Friday, December 31, 2010

A Practical (but not easy) Action Plan for Transforming Education

Over at ASCD Edge, Walter McKenzie shares A Practical (but not easy) Action Plan for Transforming Education. Below are the components of the plan with my thoughts.
  • Get all the stakeholders to the table
    • McKenzie hits on a recent frustration among educators. While we often have politicians, entrepreneurs, and celebrities at the table making education decisions, we forget some of the most important stakeholders: teachers, students, parents, educational visionaries, community members, etc.
  • Put children first
    • McKenzie suggests that we put aside the political propaganda (my words) and really put children first. There are children behind that data-driven decision making. Let’s not forget that. We must empower them to discover their talents, passions, and interests and learn using all the information and resources they have at their disposal. We can’t continue to allow them to be held back by political BANdates or limited vision, expertise or resources of a class, school or district.
  • Redefine teaching
    • The industrial model of teaching is failing our 21st century learners. We must rethink everything we’ve ever learned about being a teacher and McKenzie shares ideas for doing this.
  • Adopt a campus model
    • My favorite of McKenzie’s suggestions is to take your technology budget and turn it on its head. McKenzie explains we should plan to move to an open campus model where students bring their own technology to schools and hop onto your network for access to resources and information. Educational institutions need to drop the excuses and figure it out just as coffee shops, parks, whole cities, libraries, airports, and more have done. As far as the holy securing student data excuse...stop trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Move student data onto a different system...the end.
  • Individualize learning
    • I love McKenzie’s suggestion that every student deserves a personal learning plan with the resources provided to ensure success. I would add to this a talent portfolio that outlines the students interests, abilities, and learning styles. He suggests it’s time to put aside the standardized classroom model and put in place individualized learning for every student and he provides some advice on how to do that.
  • 24/7 Learning
    • We must redefine learning time so that it recognizes learning taking place seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. McKenzie provides some insight on how to do that.
  • K-20 Competency-based Learning Continuum with no age/grade benchmarks
    • McKenzie shares ideas on how to provide learning experiences for students that span their formative years and provide a strong bridge into adult learning and productivity. No grade levels. No age levels; students moving along as they master specific skills and information and are ready to learn.
McKenzie explains that there are many institutional and financial forces in play that will oppose this plan explaining, “That in and of itself is a good indicator that the plan is on the right track!” He advises though that these should not be used as excuses for not moving forward and believes that decision makers are capable of working out these details once they are no longer acting as guardians of the status quo.

McKenzie explains each part of the plan and suggestions for success in more detail. To read his suggestions and the whole article visit A Practical (but not easy) Action Plan for Transforming Education.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

One Great Way to Differentiate Instruction

I’ve been on a differentiation of instruction kick lately and recently shared these two posts. When students own the learning and Differentiating Instruction is NOT Hard if We Tap into Student’s Passions! I just came across yet another great example of differentiating instruction from Deven Black in his post My One Great Lesson This Year. In his post he shares a smart technique that he used to differentiate instruction that I have never seen in practice before and it is just brilliant.

He set up the situation, and gave his 7th grade social studies students choices and freedom that allowed them to do independent work as they studied the British and Dutch colonies that eventually became the first thirteen American states. To begin the lesson he made a grid of nine possible tasks his student could do in the next two weeks. He assigned each task a separate spot in the classroom and asked students to stand in the spot of the task that most appealed to them.

Immediately he noticed that his group of six girls who always wanted to work together did not all choose the same task. Interesting, he thought. He looked around the room and noticed that three of the tasks did not have a single student interested in it. They all seemed like good tasks to Mr. Black, but it has been a long time since he’s been a 12-year-old. He wondered, “What would have happened had I assigned one of those unpopular choices as the assignment for everyone? Or if, thinking I was offering differentiation, I had given my class a choice of those three unpopulated tasks.” He shuddered at the thought, especially since he acknowledges he’s been guilty of both approaches more often than not.

Each group was about evenly divided between boys and girls and each had students from different levels of prior performance. The students had self-selected more heterogeneous groups than he believes he could have created. He told the students to get to work and they did. To learn what ultimately happened, take a look over on Deven’s blog and read My One Great Lesson This Year. Take a look at the thoughtful comments too.

