Friday, February 10, 2012

Five Pretty Cool Places to Play

I've been spending some time exploring digital spaces that tap into my sense of wonder and natural desire to learn. We all have places in which we like to muck about online, and our preferences are surely driven by our personal interests, learning styles, and to some degree, time.

My most recent favorites are (in no particular order):

The Kids Should See This
This is a collection of kid-friendly resources of all types that have been curated by Rion Nakaya and her four-year-old co-curator. This collection is largely offered without much commentary (which I like). I also love the diversity of content. If you are looking for pure wonder-inspiring content that could inspire conversation and investigation, I hope you'll check this out.

This playground offers up a daily wonder (as in "I wonder...") that is very engaging. Wonderopolis comes from the National Center for Family Literacy, and their stated goal is to help find the "learning moments in everyday life." Wonderopolis is a little more text-based and goes deeper into the learning by answering the questions that they ask. If I were going to use this with a class, I'd propose the question and invite the students to explore the topic before sharing the "answer." Again, I love the variety.

A colleague turned me onto this one this week. Wow! This is a remarkable resource. I am absolutely sure that I have not plumbed the full potential of this site, and since it is in Alpha, it clearly has room to grow and become extraordinary. In the meantime, what I love about this is that it has tons of well-vetted resources of all types organized into useful content categories and topics. If you are a teacher who is looking to quickly get to the best that the web has to offer in a certain area, I recommend that you sign up to give gooru a spin. If you are just wanting to learn something new, gooru is also a great place to just browse.

This one is a little different from the others listed above, in that it is a more active playground. Joining is a socially enhanced creative experience. This amazing playground comes to us via the delightful mind of Ze Frank, and is a delightful reminder that it is fun to be creative and to use our imaginations. Highlights include the opportunity to complete the "Mission of the Day," to participate in community missions, to comment to other people's responses, and to earn stars that can be bestowed upon community members. The fun is so engrossing that it can be difficult to leave, but the challenges never leave you feeling like you have wasted time. is definitely an opportunity to use your brain in joyous ways.

I've known about and used Flipboard for a while now, and it just keeps getting better. Flipboard is an App for the iPhone, iPad or Android that takes RSS feeds and turns them into a magazine format. Working through your Twitter or Facebook feed is delightful. You can also attach your favorite blogs, and they have pre-selected feeds from great content curators such as Mashable, favorite sites such as, and amazing publishers like The New Yorker.  The interface is completely intuitive, and it is easy to find new things to inspire your curiosity or to match your passions. Flipboard is a must-have app if you are looking for a playground on your slate or smart phone.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

10 Ways to Re-Imagine the Classroom: 10. The Perception of School

This post is part ten 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.

#10-We Can transform the perception of school from Meaningless Work to Purposeful Fun.

I'm just going to say it. Many kids dread going to school because for the most part: 1. they see the work that they do for school as having no value to them as learners, and 2. they aren't having any fun. Frankly, I don't blame them.

In order for work to have value to a learner, the learner needs to feel in their bones a sense of curiosity and wonder. Learning has meaning when I want to know something, and I want to know something when I have a real purpose for knowing it or when it has captured my imagination by speaking to who I am.

First off, A real purpose for learning is not because I will need to know it to pass a test or to get into college or even to be regarded as smart or "well-rounded." I hate that we give kids formulas for success in the form of checklists of things to do/master in order to make them meet someone else's definition of well-informed, minimally competent or prepared for college. Our impulse towards standardizing learning for the sake of further learning is destructive and systemically reinforced. I know that I share these regularly, but if you haven't already, take a look at these videos from Sir Ken Robinson:

A real purpose for learning is when knowing something is essential to completing the work that I want to do. Fortunately, in our current culture of information abundance, I can quickly access any type of learning that I need through a wealth of social platforms that democratize learning and bring it to the level of personal collaboration. Anyone can learn on their own via wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, and thousands of other sources what they need to know, when they need to know it, inside or outside of school. Will Richardson makes this case eloquently in his TEDxNYED talk.

The reality is that our education system is changing. As Professor Stephen Heppell puts it, "We are facing the end of education, but the beginning of learning." If we want to continue to be relevant, we need to make ourselves relevant, rather than expecting that our students must accept that we are relevant. To do that, we must demonstrate our relevance by giving students purposeful things to do with their brains that have immediate and satisfying applications and that appeal to each child's personal sense of wonder and interest.

In the classroom, this means giving students the opportunity to learn about what interests them, through the means that interests them, and to a purpose that is important to them. It means giving kids voice in their learning, supporting authentic learning tasks that kids help to design, building relationships with kids that allow us to better understand how to ignite their curiosity, and creating a culture of learning that actively refuses to place the same expectations on all learners and that recognizes learning as a non-linear process of discovery rather than a linear process of mastery.

Doing all of this would go a long way toward helping kids see school as meaningful and worthwhile. Motivation and engagement would certainly improve based on Daniel Pink's ideas in Drive. But I contend that there is something else that we must do. We must have the courage to reject the narrative about education that we've inherited from the Industrial Revolution and that is reinforced by public leaders, education reformers and No Child Left Behind. We must turn instead to what we intuitively know about learning: When we are really learning, we are having fun. The joy of true learning is impossible to hide. It shows up on our faces, through our body language, and in the excellence of our learning products. Angela Maiers' Sandbox Manifesto articulates this so well.

My own thinking in this area has been developed over the last 3 years and is reflected through this blog. I recently presented one aspect of this learning at FETC. Here is my presentation:

The best part of this mission is that this kind of learning invites us to play on the playground of our own learning in order for us to make this a reality for our students. We have the opportunity to learn better ways for schools to operate that enhance every person's innate ability to learn and achieve excellence. We have the opportunity to shift our perceptions of school from meaningless work to purposeful fun.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy Digital Learning Day!

I'll be the first to say that technology alone will not bring about the joyous learning that is the mark of playground-like classrooms. Great teaching is required. But when we combine the power of technology with purposeful fun, real learning is obvious through the smiling faces of the kids. We crowd-sourced this video in one week to capture the power of digital learning in our corporation.

Look at the smiles on these kids' faces: