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16Jun/112

A 21st Century Education – Part 2

Well, I have put a few more hours in on this paper. I would love to hear your feedback! The full text is in this post, but a link to the Google Doc is here.

Thanks!

-Josh

 

Since I first saw the invitation to participate in the intersect community to express and discuss ideas that surround the concepts of 21st century classroom, I have been contemplating how I might make an addition to the conversation. I have been taking down notes, both mental and written, every time my mind strays to this topic. I did not make a concerted effort to put all of these notes together until the last minute, so this writing is a two night effort to share my thoughts. Special thanks to my wife Karen for her feedback, editing, and keen eye.
What is a 21st century classroom?
I think that answering this question is very easy. A 21st century classroom is the physical and virtual space that has been designed to meet the needs of a 21st century student.

What are the needs of a 21st century student?
This is not so easy to answer, and it seems that educators, unions, private industry and government officials all seem to have their own take on this. I think that in order to tackle what a 21st century student is, we need to first tackle our own notions of what the 21st century is, or more importantly, what it is going to be. It seems to me that one of the main obstacles that we currently have in our schools nationwide is that we are consistently addressing the needs of yesterday. Just like the railroad canons of World War I, we keep missing our targets because the world turns while our ordnance is in flight and we have yet to account for the change.

I digress a bit. So...

What is the 21st century?
What are the trends that seem to be sweeping us along? When we project their impact into the future, how do they evolve, change, birth and die?

Here are the top trends that I see in the world around me:
(I must make it clear here, that these thoughts are hardly original. My world view has been shaped and rearranged by the following authors and my grad school work.  In fact a good portion of the following ideas come from Alvin Toffler, Thomas Freidman, James Paul Gee, Daniel Pink, and Pricilla Norton.)

1.       Information
2.       The reduced importance of time and space
3.       Personalization
4.       Game Theory
5.       Learning vs. Knowledge vs. Wisdom

OK, So What?
So the way that I see it, abundant access to information, the reduced importance of time and space, personalization, game theory, and learning vs. knowledge vs. wisdom are the trends, the engines that are driving our society at the moment. I think that it is fair to say that these engines/trends are really just symptoms of the larger transition of our society from a mass-production/manufacturing culture into a high speed networked / data driven society. The fact is that the old model of mass-production/manufacturing is gone and the new model is being created around us, much like the EDS commercial, building planes in the sky from 2000 Superbowl, we are building and defining the structure as we go.

It is in this turbulence that we are looking to build a new vehicle for our educational systems. We are currently in flight and we must rebuild ourselves en route. We are now asking ourselves what new and improved features we should have on this educational airplane of ours.

Should we replace the propellers with jet engines for greater speed? Should the plane land at more airports to give people greater access? Should we have higher quality food, or larger seats, more in flight entertainment options, or even a new logo that is plastered on all of our written material? While these questions and their implications are valid, I again think that it behoves us to as the question of where are we going?

As you read my interpretations of the five engines / trends of the 21st century, think about how this affects the goals of our educational institution and in turn how it affects the mechanisms and process that we have in place to meet these goals.

Information:
We cannot escape it, we are awash in it, and if we do in fact try and get away from it, we are living outside the bounds of “normal” society. Information is pervasive. With a smart phone in hand and data access, the whole of the Internet is in the hands of anyone 24/7. On the flip side, anyone with a smart phone can add to the whole of the Internet with almost effortless ease. Social updates, blog posts, e-mails, cloud storage, audio, video, pictures, and more can be added by anyone at any time, expanding the depth and breadth of the information on the Internet. With on-the-fly translation tools information is no longer bound to the native language it was created it. One can read a Dutch newspaper article in Mandarin, while eating breakfast. The exchange of thought and feeling between individuals is no longer something that is only overheard in close physical proximity. A person in Phoenix can now access the everyday musings of a person in Paris or Brisbane and their thoughts are searchable from the moment they make them public and are now a permanent part of the global  knowledge set.

The reduced importance of time and space:
Because of communications technologies and cloud computing physical distance is becoming less important and time has both grown and shrunk. We can now communicate with almost anyone, anyplace, at any time around the globe. There are countless teleconferencing tools and methods that can project our physical presences around the globe almost instantly. Cloud computing is creating an environment that serves up our own personal data to us independent of location. Where ever we go there we are, has never been more true. Our digital data can be accessed anywhere we want to be, any time we want it. We do not have to wait for a set time or location to access people or data, but our interconnected world can bring them to us, or us to them, in a matter of seconds.

Personalization:
The en mass creation of goods, services, and information is slipping away. We can order everything customized. From clothes, to cars, we can not only personalize the appearance, but the functionality of the objects we purchase. Just like information, the sheer amounts of choice we have in our day-to-day interactions with the world are overwhelming. If you doubt me, you have not been to a Wegmans for your groceries, or to NIKEiD.com. We can customize our music, books, lights, cell phones, cars, and even our homes. There remain few bastions of mass produced icons that permeate our society. We are now a society of “what I want, when I want it, and oh wait, I changed my mind.”

Game Theory:
More and more we are structuring our society as lots of little games. This does not mean that we are turning our society into a bunch of trivial nothings. It simply means that we are tapping into the human psychology of games. The auto industry has done this with gas mileage. We now have miles per gallon readouts in the dashboards of our cars, so we play a game to see how well we can optimize out driving skills to maximize our MPG. Look at the extreme couponing movement that is sweeping the nation. People are playing a game to see how well they can optimize their spending. Rewards are given out for using our credit cards, or at our coffee shops. All around us we see a movement towards giving people a “game to play.” Each game has its own well-defined set of rules, goals, and rewards. This is true for video games, board games, sporting events, intellectual games and the new wave of consumer games that are exploding onto the scene like Aisle411. Some of the best games give the “players” titles, and rewards on an ongoing and ever-expanding basis.