A big thanks to Deven Black for sharing one great way to educate innovatively with others.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Innovative Educator's Top Posts (and Reflections) for 2010

I've stepped up the writing here on The Innovative Educator, almost doubling the amount of posts contributed each year since the birth of my blog, thanks in part to some wonderful contributors including Jeff Branzburg and his provocative cartoons, the unschooled Kate Fridkis, the on-the-ground insights of Jacob Gutnicki, and the thoughts from down under by Peter Kent.

If you haven't been able to keep up, below is a recap courtesy of Google's new "stats" feature of my top posts since this summer and my thoughts about each. If you haven't the chance to read them, please take a look and find a post or two that peaks your interest to take a look at share, and maybe even add a comment.



My Thoughts

Tri State Ed Tech Conference - Post Conference Reflections
5,575 Pageviews
I imagine this is my top post because there were so many connected people where I gave this keynote thanks to Principal Eric Sheninger.
Oct 2, 2010, 2 comments

8 Real Ways Facebook Enriched Ms. Schoening’s 1st Grade Class
4,763 Pageviews
I am not surprised this is a top post. This teacher and her husband are blazing the trails and thinking outside the ban to do what's best for students.
Jul 15, 2010, 15 comments

10 Proven Strategies to Break the Ban and Build Oportunities for Students to Learn with Cells
4,564 Pageviews
These teachers came together and shared ideas and insights on how to break the ban where they work to best educate their students. I am grateful for these leaders and the ones who follow in their footsteps.
Nov 3, 2010, 3 comments

5 Real Examples of Using Twitter for Education
4,225 Pageviews
6% of the population uses Twitter and doesn't know how they lived without it. The rest are scratching their heads and curious. This post is for them.
Jun 29, 2010, 4 comments

Eight Reasons An Innovative Educator Uses Twitter
3,325 Pageviews
Same as above.
Sep 3, 2010, 6 comments

The Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Smartboard
3,263 Pageviews
A favorite topic of mine. Advice for using projectors and interactive whiteboards effectively. Of course, the best way to use an IWB is not to use an IWB.
May 10, 2010, 26 comments

Want to be a great teacher? Don’t go to PD.
2,472 Pageviews
Great guest post that pushes the idea that teachers can't wait for PD to come to them, instead they must go out and learn in the anytime/anywhere world at their fingertips.
Aug 3, 2010, 11 comments

Controlling your digital identity is as easy as 1-2-3…
2,426 Pageviews
Online safety does not mean hiding or being anonymous. It means having control over your digital identity. This post shares ways to do that.
Jul 18, 2010, 9 comments

The Innovative Educator Discusses How to Go from Banning to Embracing Cells
2,369 Pageviews
More tips on how to break the ban and embrace the technology that students already own to empower learners.

The Innovative Educator’s Birthday Wish – Help Me Fund Innovative Classrooms
2,155 Pageviews
I'm surprised this post got more than 2000 hits but no one donated to my Giving Page this year. Sniff sniff. You can do it any time and I promise to fund the most innovative of classrooms with you.
Sep 18, 2010, 1 comment

Sunday, December 26, 2010

When passion drives instruction no child is left behind

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Today’s students are told if they listen to their elders, do well in school, score high on the tests and graduate high school and college, ideally on time, then they will be rewarded with a bright future. Problem is, it’s not true. A college degree is no longer the magic ticket to success, but no one’s told our students or their parents for whom that may have been true. While, today’s educational system does a nice job of keeping everything in order in ways that are easily measured, it leaves out the most important piece of the equation, helping students answer the question, “What am I going to do when I grow up?”

I was a prime example of this. I was a great student. I did well on tests. I graduated in the top of my class. Everyone was happy. I helped testing companies profit with easily quantifiable data. Politicians, teachers, administrators and my parents were proud, each feeling responsible in part for my success. While their smiles lingered, I was left with something very different. After I had rushed through school to get my magic ticket, at age 19 I found myself with a high GPA and a degree in hand but scratching my head wondering, “Who Am I? What do I stand for? What am I passionate about? What am I good at? What do I want to do with my life?” I realized that during my entire school career while everyone was patting themselves on the back for producing the perfect student who did well on tests and had a formidable GPA in classes she could care less about, they forgot about the person who was left with a diploma in hand and no idea about what to do next. School prepared me to be good at school but it did not prepare me for life.

I’m far from alone. I recently came across the following blogs and “About Me” pages of some smart high school students being celebrated by their teacher.

