Friday, December 16, 2011

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 8. Educational Resources

This post is part eight in a series in which I offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching.

#8- We Can Transform educational resources from limited, standardized, and driving the curriculum to limitless, individualized and supporting the process of learning. 


I don't have a beef with textbooks. I really don't. But let's be realistic about what they are good at, how they are used, and where they fit in to the learning process.


Textbooks are content providers. In between the covers of any textbook is a finite amount of information that can be put to use for learning. The positives to textbooks are that they provide pre-vetted content in bulk to the learner, along with some pre-created learning prompts, pre-researched supporting information, and in some cases, ancillary materials such as pre-created worksheets, activities, audio-video resources, testing materials, and presentations.


For teachers who struggle, the textbook that is aligned to state-standards can be, if not a path to successful teaching, at least a path to competency. Beyond that, for many very successful teachers, the textbook at least serves as a useful resource and a convenient common ground for the class. Julius Caesar may not be the Shakespearean play that I would like to teach, but all of my kids have it, so we'll go ahead and study it.


That said, there are some problems with allowing the textbook to drive the curriculum. First, since textbooks are often purchased for extended periods of time, they can be deficient in terms of their accuracy, particularly in subjects that change rapidly such as science and history. Ask yourself what is missing from a Physics or Biology textbook that was written 5 years ago. 


Second, textbooks offer a predetermined path for learning based on content. This standardization might be fine in a classroom in which all students are expected to learn the same things, at the same time, via the same means, but it does not jibe well with a 21st Century classroom that is focused on student-centered learning, differentiation, and skills-development. Textbooks do a good job of telling a learner what to learn, but not how to learn. Because of this, a teacher who is too focused on fulfilling a standardized curriculum provided by the textbook, risks failing to focus on the individual learning needs of his or her students. That teacher also risks confusing content acquisition and regurgitation with growth as a learner.


Third, textbooks (when used as the primary or even sole content piece) are by their very nature limited. The fact that they are conveniently curated is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they bring a cohesive set of materials to the learner. On the other hand, any selection made is an automatic deselection of other possible content. This raises questions of culture, value, rigor, relevance, and merit. Worse, because textbooks are curated for a very wide audience, they tend to run few risks culturally, which can steer the classroom away from potentially controversial and enlightening discussions. None of this makes the textbook a bad resource, but it tends to homogenize the learning experience to the point of absurdity.This is especially true now when students have access to unlimited resources that have just as much merit, and that are more vital and compelling because the learner has selected them. 


Fourth, textbooks (with the exception of a few online resources) are lacking in the interactivity, multimedia, and choice that define much of the digital generation's learning experiences outside of school. Watch Joe's Non-Netbook for a stark illustration of this. This deficiency, more than any of the others, is problematic because it fails to take full advantage of a students' curiosity and creativity. Great content will inspire us to learn more and will enable us to apply what we learn to our lives. The interactivity and personalization of modern technology is becoming a hallmark of great content. The traditional textbook alone falls short in this regard.


Fifth, textbooks can inhibit professional growth in teachers. This may be an unintended consequence. However, by attempting to enhance teaching by aligning the content to standards, by mapping lesson plans to resources, by designing activities that on paper appear to meet all levels of Bloom's taxonomy and address multiple learning styles, by editing long works into consumable bites, and by supplying pre-tests and post-tests, textbook companies rob inexperienced teachers of the trial and error that it takes to develop an understanding of the complexities of teaching. Furthermore, it enables veteran teachers to choose a non-reflective form of teaching that distances them from the critical questions that guide professional growth. In effect, the comprehensive nature of textbooks and their ancillaries standardize teaching and reduce teachers to content-delivery tools, rather than lead-learners and experience-designers.


It does not have to be this way, and in many vital and rich learning environments, teachers use textbooks for what they are: content supplements to enhance the act of learning. Still, we have to be vigilant as professionals and not allow textbooks to be the curriculum. Too often, I have seen teachers and schools canonize the content of a textbook through unchanging lesson plans, pacing guides, mapping, and standards. As professionals we should not be letting content providers decide what is important that our students learn. Each of us should be determining what we want our learners to know and be able to do, and then we should turn to the wealth of content sources available to us (including textbooks) and determine what content best supports the learning we seek.


Beyond that, we also need to shift our thinking about educational resources to include more than just content providers. This type of thinking is based on a passive model of learning. Our list of educational resources should not only include, but should feature content creation tools like art supplies, cameras, microphones, creativity software, web 2.0 tools, and communication tools.


Unlike some, I don't feel prepared to declare the death of the textbook. Textbooks will determine that by either offering value and engagement or not offering value and engagement. I am prepared to suggest, though, that the era in which it is acceptable to build a class around a textbook is over. My job as a teacher is to help my students learn to vet resources and use them well. My job is to pose challenges to my students, and invite them to create solutions. My job is to put the process of learning at the center, and the sources of information at the periphery. I cannot in good conscience abdicate my responsibility for designing learning experiences to the textbook industry by giving in to the allure of a pre-packaged, low-maintenance curriculum that has been designed not for individuals, but for masses.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 7. The Nature of Classroom Content

Image: Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This post is part seven in a series in which I offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching.



#7- We Can Transform the nature of classroom content from Standardized to Individualized.


I've been thinking a lot about the learning that has mattered in my life and what distinguishes it from the learning that hasn't mattered. I want to get at what characterizes valuable learning. Here are the indicators that I have come up with:

  1. I chose the learning (or chose to "tune in" to the learning).
  2. I had an emotional response to the learning.
  3. I used the learning to a purpose.
  4. I owned the learning as an equal participant in a social context.
  5. I built new learning in relationship to the learning.
  6. I was able to (and often felt compelled to) share the learning with others.
I wonder how many learning experiences that I have designed for students meet those criteria? By their very nature, such experiences are highly personal and dependent on who I am as a learner.

