloo page with pictures of each kid (no names) – links to a Google Doc for each student – they write in their journal, parents read and leave comments
- What’s the best way for us to share with parents?
- Girls first ski jump video
- Be brave! – we challenge kids to go past their comfort level every day – we need to do this ourselves too – we have to own our fear and change anyway
- Evaluation results
Here in Northwest Iowa we have the wonderful opportunity to spend two days with Matt Gomez. We have 70+ elementary teachers in attendance and almost 40 more on the waiting list (which is why Matt will be back in March!). Here are my notes from Day 1… [often in Matt’s voice, not mine] You also can see my notes from Day 2.
- Our agenda and resources (including Matt’s slides)
- Our backchannel
- Crowdsourced ideas
- Why do you need a Twitter account?
- PLN – a group of people who are your people – you need those people around you who do what you do and with whom you can talk and share – Matt’s #1 resource is a kindergarten teacher in Montana, they connected through Twitter – every teacher benefits from being connected to the teacher next door – online colleagues take Matt outside of his bubble in Dallas – the more connected we are, the better we get – every day Twitter can inspire us and teach us – Twitter can be both real-time and time-delayed – how do we have time? we have to invest the time if we are going to improve ourselves – most of the time investment is up front – be prepared to put a little bit of time in at the beginning – 4.2 million education tweets daily
- We are getting everyone set up with a Twitter account – Matt is explaining reply, retweet, and favorite – the purpose of hashtags is to connect tweets together – sometimes they’re just to be funny (e.g., #pukealert)
- Every Monday night at 8pm is #kinderchat – see also #ecechat, #1stchat, #2ndchat, #iaedchat, and so on
- Matt has a list of ‘stars’ that he recommends that elementary educators follow
- We now have a Twitter list of all the Iowa educators that are here today
- Why do you need a Twitter account?
- It’s important to be grounded before we dive into tools
- Remember that this has been a 4-year process for me
- Video: Emma
- Technology is not the end all, be all – if you don’t have a sandbox, you don’t need an iPad – focus on real experiences for kids – use tech to enhance, not replace
- Don’t fall in love with the tool, fall in love with the learning that it provides – makes it easy to move from tool to tool to tool
- Let them play! – when you give kids something new, let them play
- Process v. product – it doesn’t matter if their gingerbread house is perfect – it never will be – let them play – focus on the learning process along the way
- Learning how is greater than learning what – primary goal is to get kids excited about learning
- Are you modeling the use of the technology? – we have to model ourselves so that kids can then take it and run with it – that’s why I blog and tweet and make videos – be sure to model your sharing and technology use with your kids!
- The camera
- The number one tool in my classroom is the iPad camera – they can take pictures anywhere, anytime (except in the bathroom) – not uncommon when we’re doing something for a kid to pick up the camera – pictures tell more about what we’re doing than anything else – story starters at home – every Friday I collect the pictures from the week and make a Facebook gallery – we make lots of books – if you want kids to write, get them excited to write – we have a photographer and a videographer for every experiment we do – every Friday we pick 3 videos to watch from earlier in the year – if you want to learn what’s important to your kids in your class, give them a camera
- We have to own this
- Stuck on an escalator video – we have to own all of this technology as teachers, we can’t be dependent on tech integration specialists – we are going to fail – we can give up or we can learn from it and laugh about it later – be brave
- In my class, kids have lots of autonomy and choice and we do great on standardized tests
- The primary way we share what we’re doing with the iPad is through the document camera – kids can see what is being touched – 10 ways to share your iPad on a projector – assign iPad duties just like other class duties – put your most used apps in the bottom row or on the main screen
- Felt Board app
- The first app my kids use each year – start by just letting them play! – pair them up randomly, use Felt Board to explain who the 2 kids in the group are – upper and lower case letters (and LOTS of other t-chart uses!) – fiction v. non-fiction pictures – 4-box graphic organizer (e.g., seasons) – Venn diagram (land animals / water animals / both) – how would you put this into a literacy center? – make the empty Venn diagram with labels – put the screenshot printout at the center – now, students, you make this and then fill it in – great for story writing (INSERT PICTURE; 3rd picture = ‘get a house’) – telling a story and writing that story down are two different skills – many of these apps let me break down those two skills into separate components
