Posts Tagged ‘technology’

The business world, the world where people work once they move  out of schooling, knows the value of “doing”- it’s called “experience”, and there’s no substitute for it.  Employers regularly complain about new hires out of school who can’t do anything. They can’t think, they can’t apply a principle if they “didn’t have a case study about that” — in short, they aren’t good at DOING.

In rethinking about what education needs to be about and how we can then go about achieving this two things always come to the surface.  One is that education needs to be conceived as more than the transmission of data/facts and second is that the means by which you go about doing it conveys as much as what you are conveying.  In other words, how you go about the  business of education says a lot about what you are teaching. In fact, the two are inseparable.

Want to teach engagement and creativity/innovation?  You have to give students the opportunity to ask their own questions, explore and discover.  Stop “telling”.  Figuring out what the good questions are will always be more important than finding  out the answers to any questions.  Yet, schools today still provide the question and send students off to find the answers.  “Innovators” in education today think they are making significant strides when they  provide iPads as a tool to find the answers.  This is what passes for thoughtful and “forward thinking” solutions to the education crisis.  Myopic indeed.  This is what happens when people who have not truly been “educated” are old enough to be in charge.

Of  course, “doing”, if we’re lucky, often leads to failing.  More about  that in the next post.

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Do schools make us smart? smarter? What is more important: intelligence or ingenuity?  If you had to choose, which would you?

Steve Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson, recently wrote that Jobs was more ingenious than he was conventionally intelligent.   He argues that Bill Gates – that other guy – had more raw intelligence but that Jobs, like Einstein and others before him, stood at the intersection of the humanities and science.  Ingenuity here means “practical creativity”, it means seeing the relationship between disparate things that others don’t see, the connections.

It’s not that ingenuity is better than intelligence, they are just different.  The world needs all kinds.

What is an educational experience to do with these?  How can the experience in schools support both styles?  There’s no secret today that there are many kinds of learners.  Jobs’ insight is said to come from “experiential wisdom” – that’s learning which comes from doing, from acting in the world, learning from errors, trial and error- like all the great inventors did.

Of course, Jobs dropped out of college.  School was a limitation for him.  It didn’t allow for him to function, dare we say “excel”, the way he he was born to.  The reality is that we are all “born this way” – the way we are.  We need schools that recognize this, that allow each student to be themself, to learn as they need to, to think, create, invent, explore and solve problems.  Some may not even need school the way it is typically conceived of today.

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What on earth will it take?

The NY Times ran a story the other day about an Arizona school district that has spent millions of dollars on classroom technology over the past 5 years, with little to show for it when it comes to assessing learning.  How many such stories do we need before we come to realize that the way to improve learning is not to replace the teacher’s chalkboard with an electronic one, it’s to replace the teacher’s style, approach and materials.

Stories about how technology has failed to make any gains have been around as long as technologies have been touted as silver bullets.  It’s true – look it up.  It doesn’t matter whether it was the radio (yes!), television, computers, the internet or smart boards – every one of these was championed as the thing that will solve the educational problem- the holy grail of education.  Not one ever did.  Not one ever will.

The problem, as has been written about extensively in this space, is one of style not technology.  The solution lies not in how we present content to learners but in the very emphasis of presenting content.  Conventional education remains what I call a “content delivery system” with its emphasis on passing along content, as if that’s what learning amounts to or how it occurs.  Until we come to recognize that learning is something the learner does, through a process of self-directed, self-initiated action, we’ll not make any meaningful, long-lasting improvements to education.

Has our culture been so permanently hoodwinked by flash and speed that we can no longer see the issue for what it is?

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A recent NY Times book review (of Steven Brill’s Class Warfare) discusses the author’s claim that “truly effective teaching… can overcome student indifference, parental disengagement and poverty” – because these things have been shown to act against student achievement in conventional schools.  Making the case that “good teachers” can overcome these would be a good argument for having more of these quality teachers as well as pointing to a possible solution other than the more complicated solution of fixing those things in our culture that leads to these kinds of things in the first place.

All very interesting, but completely beside the point.  What the author, Brill, is looking at is test scores as a measure of student achievement and how “effective teaching” can overcome some of the very obstacles that many teachers argue stand in their way of making progress.  What Brill is missing is the fact that (i) it’s not effective teaching that will solve these problems, it’s a NEW APPROACH to education, and (ii) test scores don’t measure “learning”.

Simply getting better test results in a “content delivery system” model is a low goal, and one that truly lacks an understanding of what an education is supposed to do for a person.  A new approach, a new paradigm, that fully recasts what education is and how it takes place is what can address ALL of the kinds of issues that Brill raises.  The results are in and it’s demonstrable  that a better fundamental approach can correct for all of the factors that Brill identifies.  AND, it doesn’t require parents to become super-parents.

