Wednesday, December 17, 2008
President-elect Barack Obama’s announcement this week of Arne Duncan as his pick for Secretary of Education has me reflecting on my own visits to Chicago Public Schools, where Duncan has been CEO for the past seven years. Chicago is a mandatory stop for anyone interested in education reform. In 1995, when the Illinois legislature gave Mayor Richard Daley control of the nation’s third-largest district, CPS became ground zero in the battle to fix the nation’s public schools.
Chicago already had a long history of failed school reform efforts by the time the mayor took charge. A previous Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, breezed through the Windy City in 1988 and declared the city’s school system “worst in the nation.” Bennett even singled out one school—Goudy Elementary—as the worst of the worst. (Note to Duncan: That’s the kind of negative publicity stunt that doesn’t help schools or kids.)
When I was researching urban school reform in 1999, I made a bee-line for Goudy Elementary. I wanted to find out if anything had changed from a few years earlier, when a somber Chicago Tribune series began, “Welcome to Goudy, where the future dies early.” I was greeted by Patrick Durkin, the no-nonsense principal brought in to fix the mess. Education wasn’t Durkin’s first love. This fast-talking father of eight was a former fire captain who shifted careers after being badly burned. But from the purposeful way he walked through that building, greeting teachers, students, and parents by name, it was clear he’d found his passion.
Durkin found a way to make school work in the high-poverty Uptown neighborhood, where immigrants were accustomed to being served poorly by public institutions. He introduced a schoolwide focus on reading (including the use of the Reading Recovery program to boost literacy), and was ingenious at finding space for personalized instruction in an overcrowded building. I remember him showing off one cubbyhole used for one-on-one tutoring; it used to be a walk-in safe. And he had zero tolerance for what he called “foolishness.” His first day on the job, he was waiting outside to greet his new students when rival gang members from a nearby housing project got into a fight. Durkin jumped in to break it up himself.
Clearly, leadership was something Durkin understood. But he also knew this: “When a place is failing, you can do anything you want.” That’s what he told me when I asked him about the support he had received from headquarters to turn around this one-failing school. Goudy didn’t get any attention, he said, until its students began to thrive. (Eventually, the story of Goudy’s turnaround became the opening chapter in Making Schools Work.)
A few years later, I made a return trip to Chicago to interview some exemplary teachers about how they were integrating technology into instruction. I was staying at a downtown hotel and needed to grab a cab to get to my interviews. I remember asking the doorman, a young African American man, for help with directions. He took a look at the address, took another look at me, and said, “What are you doin’ going to that neighborhood?” I explained that there was a school there I wanted to visit. “I know,” he said. “I went to that high school.”
At the doorman’s alma mater, I met a smart social studies teacher who had ideas galore about how technology could help her students. Only problem was, her kids had virtually no access to computers. The district was rolling out ambitious plans for professional development around technology use. But decisions about hardware were being made by local committees. So access varied widely from one neighborhood to the next. At her school, she had a principal who didn’t much like computers and few colleagues who shared her vision of 21st-century learning. And her students? They shared the doorman’s sense of the place: Why in the world would anyone choose to go there?
As our incoming Secretary of Education prepares for his challenging new role, I’m thinking again about those Chicago schools. I heard through the grapevine that Principal Durkin passed away a few years ago, but Goudy Elementary continues to serve its diverse children well. It’s now a technology magnet school. Not sure what’s become of the doorman’s alma mater. I’m willing to bet, however, that CPS remains a mixed bag, with some pockets of excellence and some places where no kid should have to spend time. That’s not unlike what Duncan will find if he looks closely at the state of public education across the country today. His challenge—the nation’s challenge—is figuring out how to make excellence the new norm.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Join the Conversation at Educon 2.1 with Suzie, Jane and guests
Here's our session:
What do you hope students will remember—years from now—about what they learned with you? This conversation is about real-world projects that push beyond traditional PBL practices to engage students as community leaders and change agents. We plan to use a variety of media to share powerful examples and facilitate a discussion that will include students as well as teachers. For example: What happened when students in South Central Los Angeles took on the role of citizen scientists to investigate—and publicize—local pollution levels in their own neighborhood? Why do students in rural Kentucky care so much about preserving the memories of their coal-mining families? What’s changed in the lives of Seattle teens since they collaborated with youth from South Africa to make videos about the meaning of compassion? After participants hear about these projects, we will invite them to talk about: --Why are projects like these still the exception? --What barriers stand in the way of real-world learning? --How can we maximize technology to overcome challenges and leverage opportunities? --What can we do collectively to make sure every student has opportunities for this kind of engaged, meaningful learning?
Thursday, November 6, 2008
How often does this happen? You learn about a Web 2.0 tool and start imagining how you could integrate it into classroom activities. Then you remember: Oh yeah, my school (or district) blocks these tools. And that's too bad--for teachers whose creativity is limited, but even more so for students who miss out on opportunities to learn.
In this Edutopia article, Los Angeles high school teacher Antero Garcia goes beyond the arguments I usually hear about why the toolkit needs to be unlocked. He argues that keeping technology away from low-income students is a social justice issue: "Sooner or later someone is going to expect my students to be able to quickly and effortlessly post to a blog, add to a wiki, or collaborate via some sort of social-networking protocol. And once again, my school will have failed to prepare them for such a task."
That's what motivates Garcia to find ways around the barriers. What works for you? Please share your strategies for unlocking the toolkit.
Illustration by Adriano Gasparri, Creative Commons
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
...How many stars can you see tonight?
There's still time to take part in the Great Worldwide Star Count, continuing until Nov. 3. This is an opportunity for your students (and their families) to contribute their night sky observations to a global database. By adding their findings, citizens scientists from around the world are helping scientists understand the effects of light pollution. Check out the Great Worldwide Star Count web site for details, along with more information you can use for further investigations of astronomy, geography, mythology, and more.
Photo by Ben McLeod, Creative Commons
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
"At School of Everything, we believe that learning is personal, and starts not with what you 'should' learn but with what you're interested in. So we're building a tool to help anyone in the world learn what they want, when, where and in a way which suits them. Putting people in touch with each other, not with institutions. Our goal is to do for education what YouTube has done for television, or what eBay did for retail: to open up a huge and fertile space between the professional and the amateur. A space where people teach what they know and learn what they don't."
The School of Everything launched in September. It is the work of the Young Foundation, a charitable trust which carries on the work of Michael Young, founder of Which Magazine and the Open University. Imagine how this might play out!
I think I'll seek a tatting coach.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Looking for a project idea that integrates math, science, and global awareness with the added benefit of real-world service learning? Consider focusing a project on hunger, an issue with local as well as global implications. In the U.S., one in 10 families faces food shortages. Around the world, hunger kills every 3.6 seconds. What can kids do about this big problem? Plenty. This recent Spiral Notebook post pulls together a list of classroom resources for tackling hunger. Comments from teachers offer more ideas. A teacher in Washington, D.C., for instance, describes how her seventh-graders responded when they took on hunger as a policy issue: "It exposes my students to the idea that they can communicate with officials and the media and that their ideas and opinions matter." Seems like a lesson worth repeating.
Photo by Michael Glasgow, Creative Commons
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
One of the strongest endorsements for PBL comes from Carla Williamson who heads the Office of Instruction in West Virginia. It's one of the first states to encourage PBL in every classroom. Williamson explains in the article why students deserve this kind of learning experience: "The end result is that their learning is so much deeper...That's something they carry with them for the rest of their life." I'm eager to know more about the support West Virginia teachers are getting to make this shift in practice.
As the new school year gets underway, are you wrestling with any "yeah, buts" in your own classroom or school? If you've already overcome similar concerns, what helped you move forward?
