Revolving Revolution

Why hasn’t technology dramatically changed education? Why isn’t it a panacea for a system we call broken and antiquated? Sampling of answers: we use it too much; we don’t use it enough; we aren’t using the right technologies in the right way.

What if we’re thinking about the problem incorrectly? If we insert technology into an educational environment, then students will use it to enhance their learning. Right? Their experiences will be better and thus their learning will improve. Oops. Not if we aren’t applying the technology in a way that transforms how they learn.

The YouTube channel Veritasium released a video this past Monday, December 1 that explains the folly of thinking that technology itself will revolutionize education. That has been spouted for over a century. The addition of technology in a classroom to do different things with the same content is evolution, as is stated in the video. To truly revolutionize education, we need to consider how technology can help learners apply their thinking differently to the content. I love the moment in the video when the host states that we aren’t limited by what experiences we can offer students through technology. We are limited by how we can affect the learning, thinking, and reasoning that occurs inside the students. That is my paraphrasing.

Our attempts at integrating technology have seemed cyclical. We are stuck in a revolving door of thought and process. Every time we go round, we pick up a new toy — excuse me — tool, and we use it to help us continue with our revolving. We call this revolution. A different kind maybe.

Here is the video. Watch and see if it changes your thinking about our perspective on education. Is the juggernaut of education too stuck in its ways to allow technology to really change it, or is there a bigger issue that speaks to the heart of education itself and what it means to learn?

The Real World: Math Rules!

Now I don’t profess to be a math whiz, so there are plenty of articles and content I come across that I don’t fully understand. Surprise, right?

Punya Mishra’s article, “The Seven Trans-Disciplinary Habits of Mind: Extending the TPACK Framework Towards 21st Century Learning,” looks at seven cognitive skills necessary for cross-disciplinary learning that fits within the framework of TPACK. I’ll have to post more on this article later, but in the first skill — Perceiving — Mishra mentions Nikki Graziano’s Found Functions project. This is part of the Archi Ninja blog. In her project, she combines photography and math. This goes beyond the math in zoom and lens aperture. Her function overlays show math found in the real world. Some of the links on the page are broken, but the imagery and functions combine for a stunning use of math.

Ok, so we’re not all photography enthusiasts, but this sheds light on the fact that math is a part of our everyday lives, whether we notice or not. Students who hate math but love art, take note. Models and formulas make art, game design, architecture, and so much more. Cross-disciplinary learning like this could help learners expand their horizons. Students who love math could find more applications for it, and those who would rather eat raw broccoli for 32 (I tried) than find the slope of a line could find beauty and creativity in how math shapes our world (or is the other way around?).

Learning isn’t about isolated events and silos of knowledge. It’s about how it all comes together. How knowledge influences events and vice versa. Upper level math may have new life breathed into it. If anyone has an example of this type of learning, please share!

Vacuum Fail

James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson vacuum, failed many times before hitting upon a successful vacuum. Today, the company is hugely successful. I have to admit, I would like one of those cordless ones. This interview of Dyson looks at his failures and asks his take on them:

Short and sweet. We hear about a handful of amazing stories like this. Failure leads to massive success. Put Dyson in the company of Edison if you want. But what about the rest of us? Where does failure rank on our list of things to do? Ask the average person on the street how they truly feel about failure. What would they say?

What would students in schools say about failure and how it relates to them?

Simplistic Dipsticks

Kurt Williams - Creative Commons License

Kurt Williams – Creative Commons License

How do you know that you know something? How do you really know? Is it because you were able to pronounce the words in a textbook, or watch a video about it? Even if you don’t think about your own learning very often, the thought may come around every now and again. When it does, what do you look for to determine that the knowledge you have isn’t just a footnote in your life?

I am assuming you assess yourself in some way. I don’t mean you pull out a piece of paper and create a multiple choice test for yourself, but you may observe how you use the information you’ve absorbed. That observation is a type of assessment, as it provides you a way to check your progress and do something about it. How can you become better at something if you don’t know how? How can students become better at something if they don’t know what they need to work on; for that matter, how can teachers help students become better without knowing what their struggles are? We need to assess, but we need to do it in a formative way more often than in a summative way.

Formative assessments that don’t fit the traditional assessment mold (i.e. quizzes) can be called alternative assessments, according to Todd Finley in his article Dipsticks: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding. These alternative assessments serve as learning dipsticks to check for the level of understanding and learning that is taking place about a subject. I agree with Todd in his liking simple alternative assessments. The simpler it is, the less confusing it will be for students to complete and for you to assess. Students won’t be as likely to get in their own way by misinterpreting instructions. Todd references the 60 second paper as an example of a simple form of alternative assessment. In 60 seconds, you could have an indication as to whether your students understand a concept and what insights about that concept they may have.

