Thursday, 31 October 2013

Making sense of self - 1st point of the Equinox List

Continuing from the previous post: What will schools be like for children born in 2013?
The Equinox list is a good start point for discussing how schools should change.
Here is their first point:
1. Learning focuses on the development of lifelong learning practices and a sense of self, rather than facts and figures.
I would not dispute the first - developing lifelong learning practices seems a worthy goal. But the sense of self? Rather than facts and figures?
This seems to be conflated from many phrases, a typical focus group problem when trying to reduce a list from many to few.
But what does a sense of self mean? Is that the priority? Or should it be a sense of how the self fits in to the community?
Sense of self rather than "facts and figures"?
Can anyone help to make this clearer?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

What will schools be like for children born in 2013?

The question of 'what will a school "fit for the future" look like' has preoccupied educators for many years. Despite grand ideas little has changed in schools; likewise, the expectations of what schools should do have remained the same.
I have reported on various ideas and sources, such as from the International Baccalaureate Heads Conference in Buenos Aires, our own work on Preparing Learners for the 21st Century, from Ken Robinson, and our own list of 2st Century Skills in "If you are not learning how to solve problems...".
There is a feeling that the time is right (or ripe) for change.

The Equinox Summit - Learning 2030 took place under the Waterloo Global Science Initiative from the 29th of September to the 3rd of October, 2013, in Ontario, Canada. The goal of this summit was to identify the "beacons of change, assemble them into a coherent vision of learning, and map out a way to make this vision not just an occasional reality but the norm". Their communiqué (pdf) takes as the starting point that a child born today will graduate from high school in a world very different from today's - in a world where facts will have "little value" and education should equip learners to:
  • think creatively, independently, rigorously, and collaboratively
in full awareness of themselves and their social context.

This summit, hosting "current leaders in education, teaching professionals, researchers, and policymakers", represented six continents and with a "truly global and inter-generational perspective". Their findings will be presented in a road map for how to achieve this in early 2014 (The Equinox Blueprint).

The communiqué listed the attributes that high school graduates will need to have by 2030:
  • lifelong learners who can identify and synthesize the right knowledge to address a wide range of challenges in a complex, uncertain world
  • literate, numerate, and articulate
  • creative, critical thinkers
  • able to collaborate effectively with others, especially those of different abilities and backgrounds
  • open to failure as an essential part of progress
  • adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity
  • aware of the society they live in and able to understand the different perspectives of others
  • self-aware and cognizant of their own strengths and limitations
  • entrepreneurial, self-motivated, and eager to tackle the challenges and opportunities of their world
There are no surprises here. I think that we would all agree with this list - perhaps I would have emphasised the issue of international mindedness more since I believe that working with and understanding other cultures (not just backgrounds) will be crucial in the coming years.

So, what is proposed? Replacing traditional concepts of classes, courses, timetables, and grades by more flexible, creative and student-directed forms of learning. They state that this would develop deep conceptual understanding, which can be applied in other contexts.
I am not sure that this necessarily follows. 

The paper ends by listing seven aspects of the new system - and I list the main headings here:
  1. Learning focuses on the development of lifelong learning practices and a sense of self, rather than facts and figures. 
  2. Students learn through cross-disciplinary and often collaborative projects. 
  3. Students connect with each other in fluid groupings that are dictated by their needs at any given moment. 
  4. Teachers and other learning professionals serve as guides or curators of learning
  5. Learning progress is measured through qualitative assessment of a student's skills and competencies that document the learner’s entire experience, rather than measuring a discrete outcome. 
  6. Decisions that affect the learning environment are made by stakeholder groups comprised of learners, teachers, governments, and parents, with learners and teachers playing a central role in decision-making. 
  7. Schools empower both students and teachers, encouraging them to experiment with new ideas and fail safely, so that they develop the confidence to take risks. 
The full Blueprint should be available in early 2014 - and I wait for it with great interest.

(I was disappointed in the Times Educational Supplement's article on the summit - what did they pick up on? Just point 5, with the heading "Scrap exams to create schools of the future".
Come on, TES, keep to your motto of Think*Educate*Share and drop the sensationalism. You are writing for professional educators...)


