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Pain deprives us of our humanity. It bleeds away our energy, bruises our spirit, and cuts us off from our dreams and ambitions. Acute pain keeps the mind on the immediate present, with only the option of dull barbiturate oblivion to look forward to. Our worlds become narrow, our focus blurred and our dignity lost. Pain does not flay us down to our essence, it takes that essence away from us, leaving us curled, groaning sacks of raw nerves.
Is severe emotional pain as debilitating, as dehumanizing as intense physical pain? I would think so. Perhaps even more so. Betrayal, loss, and abuse have the same effect on our sense of hope and wonder as do gashes, wounds, breaks and malfunctions.
I will not be trite and end with an exhortation to suffer through the worst because better times will come. I will not talk about how we scar over our hurt and how time heals. Most often, pain leaves lasting effects. And sometimes, pain is chronic. But I will say this, even in the middle of the worst pain, when time stops and the world closes in, there will always, always be that one little ember of hope, that one thing that does not fade away. Hold on to that.
Image credit: https://pixabay.com/p-1869556/?no_redirect
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(Today is my fifth anniversary on WordPress! I’ll celebrate with this little post. More to come!)
In the last 5 years or so, teacher turnover at many schools has increased dramatically.
Depending on the school, there may be many reasons for this. But the three big reasons teachers move are:
So the pool of possible recruits is wider than ever before, and the need to find good teachers ever more urgent.
The problem is that most schools don’t maximize on their opportunities to draw the best possible teachers into their schools.
And the reason has to do with philosophy and statistics.
The Fundamental Attribution Error
Interviewing a prospective teacher for a position at a school still very much follows the same formula as it did 50 years ago:
The problem with this is what’s called the Fundamental Attribution Error. Almost all employers think that they can adequately judge a prospective employee’s personality based on an interview (or series thereof). This is a mistake. Personality is not innate – it is determined by situation and context. All employers are seeing is the interviewee’s ‘interview personality’.
Thus, most often, having good interview personality can win you a teaching job. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a good teacher. Many great teachers are passed over because they lack interview personality – and because of employers’ refusal to understand the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Much better would be to put this person into the same situation they might find themselves in were they to actually get the job. It would seem obvious: To judge whether or not this is the person you want teaching at your school: watch them teach!
Anecdotal evidence is very poor evidence. You may have heard stories about this person. There may be rumors. A person you know may know a person who knows this person. And what they have to say raises some flags.
To judge the merits of a person interviewing for a job based on what someone else has to say about them is to commit an inexcusable logical fallacy. Stories and anecdotes are not evidence – as strongly as we may think that they are.
Better is an objective evaluation without ‘references’. These can always be looked and considered at later in the process.
Over-generalization from Small Samples
Usually, one interview is all most interview panels have time for. But we could potentially miss a great deal this way. Taking a small sample and imagining that this is an adequate representation of a phenomena is a lazy way to think.
Much better is a series of smaller, shorter interviews. If there is an interview panel, perhaps a better way to conduct an interview is to hold a series of ‘speed date’ interviews where interviewees spend ten minutes chatting to each member of the panel. (This, by the way, would also eliminate the tendency interview panels have to engage in groupthink.)
There are many, many other problems with how schools recruit teachers. But the bottom line is this: if good schools want good teachers, they need to look beyond bad interview and selection processes.
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.” ~ Goethe
Recently, I came across an article titled The enduring power of print for learning in a digital world – which was reblogged by the WEF and retitled Students learn better from books than screens, according to a new study.
Leaving aside for the moment the subtle effects of the shift in titles between The Conversation’s and The World Economic Forum’s versions of the article, as well as the assertion that students these days see themselves as ‘digital natives’ (they don’t, and even if they do, they aren’t – they need as much training in using technology effectively as us ‘immigrants’), what are we to make of this research which tells us that paper textbooks are better than digital textbooks?
In short, not very much. The first reason: As as any teacher at any forward-looking school will tell you, textbooks as collections of ‘essential knowledge’ are soon going to be replaced by student- and teacher- and even community-generated ‘wikis’, which will be collaborative, dynamic, and free. The future is cooperative, democratic, user-generated content*.
Imagine a world where textbooks are built and customized by users, refined every year, collaborated on by partnered schools and teachers (who can even be in different countries). Add to that cheaper, easier and more ubiquitous internet access, and you have a very different educational landscape.
Textbooks are a holdover from a time when knowledge was sacred, to be carefully disseminated from the gatekeepers of knowledge to the uninformed masses. This is no longer true. Armed with an internet connection, some basic search skills, an ability to discern reliable information, and a bit of time and initiative, anyone can learn anything.
