Archive for June, 2010

You can’t stop it.  I found more about it. It’s true.  Everyone’s talking about it.  Okay, okay, MORE people are talking about it… but more and more (better?).

So my latest find is a British fellow who went looking for education innovation in Brazil and East Africa.

What’s his take?  Like anyone talking about education reform, education evolution, revolution, innovation… he notes that “our education systems are failing desperately in many ways, they fail to reach the people they most need to serve, they often hit a target that missed the point” etc.

Our present, 19th century model, he goes on to say, while producing reading and some skills, “lays waste to imagination, appetite, social confidence…”.  He speaks of radical reform.

So what’s to be found that is working?  What creative innovation is taking place in the far reaches of the developing world that this fellow is championing?  He talks about how schools need to “pull, not push”: that is, entice, attract… not push curriculum at students.  He talks about question-based learning as opposed to a preset curriculum that is “delivered”… which leads him to more “games” over lessons… more “inquiry-based” learning as opposed to top-down “content delivery”.

These are wonderful ideas.

The point that is most poignant in his message is this: what we have today is not working.  It’s failing.  What we need, he says, is an approach that is “from the learner”, engages them by asking them to be part of the process rather than recipients.

Yes!  Is all I can say.  His ideas aren’t all great, and he misses some important aspects.  But he captures some essential ones and his call is for something that is fundamentally innovative, not window dressing and which doesn’t amount to  “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”.  That’s worth our attention.

Now, if only he figured out that this has already been figured out.

You can hear him here: http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_leadbeater_on_education.html

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So, in the spirit of always considering all the options, all the ideas, I looked more carefully into this alternative to the traditional model.  I knew some fundamentals, but wanted to look more closely at the details.

All I can say is, really?  Maybe it’s clear to me now why Reggio Emelia hasn’t captured the world’s attention.  I’m all for the value of exploration, following a child’s natural interest – letting them BECOME themselves, etc.  But this approach seems to go far astray, as if to suggest that the adult knows nothing, that the teacher ha nothing of value to contribute.

From what I can tell, and if someone feels this is an unfair characterization I;m sure they’ll jump in with a comment, a Reggio teacher doesn’t even begin with an idea about what will be covered… it’s fully “to be revealed” as the child directs.

One peculiarity of the Reggio penchant for avoiding definition, and “pre-determination” of any sort, is the very idea of even defining too carefully just WHAT “The Reggio approach” is. Indeed, they apparently eschew being called a “model” of education because that suggests that they can be defined, and to be defined is to be limited to a something, which in turn means that you can’t be “just whatever you want”.  And this is held up as a model for reform to improve the lives of children?

Until I see something that shows that this has produces marvelous results, I fail to understand why anyone would wish to adopt this “approach”…

But- we DO need reform.  We do need to change the education conversation.  Perhaps the Montessori model: tested, defined, and proven is worthy of consideration?

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At a few schools around the country there’s a glimmer of hope.  It seems that some folks, surely a small minority, are getting the idea that meaningful education is more than data retention.

There’s a renewed interest in what the federal government calls STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, math) where these specific skills are developed.  Fine, whatever.  That’ short-sighted.  But some people are taking the higher-level step and recognizing that if you want to introduce, say, engineering to young children, it’s not ABOUT the actual engineering elements or skills that they could learn, it’s about the PROCESS of being creative, solving problems, collaborating: thinking.  When five year olds work on a building project they are developing critical and fundamental skills that will translate to other areas in their life.  Let’s recognize this more and worry less about what trade they may end up in.  It’s not about preparing STEM careers, it should be about preparing for life in any career, and the fundamentals apply across the board.

Some supporters understand this, as the New York Times reports (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/education/14engineering.html?ref=education), they see that an engineering project “promotes critical thinking and creativity, and teaches students not to be afraid of taking intellectual risks” and “you want them to come away with knowledge that goes beyond that problem”.  Now that’s worth doing more of.  Of course, not all involved really get the big picture, as the NYT also reports that “some parents, teachers and engineers question how much children are really absorbing”, and the head of a national engineering association “cautioned that engineering lessons for youngsters should be kept in perspective, [because] ‘you’re not really learning what I would call engineering fundamentals’.  The detractors can’t see the forest for the trees.  It has to start somewhere, though.

Let’s hope that the champions of these ideas, the ones who see that there’s something of tremendous value to be gained when children are given the freedom to develop their own solutions, to invent and explore on their own.  Maybe it will make a difference or maybe the naysayers will be the majority and toss the efforts after a short while, dispensing it as just another fad.

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If you look up “education” on Wikipedia, you get this:

“…education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another.

Etymologically, the word education is derived from educare (Latin) “bring up”, which is related to educere “bring out”, “bring forth what is within”, “bring out potential” and ducere, “to lead”.

So, it starts off poorly insofar as our culture definitely views education as being about “delivering content – accumulated knowledge”.  This is why I’ve come to call the model of traditional education/school a “content delivery system”.  That’s what it is: put kids in a class segregated by age, a teacher at the front telling them stuff, expecting them to tell the stuff back (checking to see if they remember), and if they do “success!”.  Pretty sad, really.  As if remembering stuff says anything about understanding, integration of knowledge or thought.

But.. read on the the origins of the word and we get to the root of what education could be.  If we really concern ourselves with the idea of “bringing forth” the person that is within, the potential of every person, then we’ll have something worth doing.  That would be an appropriate thing to change the conversation to.

