Few in Australia, or across the globe, were untouched by the bushfires that raged from November till February. So many communities were devastated by the catastrophic conditions. Our hearts and support went out to those who lost loved ones, homes and animals. Many prepared to evacuate and stayed up all night watching for ember storms. Week-after-week, month-after-month, the tragedy continued.
Now, with the beginning of the Royal Commission hearings into the “Black Summer Bushfires,” it’s a good time to offer an educational response. Thanks go to a year 5/6 teacher in Victoria who suggested this topic as a way to explore “science as a human endeavour.” (Note: if you would like to similarly suggest a topic, please use the form. I’m keen to respond to what people need.)
Overview of the Bushfire QuickQuest
Education is one good way for people to process and understand catastrophic and traumatic events. This is especially true of children and young adults. Also, sometimes knowing information or solutions is a comfort and highlights strategies for the future that contribute to a sense of personal power. Moving towards these ends is the goal of this QuickQuest on Bushfires and Technology. Below is a short video introduction of the QuickQuest.
DIY or TpT
As I’ve come to do, because I want to support education, teachers and students (as I have since the first WebQuests in the 1990s), but I’m also developing curriculum as part of my consultancy, to further both of these goals, with each QuickQuest I provide a hotlist of the resources used in the activities. This way if you want to take the Do It Yourself” approach, explore the links below and create your own activities. If you’re happy to save time, use my approaches focused on “real, rich and relevant” learning, then the QuickQuest is available through TeachersPayTeachers at minimal cost.
I’m always interested in hearing back from people, whether that’s through comments on this post, via Twitter (@NextEraEd) or privately using the contact form. Let’s not get overwhelmed with outcomes, standards and subject content to the point where we neglect helping students learn to learn and reflect on their cognitive development and joy in learning!
You have to love it when a master of the artform begins one of her poems with this line. Marianne Moore‘s most famous poem, simply entitled Poetry, is a lesson in why poetry matters.
She’s obviously taking issue with the “art” of poetry, the fiddly terms, techniques and devices that poets use – and abandons most of them!:
Forget all that rhyme scheme, ABAB, business
Skip the scansion looking for iambs, trochees and meter
and you won’t even find much in the way of euphony, alliteration, etc.
But you will find a conversational voice, logic and amazing imagery. All to the point of challenging: if you are interested in “the raw material of poetry in / all its rawness” and “the genuine, then you are interested in poetry.”
And bitten by this interest in (life? reality? shared experience?), the irony is that we need to master What poetic devices are and How they are used so we can gain insight into the genuine: Why poets choose their “fiddly techniques” to communicate their vision of the genuine. To our edification, annoyance, sympathy, insight, etc.
You might wonder why I’m fixating on poetry these days. It’s because I’m digging back into my passion for it to create a set of learning activities that can help students (everyone?) to “Get Poetry” as something vibrant, not schoolish or a problem to solve. My goal in the “Getting Poetry” series is:
to help students understand and appreciate poetry so much they might cry, sigh, smile or memorize!
I think our world could do with a little more poetry. We live in polarized times where monumental decisions get made off the back of three word simplifications like “Get Brexit Done,” “Build a Wall” and “Stop the Boats.”
At the risk of offending sensibilities, can I suggest that life is more complex than these phrases imply? Pick whatever outcome you believe in, but a moment to pause, reflect and experience could go a long way to furthering communication and maybe even bridging some divides.
Great poetry is one way to prompt such a “pause, reflect and experience.” Poetry, like life, is not a riddle to be solved. Also like life, assuming that we “get” all poems or poets, like “getting” everything in life, can lead people astray.
Better to seek what’s real for you, make connections and find insights. Today let’s entertain a poet radical enough to question the importance of poetry itself – especially when compared to the power of love.
As the air grows crisper and most schools in the US anticipate an upcoming holiday, I thought it was a perfect opportunity for a “real, rich and relevant” twist on traditional Thanksgiving lesson plans. This post will share my design process for curriculum development, on the chance it helps some young teachers.
