User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Archive for April 2012

The Light of Education: A Short Parable

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The children learned . . . by exploring, by playing, by tinkering, by experimenting, by asking questions, by becoming apprentices. . . . and all was good.  Then came the industrial revolution, and the people said, “We must make sure all children are educated.  We cannot leave any child in the dark.  We have built factories that create light, transportation, shelters, clothing, and food that won’t spoil. We will build factories to insure that every child is educated, that a light shines on each child.”  They built factories for the children . . . and all was good.  Time changes life as it always does and the people discovered that their education factories didn’t shine light on every child, some but not every child.  Some people said, “If we just make our education factories have more and better standards, then we would have a floodlight that would shine on every child.”  But other people discovered that this floodlight lit up some children, but not others.

Then came technology and the people saw that it was good.  They put Smartboards in the schools.  They saw that it was a floodlight that made the children shine . . . but not for long.  Some of the children didn’t shine after long becoming bored with the novelty.  But the people knew technology was good and when iPads, Tablets, mobile devices, and other 1:1 technologies were born, the crowd of people ran toward them and said, “These devices will put a floodlight on the children and all will shine.”  They saw that these devices made most children shine but not all.  Some children didn’t like the technology so they remained in the dark.

The people scratched their heads wondering, “There must be a floodlight that can be shined so that all children would be enlightened.”  Then came Khan Academy, the Flipped Classroom, and the Ted-Ed classroom, and the people ran towards them and exclaimed, “Ah, finally, here are the floodlights that will allow each and every child to shine.”

But a few people said more to themselves than to anyone else, “I like the standards, the technology, online videos, and alternative teaching strategies, but know children are as unique as thumbprints.”  So they stored each of these lights as spotlights rather than floodlights.  These few would show the children all of the possible spotlights and ask each child which ones would help him or her shine.  The children were given the opportunity to select their own unique set of spotlights and all was good.

Photo image:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 29, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Speak Up Report: Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey

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I usually don’t use my blog posts to strictly report what others have done but as a forum to express my beliefs and ideas about how education can and should be more student-centric and user-generated. The report released today by Project Tomorrow, though, supports how and why technology can support personalized learning.  What follows is an Infographic and key findings of Mapping a Personalized Learning Journey – K-12 Students and Parents Connects the Dots with Digital Learning

Key findings that should be of particular interest to educators when designing learning experiences include:

Despite students’ limited ability to access social media in school, it is interesting to see how students are increasingly tapping into the plethora of social media tools and products to create community, develop skills and organize their lives outside of the classroom. Today’s generation of students are documentarians with strong interests in analyzing, cataloging and sharing their experiences, insights, opinions and feelings with a broad circle of community in a highly timely manner. They also view the documentation and sharing process as components of a larger personal learning ecosystem.

The increased access that students have to the Internet through their mobile devices is proving to be the key to greater personalization of how they learn outside of school. Access to the Internet via a mobile device appears to be an equal opportunity partner for students where location of home community is not a determinant of significantly more or less access. Just as the Internet has been called the great equalizer of opportunity, the mobile device is quickly becoming the great equalizer of access.

The “always on” presence that is facilitated by wireless or 3G/4G connectivity, the depth and variety of features and functions that support the way they live and want to learn, and the multitude of applications (including in education) makes this form and function the new desired platform for personalized learning for today’s students. Students are already connecting the dots for personalized learning outside of school through their access to mobile devices and their sophisticated use of social media and Internet resources to drive their own self-directed learning. And yet in stark contrast to the richness of their out of school experiences, most students find their in-class experiences to approximate a “one size fits all” model with too much structure and standardization, and too little accommodation of personal learning approaches or the technology tools that enable such approaches. Just as the students continue to push the envelope of technology adoption and adaptation outside of school, they are equally passionate about sharing their ideas for more socially-based, un-tethered and digitally rich learning experiences in class and the need for their schools to create new digital roadmaps for personal learning.

The student point of view on how schools could make it easier for them to use technology is very cut and dry: let me use my own tools. A majority of middle school students (56 percent) and high school students (59 percent) would like to use their own mobile devices for instructional purposes at school.

Students are already seeking out ways to personalize their learning. Looking to address what they perceive as deficiencies in classroom experiences, students are turning to online classes to study topics that pique their intellectual curiosity, to message and discussion boards to explore new ideas about their world, or to online collaboration tools to share their expertise with other students they don’t even know. Their experience with seeking out their own personalized learning experiences has changed their overall expectations for their education, and not just for the use of technology. These students have an intrinsic understanding that like so many other aspects of their lives, personalization is the key to their own greater engagement in the learning process. So, even while students have turned to personalized learning on their own time, in their own way, why is it that this revolution of technology that has enabled personalization not also penetrated our classrooms? Why is it that we are for the most part still educating our children with a model that perpetuates the fallacy of one size fits all? Why is it that technology has transformed the way we shop, bank and interact with each other and not yet had the same impact on teaching and learning, at least as education stands today?

This is not the time to be comfortable with our existing ideas but rather to challenge how we can leverage the long held potential of technology to create learning environments in school that match how our students are experiencing the world today. This is the time to learn from the rich experiences that students are having outside of school with social media, online learning and mobile devices, and to use that knowledge to inform new approaches to in school use of such emerging technologies. This is the time to map new personalized learning journeys that allow every student to self-direct their own path and to use the tools that best fit their needs. What is holding us back today?

This is just another clarion call similar to the Connected Learning initiative.  When will it be heard and acted upon?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Is the Educational Revolution About Videos: Ted-Ed and Khan Academy?

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The Ted-Ed website was introduced today and received a lot of press coverage:

Prior to going into my critique of this so-called educational revolution, I am giving this disclaimer, I love TED and love the videos being produced by Ted-Ed.

Khan Academy and the new Ted-Ed website are being touted to create an educational revolution.  What I am concerned about is the underlying pedagogy of Ted-Ed and Khan Academy.  I love listening to a good talk and talking about it afterwards, but does it change my thoughts and/or behavior? Typically not.  Grant Wiggins’ recent post, Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really discusses this point:

The point of learning is not just to know things but to be a different person – more mature, more wise, more self-disciplined, more effective, and more productive in the broadest sense.

In the flipped classroom, as it is being discussed, the videos, instead of a live teacher, are at the core of the learning process, become the venue for the didactic presentation.  The explanation of the flipped classroom provided on the Ted-Ed website . . .

The [flipped classroom] refers to a method of instruction where classroom-based teaching time and traditional “homework” time are reversed (flipped). A teacher provides video lessons to be reviewed outside of class, which in turn gives teachers more time in class to focus on higher-order learning skills.

. . . and from the Mashable article:

When a teacher flips the classroom, they assign lectures to watch at home and save class time for working on homework together. When a teacher flips a video, they add supplemental content such as questions and additional resources.

The TED-Ed website has a suite of tools that allow teachers to design their own web-assisted curricula, complete with videos, comprehension-testing questions, and conversational tools.   The Think and Digging Deeper questions are, I assume, prompts or guides for the higher level thinking.  The use of lectures, quizzes, and questions to teach and for students to demonstrate learning is a Eurocentric, consumption-based model of education. There is value in linguistic-oriented and Socratic method (adding reflective questions and discussion) of teaching but it does not honor learning-by-doing.  Tinkering and experimenting; engaging in the arts; going out into the community; tapping into students’ talents, interests and passions are not part learning process.

Harvard Professor Chris Dede believes of the flipped classroom . . .

