Tag Archives: teaching

This online high school is not going to change education


The headline at eSchool News reads ‘This online high school could change education’ (a slight modification of the original headline at the Santa Cruz Sentinel). Okay, I’m game. I’ll check it out…

I read about the founders. I read that they’re trying to make the curriculum relevant for students (awesome!). I read the claims that Silicon Valley High School will provide a ‘five star education.’ Okay so far. Then I get to the following:

With the help of a core team of 12 developers and 20 subject matter experts, Teves and Smith have developed a platform and process to deliver ‘best-available’ content to students at a fraction of the cost of similar curricula.


The courses are highly linear and feature well-produced videos starring engaging and highly relevant teachers chosen by the high school’s panel of experts.

And there we have it. ‘Highly linear,’ self-paced, one-size-fits-all courses; videos made by experts; and an online platform to ‘deliver’ them, including quizzes. I’m pretty sure that this is not the first time this has been suggested or tried (MOOCs, anyone? Khan Academy? K12 and Connections Academy? TED-Ed?). And – good intentions aside – I’m pretty sure that these models are essentially replicating online the traditional face-to-face model of sit-and-get, transmission-oriented education that’s dominated for centuries. But, hey, students can proceed at their own pace and do this anywhere…

Video lectures are still lectures:

More than 700 studies have confirmed that lectures are less effective than a wide range of methods for achieving almost every educational goal you can think of. Even for the straightforward objective of transmitting factual information, they are no better than a host of alternatives, including private reading. Moreover, lectures inspire students less than other methods, and lead to less study afterwards.

When will we be willing to confront the need to change the day-to-day learning experiences of students rather than simply trying to repackage traditional methods in different wrappers?

East Campus: Uncovering the brilliance in every student

High school student Jeff Bliss famously said in 2013, “If you would just get up and teach them instead of handing them a freakin’ packet, yo. It’s kids in here that don’t learn like that. They need to learn face to face.” Unfortunately, too many alternative high schools are just about worksheet packets and self-paced online courses. East Campus in Muscatine, Iowa takes a different approach, one that is paying enormous dividends in terms of student engagement, academic success, and high school completion.

Hydroponics, East Campus, Muscatine Community School District

East Campus has a strong emphasis on hands-on academic activity. For example, students learn about metal absorption, evolution of plant species, and trait adaptation in science by engaging in real-world hydroponics and phytoremediation projects. They partner with the University of Iowa and Muscatine Power & Water to do this work, learning about cell biology, ions, and molecular polarity along the way. Similarly, they’re learning about urban renewal and the environmental impacts of human behaviors through the lens of bicycling, applying their English / Language Arts skills as they evaluate resources, write grant proposals, utilize social media, and engage in marketing techniques to advocate for more bicycle-friendly areas in their community.

Students also are investigating molecular structures by testing sugar substitutes and seeing which configurations taste better; the end goal is to create a book or video that places a culinary lens on the subject of chemistry. They’re working with a nonprofit that makes hand-powered bicycles for people who have lost the use of their legs, analyzing different countries and cultures to determine where the need for such transportation is greatest. Most students are learning to code, and nearly all of them are incredibly active in their community’s Blue Zones initiative, helping the food insecure grow healthy vegetables and making commercials that promote healthy behaviors. They work with Monsanto to understand the seed production process. They make documentaries with local survivors of heart disease for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. They’re using scrum boards and other project management techniques. Their video production work is so fantastic that they participate in national media conferences and get asked by out-of-state businesses to make videos and commercials. And so on…

The work that East Campus students do isn’t sitting at a desk regurgitating facts from a textbook. They’re not just answering a few short essay questions based on a teacher lecture days before. Instead, they’re engaged in challenging, real world work. Their assessment is in the quality of what they do, not just recalling minutiae that can be found in five seconds with a smartphone voice command. Are your high school students doing this kind of complex, authentic work on a regular basis? Are your local youth making a positive, meaningful impact on their community and the world around them?

In his most recent TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson notes that our best alternative education programs are “very personalized” and often “involve students outside school as well as inside school. And all the evidence from around the world is – if we all did that – there’d be no need for the alternative.” East Campus proves that every day, reclaiming students’ brilliance that too often gets lost in our more traditional systems.

Reinforcing the standardized model of low-level learning and schooling

Higher level thinkers do not just magically emerge

I’m sitting in a workshop today about early literacy supports. The presenters are personable, the resources aren’t horrible, the intent is good, and there are 45+ well-meaning educators in the room learning, talking, and thinking about early literacy success for students.

But all of our conversations are around systems and processes that reify and strengthen our traditional emphases on low-level learning. For instance, we’re discussing laws and policies (that emphasize standardized data), screening instruments (based on standardized data), ‘evidence-based interventions’ (based on standardized data), progress monitoring (based on standardized data), and data-based decision-making (based on standardized data). 

This morning I also received a pitch for a new book, Deliverology in Practice, which purports to show leaders how to

  • Set clear goals for students, establish a Delivery Unit to help your system stay focused on them, and build the coalition that will back your reforms.
  • Analyze the data and evidence to get a sense of your current progress and the biggest barriers to achieving your goals.
  • Develop a plan that will guide your day-to-day work by explicitly defining what you are implementing, how it will reach the field at scale, and how it will achieve the desired impact on your goals.
  • Monitor progress against your plan, make course corrections, and build and sustain momentum to achieve your goals.
  • Identify and address the change management challenges that come with any reform and attend to them throughout your delivery effort.

