Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Two excellent Iowa blogs

I'm an avid reader of two more edublogs by Iowa teachers.

Russ Goerend, a K-5 TAG teacher, blogs at TAGmirror primarily about technology integration like I do, but what he excels at is analyzing and advocating giftedness in students. For some examples, he has posts entitled "Are You Being Deceived? TAG Myths" and "Will I get in trouble if my cursive is sloppy? Acceleration"

An excellent post of his is how he is using Google Docs in the classroom. This is a must read for anyone looking for a step-by-step analysis of how to use Google Docs in the classroom.

Matt Townsley is a math instructor at Solon High School. His blog MeTA Musings looks at math education, technology, and assessment. He is not only a champion of standards-based grading in a constructivst environment, but he puts an important focus on assessment throughout his posts.

However, on a sad note, both went to Wartburg. Any Norse edubloggers out there, please chime in. I'm being outnumbered.

Monday, March 30, 2009

IAAE - Day 2

Day 2 of the conference was slimmed down for me. I missed Dr. Richard Kay's presentation having some other meetings to attend. And, the second day of the conference ended at noon.

I did, however, get to meet and listen to Layne Henn, technology director for Sioux City Community School District. Sioux City is experiencing what Des Moines Public is experiencing: higher number of dropouts and public pressure to do something about it (this pretty well describes all the Urban 8).

Layne has spearheaded the district's movement to develop online content. Much like other large districts, they have several layers of alternative settings, be it alternative schools or summer schools or such. Layne mentioned that the biggest weakness he sees in their traditional system is every time a student changes placement, they in essence have to start over.

Sioux City has looked at having other vendors (in fact, they use PLATO software for credit recovery). But Layne mentioned there was a very big drawback to using PLATO, or other vendor products. None of them came with the teacher component so badly needed in alternative education. As Layne said, they are basically electronic packets that alternative schools have traditionally used. And in his words, nothing tells the student "We really don't care about you" more than "Here's another packet".

Well said. Online education offers some great opportunities to students at-risk, but one of the main reasons they are at-risk to begin with is the perception that their school does not care about them.

Sioux City is closely adopting Iowa Learning Online's model, which incorporates that teacher component. However, unlike ILO, they are trying to do so not in a "course" model, but rather a "credit recovery" model, which is more difficult to do.

At Heartland, we have a similar desire to make online content, but for a different reason. Our Shelter Care alternative placement program serves students on a transitional basis (usually moving from or to another temporary placement, such as another shelter or a juvenile detention placement). With having students on a limited basis, Shelter Care teachers have the dilemma: How do you provide quality education that won't be lost once students transfer to a different place?

Shelter Care, under the direction of Steve Iverson, like Sioux City, is looking at online content in a component recovery model, but something that would be teacherless. And a lot less expensive than the annual fees of PLATO.

Susan Walkup, At-Risk Educational Consultant for the DE, is coordinating a statewide effort to develop online content, which was announced at the conference. Using grant money, the DE is gathering teachers from different districts to develop content in four areas: 9th grade English, American History, Algebra 1, and a science course to be named. Also, students in placements across the state would use a common student information system to track registration information.

Some of the details, including how the courses will be coordinated and structured, are yet to be determined. Also, it is interesting to see how other district efforts, such as Sioux City and Heartland's Shelter Care can fit in with this system.

And, this is where we need to go. Much like the Virtual High School, we need to look at a consortium of offerings, where we can have multiple partners developing content, all that is aligned to the Department of Education's efforts, which would be at the center of the consortium. And, the offerings could be in a variety of formats, all along the spectrum of online offerings.

There already are many partners involved in addition to the three above. The Iowa Association of Alternative Education, Iowa Learning Online, Kirkwood High-School Distance Learning, and DMACC all are eager to provide more offerings. And there certainly is plenty of room at the table for other districts. But the first step is to decide what the goals and parameters of the consortium would be. And, those discussions need to happen soon as different organizations are looking to create content.

Still, an exciting time to be in online learning for alternative education.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two satirical videos on textbooks

Two of my favorite satires on those who are hesitant to move away from textbooks and towards digital curriculum, as though students will forget how to read when that happens. The second video is from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Game-based online courses

Just a couple thoughts from day 1 of the Iowa Association of Alternative Education conference

• Attendance at the conference is definitely down from previous years, no doubt due to budget crunches and moratoriums on travel. I would say offering a virtual conference through the state's new 500-seat virtual Adobe Connect Pro meeting room is something to be looked into.

• While the numbers aren't big (I only had 19 in my breakout session), there was quite a bit of passion about the possibility of online. We hope to build on that during today's 11:00 conversation about sharing resources.

• Scuttlebut seems to be that the legislative study bill for statewide online education for students at-risk isn't going anywhere. Representative Roger Wendt, chair of the education committee, made no mention of the bill during his update, and there appears the possibility that the lobbyists for the outside vendors stopped pushing once they saw ILO already exists.

• Most interesting to me was seeing a preview of Florida Virtual School's new game-based online course. They are partnering with a group called 360Ed, who features some past software engineers and designers from EA Sports.

The preview was of a course called "Conspiracy Code", which is a game built on the following premise: Some would-be felons are trying to re-write America's history and have managed to infiltrate the country's institutions in many different ways. As the chief detectives (and of course, you have special powers to maneuver past the bad guys, so there is some gaming in the game), it is your job to find the inaccuracies, research the truth, and then restore the truth in the game. The makers advertise that it is project-based work that takes the American History course and uses student curiosity to drive the curriculum.

My first impression of the game was that it looked a little young for high school students and that its story line might be a bit contrived. It is tough to tell from what is basically a movie trailer. But, that might be expected for the first foray into game-based education.

This leads me to two conclusions. There will be more, not less of this in the not-so-distant-future (and given that Iowa is still in the past when it comes to online education, this means we have further to go). And second, the chief conversation will be around how the theme for the game can be comprehensive enough to be the full curriculum for a course (not just a supplement or enrichment). I loved playing Carmen Sandiego when I was a kid, and playing it definitely didn't hurt my understanding of American geography, pop culture, and history. However, it definitely isn't comprehensive... it doesn't cover everything you need to know. I see this as a tough challenge. We'll see with more courses how tough this really is.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Iowa Association of Alternative Education State Conference

The Iowa Association of Alternative Education holds their state conference today and tomorrow at the Des Moines Airport Holiday Inn. Keynote speakers include Harvey Alston, Dr. Richard Kay, and a legislative update from state representative Roger Wendt. The title for this year's conference is "The New Agenda: Learning Alternatives for Everyone".