- Printing – we always print in black and white – we only print in color for Parent Night – I print two or three of each kids’ screenshots – they can pull their picture and write their story, they also like to write about other students’ pictures
- Mix up the groups as often as you can – don’t let students work with the same peers over and over again
- How can we connect this to our Iowa Core standards? (working in pairs to identify a standard and discuss a potential use of the app)
- There also are Christmas and Mother Goose versions of Felt Board – wait until they are listed as free
- Skitch app
- Explaining how to use Skitch – we use the text tool and the arrow tool most often in my class (along with the size/color options) – touch the middle of the screen to bring up a text box – I use the digital pixelation tool to blur out the kid in my class whose picture can’t be shared publicly – I use Skitch constantly in large group instruction – for example, labeling birds – save the picture – we can use it later, they can see me using the tool – this is why I use the document camera
- If you give all the kids the same picture, you get 20 of the same thing – if you give kids 40+ pictures to choose from, they can have choice and variety – I add pictures if they want one that’s not there
- I talk to my kids about how to search for images safely – I don’t just tell them what not to do, we also talk about what to do when something pops up that’s inappropriate – first semester I provide the images for them – second semester I start teaching them how to do it themselves at teacher tables – occasionally a search will bring up bad things; teach them what to do; it’s digital citizenship
- Tech integration starts with teachers being the leaders – ask kids ‘what app should we use to create this?’
- We catch things every couple of weeks for our terrarium – we always take a picture and label it before sharing with parents
- Search for ‘coloring page elephant (or whatever)’ – can download the black/white drawing, label it, print it – then they can color it – a built-in literacy center
- How can we connect this to our Iowa Core standards? – we use Skitch a lot in math to show what we’ve done – a picture of a boy and a grandma (where are the verbs (or feeling) in this picture?) – describing setting/characters from a book – labeling books is a great way to use Skitch – this is the beginning of writing stories – make a Felt Board, but first they have to use Skitch to identify what verbs/adjectives they’re going to use
- Math Class video (Kid Snippets) – after lunch fun!
- Can’t change a wrong answer – kids need to learn this – sorry, Johnny! – use team names if you don’t have a device for each person – can download answers at the end – there is a risk-reward between answering correctly and quickly – first kids learn not to yell out the correct answer, then they learn to yell out the wrong answer!
- Examples of how to use – addition problem on screen, they have addition dice at each table – you don’t have to have a question, can just use an image – can search for and download other educators’ public kahoots – what is the ending sound for this animal’s name? (e.g., d for lizard) – for sight words, pick from “the, his, her, have” – as the year progresses, the words get harder – can get Matt’s kahoots by searching for mattbgomez
- Both free and online versions in addition to the paid version – powerful because of the different organizers – everything is synced across platforms – free version only lets you make one at a time
- Since we don’t print in color, we only use black and white – we always use the largest size font
- The only direction I give them on the task card is ‘make a new poppet’ (screenshot using Skitch) – teachers will spend 60 minutes laminating something for a center but get frustrated if it takes 10 minutes to make an electronic center activity because they don’t have time
- Tip: take/download the picture from Safari, then pull it into whatever app you’re using
- Examples of how to use – sight words – words that start with ‘i’ – show me you know what an insect is (preloaded the iPad with 20 pictures, 10 of which were insects and 10 which weren’t) – also wrote insect names on white paper, they had to pick which ones were the correct names – examples of nouns – took pictures during field day and then they picked pictures and labeled the verbs – who likes fruits and vegetables? – read a book (what word could you use on each page? or write the character? or the setting?) – sequencing using pictures from making applesauce – add pictures of rhyming words and they can spell them out – kids can sort things – students can do all of this at home with the online version!
- When kids are done, they pick email jpeg and send to me (is the only email in the iPad address book) – this is a process, they have to be taught but they can do this – I don’t worry about their Popplets, they just show up in my email inbox as they get completed
- How can we connect this to our Iowa Core standards?
