Thursday, December 1, 2011

Differentiating Instruction through Project Based Learning

Recently I had the chance to talk about 2 of my favorite education topics for how best to meet the needs of ALL learners. I'll let the video stand for itself. If you find it useful or helpful, please go to YouTube to "like" it. Thank you. Additional resources are below the video.

Leading Project Based 
This site contains many resources around PBL, from tutorials (Modules), units designed and implemented by pre-k to grade 12 teachers, and many useable materials for designing, managing, and assessing project based learning units.

The Learning
This site is an online learning series for Differentiated Instruction (DI). Modules guide teachers through important thinking, reflections, and understandings about DI and ways to effectively implement.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stirred, a thriller that also represents a "different" way of publishing

I had the opportunity to read the novel Stirred by J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch. It's a great thriller that brings to culmination two series by these two exceptional authors.

These authors are pioneers on what epublishing can be for the masses through 21st Century Skills. There are many traditional publishing organizations, as well as hybrid where 3rd parties handle your work for a fee. And then there are the kind of mad innovative minds of these authors who make a successful living tackling the process themselves and make it look easy. In many ways the process can be easy once explored and with a good guide. A Newbie's Guide to Publishing is a great place to start.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs - Living the life of our future

Wednesday, October 5, 2011, a man died but his visions and ideas remain. He gave a commencement speech in 2005 for Standford University that, listening to it on NPR, moved me deeply. A message of hope and promise, mixed with an American ideas of independence and collaboration, is a gift of wisdom for all ages, besides the new college graduates. A recent Washington Post shared the them of that speech: Steve Jobs: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

It's with honor that I introduce Steve Job's speech, given in 2005:

Speech link:

Stay hungry, stay foolish,...How do we help our students experience such a rich opportunity?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

News Sources = Source for PBL Ideas and activities

How do you turn an ordinary Project-Based Learning unit into something extraordinary? 
This is one driving question that I'm often exploring, as there is so much at stake for a successful learning experience that leads to academic achievement and development of global skills that are necessary to adult success. And...there is not just 1 answer.
Although, I would suggest that if the end result of a PBL unit is that students use what they learn to help or change the "world" outside of their classroom, that is a very good start. News articles can help us find ideas for inspiring students to make meaningful connections between content and the global community. Through such connections, students alongside students can develop or design meaningful ways to impact or influence others through their academic understandings.
For example, consider these articles from today's news:
Tourists despise tiny fish but anglers love them
From MI news about strange silver creatures washing up ashore of MI beaches. Where did they come from and what impact might they have on our environment and tourism?
As the debt ceiling debate continues, how does time management influence or effect our decisions, and what are effective ways to organize timelines for project efficiency? (project is a metaphor for all kinds of work and tasks)
With greater scrutiny on the press, there is much to explore from effective research practices (online and traditional), ethical practices, and truth telling. How best can we get accurate information when media sources express conflicting reports? Should ever the "end justify the means" in the workplace?
With the congressional deadline looming about the US debt ceiling, there those who speculate that the US is already negatively affected. What would happen if the US lost it's AAA credit rating, and what would it take to regain it? How could leader's convictions of beliefs be rigid and flexible?
News from the serious, to humorous, to fluff can generate ways for students to find their voice in a PBL unit. They and educators uncover connections between content and community context. I invite you to find articles and post them as used here for connections to PBL ideas.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Grading Practices Revisited

I just read an article "The Culture Builder" by Roland S. Barth (Educational Leadership May 2002, Vol. 59, Number 8) with a group of highly motivated, inspired (inspirational) school leaders who are establishing new school programs where new culture is being built around what is best for students. More on that later.

A topic that rose was grading practices. Roland Barth states a message by schools is "Learn or we will hurt you." He states, "Educators have taken learning--a wonderful, spontaneous capacity of all human beings--and coupled it with punitive measures. We have developed an arsenal of sanctions and punishments that we inextricably link with learning experiences."

Ken O'Conner, Rick Wormelli and others look at grading practices and how it  can be done to emphasize learning over gradebook keeping. I've made comments on this before, and was asked to share a powerpoint where I took these educator thinkers work and explored the ramifications. Below is a powerpoint that I've used to support teachers and administrators in reflecting on efficient ways to assess and grade. Comments welcome.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Results-Only Learning Environment

Much of the focus of the Education world for achievement is on what the adult stakeholders can or should do to improve the system. There are some innovative ideas generated, tested, and implemented. How can we help students be successful. How do we hold accountability to standards based on practice that is evidenced-based. What will schools of the future look like?

