Tag Archives: constructivism

Who Owns the Learning?

In too many cases, we bolt new technologies on top of current learning tools in the standard learning environment, which effectively means we give our kids a thousand-dollar pencil.


Alan November

In Alan November’s new book, he asks the crucial question: Who Owns the Learning?  This well-designed title intentionally creates some cognitive dissonance for us as educators. Who does own the learning? Have you asked yourself that question? Whether we are teachers, principals, district consultants or district administrators: Who owns the learning?  How would you answer that?

Alan November then goes on to describe how we can prepare students for success in the Digital Age. He has two central ideas: students need ownership in the learning and they must have purposeful work.  It is no different for students than for us as educators. He cites Daniel Pink’s work in Drive as key to understanding how this motivates all of us to do high quality work.

November uses the analogy of a farm to create a model for changing education. In the old days, children were required to participate in meaningful work that contributed to the family’s success. He suggests that we need to think of the classroom as a Digital Learning Farm. This requires using technology to change the nature of the roles and relationships between educators and students. He gives three first steps to get started:
1. Increase the autonomy of students.
2. Publish student work to a global audience.
3. Create a community of contribution within the classroom.

For students to own their learning, they need important student jobs that are meaningful and prepare them for success in the future. He outlines four key roles for students: tutorial designers, student scribes, student researchers, and global communicators/collaborators. As teachers create the learning environments where students can flourish in these new roles, students become contributors to the curriculum, engaging in problem-solving, critical thinking and global communication. This is the new Digital Learning Farm.

He is clear that, “Simply adding technology—the thousand-dollar pencil—to the current highly prescribed school culture won’t help very much.” It is the changed roles and relationships that are paramount. Central to this, from my perspective as well, is the power of the teacher in creating these learning conditions. It is the teacher who designs these powerful learning opportunities. As he emphasizes, the role of teacher as guide, mentor, facilitator, and instructor has never been quite as critical in shifting the learning. It is the teacher who shows students how “to use information and communication technologies to innovate, solve problems, create, and be globally connected. “

Who owns the learning? It is a question worth asking.

Thanks to Amy Newman (@amnewish) who recommended this book. Schools in the Innovative Learning Designs project have been sent a copy of this book along with The Connected Educator. Antonio Vendramin, Principal at George Vanier,  also writes about Alan  November here

 

The end of wonder and the age of whatever

I had the great fortune to be with the Surrey management team at a presentation by Michael Wesch. I have viewed his The Machine is Us/ing Us many times and I had no idea that this was the guy who made the video. That was a pleasant surprise as I simply love the style and the messages that he brings. The next great piece was that I enjoy watching presentations by ethnographers or specialists in culture. For whatever reason, they seem to be in-tune with audiences, they care and it shows. Michael was a fun and inspiring presenter. I laughed, I learned, and I left with good questions in my mind.

Good company, good food, good presenter – so what did I hear as the main messages that fine morning? This post is simply a reflection on what I heard, what it meant for me in my work and life and perhaps to generate a bit of dialogue with others.

The big thing that stuck with me was his challenge to “how do we get students to a permanent state of wonder”? A place he called “investigative wonder” – simply wanting to know more. Something I would call a voracious pursuit of knowledge. How might we instill that in children?

He went from there to talk about students who have that state of wonder and how they see a myriad of tools at their disposal. Those without wonder just see tools as distraction and entertainment. This was a key message he gave around technology in that he seemed to say that without that permanent sense of wonder, we will only look for technologies with all their capabilities, as simply items to entertain us.

Michael said that if you want to know if students have this sense of wonder – then look at the questions they ask. Wonder emerges when you:
· Quest
· Embrace vulnerability, and
· Invite connections.

This description reminded me of something I wrote a while ago that described great teachers. I wanted to go back, write some more and talk about how, in some way, great teachers helped inculcate a sense of wonder in their students. They did it by just they above list….they quested with you. They were “along for the ride”. They embraced their own vulnerabilities as teachers and then they invited connections with students that were more than just connections with content. These connections were about relationships, wonder, and a journey together.

The next piece I got from Michael was about how we express ourselves through interactions. This was a very strong connection for me in that this rang true. We all work with people every day and the only reality we have is perception of who we are as colleagues and leaders. This struck a chord for me in that I thought that the act of writing, even blogging, isn’t just communication or professional development – it is identity work.