Of course there are issues around echo chambers, confirmation bias, filter bubbles, and false information in the age of democratic knowledge acquisition. But guiding students through the morass of misinformation and fallacious reasoning is one of the true jobs of the twenty-first century teacher. As is the task of making the acquisition of knowledge student-centered, engaging and challenging.
Digital textbooks are a ‘placeholder’ technology, much like smartboards or hybrid cars or, indeed, that Encarta DVD I used to love so much. They are there as a bridge to something more revolutionary (see above). The best digital textbook platforms already allow users to add their own content in the form of notes, links, sounds, pictures, videos and the like. The next step is just to remove the actual textbook!
The other problem is the false dilemma which many people take away from research like this. (A trend that is encouraged by the WEF retitling of the original article, but that is less apparent in the actual article.) What they seem to imply is that it’s either A or B, and it isn’t so much B, so it must be A. The truth is that there are other options, and the implication that paper is better is based on flawed logic. Going back to ‘better’ paper-based textbooks makes about as much sense as going back to combustion engines, blackboards, or the complete Encyclopedia Brittanica.
There may even be space for both digital and paper-based texts, depending on the skill we wish our students to acquire. Say the authors:
We all read for many reasons. Sometimes we’re looking for an answer to a very specific question. Other times, we want to browse a newspaper for today’s headlines.
As we’re about to pick up an article or text in a printed or digital format, we should keep in mind why we’re reading. There’s likely to be a difference in which medium works best for which purpose.
In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach.
(As a side note: The same kind of black-and-white fallacy also applies when people insist that handwriting is better than taking digital notes. Of course it is! But there are also other options – like using a stylus and a wicked-cool app like Notability, or collaborative note-taking apps, smart note paper, or even those pens that work like normal pens but transfer written notes to the cloud. Or, perhaps, a combination of paper and digital media.)
Another point: Reading on a screen is a different skill to reading on paper. And it needs to be taught just as rigorously. If we don’t just roll our eyes when a kid cannot read a paper text properly, why are we so ready to do so when they struggle with digital texts? Even the authors of the article under discussion hint at this as a solution:
…we found a select group of undergraduates who actually comprehended better when they moved from print to digital. What distinguished this atypical group was that they actually read slower when the text was on the computer than when it was in a book. In other words, they didn’t take the ease of engaging with the digital text for granted. Using this select group as a model, students could possibly be taught or directed to fight the tendency to glide through online texts.
There is actually quite a lot more I want to say about textbooks more generally, and I am currently working on a post comparing them to Swift’s Laputans. But for now, a final thought: Students don’t learn from texts or books (in whatever format). They learn from engagement and from collaboration and from learning to make knowledge and skills real and relevant.
Perhaps the real study needs to be on how effective the ‘direct transfer’ method of teaching really is – as opposed to more innovative and engagement-centered methodologies. This teacher suspects that teaching and learning ‘from the textbook’ does not improve comprehension, literacy, retention, ‘deep learning’, or critical abilities nearly as much as an approach which demands that students grapple actively with texts.
I came across this quote the other day. It really makes me think of the many passionate teachers I know.
The picture is of me playing Google Expeditions with a really sweet Grade One class – such fun! We were supposed to explore ‘The Cold Lands’, but ended up going from The Arctic, to the aurora borealis, to outer space. As a high school teacher by preference, I really gained a whole new respect for our Junior Prep teachers. Next week: Under the Sea with the Grade Twos.
Note: I do not consider myself a ‘master in the art of living’ as Michener has it. But the part about playing and working really describes me to a T.
(Please forgive the old-school masculine general.)
When you think about it, defining thinking is harder than you think.
And getting students to think hard is even harder.
Think back to when you last had to build something and you didn’t have exactly the right tools (or skills) for the job. If you’re anything like me, you probably got it done, but it was very likely not a great job, or it was more time-consuming and difficult than it should have been – or else you were surprised that it actually worked. (You may even have gotten someone else to do it for you.)
Thinking works the same way: We often arrive at a conclusion (with varying degrees of validity) through a cumbersome, haphazard process that is not as refined as it could be. Or, without fully understanding how we got there. We use whatever tools we have at hand – even if they are not completely suited to the task. And sometimes we just let someone do our thinking for us.
Almost every teacher has asked kids ‘to think about it’, or ‘to think more deeply’. But how exactly do they do this? What does it mean to think? How can we expect students to think better if we don’t show them how?
Now, what if we gave students a set of well-designed and research-based tools that helped them to structure and thus deploy their own thinking better?
What if we could help them to build, connect, and refine their thinking in more overt ways by providing the (meta)cognitive tools and skills to build better thinking?
Knowing how to think makes all of us, especially kids, better thinkers. The best way to do this is to use a set of appropriate tools to structure better thinking.
This is Visible Thinking in a nutshell.