These are only some of the challenges that educators grapple with in seeking what is best for students. Through all of the work that's done, few include a missing element. One that may, in its simplicity, be the most difficult and critical element for success...

Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships are touted as critical to education. Yet few school cultures incorporate students as an equal member, much less the driving member of the learning team. Students can best determine the what and how of learning. For proof, look at adults regarding our learning. Give me the deadline and learning targets, and I will take the pathways that works for me. Reading, talking to others, watching videos...varying location from walks, cafes, desk, floor...with music or silence depending on "my" mood. It doesn't matter how or what I do, so long as the deadlines are met and the outcome produce is of high quality.

Shouldn't that be what's best for students?

Coach students on how to work in this format. Believe that they are capable if given the opportunity and guidance. Trust that they can succeed. When they fail, it's the best opportunity for them to learn and grow. It's our responsibility to teach them how to learn from mistakes.

Shouldn't that be what's best for students?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bears’ Greg Olsen kicked off field at Stevenson High - Chicago Sun-Times

Bears’ Greg Olsen kicked off field at Stevenson High - Chicago Sun-Times

I'm a Bears fan, and even I would have stopped Greg Olsen from going on to the Stevenson High School football field. Hey I like him as a player, tried to trade for him on to my championship Fantasy Football team. I would not have sent him away feeling unwelcomed. Here's someone who lives in the community, who is a quality professional in his work place. I'd give him the star treatment, as if he were a CEO, scientist, elected official, business owner, a chef, a parent or an educator--because Greg Olsen is a potential contributor of time and networking power.

He want's to use the facilities at the school, fine, here's the paperwork holding harmless the district and employees. "Mr. Olsen, can I get you some coffee, water, or Gatorade, while the paperwork is faxed or delivered by the Superintendent's office? What would you like for a snack or lunch from our cafeteria (or the cafe down the street)? Can we get some pictures with you as one of our . successful members of the community...signed?"

Accommodate this professional. But also have him do the background check (not too difficult given he's a public figure) done with anyone who will be on school grounds when minors are present. Work out an arrangement for the NFL starting tight end to practice on the field. Include in the plan that he give some of his time to mentor players and other students about perseverance, dedication, and long term planning. As the relationship builds, have Mr. Olsen connect the school leadership team with other professionals, ranging from the businesses whose products he endorses to say...the management of the Chicago Bears (after the lockout ends of course).

Safety and insurance coverage is necessary in today's society. Opportunities for partnerships that would benefit students' learning experiences should not be squandered by a public show of aloofness and cold rejection.

Adlai E. Stevenson High School has won numerous awards for excellence, including the prestigious U.S. Department of Ed. Blue Ribbon Award for 1987, 1991, 1998, and 2002. It's the birthplace of the Professional Learning Communities (2nd site) concept by Richard DuFour (bio) that went viral in the United States. The school gets visitors, including me, from across the country and internationally to see their structure for success. With such experience with dealing with attention in their own right, it makes this publicity and missed opportunity more surprising.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Project Based Learning: Explained.

Why do Project Based Learning (PBL)? The connection to lives of teachers, students, and workplace is a needed understanding. This video by the Buck Institute for Education does a great job making that important connection.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Learning through Risk-taking

The iNet Conference has been more than inspiring, it provides thought-provoking ideas for where we need and can go if learning is the driving force. Examples shared from throughout the world, time and again, prove that success happens when students have an active role in unit design, curriculum feedback, ending technolog embargos, and how they develop and demonstrate "their" learning.

"When you’re in the hardest time you invest the most in being innovative." Dr. William Skilling, Oxford Community Schools --quote from iNet Conference 2011.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Tale of 2 Views: What should education become

I'm attending the iNet Conference in East Lansing Michigan. With a strong international presence, the focus is one exploring and networking on ways for innovations in transforming education for developing students for a global society/economy. There is tremendous dialog around what educators around the world are thinking and doing to advance student learning within this present, and not based on the 19th/20th century model that remains a dominant presence.

The morning had intriguing presentations, followed by Q&A, by Dr. Yong Zhao, Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and Robert A. Compton, a venture capitalist who develops documentaries on such social issues as countries ranked high in student international tests--2 Million Minutes (trailer, pt.1 & pt.2) and The Finland Phenomenon.