I think that the flipped classroom is an interesting idea if you want to do learning that is largely based on presentation. You use presentation outside of the classroom. Then you do your understanding of the presentation and further steps from the presentation inside the classroom. I think it is a step forward. It is still, in my mind, the old person.  It’s still starting with presentational learning and then trying to sprinkle some learning-by-doing on top of it.  I am interested more in moving beyond the flipped classroom to learning by doing at the center than a kind of the intermediate step that still centers on largely on tacit assimilation (

I proposed The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture as a way to get educators’ attention given the press this model is receiving.  I did so in an attempt to encourage educators take the resources and opportunities that technology (including the use of videos) affords to truly create a learning revolution, one that is constructivist, student-centric, hands-on, and passion-based.


So are Sal Khan and Ted-Ed initiatives really going to disrupt education, create a learning revolution?  It sounds a bit like Thomas Edison’s thoughts about how film would change education.

It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years. (

I do see a use for high production, high interest videos but to support a student’s learning not to direct it.  There is where the flipped classroom and the Ted-Ed, Khan, and other videos have value – to reinforce and add to a student’s learning – not be central to it.  TED is about ideas worth sharing.  I am curious if the kids, after being directed through the Ted-Ed lessons, will develop and spread their own ideas with their peers.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 26, 2012 at 12:41 am

Schools are still killing creativity.

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Several posts this week noted how we are failing with the nurturing, facilitating, and direct teaching of creativity within school environments.

Adobe posted Universal Concern that Creativity is Suffering at Work and School

New research reveals a global creativity gap in five of the world’s largest economies, according to the Adobe® State of Create global benchmark study. The research shows 8 in 10 people feel that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth and nearly two-thirds of respondents feel creativity is valuable to society, yet a striking minority – only 1 in 4 people – believe they are living up to their own creative potential. More than half of those surveyed feel that creativity is being stifled by their education systems, and many believe creativity is taken for granted (52% globally, 70% in the United States).

One of the myths of creativity is that very few people are really creative,” said Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation. “The truth is that everyone has great capacities but not everyone develops them. One of the problems is that too often our educational systems don’t enable students to develop their natural creative powers. Instead, they promote uniformity and standardization. The result is that we’re draining people of their creative possibilities and, as this study reveals, producing a workforce that’s conditioned to prioritize conformity over creativity.”

David Brooks in his New York Times op-ed piece The Creative Monopoly notes the following:

Creative people don’t follow the crowds; they seek out the blank spots on the map. Creative people wander through faraway and forgotten traditions and then integrate marginal perspectives back to the mainstream. Instead of being fastest around the tracks everybody knows, creative people move adaptively through wildernesses nobody knows.

Students have to jump through ever-more demanding, preassigned academic hoops. Instead of developing a passion for one subject, they’re rewarded for becoming professional students, getting great grades across all subjects, regardless of their intrinsic interests. Instead of wandering across strange domains, they have to prudentially apportion their time, making productive use of each hour.

But none of this is new.  Most educators are familiar with Sir Ken Robinson’s 2007 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?

But the culture of schools is driven by standardization – common core standards, standardized curriculum, standardized tests.  I appreciate creativity-based projects within school time such as Google 20% Project, Fedex days, and Identity Days, but why is the inclusion of passion-based and creativity-driven pursuits considered an add-on or special occasion?  We know better.  Creativity is a great intrinsic motivator, the essence for innovation, and important for the continued evolution of the self and humankind.  It has been five years since Sir Ken’s talk and schools are still killing creativity.

For some of the more creative kids, their creativity will help them survive their standardized school years.  For others, this standardization crushes their passions, spirits, joy.  I believe the biggest ethical travesty of our times is extinguishing a child’s passion.

