User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Posts Tagged ‘educational reform

Reimagining Education: A Call for Action

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Many of us have been discussing educational reform for decades. Given the unprecedented time of COVID19 and its effect on education, it is a perfect time to revisit and reimagine the purpose, operations, and skills related to a powerful education. Some of the issues that have emerged and are still emerging include: the social emotional health of learners, a realization that students aren’t able to be independent and self-directed learning, and an awareness of inequities that exist in the United States. It has become blatantly obvious that students can’t learn effectively at home – especially without teacher direction throughout the school day.

It’s a perfect time for educators to reimagine an education they wish they had during their own school years so that their learners can have such an education.

Here is what I propose that should be components of a reformed/re-formed education:

  • Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency
  • Learner Voice and Choice
  • Just-In-Time Learning
  • Whole Person Learning
  • Educator as a Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities
  • Interest-Based Affinity Groups
  • Use of the Learner’s Community
  • Vigorous, Authentic Tasks
  • Executive Function Skills Development
  • A Focus on Social Emotional Health
  • Anti-Racist Awareness and Actions

Self-Determined Learning and Learner Agency

Learners of all ages beginning in 2nd or 3rd grade can engage in self-determined and self-driven learning where they are not only deciding the direction of their learning journey, but also producing content that adds value and worth to related content areas and fields of study.

The learners in a self-directed learning environment where learner agency prevails:

  • Determine what they want to learn and develop their own learning plan for their learning, based on a broad range of desired outcomes.
  • Use their learning preferences and related technologies to decide how they will learn their material based on their own desired outcomes.
  • Form their own learning communities possibly using social networking tools suggested and/or set up by the educator. Possible networks, many with corresponding apps, include: Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, Instagram, TikTok, blogging sites, Youtube, and other social networks.
  • Utilize the expertise of educators and other members of their learning communities who can introduce content-related resources and suggest online tools that the learners could use to demonstrate and produce learning artifacts.
  • Demonstrate their learning through methods and means that work best for them. It could include blogging, creating photo essays, doing screencasts, making videos or podcasts, drawing, singing, dancing, etc.
  • Take the initiative to seek feedback about their work from educators and their peers. It is their choice to utilize that feedback or not.

Learner Choice and Voice

Education works when people have opportunities to find and develop unaccessed or unknown voices and skills. Audre Lorde poignantly describes this “transformation of silence into language and action [as] an act of self-revelation.” Opportunities for flexibility and choice assist learners in finding passion, voice, and revelation through their work. (Student Voice Leads to Student Choice)

Some strategies for giving learners voice and choice can be found in the following infographic:

Just-In-Time Learning

Currently, most schooling focuses on just-in-case teaching and learning. Students are asked to learn material throughout their schooling just-in-case they need it someday. I contend that after students learn the basics of reading, writing, and math, they are asked to learn way too much content that may never use.

Just-in-time learning is a concept that has become popularized in connection to organizational development. “Just-in-time learning is an approach to individual or organizational and development that promotes need-related training be readily available exactly when and how it is needed by the learner” (Just-In-Time Learning).

Kids (and adults) who need to access information in order to learn something or improve their performance – think video gaming, cooking, learning to play an instrument, fixing something, making something – often go directly to the Internet, most notably Youtube, to get some form of tutorial. This is just-in-time learning. Information is needed “then and there,” which motivates the learner to seek that information “then and there.”

In self-directed, interest-driven education, just-in-time learning becomes the norm. The educator, as truly the guide on the side, encourages and assists learners in engaging in just-in-time learning as a natural part of their learning process.

Whole Person Learning

As someone whose roots is in outdoor and experiential education, I believe a good learning experience engages the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social aspects of the learner. The focus becomes on helping educating the whole learner – not just their brain or intellect. Some have called this head, heart, and hand learning.

The 21st century is placing great demands on our students and educational system. To meet those demands, we recognize that educating the head (cognitive domain), exclusive of the heart and hand (affective and behavioral domains), is no longer educational best practice. It is the education of our students’ heads, hearts and hands that will genuinely prepare them for success in college, career and civic life. (Educating the Head, Heart, and Hand for the 21st Century)

Many researchers (Henting, 1997; Bruner, 2000; Stoll and Fink, 2000; Faultisch, 1999) believe, that quality education and successful education reforms can be achieved by changing the learning culture (with attention paid to the completeness and integrativity of a human being), especially in the context of lifelong learning which integrates all three domains of learning: cognitive (head), affective (heart) and psychomotor (hands). (“Head, Heart and Hands Learning”- A challenge for contemporary education)

Obviously to engage the head, heart, and hands, sitting at a desk won’t do it. Simply put, learners needed to move their bodies and have an emotional connection to the material to increase its stickiness.