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
Meanwhile, Flat Stanley Project founder Dale Hubert tells me he's still trying to work out a way for the project to continue. And--teacher to the core--he's mulling over ideas for educating kids about patents, trademarks, and media awareness.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Her plan is to engage schools across the country in shared study-- so they teach each other about (what they must operationally define as) their regions. Understandably, lots of technology may be employed, from Skype conference calls to ePals collaborations to Google shared spreadsheets to multimedia reports. I get carried away and wonder, what might we put in virtual time capsules? What would a population flipbook look like?
One more wrinkle I'm ironing out (hoping it helps Jamie and her teaching partner): Could kids mine population and demographic data to see waves of migration? Could they visually display data in an annotated timeline to show population change and also ethnicity or emigrant employment? My inspiration, my vision for this comes from the famous Minard Map showing Napoleon's failed march on Moscow. I've admired it in Edward Tufte's Visual Displays of Quantitative Information, and then in real life (OK maybe a copy) at the Finding Our Place in History exhibit at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in May. Now I'm no geographer, but through a single degree of separation, I know a geographer! I just asked Jim Meacham, director of the University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab, if he might lend a few brain cells to this problem.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
During a poster session in the Global Gallery at NECC, I met a teacher who said she was eager to get her students involved in collaborative global projects. I talked up a few spectacular examples, describing just how far students can go when given the opportunity. But she was stuck on the starting blocks. “How do you find partners on the other side of the world?” she wanted to know. I told her about the Flat Classroom Project and several other wonderful collaborations that have grown out of the edublogging world, where like-minded teachers frequently connect. “I don’t have time to read blogs,” she said, then launched into a list of the many other demands on her day.
Making global collaboration easier for busy teachers is one of the goals of ePals, a free communications platform that includes classroom blogs, email, and other tools to foster connections. It’s the largest online community in K-12 education, with some 13 million students and teachers participating in 200 countries. Ed Fish, CEO of ePals, describes his strategies for getting barriers out of the way in this Spiral Notebook interview. By making it faster and easier for teachers to find partner classrooms, Fish says he hopes to release educators to focus their energy on the creative side of project design and implementation.
What I find especially powerful about ePals is the translation tool that allows communication among learners who don’t speak the same language. The tool translates text to and from Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, German, Japanese, English, and Chinese. Users pick the language pair that meets their needs. Rita Oates, ePals vice president and a longtime educator, told me that the tool was developed to answer requests from teachers who wanted to be able to overcome language barriers. And it works: ePals participants speak more than 130 languages.
I can’t help wondering why more teachers aren’t taking part in these kinds of online projects. Have you steered clear of global projects because you don’t know how to get started? What help or support do you need to start bringing the world to your classroom?
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Through Hubert's grassroots online project, thousands of children from more than 40 countries have made connections—to each other, to literature, and sometimes even to world leaders, astronauts, and movie stars—by exchanging their own paper versions of Stanley Lambchop, the boy squashed by a falling bulletin board in the 1964 book, Flat Stanley.
And now the popular project may be coming to a close due to legal troubles with the estate of Jeff Brown, the late author. I explain the situation in more detail in this story for Edutopia.
It’s too soon to know how the controversy will end, but Hubert is determined to find a way to continue connecting children with the wider world. Already, Flat Stanley is a popular guy on YouTube, Flickr, and countless classroom blogs. Hubert imagines incorporating more Web 2.0 tools to expand the global conversation. And he already has a back-up plan if he can’t keep the current project alive. His goal, as always in the flatlands, will be “authentic and meaningful communication.” Stay tuned.
I'm of a mind that people will best understand PBL by experiencing PBL so off we go on a learning adventure that starts with the study of postage stamps and dives straightaway into the ways we transmit ideas over a distance- we'll analyze systems, civics, history, communications, commerce, geography and more.
Think about it (students are)-- Where might a study of postage stamps lead us?