Dr. Yong Zhao talked about "Student as Entrepreneur"(pdf). His premise is posing the question: how do we as a society maintain innovation and creativity by engaging students in such practices? Educators need to begin with the student's drive and build curricular (standards) experiences around their learning focus. Students are viewed as equal players in a collaborative journey for learning.
Some examples would be Project-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, and Inquiry. Whatever the approach, Zhao's ideas resonated for me in what he emphasized as key components for learning experiences:

  1. Identify Problem/Need
  2. Develop Solutions/Products
  3. Market Solutions/Products

Units that include these steps as a framework for how students learn and express understanding, then the "what" (ie. standards) will have greater meaning and therefore long laster retention.

Robert A. Compton talked about what top countries for education have in common: China, India, Finland, Korea. These countries are rated the highest based on international testing. Whatever you might think about standardized testing, Robert explored what do these countries have in common:

  • Culture
  • Curriculum
  • Credentials in teachers
Robert purports that a society gets what it celebrates. The top 4 countries revere academics, while the US highly value sports. Here's how Robert breaks down the comparison between the top 4 and the US, in terms of overt and subtle messages:

4 top countries
National View: Academic Achievement is greatly recognized
Local Communities: Scholars are stars, and are known by their local population
School focus: Learning is the purpose based on core curriculum
Family aspiration: Each generation excees previous

National View: Athletics, entertainment, education, college prep in this order are recognized
Local Communities: Scholars are barely noticed. Opening a local newspaper would reveal that athletics carry greater presence than the academic teams.
School focus: Sports, socializing, learning (perhaps grade-base not content), clubs, work, volunteering
Family aspiration: Mixed messages

Robert Compton presents much data to digest for their important implications. His solution is that the US needs to design a curriculum where the adults drive what students should learn, eliminating any input by students, because as students, what can they possibly contribute? Curriculum could be more focused (not tighter). Excluding students in the process has been in practice since the dawn of "modern" education (19th and 20th century educational system). This is the very system that Robert criticizes (and Yong). So to follow Robert's suggestion appears to continue using the same system, with small and/or big tweaks. This suggestion reminds me on Mike Schmoker's argument that education should roll back to the 1950s where education is 90% lecture and rhetoric.

Makes me think about the adage: What's the definition for insanity? Continue doing the same thing and expect a different result. Should we continue to mandate an industrial education system to a global-based society which is shown by many thinkers including Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat.

I don't want to diminish Compton's observations about what societies value. His observations needs to be critically reviewed as we take a hard look at our societies and ourselves in regards to education.

In the end, if we want a student, graduating from a K-12 career with 21st century skills that enable them to work independently and with others effectively, then how do ensure that those experiences are embedded into their learning career? The solutions may be somewhere in between these two viewpoints, and must include the involvement of the students.

Articles about school systems in other countries

Sunday, January 9, 2011

edReformer: Why Standards-Based Gradebooks & What Next?

edReformer: Why Standards-Based Gradebooks & What Next?
by Andrew Miller

Here's a thoughtful commentary about the benefits of Standards-Based Gradebook. Along with the insights, I'd add that standards-based assessments open up productive dialog among educators about learning targets, and how to provide instruction that helps students get there. That conversation can lead to one of Andrew Miller's cautions for preservation--Creativity and Innovative teaching and learning.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Change's a Coming...Are you watching?

We are in the midst of change in action. Print to ePub. I'm not ready to say that books on shelves will become obsolete. Actually, books will become expensive collector's items with short print runs. But that's a discussion for another time.

The point is that with the growing market of ePublishing, more unknown authors are self-publishing and getting known. With smart phones, tablets, iPod (touch), and other similar media with Book apps, consumers have many options for taking their books with them. Authors are getting known based on the ratings (following) they receive. Cost has dropped to $3.99 or less, making an unknown author an appealing risk to consumers. Meanwhile, traditional print publishers try, with little success, to hold the epub cost to that of a paperback or oversize trade paperback ($7.99 to $14.99).

JA Konrath has an interesting view that is becoming mainstream (not quite yet).
After reading his thoughts do a check on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or other online outlet. Check out the ePub section and make your own judgement. Just know that we're living in the midst of a change where what was once considered fringe is becoming mainstream, like how politicians use rock music (formerly anti-establishment) as campaign anthems.

What in education might be having the same effect? Look around...Change's a coming!