Michael views media not just as tools. He talked of how media mediate relationships and how we connect with each other. Media and the medium itself are far more significant than just a tool. This was interesting in that we so often hear that “technology is just a tool” – he would disagree or at the very least want to extend this dramatically.

He argues that forms of media could open things up to us but they do not always. Forms of media could open us up to things but do they? He talked of the decline in empathy and the danger that technology can permit us to NOT:
· Quest
· Embrace vulnerability
· Invite connections

We looked at how we need to get messages to our children/students about who we expect them to be. He was concerned that our tools are shaping us in ways we have not yet fully appreciated.

When he created the video A Vision of Students Today, he asked students about their views on education. They said that to learn is to acquire information. They did not see beyond to a capacity for critical thinking. They had a very narrow view of learning and this surprised him. He was hoping to find more and to help his students reach out.

We then were shown fantastic examples of students using technology to go beyond, to create, to make connections, and to make a difference. Michael feels that the first really good start to an educational experience is having a burning question, something that sticks in people’s minds. We need projects that grab students, use simulations, games, other techniques to build engagement. There were great examples shared of real problems, designed with a community and leveraged by technology. Even those students who once isolated themselves, like Hunter Browning found that we need the knowledge that others hold. We need to reach out, to collaborate, to innovate together.

In the end, I took two main things from Michael:

· People are longing for the power of “us” – opportunities to reach out, to collaborate, share, and celebrate together. He said he didn’t make his video go viral, millions of people did. Everyone should celebrate this.

· Technology is not a tool – it is so much more because of its incredible power to leverage collaboration and connections. It can be used to quest, to embrace vulnerability and to make connections, but the real power is in using this ability to resolve real-world problems that start with a great question and a sense of wonder.

In the end, I thought back to that age old question of the great teachers I had. I have my list, as others do and I’ve described them in many ways. I think the bottom line is that no matter who they were, they helped instilled a sense of wonder in me. What a gift that we should look for in every teacher and in every child.

Special thanks to Jordan Tinney, Deputy Superintendent of Vancouver, for this guest post. Jordan will be joining Surrey Schools in August as the new Deputy Superintendent. 

Innovative Learning: School-Based Exploration

The real problem is not adding technology to the current organization of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning.

Alan November

Last week we announced the forty elementary schools that were awarded our Innovative Learning Designs Grant (ILD, Phase 2) for the upcoming school year. The ILD project is an opportunity for teachers to explore how to best prepare students for the future. The National Council of Teachers of English (2008) defined twenty-first century readers and writers as those that need to:
•  Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
•  Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
•  Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
•  Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
•  Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
•  Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments These specific needs set the context for our challenge. How do we move forward to equip our students with these skills, fluencies and understandings to navigate their future? Schools in the project have the opportunity to explore that very question.

The Learning Design project provides an opportunity for educators to work together over a two-year period to create transformative learning experiences for their students. Using an inquiry approach, school teams will design an instructional plan that is built upon the foundational elements that best support student learning. These include:

  • Learning tasks that are authentic (e.g. project and problem-based), relevant and cross-curricular
  • Assessment that is ongoing, performance-based, equitable and guides instruction;
  • Constructivist instructional models that engage students in inquiry
  • Diverse learning needs are met with differentiated content, process and product
  • Collaborative learning opportunities that are incorporated into both physical and virtual spaces
  • Use of technology as a learning tool
  • Creative and critical thinking skills are pervasive across all curricular area
  • Students are able to influence and actively participate in shaping their learning.

The following questions were used to help guide school conversations as staff explored what the project might mean for their school:

  • Where are we now, and what would we like our story to be?
  • What promising practices or initiatives do we currently have in our school that guide our work? What is their impact on student learning? Upon what evidence do we base our decisions?
  • How might we reshape, redesign or rethink existing structures to further engage and sustain students in learning?

 Schools that indicated an interest in being part of the project made a commitment to work together within some guiding principles.