One of the big topics at this year's conference will be online education for Iowa's alternative school students, not just because of potential stimulus money or the current study bills on online education feasibility. There seems to be genuine groundswell movement, within some school districts, some placements, the department of education, and IAAE to bring online offerings to students at-risk.

There will be several sessions on online education, including one by me today at 10:00. If you are attending, look me up. I'd love to connect with you and discuss how online education can help your school.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Unpacking "Communication Skills"

A valid criticism of a "21st century skill" approach in the classroom is that the skills--communication, creativity, problem-solving, etc.--have become glittering generalities. Everyone has a sense what it means to himself, but it is hard to share a common conception of the skill.

Because of this, it makes it difficult to assess, and therefore, difficult for a teacher to improve their practice. Almost every teacher wants to build creativity in her room, but many don't because no one can explain why what they do now isn't building creativity, and what they should do to build creativity. Simply because, no one can isolate what the term "creativity" really means.

The task before us is to unpack these terms. Communication skills is an excellent example. Sure to be one of every district's core outcomes, the ability to communicate in a diverse array of settings is crucial. But what does it mean? How do you assess communication skills?

The first step that we sometimes forget is to remember the wide variety of forms for communication. If our outcome is for students to develop communication skills, we often make the mistake of pigeon-holing it to be oral communication. Oral small-group communication, to be precise. 1-1 communication, written communication, visual communication, listening, and intrapersonal communication are often very underdeveloped in schools.

But even if we have settled on oral communication, from personal experience, I can say that breaking it down into basic elements, such as "hand gestures", "rate and pitch", and "eye contact" is not the full solution. It can give students specific knowledge to build upon, but when a student communicates orally, it is not good for them to be consciously thinking of 15 different elements of speech. The true conundrum is, even though we need to better define and describe "communication skills", communication is in itself a holistic item.

I've been fortunate to work with two of Iowa's best oral communication teachers in Kathy Turner, now retired from Postville, and Liz Hansen from Grinnell. A common theme I gleaned from both is to have students critically assess communication from a situational perspective. What is your audience, and what is your outcome? With both teachers, communication was a cognitive study for students, not just a skill mastery. It makes no difference if I perfect my eye contact and use the optimal rate and pitch; it matters if I actually communicate what I intended to.

The best teachers, then, do three important things. First, they give students a wide variety of audiences and situations for communication. One persuasive communication activity I observed had students at one point persuading their parents to improve their cellular plan, another point persuading the school board to change a board policy, a 3rd to persaude their best friend to go to the movies over the basketball game, and a 4th to convince the 6-year old they were babysitting to eat their peas. Rapid fire. And afterwards, the students had to analyze what did they change between settings, and what else did they notice that others were doing effectively. Much better than basic recognition of oral communication elements, the students had to actively manipulate them and analyze their use.

Second, the best teachers help students understand what type of communication is most appropriate. One of the best science units I have seen was an infectious disease unit a biology teacher named Dale Dennler used. Dale had what he termed as a basic unit: look at some attributes of infectious diseases and have a test. That is, until he experimented with authentic assessment. He posed the situation where an outbreak has just happened in an area. What and how do you tell the public? Not just, "we're going to write a letter to the public", but "is a letter to the public the best way to communicate the dangers without creating panic, or is there a better way?" And what was excellent to see is that, students realized there is more than one effective way to communicate.

Third, the best teachers provide authentic formative feedback from communication. From not just the teacher, but the students. I've mentioned a couple 21st century tools that can be used for this, but there are several ways to have students give feedback without needing technology. And, not just from the students as well, but also from authentic audiences. If you are communicating through visuals, have a panel of community members give their perspective on what was communicated (or how well).

What ultimately needs to happen is for communication to become a cognitive activity, where students actively think "What is the best way to communicate, and how effective am I reaching my goal?" Mike Sansone posted yesterday on what he describes as a void in "conversation literacy", and I think this really rings true. Do we teach students how to communicate in a positive way with friends? How to argue appropriately? How to be respectful in public communication? We (myself included) complain often about the way students communicate with authority figures in school, but do we have students think about the process they do?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't Fit It In

This is the message from a recent post of one of my favorite blogs to read, Teach Paperless, by Shelly Blake-Plock. In this post, he critiques the nature of technology integration in schools, including many teachers who often wonder where they are going to find room to fit in technology. In four words, he does a good job sufficing what I described about integration.

The words "Don't fit it in" work well for all the 21st century skill areas, though: health literacy, financial literacy, civic literacy, employability skills, as well as technological literacy.

There seem to be 2 big misconceptions with 21st century skills adoption and the Iowa Core. The first is that you need some sort of class that covers these skills. Schools that are only looking this route are being foolish. The 21st century skill areas are not set chunks of information you teach in one unit and then have mastery, like say, the process of photosynthesis. They require ongoing exposure, integration, and practice, all to create a mindset of literacy (just as reading literacy does).

That's also the problem with the second misconception, that I'll find some place to fit in some financial literacy components in my course. That I will take 5 minutes out of my choir lesson and talk about healthy care of vocal chords, or I will have students take a class period to make a running budget of Holden Caulfield's expenses. Students are savvy enough to know when lessons are contrived, and they are savvy enough to discard contrived learning as soon as that information is not needed for an upcoming test.

Infusing the 21st century skill areas takes a broad, multi-disciplinary approach, spearheaded by curricular leaders. It is just like reading literacy. In good schoolwide literacy instruction, the outcome is to have a literate student, one who knows how to read, can read on their own, does read on their own, and uses reading to meet other purposes. Its primary focus might be in language arts classes, but through good communication, teachers in other disciplines are aware and can build off of what the main reading thrust is. It includes activities that extend outside of the school day and the classroom, like "reading drives for charity" or student book clubs. And, reading teachers serve as coaches for the professional development of other teachers.

Good schoolwide literacy instruction is not "I've got to do 1 reading strategy per 3 weeks via PD quota, so I'm going to fit in an article on how to run the mile".

The same is true for the 21st century literacies. Your school might have an extra-curricular "know your credit score" or "get involved in the community" drives that all students participate in. These drives have as a purpose to get students exposed, infused with, and practice with the financially literate and civic literate mindset. These would be extensions of what they learn in classes such as economics or social studies. But because they are schoolwide, other teachers can relate their curriculum to that bigger picture without contriving it.

It has to be organized, stemming from good leadership. And, it has to be a team approach amongst your faculty. We, not me.

