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WordPress generated an annual report for this blog – http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2012/annual-report/
Highlights were that I had 160,000 views during the year; the most viewed post during a single day – Addressing Sandy Hook (and other tragedies) in the Classroom http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/addressing-sandy-hooks-and-other-tradegies-in-the-classroom/ at 1,889 views, and viewers from 183 countries.
crossed posted from: Passion, Projects & Play: Restoring Creativity in the Classroom.
Passion, Projects & Play: Restoring Creativity in the Classroom
At my elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona, problem students like me were often sent to the art teacher’s room. Unfortunately for me, my objection to sitting in a little desk, arranged in rows with other little desks, then moving in single-file to another room full of desks in rows whenever a loud bell rang, made me a problem student. Fortunately for me, the art teacher was my mother, beloved by many as Mrs. Rheingold. After the pin-drop quiet, pin-neat order of our homerooms, the happy chaos of Mrs. Rheingold’s art studio was like travelling to an altogether different dimension. Mrs. Rheingold’s philosophy of teaching art was that all human beings are creative innovators who have a need to express themselves creatively and take joy in it, but many — most — people are shut down at an early age. Someone looks at the page you are happily scribbling and tells you that your horse doesn’t look like a horse, and you decide to leave art to specialists. Mrs. Rheingold didn’t teach technique. She gave permission to play. Thank you, mom. By now, art classes in US public schools are notions from a distant past. I was heartened when Sir Ken Robinson received world-wide attention for his TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” With so much attention to core curriculum, the creativity-blunting effects of schooling have not been at the forefront of discussions about how to fix educational institutions. I was heartened again to see that my mother’s philosophy of teaching creativity through permission rather than technique is being advanced by some of today’s educators. Jackie Gerstein, for example.
I first became aware of Jackie when she posted regularly and incisively in the text chats that accompany the weekly Connected Learning Webcasts. When I Googled her, I found her post about Sir Ken Robinson’s uncomfortable question, which led me to Gerstein’s argument for the increasingly rare unstructured places and times for learning. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she was not only an early advocate for “the flipped classroom” but spent a year thinking in public on her blog about what you do with the physically co-present classroom when traditional lectures have been moved to YouTube. And I love that she applied the flipped classroom frame to tinkering and making — introducing me to the delicious term “maker education.” Cyberized as my life and work has become, I still find joy in making physical objects. Along with art class, one of the few classes in elementary school that I looked forward to was shop class, another notion from the past.
I welcomed the opportunity to talk with Jackie for the brief video below. One thing that video conveys that is hard to get across in text: the passion of the speaker for her calling. Among other things, I asked her about “passion-based learning,” an idea she picked up from Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and extended to include “project-based” and “play-based” learning. Passion, projects, and play. Sounds like fun. In the hands of Mrs. Rheingold or Jackie Gerstein, it’s also about connecting with the deep joy humans experience in learning until we’re schooled out of it.
Banner image credit: Todd Berman
Historically, teachers teach the way they were taught. I want to change this. I am on a mission to encourage and assist teachers in designing learning experiences they wished they had as students. Seriously, how many would create lecture-based learning settings? It is my belief that since that was the model used from early on, that most got used to it. Some tolerated it, some endured, and some dropped-out (dropping out does not necessarily mean physically, it can mean physically attending school but mentally dropping out). How many teachers, who use lectures as a primary instructional strategy, found them boring and ineffective when they were students?
I believe that a major role and responsibility of the educator is to become an ethnographer in the study of his or her students. Educators should know the background, interests, passions, antagonizers of every student.
So I am going on a personal narrative. I am going to become Jackie’s teacher and design learning experiences for her.
Dear Younger Jackie:
Jackie, I know that your school experiences left you with a life lasting legacy that you are defective. You were told to shut up, sit still, stay on topic, stay in line, raise your hand, don’t disrupt.
I will be an ethnographer in the study of you. I want to be your personal teacher and create learning experiences that invite you to disrupt, to innovate, to create, to imagine, to be you.
I will never make you listen to lectures of more than 15 minutes, memorize information, or take multiple-choice tests. You have told me that not only do you find these tasks boring, you find them painful. I will, instead, ask you to write, create, speak, make, and perform.
I know you find sitting in desks, sitting properly, sitting still to be confining, constricting, and contrived. Playing, moving, and tinkering are such integral parts of how you learn. Our learning environment will look more like a family room than a classroom. Our playground will be an extension of our learning environment not one separated by time and space.
Your need for wanting to know more about topics is inspiring. The Internet is such a gift for you. I will permit you to have your laptop open and search for information when the need arises. I will not ask you to unplug as you know when it is important to do. I will respect your ability to self-regulate. I will also ask you to share with others what you learn. I know you love to share what you find with others.
I will observe you to find what interests you and suggest resources and readings that interest you like that English teacher who saw the types of fiction books you carried around with you, and gave you a massive books of plays. She then suggested that you perform a few of them to the rest of the class. Your performances, with a few of your classmates, of Edward Albee’s The Sandbox and other plays were such joy to her.