  1. Collaborative Inquiry:
    •  Creating a collaborative team that is engaged, over a two-year timeline, in inquiry into critical questions about teaching and learning using key research and sharing reflections on evidence of student learning
    •  Sharing out to a wider audience at the end of each school year
  1. Instructional Design:
    •  Designing a wide variety of differentiated, student-centered learning activities which integrate technology
    •  Using ongoing formative assessment of student needs to inform the action plan
    •  Using summative assessment periodically throughout the two-year plan to determine the effectiveness of the innovations and to set future directions
  1. Structural Support:
    •  School team dedicating a non-instructional day to supporting the project
    •  School team members meeting regularly to reflect, debrief, and plan next steps
    •  School team members networking with other schools involved in the project to share successes and challenges

The project is grounded in collaborative inquiry and is teacher-driven and school-based. No school project will look the same. Each school and the staff that embark on this journey will be exploring this future through their collaborative lens. We look forward to the shared learning!

Special thanks to the Surrey School District Helping Teachers who wrote the original grant and its revised versions. This post is based on that grant application.

The Real Flip: Where Students do the Math

Bill Gates dismisses it – this belief that children can construct their own understanding of mathematics. Many educators disagree.

John Van de Walle’s student-centred approach? Marilyn Burns’ insight into how children learn math? The rationale in the WNCP curriculum? The beliefs of the BCAMT? Gates would dismiss them all.

More importantly to me, he would dismiss the successes that Surrey teachers and students experience when teachers let go and give students a chance to do the math. “Letting go” does not mean students are left to discover the Pythagorean Theorem on their own. The role of the constructivist teacher is to get students mentally ready to work on a task, listen, provide hints, and facilitate discussion.

Instead, Gates supports the Khan Academy and the flipped classroom model. In this model, students watch a video at home so that they can get one-on-one homework help at school. Sometimes, flipping proponents claim that this model frees the teacher up to have students do real problem solving. With all the press that the flipped classroom is getting, there is surprisingly little anecdotal evidence of this actually happening.

Gates, Khan, and others have missed the point. Problem solving isn’t something you do after you have learned a concept. That’s practice. Students should solve problems not to apply but to learn new mathematics. The flipped classroom model removes teachers from the most important part of teaching – the introduction of new concepts.

Suppose the proverbial teacher across the hall doesn’t buy in to “all that constructivist stuff” and is considering flipping his or her classroom. Here are three questions that I would ask:

1. Does teaching = telling? (See how I made that a math question?)

I understand if the general public views teaching as simply delivering content, it’s probably what they experienced as learners. Teaching, like real estate, is one of those careers that everyone thinks they can do. I guess I expect my fellow educators to know better. I thought we no longer viewed children as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. I thought we were moving away from seeing curriculum as topics to “get through.” I thought we were moving towards an emphasis on the mathematical processes. Earning badges online seems like a giant step backwards to me.

2. When you are explaining a new concept, is the interaction between you and your students important?

I have a confession to make. For most of my career, I have used a teacher-centred approach. Still, even in this traditional lecture format, students were given opportunities to ask me clarifying questions or check their understanding with a neighbour. I was able to pick up on subtle non-verbal cues and adapt my lesson on the fly. Throughout my career, all of my attempts to improve my teaching have me moving towards a more student-centred approach, not searching for a more efficient way to deliver a lecture.

3. How does replacing a one-size-fits-all lecture with a one-size-fits-all video meet the needs of all of your students?

 Flipping proponents exclaim, “Kids can pause and rewind videos! They can watch them over and over again!” Yeah. But it’s still the same video. This reminds me of the time I was lost in Naples. I asked a local for directions to the train station. He patiently repeated, in Italian, the directions to me several times. I was still lost. Last year, Dr. Marian Small spoke with almost 100 secondary math teachers from Surrey about differentiating instruction. Surrey teachers are beginning to use her two core strategies: open questions and parallel tasks. The ultimate goal of differentiation is to meet the varied learning needs of all students, not to have students complete a series of videos at their own pace.

My final objection to the flipped model is that it is being held up as revolutionary. Assigning a video lecture for homework, and then working on 1 to 49 odd in class instead of watching a lecture in class, and then working on 1 to 49 odd for homework should not be considered a revolution in math education. (If this flip did result in higher scores on standardized tests, does it matter?) We know that real change is difficult. Flipping a classroom isn’t – all that is needed is a tablet PC.