Learning vs. Knowledge vs. Wisdom:
Here are the web definitions for learning, knowledge, and wisdom. It is sometimes hard to disentangle learning and knowledge from each other, but for better or worse and for the sake of this writing let me separate, them in this manner: Learning is the intake of information from the five senses. Knowledge is applying and internalizing what we have taken in. One may learn something, without ever knowing what it is. I would also say that learning is inert knowledge, that is to say that it is information that is unable to be properly applied in its correct context. In our society we crave knowledge, but very rarely does the intake of information progress out of learning and into knowledge. For instance, just the other week I asked a group of high school students “who here has learned the Pythagorean theorem?” Every hand in the classroom went up. Then I asked “how many of you know how to use it?” Only a few hands were in the air then, sad from this teacher’s point of view, but not unexpected. We see this over and over in our students and in our population. Information is taken in, but no connections are made, no application for the knowledge is produced. Our society is filled with people who have learned much, but know little, and sadly they do not know what they are missing.

Knowledge applied over time produces wisdom. It is a fact that wisdom is one of the few treasured possessions of humans that cannot be hurried. Wisdom takes time. We as a society value wisdom very highly and we seek after individuals and groups that have it. A learned individual is good, a knowledgeable individual is great, but an individual that we deem as having wisdom is an invaluable asset.

As we compete globally for jobs, resources, customers, and employees it is no longer good enough to be learned. We must be knowledgeable. To become a learned person takes only second and a few keystrokes, or a bit of voice recognition software. We are presented with all the information that we can take in. It is what we do with that information, how it is synthesized, transformed, applied, and then re-communicated that separates the good from the great and puts a person on the path to awesomeness (wisdom).

How doe these engines / trends manifest themselves in an educational institution?
What are our educational attributes and what does the vehicle of education look like with the engines of abundant access to information, the reduced importance of time and space, personalization, game theory, and learning vs. knowledge vs. wisdom driving us? In light of these five engines/trends, here are the attributes that I think a 21st century educational institution should have.

We need:

  1. Students as knowledge and wisdom builders. We want our students to move beyond learning and the intake of facts and figures. We want them to apply and synthesize learning into knowledge and over time build wisdom.
  2. Teaching, learning, and knowledge building that takes place in the context of its use. Knowledge and wisdom can not be built unless the information and skills that students take in can be practiced in a real-world environment that is situated in the context of its real-world use.
  3. A new system of educational taxonomy that does away with the current silos of subject and department. Gone would be Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, CTE, Math, etc. These divisions serve currently to isolate learning and impeded the creation of knowledge and wisdom. Instead students would be flexibly grouped into teams, groups, houses, or companies. Each group would be focused on an over-arching real world goal for a set period of time, such as designing and building a car, witting and performing a play, analyzing a crime scene and prosecuting a defendant, designing a grocery store and presenting the proposal to a venture capitol group. There may be groups that focus on the work of artist, or scientists, journalist, video game designers, engineers, business administrators. These groupings should take their cues from industry.
  4. Locationless classrooms - gathering places for students to physically and virtually meet to collaboratively tackle the challenges that their group has been assembled to solve that are independent of physical location and time.
  5. Teachers who are mentors, advisers, and subject matter experts to students. As groups intake information as they learn, it will be the personal contact of the teacher, both physically and virtually, that mentors each student and their group and provides them the catalyst to transform learning into knowledge and wisdom. Teachers / mentors will not be attached to any one physically or virtual space, but will be available to multiple groups as their specific knowledge sets can be used to meet the goals of the group and the educational goals of each student.
  6. Electronic collaborative Personal Educational Plans (PEP) for every student. Similar to IEP’s, a PEP would chart out a plan for each student with milestones, suggestions, and accommodations. The PEP would allow students, parents, teacher, counselors, and administrators to chart progress, and adjust on the fly a student’s educational path. A PEP would not specify a time for completion. These plans would be tailored to the proclivities of the students and their parents.
  7. Standards and competencies that give students clear goals and clear feedback and that can be viewed like achievements and rewards in a game as they progress. These standards and goals would be arranged into levels of breadth and depth. We should not do away with the current standards and competencies that we have. It should be recognized that the knowledge and skills sets that students are required to acquire are for the most part well thought out. It is the current mechanism for delivering the knowledge and skills that has lost its effectiveness. The current standards and goals will need to be pulled out of their silo-ed subjects and taxonomies and synthesised into a greater whole.
  8. Seat time and grade levels to become irrelevant. If a student meets the standards they should be able to adjust their PEP and focus on new goals.
  9. Assessment techniques and technologies that assess more than learning, they must assess knowledge. This can not be done in the same mass manufactured grading scale that is currently used.
  10. The creation of products and the communication of ideas needs to become the major indicators of student competences and standards.
  11. Rewards, honors, and achievements that correlate to the standards and competencies and that are bestowed publicly on students as they are earned.
  12. Student dashboards will act as the gateway for students. Like the player stats of a video game it will show each students their PEP, group goals and milestones, current assignments and missions, rewards, honors, and achievements, as well as access to collaborative communication tools.
  13. Extremely flexible infrastructure that can add or subtract resources on a rapid schedule to meet the needs of the student groups who require instant access to resources, both physical and virtual, independent of their physical location.
    1. Flexible physical building space, labs, meeting rooms, work rooms, etc.
    2. Flexible virtual spaces
    3. Flexible Information Technology (IT) infrastructure that connects virtual and physical resources on demand as well as providing connectivity and support for students  personal IT needs (both hardware and software).
    4. Flexible procurement and supplies
    5. Flexible assignment of teachers and mentors to groups.
  14. A teacher academy that educates teachers in this radically different method of education. Each teacher would be raised up in a feeder school for teachers. There are many models for this such as minor league baseball teams being feeder teams for the major leagues. The teacher academy would be the place where potential teachers would acquire the knowledge and wisdom that it takes to become a functioning part of the school that they are going to join.

