Tag Archives: empowerment

The Future of Education

Will education as we know it change because of technology?

I certainly hope so!  

Where and how will you be teaching in 5, 10, 15 years time?

I know my teaching practice has changed in the last few years.  3 years ago I might not have seen the value in bringing in noisy, blinking, programmable  and modular robots* (*a month ago I didn’t really know what that meant, either)  into an already chaotic classroom, but now I do!

2 years ago, would I have considered maintaining a class blog or joining, let alone joining and extending a High School blogging challenge (An Open Invitation to Collaborate)  or co-creating a global collaboration with my young students and several others groups on the other side of the world? (Little Ideas Swap)? Probably not.  (Thank you Coetail for the kick in the pants). The article A Communiqué from the Horizon Project Retreat  describes the top ten trends from around the world, with the number one trend:

“ The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.”

Even 1 year ago–would I have been seen as “The IT expert,”–where people come to me with their tech problems and questions.  All of these changes in my teaching and my career have evolved because of new technologies. And as we are beginning to grasp that  technology advancement is exponential, I can only wonder at what is around the corner.  

One thing that is incredibly slow to change (at least in all school’s I’ve worked in), and a thought I’ve had over and over is how we are still teaching in (mostly) isolated, individual classrooms and almost exclusively  by age cohorts. Prakash Nair, in The Classroom is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New, addresses these issues:

Almost without exception, the reform efforts under way will preserve the classroom as our children’s primary place of learning deep into the 21st century. This is profoundly disturbing because staying with classroom-based schools could permanently sink our chances of rebuilding our economy and restoring our shrinking middle class to its glory days….

“As the primary place for student learning, the classroom does not withstand the scrutiny of scientific research. Each student “constructs” knowledge based on his or her own past experiences. Because of this, the research demands a personalised education model to maximise individual student achievement. Classrooms, on the other hand, are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning.”

The article mentions that Environmental scientists have published dozens of studies that show a close correlation between human productivity and space design.  Classroom design is something I have always found to be both intriguing and challenging (in another life I would love to be an interior designer.)  

I know how a space looks and feels goes a long way to making me feel a certain way (my crowded, cluttered office doesn’t make me feel particularly creative) but if it is indeed so closely linked to productivity, shouldn’t there be a lot more care and effort ($) put into our Learning/Working/Living Spaces?

What could these revamped learning spaces look like??  The answers to this depends on your answer to these questions:

How should students learn?

Where should students should learn?

With whom should students learn?

Nair says, “We may conclude that it makes no sense to break down the school day into fixed “periods,” and that state standards can be better met via interdisciplinary and real-world projects….

How often have we as teachers, pulled children away from work that they are completely absorbed in, have found their flow,”simply because it is time to go to music class?

It’s Time to get rid of schedules: Photo: Unsplash

Nair says “we may not necessarily get rid of classrooms, but instead redesign them to operate as “learning studios” alongside common areas reclaimed from hallways that vastly expand available space and allow better teaching and learning. In many parts of the country, limited classroom space can be significantly expanded by utilising adjacent open areas while simultaneously improving daylight, access to fresh air, and connections to nature.”

Authentic Music integration while breaking down classroom walls: All of Kindergarten joining in song at the end of Outdoor Learning.  Photo credit: an unknown sneaky monkey who borrowed my iPad.

When discussing forward thinking considerations towards space, the Reggio Emilia approach cannot be omitted.  Google “Environment as the Third Teacher” and you will find dozens of blogs and pictures showing beautiful arrangements of materials and gorgeous, light filled spaces.

Beyond the Four Walls: The Piazza Common Space, in a Reggio Emilia PreSchool. Photo by Vincenzo Mainardi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17908980
The Future:  Open, flexible Spaces with access to Outdoors.  Photo By Caterooni – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49340739

ISZL’s Early Years approach is certainly Reggio inspired, in terms of our consideration of materials, time and space. Our Swiss environment and the local culture place a huge importance on playing outdoors, so the children have upwards of 2 hours a day outside in fresh, mountain air, with regular visits to a nearby forest.