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Saturday, June 21, 2008
A Canadian elementary teacher named Dale Hubert added the power of the Internet to the story and, in 1995, launched a global phenomenon known as the Flat Stanley Project. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren in more than 40 countries have since exchanged their own “flat people,” or sent them off to famous people. Flat Stanley has been photographed on Oscar night with Clint Eastwood, traveled aboard the Space Shuttle, journeyed to Antarctica, and visited heads of state around the world. And kids around the world have learned more about everything from geography to culture to storytelling.
Now, Hubert’s wildly successful, grassroots education project is at risk of being squashed. Flat.
A long-simmering legal battle with the estate of Jeff Brown led Hubert to post this message earlier this week:
“Sadly, the Flat Stanley Project may be forced to end.”
Hubert invites letters of support for his project. (Email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
I don’t know about you, but I hear a whopper of an adventure story in the making. Stay tuned for updates.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Some places we may cross paths:
*Reinventing PBL poster session, Global Gallery Sunday night
*Author visit, ISTE bookstore Monday and Tuesday at 11:00
*Blogger Cafe lightning demo Tuesday at 10:00 (My Friend Flickr- new mashups)
*Jane in NETS*T Implementation panel Monday at 3:30
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
"This is a shift for kids who are not used to driving their own learning," she admits. The project approach often involves "learning in a messy environment." Students are asked to make choices, to work in teams, to tackle problems that may have more than one right solution. "If students are used to just following directions," Mueller admits, "it can be frustrating. It's a new arena for them."The story goes on to describe what happened with one group of students who took initiative on a project--with fantastic results. But I can't help wondering how many more students never get that opportunity. How well are we preparing them for the "messy environment" of life beyond the classroom?
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Saturday, May 31, 2008
like in your corner of the universe?
Join the Flickr group Reinventing Project-Based Learning ( 70 contributors to date) and share your images. Please tag your photos 'rpbl'.
This sphere, created with api Tag Galaxy, represents all flickr photos tagged rpbl. In the Tag Galaxy environment you can spin the globe and pop out individual photos for a closer look. See what you get when you put in tags 'flower' and 'macro'. Beautiful.
Thanks to Ewan McIntosh for sharing this great tool!
Friday, May 30, 2008
I am teaching a new course through the University of Oregon this summer and need your input on the syllabus (pdf). If you are willing to critique, please let me know and I'll invite you to collaborate on a google doc.
**Update** I just created this course flyer (pdf), gives a good overview**
I'm operating from the belief that we can become great project teachers faster if we have the opportunity to learn in project mode ourselves. We will have a project strand called The Glassine Surfer (look it up) where we get busy as students would with a class project. On the surface it looks like a project on postage stamps but deep down it's about communication, culture, economics, and change over time.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
My Custom Stamps!
Originally uploaded by benchristen
I really am going to get to my Philly blog entry soon, just too busy to give it the treatment it deserves. Meanwhile, in prep for a course I'm teaching where teachers use Flickr to find creative commons photographs on the topic of postage stamps, I came across Ben's rubber stamps. What rubber stamps would you have made? (I'd make a virtual one I could use on Twitter that says "Don't tweet that". :)
Thursday, May 22, 2008
More later on the great tour by Devon, a ninth grader, and stories about School of the Future visit and Philadelphia Public Schools.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Monday, May 5, 2008
Sunday, May 4, 2008
This picture shows the widget of a custom search engine on the topic of postage stamps. A teacher can place such a widget in a blog, wiki or shared "start" page for students to use for topical searches. Another remarkably google-y thing? The creator of a custom search engine can invite up to 100 "volunteers" to contribute to and refine it. Imagine having kids develop an operational definition for project-suitable sites to be queried by the engine. That would require critical thinking of a high order!
Monday, April 28, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
It's a new learning model for Australian schools and, naturally, raises some questions. By setting up a Diigo group, Dean has found a way to not only exchange ideas with educators from around the globe, but create a community around PBL.
Within days, the Diigo group was off and running, with a growing collection of bookmarked resources and forum discussions about everything from software to professional development ideas. By this morning, the group had grown to 43 members from at least four continents.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Originally uploaded by jkrauss
I was working at a study table in the public library the other day when a guy nabbed my purse. Within ten minutes he was buying cartons of cigarettes at $38 a pop and selling individual packs to street folks for easy cash. My driver's license was found in front of the county JAIL (hmmm) but that's all I got back.