So, we have to challenge ourselves when we hear ourselves when we say "where do I fit this in?" It is not "fitting", and it is not I.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Upcoming Professional Development Courses for Online Education

Heartland will be offering a sequence of courses to help would-be online instructors become proficient and comfortable teaching online. Here is a quick overview of the courses:

1. Technology for Online Instruction: Moodle and Adobe Connect Pro (2 cr. - May 11th-June 14th)
Course Description: With the demand for online instruction rising, both in K-12 and for professional development, instructors need support in understanding the available tools and their appropriate pedagogical use.

This course will help teachers feel comfortable using Moodle and Adobe Connect Pro, equipping them with tools and skills to create and deliver online instruction. Participants will develop content in the Moodle platform, including activities, forums, lessons, and assessments. Participants will also create and facilitate webinars in Adobe Connect Pro, using desktop sharing and interactive features. Skills and concepts will be analyzed in context of the Iowa Online Teaching Standards and Online Course Standards. The course is delivered online, in both synchronous and asynchronous delivery.

Developing Professional Learning Networks (1 cr. - June 8th-17th)
Course Description:
Professional development in the 21st century is changing towards Professional Learning Communities and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). In this online course, we will look at George Siemens' connectivism learning theory and the implications for the way educators learn. We will examine how to structure systemic change to move your individual (or district) practice towards a PLN, utilizing social media tools such as Delicious, RSS, Twitter, and Nings to improve practice.

3. Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning (2 cr. - July 6th-Aug. 9th)
Course Description: Online education not only represents the future of K-12 education and professional development, it represents the present. This introduction to teaching and learning online gives would-be instructors, local facilitators, administrators, technology support staff, and general education teachers an overview experience of that learning forum.

This course focuses on the principles and best practices of successful online facilitation on any learning platform. Participants will practice specific online communication skills with multiple tools, manage assessments and feedback appropriately, analyze and solve problems, and create a plan of action for teaching their next online course. Through class activities, practice course simulations, collaboration with colleagues, and dedicated coaching from the course facilitator, participants will gain the necessary tools to nurture a reflective online learning community.

4. Web 2.0 Tools for the 21st Century Classroom (2 cr. - June 15th-July 24th)
Course Description: Web 2.0 provides critical no-cost tools to meet the demand for easier and more efficient ways of teaching and learning. Investigate core concepts of how Web 2.0 is impacting learning environments. Explore how to improve instruction using new technologies such as wikis, blogs, photo and video tools, podcasts, bookmarking, and other emerging technologies. Develop effective teaching tools that capitalize on students’ interest in technology improve their academic performance. Activities are designed using educational technology to meet learning goals in 21st century skills such as critical thinking; collaborative problem solving; information, media, and technology skills; as well as higher levels of achievement in core academic subjects.


All the courses will take place online. Graduate credit will be made available through Drake University. Interested participants can register at the Heartland Professional Development Catalog.

Also, we will have available in the fall a new course entitled Assessment and Instructional Design in an Online Course (2 cr.).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fact Checking Obama's Educational Speech

The president made a lengthy speech on education last week at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The overall immediate intent of the speech was to outline some of the pressing issues for education of Hispanics today, and how those issues are hurting the community succeed. But Obama went beyond focusing on the Hispanic population and looked at the "educational epidemic" as a whole.

FactCheck.org has an excellent analysis of Obama's speech. In it, while there are some points that Obama's information is accurate, they found several inaccuracies:

We certainly wouldn't argue that education can't be improved, but some of the figures Obama used painted a bleaker picture than actually exists:
  • The high school dropout rate hasn't "tripled in the past 30 years," as Obama claimed. According to the Department of Education, it has actually declined by a third.
  • Eighth-grade math scores haven't "fallen" to ninth place compared with other countries. U.S. scores have climbed to that ranking from as low as 28th place in 1995.
  • Obama also set a goal "of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world" by 2020. But in terms of bachelor's degrees, we're nearly there. The U.S. is already second only to Norway in the percentage of adults age 25 to 64 with a four-year degree, and trails by just 1 percentage point.
All of this is in direct contrast with the words of George Bush a year ago, who boasted of the nation's success since passing the NCLB legislation. This has sent the blogosphere ablaze with postulates of why Obama said these items, many being quick to identify Obama as a foe to public education.

I'm not so sure of this; given that Obama has repeatedly asked for more money for public education, this seems to be plain old politics at its "best". Obama isn't going to gather much support for increased spending in education with the statistics that show the U.S. is doing fairly well. And Bush isn't going to use statistics that make his landmark public education bill look like a failure. The truth is somewhere in the between.

FactCheck.org's analysis does raise some questions. Even if I'm right and Obama's major intention was to garner support for funding, will there be unintended consequences of the speech, ostracizing those in the educational community? Will he continue to cherry-pick data as other presidents have, using it for political purposes?

And, how can we do apples-to-apples comparisons using TIMSS data? FactCheck pointed out well that when you compare front-running Norway to Massachusetts, where population and per-pupil expenditures are roughly equal, Massachusetts leads Norway in graduation. When comparing the U.S. to the European Union (again, a more apples-to-apples comparison) the U.S. leads in all but one category. Plus, as we've discussed, the TIMSS data is not necessarily the most valid measure to begin with.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Are we ready?

The AEAs recently conducted a survey on the status of Iowa school districts' technology capacity. 263 individuals responded (there were a handful of districts that had 2 respondents).

Some highlights:
  • 41.8% of schools have one computer for every 2.5 students. 42.6% are working on the goal, 15.6% are not working on the goal.
  • 44.5% of schools have a ratio of 1 technician to 300 computers. 16.7% working on it, 38.8% not.
  • Laptops for all teachers and administrators breaks down 27.8%, 29.7%, 42.6%.
  • Wireless ability throughout the buildings - 44.9%, 38%, 17.1%
  • Policies for students' accessing the networks with their own personal devices - 19.7%, 37.3%, 43%
  • Web 2.0 learning tools accessible to support teaching and learning - 10.3%, 49%, 40.7%

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

21st Century Skill: Being Curious

From Angela Maiers on curiosity:

Champion learners are curious about everything. They ask questions and get themselves involved in all stages of learning, without worrying about the answer, but relishing in the process. They have learned that by posing questions, they can generate interest and aliveness in the most exciting or mundane situation. This inquisitive attitude fuels their unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

I use the term curiosity-based education, which is different than outcome-based education. Different, not opposite. We need a clear set of outcomes that we want students to achieve, and we need to measure and give students feedback on their progress toward those outcomes. But, we have to interweave in room for curiosity.