Thursday, 17 October 2013

From the horse's mouth: "Multiple Intelligences" are NOT "Learning Styles

Valarie Strauss' article in the Washington Post has Howard Gardner write emphatically that his theory of Multiple Intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal - with later addition of naturalist), is NOT synonymous with the concept of Learning Styles.
It is clear that Gardner has suffered over this ("it's high time to relieve my pain and set the record straight").
He describes Multiple Intelligence (MI) Theory as being the result of research that led him to conclude "that each of us has a number of relatively independent mental faculties" (our MIs), rather like having "relatively autonomous computers" handling different information sets.
Gardner criticises the notion of Learning Styles as not being coherent and that there is no persuasive evidence that the learning style produces more effective outcomes.
He ends by drawing three primary lessons for educators:
  1. Individualise your teaching as much as possible.
  2. Pluralize your teaching  (teach in several ways - through stories, works of art, diagrams, role play).
  3. Drop the term "styles".

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Information - knowledge - understanding; from constructing to controlling learning

What is the relationship between Information and Knowledge? Between Knowledge and Understanding?
And what is "Information"?
Alan November has it that the ubiquity and availability of information causes us to reframe the way we teach and learn. No longer is it necessary for the teacher to be the the sole provider of information, often from their long and extensive academic preparation. Indeed, it is not only unnecessary, but in fact counterproductive for the teacher to be the sole provider of this information.
I have put together this presentation of points with which I have tried to construct my own understanding of learning and teaching. Is it sufficient? No, a narrative would have told the story in the form of information. Try to get the meaning, the message, behind each slide and construct your own understanding of it. And then you will be controlling your own learning...

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

IB Heads World Conference - Buenos Aires 2013

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Heads World Conference was held in Buenos Aires this last weekend. With the title IB in a Virtual World and with well known keynote speakers it promised a lot.
And it delivered. Perhaps not in the way I thought it would do but certainly as an opportunity to understand the topic of technology in education in a deeper way. The main take away point is that it is not about the technology, stupid.
I shall report on the messages from three keynote speakers and what I understood of them.

The conference opened with Charles Fadel - author and founder of the Center for Curriculum Redesign. His M.O. seemed to be to want to shock the heads with what was just around the corner in terms of technology, and I think that he did that to many. Using examples such as high speed manipulation by robots to bring home the point about the future of manufacturing and other repetitive process, the way digital technologies can be almost approaching on the creative (examples from art and music) and the increase in computing power to match first a human brain and then, very shortly, ALL human brains, Fadel prepared us for his talk the following day. This was regarding the work of the Center for Curriculum Redesign [CCR] (and reported in his co-authored book: 21st Century Skills, Learning for Life in our Times) which came up with a four dimensional model of the knowledge and other aspects of learning which are needed. The process of working out what is needed in the future is an exciting one, and one which we have done in our school. The CCR model maintains Traditional Knowledge (but what should we exclude?), adds Modern Knowledge (but what should we include?) and adds Metacognition, Character and Skills.

(From Charles Fadel - PPP)
For the breakout sessions we were sent to discuss what we should include and what we should exclude. This proved to be a very difficult thing to do - not because there were not those willing to explore this, but the discussion seemed to go off in different directions. Perhaps the way we were doing it was at fault. When we did this exercise at school (with the SMT and separately with the Board), we broke off into smaller groups to do this, presenting our results on poster paper after 30 minutes. That is much more productive because this level of discussion can only be achieved by working in pairs or groups of three. Shame.

The keynote speaker for the Friday morning was Aleph Molinari who was the founder of the Fundación Proacceso, "a nonprofit organization that uses the educational benefits of technology to drive the social and economic development of people living in marginalized communities" (from the excellent IB Heads Conference App - great to see paperless programming).
Relating his information to Mexico, Molinari spoke of the digital divide and the low numbers of students who finish school, all with low technical knowledge. His foundation provides sustainably built meeting areas with computers, teaching English and other subjects, in a well defined programme, following each student with a digital card allowing excellent measurement of success and completion. He advocates a top-down implementation process, from legislation down.
This was a very interesting process since I think it is easily transferable and copyable to other Latin American countries. In a way it by-passes all the problems of state schooling in these countries and engages the interest of children (and adults) in learning. Excellent.

