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The order of the 4 Shifts Protocol is important

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningJulie Graber and I often get asked if the order of the 4 Shifts Protocol is important. Our answer? Absolutely.

Note that the protocol begins with Deeper Thinking and Learning (Section A), followed by Authentic Work (Section B). We have found that starting with one or both of those dimensions tends to raise the level of learning for students much more than starting with Student Agency and Personalization (Section C) or Technology Infusion (Section D). Given that Julie and I are strong advocates for student agency, this may seem a little counterintuitive. The reason is because there are numerous ways to give students ‘agency’ or integrate technology that are fairly low-level. Imagine, for instance, adaptive learning software modules or a set of teacher-created classroom centers in which students have some ‘choice’ about content and pathways but the learning is still shallow rather than deep. We also can point to numerous examples of ‘technology for technology’s sake’ in which, again, student learning could be much more robust. Starting with Sections A or B helps us center our instructional work on deeper, meaningful learning.

Note also that the very first questions in Section A pertain to Domain Knowledge and Deeper Learning. Whatever instructional transformations we are working on, we should try as best we can to make sure that we’re meeting content and procedural goals, and that whatever skills and knowledge we’re addressing are focused on big, important concepts, not just trivia. This is particularly true as long as state standards, testing, and accountability mandates dominate our educational landscapes. Deeper learning work should not be contentless. [AND students also deserve some say in what they get to learn…]

In sum, while Julie and I advocate that teachers start with whatever sections and items make sense for them (and focus on just a few), we also recognize that some of the sections and items of the protocol are more transformative than others. We encourage you to lean into Sections A and B!

10 quick thoughts on mobile phones in schools

No cell phones!A few quick thoughts…

  1. Most people realize that mobile phones are actually mobile computers. But many schools that claim to be doing everything they can to get technology into the hands of schoolchildren then ban their students from using the computers that they bring in their pockets every day. The issue apparently is not technology, it’s control. We need to call this for what it is.
  2. Students know that mobile phones are powerful learning devices. They know that when we ban them, we are sending them messages that we don’t get it. Or that we’re not really about learning.
  3. We have to stop blaming the device. Classroom management stems from good instruction.
  4. We have to stop the ‘holier than thou’ pronouncements about today’s kids. We haven’t seen significant evolutionary changes in children in just a few decades. Our students (or their brains) are not substantially different, they just have different opportunities. Nostalgia aside, we adults were often bored out of our minds in school too. If we had Facebook, texting, Snapchat, and other avenues to alleviate our boredom, we would have turned to them as well. Let’s quit the arrogant attitudes of moral superiority.
  5. Banning and blocking does absolutely nothing to teach students about inappropriate or untimely mobile phone usage because it removes the decision-making locus from students to educators. Students don’t ever get a chance to own their mobile phone behavior when they are just passive – and usually resentful or bewildered – recipients of our fiats.
  6. Many schools say that they’re trying to foster more student agency. That should mean more than fairly-constrained choices related to content. Student choice in environmental contexts and instructional tools (ahem, learning technologies) matters too.
  7. No one – I repeat, no one – can concentrate without any distractions whatsoever for 45-50 minutes straight. Nor can they then repeat that 6 to 8 times a day. Is our goal with these ‘digital distraction’ bans to have students’ 100% attention at all times or else? If so, are we just punishing students for how our human brains work?
  8. Maybe it’s not the phone that’s leading to students’ distraction. Distraction can result from hunger, fatigue, illness, anxiety, boredom, an overstimulating classroom environment, the desire to engage in additional research, or a whole host of other factors (e.g., frequency of daydreaming is highest during undemanding, easy tasks). Let’s avoid simplistic solutions to complex contexts.
  9. If we involved students in the creation of school mobile phone policies – with authentic input and decision-making, including about ‘consequences’ – instead of fighting with them, we probably would be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes.
  10. When students use mobile phones despite our bans, maybe they’re not defiant. Maybe they’re rational given the context in which they’re embedded. Did I mention that classroom management stems from good instruction?

Image credit: No cell phones!, Joe Pemberton

Podcast – Talking with Richard Byrne on the Practical Ed Tech Podcast!

Last week my conversation with Richard Byrne went live on the Practical Ed Tech Podcast. Many of you know Richard from his primary site, Free Technology for Teachers, one of the most widely-read education blogs in the world. Richard and I have known each other for a long time. Maybe he’ll come see me in Colorado sometime. He’s an outdoorsy type – he’d love it out here!

Richard and I talked about a wide range of things, including Tik Tok, building leaders’ capacity to foster school innovation, keeping up with changing technologies, redesigning lessons with the 4 Shifts Protocol, filtering and blocking students, and so on…

Hope you enjoy the discussion. Happy listening!