No, not just room, but support. Time. And, purpose. We have to say "this curriculum will be driven partially by student curiosity".

This isn't the same as relevance, where the teacher takes the directed curriculum and tries to make it relevant. In this case, students follow curriculum of their own interest, and teachers follow along, incorporating the necessary skills and knowledge that accompany it.

The principles behind this are seen in both the Montessori method of education, and the work or Joseph Renzulli. It is an essential concept in gifted education. But, as Renzulli attests, it isn't just for gifted students... or if it is, we need to expand our definition of giftedness.

Renzulli advocated for what he labeled as Type III enrichment, where students would embark on self-selected projects, individually or in groups, that they are curious about. Teachers would provide Type I and Type II enrichment, which boils down teachers providing students to understand the necessary content to pursue that activity and give them appropriate experiences (say, for the student who wanted to overhaul an engine, the teacher would provide them not only the specifics on how to do so, but also get them in contact with local mechanics to serve as a mentor).

Not allowing for curiosity to drive the curriculum is sure to stifle it. Look at the relative effect of this over the lifespan of a student, who moves from the most curiosity-driven environments in kindergarten to the least in high school.

Being curious is a critical element to the "life-long learner" mantra that exists ubiquitously in all our vision statements. We need to make sure our curriculum allows for it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Using the lens of habitudes for your Iowa Core plan

If you are an Iowa school district and making sense of the Iowa Core's "21st century skill component" is getting you nervous, I'd recommend taking the bull by the horns. Faculties across the state are ripe for this conversation. How is teaching and learning in the 21st century different than before?

I think the Partnership for the 21st Century is only part of the equation. And while the Iowa Core will add guidance, I think the ongoing discussion of what teaching and learning is will add much more meaning and actual difference in classroom discussion. In other words, don't be limited by the Core.

I'd mentioned Stephen Downes' "What You Really Need to Learn" presentation as an excellent discussion starter. I'd up that by saying Angela Maiers' Classroom Habitudes is just at good at analyzing what habits and attitudes we want to develop in students.

Angela, a local resource who resides in Des Moines, frames 21st century teaching and learning into 6 "habitudes", including imagination, curiosity, perseverence, self-awareness, courage, and adaptability. Her book can help facilitate your school's discussion.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why don't we ask students?

When I taught Brave New World, as a class we would complete a webquest on utopias. I gave them a short synopsis of some that I called the Green Utopia, the Civil Libertarian Utopia, the Religious Utopia, the Communist Utopia, and the Platonic Utopia (which we added to the Technology Utopia). Then, we debated. Students were suddenly very interested in the novel.

Of course, any teacher would see, you cannot do this activity without having the students say what they personally felt was the best way to go.

Then, why don't we ask students about what they would like for education?

There are 5 larger models of school reform out there. There are those advocating for change with a focus on 21st century skills. There are those advocating for change with a focus on more direct instruction and core knowledge. There are those advocating for incremental change with a focus on addressing some of the barriers to the teacher, including class sizes and student poverty. There are those advocating for "data-driven" change and accountability. And, there are those that are advocating for no change at all (the silent majority).

Present these models to students and ask for their input. It is their education.

Does our reluctance to do this signify our lack of trust of students? That they are unable to separate worth from sensational feeling? I don't know. Seems to me like the questions "Why we don't do this?" is a very valid one.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blogging in the Elementary Classroom

Des Moines' Jackson Elementary, whose faculty fit the definition of "professionals seeking on their own seeking to improve their practice" as well as any in the state, have been working with Heartland's Toy Waterman to look at blogging in their curriculum. Susan Crook, a 4th grade instructor, has been using the tool to promote discussion in her classroom.

A couple things Susan's class is doing really well:

1. The prompts are short, but involve a range of questions, including questions that analyze, synthesize, and apply content to students' lives
2. The students are using the tool to reflect and pose questions.

I've highlighted one of the interchanges below on the topic of slavery and student quilt patterns:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ken Kay under attack

Ken Kay, director of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (which Iowa has modeled for its Iowa Core component), has come under fire by several "Back to Basics" folk, who see Kay as typical of the whole 21st-century-skill movement championed by me and others. There is common criticism that Kay is a "public relations executive", not an educator. The irony here, of course, being that most of his critics are further away from the classroom than he is.

Here is Kay's response:

While I don't agree with the Back to Basic folk on much of anything, Robert Pondiscio of the Core Knowledge Blog has a valuable criticism:

It's easy to say "world class content" and "world class skills" but if you look at the examples of what P21 proposes teachers do in the classroom, you see a lot of activities driven by creating things like movie trailers and commercial jingles, even claymation movies that demand only a superficial relationship with the subject matter. Activities that don't deepen understanding will not build the skills Mr. Kay wants our children to have.

Spending a month making a movie trailer or claymation is an egregious waste of time (and I'd like to see someone do one of those projects decently in less time). But, I'd add this is a valuable criticism of the Partnership, not of constructivism or authentic work in general. These items appear to be brainstorms instead of tried and true activities faithful to the research of Wiggins and McTighe.

But, there is deeper criticism. Diane Ravitch, a former Assistant Secretary of Education under Bush 41, mentions this:

I continue to have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that this is just another misguided attempt to dumb down American education, as if we can stand any more of it... the “stuff,” the “content,” the “it” of David Hawkins’ triangle must be there. The skills can’t be learned in a vacuum; one can’t think critically without having something to think about and enough information to compare, contrast, and evaluate different points of view. And, as far as I am concerned, it is unacceptable to tolerate ignorance of the important events and ideas in our nation’s history. These events and ideas are important in shaping our civic and historical literacy, which all of us need.

Ravitch apparently feels Kay is giving lip service to content in his speech, as he mentions specifically that the Iowa Core addresses both content and skills. No credible person in the "21st century skill" camp is advocating teaching skills without content.

What we are questioning is what you emphasize, what you are concerned most with. Ravitch's point about "important events and ideas" is true. The problems is, what are the important events and ideas? We all have agreement that reading, writing, and mathematical computation are essential, but that's as vague as saying creativity and problem-solving are important skills.

Deconstruct this. Do we agree that the names of the presidents is an essential idea that no one should be ignorant of? Many social studies teachers would say yes. How about slope-intercept graphing? Many math teachers would say yes. How about diagramming sentences? Many (definitely not most) language arts teachers would say yes. But, many actual people would say no. There lives are not altered one way or another by the knowledge of these items. Essential to whom? Seems more essential to the teacher.