Amy’s About Me
Carlie’s About Me
Jessica’s About Me
Maria’s About Me

When you read them you will notice these students are driven, motivated to succeed, and strong writers, but clearly there has not been much attention placed on helping these students identify and pursue their passions, talents, and interests. In each bio you can see, the students were all sold the same bill of goods. Do well in school, go to college and the rest will take care of itself...BUT IT DOESN’T!

Here’s an excerpt from one of the bios that exemplifies the sentiment these student’s feel:

To me, life is like a stone path.
My plan for step one is to graduate high school.
Step two is to go on to college.
Step three though is a complete mystery to me.
I still don’t know what I want my profession to be when I’m older. If I work hard and apply myself, I know that I can easily get past steps one and two. Hopefully during those first few steps, I’ll figure out step three and continue on through the journey of life.

Sure, they may end up in some job that enables them to get by or even do very well (but not necessarily match their undiscovered passions), but why are our students spending 16 years of their lives in these places called school that only prepare students to do well at school rather than discover and explore what they want to do with their lives.

School is supposed to be a place where we get exposed to many things so when we’re done we’ll be rounded and have an idea of what to do next but let’s face it, the reality is school is a one-size-fits all prescription for attaining learning objectives set out for us by politicians or education committees that are by-and-large disconnected from what drives our students. At a recent conference with more than 1500 educators in the audience, the keynote speaker asked, say one word to describe your high school experience. In unison, the audience responded as though rehearsed - BORING! Is this the best we can do for our students? Teaching them to be good at spending 16 years being taught that learning is boring and doing well at it is the key to success? In the end school is a place where we are exposed to many things most of them boring and of other’s choosing. I personally, did not have a class or subject that interested me much in school and I did most of my learning outside the classroom. It is rare that any teacher or administrator knows or bothers to care what the talents, passions, or interests of their students are. This is not their fault either. It’s just that knowing that is not how they, their administrators, or politicians are measured. By the time students have done all those things they are measured by, like me, they’re left with a degree and likely a pile of debt, and, for many, the love of learning is sucked right out of em. After that they go on to look for jobs, working in careers that don’t even have the chance to match with the passions no one helped students bother to discover all those years.

Amy’s , Carlie’s , Jessica’s, and Maria’s “About Me” pages need to be a wake up call to us all. Each student is driven. They are each passionate. Each is motivated, but like most high school students today, not a single one of them knows how to direct their passion and motivation. Our schools are to blame when they don’t help students do as Principal Barbara Slatin shares, “Find their light bulbs.”

What would happen if we helped these student find their light bulbs. In her “About Me” page, Jessica says this.

College is the biggest goal for me, it always has been. My parents went to college and pretty expect me to go as well. I know if I just do as I am told and do the right things maybe my experience can be a fun challenge. So what happens after college? The big question, I believe the most asked question to all kids & teens, what do you want to be when you grow up? Well that one is no answer for me. No lie, I really don’t know what I want to be and what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Jessica is right. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is likely the most asked question of students. It’s also one that school spends little time focusing on. The good news is, there’s hope. A growing movement for innovative educators is something called passion based (or passion driven) learning. It’s the topic of a whole series of passion-driven blog posts organized by the passionate Angel Maiers who recently co-authored the book The Passion-Driven Classroom. I recently wrote about a school that Prepares Students for Success by Helping Them Discover and Develop Their Passions where I share a vision of what this type of school looks like. In it one thing is clear. When instruction is driven not just by data but by the passions of the students behind the data there is no child left behind scratching their head wondering what they’re going to do with their lives. They know that success is much more than a number and a test score, and these students do indeed know not only what they want to be when they grow up, they know what they want to be today.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Preparing Students for Success by Helping Them Discover and Develop Their Passions

A Learning Oasis
Each day students enter a learning oasis where their primary focus is discovering, developing, and pursuing passions, talents, and interests. The artwork covered halls connect rooms where experts, teachers, and more than a dozen partner organizations are working with young people engaged in their craft. Dancers are dancing with Rosie’s Kids, writers are writing with editors from the Gotham Schools news service to draft articles for publication, movie makers are working with award winning producers to create videos, students are knitting and crocheting clothes that they can wear or sell with the help of a local designer, musicians are working with performers from Music Under New York beating drums under the direction of their guidance counselor who is expert at supporting students express emotions through music, chefs are working with a culinary expert who has Skyped in to help students prepare healthy and delicious meals, a custodian with a passion for birds of prey is discovering with students how to save a nest of an endangered species, artists are working with experts from the Studio School to create sculptures, others prepare for chess and Scrabble competitions, athletes are playing basketball and volleyball, and there’s a room full of computers components and mechanical parts where students with an aptitude for such things are fixing computers and making robots.