To which I say, ‘Meh.’ #terriblyunexciting (for students and educators both)

The evidence is quite clear that schools’ low-level learning focus has been a problem for decades. The last thing we need is MORE emphasis on lower-level learning (see, e.g., the economic data and the student engagement data). Yet the workshops and books and policies continue…

4Q: The quadruple win


Four big questions to ask about a lesson, unit, or activity…

  1. Deeper learning. Did it allow students to go beyond factual recall and procedural regurgitation and be creative, collaborative, critical thinkers and problem-solvers? Did it really? [If not, why not? Our graduates need to be deeper learners and doers so that they can add value beyond what search engines, Siri, and YouTube already can do.]
  2. Student agency. Did it allow students to drive their own learning rather than being heavily teacher-directed? Did it really? [If not, why not? Our graduates need to be autonomous, self-directed, lifelong learners so that they can reskill and adapt in a rapidly-changing world.]
  3. Authentic work. Did it allow students to be engaged with and/or make a contribution to the world outside the school walls? Did it really? [If not, why not? Our graduates need to be locally- and globally-active so that they can be positive citizens and contributors to both their community and the larger world.]
  4. Digital tools. Did it allow students to use digital learning tools to enhance their learning beyond traditional analog affordances? Did it really? [If not, why not? Our graduates need to be digitally fluent so that they can effectively navigate our technology-suffused information, economic, and learning landscapes.]

What percentage of the learning occurring in your school system would simultaneously satisfy at least two of the above (2Q)? At least three of the above (3Q) for a triple win? All four (4Q) for the quadruple win?

If you have a 3Q or 4Q lesson, unit, or activity that you think is worth sharing, let us know below. We’d love to hear about it!

Notice the emphasis on ‘feeding them content’

Christine Willig, President of McGraw-Hill Education, said:

There’s a difference between educational technology – a single video, a single interactive, a single app – and learning science, in which we’re investing in the small pieces of data that show us where a child is at in their learning trajectory, feeding them content in a way that’s powerful and effective for them to move to the next level. 

via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYR47-XJq64#t=01m55s

5 minutes about transforming schools

Bob Greenberg has been videoing some amazing thinkers for his Brainwaves YouTube channel. People like Mitch ResnickAlan Kay, Jerome BrunerNicholas NegroponteNoam Chomsky, and Eric Mazur. I’m not exactly sure why Bob asked me too but I got to spend a few minutes with him at the recent ISTE conference in Philadelphia and of course was absolutely delighted for the opportunity…

The video is titled Transforming Schools. Happy viewing!

3 kinds of ISTE sessions


Not including the more informal networking events, there generally are 3 kinds of ISTE sessions:

  1. Tools, tools, tools! These sessions focus on software, apps, extensions, productivity and efficiency, how-to tips, etc. Little emphasis on learning, heavy emphasis on how to use the tools.
  2. Technology for school replication. These sessions focus on the use of digital technologies to replicate and perpetuate schools’ historical emphases on factual recall and procedural regurgitation, control and compliance, students as passive learners, etc. Behavior modification apps, teacher content transmission tools, flashcard and multiple choice software, student usage monitoring programs, and the like.
  3. Technology for school transformation. These sessions focus on deeper learning, greater student agency, and perhaps real-world, authentic work. Learning technologies tend to be divergent rather than convergent, foster cognitive complexity, and facilitate active, creative student-driven learning.

We need more of #3. Lots more. Right now these sessions are still a significant minority of sessions at ISTE (and most other educational technology conferences).

Which kinds of sessions did you attend? What does that mean for your ability to effectuate change back home?

Which kinds of sessions did you facilitate? What does that mean for your responsibility as a presenter to help others effectuate change back home?

We’re wasting opportunities to move our systems…

5 thoughts from ISTE weekend


Five thoughts from the first couple of days here at the 2015 ISTE Conference…

  1. If “it’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning,” then why are we centering so many of our sessions on the tools?
  2. Are there uses of technology with students that would offend the majority of us so much that we would stand up and shout, ‘No! We should never do that!’? I see things here and there that concern me but many others seem to be pretty blasé about them or simply accept them as inevitable parts of the landscape (for example, behavior modification software, draconian Internet filtering of children and educators, and drill-and-kill systems ‘for those low-achieving kids,’ just to name a few)
  3. The work of transforming school systems is difficult work. School transformation stems from personal transformation, not from devices or apps or software. How many of us can say that we’re truly transforming more than a small handful of other educators?
  4. The work of transforming school systems is slow work. Some of us have been at this for a decade or two (or longer). How do we invest in and energize both ourselves and each other so that the frustrations, sluggishness, and setbacks don’t win?
  5. We should have more babies at ISTE. Who doesn’t love babies?!

What does this say about us as learners?

A 2nd grade teacher told me – without any seeming embarrassment – that her students knew more about their iPads than she did. I thought in my head, ‘Really? They’re 7…’

As educators, shouldn’t we be embarrassed if we’re getting outlearned by 7-year-olds? (or 15-year-olds?)

See also Struggling with educators’ lack of technology fluency and “I’m not good at math.” “I’m not very good at computers.”

If the kids know more than we do


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