Whenever I design a lesson or activity, I like to see what can be part of the “learning mix.” Obviously the upcoming holiday becomes one part. But by high school, teenagers have been through all the usual Thanksgiving inspired activities, prompting them to count their blessings. This is worthy, but I think something a little different is needed to hook students who can sometimes be justifiably jaded and skeptical. So isn’t it interesting that just as we in the US focus on a holiday about “unity,” the impeachment hearings and all our political and cultural divisions loudly buzz in the background! Great! This creates the “cognitive dissonance” that can lead to student insights and “ah-ha’s!” So there’s a “Big Tick” for “Real.” Now we need “Rich” and “Relevant.”
My biggest motivation is creating those sparks in the minds of learners. A second is the inspiration I receive from what can be found on the Web. These gifts never fail to provide something that can make student learning richer than we can with our traditional resources. Since first exploring the Web in 1994, I’ve never been let down, especially if I look using my adult, big-picture mind and lived experiences to search from a slightly skewed perspective. I encourage you to use the Web for what you can’t get from your traditional resources.
So here was my thought process: a bit of searching turned up all the historical challenges to our Thanksgiving Mythology, and that was interesting, but giving the divisive nature of our times, I wasn’t so interested in getting students to argue and persuade, reflecting seemed a much more fruitful cognitive pursuit. So how to feed this reflection? This is what lead to gathering links on the benefits of gratitude. Choosing an affective element like gratitude clearly brings in our last of the New 3Rs: relevance. Thus we have all the ingredients: a real topic, rich resources and a relevant task for students to engage in: reflection on some aspect of how giving thanks can play out for themselves in these divisive times.
Now with the Real, Rich and Relevant pieces in place, the last step was to figure out the actual learning activity. Experience has taught me that all but the most capable and sophisticated high school writers can use a bit of help to not only engage in the cognitive process of reflection, but to also shape those ideas into an essay. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring back the Insight Reflector, one of the original Web-and-Flow activity formats.
Welcome to: “Giving Thanks in Divisive Times, 2019” a new interactive reflective writing activity I’ve just created and posted as a free download. The “Insight Reflector” is a scaffolded writing activity that prompts students to explore related Web sites and to engage in reflective thinking and writing. Here’s a brief walk-though of the activity.
My goal has long been to help educators and schools nurture meaningful student achievement. Often this includes a conceptual shift from teacher-delivered lessons to student-driven learning. I’ve spent decades working on this problem and would like to use this post to describe how I’ve come to what is a new chapter in my professional life.
This journey begins when I was a classroom teacher, integrating word processing, multimedia and desktop publishing into circa 1990s high school English classes. District technology mentorships and other recognition at the time indicated that my attempts were viewed positively. Yet I was fortunate enough to work as an occasional teacher education instructor at the time which exposed me to the latest learning theories. These helped me see the weaknesses in my classroom units and inspired me to get a Masters degree in Instructional Design. After almost a decade I left the classroom because I wanted to focus on creating the best learning experiences I could. This was the period, 1994-97, was when I worked with Professor Bernie Dodge to develop the WebQuest approach and I went on to articulate other formats to integrating the Web into rich and authentic learning experiences. I mention this phase of my career because it relates to this post’s topic in two ways. First, Understanding by Design was the assigned text for one of the courses Bernie and I team taught, thereby immersing me in the work of Wiggins and McTighe early on. Second, you can see that my focus was on designing and developing classroom learning activities: thus curriculum, not technology. More about why this is significant shortly.
As the Years Passed
After leaving the university and moving to Australia, it was only natural to keep developing Web-based learning strategies. This early flurry of work included model activities like Searching for China and Eyes on Art as well on the online design environment called Web-and-Flow. My main audience were other “pioneers” in Web-based learning and authentic education and we wanted to “push the boundaries” to create inspiringly rich and meaningful learning activities for our students. But there was a problem. And the problem has only grown as technology has gone from “emerging” to “ubiquitous.” The problem is that to make any real difference, “rich and meaningful learning activities” can’t be a “one-off” or something students did in 6th grade with Ms Tech-Savvy. The problem is analogous to when one teacher tries to enforce a rule the rest of the staff tacitly ignore: students adapt to the dominant culture. So many early adopters of ICT-enhanced learning discovered that most students had learned and preferred the easy path of “playing school: you pretend this is learning and we’ll pretend to learn.” Back in 2001 I explored this challenge in an article titled “Re-Tooling Schooling” and it denotes a shift in my thinking and focus. Yes, I want students in a classroom to engage in great learning activities, but as someone who wants to make a real difference, I realised that the only solutions from this point on had to be systemic. If a whole school or system wasn’t transforming itself, the spirit of inquiry would find it hard to flourish in a culture of passivity. So where are we now?
The Present (The Problem)
Unfortunately, as technology has gone from emergent to ubiquitous, it has failed to make significant differences in shifting schools from teacher-delivered lessons to student-driven learning. I have two theories for this. The first I call “tech’s appeal” and fully intend the rhyme with sex appeal. Because of the amazing advances we’ve all experienced through new technologies, we’ve been smitten by a kind of collective mystique that some new gadget or software will achieve the desired transformation. We’re blown away that Walkmen have become iPods that have become smartphones that have become cameras that have become GPS transmitters that have become friend finders, that have become watches, that will become…? So in education we swoon before tech’s appeal, wanting to believe the same magic will transform school-based learning. We fall for the allure and buy computer labs, videodisc players, CD-ROM encyclopedias, interactive whiteboards, iPod Touches, clickers, iPads, eTexts, course management systems, and try HTML, blogs, QR codes, YouTube, podcasts and TED Talks. And on and on… But things haven’t changed fundamentally. Maybe the technologies aren’t really “there” yet, but there’s a second problem besides blind faith in the power of technology.
The Second Problem
Education has Attention Deficit Disorder. I base this on the multiple messages I receive everyday from my educational networks. Posts, links, tweets and emails buzz constantly about “the new:” gadgets, apps, ideas. The current flavors are PBL, STEM/STEAM, Maker Movement, coding, gamification… Don’t get hung-up on these examples because they are no better or worse than the dozens of others that buzz about the press daily. Over the years other such ideas have borne the weight of high expectations for improving schools: flipped classrooms, PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) or SOLEs (Self Organising Learning Environments). Rather than change education, these good ideas and frameworks have probably yielded nothing more than Educational Attention Deficit Disorder. See if you don’t feel like our friends below:
How are we meant to engage in any substantial transformation when we’re buried by a stream of constant “good ideas” and “necessities?” We have to focus. And be honest: if an easy answer or silver bullet solution were out there – one that really produced the results we want – in this age of instant communications we would all hear about it and re-tweet exponentially so that schools everywhere would be transforming with the virality of funny cat animations. So what is the honest truth?
The Honest Truth
Like any human organisation, education is a complex endeavour with many interconnected parts. Even knowing where to begin the work of transforming schools is a challenge. The video above illustrates that. So the problem is not a shortage of good ideas. After many years wrestling with this, I’ve come to believe we lack three things: a focused vision, a worthy process and sustained effort.
A Focused Vision
I’ve written elsewhere about recommended steps and benefits of clear and focused vision, so I won’t labour the point here, but let’s highlight the obvious: unless we’re sure where we’re headed, we’ll never get where we want to go. The twists and turns, detours and distractions, are too numerous. Similarly, if everything’s urgent, we’ll never get to the essential.
Understanding and other worthy processes
The business world long ago realised the importance of a process for continuous improvement. Things like Total Quality Management (TQM) turned Japanese cars from flimsy to first-class in a generation. Unfortunately, most schools continue to operate based mostly on habits and engrained patterns. Being the complex places they are also makes it tough to know which processes to use as the lever for change. Amidst the buzzing of new ideas and Ed Tech ADD distractions, it probably sounds like the oldest, most boring solution, but there is one aspect to schooling that touches every student and teacher in every grade level and course: our curriculum. Unfortunately, I’ve found that an impoverished definition of curriculum often prevents this powerful tool from realising 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. These measures are the kind of assessments that guide students and empower their ownership of learning.
Education is fortunate that we have evidence-based processes to use. My preferred frameworks are Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding and Schooling by Design®, Robert Marzano’s High Reliability Schools and integrations of research by folks like John Hattie and the team at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Each provide processes that, used over time with quality-reviews, can empower a school’s continuous improvement.