The picture I have painted above is radically different from the system that we currently have. I make no apology for the departure that this vision is from current educational orthodoxy. I believe that we can not just evolve as an educational institution, where we continue to refine and optimize what we currently do. We must go through a system-wide metamorphosis that will be painful and scary, but ultimately we must transform into something entirely new. While our DNA, “meeting the educational needs of students,” will stay the same, the mechanisms and systems that we use to make this happen will change just as the needs of these students have changed as well.

Here is the crux of the situation, our current system is setup to meets the needs of a student in a bygone era. Just as the world has radically changed, so must we, and while my suggestions are not a complete road map, or plan for change, I do believe that they, and other radical ideas like them are the future of a successful educational institution. The effects abundant access to information, the reduced importance of time and space, personalization, game theory, and learning vs. knowledge vs. wisdom are rippling through our society in into our schools, we must devote ourselves to designing an institution that equips and prepares our students to meet these waves.

I would be honored to answer your questions about my thinking, or where my ideas came from. I would jump at the chance to engage in thoughtful debate and I would be grateful to have these ideas and thoughts considered and contemplated, as we move forward in our quest to address the needs of our students in the 21st century.

-Joshua R. Thom
Quantico Middle High School

 

15Jun/114

A 21st Century Education

Friends and family, I need your help. If you have a spare 30 minutes would you read this and give me feedback. I am posting it to a Google Doc and if you have a docs account you can edit right on the doc with this link.

OK, so long time no blog, yea I know, not the time to hit you all with something heavy, so sorry (not really). I have been challenged to give my input on what is a 21st century classroom. What follows is part one of my response which outlines the trends that I see that will be directly affecting my vision for a 21st Century education. I have been typing for the past two hours and the letters on the screen are getting blurry.

So just to set this straight for those of you that are going to state the obvious for my procrastinating self: “You should have started writing this a month ago when you found out about it!”

Yes your absolutely right, but I didn’t and now I am scrambling with two days before the deadline is due, so yea… Now let’s have a go at this shall we? And thanks in advance.

What is a 21st century classroom?
I think that answering this question is very easy. A 21st century classroom is the physical and virtual space that has been designed to meet the needs of a 21st century student.

What are the needs of a 21st century student?
This is not so easy to answer, and it seems that educators, unions, private industry and government officials all seem to have their own take on this. I think that in order to tackle what a 21st century student is, we need to first tackle our own notions of what the 21st century is, or more importantly, what it is going to be. It seems to me that one of the main obstacles that we currently have in our schools nationwide is that we are consistently addressing the needs of yesterday. Just like the rail road canons of World War I, we keep missing our targets because the world turns while our ordnance is in flight and we have yet to account for the change.

I digress a bit. So what is the 21st century? What are the trends that seem to be sweeping us along? When we game them out, how do they evolve, change, birth and die?

Here are the top trends that I see in the world around me:
(I must make it clear here, that these thoughts are hardly original. My world view has been shaped and rearranged by the following authors and my grad school work.  In fact a good portion of the following ideas come from Alvin Toffler, Thomas Freidman, James Paul Gee, Daniel Pink, and Pricilla Norton.)

1.       Information
2.       The reduced importance of time and space
3.       Personalization
4.       Game Theory
5.       Learning vs. Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Information:
We cannot escape it, we are awash in it, and if we do in fact try and get away from it, we are living outside the bounds of “normal” society. Information is pervasive. With a smart phone in hand and data access the whole of the internet is in the hands of anyone 24 7. On the flip side, anyone with a smart phone can add to the whole of the internet with almost effortless ease. Social updates, blog posts, e-mails, cloud storage, audio, video, pictures, and more can be added by anyone at any time expanding the depth and breadth of the information on the internet. With on the fly translation tools information is no longer bound to the native language it was created it. One can read a Dutch newspaper article in mandarin while eating breakfast. The exchange of thought and feeling between individuals is no longer something that is only overheard in close physical proximity, a person in Phoenix can now access the everyday musings of a person in Paris or Brisbane and their thoughts are searchable from the moment they make them public and are now a permanent part of the global  knowledge set.

The reduced importance of time and space:
Because of communications technologies and cloud computing physical distance is becoming less important and time has both grown and shrunk. We can now communicate with almost anyone, anyplace, at any time around the globe. There are countless teleconferencing tools and methods that can project our physical presences around the globe almost instantly. Cloud computing is creating an environment that serves up our own personal data to us independent of location. Where ever we go there we are had never been more true. Our digital data can be accessed anywhere we want to be anytime we want it. We do not have to wait for a set time or location to access people or data, our interconnected world can bring them to us or us to them in a matter of seconds.