But wait. There’s more…
Thinking About vs Thinking With: A Thinking Toolbox.
Much of our learning, especially our foundational knowledge, becomes internalized to such a degree that we often forget that we know it.
But we don’t really forget it. Instead, most of the basic materials of foundational knowledge become fashioned into tools, not that we think about, but that we can think with.
This distinction between thinking about and thinking with is extremely important.
Whether it is the rudimentary components of language and numbers, the scientific method, or even historical knowledge which provides a perspective with which to understand modern conflicts, ingrained core knowledge is more useful as a device, rather than as a finished product.
Here’s an example: I teach map skills to high school students. Frankly, because much of this is paper-based, it seems to have very little value in the digital world. However, I do spend a long time coaching them to interpret maps. This becomes an exercise in deductive thinking: what evidence can you find to justify your conclusion? To answer questions like “Does this area receive reliable rainfall?”, or “Is the golf course well located?” demands that kids search for evidence, evaluate this evidence; connect evidence; ‘zoom in’ and analyse things closely; as well as to ‘zoom out’ and see the bigger picture. My hope is that these methods of thinking will become tools that they can use beyond my classroom and beyond school. Hence, the thinking mechanisms behind the map skills I teach are more important than the actual content and skills.
Visible Thinking takes it a step further. Rather than holding thumbs that specific knowledge items and subject-specific skills will evolve to become a set of tools to think with more broadly, the approach specifically provides these ‘thinking-with’ tools, and advises educators to infuse their content into and around these thinking structures.
Thus, rather than fantasizing that knowledge will become a set of cognitive tools through some sort of alchemy, those thinking tools are taught explicitly.
The result is a set of thinking dispositions and strategies that allows students to explore ideas and issues more readily, more deeply, and more confidently.
Thinking about Thinking: Knowing, Understanding and Doing
Back to thinking. What is it to think? The words ‘thinking’ and ‘thought’ are among the most difficult words to define in any language. They seem almost ethereal. Most understandings of the process of thinking will yield a taxonomical description of skills, in the same way that we would describe a thing like a bird: based on a description of its parts and what these parts do.
In most cognitive taxonomies, thinking is categorised from the ‘easy’, ‘lower order’ or ‘superficial’ learning to the more difficult ‘higher order’ or ‘deep’ thinking.
But there are well-known problems with these sorts of hierarchical arrangements.
Understanding, as the chief example, is generally listed as a lower to middle order skill, and thus a precursor to higher order skills. This is not true. Understanding is a very complex process. True understanding is often the most difficult cognitive skill there is.
Understanding is the result of some very advanced mental processes – not the precursor to them.
Understanding might best be conceived of not as a type of thinking, but as the chief goal of it. And the best way to understand is not just to know, but to apply, analyse, evaluate, generate and all those other lovely taxonomical verbs.
Thus, the most useful definition of thinking is this: Thinking is the process of approaching understanding. And an essential aspect of this process of ‘thinking-as-understanding’ is learning to apply and utilize knowledge in various ways.
Thinking Moves to Move Thinking
So how best to teach children to apply their knowledge in order to achieve understanding? What tools can we give them to think with?
Visible Thinking identifies a core set of ‘thinking moves*’ around which we can begin to build these structures:
These are by no means exhaustive. (I would add on something about empathy and imagination, for example.) Nevertheless, they do offer an extremely useful bank of thinking techniques which can be used in designing activities aimed at fostering understanding.
These are the thinking tools which become embedded and which we can think with.
These thinking techniques become the guiding principles behind the thinking structures we associate with visible thinking. The structures themselves mean very little without an understanding of the importance of thinking moves.
Consider how many of the following well-known Visible Thinking routines refer back to the thinking moves listed above:
What Visible Thinking is all about is intentionality. At its heart, it’s about getting right to the very core of what makes good thinkers: having a carefully chosen set of embedded cognitive and meta-cognitive tools to think with and to use to understand better. Once we know and understand the core motivation behind Visible Thinking methods, we can begin to use them to even greater effect.
Of course, there is a lot more to Visible Thinking. Most notably, the fact that as thinking becomes more visible, it becomes easier to diagnose and thus remediate thinking errors.
But the real lesson for teachers has to do with the intentional teaching of thinking moves. Rather than planning which centers around content and skills, planning should involve first identifying the type of thinking involved in a particular learning module and then latching the content and skills onto those.
Something very exciting happens when Visible Thinking is properly implemented. Classrooms become more student-centered, more thinking-centered, and, ultimately, more focused on life-long learning.
Says David Perkins:
“Learning is a consequence of thinking. Retention, understanding, and the active use of knowledge can be brought about only by learning experiences in which learners think about and think with what they are learning.” (Perkins, David. Smart Schools (pp. 7-8). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. Quoted by Ron Ritchhart in Making Thinking Visible, 2011 p. 26.)