Future of Learning: Early Years students in the forest. Photo source: Shared EY1 Google Drive. Collaborative teaching and photo sharing!
More authentic learning spaces in ISZL’s Early Years Playground.  Photo: Holly Fraser

Our youngest students’ walls have expanded as their teachers have carefully considered and chosen to allow all of their students to mix and mingle and choose freely to visit the different classrooms, each set up with a different focus: The Role Play Room, Art Studio or Construction Room (typically with a STEM focussed provocation).

I see this model spreading to other  parts of the school (kindergarten has reclaimed a boot room and transformed it into a shared Art Studio) and can only hope the trend continues.

Another hope for future change is a move away from a focus on grades and other external rewards.  Our current practice, according to Dan Pink’s research, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has serious implications. His research finds that rewards can improve performance when it is a mechanical skills, but when a task requires “Rudimentary cognitive skill,” performance is impeded when reward is introduced. “When a task is simple, algorithmic, if you do this then you get this…yes works, but when task is more creative…rewards do not work.”

If future success requires our students to be creative and use more than “rudimentary cognitive skills” then we need to seriously reconsider our reporting and grading systems.

There are numerous obstacles, but I see the future of school as bright, but change is necessary and incredibly slow.  

PBL and how things have(n’t) changed

“The first thing you have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum.”  Dr. Seymour Papert

My heart did a little flip when I read this statement in Seymor Papert’s Project Based Learning, an article 15 years old and yet many of the ideas are still so true and relevant, and sadly have largely yet to come to fruition.

Papert clarifies the above statement by wanting to do away with students learning a particular thing on a particular date, often for no particular reason.  Instead he insists learning should happen in context, with real problems and with immediate application.

Over the years my students of all ages have always done some sort of environmental unit or focus on a problem: litter; energy consumption; e-waste. These “problem topics” naturally lead to students wanting to find a solution, or to find out more about the problem.

Last year my Early Years students (4 & 5 year olds)  looked closely at how our devices and electrical items are built by taking them apart. They noticed all the waste and electrical pieces that came with a broken item.  

Now these children couldn’t solve this problem–but we upcycled by making all sorts of structures and robots out of the pieces and later visited a local recycling centre.  We learned more about what materials can be recycled, and we were happy to note batteries could be recycled.

We also learned more about the metals and minerals in our cell phones with the help of our 5th grade buddies who were studying similar problems for their Exhibition Project.  We worked together as a class learning about these problems, articulating them in different ways and documenting our learning together with the App, Adobe Spark.  

PBL in Early Years: Look Closer… at our Devices

I think about how our cross grade learning supports Paperts bold suggestion of doing away with grade/age segregation altogether:

“We’ve given up the age segregation which is just as, I think, wrong and harmful as any other kind of segregation….Kids working in communities of common interest on rich projects that will connect with powerful ideas.

Great minds working together.

Great minds of all ages working together. Photo courtesy of UnSplash.  No Attribution needed. 

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) Introduction to PBL “defines standards-focused PBL as a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks… students are pulled through the curriculum by a Driving Question or authentic problem that creates a need to know the material. “

My school’s PYP curriculum with its Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry can potentially complement this definition, but at times I have struggled with feeling like I have successfully implemented PBL in my classroom.  It’s the assessment piece and still having to report on a set of Learner Outcomes that I feel can hinder teachers from feeling free (enough) to explore PBL. Papert goes on to discuss portfolios as an improved form of assessment:

“ So, as I see it, the trend towards portfolio-based, so-called authentic assessment is very good, but it’s very limited unless it goes with throwing out the content of what we’re testing.”

My school’s portfolios are a move in the right direction.  First of all, we have portfolios as a form of assessment (in addition to traditional report cards, and formal and standardised tests, etc.) with basic agreements about what goes in them to maintain some consistency.  We are currently in the process of moving away from paper based portfolios to digital portfolios.  Teachers are spread out on the continuum of acceptance & readiness, oddly enough, it is our Early Childhood Educators leading the way.  

