Monday, April 28, 2008

What's essential? Join the conversation!

Please join us in a conversation about the essential learning functions technology can deliver to support any learning enterprise, and especially project-based learning. We will be hosting a Classroom 2.0 Live! Webinar, Essential Learning with Digital Tools, the Internet and Web 2.0, on Wednesday, April 30, at 5:00 PDST. Read more about the session and download a document we'll be discussing here.
As new technologies emerge, we want to capture ideas for connecting these tools to the essential learning functions they can deliver. This is your chance to contribute new ideas to update a “hot swappable” resource (also an appendix to Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real World Projects in the Digital Age). Learn how to log into Elluminate in advance here.

We have invited some notable thinkers from the world of Web 2.0 in education, so it should be a lively discussion. Please mark your calendars and spread the word!

And thanks to Steve Hargadon for organizing this event.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Truth is Out There

Here's a nifty model for 21st-century learning. Less than two weeks ago, Australian educator Dean Groom blogged about a group he was setting up on Diigo. Focus: project-based learning. Motivation: Dean's school--Parramatta Marist High in Sydney--is moving toward a PBL curriculum, supported by Web 2.0 tools. Dean is using Moodle as "a central hub" for managing assignments and resources.
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

We Are Our Phones

A history of family phones in Flickr. Phone in bottom row, second from left is back in action, ugly but serving me well enough. -jk
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

Lunching in London

In a post over at Spiral Notebook, I tell a bit about my recent London visit with Linda Hartley, creator of Classroom Displays.

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

Press 1 for Learning

New Zealand teacher Toni Twiss weighs in with this bold suggestion for what to do with students’ mobile devices: Turn ‘em on! Where others see distractions or worry about surreptitious videotaping of teachers-run-amok, this secondary teacher has no qualms about students harnessing their mobile devices for learning. She offers plenty of examples, ending with how she and her phone-wielding students are loading up their mobiles with everything from street maps to German phrases as they prep for an extended trip to Europe.

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

Who are your storytellers?

Thirty years ago, Vicky Colbert returned to Colombia after completing a master’s degree in education. Her graduate studies at Stanford had been all about the possibilities to be achieved through active, child-centered learning facilitated by well-prepared teachers. But back in the country where she grew up, she found high dropout rates, lack of training to improve teaching methods, and few connections between school and community. Undaunted, she took on a challenge that no one else seemed to care about: improving rural education.

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

Ideas in the Nick of Time

Heard any good ideas lately? How about training rats to sniff out landmines? Or asking cab drivers to gather air pollution data? Or combining mobile phones with gaming to help illiterate children and their parents learn to read?

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.