F.A.I.L.W.

FAILWF.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning

We see this saying in classrooms all over. And I’ve never liked it… 

One reason is because we rarely seem to ask the important question of First Attempt In Learning What? First attempt in learning some rote memorization task? First attempt in learning something we put on a digital worksheet? First attempt in learning some procedure that we’ll likely never use again? [but, hey, at least it leads to the next procedure that we’ll also probably never use again!]

I understand why the allegedly-motivational saying is posted on teachers’ walls. It’s a cute way of saying to students, “Don’t give up. Keep trying and you’ll get there.” It fits in nicely with the growth mindsets that we’re trying to help students adopt. [side note: ever notice how educators are usually eager to preach about the value of growth mindsets for students but often struggle to live that value in their own work?] But maybe the reason our students are ‘failing’ is because they rightfully see that so much of the work that we ask them to do is pretty meaningless and so they simply try to opt out. It’s not that they’re struggling, it’s that they’re rational.

Which leads me to another reason: a F.A.I.L. poster on our walls doesn’t absolve our responsibility to do better by our kids. We can’t keep pretending that such a sign means anything when we regularly undercut it with uninspiring work. So what if we give students multiple opportunities for do-overs or retakes? So what if we preach about ‘resilience’ and ‘grit?’ Is allowing / requiring / forcing a student to be ‘successful’ on work that had little value in the first place the opposite of ‘failing?’

No amount of platitudes will ever make up for the hard work we need to do to transform students’ learning experiences. You know what motivates students? It’s not the cutesy laminated F.A.I.L. poster. It’s the regular opportunity to do meaningful and interesting work. The next time we walk into a classroom with one of these signs, let’s add the W and start having a different conversation…

The decline of civics

Flags on lawnDanielle Allen said:

No democracy can survive if its citizens do not believe that democracy is worth having. The long-term future of our system of government depends not only on restoring a supermajority of citizens who demand democracy but also on ensuring that that percentage exists across the generations.

Nor is it enough for people simply to believe democracy is essential if they don’t know how to build, operate, maintain, fix, and adapt democracies. This means we also need to build a supermajority of citizens who have confidence in their knowledge of how to use their voices, skills of democratic coordination, and shared political institutions. That’s what our children could learn through classes on U.S. government, civics, and the problems and promise of democracy.

Want to address information literacy concerns? Civics is a great place to start. Want to target student apathy toward the news and being informed? Action civics is an even better start. 

We also have to live the democratic principles that we proclaim we’re trying to instill in our youth. Students almost never have authentic input into how ‘school’ operates for them. No wonder our students become cynical and apathetic. Why would they treat seriously our proclamations about the importance of democracy when schools rarely give them a meaningful say in anything?

My favorite U.S. Supreme Court quote of all time is from Justice Fortas:

That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes… (Tinker v. Des Moines)

When it comes to modeling democratic principles in schools, we’ve got too many platitudes. How about some action (civics) instead?

Running back into school on Day 164

Robin Riley tweetTom Murray has been inspiring a lot of educators to think about what they can do on Day 1 of the school year so that kids come running back into school on Day 2. That’s a great message.

Can we please also remember that we want kids running back into school on Day 37 and Day 89 and Day 138? If we have a great first day with our students and then gradually (quickly?) revert back to fairly uninspiring learning experiences, what’s the point?

School culture, classroom learning climates, and student engagement are year-round issues. What could you do that makes kids come running back on Day 164? (instead of, ahem, counting down the days until the end)

Image credit: Robin Riley

AI software gets a B on a 12th-grade science exam

Artificial intelligenceCalculators. Grammar editors. PhotoMath. Automatic language translation. Some of these mental work helpers (substitutes?) work fabulously. Some of them aren’t quite there… yet.

And now we have this: AI technology that can pass a 12th grade science exam.

on Wednesday, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a prominent lab in Seattle, unveiled a new system that passed the test with room to spare. It correctly answered more than 90 percent of the questions on an eighth-grade science test and more than 80 percent on a 12th-grade exam.

Not only could the software answer recall questions, it also could solve basic logic and inference problems.

Do students still need to know some stuff? Absolutely. Do students need to know the vast amounts of easily-findable minutiae and trivia that we pretend is important and try to shove into them each school year? No way.

The machines are getting better at mental tasks we previously thought could only be done by humans. When will we start asking better questions? When and how will we adapt our teaching and schooling?

Podcast – Harnessing technology for deeper learning

Last week my interview with Tom Vander Ark went live on the Getting Smart podcast. Tom grilled me about my law degree(!) and then we got to the core of the interview.