Therein is the basic problem with the core content argument. Too many cooks will say their content is essential. I felt the understanding of Orwell's "power corrupts" thesis was essential, but successful former students making a heck of a lot more than I am have pushed back saying no, it wasn't.

But, what they don't push back against is the idea that these intangibles, these 21st century skills, these habitudes are what make us successful. A school cannot do all the content necessary for a person to be successful; they will have to learn some content on their own. But given skills like being creative, being able to communicate with others, and being able to solve problems are needed by everyone, that is where a school emphasizes.

Of course, claymation isn't going to do that...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Student Presentations and Audience Microblogging

Despite the abundance of them in schools, I'm not a fan of book reports or posterboard displays. Mainly for three reasons:

  1. They are regurgitation instead of analysis
  2. Unless taught by a speech instructor, they usually do not accompany any teaching on how to present. The belief is that either they already know how to make a good presentation, or just the process of working on it without any teaching or constructive feedback will get them there. Which usually means, the presentations are poor.
  3. As long as the members of class are not disruptive, they usually have license to not pay attention.
Neither #1 or #2 follow the principles of Understanding by Design, but many educators mistakenly think that, because they are a project, they do. If this is our definition of rigor/relevant projects, we need to rethink things. I've never seen a posterboard project that is anything other than "Quadrant A".

But, one thing that would help #1 and #2 is if #3 wasn't true, if there was an active audience that you were presenting for. From a digital curriculum point-of-view, there is a better way to make seamless integration that enhances learning and engagement.

Using a microblogging tool such as Twitter or Edmodo, the class can respond and engage in critical dialogue while the presentation is taking place. It is like having a structured study guide for each student's presentation, but allowing for more flexible leaning and discussion to take place.

Let's say we take the normal, average book report (not recommended, but we'll start there). The teacher could assign to the class "Make sure you tweet at least two important thoughts you heard the presenter say." Or, "Make sure you tweet one similarity and one difference to your novel." She could have a discussion, even a practice speech with herself presenting, to examine which are deeper observations or comparisons and which are surface-level.

Through microblogging tools, you can set it up so that each student (and the teacher) is "following" each other. This will allow them to watch the running conversation of the audience as the speech is going on, including what other students are noticing and finding interesting.

The teacher then can use the tweets as a learning opportunity. The teacher can pose instructional questions mid-speech without saying a word and disrupting the speaker. These questions can direct students attention. Or, other students could pose their own questions and get "re-tweeted" (copied by another student) for emphasis. The teacher could "re-tweet" to draw attention to what a student has observed. And, the "re-tweet" becomes a powerful tool for student confidence and reinforcement.

Additionally, using the reply notation to address one person in particular, students can ask clarification questions of other students' tweets, as well as one for the speaker to think about when she is finished and back at her work station. It also serves as a way for the teacher to prompt other students.

When the presentation is finished, the teacher can show the entire dialogue on the lcd projector, or better yet, the highlight tweets (Twitter allows you to "star" certain tweets, which you can bring up later, separated from the rest of the dialogue). This digital data encourages not only audience participation and engagement, but also audience respect, since it can be saved and shown to parents as a model of student work, good or bad. But most importantly, the student data sparks post-presentation conversation. Which items in the speech were tweeted the most? Which questions came up? Teachers could mention "Carla, one of the questions that came up in the Twitter discussion was...", or better yet, students could ask.

The obvious objection to this type of strategy is that with all the twittering going, on, students won't be paying attention to the speaker. To this, I have two answers.

First, this shows the divide between those embracing technology and those fearing it. Students live in a multi-tasking world. Having them sit and listen to (in many ways) poor presentations for which there is no engagement or relevance is agony for them. If in doubt, become a cub scout leader and watch 8-year-olds squirm as they have to sit respectfully to hear the presentation on how the post office works without getting a tour of the building.

The reality is, students will multi-task whether we like it or not. By "forcing attention", students will multi-task by daydream, writing notes, or engaging in side discussions. Might as well let them do that in a productive way through Twitter. And, students actually learn better in these types of multi-processing environments. Plus, this is how the world is changing. Every meeting I sit in on or conference that I attend, I'm not the only one participating on the internet while participating in the discussion.

The second response is, this is where the art of a good teacher comes into play. If a teacher allows microblogging with no guidance, no governance, and no direction, they will get off-task behavior. Good teachers know, just like in regular classroom discussion, how to keep conversation flowing, involving all people, allowing for divergent thought, but then converging toward the objective.

Monday, March 9, 2009

NAEP assessment for technology?

NAEP, which is dubbed the "nation's report card", is the standardized test that is used in the "America is lagging behind the rest of the world" comparisons. According to Ed Week, they are preparing a tech literacy assessment for 2012:

On March 6, governing board member Alan Friedman, a science and museum consultant from New York who is working on the tech literacy test for NAGB, talked about how the board is going about that task. A prime challenge is developing a definition that will stand the test of time, Friedman said, so that the test is not outdated within a few years after it's been unveiled.

The significance for us, of course, is that we need to do the same to assess the 21st century skills of the Iowa Core. Friedman's words are true; we can't redo the test every year to meet the realities of changing technology.

What concerns me is that, with NAEP entering this territory, other publishers including Riverside could follow. And, we cannot settle for standardized bubble tests, despite the trend.

Interesting note:

Despite the name of the test, Friedman made it clear that goal of the NAEP tech literacy exam is not simply to test students' familiarity with computer products or features, or digital games. The goal is to evaluate their understanding of "interconnections among technologies," with technologies including processes from the designed world, he said. This could include not only computers but technology's relationship to processes such as metallurgy (in the manufacture of buildings, or individual products) or woven textile technology (used to make clothes and fabrics). Of course, computer technology is essential to many manufacturing processes today, noted Friedman, who was joined by Raizen in his presentation. But the point is that students need to have a broader grasp of technology that takes them beyond their computer keyboard, if they're to understand complex scientific issue today.

How does your school do with metallurgy/textile curriculum? Will headlines scream United States ranks even lower in technology compared to the rest of the world?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Trusting the teacher: Central to the Iowa Core

Just a random thought fleeting through me-

A good question to see the perspective of an educator is to ask "What things, if any, do we need to simplify for teachers?"

Some might use the question as a springboard for griping, which tells you something right away. Other practical individuals might mention any of a wide variety of items, be it classroom management, standards alignment, or that darn online gradebook.

