For the past year, our teaching team has been putting together a vision for what a public school might look like if it was reimagined as an active and connected community centered on learning by making and doing. We hope to open MakerSpace@LCS for the 2015/2016 school year. One aspect of our approach is based on the notion that we learn most when we share our work openly with an audience of interested fellow learners. To this end, we would like to share our Next Generation Learning Challenges: Breakthrough School Models (Wave IV) Launch Grant application. We have been identified as finalists for this launch grant, and anticipate getting final word on the grant applications’ success or failure within the next few weeks. Either way, we hope that by sharing our ideas we can help contribute to the very important conversations taking place around our school models, our new tools, and the innovation that can occur from the ground up in a networked environment of people who care.
For more information on the Next Generation Learning Challenges: K-12 Breakthrough School Models grant, please visit here.
CC Some rights reserved by flickr user Sonny W.
“PARCC’s next-generation assessment system will provide students, educators, policymakers and the public with the tools needed to identify whether students — from grade 3 through high school — are on track for postsecondary success and, critically, where gaps may exist and how they can be addressed well before students enter college or the workforce.” – PARCConline.org
Really? We need to start asking how “next-generation” this “online” test is, and how such a test identifies future success of students who will exist in a world that will never NOT have web browsers. The test is asking for the wrong thing, the old way, and claiming to be what it isn’t.
If a kid can’t use a web browser on the PARCC test, what’s the purpose of having an “online” test? That’s like getting a brand new car and only ever using it to sit in the driveway listening to the radio. If we need to test whether or not our children are “on track for post-secondary success”, shouldn’t we be measuring them against a standard that actually exists in the real world? How many times will our students find themselves using a computer that isn’t hooked up to a searchable internet in “college or the workforce”?
The #PARCC test is still too tied to a pre-internet paradigm of learning. Yes, it does a better job than the last testing regime did. Yes, kids will be physically touching a computer during the test. But to call anything about the #PARCC test, “next-generation”, is to miss the promise of what the next generation of learning truly could be.
All silliness aside, I’ve always found Allen Iverson’s infamous “Practice” interview to be a thing of beauty. As ridiculous as it is, there’s something about Iverson’s utter conviction that he was being measured against a meaningless standard. “We’re not talking about the game, we’re talking about practice man.” Sometimes I feel like our conversations regarding education follow the same pattern. We spend so much time talking about grades, points, data, and scores that we mistake the measurement of learning for the act of learning.
As a parent I’ve sat through convocations, graduations, and everything in between and I rarely hear mention of the word, “learning” at these events. I hear plenty about rules. There’s seemingly tons to say about standards. Grading polices are thoroughly gone-over. State Report Card Data gets rolled out and celebrated or explained away with promises of “buckling down”. But if you listen closely, you will find that you are simply not hearing the word “learning” much when we talk about schools and schooling.
If learning is the one and only mission of our schools we should be talking about it more often and more meaningfully. Learning has changed a great deal in the past few years, maybe more than in any other period of human history, and it’s important that we focus on it now-and-again while we’re so otherwise occupied with all of the acronyms, meetings, and initiatives.
Let’s talk about the game. Let’s talk about learning.
*** Bonus: TeachingHumans Vs. Allen Iverson ***
I’ve asked kids in the past to consider what they’d say if they had a microphone that reached the whole world. I ask it because they have those microphones in the devices in their pockets, and I want them to think about their audience in a very significant way. Do you think the world wants to hear about the rims on your car? Is that what they need to hear?
I ask that question because I want my students to think about truths, growth, and their influence on their communities. Lauren Hill got a microphone that reached the world, and she sang about self-liberation. And that’s real hip hop.
We want kids to collaborate, but do we teach them how?
Here’s a way do it that’s basically free (as long as three or four people have a mobile device, some way to connect to the internet, and/or bluetooth), and can lead to tons of great conversations about content, teamwork, and learning.
Spaceteam is “a co-operative shouting game” in which players are members of a Spaceteam that must avoid peril by shouting and completing directions that scroll across a screen otherwise filled with nonsensically named buttons, sliders, and toggle switches. Players progress through increasingly difficult levels, each with their own unique challenges, that can only be overcome when collaborative approaches emerge and are solidified into strategies. It’s chaotic, frustrating, and so much fun.
I first played Spaceteam with a bunch of teachers, and being teachers, we couldn’t help talking about what was happening as we learned how to get further and further in the game. This nerdish “meta” conversation had us thinking about essential questions (How do you become the best Spaceteam?), assessment (the end of the game features a whole slew of statistics representing various aspects of the group’s performance), and teaching the scientific method (form a hypothesis about an effective strategy–>communicate the plan–>game test–>analyze data–>revise strategy–>wash/rinse/repeat).
After playing Spaceteam and having those talks, I was eager to see what happened when students played the game. Fortunately, a few days later I had the opportunity to work with and film a few 5th graders playing the game. Our time together consisted of the students playing the game with little explanation from me. We tried a couple different groupings, played about six or seven games, and then sat down for a discussion. As you can see throughout the video, the students were eager to share what they learned, have a laugh, and do some very tough thinking about being better collaborators.
“There was a big three-hole binder,” said Juhl. “It was the writers notebook that came from the educational consultants on the show with all the goals and things.” Many times, Juhl would think of something gloriously silly and worthy of the Muppets, “then ransack this notebook trying to find [an educational] justification for the piece!”