‘Making Thinking Visible’ by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison (Jossey-Bass, 2011)
* The authors distinguish between ‘thinking moves’ and ‘other kinds of thinking’. I feel they are part and parcel of the same thing.
Anyone else love the BBC TV series Hustle as much as I do?
Here, some advice from the final moments of the final episode of season six:
Chess is about making strategic decisions. From the very first move to the last, it is all about how you deploy, position, support and utilize your resources to get the best results. As such, chess is a very useful analogy to all kinds of strategic decision making – be it in leadership, entrepreneurial ventures, school innovation, job hunting, and even our personal lives.
The opening is all about how we position our pieces. The goal here is to deploy all of our major pieces to key squares where they can exercise influence over the board and over other pieces.
In strategic leadership, this equates to how we acquire, position, and maximize our capital, our human resources, and our physical infrastructure. A good opening foray is thus about getting the best resources possible into play as early as possible. This is important not just in leadership, but in life more generally. Even though we might have physical limits, as players do with the number and abilities of pieces, we should identify and deploy what we have as soon as we can.
There are some minor exchanges in the opening, but if you’re playing well, you are generally swapping poorly placed and weaker pieces for stronger ones, and you are getting pieces linked up to coordinate their efforts and to support one another.
The opening generally takes far longer than most players realize. But it shouldn’t take too long, otherwise the opponent might already be on the middle-game and thus have a tactical advantage.
This is the most neglected phase of a chess game. In chess, as in strategic leadership, many average players move directly from the opening to the endgame, without a proper understanding of the tactical advantage a strong middle-game can have.
A properly played middle-game leverages the positions and connections put in place in the opening. This is where a player’s tactical and strategic decisions matter most: It’s all about taking on multiple targets simultaneously, in a coordinated and intentional fashion, and about revealing subtle hidden tactics.
The middle-game involves carefully coordinating, supporting, and manipulating your resources, as well as seizing the initiative and playing intentionally. In this phase, creativity, adapting to change, problem-solving abilities, and pattern-spotting proclivities are incredibly important.
The middle-game is a rich, multi-faceted phase of a chess game, and knowing how to play it makes good players into great ones. It is here that we talk about tactics like forks, pins, skewers, discovered attacks, and overloading.
In strategic leadership (and in life’s challenges), this is analogous to actually exploiting the resources you have put in play in the initial phase of a project. This is the phase where you need to be deliberate and cautious, and where you need to analyze carefully. But it is also the place where true innovation, risk taking, and problem-solving can seriously boost your chances of success.
The opposite to a well played middle-game is a mechanical, reactive approach, where you respond to moves made by others rather than taking the lead. The result can often be a loss of critical resources, which puts you on the back foot as you approach the final phase of a project.
The middle-game is basically where a game is either won or lost. And it is the arena in which the most serious blunders occur. (A blunder is a move which loses a critical piece, and thus loses you the game.) Most often, blunders are not simply ‘mistakes’, they are as a result of either not seeing the whole board, and thus obsessing with just one part of it, or of neglecting critical, threatened pieces.
It is difficult to define when the endgame actually begins in chess. In essence, the endgame is an extension of the middle-game, except that the tactics are almost completely prescribed. There is not much room for being innovative. To play the endgame well, you simply have to understand simple tactics like king opposition, zugswang, and check-mating squares. The end game depends on rigorous preparation and a solid understanding of the rules of an endgame.
In leadership, the endgame is wrapping up a project. It is ensuring that your tactical advantages are carried through, and that things are properly concluded.
Interestingly, while most people are infatuated with a checkmate and a win, in the endgame, it is entirely possible (and sometimes even desirable) to go for a draw. Often, chess players give up too soon, where they could have earned a draw even from a seemingly hopeless position. Chess teaches us the value of a bit of determination in fighting until the bitter end. (Of course, sometimes a loss is inevitable, in which case, it might be best to resign with a bit of dignity, and focus your energies on diagnosing what went wrong so that you’re better in the next game.)
There are some very useful analogies in a game of chess to all manner of strategic decision-making and leadership-related issues. But it is the often neglected middle-game which provides the most useful lessons. Rather than moving directly from planning to results, a focus on the middle-game teaches us to enhance our tactical and strategic acumen in order to protect our assets, or at least exchange them more intelligently, and thus to leverage better results.
I’d love your thoughts. Please add a comment below.
Being able to point out the countries of the world, together with their capitals and major cities is a cache of knowledge many people assume to be as essential as knowing your ABCs or your times tables. In fact, people (and even whole nations) are ridiculed because they can’t point to, say, Bhutan on a blank map of the world.