My Best Chance to Make a Difference
Having arrived at this point, 2013-2014 was a period where I explored avenues where I could apply the above learnings to make the biggest difference. This included a time in Cambodia working on the senior education team at a large NGO as well as focused-upskilling on my part with Jay McTighe who’s been generous and gracious in supporting my expertise in Understanding by Design to the extent that I am now a member of the McTighe & Associates Consulting group and we have co-authored an article.
However, as a pioneer (e.g., Filamentality) and believer in the power of smart software to accelerate what I call Next Era Ed, I entered into discussions with companies who support a richer view of curriculum. My thinking was that working for the right company on a good team who was committed to evolving a “smart digital environment,” I would be in contact with many more schools in an ongoing partnership as they develop their use of the software to continuously improve the achievement of their vision. Fortunately, through a lucky synchronicity of timing and opportunity, I joined Hobsons at the beginning of 2015 as the lead consultant for teaching and learning. What set Hobsons Edumate apart was that rather than only curriculum mapping, they offer a unified system of what I call “closed loop” curriculum: vision > unit design > online learning space > rich student assessment > back around to vision and unit design with revisions based on students’ actual performance. So more than a “written” curriculum, we move past the “taught curriculum” and capture the “learned curriculum.” In my role I essentially provide my “strategic friend” consulting, but also influence software design and help school leaders with pedagogical integration and change management.
After working mostly alone since starting ozline.com in 1998, it’s a joy to be part of an enthusiastic team, driven by a passion for helping schools to authentically move from “schooling” and “teachers” to “learning” and “students.” We’ve wanted this for decades and now, with 1:1 devices and evidence-based pedagogies, we can make the dream a reality.
Today is an important day as we begin another year-long, five-day series of workshops at Independent Schools Victoria. During the series we will develop a robust online presence to explore Web 2 applications and strategies like Looking to Learn, ClassPortals and WebQuests. Today people will begin by setting up a WordPress blog and finding Web 2 apps they want to try out with students.
I’ve just launched a site I’ve been wanting to get onto the Web for a while. Called “Look to Learn,” the site combines what I like to call “Real, Rich and Relevant” resources with thinking prompts. The rationale is to help teachers and students use such activities frequently (3+ times / week) as a way to nurture a culture of inquiry and to help students develop a disposition toward such thinking. Another way to put it is, “Here’s an engaging way to foster an appetite for deep learning and the joy of learning that accompanies it.”
This could be a great example of a new kind of knowledge. Over 1000 words captured from signs in Sydney and New York were combined with poignant music to great effect. This was both the Critics’ and People’s Choice winner.
Learning to Look Prompt: See – Feel – Do
See – what do you see?
Feel – what is the main feeling you had after watching the video?
One cool Google App that it would be a shame to miss over the next couple weeks is “InQuotes.” You may have noticed a new band of quotations when searching in Google News for a person in the media buzz. For example:
Notice that the quotation is current and you can access more quotes from the same person by clicking on their name. In this case, 272 quotes are in the database and the first ten are listed.
Also, don’t miss the “search these quotes” field so you can narrow the collection based upon a key word:
If all this doesn’t inspire creative teachers to set their students to a critical reading / thinking exploration, take a look at the first mentioned “InQuotes” app from Google Labs.
Many of the features just highlighted are present as well as links in popular categories which shift to the top of the paired quotes with the click of a mouse. Also note that you can “spin” or toggle through the content for each category.
The default duo is, of course, Obama and McCain, but their names are actually dropdown menus so you can compare quotations from other significant American leaders like Biden and Palin or Rice and Cheney:
Finally, as we might well forget leading up to November 4th, the US is not the only country with dueling leaders. The “Edition” dropdown at the top-right corner presents similar match-ups for Canada, India and the UK.
What interesting uses can you think of for this neat interface?
In case you haven’t tried Dipity, it’s a really cool Web 2 timelining tool. I’ve been waiting for one for a long time, but until now, the interfaces required scripting. Dipity allows for embedding images, links, movies, comments… Heaps! It also has this really slick “Flipbook” interface that imitates Apple’s Coverflow. Check it out.
Also, if you use a blog (or just about any other time-based Web 2 tool) you can easily mash it up with Dipity. Look what the crew did: flickr = Tickr, YouTube = TimeTube, Digg = Archaeologist, etc.). You can get Dipity to import your details and create a timeline from your other data.
Below is a timeline of technology milestones in the lives of our students.