- Remember that we can save as images, pull into Skitch or another app – Matt’s images are organized in iTunes folders, then he chooses which folders are on the iPad (e.g., only the animal babies folder)
- Other teachers
- It’s not that they’re doing things wrong, it’s that these tools have value
- How can we help our teaching peers see the value here?
- A virtual whiteboard that also can record/overlay audio and then save as a video
- How many ways can we make 10? – Matt recorded each kid one at a time talking and drawing
- A great way for students to show what they know
- We use this a lot in math – we can show parents what we’re learning (e.g., how are we teaching place value) – also handwriting – parents can see how we talk/think about this stuff – I usually put these on our Facebook page – also good for students who are absent
- No privacy concerns because you’re showing kids’ work, not their faces
- App smashing – make their picture(s) in Felt Board – then import into Educreations – practice telling the story before they write it – usually partners working together – they can listen to the story over and over, which helps them remember what they want to write down
- Every week we do this, their stories get longer and longer – they add more details – 2 minutes of telling a story is really good for 5- and 6-year-olds – stories can be at least 5 minutes long (haven’t gone beyond that yet)
- Leveraging multiple concepts and skills with this one tool – blending together numerous standards into one activity rather than working on each in isolation
- My goal is to get kids to this point by the end of the year
- I keep a folder of math photos (base 10 blocks, timers, dice, etc.) that they can use to explain their math stories – they love using their own counters (e.g., Minecraft Steves, Skylanders, Frozen Elsas; we have 8 Steves and we take away two…)
- Participants are using Apple TV to share sample ideas and creations from their own iPads!
- Matt: “When kids create content, it sticks in their heads forever” – you don’t have to tell parents what students are learning, they run home to tell their parents what they’re doing and to look at Facebook
- You want your iPads logged in to all of your accounts so you and the students can easily share
- As you share the value that’s coming out of your room with these tools, it becomes easier and easier for parents and administrators to support expansion – more apps, more iPads, etc.
- Tom Wujec video (Build a tower, build a team)
- Who consistently performs poorly? Recent grads of business school
- Who consistently performs well? Recent grads of kindergarten
- How come? None of the kids spend time jockeying for power, business students are trained to find the single right plan and when it fails they’re out of time, kindergarten students prototype while always keeping the marshmallow on top – young kids are not afraid to fail and do it wrong – we shouldn’t let our fears hold them back
- Virtual field trips
- If you can go to the zoo, go to the zoo – virtual field trips allow students to have experiences they otherwise couldn’t have
- When I get home, I will make a video slideshow for my kids so they can see every aspect of my trip – for example, most of my kids have never seen the inside of a cockpit or clouds from the top
- If kids ask questions about volcanoes, there are 8 million videos on YouTube – why aren’t we using them?
- Google Earth – sunrise tool, measure tool, etc. – hard for kindergarten students at first to understand virtual representation of the real world – you can make path videos (e.g., from our school to the football stadium; can go back in time to show what the neighborhood looked like before) – also Google Sky, Mars, and Moon
- See the World Wonders Project – great for inquiry, questioning, learning about the world
- See 360cities.net – 360-degree views of different locations around the world – for example, the inside of a mosque in Iran is great for talking with kids about patterns
- Wrap-up ideas
- The first couple of months our stories are terrible but as the year progresses they get better and better
- More fun tomorrow!
A teacher wrote to a parent:
William had several hours to complete an assignment but chose not to. He will be sent to the room of opportunity for 90 minutes tomorrow to complete it. If he chooses not to finish it, it will be a zero. Not the best way to start the semester…
Messages like this occur every day in schools: You chose to get a bad grade. You chose to be punished. You chose to be separated from your peers. Alfie Kohn reminds us that this is a ‘fundamentally dishonest, not to mention manipulative, attribution [whereby] … children are told, in effect, that they wanted to have something bad happen to them.’