Understanding the basics
There are foundation classes for students to develop and strengthen their abilities to read, write, and engage, in science, math, and social studies in relevant ways that tap into their talents, interests, abilities, learning style and their areas of passion. They know why they are studying these subjects. They see the connection. With a passion for the transportation system, Armond knows the history of his city, state, nation, and world through the lens of the development of modes of transportation. Context and relevance are ever present. Sabrina a young journalist knows the same history, but sees things through the eyes of the tablet, printing press, and digital technology.

Total Talent Portfolio
During lunch and in the halls Principal Slatin asks, “How’s your light bulb?” “Shining bright Dr. Slatin. Come look at the hawk’s eggs in the nest. I’m helping save an endangered species!” Students excitedly discuss their talents and passions often sparking interest of others. Students and teachers are intimately familiar with their talents as each student has a Total Talent Portfolio that provides a comprehensive picture about each student's strengths in the areas of abilities, interests, and styles. The Total Talent Portfolio focuses on student strengths and "high-end learning" behaviors. Although the teacher serves as a guide in the portfolio review process, the ultimate goal of the Total Talent Portfolio is to create autonomy in students by turning control for the management of the portfolio over to them. Students visit their portfolios often updating the selection of items to be included, maintaining and regularly updating the portfolio, and setting personal goals by making decisions about items that they would like to include in the portfolio. Teachers use the Total Talent Portfolio as a means to differentiate instruction and effectively group students. The students love having a Total Talent Portfolio because they know it’s their personal roadmap to making their dreams come true, whatever they are.

The students use their Total Talent Portfolios to help them pursue engaging activities in areas of deep personal interest. When discovering and exploring passions is the objective few teachers find their student have short attention spans. In fact quite the opposite. These students know what it’s like to be in a flow (the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.) and how to do so for real purposes. The focus of their education is NOT taking subjects like reading, writing, arithmetic, or science. Instead they are readers, writers, scientists, artists, poets, singers, technicians, musicians, mathematicians.

When we teach students rather than to the test
Instead of assessing students primarily with paper report cards that get thrown in a box indicating 1,2,3’s or A,B,C’s, the focus instead is on as principal Barbara Slatin explains, “exposing kids to a whole lot of different things and trying to get their lightbulb to go on.” When we’re accountable for helping students discover and develop passions the result is a win/win that results in engaged and passionate students, and energized teachers.

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model
While for some, this school might sound like fiction, it is not. In fact not only is this model taking place in affluent districts, it’s occurring in poverty-stricken schools like The Island School in New York City. This model of education is called the Schoolwide Enrichment Model and with the right leadership it can happen at any grade level in any district. Joe Renzulli who along with his wife Sally Reis are credited for developing this model explain it this way.

"The Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) can be used as a detailed blueprint for total school improvement. Since the SEM is based upon the vision that schools are places for talent development, the SEM takes into account the varying abilities, backgrounds, experiences and learning styles of each student and capitalizes upon these strengths and interests so that all children are able to meet their greatest potential through an educational experience that is both challenging and individualized."

Do you think...
A model like this result in increased graduation rates?
A school like this may help foster the connection between the school and community?
Students may be focused when doing the reading, writing, and arithmetic necessary to succeed with their passions?
The boredom we see in the eyes of students and the burnt out teachers would decrease?
Students in these schools will feel prepared to succeed in the world?


Why does this matter
This matters because America has gotten off track. I’m a case in point. I did as I was told with college, not a passion, as my goal. I wanted to do well and succeed quickly. I rushed through school getting good test scores and great grades, always graduating at the top of my class. At 19 I stood outside of my college with a degree in hand and no where to go. I had no idea what my talents, passions, and interests were...and no one ever asked-or cared. If all we want for schools is to that they be places to churn out good test takers with scores that make it easy to judge teachers and praise politicians, then America is on track. But when we do that we end up with a nation of “me’s” who did all they were supposed to do and unless they were lucky enough to stumble upon it...have no idea what they did it for. In the end it felt like a waste of 16 years of classes that I mostly wasn’t interested in. Why not have an educational system with the goal of producing students who know how to find, follow, and develop their passions? Ask any student what they’d prefer and the answer is clear.