Personalization:
The en mass creation of goods, services, and information is slipping away. We can order custom everything. From clothes, to cars we can not only personalize the appearance, but the functionality of the objects we purchase. Just like information, the sheer amounts of choice we have in our day to day interactions with the world are overwhelming. If you doubt me, you have not been to a Wegmans for your groceries, or to Nikeid. We can customize our music, books, lights, cell phones, cars, even our homes. There remain few bastions of mass produced icons that permeate our society. We are now a society of “what I want, when I want it, and oh wait I changed my mind.”

Game Theory:
More and more we are structuring our society as lots of little games. This does not mean that we are turning our society into a bunch or trivial nothings. It simply means that we are tapping into the human psychology of games. The auto industry has done this with gas mileage. We now have miles per gallon readouts in the dashboards of our cars, so we play a game to see how well we can optimize out driving skills to maximize our MPG. Look at the extreme couponing movement that is sweeping the nation. People are playing a game to see how well they can optimize their spending. Rewards are given out for using our credit cards, or at our coffee shops. All around us we see a movement towards giving people a “game to play.” Each game has its own well defined set of rules, goals, and rewards. This is true for video games, board games, sporting events, intellectual games and the new wave of consumer games that are exploding onto the scene like Aisle411. Some of the best games give the “players” titles, and rewards on an ongoing and ever expanding basis.

Learning vs. Knowledge vs. Wisdom:
Here are the web definitions for learning, knowledge, and wisdom. It is sometimes hard to disentangle learning and knowledge from each other, but for better or worse and for the sake of this writing let me separate, them in this manner. Learning is the intake of information from the five senses. Knowledge is applying and internalizing what we have taken in. One may learn something without ever knowing what it is. I would also say that learning is inert knowledge, that is to say that it is information that is unable to be properly applied in its correct context. In our society we crave knowledge, but very does the intake of information progress out of learning and into knowledge. For instance, just the other week I asked a group of high school students “who here has learned the Pythagorean theorem?” Every hand in the classroom went up. Then I asked “how many of you know how to use it?” Only a few hands were in the air then, sad from this teacher’s point of view, but not unexpected. We see this over and over in our students and in our population. Information is taken in, but no connections are made, no application for the knowledge is produced. Our society is filled with people who have learned much, but know little and sadly they do not know what they are missing.

Knowledge applied over time produces wisdom. It is a fact that wisdom is one of the few treasured possessions of humans that cannot be hurried. Wisdom takes time. We as a society value wisdom very highly and we seek after individuals and groups that have it. A learned individual is good, a knowledgeable individual is great, but an individual that we deem as having wisdom is an invaluable asset.

As we compete globally for jobs, resources, customers, and employees it is no longer good enough to be learned. We must be knowledgeable. To become a learned person takes only second and a few keystrokes, or a bit of voice recognition software. We are presented with all the information that we can take in. It is what we do with that information, how it is synthesized, transformed, applied, and then re-communicated that separates the good from the great and puts a person on the path to awesomeness (wisdom).

3Feb/113

“I Give Up”

In my Computer Animation class today I heard “I give up, this is to hard” from half of the students in the class. After a full semester where we experimented around with and learned the tools and work flow of our design tool (3D Studio Max). We have transitioned into a semi-autonomous set of projects. The students could choose from the following:

A Detailed Modeling Project: This is where the student would choose a real but complex object and model it using the software. For instance, I have a student who is recreating a Bell helicopter. She has gone out on the net and found drawings, pictures and some schematics. Using all of these resources she is recreating the aircraft in great detail. I have another student who is recreating a catapult.

Re-enactment Project: This is a project that can take two distinct forms. The first is re-enacting an event from history. A famous battle, ships at sea, the launch of the Apollo Astronauts, or something along those lines. The second way this project can work is by recreating 30 second to a minute of a movie. I have one student who has chosen to recreate the opening scene from Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. She is recreating the tomb with the bolder running down.

Composite Project: This project is where the student combines the virtual world that they create and the real world using our modeling tools and video editing tools. I have one student who is creating a Matrix like scene where they are going to be dodging the bullets of a weapon. The weapon and the bullets will all be created inside our modeling programs and then edited into a film sequence. Another student is going to composite together a real and virtual classroom where she will assemble pages of the yearbook in a Minorty Report style where she uses her hands to manipulate 3D objects that are hovering in front of a white board.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. We are now three weeks into this assignment and the students are overwhelmed. There are so many parts and steps that they are freezing every time they run into a problem. I hard “I give up, this is to hard” more times than I wanted to today. So I sat down with as many students as I could in that 90 minute block and did as much as I could to guide their thinking and infuse them with courage to plod on through unknown territory. It is a tough job creating an environment of can do attitude while not losing sight of our goals!

I have always found that my student have a hard time self-organizing themselves for these large projects. I am still perfecting my method for addressing their needs, but I struggle with how much support I should give them from the outset. I want them to grow their organization, time management, and planning skills. So giving them a very ridged set of guidelines and prompts keeps their anxiety levels down and keeps them going on with baby steps, but I have also found this method severely limits their creativity. That in turn leads to a decrease in their intrinsic motivation to keep working and they lose interest. I also think that when I spell out a task to the Nth degree that the students disengage their brains and rely solely on the instructions to get them through. It is as if they become robots who only create what is placed in front of them.

On the other hand, if I leave things wide open, as I have done this year, I must invest huge amounts of time and energy into each student. While one on one mentoring is my preferred MO, I sometimes wish for a breather. I know that sounds very selfish of me, and it feels selfish when I write it, but it is how I feel at the moment.