There is no way that we can justify these ‘obey or suffer’ messages under the guise of ‘student choice.’ The only choice that William has here is to 1) do what the teacher wants, or 2) be punished. Neither is something he would freely choose on his own. The teacher’s language is a threat that hides under the cover of student free will and it is disingenuous (Kohn calls it a ‘pseudochoice’). If we are going to exercise our power and authority over students and force them to do our will, we should at least be honest about it.
Here’s how I might rephrase this teacher’s message:
William didn’t want to do something that I asked him to do, likely because he found it meaningless and boring. Rather than working with William to find a learning project that better aligns with his talents and interests, I am instead going to try and force William to do the perceived-as-worthless task by isolating him from his friends and peers. If social isolation doesn’t work, I am going to punish him further and will continue to do so until he modifies his behavior and is compliant with my wishes. I am letting you know so that you hopefully will help me vanquish his resistance.
Of course this message is much more difficult to send to a parent. Thus the masking language…
What are your thoughts on William’s ‘choice’ and the ‘room of opportunity?’
Seth Godin said:
The opportunity is freedom.
The freedom to connect, to reach out to just about anyone in the world.
The freedom to create, to sing and write and invent and share widely.
The freedom to lead, to stand up and say, “follow me.”
The freedom to learn, to take almost any course on any topic and to put that learning to work.
The freedom to choose your next project, the information you consume, and the people you associate with.
Now, more than ever, more of us have the freedom to care, the freedom to connect, the freedom to choose, the freedom to initiate, the freedom to do what matters.
If we choose.
Is your school helping students learn how to exercise these freedoms?
What do student projects look like in your school? In most classrooms, so-called student ‘projects’ look like sugar cube pyramids, styrofoam ball solar systems, coat hanger mobiles, and dioramas. Or maybe posters, brochures, or PowerPoint presentations. Or 3-dimensional structures made out of construction paper, cardboard, paper mâché, and other materials. The common factor across these ‘projects’ typically is the presentation of low-level facts found from a textbook or the Internet. But none of these rise to the level of ‘gold standard’ project-based learning (PBL), opportunities for students in which they are doing deep, complex thinking work over many days or weeks, usually in collaboration with others and enhanced by relevant, meaningful uses of digital technologies.
As leaders, why should we care about project-based learning? Because if we want graduates who are critical thinkers and problem solvers, we have to create learning environments in which students get to practice those skills in meaningful, authentic ways. Higher-level thinkers don’t just magically emerge from low-level thinking spaces. And that means we have to expect more from what we have traditionally called a learning ‘project.’
The Buck Institute for Education has outlined 8 essential elements of PBL, including significant content, a driving question, opportunities for inquiry and innovation, and high levels of student voice and choice. Typical classroom ‘projects’ lack these essential elements and thus are mostly busy work. The content isn’t significant because it’s just recall and regurgitation. There is no big question driving students’ efforts. And every student work product looks the same, which, as Chris Lehmann notes, means that it isn’t a project, it’s a recipe (e.g., 20 identical student posters of a cow’s digestive system!). We can do better…
There are many different models for creating high-quality PBL experiences for students. For example, here in Iowa the Iowa BIG School in Cedar Rapids has organized its entire school day around rich inquiry and problem solving. The Spirit Lake, Okoboji, Newell-Fonda, and North Union school districts all have two-week PBL sessions in January or May in which students spend 50 or more hours immersed in deeper projects. Some Iowa teachers are experimenting with genius hour, 20% time, and other structures to facilitate student passion projects. And across the country and planet a bevy of other models are emerging as well.
John Dewey famously reminded us that we learn what we do. If students spend 90% of their time making a poster / mobile / shoe box float and 10% of their time writing down facts that they quickly look up and rarely retain, we can’t really say that significant learning is occurring. The products look nice but there’s little substance behind them. As leaders, I encourage you to walk around your schools and look at the ‘projects’ that your students are doing. Ask yourself if the creation of those student work products requires deep, complex thinking and problem solving. And, if not, get some conversations started about how to make student projects richer and better…
What do student projects look like in your school?
