Understanding Respect at CCF

Welcome students!

Here are some activities for exploring the core value of “respect.”

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More PISA Support for “Understanding”

The recent release of results on PISA’s new assessment of Problem-Solving skills in participating countries supports a curriculum focused on deeper understanding and being able to transfer those conceptual understandings to new situations. The graph below (and the pages that follow it) illustrate the demand in three representative countries for skills in analysing and problem-solving over performing routine cognitive and manual skills.

PISA-Problem-solving Graphs

Consider referring colleagues in education to this information if they persist in the false belief that society wants students who can recall memorised information of perform basic skills.  As the executive summary of the report states, “In modern societies, all of life is problem-solving.

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Focus: Treatment for Education’s ADD

Reflections on treating Educational ADD

Here are four suggestions for dealing with the Attention Deficit Disorder that may keep your school from articulating its vision, its real purpose for existing.

1) Stop believing in silver bullets - Like any complex human endeavor, especially one that’s been practiced in a fairly specific way for decades, there is no single, easy, fix.  Because technology is so amazing, it’s understandable that we imagine some new gadget/software/environment/etc. could come along to instantly transform our schools into what we want them to be. But here’s a reality check: it’s just not going to happen. Let’s stop waiting for miracles and get to work creating one.

2) Don’t Jump to Solutions - All these great ideas that people come up with tend to be strategies designed to solve particular problems. Using them without considering the big picture is like taking someone else’s prescription because it works for them.  Or think about it in the military sense of “winning the battle, but losing the war.”  Schools are far too full of strategies that end up running at counter-purposes to each other. We initiate iPad programs and ban phones from classrooms.  We engage students in making Public Service Announcement videos, but block Tumblr. We deploy Khan Academy but don’t challenge students to apply mathematical understanding in authentic tasks.  So don’t even worry about, let alone debate or implement, new strategies until you’ve really dealt with #2 below.

3) Focus on your Vision – The incessant flow of “new ideas” assures distraction, perfectly illustrating the oft-quoted “Chinese Curse:” May you live in interesting times. Caught in the blur of the new, Education puts no attention on the significant.  What is the purpose of your school?  A purpose that every teacher, student, parent and community member knows, lives and breathes.  This is not a workshop brainstorm and a tagline on school stationery, but a systemic exploration and validation of your institution’s DNA. One fantastic attribute of the 21st Century is that we don’t all have to be the same.  Slavish uniformity is out and flourishing excellence is in.  So what will be your school’s claim to excellence?  Developing a real vision for your school will not be the product of an after school PD session (although it might start there), but rather a long-term effort that includes input from present and past students, parents and a wide-ranging exploration of what challenges and opportunities await our students throughout their lives.

4) Build a Curriculum that Realizes your Vision – Lucky for us, we have a means to achieve our vision. And, in the buzzing of new ideas and Ed Tech ADD distractions, it probably sounds like the oldest, most boring solution: our curriculum. It’s something that touches every student and teacher in every grade level and course.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that an impoverished definition of curriculum often prevents this powerful tool from realizing its potential.  Start with the vision: what amazing things do we want our students to achieve?  what does successful achievement look like?  Let’s make authentic performance of these achievements the heart of our curriculum.  To encourage success, let’s be specific about success criteria and provide samples of such achievement by previous students.  This is the kind of assessment that guides students and empowers their ownership for learning.  None of this will happen over night and none of it is easy.  But nothing in teaching is easy so why not focus on what will make a real difference?

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Free eBook Launched

Brutal_Truths_coverI’d like to announce the official launch of my new eBook, Brutal Truths for Schools.  For those who have seen me present, this eBook is part one of my “It’s broken, so Let’s Fix it” theme.  I thought I’d put all the “bad news” (it’s broken) into one work.  This way, it’s a starting point for those who haven’t confronted the reality that, as the sub-title states, “Education Fails Students in our Digital Age.”

My thinking is that the main readers will come from three audiences.  First, anyone new to the profession or in a teacher ed course currently.  These folks need to know that the schools of their near future do not need people who will prop-up a broken model, but who will grow into the next era of education where schools promote intrinsic motivation and personal learning.  The second audience is educational leaders who are already advocating and realizing the power of digital learning, not assembly line schooling.  You folks might find something useful in my 10 Truths.  Lastly, those teachers – whatever their age or years in teaching – who refuse to confront reality and grow their practice.  For these folks, the Truths are indeed brutal.

I encourage you to download the eBook for FREE and view it on your iPad or Mac laptop.  There is a Kindle version, but it is text only and will cost you .99 cents.

Please use this blog post, twitter or the user reviews at the iTunes store to give me feedback.

 

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Engaged is Nice, but not Enough

What do Students Need to Succeed?

When students have 1:1 access to digital resources, the traditional role of the teacher as information source is “disintermediated.” This doesn’t mean that students never need a teacher, or that educators don’t have a critical role in 21st Century learning, but it acknowledges that a good portion of student learning will take place via 1:1 interactions with digital resources and environments. You may be an evangelist of self-empowered learning and think this is great or you may be a champion for the classic bodies of knowledge and cringe at the missed opportunities and misunderstandings that await unguided innocents. Both views are slightly beside the point: students will and do directly access the world’s wealth of information – whether we like it or not has no impact on the reality.