Among the lost items? My 2 year-old magenta Razr phone.
Instead of getting a new phone and committing to another two year service contract (I'm anticipating a new 3G iPhone in June-- I'll wait), I decided to buy a $20 sim card and put it in an old unlocked phone.
While I was waiting to be helped at the t-mobile store I watched a newly desperately phoneless young woman trying to get back in action. She was broke and trying to figure out how to get back to 24/7 texting and talking without having to settle for a plain-jane phone. She overspent "just a little", committed to another two year contract with t-mobile, and left very, very happy. When I got home with my sim card I rummaged through our pile of retired and mostly broken phones and found the funky unlocked one. Back in business.
Interesting what's become essential to modern life these days. How much of your identity is balled up with the phone you carry? Mine, not so much (I say that now.)
Friday, April 11, 2008
What fun to meet up in person with a colleague you've only known online. Thanks to the blogosphere, you can now find friends and good conversation wherever your travels take you!
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Wes Fryer and Ewan McIntosh are two others who see learning potential when they consider the ubiquity of mobile devices. All three educators emphasize the importance of teaching students to use this technology responsibly. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for meaningful learning.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Recently at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, I heard Colbert describe the successful program she has developed. She calls it Escuela Nueva—Spanish for “new school.” Working first in small village schools, she was able to help teachers see the value of students learning cooperatively in multigrade classrooms. Learning at their own pace, driven by their own interests, connected to their communities, students began to blossom. And because Colbert created demonstration classrooms and encouraged peer-to-peer professional development, other teachers took notice. The model quickly spread—from rural to urban areas, then from Colombia across Latin American. Escuela Nueva now reaches some 5 million children in more than a dozen countries. The model will expand next to secondary schools.
Listening to Colbert, I was stuck by her determination to change not just one or two schools, but the entire system of education. Although she has worked within government for part of her career, she is savvy enough not to rely on bureaucracy to maintain reforms. She has built alliances with the business world, such as coffee growers who need employees to understand how to work as a team. She has gathered data to prove that her approach works. But the key to lasting change are the teachers and community members who now demand schools that are good for children. Colbert calls this “bottom-up social change,” and it seems like an idea that needs to be exported back to U.S., where Colbert’s hopeful vision first took shape.
Colbert shared one practical idea that teachers—anywhere—can borrow without having to wait for seismic change. Escuela Nueva uses a simple but powerful strategy to engage parents and other community members: invite them to share what they know. Each school fills out a set of “family cards” to capture the talents, skills, and interests of parents and other community members. “We ask, who in this village is the artist? Who is the storyteller? Parents have knowledge,” Colbert says, “and we want to bring them in to the school.” The result is what she describes as a “greater sense of belonging.”
This common-sense approach reminds me of asset mapping (a strategy for identifying community resources that Jane and I describe in more detail in Reinventing Project-Based Learning). Without doubt, Vicky Colbert is an asset for children and everyone who cares about their future.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Attending the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford last week, I was struck by both the ingenuity of world-changing ideas and the urgency to get more good work accomplished—and fast. From global warming to health pandemics to pending water shortages, the world’s problems aren’t about to go away on their own.
Among the highlights were keynotes by former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore, both Nobel laureates. President Carter showed us what optimism looks like at age 83 as he talked about his quest to eradicate waterborne illnesses that disproportionately affect the poor and the young. Vice President Gore explained why his relentless quest to end global warming is now focusing close to home. “To convince the world as a whole to act in time,” he said, “first we have to convince the U.S.”
Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health and subject of Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, is another social entrepreneur who has no time to waste. He has devoted his life to bringing quality health care to the poor, first in Haiti and now in Rwanda, Peru, and elsewhere around the world. This means delivering “goods and services that should be rights,” he argued in a firebrand address, “not commodities.”