I would like to redefine what flipping a classroom means. My idea of a flipped classroom would be one in which students, not the teacher, are doing the math. Instead of teacher-created videos, the tools of my flipped classroom would be chart paper, felt markers, and sticky notes.

Technology will also play a role. In Surrey, secondary science/math teacher Blair Miller uses video, in the style of Dan Meyer, to ask engaging questions. His students use Vernier Video Physics, an iPad app, to analyze functions. His students interact with dynamic applets that he has created using GeoGebra.

These are effective uses of technology. This is a revolution that I can get behind.

 
Special thanks to Numeracy Helping Teacher Chris Hunter for this post. You can visit his blog at http://reflectionsinthewhy.wordpress.com/ or reach him at @chrisHunter36.

Want to learn more? Chris recommends the following:

• The Wrath Against Khan: Why Some Educators Are Questioning Khan Academy by Audrey Watters
• Khan Academy and the Mythical Math Cure by Sylvia Martinez
• Khan Academy: My Final Remarks by Frank Noschese
• Khan Academy Does Not Constitute an Education Revolution, but I’ll Tell You What Does by Steve Miranda
• Khan Academy Is Not the Progressive Model You Are Looking For by Tom Barrett
• It’s a Video Library, Not a Revolution by Diana Senechal
• Content Delivered, Captain. Full Speed Ahead by SD36 Helping Teacher Amy Newman

iPads: A Bolt or a Lever for Authentic Learning?

Yesterday I attended my first webinar. I probably shouldn’t admit that but it is true. There are other first experiences that I’m hoping to have before my summer is over. I consider this my summer to play with technology. I registered for this particular ASCD webinar because it was focused on using the iPad as a production tool for authentic learning. I wanted to compare what the speaker had to say with the direction we have been moving as a district. We have been repeating the mantra, in various forms: it’s about the learning and not about the technology. Mike Fisher, the presenter, opened with:

Fisher referenced Alan November’s book Empowering Students with Technology (2009) for his discussion on using technology as a production tool in education. November describes automating–using technology to bolt on top of existing educational practices–as limiting. Fisher’s example was using the Smartboard as a traditional blackboard rather than using it as an opportunity to change instructional practices. The goal would be to move from automating to using technology for informating or amplifying. November explains,

You get very different results when you informate. The real revolution is information and communication, not technology. Let go of the word technology. If you focus on it, then you’ll just do what you’re already doing.

Amplifying is the idea of publishing or broadcasting your work. When you think about using technology for informating or amplifying, it it similiar to Bernajean Porter’s notion of using technology to transform learning. It empowers students to use the tool to access information and engage in the creation of a new product. Fisher emphasized the need to shift to student-centered work; the student is the producer rather than consumer. To make this happen learners need ample opportunities with authentic tasks in alternative instructional contexts. The pieces fit together.

So how can the ipads be catalysts for this pegagogical shift? He talked about apps that provide students with the opportunity to be creative. For example, ShowMe is an app that allows student to make their own simple videos adding audio and text. He also gave an example of Easy Chart, an app students use to create bar, line, pie and sidebar charts. He gave a quick demonstration of Comic Life for the iPad. Many teachers in our district are familiar with this software on the Mac and now it is conveniently available as an app. iMovie was the last app that he walked us through. Again, we use this as well and it is a great app on the iPad. He then provided a list of other suggested apps, including Dragon Dictation, Corkboard, Doodle Buddy, MindMap Creator, and Storykit.

When it came to resources, the item he identified as most useful for teachers was Livebinders. Unlike google, it’s a curated search where you get the information that is most relevant to your needs as an educator. If you search iPads in Livebinders you can find lots of folders with excellent information. The folders are rated with stars and the number of users so you have a sense of the popularity of the information inside the folder. Check out Mike Fisher’s folder as a good example. When I attended the CUE conference last spring, Livebinders was also named as a key resource. I suggest you bookmark it.

As we move forward with the iPad technology, it will be important to remember, it can be a powerful tool to leverage student learning. It is teachers, however, who will make the difference. We can simply bolt the iPad onto what we already do OR we can look at it as a lever to unleash constructivism-teaching strategies. Bolt or lever–what will you choose?