The people who will impress me the most are the ones who say "Nothing. We need to continually diversify our thinking, give us more perspectives, challenge us."

Look at it this way. Let's say we asked "What things, if any, do we need to simplify for rocket scientists?" A little easier to say "nothing" in that case. Astrophysicists need to have the intellectual complexity and creativity to handle any wrinkle thrown at them.

Why aren't educators the same? They should be. With the implementation of NCLB, Iowa was the only state that put all of its eggs in one basket, trusting professional development as the key to improving student achievement. The theme said over and over was "Good teaching matters most."

The irony is, the way we package our programs sends the opposite message. Sir Ken Robinson highlights this in his new book The Element:

Too many reform movements in education are designed to make education teacher-proof. The most successful systems in the world take the opposite view. They invest in teachers. The reason is that people succeed best when they have others who understand their talents, challenges, and abilities. This is why mentoring is such a helpful force in so many people’s lives. Great teachers have always understood that their real role is not to teach subjects but to teach students (249).

Which is true. We have more and more drop-in-place programs used in education than general philosophies. Here is "math instruction in a box" or "classroom management in a box". Interesting that we know to interject complexities for students to help them realize their potential... we don't say to them "this is too tough for you, here's the simplified version". But, with teachers it is okay?

There's a lot of new change that comes in the Core, in content, instruction, and assessment. And it strikes me as odd the number of people who say, "This is too much for teachers... they can't handle this much change. We have to make things simpler." And, this comes from administrators and teachers alike.

For anyone who has been in the classroom (which excludes most of those clamoring for more scripted direct instruction, taking instructional decisions out of teachers hands), they know that the teacher makes thousands of instantaneous decisions each day. Words to say, who to call on, behaviors to address and avoid, connections to make, ways to diverge or converge thinking, and methods to assess. The teacher lives in this complex world all the time.

Therefore, we have to trust that the teacher can take all the complexities of the Core and make sense of them. We have to facilitate this with providing conversation, injecting questions, pushing back on their thoughts. But we can't come in and say "This is a tough part... we'll take it out of your hands." Even if teachers themselves ask for it.

You choose the tool

I had a good conversation with a curriculum director at Heartland's recent Curriculum Network meeting. We discussed the concept of classroom integration, and how there are several depths to this. We got talking about "unconnected integration"; that is, integration done more for the tool's sake than learning's sake.

The thought that came out of this discussion is that there is also "dictated integration". This, like unconnected integration, exists at different intensities in the integration spectrum. In her district, what she traditionally saw was teachers telling students "We are going to do a project where we will learn 'X' and 'Y', and to do so, we are going to use a wiki" (or power point, or podcast, or webquest, etc).

The pedagogical question: Is dictated integration bad, much like unconnected integration is?

We discussed a long time, and though her gut told her it was, we concluded that it wasn't necessarily a negative. Dictated integration is direct and it can focus the class on the 'X' and 'Y' instead of the tool. And, it usually brings all the positives of integration in general... it is engaging and interactive and... you can run down your list.

But dictated integration shouldn't be your end outcome. And unfortunately, this is where many of our schools don't succeed.


At Howard-Winneshiek, where we were a regional model of effective integration, we made what I believe to be a curricular design mistake with our 8th grade technology assessment. And this comes despite my general feeling that we did an excellent job overall. We were very thorough with our assessment process, identifying the skill and concept sequence starting in Pre-Kindergarten, and utilizing assessments at each grade (unlike many other schools that only assessed technology proficiency at the 8th grade level, none before and none after).

What's more, we eschewed poor assessments... no multiple choice, or even worse, using the "grade achieved in the 8th grade computer class" model. We assessed using process rubrics to deep integration units in all four major content areas. This means we looked for the same technology skills in different units, which is critical to build reliability in authentic assessments.

The problem is, we always picked the tool. "We are going to represent our science lab data using Excel" or "We are going to demonstrate our findings on the American Expansion period using power point." We never said, "Here is your task... you need to determine the tool."

Which of course, while not being all of what you seek when you teach with technology, is extremely crucial. It represents the critical thinking, process analysis, and authentic ability needed in life. In this age of a myriad of technology, students ability to determine the tool to solve their problem will be directly related to their level of success. It is aligned to a host of ISTE standards (3c, 4a, and 6b explicitly).

As we look to assess the Iowa Core's implementation of effective teaching, and we discuss the inadequacies of the ITEDs to measure 21st century teaching and learning, we will create our own authentic assessments. We must keep in mind that to fully analyze how well students know what we want them to, we have to make sure our assessments avoid dictated integration. They must demand students to find their own technological solutions to the problems they face.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Professional Development Opportunity: Subscribing to Blogs

If your district has made a commitment to develop teachers' personal learning networks (my standard reminder in effect), and you have explored your existing networks, one of the next steps you will want to do as a staff is have a hands-on session to subscribe to RSS feeds.

Some things to think about:
• You will want an hour minimum for this activity. You will want more if you haven't a) created Google Reader accounts previously, or b) introduced what RSS is. If your district uses a 1-hour early dismissal each week model for professional development time, you will want to do those activities in one inservice and the workshop in the second.

• Below, I have added the slideshare I use to introduce what RSS is (tied in to the concept of PLN's). Download the power point version to get the transitions.

• For the workshop, you will want one person per 10 participants who will be on-site troubleshooters in addition to the facilitator. If you don't, be pre-emptive and explain the need for patience beforehand.

• Before the workshop, determine which browser you will support. There are differences between the layouts of Safari, Firefox, and IE, and teachers often get frustrated if what they see on their screen doesn't match what they see on the projector. I use a "customize at your own customer support" model when I work with staff.

• The facilitator needs to 1) give an overview of the steps to subscribe to a feed and 2) an overview of how to navigate Google Reader. In my PLN slideshare, there are some slides which structure the subscribing process.

• I can say that if there is enough time and the network is working sufficiently, the workshop works very well. High-flyers tend to get the basics quickly and start searching on their own, while there is enough simplicity in the process for those that need repetition to learn.

• I'd have everyone walk away from the workshop with 3 blogs that they subscribe to (including any district-level blogs your district might have), and one Google or Delicious search.

Places to search for blogs:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Digital Curriculum in Physical Education

My two oldest kids both mentioned to me that physical education is their favorite subject at school, which made me think. When I was in first grade, phy ed was my favorite as well. And somewhere in the litany of dodgeball games and half-effort team sport games, by high school it was my least favorite. And my experience wasn't that uncommon. Which, of course, is insightful on many levels.