This was the fifth-annual conference about a field that is still in its infancy. Social entrepreneurship harnesses strategies more often found in the business sector to solve social and environmental problems. Many who practice in this arena like to talk about “silo busting,” or breaking out of narrow ways of thinking about problems. They often pull from disparate fields to come up with new ideas. Sometimes, they even reach over into the “silo” of education to effect change.
For example, much of India suffers from alternating cycles of torrential rain and drought. It’s also a place where poverty and illiteracy are generational. Bunker Roy, an engineer by training, decided to build underground tanks to collect rainwater during the wet season. Then he built village schools atop the water tanks. Children who were previously not enrolled in school began attending so that they could drink what Roy calls “sweet water.” This was the start of an idea that has blossomed into Barefoot College, a rural development effort that connects villagers with practical knowledge to improve their own lives.
Social entrepreneurs and their big ideas offer the world such hope that some researchers have made a study of their defining qualities. Not surprisingly, they tend to be risk takers and innovators. They often react with righteous indignation when they encounter injustice. But they are also stubborn optimists. Don’t these sound like qualities you want to nurture in your students as you prepare them to become global citizens?
I’ll share more highlights from the Skoll World Forum, both here and on the Spiral Notebook blog, in coming days. You can also find video clips from the conference at the Social Edge blog. For classroom-ready videos and unit plans about this field, take a look at The New Heroes PBS series (full disclosure: I helped to develop the online materials for educators). And if you’re still wondering about those mine-sniffing rats and other ideas that kicked off this post, take a look at: Herorats and MobileActive.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Find more videos like this on Classroom 2.0
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Next Monday night, a full house is expected at the 1,600-seat Rosebud Theater in Effingham, Ill., for the fifth-annual AHA Film Festival. The event showcases the work of talented young filmmakers from a high school multimedia class (students also plan and organize the festival, learning more real-world skills). It’s a testament to what teachers can accomplish when they give students room to run with their ideas.
The successful program is the brainchild of two award-winning educators, Joe Fatheree from Effingham High and Craig Lindvahl from Teutopolis High. Their schools aren’t even in the same district. Effingham is a small town (pop. 12,000), and Teutopolis is only a fraction of its size. But such factors haven’t stopped these teachers from teaming up to pool resources and creative energies so that students can make real movies about topics that matter to them.
What makes it all worth doing? In a recent discussion about digital storytelling on Spiral Notebook, Fatheree told me about the value of challenging his multimedia students to use higher-order thinking skills for advanced problem solving. He cited more benefits from collaborative learning, project management, and other life skills. He went on: “It will help them develop an entrepreneurial mindset that will prepare them to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Students cannot hide ‘C’ work on a 30-foot screen.”
Friday, March 14, 2008
The answers should become more clear in coming weeks, thanks to a dynamic high school math teacher who has agreed to open a window on her next project, from start to finish.
Jane and I met Telannia Norfar Thursday night during a conference call organized by Sarah McPherson, discussion leader for ISTE's SigTE book study group. Telannia told us about a class she teaches called Logic, Inc. She's the CEO. Students take turns sharing management responsibilities as they work on real-world applications of mathematics.
Telannia suggested that teachers would benefit from watching a project unfold--from initial idea through collaborative planning to implementation with students and engagement with experts. We agreed, and she gamely offered up her next project as a real-life, real-time demonstration.
Will it get messy? Maybe. Will everything unfold according to plan? Probably not. Will it be worth watching? I think so.
Already, Telannia is showing us some of the qualities that PBL teachers tend to exhibit. She's willing to try new ideas to meet her students' learning needs. She came to teaching after earlier careers in journalism and telecommunications. So she knows from experience that projects aren't just an interesting idea in education; they're how the real world operates. And she wants to make sure her students are ready and able to participate in life after high school.