To learn more....

Listen to this ten minute video from Principal Barbara Slatin of The Island School
Slatin Tribute from Lou Lahana on Vimeo.

Check out this PowerPoint that explains the Schoolwide Enrichment Model

Friday, December 24, 2010

Six Simple Ways to Use Cells for Learning

Cell phones are my favorite learning tool. You don't have to wait for them to turn on. Everyone knows how to use them. They're always with you and almost everybody has one making it easy to communicate, connect, and learn. Students love using their cell phones and while some view them as the enemy, others have learned to embrace these devices realizing what a powerful learning tool they are. I love helping people use cell phones to learn so when students from Mr. Mayo's class put out a survey asking teachers how they use cell phones for learning, I was happy to help.

Here are my favorite ways to use cell phones for learning.

Kids and teachers are interacting. Everybody panic.

In Ben Grey’s latest blog post A Little Common Sense, he provides smart insights into the fear the media, politicians, administrators, et. al. are up in arms about when it comes to digital communications between teachers/students. Makes a great story for the media and politicians use this as a issue to pull on the heart / fear strings of voters who they lull into a false sense of caution-then security. “We will keep your kids safe by banning them from communicating with teachers outside of class!” Cheers from the crowd! But when you think about it, does this make any sense? Aren’t teachers the people who spend the whole day with our children? Aren't they the ones we've entrusted with their safety? Why are we freaking out about those very people being there for our children using the communication tools of the day? You know the answer...

Because it makes a good story for the press and it serves as a great political platform.

We can’t make school policy based on the outlier stories of teachers who've engaged in inappropriate conduct. Their conduct is inappropriate, NOT the platform.

As Ben Grey shares in his post, “Somehow, we’ve forgotten this is a cornerstone of being an educator. That a teacher’s role does not stop at the final bell. That a teacher is also a mentor, and sometimes that overflows into the hours beyond the given school day. And it’s been happening for decades.”

When questioned why he uses social media to communicate with students rather than an alternate platform, Principal Chris Lehmann says, “Because it’s there. I’ll communicate with any student by whatever means they reach out to me.” As Grey explains, “Somehow social media and electronic communications seem to suddenly change the landscape. Districts are scrambling to respond to what they fear is an inappropriate medium for teachers and students to use to interact.” But, Grey goes on to say,

“I’m not sure I get that.”

He says, “The logic cited behind banning such mediums is most often due to the danger and risk of inappropriate interactions between teachers and students. If that’s the case, then there’s a whole lot more banning that we need to do. Because what about the times when students stay after school to get help from a teacher? Or what about the times when students call a teacher’s classroom phone for help? Or what if a teacher tutors a student? Or what if a teacher bumps into a student at the local mall?”

Exactly! When, why, how did the very people we employ to teach our kids and reach our kids become people we fear are interacting with our kids? To some it may seem just another incident of scapegoating teachers and ultimately making BANdates that are not in the best interest of kids.

Grey suggests that we put policies in place that address the behavior rather than ban interaction. He suggests this because teachers and students need to interact. And most teachers and administrators have the common sense to know how to put healthy boundaries and guidelines on such interactions. Guidelines that don’t require the entire ceasing of interaction. Sounds like common sense to me.

To find out how A Little Common Sense can go a long way, visit his entire post here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Innovative Educator’s Advice for Managing Your Digital Footprint

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I’ve been invited to Skype in as an expert to a class of students putting together a documentary about digital footprints. This is a topic of great interest to me, especially, since I actively began managing mine about three years ago. Back then when someone searched for me they’d find a bunch of other people with the same name and buried down somewhere was some information about volleyball tournaments in which I competed. It was then that I decided I wanted to be at the top of a search for both my name and the topics about which I am passionate. Today, when I search Lisa Nielsen, I am the first thing that comes up. I also am the first result when searching “educating innovatively” or “The Innovative Educator.” I branded myself to have an online identity of which I’m proud. This is an important skill to teach students. Equally important is conveying the idea that being safe and responsible online does not mean hiding your identity but rather defining it and owning it.

Below are articles I have written for educators and parents to help their students do the same.