No other body of knowledge (or lack thereof) is as closely linked to the success or failure of a country’s education system. This is a very strange phenomenon indeed. Think about some other core areas of knowledge:
And so on.
As important as they all are, none of these are as subtly weaponized as geographical literacy. How many of these core learning stockpiles do you think the majority of a country’s people have locked and loaded and ready to fire off on demand (especially those a decade or two out of school)? Strangely, not knowing where a country is, is somehow more disgraceful to the ‘geographic illiteratists’ than not understanding how an apostrophe works, being unable to read a graph, or refusing to ‘believe’ in evolution.
According to the traditional way of thinking about geographic literacy, kids need to know not just their own provinces / states, and the capitals thereof, but the names of ALL of the world’s countries and capitals. And adults are expected to know them even better than kids. Even if things change.
If they don’t, they are geographically illiterate and can be openly mocked.
Think about trivia games and television shows: people are forgiven if they can’t name a historical figure, or a song from the nineties, or a chemical element, or a character from a novel. But not if they forget, say, the capital of Scotland. (Which is Edinburgh, by the way, not Glasgow.)
So why is geographic illiteracy such an area of scorn and derision? Some would argue that in a globalized world, it is important to know that we are connected to the world, and that knowledge of the world makes us better global citizens. This is a lie: remembering where a country is has nothing to do with appreciating its history, cultures, customs, traditions, and economic networks.
According to the spatial illiteratists, in an age where education is evolving rapidly, and most content is being probed more deeply, knowing something as objectively true as where countries are is a battle-test for the triumph or humiliation of our education systems. In an era where training kids’ ‘soft skills’ forms an essential part of their basic training, not knowing something as ‘fundamental’ as where the continents are is indicative of the ‘declining’ quality of modern education. “We shouldn’t just be able to ‘look up’ where a country is, like we might look up the properties of a chemical element”, they might say, “we should know it!”
In short, geographic illiteracy is an easy target for those who wish to shoot down the modern education system.
I would like to assert that this is a wrong. It’s time we took on the illiteratists.
Firstly, the field of geographic literacy is not as clean-shaven as many illiteratists imagine:
This may seem like splitting hairs. The majority of countries and features are where they are, some might say, and it’s important to know where they are.
My answer is this: knowing where geographic features are is less less important than being able to find out more about these countries and features. Being able to probe and discuss the economic, geopolitical and environmental issues facing these countries and environments is of far greater use than a regimented, superficial knowledge of what goes where. Real geographical literacy is about thinking using different scales, its about being able to investigate deeply and discerningly, and its about finding connections.
A redefined version of geographic literacy in the twenty-first century is more closely aligned with progressive educational methodologies. In place of drilling facts into kids’ heads and asking them to memorize these, we take a more textured and child-centered approach. Instead of learning what the countries and natural features of Africa are, we look at how climate change is affecting African economies. We investigate countries like Botswana and Rwanda to see if what they are doing could be a model for the rest of Africa to lift themselves out of poverty. We explore modern forms of colonization. And we try to uncover connections between the historical, developmental, environmental, geopolitical and economic issues facing several African countries.
And how about we teach globalization by looking where the components that are used to manufacture our cellular telephones come from? We could learn a whole lot about rare earth metals, labor abuses, environmental consequences, marketing, and so on. These are lessons that stick. These are lessons which require active learning. These are lessons which really teach kids about the world they live in. And it gives them a sense of being able to change that world for the better.
And then we’ll move on to the Middle East…
I am not alone in this move to redefine geographic literacy. National Geographic has gone so far as to introduce the term ‘geo-literacy’ to replace the old fashioned geographic literacy:
Geo-literacy is the ability to reason about Earth systems and interconnections to make far-reaching decisions. Whether we are making decisions about where to live or what precautions to take for natural hazards, we all make decisions that require geo-literacy throughout our lives.
And they continue elsewhere:
In our modern, globally interconnected society, it is more important than ever that people understand the world around them… [T]he preparedness of our children to have systemic understanding, geographic reasoning skills, and systematic decision-making capability are crucial for our society. Geo-literacy can reduce the costs of bad decision-making and provide the foundation for positive breakthroughs.
This new kind of ‘geo-literacy’ is very different from the old geographic literacy. In a sense, it becomes more about geographic thinking and reasoning rather than just memorization.
Being geo-literate means being able to…
In short, it’s time to rethink what geographical knowledge is. It’s time that we realized (as most of the world’s Geography teachers already have) that Geography is not just about knowing where things are, it’s about being able to think geographically.
Perhaps it would be poignant at this moment in world history to give Barack Obama the final word:
The study of geography is about more than just memorizing places on a map. It’s about understanding the complexity of our world, appreciating the diversity of cultures that exists across continents. And in the end, it’s about using all that knowledge to help bridge divides and bring people together.
Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (8: Notability)
Students in a 1:1 environment should never type notes. It is not neurologically sound. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take notes digitally using a stylus. The only issue with this is that writing tends to be large and untidy.
Notability gets around this problem by making note-taking simple, easy and neat. Notability works best with a stylus, and it makes taking notes feel more like handwriting.
Of all the apps this teacher uses, Notability has to be in the top three of all time. (Watch this space for the other two!)
|Miss one? Go to: http://bit.ly/techtools2try|
Head over to: http://gingerlabs.com/
I absolutely love what Yong Zhao has to say especially about the shortcoming of standardized assessments. Some of my favorite Zhao blog posts:
And then I found his thoughts on educational technology. I have excerpted a small bit below, but please visit the original article here:
You can also purchase the full length book on Amazon. (Click on the caption below the book cover image to be redirected.)
A new way to think about technology and education is “never send a human to do a machine’s job,” advice from Agent Smith in the film The Matrix. In education, we need to redefine the relationship between humans and machines based on thoughtful analyses of what humans do best and what should be relegated to technology. There is no reason to have human teachers do things that machines do better or more effectively. There is no reason to have human teachers perform routine, mechanical, and boring tasks when technology can do it. After all, the reason to have technology is to extend, expand, and/or replace certain human functions.
The redefinition of relationship can only happen when we begin to reimagine what education should be like…. Technology has made it both a necessity and a possibility to realize some of the long-standing proposals for child-centered education and learning by doing. Personalized education that grants students autonomy and respects their uniqueness has become a necessity for cultivating the abilities required for living in a society when machines are rapidly taking jobs away from humans. Technology has made it possible to enable personalized learning and to have students take more control of their own learning. Moreover, technology has also made it possible for students to engage in authentic learning by tackling real-world problems on a global scale.
In summary, technology has been traditionally conceived as tool to enhance and improve existing practices within the existing educational setup, but it has become a tool to enable a grand education transformation that has been imagined by many pioneering thinkers such as John Dewey. The transformation is not about technology, but about more meaningful education for all children.
(By the way, being called a geeky anything is a compliment these days. In case you didn’t know.)
You Know You’re a Geeky Teacher When…
You email developers with suggestions for making their apps better.
You know what IFTTT does.
You have Lego in your class and you’re not afraid to use it.
You love sketch-noting. Digitally.
You know / make / use memes in your lessons.
You have an Alice Keeler mini-shrine.
You can speak meme.
You can happily spend hours working out complicated formulae on a spreadsheet. Often just for kicks.
You incorporate the latest fad into your teaching rather than banning it.
You have Google’s release Calendar synced with your own.
You know what syncing means.
You don’t understand why people don’t use a Google Form for that.
You admire people who share a good script almost as much as you do humanitarians.
You know that kids typing assignments actually improves their spelling and grammar.
You often get stuck on YouTube or Wikipedia when you went there to look something up.
You know what Snopes is.
You’ve translated something into Klingon or Elvish.
You own at least one figurine.
You love Radiolab.
You work with at least two cloud backup systems.
You have at least three internet connected devices.
You haven’t been bored since you were at university.
Setting up a cool collaborative, interactive hyperdoc excites you more than it should.
The idea of coding intrigues you even if you don’t know how to code yourself.
The idea of having a robot do your job actually sounds quite interesting.
You find yourself asking how and why more than what, when, and where.
You would much rather try and fix a piece of broken classroom equipment than buy a new one.
You fall asleep thinking about that BreakOutEdu lesson you want to create.
The educational toys you buy are as much for you as they are for your students.
You wish there was an app for that.
You watch other teachers doing something and you know there is an app for that.
You have at least 10 different ways of randomly picking names.
You have at least 5 different classroom playlists.
Your Chrome browser looks like something out of StarTrek.
You’re angry when your students don’t have their phones in class.
You have a Steam account.
You know that gamification isn’t about using Minecraft in your class.
You feel naked when you don’t have your tablet under your arm.
You play with the ‘Explore’ button in Sheets just for fun.
You have 20 or more folders / rules / filters running on your inbox.
You get as excited as your kids when a new sci-fi movie comes out. (And you threaten them with vaporization for spoilers.)
You can quote the latest movie or song ironically.
You’ve got 20 styli and all you need is a pen.
You’ve worked on a cloud-based document on at least three different devices on the same day.
You think Prezi is as passé as PowerPoint.
You wish reality had hyperlinks.
Every year you are disappointed all over again when haptic technology still hasn’t gone mainstream.
You use virtual and augmented reality in your lessons.
You’ve actually used a chess tactic in real life.
The word ‘wireless’ gives you a little quiver of pleasure.