So that leads me back to my quest to find a medium that can scaffold the environment  for students and yet encourage free thinking, while not draining my reserves as quickly.

I will get back to you when I come up with it J. Until that time. If you have any ideas, bring them one please!

Filed under: Reflection 3 Comments
30Jan/111

Commutageddon

I love snow. I am not sure entirely why, but I think it unites people with a common purposes that they would not have otherwise. In passing conversation the weather is the most popular item for us to talk complete, yet understandable, nothings about. It is a common experience. Metrological events happen to everyone and it is the same for all those in close geographic proximity. It is a singular event shared by many. There are not that many experiences that are universally shared. Yea we all share the common bond of birth and death, but you can’t remember the first, and it is very rare to be able to discuss the later after you both have been through it! :)

Enough with that part of the philosophical rant.

The simple fact is the weather unites people, and snow seems to do it better than any other meteorological event. It seems to me, that I see and interact with my neighbors more after a good snow than I do any other time of the year, and while I find this saddening that I do not see them more often, it seems that is just the way it goes. We are all so busy running around trying to do what we do, that all we normally do with each other is wave as we pass in a car zooming in or out of the neighborhood. But then it snows. Normal life comes to a halt, and in my townhome neighborhood, the shoveling and pushing of cars begins.

This past snow storm, that the twitterverse coined as Commutageddon, cars were all over the place and people were going nowhere fast. In our little section of the world there were a handful of us that pushed, dug out, drove, and directed no less than fifteen cars over a three hour period as the snow was coming down. We were united in purpose, to keep our neighborhood roads open, help people drive safe, and get our loved ones home. It was a great time, high fives, cheers, and woops occurred each and every time that we as a group triumphed over the elements and the occupants of a vehicle opened the door to their home. We not only shared in experiencing the weather together, we formed bonds as we accomplished shared goals and we kicked some snowy butt!

We didn’t sit down at a table before hand and discuss what we wanted to have happen. We didn’t have a manual to tell us how to get it done. There was not one person that went door to door dragging people out into the snow to enlist their help. It wasn’t just the strapping young lads that were grouped together to make it happen. There were older adults, kids, moms, dads, wives, husbands and grandparents that looked out their windows, observed a need, suited up, and with shovel in hand came out, chipped in, and together we got the work done. People did not have to ask for help, as soon as they were spotted in their vehicle and it was obvious that they needed help, the entire group converged on them and got them out. It was awesome! I can picture the end of a documentary about use. We all slowly fade out of view as we walk away from the camera obscured by the falling snow as impactful music plays. A deep voice says “And yet when it was over we faded back to our hot chocolate and fire places knowing that “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” came together in our community’s time of need and conquered Commutageddon.” – Cut to black.

This experience made me think of my classroom. Actually, it makes me think of my entire school, and that thinking leads me to lamenting the fact that I wish my school and the system( local, district, and national systems) that we work for and in would operate in a similar fashion. One in which the people with the gumption to get it done, would feel empowered to come out and do it. All too often I seem to find educators are too scared to “come out side and play.”

I think this might be because, unlike Commutageddon, the sense of a shared experience is just not present. This in turn creates an atmosphere of fear uncertainty and doubt about stepping outside of our educational houses (classrooms, offices, departments, cliques, etc.) and pitching in to get “it” done. Whatever the “it” of the moment is.

I think that the same fear uncertainty and doubt can also keep us, as educators, from accepting and or asking for help when we need it. So we continue to stay in a state of perpetual paralysis, unable to break free. (As I re-read these two sentences, they really are a downer, but the next paragraph brings hope. It wouldn’t be a good blog post if it ended here! :) )

It is becoming clearer to me that transforming myself, my classroom, my school, my district, my world, into a unit that steps out and gets stuff done, hinges on creating an atmosphere that disperses the fear uncertainty and doubt that seem to permeate our immediate surroundings. As Strong Bad would say “You gots to look insiiide yourself! Positate the negative!”

How do we go about Positating the Negative and create an atmosphere in our immediate surroundings that actively works against fear uncertainty and doubt? I do believe that a shared struggle and experience, like my Commutageddon experience, unites people in a very powerful way and allows people who would have not normally associated with one another to bond and strengthen each other, become more tighter than they could have been as individuals.

In the short term, this allows a group of almost strangers to become opportunistic allies and dig out their neighborhood. This creates a short term atmosphere where fear uncertainty and doubt are replaced by a common purpose, but when the short term goal is over, we go back to the way it was. Uncertain of our standing with our neighbors and maybe just a bit fearful that we will not be accepted for us because we do not share a common long term experience. We are not the same as them and they are not the same as me, so we are doubtful that they would want to associate with us? This sense of unease can keep us from stepping out into the unknown.

Now one might just think that I am making all this up and that I need to lay off the coffee a bit, but I have seen what happens when strangers start to share the same experiences over a period of months and years. In the long run it allows strangers to become purposeful partners who accept their differences, yet unite in the shared experiences they are traveling together through.

I see evidence of this in my master’s program at GMU. It is a program that uses a cohort model. For all five semesters I was with the exact same group of people. A handful of strangers who had very little in common, besides being teachers, battle their way together through a program that challenged our world view, teaching practices, time management and communication skills, and our ability to self-motivate. It was a challenge. I can honestly say that I do not think I could have succeed with all that was thrown at me if I did not have direct and constant interactions with my fellow classmates every week and share in the exact same experiences. We bonded and accomplished great things together!