Dipsticks quickly and easily give us information about the health of our car. Learning dipsticks, or alternative assessments, can quickly and easily give us information about the health of students understanding and learning. We use them in our own lives. Why not use them in the classroom?

One person’s scribbles…

Have you ever looked at clouds and tried to imagine shapes and scenes in them? I know I have, and I love it. I remember a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson where he explained that little children’s creativity is often squelched. Blame school, blame pragmatism, or whatever you will, but the creative imagination of a child seems to dissipate as they grow. Not always, but it does happen. Why is it that only artists and designers get to be creatively imaginative these days?

Ruth Oosterman is an artist who has collaborated with her two-year old daughter to create imaginative watercolor paintings. See some examples of their work here. Her daughter creates the base, and Ruth fills in the gaps. Why can’t education be more like this? Students create a base of passion, interest, and drive, and teachers help fill in the gaps with their own knowledge and expertise. I don’t think Ruth stopped her daughter part way through and said, “No, put this line here so that it will create a construct for this.” Yikes!

We need to collaborate with learners. We need to allow them to create and imagine. Imagine what we — and they — could do with their work and ideas at that point! I love art, and I’m glad to see someone who’s allowing creativity to flourish. Maybe more importantly, I’m glad that Ruth is setting a creative example for her daughter…and the rest of us.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I see some clouds….

Genius is as genius does

Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.   — John Cleese

Genius creates. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Genius hour. FedEx time. Call it what you will — it is meant for creation. Google returns 20% of its engineers’ time to them to work on whatever projects they wish. They can follow their interests and passions during that period of time. As a result, Google has developed products like Gmail and Google News from this time. Rather than stifling the creativity in its workers, Google has allowed that creativity to flow through their curiosity and drive. And it seems to have worked out well for everyone.

With students, the idea is just as simple. Provide them time to pursue their own interests. Notice I said “pursue”, not “think about.” The key here is to run this time in a PBL-esque way so that action is taken. Connections will be made as students are encouraged to follow their own ideas to fruition. Research followed by production.

The Nerdy Teacher blog showcases what can come of this time when students are guided but given choice in what and how they learn. Students don’t just enhance their own learning. They become global learners and contributors as their ideas take root and grow beyond the four walls of the classroom. That’s what we want, right? For them to become productive members of society? Why are we looking at that concept as a futuristic occurrence? Why can’t it happen now?

The stigma of the word “genius” has taken on too much weight. Hopefully, this type of movement will lighten the load and provide us real examples of what genius looks like…and that we will find it in our students. They already do so many things to create and share and make the world better. They want to do. And to paraphrase Forrest Gump, “Genius is as genius does.”

Turn Genius Hour Into Genius Year is a great article by Jennifer B. Bernstein, Ph.D. at Edutopia. She outlines some important points about how to get the most out of Genius Hour with your students, including daring them to go further and engaging in conversations that lead to more creation.

See what people are saying about Genius Hour on Twitter:

Technology Current

Technology is changing so fast. How can we keep up? Have you ever been caught in the trap of believing that you need to stay a step ahead of your students to make sure that technology is being used to its fullest potential? I mean, if you don’t know what to tell them when they ask you a question, you look silly, right? 

I have been caught in that trap, and I’ve had conversations with people who have been, too. Right after they tell me they have to be at the same level or higher regarding tech knowledge, they say they’ll never be able to keep up. It’s just too much, and it’s always changing to staying ahead is too difficult.

What if we don’t have to stay ahead? Why do we, as teachers, need to know everything about technology in order for it to make a positive impact on learning? Let’s work on the basic tenets of technology – social media, collaborative tools, learning management systems, etc. Then, instead of knowing everything, we insert students (safely) into a tech-friendly environment where discovery can happen. And I don’t mean you focus on discovering the technology. Students discover their own learning. They engage, explore, and invent. Maybe there are things to learn/know about the technology along the way, but those things only serve to enhance the discovery process and amplify the learning.

Open up to technology, but don’t make it a standard. If it serves as a standard, its rules and processes will constantly shift, and you will be caught up in the current and focused on the wrong thing. Improving learning for students is what’s important…it’s the life raft, the standard. And it will help to navigate the ever-changing waters of the world (including the current of technology).