On the path to success.  Photo courtesy of Picography, by Dave Meier. http://picography.co/

On the path to success. Photo courtesy of Picography, by Dave Meier. http://picography.co/

This is perhaps not so odd, when one considers we had been looking for a platform that would support our focus on Documentation of Learning that was individualised, & often child directed, and with a focus on concepts and skills over specific “Learner Outcomes.” The assessments are on-going, formative and include elements of a project based or problem solving approach. Early Years teachers quickly embraced the platform Seesaw, which allowed them to document all of the above.

Many teachers in the primary school, whose teaching may be described as more traditional (all students working on same task) are working out how to best use the platform.  Many are taking photographs of pencil and paper assessments and uploading them to our digital portfolio system where there are right/wrong answers.  Some are beginning to show pictures of kids actually doing, solving, creating, inventing, making meaning, etc. But many are reluctant to get too creative with posts as they want to know the portfolio system inside and out before introducing elements to the the kids.  They are not (yet) open to the idea that they could be learning right alongside the kids and figuring it out as they go.

Which brings me to Papert’s idea of the importance of teachers learning alongside the students:

“What we need is kinds of activity in the classroom where the teacher is learning at the same time as the kids and with the kids. Unless you do that, you’ll never get out of the bind of what the teachers can do is limited by what they were taught to do when they went to school…. We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.”

We must be open to new ways of teaching and learning.  Photo courtesy of Picography, by Tasja. http://picography.co/

We must be open to new ways of teaching and learning. Photo courtesy of Picography, by Tasja. http://picography.co/

How true the above statement is: How often have I avoided introducing a topic or tool to students when I wasn’t fully comfortable with it yet myself.  This is only natural, but with the pace at which things change and technology develops, this practice and mindset needs to shift.  Teachers need to be seen as co-learners and co-constructors of knowledge, not simply bearers, because we can’t possibly know it all, and the curriculum can’t possibly keep pace with today’s changing world and reflect the interests and abilities of its students.

I can only hope that 15 years from now someone will read this post, find it true and relevant, and note how much things have changed.

Small Pieces Loosely Connected

At the start of this school year, The Syrian refugee crisis in Europe was reaching its pinnacle in terms of media attention and pleas for support.  A parent was involved with “Backpacks for Syria” (similar ideas, with different names have spread all over Canada and the US) and wanted us to ask the children to bring in backpacks/items to donate to refugee children.  Rather than simply write a note to parents with this request, I knew it would be much more powerful when the requests were coming from students’ mouths themselves:

Screen shot from bunkr Slideshow I made to encourage students to donate items to backpacks for Syria

Screen shot from bunkr slideshow I made to encourage students to donate items for Syria

  After a successful haul as a result of our plea, I’ll be honest and say the day to day demands of the classroom, (not to mention Coetail obligations!)  pushed charitable thoughts from my head. Recently, while attending the Learning2 conference in Milan, the idea of students “making a difference” was re-ignited by Warren Apel’s keynote:

 

 

Warren’s talk and subsequent blog post ( Keep it Real: Authentic student publishing can raise money to change the world)  describe the idea much more eloquently than I will here, but I will summarise: It is about moving from the traditional bake sale method of raising money for a cause to harnessing  the power of student’s creativity by publishing and selling their work to an authentic audience.

“Teachers know that students do their best work when they have a real audience. That’s why we have them blog.

“But what if we could publish and sell student work, generate income, and use that money to help people? What if we could use the same real platforms that professionals use to publish and sell their own works?” -Warren asks us to consider a new model:

By publishing and selling student work through a variety of online companies, (Amazon, Google Play, Etsy) students create for a real purpose and audience, and possibly, they can more effectively raise money, and with organisations like Kiva: Loans That Change Lives, they can choose to send their money directly to those in need, and to projects that directly support curriculum, or school initiatives, like environmentalism.

“Instead of collecting dust, we could be collecting momentum.”