Image credit: Russ M
Asking students to do even more low-level factual recall and procedural regurgitation work is not ‘rigorous’ learning. And it surely isn’t vigorous learning either.
As Clay Shirky has noted, we currently are living through ‘the largest expansion in expressive capability in human history.’ We no longer live in a world where we passively receive information that is broadcast out to us by large, centralized entities. Instead, we now live within multidirectional conversation spaces in which 12-year-olds can reach audiences at scales that previously were reserved for major media companies, large corporations, and governments. We all now can have a voice. We all now can be publishers. We all now can find each other’s thoughts and ideas and can share, cooperate, collaborate, and take collective action. Time and geography are no longer barriers to communicating and working together.
In this new information landscape, formerly-dominant institutions are being forced to rethink all previously-held assumptions. For example, music companies are struggling to survive in a market where the model of wholesale album purchases and top-down advertising and dissemination is replaced by a granular system of individual song sales and peer-to-peer marketing and distribution. Similarly, the emergence of digital, multimedia, hyperlinked texts – and accompanying e-readers, tablet computers, and smartphones – is challenging our very definition of what constitutes ‘a book’ and is destroying traditional publishers’ and distributors’ revenue streams. Television, radio, magazine, newspaper, and movie/video companies are seeing their market share erode year after year as we increasingly turn to online – and often user-generated – information channels to learn and be entertained. Our entire information landscape – which is what schools are purportedly teaching students to master – has been changed irrevocably.
We also are witnessing the early adolescence of a vastly different global economy. For instance, the rapid growth of the Internet and other communication technologies has accelerated the offshoring of jobs from the developed world. Complex corporate global supply chains locate manufacturing work wherever costs are lowest, expertise is highest, or necessary talent resides. Geographic or product niche monopolies disappear in the face of Internet search engines. Micro-, small-batch, and on-demand manufacturing techniques facilitate personalized and custom-order production. Whatever manufacturing work remains in developed countries is high skill, is high tech, and, more often than not, requires greater education than a secondary diploma. The low-skill industrial system that was the backbone of the developed world’s economies in the previous century is increasingly a bygone memory.
Like manual work that is non-location-dependent, knowledge work also is frequently done cheaper elsewhere. Service jobs are increasingly fungible, able to be located anywhere in the world that has an Internet connection. Ongoing workflow and final products are exchanged at the speed of light via e-mail, instant messaging, and other corporate networking tools. The same technologies that facilitate our personal social conversations also facilitate interconnected global commerce. As was done in previous decades for manufacturing work, the next two decades will see many complex service jobs broken up into component parts. Once these tasks are disaggregated, they will be done by lower-skilled workers who can do these discrete components of the overall work, facilitated by software. In other words, many high-paying service jobs will turn into globalized piece work. Since the service professions represent over three-fifths of America’s economy, the impacts of this are going to be quite significant.
We’re also realizing that work that previously required humans now regularly can be done by software. If the Industrial Revolution was about replacing humans’ physical labor with machines, the Information Revolution often is about replacing humans’ cognitive labor with computers. A large number of workers are discovering that their work, their skills, and their jobs are not as indispensable as they thought in a technological, hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy. Radical transformations are everywhere we turn.
Of course these changes also have resulted in dramatic impacts on learning. Students and educators now have access to all of the information in their textbooks – and an incredible wealth of primary documents – for free. They have access to robust, low cost or no-cost, and often multimedia and interactive learning resources (texts, images, audio, video, games, simulations) that can supplement, extend, or even replace what is being taught in their classrooms. Via collaborative Internet-based tools such as blogs, wikis, videoconferencing, and social networks, they can learn from and with students and teachers in other states or countries. They also can quickly and easily connect with authors, artists, business professionals, entrepreneurs, physicians, craftsmen, professors, and other experts.
Students and teachers now can more authentically replicate (and actually do) real-world work through the use of the same tools and resources used by engineers, designers, scientists, accountants, and a multitude of other professionals and artisans. They can share their own knowledge, skills, and expertise with people all over the world. They can find or form communities of interest around topics for which they are passionate and they can be active (and valued) contributors to the world’s information commons, both individually and collaboratively with others.