The second place that this principle is evident to me is every Monday night at 6:15. This is when my small group meets. We have been meeting for well over seven years and our purpose is simple. To share our lives with one another and our Christian experience. It is not a time to study or debate Scriptures, ethical dilemmas, Church policy. Our focus is on retelling the events of the week to one another, sharing the highs and lows of our week and discussing what it means to us to be a Christian and how we actively apply our faith to our lives. I do not think that I would be as confidante in my faith if I did see the same struggles in others that I encounter, and if we did not celebrate the achievements of each other’s lives. It is the shared experience of this group that, like my masters class, unites a set of people with very different backgrounds and lives.

The tangible byproduct of both of these groups, who are purposefully sharing a common experience, is an empowerment of one another to drive past the fear uncertainty and doubt that lie in wait inhibiting us from changing ourselves and in turn the world around us. I think it is important to note that each group is purposeful in sharing their experiences. They are not passive, the members go out of their way to share with one another.

This leads me to believe that a similar construct of teachers who go out of their way to share their experience with one another, despite their differences, would serve as the foundation for our schools to achieve an atmosphere where fear uncertainty and doubt would be minimized. It could serve to facilitate that wonderful place where students, teachers, and administrators would be continuously stepping outside of their educational houses (classrooms, offices, departments, cliques, etc.) and pitching in to get “it” done. Where help is freely offered and freely given. Where a share experience forms a band of brothers instead of a passive set of coworkers.

It seems that a movement like this starts with a single individual, who gives themself permission to step outside of their own boundaries to purposefully share their experiences and inquire to others about what they have encountered. To expose the shared experience that is already occurring and build up a positive atmosphere where failure is not a crime and success is hugely celebrated. To be a positive and viral force that seeks to overcome fear uncertainty and doubt and unify people to accomplish their goals. Could this could happen in your school? Could you be the start? I think the answer is yes!

Picture the ending to your movie. Where you a single educator have catalyzed a community and  changed the course of your school overtime by building up a movement of students, teachers, and administrators to achieve the seemingly impossible!

As you and the other teachers and staff exit the front door of your school, your silhouettes fade into the twilight of the sky. A deep voice is heard saying “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers came together in our schools time of need, conquered the unknown, the fear uncertainty and doubt. Together we forged greatness.” – Cut to black.

29Jan/112

RPG Classroom Days 3 & 4: Frustration

Errrggg <low and guttural sounding, said as I slide into an armchair with a Harpoon IPA> :)

You know, this little project of mine would really take off a lot quicker if there were two of me! I am trying to do too much that is to new, too soon. The players/students are floundering as I try to implement this game in my classroom and direct a daily news show with the same students at the same time.

My hope had been that the second year students would be able to carry the weight of the news broadcast and that I could play the role of “game master” helping the new novices figure out the rules and the mechanics of the game. Alas, nature, viruses, and surgeries have coalesced together and conspired to stymie the small momentum that we had gained. One of my second year students is having back surgery, which I knew was coming. Another has been out for the week with the Flu, and then we have had two hour delays, a snow day. Then today we had snow falling all school day. That proved to be a bigger distraction than a disco ball in a library reading room.

So the students have not found the intrinsic motivation to try new Quests, Tasks, Learnings, or Reflections. In fact, I have found that because of my frustration level I am not able to succinctly articulate my hopes for the students, and so they are getting lost. I need to finish the descriptions for the Quests, Tasks, Learnings, and Reflections that are available, as well as rubrics that will help the students gauge their progress towards completion.

OH Well, slaying this dragon is going to take much longer than a week.

The beast and I will meet again, next week.

On a positive note. I have come to a conclusion that I need to take the Quests, Tasks, Learning’s, and Reflections and create an interactive map that helps the students navigate their options and see their relationship to one another. I am going to see what I can do with that over the weekend.

Thanks to those of you who are reading and commenting back. Your messages are encouraging!

Cheers, My IPA is calling.

24Jan/110

Classroom RPG Day 2

Things were a bit rough today. First many of the students were like ships without a rudder. They did not have any direction, and self-direction did not seem to be high on their to-do list. Second, I did not get my Quest, Task, Learning, and Reflection options fully typed up for the students. So this left me trying to fill in the gaps myself while I directed the news. I did a poor job of directing the students that were not immediately involved in the creation of the news show. I think that providing the students with a robust description of the items that are avaliable to them as well as robust indicators of success will help this along nicely. Now all there is to do is create them :)

On the bright side, the news went off with out to much problem. Not bad for day two!

Right after class I opened up the “XP Submit Form” and transferred that data into the Student Score Cards, which are a system of Google Spreadsheets. The process went much faster than I thought it would and I was done entering in all the data and allotting XP for each one of the players (students) attributes in under ten minutes.

On the drive home I was contemplating some of the awards that students should be able to earn as they progress. I came to the conclusion that the vitality of this experiment will hinge on the students excitement and engagement. I think that it will be important to celebrate and highlight even the most basic of achievements for each of the players. So I am going to start creating achievements like, “Camera Ready”, which will be and achievement that can be earned when a student has been in front of the camera as talent more than five times. As well as “Get a Grip” which will be awarded to a player that participates in at least five production runs (when filming happens).

Also, I have made ZERO progress in determining how to “grade” my students :(. (See yesterdays post for more info on this.)

Till next time!

24Jan/114

The Start of the Experiment

In past blog posts I have stated ideas like the following: I would like to take the great aspects of games (video, board, card, underwater, extreme) in all their forms and integrate them into my classroom.