I expected good things from Alan November - and I was not disappointed. In his usual style "this is only my opinion" way, he left nuggets to think about. And it is not about the technology. His was the Saturday keynote.
He re-framed the problem. "The real issue is not training teachers to use it (technology) - the most difficult thing is shifting the control to the student, for learning".
This is the fundamental November point, and not grasped by all. He put the task of leaders as being to recalibrate the control of the organisation to manage learning for the students, and for students to increasingly take control and design for managing their own learning.
So, not a technology problem, a control problem.
And I get it. His example of the preparation of a powerpoint presentation by the teacher for the forthcoming lesson: that act of forming, aligning, and presenting her knowledge is what the STUDENT should be doing, NOT the teacher. We are depriving the students of constructing their own knowledge.
So, November re-frames the situation into three parts:
  1. Control shift needed.
  2. Information is ubiquitous - teachers should not be the sole providers of this and information is so available that it enables questions (assignments?) to be written to raise the levels of response to much richer learning and expressive levels.
  3. Global relationships/communications - broaden the audience for student work to the world and have learning relationships with the world. First hand.
So, November would say that the real work is redesigning assignments to be
  • more creative
  • more demanding
  • more rigorous
  • and thus, even more motivating.
As usual, he left the nuggets for us to follow up, so here is a topic list:
  • WolframAlpha - investigate this as a superb instrument to free us from the drudgery to examine the real concepts, not the mechanics.
  • Google search - get to grips with the 16 operators so that you can find the genuine articles and enrich the questions that you ask your students; do not give assignments like those you gave in the world of paper, enrich the possibilities of deeper thought and synthesis.
  • Teachers need to give more structure, guidance and capacity to our students for research, using 
    • Knowledge Engines such as WolframAlpha
    • Search Engines such as Google search
    • Social Media Engines such as Twitter.
  • Eric Mazur and clickers (and Facebook!) - just researched this and found GoSoapBox - excellent tool for feedback in class, or before the next lesson after homework. Click on the link and use the access code to answer the question "who does most of the work in your lessons?". Access code: 793-936-932
  • And finally, the Curse of Knowledge. How many times have we seen this in action. "The more we know about a subject, the less prepared we are to understand a learner's misconceptions, confusion and questions". But it is exactly that which makes us teachers, and not just spouters of our knowledge. Let us provide avenues, technological or otherwise, to get this feedback.

Minecraft (Digital Lego) comes of age

Fascination. Obsession. Compulsion. Infatuation. Enthusiasm. Passion.
These are some of the words used to describe children's attitude to playing Minecraft. Observing children immersed and creating their virtual labyrinth you can see it is all embracing. Having them explain to you what they are doing involves a mind-blowing and eye-popping few minutes as they flick/scroll/dash through their creation of rooms, passages, castles, food, storage, doorways and traps. It is, undoubtedly, Digital Lego. Indeed, its blocky nature lends itself to this thought, and actual, physical Lego is available on the Minecraft website so that the virtual game becomes a real 3D one.
It is often difficult to describe such games as educational, but they are. Our Learning Resources Coordinator (and much more) Jennifer G. has been the champion for this type of learning at our school - with students participating in workshops and webinars explaining what they are doing and what they are learning. Slowly, there is a recognition of the creativity, resourcefulness and effort that goes into creating such virtual worlds. And the learning that takes place.
Minecraft announced that they have 33 million users (BBC article on this is worth reading). Without doubt Minecraft has come of age, with an acceptation that it has great educational benefit.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

MOOCs going mainstream

The dust is settling on the MOOC debate. Is it here to stay? Is it just the latest flash-in-the-pan which will disappear once they hype has died down?
The Economist's writer thinks that on-line courses - including the latest incarnation of these, the MOOCs - won't kill mainstream degrees but that "MOOCs presage a period of great change in higher education".
Quoting from the first edition of MOOC Forum, the article makes clear that MOOCs have pervaded university level education: "An editorial explains that there are over 500 MOOCs being offered by more than 100 well known, and accredited, university brands".
The issue of completion of a MOOC has been a criticism. The writer "E.L." makes a good case for this being immaterial in a rapidly changing world where the needs of the learner are so varied and not necessarily tied to paper qualifications.
The MOOC term, albeit hijacked from a much more grass roots approach (and more appealing - let us have more #change11 MOOCs!), seems to have been a catalyst for giving a tweak to distance learning in two dimensions - the number enrolled and the open access of it. These aspects allow the provider to monetize in a different way, usually by having those that want credit for the course pay for this.
MOOCs are here to stay - until a better term comes along.