Essentially, we now have the ability to learn about whatever we want, from whomever we want, whenever and wherever we want, and we also can contribute to this learning environment for the benefit of others. The possibilities for learning and teaching in this information space are both amazing and nearly limitless, but right now this learning often is disconnected from our formal education institutions.
If it is difficult to overstate the technological disruptions that are occurring around us, it is equally difficult to understate the lack of progress that most schools have made in response to these overarching societal transformations. The reluctance of school systems to significantly alter existing pedagogical and organizational practices has long been catalogued. Unfortunately, these trends continue today. For instance, while students increasingly are self-directed learners and active technology users outside of school, their learning work inside of school – particularly for independent, technology-suffused, higher-level cognitive activities – has not changed much. As the Consortium for School Networking has noted, “educational mindsets and school cultures do not yet align learning to the realities of the 21st century.”
This is true even in our numerous 1:1 computing environments that now exist. Although we have pockets of success here and there, for the most part we still are implementing a 20th (and sometimes 19th) century model of education despite the demands of our 21st century society. If you look at the basic learning and teaching work that occurs in most of our classrooms, it is still primarily transmissive: students passively receive information from the teacher or textbook or Internet or software and then regurgitate it back to show that they have ‘learned’ (and the teacher has ‘covered’) the required low-level facts or procedures. While this may have been fine for an industrial society, this model of schooling is woefully inadequate to prepare graduates for the more complex demands of our new information and economic landscapes. If every other societal sector is finding that transformative reinvention is necessary in our current climate, schools shouldn’t expect that they somehow will be immune from these changes. We shouldn’t pretend that these revolutions aren’t going to affect us too, in compelling and often as yet unknown ways. And, yet, if you look at what is happening in most classrooms on most days, the learning and teaching work that is occurring looks incredibly similar to that done many decades ago.
All of this has been a long run up to basically say that – if we truly care about preparing kids for life and work success – we need schools to be different. If economic success increasingly means moving away from routine cognitive work, schools need to also move in that direction. If our analog, ink-on-paper information landscapes outside of school have been superseded by environments that are digital and online and hyperconnected and mobile, our information landscapes inside of school also should reflect those shifts. If our students’ extracurricular learning opportunities often are richer and deeper than what they experience in their formal educational settings, it is time for us to catch up. In other words, schools’ knowledge work and workforce preparation should match the needs and demands of our time.
As you can imagine, these changes are incredibly complex and the challenges that face us today as school leaders are tremendous. Somehow we have to reinvent learning and teaching and schooling, often in direct opposition to parent and community mindsets about what school should look like (hint: like it did when they were kids). Somehow we have to shift our schools’ overwhelming emphasis on low-level knowledge work into something that better meets our graduates’ needs to navigate vastly different information and economic spaces. Somehow we have to balance creating schools of the future with policymakers’ attempts to further reify schools of the past. And the toughest part of all of this is that we don’t even know what many of the answers should be. But we at least should be having the right conversations and asking the right questions.
There are a lot of different things going on in schools and they’re all important. But remedying the relevance disconnect between school and society is the most important educational and equity work of all. We have a moral imperative as school leaders and policymakers to face these challenges head-on and try and create new futures and possibilities for the children and adolescents that we serve.
Option A: students complete a paper (or electronic) worksheet of low-level knowledge and/or procedural skills
Option B: something else
Option A: students read pages from a dry-as-toast textbook and then answer publisher-provided regurgitation questions
Option B: something else
Option A: students sit quietly and take notes while a teacher lectures from her PowerPoint
Option B: something else
Option A: students do 15 more practice problems on material many of them already know
Option B: something else
Option A: students complete a word search or word find to ‘learn spelling’ and/or kill time
Option B: something else
Option A: teacher gives a pop quiz to hold students ‘accountable’ for homework they see as meaningless
Option B: something else
Option A: teacher uses ClassDojo or other behavioral control systems to force kids to comply with disengaging work tasks
Option B: something else
and so on… (what would you add?)
I wished we picked Option B more often.