Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let's Talk About You for a Change

Try this exercise, please! It's easy and fun and will only take you a minute (OK three). Send your response by email (don't comment here) to jkrauss(at)mahonia(dot)us. Subject line: exercise.
Let's Talk about You for a Change
Directions: Forget about kids and teaching for a moment and recall a project you did recently away from school. Maybe it was planning a wedding, tracking your family genealogy, building a shed, organizing a community campaign or learning to knit. Choose one big or small that taxed you to a degree or took you into unfamiliar territory.
Now, open an email and put "exercise" in the subject line. In the body write a descriptive title for the project, then jot notes -single words or short phrases- that describe the personal capabilities the project called for or caused you to develop. An example statement might be persistence or budgeting time. Think through every phase of the project as you go. Write as many capabilities as you can in three minutes. Send them by email to jkrauss(at)mahonia(dot)com. I'll post a wordle with the combined results soon. I'll also share the facilitation that goes with this group exercise and we can discuss the AHA moment that results.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Dirt on School Gardens

In the current Atlantic Monthly, Caitlin Flanagan takes a good, hard look at the shortcomings of public education and comes up with a surprising fall guy. The blame for the academic woes of our current generation, she concludes, rests squarely on the shoulders of...Alice Waters. Waters, the California chef who introduced millions of foodies to the joys of eating locally, is also the godmother of school gardens (starting with The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley). To listen to Flanagan, those campus garden beds spell nothin' but Trouble.

In "Cultivating Failure," Flanagan reveals the dirty trick perpetrated by "an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math."

Flanagan's basic beef is that school gardens are glorified time-wasters, depriving kids of a chance to learn serious stuff. Apparently, she's never seen the rigorous projects that use gardens as a place to grow scientific inquiry skills along with vegetables, or to give budding naturalists a place to hone their powers of observation. (For just a few examples, check out this issue of Northwest Teacher. It's a little dated but still relevant.)

Flanagan really goes off the rails when she tries to blame the burgeoning school gardening movement for the achievement gap. Children of Hispanic immigrants deserve better, she suggests, than becoming "our state's new child farm laborers."

Sounds like a load of organic steer manure to me.

Photo by Michael LoRusso, Creative Commons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Cigar Box Project - And More Immersive Learning Experiences

This week I'm compiling a set of projects I can have teacher teams examine and "unpack" against the ISTE NETS for Students and Teachers. I thought I'd share some of these rich, rigorous exemplars of PBL with you.

I've gone on project searches before and in the Web 2.0 era the hunt is more rewarding than ever. Before the emergence of social tools I'd typically find an instructional plan of some sort and possibly some samples of student work, but *wow* what a difference a few years make. Videos, blogs, wikis, digital artifacts, recorded Skype calls, podcasts-- there's no limit to the creative ways teachers and students are sharing what goes on in their project-focused classrooms. Enjoy!

In a Duck with a Blog K-2 grade students in California chronicle their science studies when a mallard family nests on campus. Read chronologically from the bottom and ignore advertising banners. (Edublogs what were you thinking?)

In the Machinto Project Alberta and Ontario primary students join students in Hiroshima, Japan and from around the world to study war through children's eyes. This project is hosted by iEARN. View a 7-minute Flash video of the Canada Machinto Project and then dig into artifacts of learning.

In the Write On! project ten classes of third, fourth, and fifth grade students around the U.S. contribute to a collaborative story.

Eighth graders in Calgary, Canada mash up all sorts of technologies to reinterpret events from Canadian History. And they stump historians in the process. See the Cigar Box Project.

After three terms studying African American history 9th graders in Philadelphia launch inquiries and create 30-second commercials. Read the teacher's summary of the project, view the student wiki and examine commercials.

Texas teacher Christian Long developed the Alice Project, where 9-10 grade literature students analyze Alice in Wonderland and present their blogs for scrutiny by "jurors" from around the world. Please see "The Big Picture" section.

High school "citizen scientists" in Los Angeles investigate air quality -indoors and outdoors- and propose remedial action in The Black Cloud project.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

ISTE 2010

I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at ISTE 2010 in Denver. I have two sessions I hope you'll consider participating in: Tinkering Under the Hood: Strategies to enhance critical thinking and Computational Thinking for Everyone where we explore how computing develops logic, systems thinking and other capabilities. What are you looking forward to at ISTE 2010?