I know you “wonder” a lot out loud and ask a lot of questions including, “Why do I need to know this?” I will point you in directions where you can get answers to your questions. I will do my best in engage you in rich discourse or point you in directions where you can get answers to your questions. I promise not to sssh you as so many teachers have. I know that is cuts through you like a knife and shuts down your passion and energy.
Relationships are the essence of all positive learning experiences. I know your family life has been tough, and that you developed a hard exterior to protect that soft, sensitive interior. I will never look at you with disdain. Rather, I will treat you only with kindness, compassion, and love.
I will recognize you are my student and it my job to guide. When you are incorrect, too loud, too abrupt, I will take you to the side, and with love give you some feedback. I will end these little conversations with a smile and a little hug.
And when I do see the hurt in the eyes, your eyes really do tell a story that you words do not. I will touch you gently on the arm, and quietly say, “It’s okay.”
We will, as bell hooks suggests, create a place of possibility, openness, and freedom, where our hearts and minds will transgress all self-imposed boundaries.
Learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom. (hooks 1994: 207)
This past week in my undergraduate interpersonal communications course, I adapted the Bridge-It communications exercise to incorporate my students’ (most ages 17-20) mobile devices. It combined some of my favorite instructional strategies:
- Experiential and Hands-On Learning
- Team Building and Problem-Solving Group Initiatives
- Using Mobile Devices in Educational Settings
First. students were asked to line up in the classroom on a continuum from those who believed they had the best, most effective communication (verbal and listening) skills to those who thought they lacked those skills. They counted off by three’s to form three groups. The top three self-reported communicators were asked to be the communicators, the others were the builders.
Next, groups were moved to separate rooms, given the same set of building blocks and their task . . .
Build a three-dimensional structure using all the pieces provided. All three structures need to be exact in dimension and in color patterns. The communicators can use their cell phones via text and/or voice to communicate with the other groups.
No time limits were set. When the teams believed they successfully completed the task, they could send pictures of their structures to one another.
After the completion of the activity, reactions and reflections were posted on a Voicethread slide using an image taken during the activity and quickly uploaded to Voicethread.
I loved doing this project! It was fun to get to know the class and it was interesting to figure all of this out without being in the same room with one another. We all worked very well together after we figured out what we were doing.
The activity showed we all communicated very well. The best way we were going to build our structure was to communicate by one and to make sure we had everything in place. i learned that communicating with good instructions will make it successful.
This activity showed how well we can communicate with each other. I learned that we can communicate well if given proper instructions that are detailed and precise.
Next class students will be shown video clips of their participation in the activity. Since the topic is on nonverbal communication, they will be asked to text to Wifitti what the nonverbal behaviors they witnessed during each of the clips.
It is not about the technology.
I have developed a sour taste for this common and almost automatic “battle cry” from the educational technology community. If we view learning as a process that is integrated, holistic, and systemic, then of course it is about the technology . . . and the pedagogy . . . and the learners . . . and the available resources . . . and the community. It is not about one thing before the other, one thing over another. It is about the whole picture. It goes from being a reductionist view of technology integration to one that holistic, taking into account all the elements, and how they influence and are influenced by one another.
I am teaching an online Integrating Technology Into the Curriculum course for a Masters of Education fully online program. This is the only technology course they have during their Masters work (and it is an elective). It is an eight week course and one that has been designed by the university’s course designers. Most of the students come into the course with knowledge of Microsoft products – Word, Powerpoint, Spreadsheets and hardware such as overhead projectors (yes, they still reference this), DVDs, and Elmos.
Most of the students’ suggestions for integrating technology into their curriculum include examples using these tools they know. Here are example recommendations from one of the “better” students from his technology improvement plan:
Computers would make a nice addition to each classroom for use by students. Software such as Microsoft should be installed on each computer so students can explore with Spreadsheets, word, and database. In addition, with computers the school should install the internet on them so students may use it to search for topics of interests and study as well as thousands of other things.
They know their learners, their schools, their content areas, and only the technologies I described. But most of their technology integration ideas pretty much contain these old school technologies.
I make suggestions about how to enhance their curriculum using more current technologies – Google docs and apps, social networking, Blogs, wikis, Prezi, TeacherTube – but few “take me up” on these offerings. An emphasis here – these are masters of education students in an Educational Leadership program.
This fits with the cliché of “If all one knows is a hammer, then everything is viewed as a nail.” The same tenet applies to educational technology integration, “If all the educator knows is Word and PPT, then all technology-integrated learning experiences will be viewed through the lens of a Powerpoint.”
The benefits of educators knowing a full range of emerging, educational-relevant technologies include:
- Content and process can be presented to the learners using a variety of modalities – visual, auditory, interactive. Use of multiple modalities has the potential to make the content more interesting and more relevant to a broad range of learners.