I'll be checking in often to watch her next project unfold. (Her students will be blogging about their experience, too.) Stay tuned for updates.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
The Wall Street Journal (in “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?” ) describes a Finnish approach to learning that’s “simple but not easy,” emphasizing “well-trained teachers and responsible children.” What does this look like in action? As WSJ reports:
Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says (Andreas) Schleicher of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.
One more factor is worth nothing: teacher collaboration. Our research about real-world project based learning led us to interview a cross-grade teaching team from Oulu, Finland, about the development of a project to foster inquiry among primary students. Teachers wanted to encourage young students to pay attention and ask questions about the real world, so they had them use camera phones (ubiquitous in this mobile-phone-loving country) to snap photos en route to school. One student team got curious about local recycling habits and used their photos (along with GPS and a networked learning environment) to gather more data. They wound up advising the school on how to expand its recycling efforts—applying their understanding to an authentic problem. Pasi Mattila, one of the teachers who designed the project, calls this kind of approach “meaningful and motivating learning.”
If students grow accustomed to learning that is meaningful and motivating right from the primary grades, it shouldn't surprise anyone when they continue to excel academically as teens.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Within her overview of PBL pros and cons, one important point gets buried: "Because teachers tend to find this approach difficult to implement with low-performing students and may lack supporting technology, it is less likely to be embraced in high-poverty schools, which could increase rather than lessen existing inequalities."
Seems critical to challenge this perception so that real-world projects aren't seen as just another perk for students of privilege. I know there are many excellent examples of authentic projects that engage diverse learners (including students growing up in poverty). Marco Torres and his students' powerful multimedia projects come to mind. With access to digital tools and new approaches to learning, these students--growing up in one of the poorest areas of Los Angeles County--gain an outlet for their eloquent voices. Shouldn't that be a possibility for every student?
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
What might unfold with more competency in all these areas? Here's a recent application of 21st-century skills that seems to fill the bill: Babajob is a new social-networking site in India's Bangalore region that connects the poor with potential employers. Seems simple, yet it took an economist to figure out that poverty persists here because the poor lack connections to find better-paying work. Babajob, created by a former Microsoft researcher, combines the power of personal connections with social-networking technology, along with some creative problem-solving strategies for overcoming the digital divide. This New York Times article about Babajob tells more of the back story, and gets me thinking about those essential "future skills." Seems like we need to be teaching them today.
Monday, February 18, 2008
I've been wanting to read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. but wasn't making it a priority until I learned from Vicki Davis that a Twitter book group has formed to read it together. What is it about the possibility of shared experience that helps us get things done? I look forward to an enriched reading experience with the bonus of conversations in Twitter.
For-Us By-Us professional learning is taking many forms! 5K+ educators raise all boats in Classroom 2.0, 116 readers discuss Reinventing PBl in the SigTE Book Group, 60 educators meet in San Francisco for a learning free-for-all during Clrm 2.0 Live... No one is sitting around waiting for someone else to decide what is important or what form our learning should take. It's a really exciting time for those who love their work and love to learn.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
Friday, February 1, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
David Thornburg wrote a thoughtful paper Is There Enough Sugar in Your Educational Technology Diet? (available here: Scribd) that revisits the development of the graphical user interface (see a screen shot of the first from Xerox) and explains how the XO's Sugar evolved based on the question: What interface works best for kids? Seymour Papert advised that a computer for children would be verb (action) oriented rather than noun (object) oriented. Instead of folders and documents (nouns) on which familiar UIs are based, think writing playing, chatting, drawing (verbs) and time (journal: what activities did I do yesterday?)
Other small computer designers are looking at kids as kids rather than proto-adults, and are grappling with appropriate design-- Check out SNS Project Inkwell, which imagines a variety of computing devices designed especially for children. Take a look at PI's functional requirements for student devices (pdf).
Saturday, January 19, 2008
All the features of VoiceThread function here - poke around!
You must give VoiceThread a try! I was introduced to it by Terry Smith, an outstanding teacher in Hannibal, MO. Free accounts for schools! Become a contributor who comments on this photoset in voice or the written word HERE.