Well the time has come and I am starting and I am so very excited to start “doing” instead of just dreaming about this!

This Google Document is a shared space that outlines the basic mechanics of the “game.” While it is not much, I worked and reworked it over the past three months. I then shared it out to my second level Video Communication students and they helped me refine it a bit.

We started on Thursday! I introduced the general mechanics with all the students in the class. A few looked at me like I had two heads. I heard more than a few “cools” and one or two “wows.” The student all worked on the same collaborative “task” of scripting, producing, editing and airing our five minute news show.

At the end of the block I sent each of them a link to a Google form that I call the “XP Submit Form.” It is here that they register that they have completed a Quest, Task, Training & Lecture, or Reflection and would like to be allotted XP. They also are required to write a small narrative that describes what they accomplished in their own words.

I then created an Google Spreadsheet that I use to keep track of all of this information and a lot each student the XP that they earned.

Tomorrow we go into day two. So I am looking forward to hearing a bit of feedback from the entire class as well as continued testing of the entire “game” structure.

There are still a few crucial pieces that I need to iron out.

The largest at the moment, how do I translate the Experience Points (XP) and progress (Levels and Titles) of the “players” (also known as students) into a grade. I am struggling under this small but important item. My unions master labor agreement requires me to enter at least one grade for each student weekly. While I see the wisdom of this policy as it relates to keeping parents informed about the progress of their students. I do not see much wisdom in the issuing of “grades” in the form of numbers that could represent anything from what a student’s knows to how much sleep they got the night before. The numbers very rarely coincide with actual student achievement!

OK enough of that rant. The problem is still genuine. I haven’t a good picture of how to translate “player” advancement into an item that is traceable in our online grading system. A few have proposed giving the students a participation grade, ugh! I think that is worse than giving them no grade at all. It is arbitrary and unrepresentative of learning and achievement.

So the bottom line… I need any and all advise that you might be sending my way!

More updates to come!

17Dec/101

Search Google by Reading Level

I was just reading one of my favorite geek sites and came across this article that was announcing a new search tool that came online today from Google. The ability to search results based on reading level. Immediately as an educator my interest was piqued. I teach 6th – 12th grade courses at my school and the variance in reading ability and comprehension between my various classes is huge. So I set out to explore what exactly sorting search results by reading level would do thinking that it could be very valuable to me in and my students.

I first found that it was not obvious how to search by reading level. But with a few moments of digging I found the new tool under the “Advanced Search” section. Here is a help page with instructions on how to make use of the new feature. Google gives you three options for sorting the reading level of your search, Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. I dug around and found this thread on in a Google support forum where a user named nundu had announced the feature on the 10th of December and then answered questions. They had this to say about the feature:

The feature is based primarily on statistical models we built with the help of teachers. We paid teachers to classify pages for different reading levels, and then took their classifications to build a statistical model. With this model, we can compare the words on any webpage with the words in the model to classify reading levels. We also use data from Google Scholar, since most of the articles in Scholar are advanced.

I am still unsure how the levels of “Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced” will correlate with my students’ abilities, but I think I might sit down for a bit with my school librarian and English teachers to see what we can figure out.

I am will use this feature with my middle school classes. I ask them to search for information about topics and words as we have class discussions and lectures. For instance we were talking about the nature of light the other day in my Video Production class. I had the students look up light using Google. Most of them would pull up the first link that popped up which is a Wikipedia article.

Light is the portion of electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has awavelength in a range from about 380 or 400 nanometres to about 760 or 780 nm,[1] with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz. Inphysics, the term light often comprises the adjacent radiation regions of infrared (at lower frequencies) and ultraviolet (at higher), not visible to the human eye.[2][3]

My poor 7th graders would read this and get glassy eyed.

Using the reading level search option and selecting basic or intermediate the first article that pops up is from How Stuff Works. Check out the difference!

We see things every day, from the moment we get up in the morning until we go to sleep at night. We look at everything around us using light.

We apprecia­te kids' crayon drawings, fine oil paintings, swirling computer graphics, gorgeous sunsets, a blue sky, shooting stars and rainbows. We rely on mirrors to make ourselves presentable, and sparkling gemstones to show affection.

Ahh, now that is more like a 7th graders speed!! I am excited to give this a run in my classroom.

How do you think you might use this in your life, and if you are a teacher, how might this affect you and your students? Comment here or on Facebook.

3Dec/104

I don’t know.

Yesterday was a great day in my classroom. I have had such a fun time setting my students up so that they would "fall into learning." In my engineering class we are getting into a unit where I am using robotics as a vehicle to teach simple machines, electronics, pneumatics, linear thinking, problem solving, group collaboration and the engineering method.

I have set the class loose with the Mindstorm kits, with very little guidance on how the Lego RCX system works. They have the legos themselves, the Robolab software, the Internet, their peers, and myself as resources. If anyone from outside our class were to walk in, I am sure they would assume that the students are just goofing off and playing. I on the other hand know better because I have been setting the stage for this type of free form inquiry from day one in my classroom.

Many short group problem solving activities have been inter-spliced throughout this first semester on an every other week basis. I have also challenge their thinking and questioning skills at the end of each week with brain teasers from the "Stories with Holes" books. We have taken the time as a class and as individuals to self reflect on the problems that have been solve in the class and the methods that have been used to create solutions to those problems. All of this has been done to get them to have the habits of mind of an engineer and a love of solving problems.