By contrast, many of the experiences that students have on a daily basis at school are utterly forgettable because they have been standardized to be applied to all learners. How many of our lessons 
  1. define and even micro-manage learning for students? 
  2. are designed to avoid hard topics and emotional responses?
  3. fail to have real-world implications or authentic audiences?
  4. don't encourage our students to question each other or to question authority?
  5. fail to be so essential that they lead to independent learning?
  6. never make it onto a student's Twitter feed, YouTube channel, or blog post?
Indeed, our entire educational system is built to minimize student choice about how and what they learn, how they demonstrate mastery, and what learning is valued. Learning in the school setting is often served up one way, with little acknowledgement of how truly personal it is.

I believe we can make learning personally relevant to students. Here are some ideas:
  1. We need to really know our students as individuals. They need to know that they are each important to us and that, by extension, what they learn is important to us.
  2. We need to challenge kids to bring their personalities, interests and talents to the learning they do in our class. We need to celebrate what makes kids unique as learners.
  3. We need to create a civil and gracious social context in our classrooms in which everyone is empowered to speak their mind and test their ideas.
  4. We need to view learning as a process that allows for mistakes, false starts, and growth.
  5. We need to create learning challenges that allow for student autonomy in terms of how a task is completed and how mastery is demonstrated.
  6. We need to create learning challenges that include real work to a real purpose for real audiences, and that create a sense of ownership for their efforts.
  7. We need to create learning experiences that make kids feel proud, important, and amazed at themselves. We also need to maximize other positive emotions like humor and joy.
  8. We need to let go of anything that will result in 30 students turning in the exact same product as every other student, or that isn't tailored to challenge each child where he or she is.
  9. We need to re-examine content delivery so that whole-group direct instruction is the exception, rather than the rule, so that we are spending more time talking with each student individually about his or her learning.
  10. We need to define our content standards not on what every child needs,  but on what each child needs.
The point is that I remember the classes, lessons and teachers that made room for me to learn on my own terms, to explore, to change my mind, to be enthusiastic and to be distracted, to exercise my passions and talents, and to be the goofy kid I was. I got A's in those classes. The others? Not so much.

We owe it to kids to let them love learning by honoring the fact that their learning is their own.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dinosaur Playground

What started my interest in playgrounds is the idea of a digital learning playground for kids, a space where a learner could explore an idea on his or her own terms. There are lots of great free tools to build this type of space. Yesterday, I tried my hand at LinoIt to create this playground about dinosaurs.

I'm not a science teacher, so please forgive any vetting errors I might have made. I imagine this might be a good exploration tool for Middle School or High School students.


Here is the actual link to the canvas:


Please feel free to share or give feedback.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Suppose What I Teach Isn't What's Important

I just came across an exceptional TEDx talk from John Bennett:



What I like about this TED talk is that Mr. Bennett has the courage to answer the critical question, "When am I ever going to need this?" honestly. We should be willing to acknowledge that we've overloaded our curriculum with an expectation that every one of our students is going to need the same exposure to the same content in the same order, and that every person's education can be measured by mastery of the same arbitrary benchmarks.

The truth is that beyond certain clearly identifiable basics, not every child will need a deep content understanding of every subject we force upon them in order to live a productive, successful and happy life. In fact, students aren't learning this content unless they see its relevance personally, and they are losing their natural interest in learning as a result of our tendency to standardize learning, rather than personalize it.

I taught English/Language Arts in high school for 15 years, and while I love my subject, I cannot name a single piece of content that would be necessary for every one of my students to know. Not everyone needs to experience Shakespeare, correctly scan a line of poetry, cite using MLA, write a persuasive essay for publication, understand the difference between (or even spell) metonymy and synecdoche, be able to define Transcendentalism, or accurately diagram a sentence.

That is not to say that I didn't have worthwhile things to teach my students or nurture in them. Here is a short list of the things I'm proud I taught to kids:

  • Communication Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Cultural Appreciation
  • Research and Analysis
  • Creativity
  • Kindness and Empathy
  • Responsibility
  • Curiosity
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Professionalism
  • Self-Respect
  • Courage and Self-Confidence
  • Academic Fortitude
Any teacher could teach those things in any class. It doesn't matter if a student learns them via Biology, French, World Literature, or Physical Education. What matters is that our students learn these lessons, and they are most likely to do this if they find themselves in classes that are personally relevant.

I recently tweeted that I wish my kids would have class schedules that read: 1st Period- Creativity, 2nd Period- Leadership, 3rd Period- Collaboration, etc.

One response I got was that ideally students will gain these "Soft Skills" through all of their classes. I get that, but I'm not sure that students are, in truth,  gaining them because we have created a system that is so content-focused that we can't see beyond our individual content boxes. Sadly, many teachers use this as an excuse not to teach students essential skills because "there is just too much content to cover." 

I would also suggest that it is precisely the "Soft Skills" that are the point of education, and perhaps we should place them front and center instead of hiding them in the content like blended vegetables in the fruit smoothee.

I bet if we offered Problem-Solving Through Puzzles, Changing the World with Your Words, or Understanding History through Creative Expression as courses in school, we would reap greater academic growth, higher engagement, and more satisfied learners as a result. We just wouldn't be able to measure those gains via high-stakes, low-bar testing. And while the new PARCC assessment is a vast improvement over our current tests, I don't hold out a lot of hope that the way we use these assessments will translate into better pedagogy until we systematically divorce ourselves from the notion that learning has to be divided into subject-area content.

I want to be clear, though, that I am not saying we should get rid of Literature class (or Math, or Government, or any other class). I am saying that we should have the honesty to say that not every student needs every subject, that our purpose is to help kids develop as learners in areas that they care about, and that every teacher has a responsibility to develop student skills, and that the current subdivisions of content are not the only ways in which we can learn about the world.

Right now, we drag all students against their will through an exhaustive forest of content that could easily be mastered without us, instead of providing a largely self-directed playground in which students learn how to learn under the tutelage of passionate mentors and lead-learners. That is the mess that we have to own.