What we must do is analyze the situation to determine, “Okay, if this is the way it is, what will help students be successful?” I suggest three traits: self-initiative, critical thinking and an appetite for lifelong learning.

Self-initiative

Without self-initiative, no one’s really driving the cursor. Without larger goals and a little focus, the digital world is hardly more than the latest, greatest “timesuck.”  Conversely, those who take advantage of online opportunities have a purpose and put their interest into action.

Critical Thinking

The second necessary trait for disintermediated learning is critical thinking. In the early days of the Web, people quickly recognized the unreliable nature of what’s published when anyone can write and post a Web page. As examples, we highlighted sites on Martin Luther King, Jr. served by white supremacists and the imminent agricultural threat to the world’s Velcro crops. With the coming of Web 2.0 and an explosion of user-generated content, these Web 1 cautions look reassuringly obvious in a world of blogs, wikis and videos. Thus the ability to analyze and evaluate what we read, see and hear is essential. But another dimension of critical thinking is ultimately more important than deciphering veracity and reliability. This is the ability to learn. The aspect of critical thinking required here is the richer notion of “making meaning.”  It involves what many have termed “habits of mind,” “dispositions of thinking” or “dimensions of learning.”  Each of these robust contributions to pedagogy vary in the particulars, but share an appreciation that thinking is a complex activity that invokes an array of attributes. Critical thinking in the Digitial World is not a simple formula for “evaluating Web sites.”

Lifelong Learning

The third trait necessary to succeed in a 1:1 digital environment is an appetite for lifelong learning. As important as we feel our subjects and content areas are, the new reality is that students live in a 24/7 connected world where the only certainty is change. What we define as essential learning will go through infinite permutations over the next decades. If content doesn’t change due to new discoveries in the arts and sciences, the methods for engaging with the learning will certainly evolve as it has already from clunky online courses to slick personalized feeds. To be successful, our students need to be open to such opportunities, even welcome change as a means to rewarding and ongoing growth.

So self-initiative, critical thinking and lifelong learning are essential. Without the first, this richest library since the days of Alexandria is lost. Without the second, it’s meaningless. Without the third, there is no future. Students who lack the characteristics to be self-learners will blob along blithely into adulthood. Because we care about students and want to do our part, we ratchet-up our resolve and do what we do best. But here’s the problem. “Teaching” is useless in helping students become self-initiated, critical thinking, lifelong learners. Can you “teach” someone to take initiative? While we might teach some critical thinking strategies, the more complex and idiosyncratic aspects of making meaning don’t fit into a fifty-minute, five-step lesson plan. Finally, the desire to pursue learning for a lifetime isn’t an instructional event. Thus, the most important keys to student success in the digital era aren’t helped by what we do best. So what do we do? Fortunately our colleagues in university research centers have some answers that we’ll explore in the next chapter. But before that, to validate the traits that I’ve suggested students need to be successful, let’s look at what’s already happening…

The Web disrupts (20th Century) “Learning”

If you don’t believe we need a different approach to “teaching” given the richness of the Web and digital technologies, take a look at three ways the Web has already undermined a “teaching” approach to “learning.” If mass production is the model and information the piece that needs attaching, then it makes sense to determine success by measuring how much of the new information is ultimately attached or transferred. With something concrete like information, content or correct answers, we know exactly what we are looking for. From the earliest days of the Web, we could see three aspects inherent in this new medium that would undermine the notion that demonstrating possession of new information or right answers indicated learning. These are: facile plagiarism, spot knowledge and the information explosion.

Exponential Plagiarism

For the current purpose, it’s obvious that the Web facilitates plagiarism: new information or correct answers no longer necessarily come from within the student, but could have just as easily been retrieved for the teacher without altering any synapses in the minds of the learner. New industries have been built attempting to detect plagiarism, and while sophisticated data mining and analysis is fundamental to the Digital Age, using the power of technology to prop up a decidedly limited vision of “knowledge” is a waste of time and effort. As educators we should invest our professional expertise in revisiting our goals for learning and devising tasks that require more than copy/paste keystrokes to complete.  We’ve had the Web for about two decades – what was that earlier remark about human institutions being slow to change?