This takes us back to psychology, as reported by Dr. Steven Hughes: “In 1925, Charles Spearman, one of the fathers of modern psychology, wrote ‘Every normal man, woman, and child is … a genius at something … It remains to discover at what… This must be a most difficult matter. It certainly  cannot be detected by any of the testing procedures at present in current usage’ “.  Wow.  This is the very message that creativity guru Ken Robinson has been arguing in recent years: find what you’re good at, passionate about and do that.  This is the job of education.

Let’s go.

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The latest chatter in traditional education circles is all about getting on the latest technology bus: social media.  Yes indeed.  Taking a 180 degree tack, schools who were only interested in blocking websites are now embracing them, encouraging students and staff to make use of the latest savior of schools: facebook, twitter, digg, and a wide range of sites and online services.

This is clearly reported here: http://www.edweek.org//dd/articles/2010/06/16/03networking.h03.html

You can read about how one teacher “sets up a meeting between classes [in different countries] using Skype. Students prepare a list of questions (What’s the weather like there? How big is your town or city? What continent are you on?) and chat with students in Canada, Finland, New Zealand, and Spain, among a long list of others.”  Yes?  And this is somehow going to make for a rich and meaningful educational experience?  They couldn’t find this information out before?  Somehow talking to other children far away is going to truly shape developing self?

It’s a sad thing to observe the world of traditional education once again grabbing onto the latest “thing” as a fix to all the problems or as something to really improve the educational experience of children.  Here’s statement from a while back “The central and dominant aim of education by [this new technology]” said reformed Benjamin Darrow, “is to bring the world to the classrooms, to make universally available the services of the finest teachers, the inspiration of the greatest leaders and unfolding world events which through [this new medium] may come as a vibrant and challenging textbook of the air”.

Was Mr. Darrow speaking about the internet? NO. What about television? NO.  This was a statement from an education reformer from the early 1920’s… talking about, yes, the brave new world of RADIO and how it would revolutionize education.

We’ve seen that neither radio, nor television, nor the internet has served as an educational golden arrow.  None of these, just as social media today, made a difference worth talking about in how children are effectively prepared for living their lives.  Ultimate prep school: that’s the name of this blog, because education should be about preparing one to live one’s life – that’s the ULTIMATE thing to be “prepped” for.  Why did none of these new technologies make a difference?  Because they are window dressing on a tired, decrepit system that has rotted from the inside out.

Hence, again, the need for FUNDAMENTAL change, fundamental retooling.  A serious reassessment of what education is considered to be and how we go about it is what is required. Nothing less will do and nothing less is what we owe to the millions of children going to “school” every day.

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As we look to construct the best learning environments for children, let’s be sure to tap into the wealth of knowledge that has developed in the fields of psychology and neuroscience over the past 20 years.   They have much to contribute.

Following up on yesterday’s post, Dr. Steven Hughes offers: “How much does general ability predict lifetime success? Does it predict 5-10% of success? Does it predict 20-30%? Or how about 50-60%?  How many of you say 60% or more? Well, the answer is somewhere between 5 and 10%. Not that much. General ability predicts occupational attainment, but not success within one’s occupation, and not satisfaction with one’s life, or one’s general wellbeing.”

This is a HUGE statement, especially in a culture that is tripping over itself trying to raise test scores in the belief that THIS is what will “take care of children’s futures”.

Hughes has looked at the state of education very carefully, he’s noted the massive drop-out rates, the student pressures and suicides, and he comes to ask, “Can we afford to waste this much humanity? Can we afford to squander a third or more of our young people? Who among us thinks that if we keep it up, push traditional education harder and harder, if we put more pressure on teachers and schools to improve academic test scores, to do better, to teach more, who, at this point, thinks that we’ll get 50% improvement? Nobody thinks this. Probably nobody really thinks we have 20% more to gain. I really wonder if anyone, anywhere really thinks we could realistically get 10% more by squeezing traditional education harder.

Myself, I think education is right up against the wall: it has no more to give and we may, in fact, be moving into diminishing returns at this point.”

What more do we need to know or hear?  The responsibility falls to each one of us to call for significant (see my “innovate fundamentally” post) change in education – let’s start by changing the education conversation today.

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A good friend has been ruminating on this idea recently.  Steve Hughes, pediatric neuropsychologist, has raised the question: will the 21st century see a fundamental change in what “schools” are and what “education” is?

He relates that only in recent years has the telephone made a move to phone 2.0.  Ever since Mr. Bell came up with the first model, it has remained in essence the same, and Mr. Bell would have recognized as phones the ones in use in our homes until the turn of the millennium.  But, would he recognize as a “phone” these tiny devices strapped to our waists and buried in our purses and pockets, that  we need not even hold in our hand to use as we make use of our bluetooth earpiece?

Aren’t we ready for a similar quantum leap with our schools?  Hughes argues that:

“Children now in school will face adult life as independent agents to a degree never before seen in our history. They will not be tied to a single job, employer, or even industry, and will experience career paths that were unimaginable as little as 20 years ago. This is occurring even as the trend toward rigid control, high-stakes academic testing, and limited school curricula has robbed them of the opportunities necessary to develop the broad-based problem-solving skills necessary for happy, productive, interesting lives.”

He goes on to suggest something radical and likely to be controversial:

“The educational methods, materials, and developmental culture identified by Dr. Montessori 100 years ago have never been more relevant [and] Dr. Montessori’s work in 1907 anticipated—by 100 years—the need for a method of education that supports success, happiness, leadership, and progress in the world of the 21st century.”

This is worthy of consideration if our concern is WHAT IS BEST FOR CHILDREN, LEARNERS, STUDENTS.

For more information about Dr. Hughes visit: http://www.goodatdoingthings.com

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