- Instructional could be differentiated to meet each student’s needs. The more tools an educator knows, the more likely s/he can offer the right technology to address that student’s learning style and interest areas.
- Teachable Moments are enhanced. When learners bring up ideas or questions, the educator has a larger back pocket of options, knowledge of internet resources upon which to draw to address that teachable moment.
It then becomes the responsibility for educators to understand the current technologies being used by society-at-large. What that means in actual practice is:
- Keeping informed of how emerging technologies are being integrated into the educational landscape by other educators, librarians, instructional technology specialists, and administrators. This is where social networks such of Twitter come in handy.
- Getting to know and understand the tools through webinars often offered by the tool administrators/developers and online tutorials.
- Understanding the user agreements and privacy issues associated with the tools being used by society-at-large.
If education is serious about preparing learners for their real lives – current and future, then they it becomes an ethical imperative to bring relevant, current, and emerging technologies into the learning environment.
I posed the following philosophical question on Twitter yesterday:
Why do folks spend time criticizing what is rather than pondering-actualizing what could be?
Three themes emerged from the Twitter stream of responses:
- Is Pondering Just for the Privileged?
- Is it Critical vs. Criticism?
- Is it action for change or pseudo-action to appease the masses?
Is Pondering Just for the Privileged?
Bill, via his tweets, believes that pondering that (1) is for the privileged and (2) it does not lead to sustaining change. Pondering is defined as: to weigh in the mind; to think about, reflect on; to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply. I disagreed with Bill in that pondering is for the privileged. I believe that all change begins with pondering. A follow-up question, for me, then becomes, “Can we afford to not ponder what education should and can be?”
Our Junior High students area reading-studying William Kamkwamba’s Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. He pondered how a windmill could change his village in Malawi. More about him can be found at Real Life Education ala William Kamkwamba.”
I also included in my original question a double proposition with the first part being pondering and the second one being actualizing (to realize in act and not merely potential). These two parts equal a more unified whole in terms of possible sustainable results. Pondering without actualizing leads to stagnation. Actualizing without pondering leads to shabby and non-sustainable results.
Finally, Bill expressed his concern that his pondering does not lead to change outside of the classroom. The resiliency research demonstrates that change can occur given a caring adult, often a teacher . . . but that the results may don’t show up for years. I experienced such a story with Mark http://jackiegerstein.weebly.com/peak-experiences.html
Is it Critical vs. Criticism?
The next theme that came up was the need for critical analysis or criticism for change to occur.
As you can see by Candace’s and Melanie’s tweet, there is a belief that change is driven by criticism. This prompted me to respond with a difference between viewing problems with a critical (involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit) versus with criticism (the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding). Approaching problems without a critical and discerning eye often leads to haphazard and trial-error problem solving. Approaching problems with criticism often leads to tunnel vision in terms of possible solutions.
Is it action for change or pseudo-action to appease the masses?
The final theme to emerge was related efforts to change.
Candice believes that lots of efforts have been made for educational change. I agree that there have been efforts. When I look at them, I think they are more of the same – standards and test driven reform. I believe this to be pseudo-reform that is often politically driven. These are efforts to maintain the status quo with only cosmetic change. Historically, few efforts (e.g. John Dewey and Progressivism) have attempted reform from the ground up. Given the reform efforts of the past few decades, I tend to side with Alvin Toffler’s position that “We don’t need to reform the system; we need to replace the system.”
It would be hypocritical of me if I just criticized the criticizers. It might be easier to say and do nothing – especially on my emotions and psyche as swimming up the metaphorical stream takes energy, but in the long run, I would suffer from the incongruence. between my core beliefs and my real world practices. I had a boss once who said that if we were to come to him with a problem, then we also need to bring along our solution. I attempt to live education reform in my own local settings –practicing think globally act locally.
This I know to be the problem
- Human learning cannot be measured through metrics.
- Competencies are one thing. Standards are another. Student should have some basic competencies related both to the process and content of learning. Specific age-grade level standards are counter-productive to learning. Standards assume that all students of a given age are developmentally the same . . . cognitively, emotionally, physically, socially.
- Given the previsous, one size does not fit all.
- Public schools are not preparing students to successfully maneuver in the real world – now and in the future.
- Kids are bored in school and similar to Pavlov classical learning theory, they are associating learning with pain.
What I Do “Locally” to promote educational reform
- I am an educator in both teacher education and elementary settings.
- I do not give any tests – none!
- I have chosen positions (PE and gifted) and schools where I can develop the curriculum.
- The students in my classes speak a lot more than me.
- I voice my thoughts and ideas – in my work settings and now via Twitter, Facebook, and BLogs.
Finally, these are these are the questions I believe educators, as change agents, “should” be asking themselves:
- Am I complaining or risking making a change?
- Am I contributing more to the problem or more to the solution?
- Am I a criticizer or an actualizer?
- Do I ponder what could be? Do I give my students and colleagues the time and venue to ponder what could be?
- What did I do today to actualize educational reform?