For instance, the latest group problem solving active was for the students to design a structure that could support the most weight out of nothing but 5x7 and 3x5 cards. The structure had to stand at least 3 inches tall and we then stacked text books on top of the structure to test it weight. There was a good amount of trash talking between the groups and they rush to out due each others with their design and construction work. During the testing phase of the problem each group nervously watched as as each structure was load tested until it failed with the silence thickening until the text books that were serving a the weights came crashing down with loud roars of applause from all the students. The students then collaboratively joined up in a google word processing document and and self reflected about their solutions and the steps that they took to get from inception to final product. It is always exciting for me to see the students look back and examine their thinking and draw connections from it.

All of this leads me to yesterday, where the students were diving into their first programing experiences with the RCX boxes. None of them had ever done anything like is before, but I gave each group a challenge. "Who can make a robot that will drive it's self in a square 5 feet on each side." That was all the guidance I gave them. The scaffolding that I had worked so hard to put up for them to guide them had just come down and they were free.

I was rewarded ten fold. The groups tore into the challenge with vigor and gusto. When they hit snags and had questions my favorite answer was "I don't know." What a powerful answer that can be to a class that is seeking to find answers because they intrinsically want to learn. "I don't know" forces them to rely on each other and wrestle together to form a group understanding of the solutions to their problems. It eliminates me, the teacher, from being the sole arbiter of "the right way to solve is problem" and frees the group to explore and solve in the methods and manors that best suite them.

All in all, it has been a banner week! The students are doing amazing things on a daily basis and the just seem to be effortlessly falling into new learning and understanding, I love it when a plan comes together!

30Nov/100

Wikileaks and the Classroom?

I was one of the few students in my master’s program that really enjoyed the book Revolutionary Wealth. I ate that book up! It deals with the proposed impacts of information revolution by breaking down all of the systems upon systems that are dependent on the Industrial Revolution models of society and projecting how they will change in response to a society where information is the main source of wealth. The book is hundreds of pages long, and I could not do it an iota of justice trying to explain it in a paragraph, but suffice to say that the book had a profound impact on me as a member of the world community and as a teacher in the United States of America.

The concepts that are laid out in the book continue to challenge me. I continually envision how education must evolve to meet the needs of an information society and its students. I pulled three educational ideals from the book; shared knowledge, collaboration, and individualization. They are becoming center pieces in my classroom. I actively try to weave them into every class period, every unit and project.

These ideals and my admiration of them bring me to ponder this latest volley from wikileaks. The release of thousands of diplomatic correspondences and the ensuing conflicts that are developing in the wake of the releases have caused me to take note.

When I look at the world through a lens developed by the concepts in the book I see echo’s of Mr. Toffler words that emphasize how each of the past revolutions in human history, both agriculture and industrial, were beset with conflicts. Some violent and some peaceful, but conflict none the less. Toffler argued that the information age revolution would see similar conflicts to match the revolutions of the past.

It seems to me that wikileaks is currently a digital David at the front lines of this information age conflict, wielding a weapon that with a single flick will bring down giants. It is a battle between the old industrial command and control model and the new information age shared knowledge model. It is scary for me to think that shared knowledge, a trait I value, is causing so much strife.

I do not think that the information by itself is inherently dangerous, it is the speed and scope of its release its ability to be quickly parsed and analyzed and its unfiltered / unguided access.

I am embroiled in this conflict as well, but in a different set of battles. As an educator there are the issues of file sharing, texting in the classroom, facebook, students with video cameras, mass e-mails and the list trials on. All tools and concepts that are tied to the use of information.

It is a common occurrence in my school that the nurse will get a call from a parent telling her that it is OK for their child to go home, or that they will be coming to pick them up because they are sick. The student will have secretly texted their parent in the middle of class and in one simple quick action they will have bypassed many layers of checks and balances that the school has setup.

This is not an isolated situation. In schools all over the world students are communicating to individuals outside the walls of the school building and bypassing safeguards and filters. Information flows freely. In many ways without regard to its validity, truth, and at times outside the bounds of its original context.

Pictures that seem innocuous and silly slip out onto the web, and forever stay with the individuals that are pictured in them becoming almost impossible to hide and or eradicate. Thus freezing them in time and making it harder for them to grow out of those silly and sometimes embarrassing personas and grow into the adults that they aspire to be.

Our students have a very hard time with the concepts of copyright, fair use. “Cheating” is made so easy with a ctrl-c and ctrl-v that it is trivial for students to copy and paste others work or copy from the web. I put cheating in quotations because the students honestly believe that because it is so easy that it is socially responsible and correct.

The conflict rages. Students are struggling against the will and methods of teachers, administrators and communities that are themselves struggling with the digital David’s of this brave new world.  We watch the old ways crumble and seem to be reacting to situations and doing damage control instead of proactively shaping those same situations to provide stability and structure.

I think that it is the responsibility of educators to emerge to the front lines of these conflicts, not as combatants, but as negotiators and engineers who mediate between the new society that is forming, the old society that is dissolving, and the students that we seek to prepare to build the gap between them both.

Alas, we as an educational institution, revel in being combatants. Some see it as our sacred honor to defend the institution. I see this mentality as a losing one that wastes precious time and resources.

Instead I believe that it is our sacred honor to form a bridge between our students and society. To seek out the upcoming digital Davids, earn their trust, mentor them, and hope that their aim is true and well placed.

I can’t change the situations of today, but I do think I have the ability to shape the situations of tomorrow one student at a time.