If you teach in a middle or high school content area, I encourage you to ask yourself some fundamental questions:
  1. Does every child need to know the same things?
  2. What parts of what I teach will truly make a difference in a child's future?
  3. How will I guarantee that all kids are learning in my class even if they didn't choose to be here?
  4. How can I advocate for and create a system in which all kids learn, rather than simply complying with a system in which all students meet a standard?
  5. How do I enrich my students personally, rather than educating them collectively?
  6. While my subject is clearly awesome beyond measure, isn't it okay if other people never seek to learn it to the depth that I have?
  7. Is my subject the only reason I am a teacher? If so, are there other things I can do with this passion?
I'd be interested to know what conclusions you come to.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Playground Rules

Thanks to a great and timely post from Richard Byrne, I ran across this video by Derek Sivers:


Don't punish everyone for one person's mistake from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

This video helped me to frame my thoughts about how we make rules and set expectations for our learning environments. Are we proactive or reactive? Are we creating expectations for good behavior or for tolerable compliance? Are we working with our students, colleagues, and employees, or are we trying to control them?

Too much of the current educational climate is designed to regulate, standardize, limit and define what and how we learn and how we do our work. From educational legislation down to classroom rules, we seem committed to punishing the many for the sins of the few. Furthermore, the push to standardize learning and teaching through common assessments and curriculum mapping place our focus on preventing failure through efficiency instead of achieving greatness through excellence. We've lowered our expectations of our students, our teachers, our schools and our profession through threats and micro-mangement, rather than raising them through a focus on personal responsibility and passion.

I was fortunate to attend Wabash College for my undergraduate experience. While all of my friends who went to other universities received a thick "rule book" at Freshman orientation, I was introduced to the Gentleman's Rule, which was the only rule that governed the behavior of Wabash students. The rule read:

A Wabash student will conduct himself in a manner befitting a Gentleman at all times and in all places, both on and off campus.


The beauty of this approach to campus discipline was that it placed ownership of my behavior on me. I had to think about what it meant to be a Gentleman. I had to measure my choices against a standard that I owned collaboratively with my classmates, my professors and the administration.


It also meant that when gray areas of behavior came up, I tended to err on the side of caution. I didn't just ask whether I thought my behavior was gentlemanly; I asked myself whether others would perceive my behavior as gentlemanly. Could I reasonably defend my choices to my peers, teachers and school leaders?


When I began teaching, I quickly realized why trying to list every possible rule to control student behavior was a losing game. Creating long lists of classroom rules places the responsibility of the behavior on the enforcer of the rules. Imposed rules create an adversarial relationship in which the students become incentivized to seek out loopholes to the rules. Plus, every written rule must be enforced, which traps the teacher into awkward judgement calls and fairness battles.


As a result, I soon changed my syllabus to reflect a single classroom expectation that put the same pressure on my students as I felt at Wabash College. It read:


All of Mr. Wilhelmus' students will conduct themselves in a manner befitting a scholar at all times and in all places, both inside and outside of the classroom.


This approach was highly effective because even when my students weren't perfectly behaved, "The Rule" gave us a framework in which to discuss the behavior. It wasn't about being in trouble for being non-compliant, it was about being held accountable for poor character choices. It also invited students to justify choices with reason and care. Finally, it gave me a great deal of leeway in terms of how I addressed infractions. Students came to realize that fair isn't about having every instance of a behavior addressed with the same punishment. Fair is about having the same high expectation for every student and doing what is necessary to help all students meet that expectation.

The same approach could and should apply to how we address our profession. No good has come from setting a low bar with lots of rules and consequences for failures in our system. We need to set a high expectation for our profession, and help one another reach it:

All members of the education community will conduct themselves in the manner of learning leaders at all times and in all places for the good of our society and our humanity.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Conferences Matter

Okay. First off, I want to say that I have had an amazing two days at AuthorSpeak. I've learned with a wonderful group of colleagues, school leaders, and educational thinkers, researchers and authors. Conferences like this one definitely motivate me to keep learning, keep striving for a better way to learn with kids, and keep making a difference to my profession.

The conference began with Daniel Pink's keynote about what motivates people: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. I think that this is what makes conferences useful to me. I have the autonomy to guide my professional development, the opportunity to work toward mastering the complexities of education, and the sense of purpose culled from the collegial sharing that goes on.

One of the most exciting things that I have done is to meet and talk with some of the people I follow on Twitter. I already knew about their passion for learning and for kids, but to share a few moments of collegiality and to take those asynchronous, digital relationships and make them concrete added a new dimension to my experience of my PLN. As Bill Ferriter mentioned, social media isn't about the technology, it is about the people.

It was especially exciting to meet Angela Maiers. I first discovered her passion for learning though the following video:



The amazing thing is that immediately upon meeting her, I knew that she means what she says. We all matter, and we have the power to make a difference in the world. More importantly, that same power is what can drive our own lives. I can choose to embrace and create my own autonomy, mastery and purpose, and I can nurture that motivation in others.

Tom Whitby mentioned today that education is lacking the leaders who will change the conversation about learning from standardization and testing to authentic learning and discovery in the eyes of a public that doesn't see the complexity of the issue. To me, that is a challenge. Will I be herded, or will I drive my own career? Will I wait for a solution, or will I strive to make that solution? Will I accept that I matter and own the responsibility that comes with it, or will I fail to meet the challenge of making a difference in the world?

Sure, this could be the conference talking, but in this moment, I absolutely accept the challenge to matter. That is why conferences themselves matter. They are the intellectual playgrounds where I own the learning. They are the place where intellectual collisions lead to new ideas and projects. The task is to have the courage to bring those projects to life.

To all of the teachers I've had the joy of learning with over the last two days, thank you. You matter to me. I hope we can all keep pushing together to matter to our kids, our profession and our world.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

11 Things I Think I Know About 1 to 1 Classroom Management

Photo by @matylda
1:1 computing is one way to open a lot of playground doors for kids. Obviously, though,  we want our playgrounds to be safe and enriching, not scary and dangerous. The key to nurturing the former over the latter is management.

Because our school corporation has gone to 1:1 classroom computing for the high schools and middle schools (12,000 netbooks distributed, 24/7 access). I am often asked about how to manage a 1:1 classroom. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't ever had the joy or the challenge of running my own 1:1 classroom, but I have worked for the past 3 years to support teachers who are in the thick of it. Through that process I've formed a few ideas about how successful 1:1 teachers thrive.

