Thursday, July 14, 2011

Assuming Ken Robinson's Vision is Correct

There are two parallel themes that come to mind as a result of today's learning. The first is readily apparent in  Robinson's presentation. Our current system of public education was born of a different time, place and purpose that is not longer relevant to today's students. As we continue to try and cram round kids into square holes we are damaging them often beyond repair. The second theme, absent in Robinson's presentation, though no less important is loss of the liberal arts in our educational programs. This loss is most recognized by educators who year after year watched budget cuts and NCLB and its testing demands whittle away at the heart of our system of education that fed the soul of so many students. The demise of liberal arts education in our schools coupled with Robinson's damning indictment of today's system leaves may students adrift and under-served. Some ignored altogether. If we assume these themes to be correct then any change we want to bring about will require a re-education on a scale not seen before.

There are many powerful factors that currently reinforce the efficacy of our existing system of education creating monumental inertia. First, the ascendancy of the United States over the past two hundred and fifty years to a position of world  prominence in military, economic and cultural power makes it a challenge to argue that our current system of education is not working. Second, is the fact that so many adults can argue with out doubt that they benefited significantly from the education they received under the current system. This creates a powerful and compelling personal story that substantiates the status quo blinding them to present day concerns. Third,  is the Judeo-Christian ethic that permeates our country's culture and tends to place blame for problems on the moral failings of character, rather than the situations which students are to often placed within. Finally, by training educators are not marketers beyond the classroom. We are brilliant when it comes to making a case for why students should want to learn something in our classrooms, but when it comes to selling the public on why we  want to seek changes in how we deliver education that we feel are necessary for the well being of our students we fall flat on our face.

If we are to truly take Robinson's vision to heart we must first get out in front of the idea and the idea out in front of the public. We need to make a case for how the world has changed and why our existing model of education needs to change with it. Marketing is where it's at. We've got to be better marketers of what we do, why we do it and how our students will be better for it. For many adults'--educators included--their perceptions and understanding of education was, for the most part, derived from their experience sitting in a school desk many years ago trying to figure out how to succeed within a system designed to sort and weed out. It wasn't a system grounded in equity. It wasn't a system designed to build upon a person's strengths. It wasn't a system whose goal was to raise all boats. We can no longer accept a model premised on the normal curve's predetermined rate of failure for a population.  The long term political, economic and social costs are too high. Most importantly, it's flat out morally unacceptable. We can do better. We have to.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Striking the Balance

Todd did a nice job of modeling the concepts he was trying to get across in his presentation. As educators, selling our ideas is certainly one of the challenges we face in our attempt to revolutionize education. We are not trained in marketing. Consequently we have great ideas that we try to roll out with out laying the foundational pieces necessary to get the buy in of stake holders. Our world intersects the public at so many points that we simply must get better at "selling" what we're trying to do, why we're trying to do it and what the benefits are for everyone involved. Effective communication is so very important.

I really wish Steve's presentation had followed suit. His content is very relevant and important, but it really needed to be delivered using the very strategy he was trying to promote. Academic lectures shouldn't be held to a different standard if learning is truly what the end goal is for a presenter. No matter what level we're working at we've got to model what we teach. In the book Switch the authors provide several examples of where important cultural/societal changes were successfully implemented as a result of incorporating the philosophy of educational entertainment. It's a powerful strategy. To tell us about it without incorporating it's principles into the presentation is counterproductive.
Sugata Mitra's work and the corresponding results he achieved make perfect sense. If you’ve ever watched children play they follow similar patterns in their unconstructive play.  There are those actively involved, those that are immediately watching and those that are removed and watching. They all learn. Think about it. How many video games come with instructions? None. And those that do aren't read by kids, but by adults whose frame of reference involves reading the instructions to find out what to do and how to do it. Kids learn by simply experimenting with the game and device, assessing the response to their actions, modifying their actions to achieve a different result, observing, modifying again, etc. Wash, rinse, repeat. Fear of failure isn't a barrier to learning the way it often is in public schools. If we could manage to remove the fear of failure I'm left to wonder just how much more could our at risk students learn. There is a balance that must be struck though. I believe there is learning that simply cannot be  attained intuitively, or is done so very inefficiently. I think the real point behind his work is to restructure the learning environment so support student-centered exploration while at the same time being very deliberate and conservative in our interventions. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Now if we can just get out of our own way...