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Warren suggests that rather than allow children’s art projects to gather dust in an attic, their enthusiasm and creativity gains momentum, in that they see true purpose and value in their work and contributions. Nothing is more powerful than that.

 

 

Second Attempt at creately.com Venn Diagram.

Second Attempt at creately.com Venn Diagram.  Oddly, the folks at learning2 and Coetail think alike…

 

I will focus on the overlapping word, Empower, highlighted in this week’s TedX video resource: “Extracurricular Empowerment” about student empowerment through extra curricular (i.e., self directed) learning projects, like the lead story about a high schooler’s critical, funny and engaging blog about her school’s lunch program.  Her blog ultimately garnered enough attention (some good, some bad…although as the saying goes, “any press is good press”) to force the school to make real changes and improvements to the food.  How empowering for her and ultimately beneficial for those students!  

"Get out of their way and let them be amazing." From Extracurricular Empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines

“Get out of their way and let them be amazing.” From Extracurricular Empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines

 Engagement, Empowerment and Evolution through Collaboration:

Tom Whitby says in his article, The Connected Educator begins with Collaboration:  “The idea of collaboration requires a mindset of believing there is room to learn and grow. It is also a belief that we are smarter collectively than individually.”

I would argue these same qualities that make an educator connected and relevant, are the same qualities that empower both the teacher and his/her students.  

He  and Steven Anderson wrote the book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning, and list several qualities of the  Connected Educator.  The 3 that stick out for me:

  • Is a relevant educator, willing to explore, question, elaborate, and advance ideas through connections with other educators.

    The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

    The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So far my email dialogue with fellow Coetailer Amber Dryer and her Tech Coach Andrew Chiu about  course 2’s final project  (A collaborative blog/space to start a discussion about environmentalism where we live) has been about just that: exploring, questioning and advancing ideas.  So far the connections my students have made beyond our classroom have been very empowering for my students.  What we ultimately come up with together, will be greater than what any of us could have come up with alone.

 

  • Views failure as part of the process of learning  

8489654285I love A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s  (FAiL: First attempt in Learning”), and “NO” “Next Opportunity.” Despite feeling frustrated at the lack of enthusiasm over my proposed Photography Collaboration with colleagues from my other campus, I am trying hard not to see it as failure, or their lack of response as a “no,” just that I need to re-examine my approach, and to keep looking for that meaningful “Next Opportunity” to connect and collaborate.  

  • May put creation over content, and relevance over doctrine.

Our Early Years programme, (I have to say nicely complements my general philosophy and approach to teaching) has 4 loose, year long inquiry units and a play based/student interest driven approach.  It really allows much more emphasis and value on the process of (relevant and timely) learning, creating and formative assessment, rather than on product, prescribed content/curriculum and summative assessment.

Small Pieces Loosely Connected

Small Pieces Loosely Connected

And finally, there were so many great descriptions about the web as a collaborative and empowering place from the lovely little gem of a website, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A unified theory of the web by David Weinberger.  (The website actually serves to advertise the book by the same title, and is itself is a bit outdated, but the ideas presented are so, so relevant.)

“The Web gets its value not from the smoothness of its overall operation but from its abundance of small nuggets that point to more small nuggets.And, most important, the Web is binding not just pages but us human beings in new ways. We are the true “small pieces” of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.”

The kids version of Small Pieces is great, too, and summarises the kind of web we all should aspire to be a part of: 

“So, here we have two worlds. In the real world, people are kept apart by distance. Because of the

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The Web helps us to become better people, according to Small Pieces Loosely Joined

vastness of the earth, different cultures have developed. People live in separate countries, divided by boundaries and sometimes by walls with soldiers and guns. On the Web, people come together – they connect – because they care about the same things.

 

The real world is about distances keeping people apart. The Web is about shared interests bringing people together.

Now, if connecting and caring are what make us into human people, then the Web – built out of hyperlinks and energized by people’s interests and passions – is a place where we can be better at being people.

And that is what the Web is for.”

Empowering?  I think so.  Now, off to sell Art and save the world, one small piece at a time.