Spot Knowledge

The second way the Web undermines a “learning as the recitation of answers” view is what James Fallows calls “spot knowledge.”  This highlights a positive attribute of the Web where, a decade after inception, enough people have posted every different kind of knowledge that, to quote the Urban Dictionary, we can “access unanticipated areas of knowledge quickly and efficiently.”  Thus, unlike the problem with plagiarism, spot knowledge doesn’t challenge how we check for achievement of learning, but calls into question the very nature of what we’re asking students to do. Learning is a cognitively taxing endeavor. Whether you look to Piaget’s assimilation and accommodation, Bloom’s taxonomy or later theorists’ construction of meaning, all emphasize that developing new knowledge is hard work. Given the degree of difficulty – and the relative ease of accessing spot knowledge – don’t we owe it to our students to be very careful and selective about what information actually needs to reside in the minds of learners and which can live just as happily “out sourced” or available “on-demand?”  On days when cynicism gets the better of me, I relax in appreciation of the “Forgetting Curve,” the century-old understanding that reveals that without repetition or reinforcement of what is newly learned, we forget 80% of it. On less cynical days I appreciate just how important it is for us to choose wisely and teach effectively so that the remaining 20% is significant and worth remembering. Regardless, it’s the rare curriculum initiative that recognizes the reality of easily accessed spot knowledge and instead we see vested interests continue to heap-up the content of already bloated syllabi and curricula.

Information Explosion

The third way the Web undermines current assembly line concepts of learning relates to the two previous, but presents a different challenge. Yes, a basic information acquisition approach invites plagiarism. And Spot knowledge calls into question the appropriateness of asking students to commit large amounts of easily accessed information to memory. But, thirdly, the very explosion of information that makes plagiarism easy and spot knowledge accessible also highlights an essential skill this new environment requires and we would be remiss if we didn’t address. The need to sort and make sense of this explosion also points us in a better direction for using the Web to support classroom-based learning. When so much information is so readily available, accessing it is nowhere near as important as doing something with it once you’ve found it. Thus rather than repeat back little bits that are easy to cheat on and just as easy to forget (or find when you might happen to need them), making something from this wealth of information and adding it to a growing body of knowledge that is personally meaningful and useful becomes not only a good idea, but essential. Essential that is, if we are to help students do something worthwhile with this new default of 1:1 digital access.

The Web Requires Real “Learning”

This section started with the assertion that successful learning in a rich digital environment requires self-initiative, critical thinking and an appetite for lifelong learning. Having just seen how plagiarism, spot knowledge and the information explosion are (not) being dealt with in most classrooms and curricula, notice how the three line-up.  If students today, in our 20th Century schools had positive self-initiative, plagiarism wouldn’t be an issue.  Certainly acts of plagiarism may tap into self-initiative, but this is to circumvent uninspiring and extrinsically motivated tasks.  Similarly, spot knowledge becomes the raw data for critical thinking if we cared to alter our assignments.  Finally, in a world where accessing exploding information is like “sipping from a firehose,” the best option for managing the overflow is as a lifelong learner whose interests shape the data as needed.  Even though developing students with these positive traits has always been worthwhile, it looks like it took the Web throwing a wrench into the Assembly Line to make it necessary.

A sad fact is that while schools can make the curriculum adjustments to support such cognitive development, they play an active and tragic role endangering students’ mental health.  We explore this serious threat in the next chapter.

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Learning Reflection

Too often when teachers talk about “learning” they’re really talking about “school.”  So I use this short guided professional reflection to give everyone a felt sense of that great joyous feeling that is learning.

Reflection on “Learning” from Tom March on Vimeo.

Or just listen to the audio:

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We have a Dream!

Add your Dreams for Cambodia to this Etherpad.

 

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Exploring Leadership

1. The Characteristics of Leaders

Last week students at CCF6 brainstormed the characteristics that they thought good leaders demonstrate.

Here is a list showing the terms used as nouns and adjectives with their syntactical context.  Use this page to help you write your sentences in the next step:

The list is now in a Google Doc where students should write correct and meaningful sentences for each term.  Students can count-off or choose their favorite terms to write sentences about.  When the sentences are drafted, they will be reviewed for correctness and then rehearsed aloud to practice English pronunciations.

2. Finding Characteristics You Value

The class brainstormed 18 different — and important — characteristics for for leaders.  But no one in the world can be this good!  Please choose 4 – 6 that you think are the most important. You will use these to analyse different leaders from the past the present.  Let’s practice with one leader who has recently died.

Remembering Nelson Mandela

Watch the video and pay attention for examples of any of the 4 – 6 characteristics of a leader that you chose.

When the video is over (or we have watched enough), you will answer this question and support your answer using your 4 – 6 characteristics of a leader:

Was Nelson Mandela a Great Leader?

Claim Support Question

1. Make a claim about the topic

2. Identify support for your claim

3. Ask a question related to your claim

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Some Crazy Cliff

New Resource Site Launched

crazy cliffWhen I left the classroom in 1995 for a fellowship to develop things like WebQuests and Filamentality, one of the first projects I thought I’d work on was a comprehensive Web-based resource for The Catcher in the Rye.  Ok, so almost 20 years later I get around to it….

The site is (appropriately) called Some Crazy Cliff and focuses on an Understanding by Design approach to unit planning and classic WebQuest formatting that leverages great rich media to promote authentic and meaningful student learning.

Please take a look and send me any feedback.

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The Purpose of Schooling?

See Think Wonder

1. What do you see?

2. What do you think is going on?

3. What does it make you wonder?

Use this EtherPad to brainstorm on these questions.

Add your opinions to this pad

Go to the CCFPilot?

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