Jones, Brian Jay (2013-09-24). Jim Henson: The Biography (Kindle Locations 2843-2846). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The quote above highlights a necessary distinction in our work with learning standards such as The Common Core. While many in education cry for innovation and ingenuity, they stifle it by using the “goals and things” as targets to be hit. For example, most educators look up a standard or two, and then design lessons that have the students aiming to meet the standard, all the while foregoing the notion that the learning should be “worthy” of engagement and “silly” enough to be interesting and fun for kids. Jerry Juhl, a longtime writing partner with Jim Henson, shows us why it’s important to put the act of learning at the center of what we do and use the learning goals as descriptors of great learning.
“Already the show was broadcast in fifty countries— though not yet England, where the BBC’s chief of children’s programming called the show “nondemocratic and possibly dangerous for young Britons”— and was seen by seven million American children each day.”
Jones, Brian Jay (2013-09-24). Jim Henson: The Biography (Kindle Locations 2989-2991). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Of course, going against the grain in the way that Juhl and Henson did is often misunderstood and misrepresented. It is no wonder that the BBC didn’t “get” Sesame Street. It didn’t go along with tradition, it left open the possibility that learning could be a discovery instead of a plan, and it strayed outside of what many consider the appropriate educational context and setting. How could a bunch of puppets teach kids more effectively than scores of teachers trying their best to follow the instructions so clearly presented in the “three-ring binder” or it’s modern equivalent, The Common Core Standards?
“1. total muppet
An english slang phrase meaning someone is completely useless, or has just done something foolish. Often used in a good natured manner.“I just insulted a policeman, and he jotted down my license plate number.
“You total muppet.”
Learning about the approach that Henson and his team adopted has me thinking a great deal about what it takes to be an innovator within an establishment much larger than the BBC, the American Public School system. We can see that the BBC’s attitude towards Henson’s work with the Muppets has worked it’s way into the British vernacular as a derogatory term for some who doesn’t “get” it, an idiot, a rube. While 7 million Americans, me included, grew up with Jim Henson as our favorite and most worthwhile teacher, there was a whole nation who considered his work not worthy of much notice and laughable at best.
The same thing is happening now. There are Jim Henson’s and Jerry Juhl’s all over the place right now in education. Educators who dare to focus on the learning first, and then the outcomes, are not gaining traction at an institutional level while every day they witness the wonder and beauty of students thriving with the new tools and unheard of connectivity that are transforming everything about education. Most of what these innovators hear isn’t support, it’s derision and indifferent, incomprehensible, silence.
Unfortunately, and to the endless frustration of those on the vanguard, the institution of education treats our modern day Henson’s in the classroom like the muppets they see us as, and not the Muppets we will become.
AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by flickr user Gildermersha_
We are at a critical moment in public education. We need innovation, not improvement, and innovation must form the core of our mission to create learning approaches that reckon with the new potential and vast untapped horizons of our digital age. Our students are disengaged, our teachers are, on the whole, digitally illiterate, and our communities increasingly consider whether the public school model might be better replaced by charters and private institutions. The remedies being suggested by many, if not most, of those wishing to reform education to fit the needs of the 21st century landscape are suggesting that we adopt walled-gardens of software, learning-management systems, and heavily mediated online engagement. However, it is not enough to simply sit a kid in front of a computer and walk away, despite the individuality of their path and the data produced surrounding their “progress”. The internet is more than content, and so is learning.
We should question the idea that education officials can shave costs by replacing teachers with “learning management software”. We should reduce costs by tapping the open-source availability of free internet content and, more importantly, the connectivity that presents learners with mentors, learning communities, and connected teachers. Our students don’t need teachers or textbooks to deliver content anymore. Computers, really, do it better. We need teachers to present opportunities, challenges, and a strong dose of rolling up their sleeves and working alongside students as they learn. We can’t afford to accept the idea that a software program can provide a better education than a teacher. That’s a cost too high to pay.
CCAttribution Some rights reserved – by flickr user pppspics
Care about a problem, create a solution, engage a community. The world is full of problems. Everything from national issues to what I should wear on Tuesday are now a part of the media stream we not only swim in, but breathe. At the same time, we’ve never seen a time in which we were more equipped to solve problems. Previously scare resources are now abundant and every bit of information ever gathered on earth is three clicks away from anywhere. We’ve also shifted from audiences to communities, from broadcasting to participation, and it is these shifts that compel us to question many of the institutions of a former age.
Education should be relevant and engaging. It’s something done for, not to, a person. Relevant doesn’t always mean contemporary, and engaging doesn’t always mean fun, but the things people do in the pursuit of learning should be compelling and meaningful to them in a real sense. We’ve been stuck in subjects too long working through problems and now we have n opportunity to learn from problems in almost any subject. Learning is something you describe, something that requires being in conversation as you go, learning from missteps and recognizing progress. Learning is no longer bound to time or location. In this golden age of information and communication it is required of our education system that we consider altering from a form that no longer suits its function.
But this isn’t just my problem, it’s our problem, perhaps the problem facing education and we’ve yet to come up with the way school could be if we explored some new forms, ones more attuned to our currents needs, tools, and aspirations,
A school model designed to meet these challenges should begin with the principles upon which it will be based. It will recognize that learning is something that requires empathy, creativity, and engagement with a community of fellow thinkers and learners. It has to start as a question, not an answer. And whatever answers follow that question, from wherever they might come, will start a conversation that might give rise to a more relevant and engaging model of education.