Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Let's Build the Ideal 21st Century School


I'm thinking that I'd like to get the ball rolling on building the very first school through online collaboration. I'm envisioning each week of our #edchat discussion turning into another piece of the puzzle. I've created a group on @tomwhitby's new EDUPLN Ning to manage this process (Link to group here).

Each week, I'll post a new discussion thread in this group whose purpose is to extend the discussion towards answering the question: What would ______________ look like in an actual, ideal 21st Century School? I'll then summarize thoughts on this topic in a blog post and update this Webspiration Doc to reflect our current thoughts (If you'd like to be added as a collaborator on this map, email me at edtechsteve@gmail.com and I'll be glad to invite you).

Some assumptions I want participants to make when tackling discussions:
-We're in this together and everyone has a relevant, meaningful voice
-This school will become reality
-Money is not a barrier

I'm truly excited to see how this school takes shape! Once this school DOES take shape, the goal of this project will shift towards making it a reality. Whether it is through applying for grants such as the Invest in Innovation project through the federal government, working with a state department of instruction, independent financiers (Helloooooo Mr. Gates!), or however.....we can make this happen! The beautiful thing is that by the end of this process we will have a school that has been approached from all angles by many experts in the field and will be, in the language of the stimulus bill, SHOVEL READY...=).

Some Questions and Possible Answers:

What if major disagreements occur within the group? I'd like to let the debate flesh itself out as much as possible, then take it to a group vote via Google Forms.

Where would this school be located? No idea. Let's build it, then worry about actually building it. :)

Who funds this school? No clue....yet. Some lucky visionary. =)

Are you crazy? Kind've. I blame my Dad and Grandpa

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Crowdsourcing Education Reform


"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"
-John Lennon

Getting together to discuss educational issues with other like-minded educators from all over the world gives me a rush and causes lazy neurons to fire in my brain. That's what I get from our weekly #edchat discussions through Twitter. I feel so fortunate to have stumbled into this amazing network of educators.

One thing that always happens to me when interesting topics are laid in front of me and discussed by smart people is that I start to try to find uses to push the scope of the conversation towards what can actually be done. Now that I sit and reflect about this, I think I know why this is- it stems directly from being a poor 1st year kindergarten teacher. When I walked into my first classroom I had a grand total of 22 unifix cubes and the rest was left up to my imagination (I wish this was an exaggeration, by the way!). I had to approach every conversation or object I came into contact with as "OK, I need some stuff to do with these 5-yr-olds- what can I DO with this?". I got a library card and checked out 20 books at a time so we had something to read- when I looked at a book, I wasn't looking at the story....I was forced to look at what could be done through the book- i.e., what can my kids get out of this? How can it help them?

So watching these great comments flow by in my #edchat stream, this same thought keeps seeping into my brain- "How can we USE this???". Last night I came to realize that this amazing network of people could be an amazing impetus to real change through collaboration. "Crowdsourcing" is defined by wikipedia as "the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to a group (crowd) of people or community in the form of an open call."

Take the chat a couple weeks ago about how poorly teachers are being prepared in college to integrate technology- what if we were to start a wiki and each of us took the time to research 1 or 2 college prep programs a week and post what is being done to help teachers with tech prep. Suppose this were to build and build until we had a comprehensive list and rankings as to which schools addressed this issue the best? What if the media got ahold of this and started calling schools out, thus affecting change?

Or what about last night's chat about engagement- the federal government just announced that through it's Invest in Innovation grant program they'll be awarding $650 million for innovative educational programs or ideas- what if this network of people were to work together to write a grant for this project? Could we collaborate and create our definition of the "ideal" 21st century school? What would it look like? What would students be doing? What connections to the local and global community would it create? How would we handle assessment in a more practical, useful manner? Could we work together and actually build a model school? What if that model were to spread to other areas? What kind of impact could this have?

I may be dreaming here, but that's just how my mind goes off sometimes. In the future, I'd really like to dive more into this idea of crowdsourcing education reform because, as my eyes see it, there are no better experts in the field of education right now that have the capacity to create and refine knowledge as these fine educators I've met through Twitter. Who else would know better about the realities of "21st Century Teaching/Learning" than this collection of folks working in the real world, with real tools, and real ideas to help make things better?

Anyway, to paraphrase Lennon- I may be a dreamer, but I hope I'm not the only one.... We'll see how this goes and grows.

A Better Model of Engagement

FULL DISCLAIMER: The following is something I actually ripped out of part of my Intro in the draft of the book I'm writing. It just sums up my thoughts well on the topic of engagement, which was a big focus of last night's wonderful #edchat discussion!

Any teacher that has taught a great lesson knows exactly what engagement looks like; every student on task, working toward a goal, problem solving and helping each other along the way.These are the lessons that make you thirst for more and praying you can replicate it the next day! As I look back on some of my own highly engaging activities, they start to share some interesting qualities: the topic was presented in an interesting way, students were highly active and able to collaborate, goals were clear, and something was created and published by the end of the lesson or project.

This paints a picture of a highly engaged classroom, but it is also important to define what engagement is not. Too often, the word is used as if it is something that teachers do to students; as if engagement were a hammer wielded on helpless nails. This can’t be the correct perspective if we are striving to center our learning environment around students. A more inspiring way to think of this term is by, once again, putting the student at the center:

Engagement is not something that should be thought of as occurring in one direction. It shouldn’t even be thought of as something that is done by one party or the other. Rather, we should think of engagement as a two-way street where each party is invested in the other:

  • Students and teachers. It is obvious that teachers should actively engage their students by provoking thought and providing a learning environment in which students can actively collaborate, communicate, create, and publish. But it is equally important for you to allow your students to engage you in the classroom. Your students should make you think. Your students should make you consider what you’re doing and whether or not it is working. In short, your students should change you and the way you teach. Be mindful and receptive to this happening in your classroom and you will be able to better reach every learner.
  • Students and peers. Collaboration is a key component to how students today best learn. Allow them to engage each other regularly by giving opportunities to question one another and provoke responses. Let your students guide the way in the classroom and provide them opportunities to shape each other’s thinking.
  • Students and the local community. Invite members of your local community into class to provide additional insight and a different perspective. Allow students opportunities to go out into the local community and make a real difference through service projects.
  • Students and the global community. Providing chances for students to connect with people from other cultures throughout the world broadens their worldview and provides them concrete examples of similarities and differences. This knowledge as well as the building of tolerance and respect of other cultures is an increasingly valuable skill for our students to have when they enter the workforce.
  • Students and tools. Of course, students engage the tools they use (they wouldn’t work if they weren’t technically “engaged”, right?). However, the best tools work in the opposite direction as well- they are naturally engaging to students. Choosing the correct tool can have a large impact on the amount of engagement in your classroom.