May Your Sky Always Be Yellow

He always wanted to explain things. But no one cared
So he drew
Sometimes he would draw and it wasn’t anything. He wanted to carve it in stone
Or write it in the sky
He would lie out on the grass. And look up at the sky
And it would be only the sky and him that needed saying
And it was after that. He drew the picture. It was a beautiful picture
He kept it under his pillow. And would let no one see it
And he would look at it every night. And think about it
And when it was dark. And his eyes were closed. He could still see it
And it was all of him. And he loved it
When he started school he brought it with him
Not to show anyone but just to have it with him. Like a friend
It was funny about school
He sat in a square brown desk. Like all the other square brown desks
And he thought it should be red
And his room was a square brown room. Like all the other rooms
And it was tight and close. And stiff
He hated to hold the pencil and chalk
With his arms stiff and his feet flat on the floor.  Stiff
With the teacher watching. And watching
The teacher came and smiled at him
She told him to wear a tie. Like all the other boys
He said he didn’t like them. And she said it didn’t matter
After that they drew. And he drew all yellow
And it was the way he felt about morning
And it was beautiful
The teacher came and smiled at him
“What’s this?” she said
“Why don’t you draw something like Ken’s drawing?”
“Isn’t that beautiful?”
After that his mother bought him a tie
And he always drew airplanes and rocket ships. Like everyone else
And he threw the old picture away
And when he lay out alone and looked out at the sky. It was big and blue and all of everything
But he wasn’t anymore
He was square inside and brown. And his hands were stiff
And he was like everyone else
And the things inside him that needed saying
Didn’t need it anymore
It had stopped pushing
It was crushed
Like everything else.

The boy handed this poem to his English teacher. Two weeks later he took his own life.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 25, 2012 at 12:10 am

Cell Sharing: An Ice Breaker Using Mobile-Devices (BYOD)

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The following ice breaker is quick and easy to do (especially part 1) in all types of settings.  I have used it for the first meeting of my face-to-face college courses, conference presentations, and orientations for teen-age summer camp counselors.

Part 1:  Cell Sharing

  • If a large group or class (over 20-25 members), separate members into smaller groups.
  • Ask participants to locate a photo, song, or video from their mobile device that best represents them.
  • Each person then shares with the group his or her media and the reason it was selected.
  • For photo or video sharing, ask students to pass the device around so all students can view the image or use a webcam to project the image onto a larger computer screen or whiteboard.
  • For sharing of music, attach portable speakers to assist with the sharing of songs so others can hear them.
  • Also inform them that they will be asked to report via a group texting service what they liked, what they discovered about their group members.

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Part 2: Sharing of Favorite Cell Shares

During Part 2, members share what they learned about their team members via Celly, a group texting service.  The rationale behind Part 2 is twofold: (1) It reinforces learning about one another through sharing one another’s names and interests, and (2) It gets members registered for and accustomed to using a group texting service so that it can be used for future activities.

  • Provide instructions to the members about how to join and use CellyCelly is very easy for participants to join and use.  Messages can be posted via all cell phone or directly through through a computer URL.  The biggest learning curve is for the facilitator who needs to set up his or her cell for the activity. step-by-step guides can be found at Learn It in 5 provides the following tutorial about how to set up and use Celly.

  • Once members have joined and the facilitator cell, ask them to text in interesting things they learned about their group members through the cell sharing activity.  Ask them to text the first name of the person who they selected along with what he/she shared.
  • Project these text messages via an LCD projector or interactive whiteboard so everyone can view them or if none is available, provide them with the URL to the cell so those with laptops or smartphones can view them with some of their classmates.  For example, here is the URL to the cell I use for my team building activities

More experiential mobile learning activities like this can be found at Mobile and Technology Enhanced Experiential Activities.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 19, 2012 at 2:13 am

9 Year Old Boy’s Arcade Creation: An Example of Passion-Based Learning

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When I teach my class on Pedagogy and Learning, one of the first questions I ask my learners (both pre-service and in-service teachers) is, What do you consider your most significant and powerful learning experience?  None of them ever mention one that occurred within an institutional school setting. Caine’s most powerful learning experience, like my students, did not occur within the walls of a school building.

“Caine’s Arcade” — a short film about a 9-year-old boy who built an elaborate cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store in East L.A. — has gone viral with over 2 million views in less than a week.  It is being talked about by many news outlets and social media networks, and his Facebook page,, has close the 100,000 likes.

