Friday, February 22, 2008

Projects for the Privileged? Let's Hope Not!

In the February issue of Educational Leadership, Jane David takes a look at the research behind project-based learning.

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

The Future Starts Now

Will Richardson's question--"What do we know about our kids' futures?"--has sparked a firestorm of discussion about 21st-century learning imperatives. Miguel Guhlin has synthesized the many suggestions on a wiki and invites others to contribute. Not surprisingly, his list echoes the big themes of the refreshed NETS-S, highlighting such critical skills as collaboration and problem solving. But there are some interesting new ideas here, too, such as being courageous, having empathy, being "design aware," and having an orientation toward the future.

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

Lots of Ways to Skin a Cat

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

What's missing?

American teens are plenty confident that they can solve the world's most vexing problems with the help of technology, according to the latest Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. There's just one not-so-small catch: more than half of today's high school students feel unprepared for careers in technology and engineering. A large majority of teens (79 percent) recognize the value of project-based learning. But just as many cite a need for more funding to support hands-on, real-world learning.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Drop by Drop...

Looking for a real-world project idea? Consider this: Around the world, one in five people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. Children, especially, are at risk of water-related diseases. Imagine the many directions you could go with a global project that challenges your students to make sense of world water data, develop a water-awareness campaign built with Web 2.0 tools, or engineer their own solution to the global water shortage. (To get their imaginations "bubbling," just introduce them to the Play Pump--a well powered by a merry-go-round that's pumping clean water to children across Africa.) World Water Day is coming up on March 22. Will your students be taking part? Share your projects with us.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Did you focus?

Was your school part of the Focus the Nation teach-in on global warming yesterday? In my hometown of Portland, Ore., the biggest event drew more than 3,000 to the University of Portland campus. Students had a chance to grill everyone from the governor to senators to climate scientists, and they came prepared with thoughtful questions. Smaller events took place on middle school and high school campuses across the state. But the one-day teach-in was just the start. Your students can still join this project by getting informed and then voting for their top priorities for action. On Feb. 18, the results will be hand-delivered to Congressional offices across the country. Hard to imagine a learning project that's more grounded in the real world.