Have a look at the results that have been logged at the East Dallas Community School.  They adopted a new education paradigm – not some window dressing new reading program, not longer school days, not more technology – they  simply  sis one thing: throw away the conventional content delivery model and adopt one that actually works on all levels… they became a Montessori school.


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Listen, if anyone tells you that the “way out” of our present crisis in traditional education is “computers” – just run away.

Computers are no more going to solve any educational problems than changing the color off the paint in the rooms of classrooms.  Going back to the 1980s “computers” were tooted as the savior of all educational problems.  Nothing changed.  Clinton in the 90s talked about “wiring every classroom”… the internet was going to change everything and save all.  Nothing changed.

Computers have done nothing to help children learn or improve how or what they learn.  As Christensen points out in his book Disrupting Class, we’ve “spent billions putting computers into US schools, [and] it has resulted in little change in how students learn”.  He actually thinks that there’s still a way to do it, but he’s mistaken.  Using computers, whether it’s virtual classrooms or allowing greater access to teachers, will not change anything worth talking about.  This is because you haven’t changed anything fundamental.  Until we get to the root of the problem, we’re merely tinkering.

The problem is not one of insufficient information, it’s a problem of “style” – call it that.  It’s the general approach that is faulty – much like “the medium in the message”, the “style is the problem”.  We have to raise our view up to a higher level to see this.

Computers are great, and they have a legitimate place in the process of education.  But they are a tool, a new modern tool alongside pencils, rulers, pens, etc.  Nothing more.  Computers won’t help you develop thought or independence or resourcefulness or adaptability.  These are the things that are lacking and which represent the real “outcomes” that we need to reach for.

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This concept was just introduced to me.  Already a few years old, it has grown from the business world where it was launched and found it’s way to the world of education as a “solution” to the problem that traditional education has in meeting the individual learning needs of all students.

The person behind the phrase/concept is Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School).  His idea makes sense, but his proposed solution for education is off-mark.  Probably because he’s coming from a business perspective, he’s simply taken his idea and applied it to “schools” without having a deep appreciation for what learning is and how it happens.  That’s okay, his idea still has merit.

Look for a more detailed discussion of his education ideas (in his “Disrupting Class” book) in this space soon.  “Disruptive” is good.  Fundamental Innovation is good.  We just aren’t seeing it.

What I know of Christensen’s education solution so far is that it’s not unlike what “School of One” is doing in NYC under Joel Klein (see yesterday’s post). Actually, Klein got his ideas from Christensen, so there’s a direct link.

The solution to “individualized education” already exists… is it really so unknown to so many?

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So I’m researching something else today (STEM programs) and I come across this report talking about “reinventing schools for the 21st century”.

Guess what you find in that report?   “Educators can’t truly deliver 21st-century instruction in schools that reflect Industrial-Age designs, with rigid schedules…. and fixed boundaries between grades, disciplines, and classrooms…”

I’m thinking “this sounds familiar”.  Maybe the ideas written about in this space aren’t so foreign.  Wouldn’t that be nice.

The report goes on: “measures of learning must include thoughtful assessments of a student’s ability to apply and demonstrate knowledge in complex situations”.  INDEED!  One of the parents in my office last week, a high school math/science teacher, was bemoaning the lack of thought, creativity and ability to apply concepts to a new situation.  Moving beyond memorization and regurgitation.. there’s a goal.

Mirroring my comments yesterday about having long, open time periods for student-lead interest-based work, this report notes that ““it is even more important that class time be elastic. Instead of assigning a certain amount of time for teaching one subject per day, teachers need the flexibility of bigger and more adjustable time slots to truly impact learning.”  This is wonderful. The sad reality, though, is that the time lag to get quality ideas into real classrooms is FOREVER, and further, once you take a good idea and pass it through the sieve of collective thinking (various departments, committees and other sundry groups) you end up with something to put into application that hardly resembles the original fine idea.  The result is that the shabby approximation that is put into practice won;t actually work well, because it’s a watered down approximation, and so it gets tossed out as a silly idea to begin with and we go back to what we were doing.

Here’s hoping that the voices calling for fundamental change ( see this: fundamental change ) will grow loud enough and big enough that maybe the good ideas will actually make it through with enough of their substance that goodness will emerge.

(The study also talked about integrating technology into the classroom even more and of blurring the lines of the “classroom” so much that virtual learning spaces be integrated.  This is fine at some levels, surely not at the elementary and middle school levels.  The report can be found here: reinvent schools)

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