First, it illustrates how important psychomotor activity is to young children, and how it should be a cross-curricular feature in all subjects, for kids at that age need to be active and learn best that way. And second, it illustrates how irrelevant the traditional phy ed curriculum was. Irrelevant for the athletic, as the games were a joke compared to interscholastic sports, and irrelevant for the unathletic, as it was a source of embarrassment to not be talented.

Fast forward to 2009, and physical education is one of the fastest changing curricula out there. I had the privilege to work with two great high school physical education programs at Howard-Winneshiek and Grinnell. Both utilized aspects of the digital curriculum to give students a 21st century education.

Both schools participated in the physical fitness grant, as many Iowa schools did, which brought not only workout equipment, but also Polar Fitness monitoring devices. In a nutshell, Polar Fitness systems consisted of watches and/or bands worn around your torso which gathered heart rate and other vital information, and downloaded it via infrared into a computer. The equipment could be programmed to help students stay in their target zone for physical exertion.

Tony Farmer, a physical education teacher at Grinnell, was the one who explained to me how critical the integration was to the curriculum. Without it, assessment was a constant subjective battle. It was very hard to get students to actually learn about their bodies physical activities. On the other hand, the technology gave immediate feedback in the form of digital data to every student, data that wasn't arbitrary. Every student could monitor their own individualized target zones and measure their progress off the digital data. And the technology was basically invisible... it didn't interfere with the physical activity.

The Grinnell phy ed staff upped the ante with individualized plans for students, who could set their own goals with certain physical skills. Students could focus on stamina, dexterity, healthy diet, strength, you name it. Combined with individualized research and a reflective journaling process, you had a highly engaging curriculum. These attributes--utilizing technology to give feedback and individualize learning, being student-centered, offering authentic assessment, all while being invisible, are key elements of the digital curriculum.

One of the areas of the 21st century skills in the Iowa Core is health literacy. Like financial literacy, health literacy will be very challenging to integrate in core classes like math and language arts without it being contrived. Story problems about BMI in math class won't cut it.

I will argue there is no way to meet this need without cross-curricular work involving physical education teachers, health teachers, family consumer science teachers, and school counselors (the "health literacy" people) in contact with the core content teachers. This is a paradigm shift, as those educators are often the most compartmentalized in already-compartmentalized high schools.

Moreover, these can't be units. Health literacy has to be ongoing, just like character development, seamlessly woven into the routine. That's because healthy living is more than a skill, it is a habit.

How would this look? Health teachers can work with students to monitor their habits throughout the school day. Find ways to keep data on posture, water intake, and attention in all classes, for example, and then analyze the use. This helps students become conscious of their lifestyle and the effect it has on their performance.

Working collaboratively with health and drama teachers, core content teachers can find ways to get students active kinesthetically. Ask the students which activity do they remember the most from Mr. Abbey's classes, and the answer will surprisingly not involve computers. It was rather when I taught my ninth grade English class the finer details of stage swordfighting during Romeo and Juliet. Using dowel rods, students learned the dramatic twists on fencing to make for fine stage art, and then integrated the learning into recreations of scenes from the play. Because of the high energy level, students became more aware of their physical bodies. And, those student-choreographed swordfights were excellent... we drew audiences from the elementary school.

Health literacy can be the springboard for authentic change in cultural ways in addition to personal. It is no secret that classrooms feature a lot of sitting and straining of the eyes. Some schools, led by active health teachers, are leading changes in the culture by encouraging students to push for "stand time" in the class. This has caught on in some schools, which are eliminating the traditional desks. As good principals will mention, situations where students can change the culture not only improve the school, but also give the students a feeling of self-worth that cannot be recreated in an infinite number of gold stars.

Cell Phones, Part 3

We've looked at an overview of the cell phone issue and how you can use them in the classroom, so I'll finally weigh in on this: Schools need to adjust (read: relax) cell phone policies, much like they need to do with filtering, to recognize the reality of present day technology and that schools have a duty to teach responsible use.

If for nothing else, taking a constructive view of cell phone use in schools sends the following messages:
  • We acknowledge we are living in the 21st century, where people can connect and gather information outside of the instruction that we deliver
  • We want to work with our students and parents, not against them
  • We want to adjust our methods and curriculum to the lives and learning habits of our students, not vice versa
  • We believe that students can learn correct usage and responsible behavior, and that we don't need to resort to barring access.

And, a point that cannot be overstated, when you create a policy that is stringent, you have to have the means to enforce it. Which, in this cell phone-ubiquitous age, is impossible. Jon Tanner has a good discussion of those items on his blog.

These messages are great in print, but will get tested the first time a student in texting in class instead of listening to your teacher, and that will happen early and often. Staff truly have to believe in the above statements. (Which, ironically happens when staff are asked to turn in their cell phones before the beginning of a day long inservice).

When it comes to using cell phones for instruction, however, we are just starting to see the pros and cons. I'll admit my shortcomings, I've only seen the use from an outside perspective, not as an integrating teacher. And, this list will change over time. Regardless, here are my thoughts:

  • Cell phones are the future, and we can be ahead of the curve on this one
  • Using them in instruction has always resulted in more engagement, from what I have observed
  • The methods for teaching with them are very promising and mirror work in the Iowa Core.

CONS (consider these "caveats"):
  • Yes, this will change, but as for now, cell phones are severely limited for input ability. Yes, you can type a paper on them, but that doesn't mean you should. This includes the iPhone, which is amazing, but not as powerful as a laptop.
  • While often easily dismissed, there are students who don't have them, and there are real consequences to this. And, it isn't with SES this time. But it can be very embarrassing for children who have parents who philosophically will not allow their children to have phones. Suddenly, the fact you don't have a phone is out in the open, and you have to borrow someone else's. Know your student body's emotional psyche very well before going down this road.
  • From what I have observed, there is a definite danger of "being about the tool instead of the teaching". Or as I fall back on, your "toolishness is foolishness". In good integration, the technology is invisible... students don't even think about themselves using it. I've never seen a cell phone unit where this has been the case. Students always leave the room saying "Hey, we got to use cell phones in class today!"

The truth with that last point is interesting for me, because while that is the main reason I'm skeptical of their use in class today, the reality is, if they are used frequently enough, they do become invisible. A steady, sound integration of cell phones can be very successful, and therefore, worth pursuing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Iowa Higher Ed Standing up for Science

I originally thought this was a campaign stunt during an election cycle, but it must be the "cool thing to do" for legislatures; introduce a bill that disguises Creationism teaching with "the right for educators to teach the full range of thought on evolution." As if this is a teacher's civil rights issue. Texas and Louisiana are going through the same legislative efforts, the latter of which was put in law last summer and recently overturned by the state supreme court.