1. Relationships
The single most important key to successful management in any classroom is a positive personal relationship with your students. The better you get to know your students' needs, interests, struggles and styles, the better you are able to speak with them as a co-learner. Additionally, your students are more likely to work with you if they feel they know who you are as a person. A relationship built on trust, kindness, and mutual admiration will yield a respectful and productive working relationship. If students look forward to spending time with you, they will be less likely to jeopardize that opportunity through bad behavior.

2. Meaningful Work
Kids who have work to do that is personally relevant, authentic, and challenging are more likely to be engaged. The promise of a 1:1 environment isn't that you can now do your worksheets or read your textbooks online. It is that you don't have to rely on worksheets and textbooks as your learning tools. Project-based and challenge-based learning, creating work for authentic purposes and audiences, and allowing students the autonomy to select how they will learn and how they will demonstrate mastery are all methods for competing with the lure of online games and instant messaging.

3. (Digital) Citizenship
Take the time to teach kids good habits of mind, ethical behaviors, and proper social behaviors. Don't assume that kids know how to act. But also don't assume that they don't want to do what is right. Taking the time and care to provide on-going citizenship feedback, modeling good citizenship yourself, and challenging kids to think of themselves as good citizens will help them to make good digital choices both inside and outside of your classroom.

4. Clear (and Positive) Expectations
It often surprises me that teachers get frustrated with digital behaviors, but they don't make the effort to clearly outline their expectations in the digital environment the way they might in the physical environment. Students often base their digital behavior on the digital environments they populate outside of school. Until they have a clear understanding of your digital environment, they will work from what they know. If you have a blog, post your expectations for interaction on the blog for everyone to see. Post clear interaction procedures on your wikis and collaborative documents. Provide ongoing feedback to students throughout digital discussions.

Along with that, I encourage teachers to state their expectations in the positive. "Conduct yourself as a scholar" instead of "Don't act like a fool." Students who have a clear model of what is valued behavior are more likely to align themselves with that vision.

5. Patience and Understanding
Sometimes I think that teacher expectations for compliance are out of line with the world in which we live and work. The knee-jerk reaction that all technology is a danger, that all off-task digital behaviors are a threat to classroom order, or that heightened student connectivity and collaboration means that students learning will be jeopardized is unrealistic and harmful to the goal of making 1:1 learning meaningful. Teaching in a 1:1 classroom means helping students master a work environment that is full of distractions, but also full of opportunities to learn. That also means that sometimes it might be okay for a kid to send a text, respond to an email, or look something up that intrigues him. Becoming the Google Chat police at every infraction distracts from the learning, sets up an adversarial relationship, and runs counter to human nature which gravitates to autonomy, social interaction, and active learning. Don't believe me? Monitor your own behavior at your next faculty meeting.

6. Flexibility and Preparedness
The more we rely on technology for our work, the more we need to be prepared to adjust to changing conditions on the ground. Sometimes the wireless goes out. Sometimes a website is blocked. Sometimes the video format that a kid created his project in is incompatible with the device he planned to share it on. Plans go awry all the time. Successful 1:1 teachers have a Plan B and are prepared to execute it. The online assessment is mysteriously unavailable? We'll be taking the assessment on paper, or orally, or we'll take it tomorrow. Today we are going to preview the next challenge. Students respond poorly to stressed-out teachers and to unsupported change. If you are prepared to be flexible, your students will shift gears more easily.

7. Active Learning
The students should be doing the work in your classroom. If you ask them to sit idly by and absorb your performance, they will find something else to do. Don't ask kids to sit and get content that they could easily look up themselves. Save your lectures for demonstrations of expertise. If kids need you to tell them how to do something, then shine on with your brilliant self (for no more than 20 minutes). In all other cases, let them do the work. Engagement begins with participation.

8. Collaborative Learning
We are social creatures by nature. Our social tendencies can lead us off-task, admittedly, but they can also drive our learning more quickly. When we have a shared task, we have a shared responsibility to the task. That means that social pressures can help keep work moving forward. It also means that our personal learning is challenged, which causes us to reflect and more deeply engage in the topic at hand. Work to create a collaborative environment that challenges students to develop learning networks that they can continue to rely on beyond your class.

9. Informal Learning
Some of the best learning we do is not tied to a lesson plan. When students grasp onto an opportunity for impromptu learning, support that. Let them show off their talents as a learner generally. The more you build a culture of learning that allows for exploration, sharing and celebration, the more your students will bring to your table. As a master-learner, they will come to you for affirmation, guidance and opportunity. Shut that door at your own peril.

10. The Courage to Click (and Fail)
Don't be afraid of the tools. You are college educated. To be an effective 1:1 teacher, you need to be willing to learn technology in front of your kids. You do not have to be a "techie" teacher with all of the newest gadgets and tools. You do need to be open to learning new tools that can make learning more enriching and exciting. An engaging and meaningful unit of study has very little to do with the tools you use. In fact, it can be done without the computer, but amazing content combined with well-utilized technology can change a kid's world. The goal is to make the technology invisible. It's never about the tools; it's about the task. But if you are lucky enough to have modern tools, have the courage to learn how to use them to their full potential. In the meantime, expect not everything will work. The courage to click includes the courage to fail. Teaching kids to deal with failure and frustration is as important as anything we teach, and technology gives us lots of opportunities to model this.

11. Technology in Perspective
Along with becoming comfortable with technology, it is important to understand that when management challenges arise in a 1:1 classroom, it isn't actually the tool that is to blame. It is the behavior. Blocking or shutting down technology to address poor digital behavior fails to correct the behavior, removes a potentially useful tool for learning, and creates an adversarial relationship between the student and the teacher. Successful 1:1 teachers recognize that when students have poor digital behavior, the solution comes from addressing the behavior and reflecting on the management choices that supported that behavior, rather than blaming the tool the student used to facilitate the behavior.

Those are my thoughts. It occurs to me that most of this advice is just good teaching advice generally. I would love it if you would share other observations, thoughts and criticisms.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 6. The Nature of the Curriculum

This post is part six in a series in which I offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching.

#6- We Can Transform the Nature of the Curriculum from Segmented to Integrated.