What really determines the success or failure of change?

Without a doubt the decision to enter into a marriage is the greatest leap of faith a person can undertake. It tends to happen either one of two ways. Many will spend months, if not years in deliberation. Significant time is spent getting to know each other; identifying each others' potentials and pitfalls;  analyzing the upsides and downsides; evaluating the long and short-term repercussions. All the while time passes by. Finally, after much thought and hand wringing on both sides the decision is made to make a go of it, or not. While others simply act on a hunch, a feeling, a sense that the moment is right and leap, or not. Rash maybe, but certainly moving forward toward a goal. Interestingly enough the success of a marriage is all too often ultimately defined by the length of time it survives rather than the growth and benefit to those involved and productivity that results. Yet, when we face change isn't it really our attitude going forward that really dictates success?

Reflecting upon today's information and the exciting potential benefits that the infusion of technologies like Google  could bring to bear on the education, I'm feeling like a young lover on the verge of popping the question while wrestling with the uncertainty of success: Will they love me back? For life? The reality is that I feel we need to move sooner rather than later. Waiting on this one will cost us and our students dearly especially in this day and age.

The reality is that our collective attitude toward the change, more than the change itself that will will determine the ultimate success of anything we do. If we proceed with the thought that success is uncertain, we will work to meet that end. If we approach this change with the attitude that we will only accept success we will work towards that end. The tools of Google Docs is a great, and inexpensive place to start allowing our students to learn and create.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thoughts On Day 1

I'm excited by the prospect of improving my knowledge of ways in which I can increase the use of technology in my building especially given the impacted nature of the student population.  Based upon the few staff I've spoken with motivating and engaging students seems to be a recurrent theme. It would seem ripe for an infusion of technology into the curriculum to bring this about.

Being new to the building I don't really have an accurate picture of what the technology scene looks like throughout the building,  the skills possessed by the staff, their technology needs, the students' skills, their needs, etc.  I do sense from the few walk abouts that I've done that the building's technology infrastructure that students have access to is dangerously close to being obsolete. There's one fairly up to date lab, but it drops off rapidly from there. It's one thing to get excited by the possibilities that technology can bring to instruction, but its' quite another to make it happen when the resources don't exist to support it.

Given my new responsibility for technology throughout the building it is very important for me to get up to speed on the possibilities it holds for our staff. Increasing my knowledge of what's possible is critical to my success in developing a plan for updating infrastructure within the building that supports greater integration of technology into instruction.

I'm excited to see what the rest of the week brings.

Evolving Challenges

Over time education has constantly faced two key challenges. First,  how do you bridge the generational gap that separates children (learners) from adults (teachers)? Currently, the first challenge is in many ways exacerbated by pace at which technology is evolving. Second, how do you discern what to teach students when the body of knowledge in the world expands exponentially? This second question is  particularly vexing given that most communities are adamant that something must be passed on to the next generation in order for them to be considered "educated" and prepared to be successful as a citizen. While there are basic skills which students must be taught in order to function: reading, writing and mathematics, beyond that the question becomes more uncertain. For example there is knowledge necessary for citizenship, but what is that body of knowledge. There is knowledge necessary for life skills, but who defines what that entails.

Given the constancy of these key challenges, what has changed over time is the technology. And in particular the technologies through which this body of knowledge is passed on. The days of oral recitation were eventually supplemented by books. Lectures and books were suplemented by textbooks and multi media--photos, film strips, films, etc. Encyclopedia and main frames gave way to PC's which now facilitate the internet.

In many ways the ever evolving technological landscape shifted the locus of control away from teachers and toward empowering learners. Not only does technology now permit pretty much unlimited access to "knowledge" that historically was possessed and controlled by the teacher and disseminated to students as the teacher saw fit, it provides students tools that facilitate their ability to understand and utilize what they learn. The role of the teacher is now serving primarily two functions. One function is teaching students how to access, synthesize, analyze and evaluate information. The second is to teach them how to use technology to organize and leverage that knowledge to their advantage. Our students live in a world infused with technology. To separate them from that world each day when they come to school does not help us close the generational gap that has always existed between learners and teachers.

Consequently I feel we can either continue to try and drive a round peg into a square hole, or we need to seek ways to better engage our students in their learning using the tools of technology that define the world in which they live.