Why is Caine’s story touching so many?  I believe it touches people’s hearts due to the authentic passion Caine shows for his craft.  Some the characteristics of Caine’s passion include:

  • Tinkering: His dad, “He takes apart all of his toys to see how they work.”
  • Foresight, planning, and attention to details: Caine, “I have fun passes, office speakers, business cards, tokens, and prizes.  The winning tickets come through the box arcade like they would in a real arcade.”
  • Open to feedback: Caine, “People told me that my soccer game was too easy so I added goalies.”
  • Encouraged to problem-solve:  Caine, “Dad, I want a claw machine for my arcade.” Dad, “Caine, then build one.”
  • Patience and tenacity: “Caine never gets discouraged waiting for customers.”
  • At least one caring adult:  His father and film maker, Nirvan Mullick, believed in and supported his efforts. Nirvan, “This kid is a genius.”
  • Joy:  Caine found joy in all parts of his business venture.
  • Game-based learning.  Caine created his own form of game-based learning and it was NOT technology-based.

Forbes magazine has even recognized and analyzed Caine’s success in their article 9 Hidden Factors of Caine’s Arcade Success:

  1. He asked permission: He asked permission to use some unused space and recyclable materials.
  2. He sought to serve others: Caine’s passion is focused on what others will experience.
  3. He had a benefactor: With indie filmmaker, Nirvan Mullick, a chain of wonderful events is set in motion.
  4. The visual is clutch: Caine certainly understood the importance of making something visually appealing and having a story.
  5. More than x-box:  There is excitement when adults see children and young people striving to do something other than electronic games.
  6. Familiar with yes: Caine appears to have heard the answer, yes, often in his life.
  7. He made use of remnants:  There is a certain allure in American entrepreneur circles for turning waste in wonder, of finding a diamond in the rough, so to speak.
  8. Preparation meets work:  His chance to meet Nirvan Mullick came because he was waiting and looking for a customer.
  9. Tears of joy: The hidden lesson is that Caine maintained an air of thankfulness and gratitude through his long summer and that rubbed off on others.

. . . and Seth Godin, the famous blogger, had this to say:

The first thing that made me smile was how willing Caine was to do his art regardless of how the world responded (it didn’t). Caine didn’t care. The goal wasn’t to be accepted, the goal was to do it right.

The second extraordinary thing is easy to miss. Around 3:30, you learn Caine’s folk-arithmetic trick of using square roots to validate the PIN numbers on each fun pass. Extraordinary.

And the third? Starting around the nine-minute mark, any entrepreneur with a heart is going to shed a few tears. In the immortal words of Caine Monroy, “and I thought they were here for me, and they were.” (

Why is this type of ingenuity, innovation, and entrepreneurship not being nourish within the school walls?  How can we include passion-based learning as part of the curriculum?  For more information about passion-based learning, see:

Passion is not tangible but it can definitely be seen and felt as the following photos demonstrate.  Caine sees, for the first time, the crowd of people wanting to play his arcade games, the crowd he so patiently wished and waited for.

Caine told his dad that this was the best day of his whole life!

I wish for all children to have an arcade moment like Caine at least one time during their lives.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 16, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Dutch Version of The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture

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Kennisnet translated my model of The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture into Dutch.

Kennisnet‘s purpose is:

Kennisnet is the public educational organisation which supports and inspires Dutch primary, secondary and vocational institutions in the effective use of ict. Kennisnet ensures that educational institutions are aware and take advantage of the opportunities offered by ict. Research has shown that, for the use of ict for educational purposes, a balanced and coherent use of four building blocks is essential. These blocks are: vision, expertise, digital learning materials and ict infrastructure. Kennisnet facilitates the schools to achieve this. Barriers are removed and the strengths of the educational sector are bundled together.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 15, 2012 at 1:58 pm

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