The other day I walked into my daughter's room to discover a joyous mess. She had taken every toy that had been carefully sorted only hours before into separate and aesthetically pleasing baskets and bins, and she had dumped them all into a decidedly not sorted play extravaganza. The Little People were mixing it up with the Toy Story characters, drinking tea from a giant tea set and swimming in Barbie's pool. They were all having a lively discussion (voiced entirely by my 3-year-old) amidst what could only be described as a post-apocalyptic Lego and Lincoln Log landscape.

As an adult who had helped to so carefully sort and store this pile so recently, I was mortified. In my mind, we had gone to all the trouble in the first place so that when my daughter wanted to play tea party, or Barbies, or blocks, she would be able to easily find the pieces she would need to fully enjoy that world. If this was the way she was going to play, I might as well have just thrown everything into a single box.

Then I realized that I was placing my own ideas about how to interact with the toys on my daughter. My brain sees these toys in categories, and it imagines playing with them in isolation from one another. It's kind of sad. In my world, the Little People bus is too small to fit Woody, Buzz and Rex. I was suddenly very aware of how limited my world is compared to my daughter's. By organizing for her, I was actively limiting her possibilities. Fortunately, she was strong-willed enough to correct the situation.


We limit our students in much the same way. That is why I believe that we might do well to stop thinking about the curriculum in terms of Subjects. This is something that, admittedly, is a hard transformation to imagine accomplishing. School is made of boxes; we have a science box, a math box, a history box, etc. In middle school and high school (typically) we structure kids' days around moving children from box to box. I'm a scientist for 50 minutes, then a writer, then an athlete...

Even in the younger grades, because we attach standards separately to each subject area, there is pressure for teachers to structure the day around subject areas instead of skills. It's an ironic reality of liberal arts learning that schools feel the need to separate subjects to guarantee that students will experience all of them, but in the process, we create an environment in which students are not engaged in the learning.

The problem is that when we separate science learning from history learning, language learning and math learning, we remove opportunities for students to make connections between subjects that will accelerate and solidify their learning.

Worse, we prevent students from exploring and driving their own learning. We take away their opportunity to create something new or to make learning personally relevant.

I really wonder what it would look like if we had a school in which students were allowed to freely mix and match the content they were learning, if the goal of school wasn't to "get through" a pre-determined set of content, but was instead to master learning, develop creativity, and explore the world.

If we can build that, my daughter will graduate at the top of her class.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Steve Jobs Understood Play

I ran across this video today. I'm sure that many of you have already seen it.




What I like about this is that it demonstrates why the iTechnologies are so compelling. I'm not just reading an article. I'm playing with it. I have the power to interact with it physically. Add to that the social nature of many iApps, and I am exploring a playground of content that is much richer than a traditional print source such as a textbook.

This video reminded me of Joe's Non-Netbook, a video that was produced at The Science Leadership Academy:




Together, these videos challenge me to think about the resources we educators bring to the table everyday. Engagement starts when we are allowed to participate.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Smile!

Watch this:



I felt like the blog was getting a little too serious. We need some happiness. Learning is supposed to be fun. I bet that as you watched the video above, you at least cracked a smile. It's our natural human response. And when we smile, we can actually elevate our mood.

More importantly, if we are smiling. those with whom we interact are more likely to smile, and therefore, experience happiness. So, that old teacher advice to "never smile before Christmas" is actually a destructive policy, designed to create an atmosphere of compliance, rather than learning. In an industrial economy that rewards compliance, there might be merit in teaching this way, but in our society which rewards creative thought and personal initiative, we want to promote joyous learning.

That begins with our greatest super-power, the smile:



I hope you smile everyday in your classroom. I hope that you create an atmosphere of happiness in your classes that is so powerful that you and your kids can and will always want to bounce back to the default position of a smile :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 5. The Focus of Class


This post is part five in a series in which I offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching. 

#5- We Can transform the focus of classes from Content-Memorization to Skills-Development.


Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. -John W. Gardner

I want to start by saying that I'm in no way suggesting that students don't need content. Whenever I find myself going too far out on that limb, I remind myself that I became a teacher because I love English/Language Arts content. I love the Romantic poets, the works of Shakespeare, the act of writing, and the role of rhetoric in how our society works. From my point of view, students need to experience great works of art. They need to learn to express themselves clearly through the written word. They need to learn how their words can affect others, and how others' words can affect them. 

In order to analyze literature or win a debate or write a compelling story, students need to be able to speak the professional language of my content area. It's hard to get a kid to improve his writing if he doesn't have the vocabulary of sentence structure and voice. It's hard to get a kid to break down the appeals of a political speech if she isn't familiar with the basics of rhetoric. It's hard to help a kid analyze a poem if he doesn't have an understanding of metaphor, diction or form. 

So let's begin with an agreement that the long traditions of content (in any subject area) are important to a deep understanding of the topic, as well as being important to the students' ability to contribute to the future expansion of that subject. I want my doctor to have an expansive and nuanced understanding of medicine. The same is true for my mechanic's knowledge of cars, my attorney's understanding of common law, the actors in my local theater's knowledge of stage craft, and my representatives in Congress' understanding of statesmanship. 

That said, I do not believe that content is all there is to learning, and frankly, the model of learning that has held sway over the past century has placed a premium on content accumulation over skills-development. It is often perversely more important to a child's grade that she know that a red flag flying over the Globe Theatre meant a history play was being performed than for her to be able to analyze the play for theme, characterization, or historical accuracy.

Before the advent of the World Wide Web and 24/7 media exposure, this was a little more defensible. People whose jobs required access to wide reserves of knowledge were at an advantage if they could learn a great deal of content and commit it to memory. Being erudite meant being able to command content knowledge from across the curriculum. As access to information has become as simple as a quick search on a smart phone, the need for a shared collection of cultural knowledge has diminished, partly because so much more information is available, and partly because the discussion of what is essential cultural knowledge is complicated by our pluralistic society. 

Meanwhile, in the academic world, the forces that create the canon of content in any given field tend to respond to the laws of inertia. It is maddeningly difficult to get new ideas into the canon without a grinding debate about what content will be sacrificed. Thus we end up with academic standards that bury teachers in too much discrete knowledge to cover and textbooks that weigh so much that students are showing up in pediatricians' offices with backpack-related injuries. We'd rather struggle under the weight of too much to teach than let go of content in favor of deeper learning.