Iowa has legislation as well. But kudos to college and university faculty that have taken a stand against the action. From the National Center for Science Education:

Over two hundred faculty members at Iowa's colleges and universities have endorsed a statement calling on Iowa's legislature to reject House File 183, the so-called Evolution Academic Freedom Act. Responding to the bill's contention that "current law does not expressly protect the right of instructors to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution," the statement explains, "It is misleading to claim that there is any controversy or dissent within the vast majority of the scientific community regarding the scientific validity of evolutionary theory. Since there is no real dissent within the scientific community ... 'academic freedom' for alternative theories is simply a mechanism to introduce religious or non-scientific doctrines into our science curriculum."

HF 183 contends that "instructors have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution," and its sponsor, Rod A. Roberts (R-District 51), told the Iowa City Press-Citizen (February 27, 2009) that his bill is "about the freedom that an instructor and students can engage in without fear of criticism, censure or fear of losing one's job." But such claims of persecution have not been substantiated, the authors of the statement — Hector Avalos of Iowa State University and James W. Demastes and Tara C. Smith of the University of Iowa — explained to the Ames Tribune (February 25, 2009).

Nice. Special emphasis on the claim by Roberts that this is about teachers fearing criticism, censure, or losing their job, and then having no proof that's the case. This is all about someone's individual agenda.

The real story is Roberts' bill is exactly what we cannot have right now in Iowa. We need the support of legislators, community members, and business people to help our schools improve. We can't make claims that "X" is what's wrong with Iowa's schools, and then not have any actual examples of "X", or even bother setting foot in the schools in the first place. It amounts to red herrings, which unfortunately will diminish educators willingness to listen to earnest members of the legislature and community on how to change. And, we'll continue to not listen to each other and not change for the next 20 years.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Going Green - Rivarlry Style

Always glad to see my alma mater in the news for good reasons (not that there are any bad ones that I can think of).

From the Sunday Des Moines Register:

The longtime rivalry between Luther College and Wartburg College has taken a turn for the greener.

Pranksters traditionally make 75-mile road trips between Decorah and Waverly to dress campus statues in opposition colors. Now they have been joined by eco-conscious students in a month-long competition to see which school can conserve more energy and lower campus utility bills.

Strategies have included shorter showers, turned-off lights and unplugged cell phone chargers.

Well done, Norse (and Knights)! Dowling and Valley will be next, mark my words.

A look ahead for this week

Sandwiched around my evaluator 2 approval training, I have quite a bit of activity this week. Tuesday, the area superintendents will have their March meeting, and I will be presenting on RSS. Thursday, the Iowa online council meets, and we'll start earnest planning for our statewide online communities (hoping to roll those out for ITEC in October). And, Friday our area's curriculum network meets, and I will lead them in a discussion about long-distance networking for students, with a demonstration of Skype.

Both the superintendents and the curriculum network have been looking at 21st century tools with a discussion about 1) how these change teaching and learning, and 2) how these change professional development (specifically looking at the concept of a PLN). However, in February, we paused to take a look at the bigger picture with Scott McLeod from Iowa State. With thanks to Gordon Dahlby from West Des Moines CSD, here is the video from that meeting:

2009 Heartland AEA 11 Superintendents from UCEA CASTLE on Vimeo.

The video is lengthy, but I'd consider it a must see for Iowa's superintendents, as it not only gives specific reference to how schools are changing intersects with our schools' work on the Iowa Core Curriculum, but also has an excellent Q&A session. Here are some of the highlights:

  • A look at the shifting work force towards the "creative" sector, from Richard Florida's work (about 4:00 in).
  • Lever #1 to transition into the 21st century is to use the 21st Century Skill component to be the lens for the whole Iowa Core, as opposed to "sprinkling some Iowa Core fairy dust on top of what we are already doing" (16:50).
  • Lever #2 is a more robust online/virtual school in Iowa, especially given our rural needs (20:15).
  • Lever #3 is to greatly enhance the technology availability in our schools (20:57).
  • Lever #4 is to train and work with our leadership, because without them, change will not happen (21:54). As Scott mentions, the challenge is that in many cases, our leaders are often our least knowledgeable in technology infused education.
  • A question and answer about higher education's role in this change (27:10). As one superintendent mentioned, high schools might not be in total control of "our destiny" as we'd like to be.
  • Q&A about the mismatch of factual-recall types of standardized tests and the 21st century's demand for higher-order thinking (32:54)
  • Discussion about the first 3 concrete steps for Iowa schools, those being A) develop leadership to implement change, B) invest in 1:1 technology, and C) start having conversations about what does 21st century learning look like, building off the teachers in our district who are already there (48:10).
  • An observation from one superintendent that we "have to get over ourselves" in our fear that students will know more about technology than we are (54:12).
I can add that we have made great strides toward beefing up our online offerings for K-12 students, as the Iowa online council has been capacity-building this year. In collaboration with the DE, Iowa Learning Online, and all the AEAs, we have put forward a set of standards for teaching online and will have several professional development opportunities available this summer for teachers on how to teach online. We've also started collaboration with the Iowa Association of Alternative Education to help our alternative schools pilot some local courses. We're a ways from a virtual school, but we have built the groundwork.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

21st Century Skills from a Designer's Point of View

(Hat tip to Nancy Sojka, a former colleague of mine, who writes an excellent blog for the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education)

The design firm IDEO, which has recently consulted some elementary schools in California, has their own perspective on what teachers can do to teach the 21st century skills, and it is definitely worth a read. Some of the points I found interesting:

Create an environment that raises a lot of questions from each of your students, and help them translate that into insight and understanding. Educa­tion is too often seen as the transmission of knowledge.

Engaged learning can’t always happen in neat rows. People need to get their hands dirty.

Teachers are designers. Let them create. Build an environment where your teachers are actively engaged in learning by doing.

Learning doesn’t happen in the child’s mind alone. It happens through the social interactions with other kids and teachers, parents, the community, and the world at large.

If you want to drive new behavior, you have to measure new things. Skills such as creativity and collaboration can’t be measured on a bubble chart. We need to create new assessments that help us understand and talk about the developmental progress of 21st-century skills.

Very reaffirming to the discussion we're having here and elsewhere about what teaching and learning in the 21st century looks like.