Tom and I talked about school transformation and instructional redesign, during which I uttered this immortal line:

GettingSmartpodcast

Hope you enjoy the discussion. Happy listening!

Failing our students

FailIf our students get a good grade in government class but leave class as apathetic, uninvolved future citizens… we have failed.

If our students pass the state reading test but never voluntarily read a book… we have failed.

If our students survive math class but end up hating math… we have failed.

And so on…

Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase said in their amazing book, Building School 2.0:

With almost everything we teach, we are always faced with two very different challenges. One, what are we doing to unlock the passions and skills of the 10 percent (or so) of the kids who either already are or could become so passionate about our subject that it becomes their course of study past their K-12 education? And two, what are we doing for the other 90 percent of the kids? Why is it important that they are taking the class?

What are our schools doing to help students find meaning and joy in the classes that they take, not just comply with course requirements? And how often and at what scale? If it’s only a few teachers or classrooms… we have failed.

Image credit: Fail, Kevin Krebs

12 questions that help get at robust technology infusion

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningIf your goal for a lesson, unit, or other instructional activity is to infuse technology more robustly, consider these 12 questions from Section D* of the 4 Shifts Protocol. If you like your answers, awesome! Keep doing that! If you’re not where you want to be yet, pick a couple of questions and select your desired answers instead (e.g., Adults Outside of This School instead of Students In This School). Then do a redesign pivotHow could you redesign the student learning experience to get to your desired answers? Brainstorm with some colleagues or a coach about how to shift the two questions you picked toward richer technology integration. Then go do that instead to get closer to your goal!

D. Technology Infusion

  • Communication. How are students communicating?
    • Alone** / In pairs / In triads / In groups larger than 3
    • If with others, with whom? (circle all that apply) 
      • Students in this school / Students in another school / Adults in this school / Adults outside of this school
  • Communication Technologies. Are digital technologies being used to facilitate the communication processes?
    • Yes / No
    • If yes, in which ways? (circle all that apply) 
      • Writing, photos and images, charts and graphs, infographics, audio, video, multimedia, transmedia
  • Collaboration. How are students working?
    • Alone** / In pairs / In triads / In groups larger than 3
    • If with others, with whom? (circle all that apply)
      • Students in this school / Students in another school / Adults in this school / Adults outside of this school
    • If with others, who is managing collaborative processes (planning, management, monitoring, etc.)? 
      • Students / teachers / both
  • Collaboration Technologies. Are digital technologies being used to facilitate collaborative processes?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
    • If yes, in which ways? (circle all that apply)
      • Online office suites, email, texting, wikis, blogs, videoconferencing, mind mapping, curation tools, project planning tools, other
  • Technology Adds Value. Does technology add value so that students can do their work in better or different ways than are possible without the technology?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Technology as Means, Not End. When digital technologies are utilized, do the tools overshadow, mask, or otherwise draw the focus away from important learning?
    • Yes / No / Somewhat
  • Digital Citizenship. Are digital technologies utilized by students in both appropriate and empowering ways?***
    • Yes / No / Somewhat

* Actually, the very best ways to integrate technology into your lessons, units, or instructional activities would be to focus on some items from Sections A, B, and C of the 4 Shifts Protocol. Section D just contains some additional technology-related questions to think about. Sections A, B, and C help you focus on the learning, not just the technology, and thus better address the Technology Adds Value and Technology as Means, Not End questions in Section D.

** Working in isolation (no communication with others) or perhaps just communicating with teacher (e.g., call and response)

*** Effective digital citizenship conversations focus on both safe, responsible use AND empowering, participating use. Digital citizenship discussions ideally are natural extensions of and accompaniments to students’ ongoing, technology-enabled work rather than separate conversations or curricula.

The 4 Shifts Protocol is a fairly new resource that helps teachers, principals, and instructional / technology coaches shift student experiences toward deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. The protocol provides some fairly concrete ‘look fors’ and ‘think abouts’ and can be used as both a diagnostic and a redesign tool. For best results, focus on claims and evidence. That is, if we say something is there (e.g., technology adds value), we should be able to point to it and say, ‘Yes, it’s right there and it’s awesome!’ 

So far the 4 Shifts Protocol is proving to be a nice complement to SAMR, TPACK, Triple E, PBL, UbD, and other instructional frameworks. And many educators are using these smaller shifts in existing lessons and units to build the capacity of themselves and their students to do more complex project- and inquiry-based work. The protocol is free and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike International copyright license, so use and modify it as desired!

Let me know what questions you have. Hope the protocol is useful to you!

See also