Don't believe me? Suggest to a group of high school English teachers that we could forgo Romeo and Juliet in the freshman year, or that the research paper as it has traditionally been understood might be adequately replaced with a video project, and you will see a whole herd of sacred cows wandering through the conversation. Suggest to a literature professor that teaching Tolkien or J.K. Rowling can serve the same purposes as teaching Dickens or Hawthorne and watch his or her biases rear-up. I know because I am guilty of this as much as anyone. 

What I need to remember is that I want all of my students to find a passion for my subject and to develop the skills they need in order to have a rich and ongoing experience after they've left my classroom. It is less important that I cover any particular content, and more important that I help them develop the ability to engage with any and all content that they select on their own. If I can better engage my students by studying Sondheim instead of Shakespeare, or by creating websites instead of term papers, or by analyzing the symbolism in music videos instead of Frost, then I should embrace the opportunity. 

Most importantly, though, I should understand that my job is to help kids conduct reliable research, write compelling, clear and accurate prose, analyze any text and reach rational conclusions, persuade others in conversation, and find the personal wherewithal to confront tough problems, imagine and test solutions, and grow through self-reflection. Some call these abilities "soft skills" as opposed to the hard skills of measurable content (do I know how to identify genre, write a sonnet, define a "slippery slope" fallacy). Personally, I would prefer that my children be well-trained in the soft skills, so that they can apply them to whatever content they find enriching and useful to their lives.

I have to be willing to accept that not every student will (or needs to) become a great literary critic, writer or speaker. They don't need to love Whitman the way I do. They don't all need to write a novel, publish a poem, or maintain a blog. They don't all need to read Faulkner, Angelou, or Camus. They need to find their own path in life as happy and capable people. My best shot of contributing to that is to understand that I have a greater responsibility to the students in my class than to a particular author or piece of knowledge. If I focus on helping kids learn to use their brains, then they will do so in ways that are relevant to their lives. If I focus on teaching them a specific set of talking points, they are more likely to find my class irrelevant and are less likely to be capable of discovering its relevance later.

My best friend is an attorney. He's very good at what he does. He's one of the best thinkers that I know. He's also interesting. He is a talented musician. He reads poetry and sends me poems he thinks I will like. He contributes to the community through membership on a number of boards. He can install a ceiling fan. He is an amazing and creative cook. We also play trivia several times a year. Some nights he is on fire. He knows the most random stuff. Other nights, he doesn't contribute as much. Still, he is better at recalling information than most. He is a loving parent and a virtuous citizen.

How much of this description is directly tied to what he studied in school? How much comes from the calculus class, the German textbook, or the historical documentary? On the other hand, how much is the result of the influence of caring teachers, professional associations, friends and parents?  A reasonable person would have to conclude that all are important. But there is one significant difference between the content skills (cooking, fixing, trivia) and the soft skills (creativity, virtue, civic responsibility). His ability to learn to cook, read a poem or understand legal precedent as significant to his life is directly affected by his curiosity, his ethics, his ambition, and his problem-solving skills. Good teachers helped him develop those. If all he had been taught was how to cook, fix lights and master trivia, he might never have added anything else to his list.

Friday, August 19, 2011

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 4. Our Definition of the Classroom


Image: nuchylee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post is part four in a series in which I offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching. 

#4- We can transform our definition of the classroom from “Set in Time and Space” to “Anywhere, Anytime.”

We do damage to learning when we define school as separate from "the real world." We are constantly learning as human beings, but often the types of learning that we do in schools are less engaging than the types of learning we choose for ourselves outside of school. If we carelessly treat learning as only what happens in schools, we risk creating negative associations about learning in the minds of our students.

There are a couple of ways to combat this problem: The first is to make the learning that goes on in schools as organic and engaging as it is on the playground. That means creating opportunities for students to self-select their exploration, allowing students to learn socially, and encouraging students to express themselves creatively. Beyond that, however, we can actively work to blur the edges of our classrooms so that they are not locked in place and time.

One of the strangest results of the 20th Century model of education is that we spend so much time placing student learning in boxes. Students go to 1st period class and are asked to think like scientists in isolation from everything else. Fifty minutes later a bell rings, and our students move to a new box in which they are asked to think like historians in isolation from everything else. Another bell rings and they switch to math mode or reading mode, and at the end of the day another bell rings, and students leave our box and enter a world in which learning is cross-curricular and not limited to discrete time packages that occur in a prescribed order.

It seems to me that it is time for schools to align themselves with this more natural model of learning. We need to break down the walls of time, space and curriculum whenever possible. Our students need to perceive that school can happen anytime and anywhere, and that the learning we do with them isn't limited in value to the time they spend in our presence. We need to connect our students' personal learning with their academic experiences, and we have a responsibility to make sure their academic experiences can inspire personal learning. Finally, we need to create opportunities for our students to connect with us and their classmates virtually and asynchronously. 

Additionally, we need to free ourselves from the expectation that a classroom looks like this: 

Image: criminalatt / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Instead, classrooms could look like courtrooms, coffee shops, laboratories, production studios, and public squares. My friend Missy Feller did an outstanding job this year designing her classroom so that it feels like a space for organic learning. She created a living room type space for conversation, nooks and crannies that encourage independent inquiry or small group collaboration, and a forum space for whole group learning. She also hung original art on the walls, brought in hand-decorated furniture that pulls the eye away from the more industrial furniture provided by the school, and filled the room with plants, rugs, framed art and knick-knacks that make the space feel more like a home, and less like a box. Here are just a few photos from her class:








Finally, we also need to change our own definitions of the classroom to include the world beyond our doors. Access to the Internet and tools like Twitter, Skype and Google+ should mean that we begin with the assumption that we can learn globally and that no resource is beyond our borders. The work of the next few years will be to make sure that all students have access to these tools, to make sure that we, as educators, allow these tools to improve learning, and to make sure that we help students learn to use these tools with wisdom and expertise.