Not having wifi is worse than not having coffee.
You spend more time geeking out with your online friends than you do with people in real life.
I’m sure there must be more. Any suggestions?
Adobe has an amazing range of apps – most of which are free, and most of which can either be used as an iPad app or online. I’ve chosen just two, but there are many others.
SPARK PAGE can be used by students to create amazing ‘glideshows’ as an alternative to traditional presentations. Students could also create beautiful ‘webzines’ or picture-based stories. Now add soundtracks, voiceovers, animated texts and more.
SPARK VIDEO does everything Spark Page does, but with videos.
More lesson ideas here.
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One of my favorite stories in the news last week was the group of boys who wore dresses to protest the lack of shorts as an option in their school’s uniform code in summer.
Every week there seems to be another story about students rebelling against overly restrictive or insensitive uniform and / or appearance policies.
Whether students wear a uniform or mufti, or some kind of ‘multiform’, there are always going to be ructions around appropriate dress codes. Teenagers in particular are always going to test the boundaries. And school policies around the rest of children’s appearance, such as facial hair, religious paraphernalia, political pageantry, jewelry, hair styles, and like, are equally tricky.
What is interesting is how often these sorts of dress code issues make national and international news.
Why is that?
Could it be that reporters revel in young rebels taking on the system? And what is more representative of the system and ‘uniformity’ than traditional schools?
Or could it be that these skirmishes over uniform and appearance are a reflection of a deeper trend of individualism and of a growing mistrust of traditional institutions?
Do students think of these rules as an attack on their individuality and self-expression? Are kids using uniform issues to protest a system which they see as not acting in their best interests? (In the same way that Britons and Americans have used their votes as a means of expressing their mistrust in their political and economic systems?)
Perhaps it is too big a leap to associate uniform scrimmages with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Whatever the reason is, it’s interesting to me that so many schools that pay lip-service to nurturing independence and individuality and creativity and student-centered education still insist on strict and outdated uniform regulations.
In South Africa (and many other former colonies), this is particularly rife, with many of our students still traipsing around looking like little Eton clones – in the heart of the African continent.
There are good arguments both for and against wearing uniforms at school. But the mistake that the pro-uniformers often make is to insist that they somehow magically ‘encourage respect’ (presumably for the school, or their teachers, or even themselves) or that they somehow foster ‘school spirit’. Neither of these is true.
You’ll hear the same thing that is said about uniforms said about school ‘traditions’: They are one of those things that you simply don’t question, “Because we’ve always done it this way”, or “Because it’s an integral part of our identity.”
Until a few brave young souls decide to rebel against this uniformity and obedience to outdated traditions, and to insist that schools respect them as much as they are told to respect school.
I don’t think there is an easy answer to the problem of dress and appearance codes at schools. Nor do I think that the answer is necessarily to do away with uniforms altogether. Learning to dress appropriately for different contexts is as important a skill as understanding how to use appropriate tone in different contexts.
I do think the uniform issue is an interesting battle-ground between the traditionalists and progressives. Or between what schools say they want for their students and what they actually want.
It would be intriguing to see if a few of the boys who protested by wearing skirts actually ended up preferring them, and if the girls at the school began protesting having to wear girls’ skirts by wearing boys’ shorts. Gender bias in uniform and appearance regulations has to be an issue which is going to be increasingly questioned in the coming years. Already, some forward-looking schools are accommodating transgender students by allowing them to select the uniform they feel most comfortable in.
But why stop there?
What will happen, I wonder, when students start turning their minds to canned curricula and one-size-fits-all teaching styles?
Uniforms encourage uniformity. In an age of individuality and progressive thinking, they are surely going to come under increasing attack. Thinking critically about school traditions, and taking collective action against repressive, outmoded ways of doing things has to be a good thing. It’s what we say we want from our students more generally when we talk about independent thinking, tolerance, and social justice.
Perhaps the answer is for schools use uniform debates as a way to engage and negotiate with students in a calm and respectful manner, which models how the bigger issues in society should be handled.
Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)
There are so many new ideas around improving / evolving / revolutionizing education at the moment. To mention but a few: Educational technology, progressive pedagogies (or heutagogies), brain-based research, a new focus on soft skills, collaborative methodologies, project-based learning, and many, many more.
There are so many new things in education these days that it seems to many of us that it would be better just to stick with what we know. After all, it works. Doesn’t it?
Well, yes. It often does. But my question is always about what we are potentially depriving kids of if we don’t try some of the new innovative ideas in education. Old methodologies do work, for the most part, but what about the stuff our kids might be missing out on?
By all means, let’s do our research and try distinguish what will work for us and what will not. Let’s even conduct a pilot project and research it ourselves. But, if our kids stand even a remote chance of gaining new skills, dispositions, and competencies they could not have learnt the old way, then dammit we have to try.
