Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who has the opportunity to innovate?

Over the last week I have been working through the early stages of discovery through the "Powerful Learning Practice" program ( I am overwhelmed and electrified all at once. While being introduced to many tools that one can use on the internet, I have been exposed to so many people who are thinking deeply about the future of education. There are those who enjoy the latest gadget and can't wait until the next "iWhatever" is available. At the same time, I am so impressed with the depth and breadth of discussions concerning the applications of these technologies for truly meaningful education. Don't get me wrong. I love gadgets. As a teacher, however, I want to be sure that the technology that I use in the classroom is helping students to learn, analyze, and enjoy their studies.

I feel blessed to work in independent education where there is so much opportunity to create, innovate, and explore.  Two members of my family work in the public school systems in two different states and I am the product of public schools. When I share what I am learning about these innovative practices with my teacher family members, they look discouraged. Their opportunity to apply these practices in their own settings is met with bureaucratic walls. While some principals are more open to innovation than others, the bureaucracy is such a challenge. This bureaucracy stems from decisions made in individual school to the county, the state, and the federal government.  I see and hear about all of the testing that takes place to "prove" what students know. When will these administrators open their eyes to the vast changes that are taking place in education? Whether it's "No Child Left Behind" or "Race to the Top", I have to question the merits of these tests as educational tools.   Are students learning to grow as students or preparing to pass tests?

I would love to see those making decisions for public school curricula and tests open the doors to the powerful learning that can come in ways that cannot always be measured on a standardized test. Do we want drones or decision makers as our future leaders? In fact, do we want those following the leaders to be drones? A community grows when members can discuss, debate and decide thoughtfully and collaboratively. Students must have the tools to do this. A bubble sheet won't do it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

First Thoughts

A few weeks ago I saw a title for a workshop that asked "How many people would appear if faculty meetings were voluntary?"  When I asked the members of my department that question they immediately replied, "none!" To me, the heart of the workshop title was about making meetings useful, meaningful, and interesting.  If faculty meetings seem universally disliked, how are we doing with our classes? What if we asked, "How many students would appear if classes were voluntary?" Would the answer be more positive than it is for faculty meetings?

I never want to stop learning. How do I inspire that in my students? How do I keep my courses relevant, interesting, informative, and useful?  How do I cultivate a desire to come to class to learn? How do I cultivate learning within my classroom?  These questions keep me fresh. They help me learn more not only about my content but about the manner in which education is facilitated.  For many years, education was delivered.  I have always wanted my students to be producers of their education, not simply consumers of it.

This new era of technology and the read/write possibilities can offer new methods for facilitating and producing learning.  It should be clear by now that I love questions. In part, for students to become active producers of their education they must learn to develop effective questions. It is easy to find an abundance of information on the web.  What we need to help our students learn is how to craft questions which will help them burrow through mounds of information and then to determine which information is useful, accurate, and effective in answering their questions. These questions should help them write more authentic responses than simply trying to fill spaces with responses to vague themes.

So, this is my quest with 21st century learning. How can we help students develop questions and navigate through the information. I hope, then, that they will say, "yes, I would come to class even if I wasn't required to do so."