Admittedly, re-imagining the classroom at this level requires that we have some hard conversations, that we slay some sacred cows, and that we free ourselves from the inertia of the system, but every time that we make a choice to conceptualize the classroom differently, we create examples of how learning can be better.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 3. The Act of Learning

Photo by Tim Wilhelmus
This post is part three in a series in which I offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching. 


#3- We can transform the act of learning from Solitary and Independent to Collaborative and Social.


The product of learning is highly personal. We each have our own learning journeys, our own prior knowledge, our own deeply-held opinions based on our environments and experiences. We also are each uniquely wired with genetic pre-dispositions, talents, gifts, struggles and limitations. I cannot deny this. I fundamentally agree that each learner's path (and subsequent worldview) is unlike any other learner's in terms of its particulars.

That said, the act of learning is highly social. We learn best when we challenge our ideas through exploration and experience with others. The act of reading is a social act that includes the author; the act of watching a movie is a social act that includes the director's vision, the actors' interpretations, the editor's choices; even the act of metacognition is a communing with the self that requires objectivity over subjectivity.

We are social creatures who understand the world in terms of others. Our language locks us into an assumption of otherness. Choose any adjective to describe yourself, and it only has meaning in relationship to others. I am tall, intelligent, or distracted in comparison to others. Thus, real learning involves a social context, even when we do the learning alone behind a locked door.

My students read a novel, and by themselves, they manage to have a social learning experience that might include the author and themselves, but also includes their parents' ideas, the ideas that are currently floating around their physical and virtual social networks, and the lessons they've picked up in the media. Already, their learning is done in a social context. But then, I ask them to share their ideas in a class discussion, and they discover that the learning conclusions they had come to on their own are very different from the learning conclusions that their classmates have come to. Pretty soon, we are embroiled in a passionate discussion that is shaking several people's foundations, including mine.

The energy in the room escalates quickly, and it is clear that we are hitting on some core beliefs. Tectonic plates inside our brains are shifting, which feels uncomfortable, but also very real. We are learning from each other, even if at the end of the day we have to agree to disagree. This open exchange of ideas is the kind of learning that doesn't end with the bell. It carries over into lunch, then the class discussion board, then my students' lives. These are the learning moments that we revisit later in the year.

The problem is that in too many classrooms, the act of socializing is stymied at every turn. We ask kids to shut down their natural tendency to want to share their thoughts, and implicitly, we suggest that their thoughts are not welcome in the learning environment called school. We de-value one of the most fundamental aspects of learning as disruptive, dishonest, and/or frivolous. We insist that our students disconnect from their personal networks when given a learning task at school, when in the rest of their lives it is their personal networks that lend vitality and support to their learning. We too often assume that students who help one another with assigned work are taking the easy way out, instead of commending them for problem-solving together. And we fall victim to the destructive assumption that when a kid is texting or instant messaging with others, he or she cannot be engaged with the work at hand.

Managing social learning isn't easy for all teachers, but learning socially feels really easy for kids. Social learning requires that teachers let go of the microphone and let students learn from each other. It means that learning is open-ended, instead of narrowly prescribed. The collaborative environment drives learning because it challenges the individual to see things from different perspectives. It also allows students to benefit from the collective experiences of the group. Perhaps most importantly, though, a collaborative environment teaches students to value and take responsibility for their own thinking, instead of blindly accepting the authority of others.

When I think about this, I imagine moving from a classroom in which students are expected to think, act and be judged alone (poor Johnnie sweating over a worksheet, hoping to check the right box) to a classroom in which the students and teacher are working together to solve problems and grow through the process. A friend of mine tweeted recently that school should be more like CSI and less like Jeopardy. I believe we can make this happen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 2. The Role of the Student

Image: Adam Hickmott / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This post is part two in a series in which I offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching.


#2 We can transform the role of the student from Content Sponge to Content Creator.


I'm sure that we've all heard the adage that if you want to learn something really well, then teach it. I know that is true in my life. I really only solidify what I know when I take the time to mold what I know into a form that I can share with others. There are three things that I have to do, if I am going to teach something: I have to assess my own knowledge critically (to guard against "makin' stuff up"); I have to consider the path I've taken to come to this knowledge so that I can attempt to create a similarly useful path for others; and I have to "own" the knowledge so completely that I can speak from a position of authority.

The first act, assessing my own knowledge, involves critical thinking, evaluation, research, and in many cases, collaboration. The second act, involves problem-solving, organization, principles of design, analysis, communication, and interpersonal skills. The third act of "owning" knowledge requires metacognition, leadership skills and critical self-reflection.

Put that way, teaching sounds like a lot of work. I would argue, though, that most teachers would describe it as a lot of fun. The hard work of teaching is fun because it is engaging to our whole selves. How and what we teach is wrapped up in our emotions, our cognitive abilities and our physical selves. We love teaching the way we teach, because we love learning the way we learn. And as teachers, we have traditionally had at least some autonomy in the forms that teaching takes in our classrooms. In part, this helps to explain the slowness that characterizes the act of transforming the classroom. Those who succeed in traditional classrooms go on to teach in traditional classrooms, the story goes.

I contend, however, that the deep forms of learning that we do in our professional lives as teachers are exactly the deep forms of learning that our students need to be engaged in if we want them to love learning as much as we do. I hope we are not so selfish as a profession that we would choose to keep the best learning for ourselves.

My friend Jon Carl teaches a class he designed called "Feel the History" in which students create documentary films on local history for our area public television station. Jon spends very little time curating information and delivering it to kids. His classes are too busy doing the work themselves. He doesn't have time to teach them history because he is teaching them to be historians. And his kids obviously know the joys of teaching a whole community about itself.

So, I hope you will accept this challenge. Ask yourself with every unit or lesson you design, will your students have the deep pleasure of mastering the content and skills that you teach on their own terms and be challenged to share their learning beyond themselves, or will you simply ask them to reflect your learning back to you?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 1. The Role of the Teacher

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Over the next few days, I want to offer some ways that we can work together to re-imagine our classrooms so that students are more engaged, our work is more relevant, and student learning is more enriching. This list of ten comes from a workshop I help facilitate on Transformational Teaching.


#1 We can transform the role of the teacher from Content Provider to Learning Sherpa, Literacy Swami, Exploration Coach, Lead Learner.