Put more strongly:
How dare we not explore new teaching methodologies if they could potentially make the education we offer our students more effective, meaningful, and relevant?
How dare we not offer our students the chance to become better thinkers, better innovators, and better citizens of the world?
How dare we not allow them to explore their own personal interests, to become more confident and engaged young people, and to be active participants in the world, rather than passive bystanders?
We have a moral imperative to innovate how we teach, and it is simply this: As custodians of learning and the development of young citizens, we are compelled to offer the most effective education we can.
How dare we not?
Being a school leader must be a bit like trying protect a sandcastle against the waves: let off for just a minute, and things can start to go wrong, spend too long on one thing, and the other parts start crumbling. And all of this while you’re trying to make your towers touch the sky.
The temptation must be to try and buy a little time by ignoring the bits that seem as if they are on safe ground in favor of those which seem a little too close to the swash. But, as any sandcastle builder will tell you, it’s most often the parts that you never expect to fail that slump and slide into the surf.
Keep protecting the parts that you know are going to wash away, while ignoring the parts that seem sturdy, and soon enough, the whole castle will end up a featureless lump in the sand.
Instead, I think it may be best to let those bits that are going to wash away do so, while reinforcing the parts that are solid. And then adding more bits like the ones that are holding up well.
And it can’t hurt to build the whole thing on higher ground.
Padlet is a collaborative pinboard / brainstorming platform. It works across platforms and has quite a robust free version.
Padlet can be set up for secure sharing, and can handle many different file types. Students can reorganise ideas, and can link their thoughts with connector lines. Think of it as collaborative, interactive, less annoying version of Pinterest.
The real strength of Padlet is that it enables collaborative sharing and discussion. It is also a lovely way to encourage learning beyond the classroom.
Try Padlet for…
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Head over to: https://padlet.com/
In case you’re not up to speed:
A startup is a newly established entrepreneurial company which is typically founded upon an innovative product. Startups tend to be focused on rapid development in order to secure venture funding, crowd-sourced capital, or lucrative acquisitions. They are associated with highly skilled, if slightly oddball team members, and are often associated with non-traditional, low stress, fun working environments. Startups are high risk, high reward ventures.
There are quite a few features of a typical startup which make them attractive as role-models for innovative schools:
And so on.
A great deal of the pageantry draped around startups has already made its way into many liberal schools and educational discussions:
So what’s wrong with all of this?
Well, for most of it, not much. When it comes to engagement, enhancing learning and generally getting things done at schools, borrowing from the trappings of the startup world has many merits.
But I do have concerns:
Progressive schools tend to seek out and implement strategies and processes which have worked elsewhere. Most often, there is a cost involved in doing so – whether it be in terms of human resources, training, infrastructure and even time. As with most things, the sunk cost fallacy makes schools loathe to backtrack on their investment – even if these new programs are not working as well as anticipated.
Related to reluctance to tank a new program because of sunk cost, is the fact that confirmation bias often creeps in to how we see new educational programs. We evaluate the successes of these programs by selecting and focusing on what works, and by minimizing and ignoring what doesn’t. Many poorly planned and implemented iPad programs, for example, suffer from confirmation bias in evaluating their effectiveness in boosting learning.
Most startups fail. And yet we tend to focus on the ones that do not. I have written about this survivorship bias in relation to education before, but in a nutshell: focusing just on ‘what works’ and ignoring what doesn’t often leads to false cause-and-effect conclusions, where the truth is more likely to be coincidental.
Wikipedia has a very relevant example of survivorship bias:
…if three of the five students with the best college grades went to the same high school, that can lead one to believe that the high school must offer an excellent education. This could be true, but the question cannot be answered without looking at the grades of all the other students from that high school, not just the ones who “survived” the top-five selection process.
But my biggest concern in the trend of schools trying to learn from startups is this: No school, no matter how corporately-minded is purely about profits. They are about people. Specifically young people.
What works to secure funding doesn’t necessarily work neurologically, educationally, or emotionally at schools. High stakes and high risks are a part of school, yes, as are high expectations, but to go ahead and adopt startup solutions as haphazardly as we download apps is more than a little bit irresponsible. Schools need to adopt a research-based approach instead of being dazzled by the latest piece of startup glitter.
We also need to relearn to focus on the long-term. Our mission is not to make a short-term profit (by looking good when our students do well in their final standardized assessments), but rather to invest in their long-term future. We must never lose sight of our ultimate aim: to help our young people to become more independent, resilient, adaptable, fulfilled, and engaged citizens.
A Self-Determined Learning Journey
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Confronting "our rigid refusal to look at ourselves" (James Baldwin)
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