There are a few ideas here that I would like to focus on. First, in today's world, information is cheap, and honestly, I don't think that we should be telling kids anything that they can find out for themselves via the Internet. I did not always feel this way. 

When I was in fourth grade, I had a teacher who refused to tell students how to spell words. I'd ask, "How do you spell 'photosynthesis'?" and she would point at the dictionary cart and say, "You know where to look." She may or may not have had the smirk that my memory is supplying, but the point was clear. Do it yourself. I remember finding her steadfast refusal to help maddening. After all, she was a teacher. She was supposed to help. I needed help, she knew the answer, but instead I had to go through the much longer procedure of getting a dictionary, searching through it for the answer based on my best guess for the spelling, and confirm that the pronunciation and definition matched my expectation for the word I was trying to use. Grrrrrr. What I didn't understand at the time, was that she was teaching me the skills it takes to learn on my own.

My wife had a similar experience last year with her students. She switched to a project-based model of teaching that placed the ownership of learning squarely on the shoulders of her students. She provided them with an entry document, placed them in teams, and refused to tell kids anything that they could learn themselves. She was there to listen, offer advice, and ask the types of questions that could nudge kids toward success, but only when they were really stuck or needed to be protected from their own bad judgement. 

At the beginning of the year, only a few kids embraced this type of learning. It was not the model of learning that most were accustomed to, and it was hard work when the teacher could have made it easier. Some of the students openly accused my wife of teaching this way because she didn't want to do any work. 

This is what we've done to kids. They perceive any work beyond rote learning to be the teacher's job. Their job is to jump through the hoops and collect the grades. No wonder kids are bored. They are being asked to grab the low-hanging fruit, and are being told "good job" for doing it. And no wonder many teachers are bored as well. We signed on because we are passionate about learning. We are not passionate about grading 30 McWorksheets, delivering the same PowerPoint over the course of 35 years, or arguing with kids about a single point in the gradebook.

However, as the year progressed, my wife's classroom transformed. There were still small pockets of resistance, but most of her students much preferred the project-based model. The engagement was obvious, and the collaboration, authentic learning and choice that her students experienced helped to prepare them for a world in which there is actually very little low-hanging fruit. The rewards were obvious. Kids became better thinkers. The learning was challenging, but fun. Discipline issues were easier to handle. Her relationship with the students was collaborative and joyous.


If you had asked my wife what was hardest about this process, she would have told you that it was letting go of the control. We all have the impulse to help kids be successful, but that impulse can be destructive when we lower the bar for success, micro-manage the direction of learning so that everything is standardized and personally irrelevant, or refuse to allow students to make their own mistakes (or worse punish those mistakes with grades that depend solely on achievement).

When we act as content provider. Or when we draw a too-narrow and too-simplistic path to success, we aren't teaching. We are no better than a textbook. We're actually worse than a YouTube video,  in that our student's don't view our information critically (they trust us to be the font of knowledge) and they didn't select us as teachers (usually) based on their own design for learning.

Our role as teacher needs to be that of learning sherpa. We've done the learning. We know the information. We've already walked the path. We can help our students do the same safely and more wisely. Thus, our contribution to their learning should include guiding students away from unsafe learning behaviors, developing students' powers of critical thinking, challenging students with real work for real audiences, giving students honest critical feedback, encouraging students to follow their own learning interests, and helping students develop skills such as leadership, collaboration, communication, curiosity, and problem-solving. This can be done in any content area, and should be done in every classroom.

I look back to my fourth-grade teacher with appreciation. She made me use my brain in her class. She gave me the opportunity to believe in myself as a learner and a problem-solver. I hope our students will say the same of us one day.

Friday, August 5, 2011

"I Won't Sit Down, I Won't Shut Up"

Word.

Thanks to my friend Michelle Green for this amazing bit of inspiration!


Looking for the Good


Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
School begins in a few days in our school corporation, and I am looking forward to it. The first day of school is an amazing day. It seems like everyone is optimistic and willing to believe in the possibility of their own success and power to learn.

Kids are excited to be here and are curious to learn what their classes will be like, what their teachers will be like, and which of their friends they'll be able to see throughout the day. Frankly, teachers are no different.

We all dress up a little more, prepare a little more fully, get up earlier to start the day. We invite our students to imagine the year ahead with excitement. In short, we bring our best selves to the task. Students do this as well.

I've come to realize that great teachers are the ones who manage to maintain that sense of optimism and possibility over time, and more importantly, manage to inspire it in their students. It's not easy to do, and it requires purposeful effort to avoid the cynicism inspired by the political climate in which we work.

Someone once told me that to be a successful teacher, one needs to find joy in every student and find something to celebrate in your work every day.  I hope that the teachers my children have this year will subscribe to that philosophy.

I ran across this video yesterday on TransLeadership by Tony Baldasaro. It's lengthy, but if you find yourself in need of a reminder of the optimism you started with this year, I hope you'll take the time to watch it:




We all need to re-examine our core business, and remember that education is meant to further the fundamentally human and social act of learning. It should bring us joy, and we have a responsibility to nurture the same joy in our students.

I hope everyone has an amazing start of school that kicks off a year of powerful learning.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I am a Playground Advocate

Image: Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
If you've spent any time in your life with kids on playgrounds, you know that the ways in which they experience the playgrounds equal real learning. I've blogged about this before at length.

What I want to see happen is that the types of self-directed, collaborative and joyous learning that happen on the playground, happen in our classrooms as well.

I believe that a focus on skills-based learning that is highly personal, highly-social, and highly-flexible will help us to prepare students to live happy and enriching lives in a world that is increasingly global and connected.

I believe that real learning happens when we are choosing our own path, traveling at our own speed, and wrestling with problems that we care deeply about.

I also believe that we smile while we're doing it.

This blog is about transforming classrooms from an industrial model of education to one that is relevant to the iGeneration, using the tools that are available to us in our information age, but it is also about returning to a more fundamental understanding of learning that is organic and natural to us as human beings.

Hopefully, this will be a place to find inspiration as well as practical ideas for nurturing real learning for kids. I invite you to travel with me in this process, to share your ideas, and to help move this idea forward.