Educator as the Tour Guide of Learning Possibilities

The educator, in a reformed model of education, steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

he educator’s role truly becomes that of guide-as-the-side, coach, resource-suggester, and cheerleader as learners create their own learning journey. The educator has more life experience, knows (hopefully) about the process of learning, and has more procedural knowledge about how to find, identify, and use informational resources and social networking for learning purposes. Not only, then, does the educator help steer students in some more productive directions, s/he models the process of self-determined learning increasing the students’ aptitude for this type of learning. Learners, themselves, then also become mentors, teachers, and model learning for one another sharing best practices and strategies for effective learning.

Interest-Based Affinity Groups

Young people often find their own interest based affinity groups online. These include kids gathering via Discord or Twitch.tv to discuss video games, marginalized youth finding others like them through social media, and even groups as specific as those who share their art anime with one another for feedback.

Interest-based, affinity groups groups have been described in the report, an agenda for RESEARCH AND DESIGN A research synthesis report of the Connected Learning Research Network:

The primary driver of participation for interest-driven activity is a sense of personal affinity, passion, and engagement. Learning in this mode is generally knowledge and expertise-driven, and evaluated by the metrics internal to the specific interest group, which can often be subcultural or quite different from what is valued by local peers or teachers.

If interest-based affinity groups are promoted in the educational setting, groups will naturally emerge as members interests emerge. They will be fluid as membership changes and members’ interests grow, evolve, and change. The groups would be mixed ages and genders where members act both as learners and as teachers. There would be situational teaching and learning.  This means that if someone has the knowledge or skills related to a certain area of learning, then that member emerges as the teacher regardless of age.  Contributions by all not only make everyone feel valued, the community as a whole will benefit.

The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts.

John Dewey, Education Philosopher in Early 20th Century

Use of the Learner’s Community

Schools tend to be separate from the community – often not physically but in its use of its resources. The educator as a tour guide of learning possibilities assists the learner in locating and utilizing their community including local businesses, museums, parks, social service agencies, historical associations but it can be as simple as the learners going outside to do a science, writing or art project. Learning in the community is a form of place-based learning:

Place-Based Education (PBE) is an approach to learning that takes advantage of geography to create authentic, meaningful and engaging
personalized learning for students. More specifically, Place-Based Education is defined as an immersive learning experience that “places students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, and uses these as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.” (What is Place Based Learning)

For learners new to using their community as part of their learning process, the educator’s responsibility is to assist learners in both navigating through their communities and to identify community resources that can help with their learning process.

Vigorous and Authentic Learning Experiences

Providing authentic and vigorous learning experiences to all learners should be the highest prior for all administrators, curriculum developers, and teachers.

Authentic learning is learning designed to connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications; learning experiences should mirror the complexities and ambiguities of real life. Students work towards production of discourse, products, and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school; this is learning by doing approach (Authentic learning: what, why and how?).

In education, the term authentic learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications. The basic idea is that students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more motivated to learn new concepts and skills, and better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood if what they are learning mirrors real-life contexts, equips them with practical and useful skills, and addresses topics that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of school. For related discussions, see 21st century skills, relevance, and vigor (Authentic Learning).

The bottom line, in my perspective, is that learners view their experiences as having relevancy to their own lives, that they address their interests and needs. The following graphic shows some of the benefits of authentic and vigorous learning.

Executive Function Skills Development

Most educators would agree that a purpose of education is to assist learners in developing life skills which will translate to their lives outside of the school setting.  These include goal setting, organizational skills, time management, and strategies to learn new things.  They are skills or ability sets that are important for students to learn any content area knowledge.  These are often discussed in the context of executive functions:

In their book, “Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents,” Peg Dawson, EdD and Richard Guare, PhD state “These [executive function] skills help us create a picture or goal, a path to that goal, and the resources we need along the way”(p 2).  They identify 10 types of executive function skills that work together; namely: Sustaining attention, shifting attention, inhibiting impulses, initiating activity, planning and organization, organization of materials, time management, working memory and emotional control http://kooltools4students.weebly.com/at-and-executive-functioning.html

Most young people, themselves, would note there are skills that could assist them in being more successful in both school and out of school settings.   Most would agree that organization skills, goals setting, and time management are relevant to other areas of their lives.

Executive functions and self-regulating skills development should be part of the school curriculum regardless of the age and demographics of the student body.  Using and teaching these skills often have the advantage of becoming intrinsically motivated and self-directed as well as often making sense to students as something that has meaning and relevancy.

Here are some additional resources to assist learners in developing their executive function skills:

A Focus on Social Emotional Learning

It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That’s where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the process of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.

Research shows that promoting social and emotional skills leads to reduced violence and aggression among children, higher academic achievement, and an improved ability to function in schools and in the workplace. Students who demonstrate respect for others and practice positive interactions, and whose respectful attitudes and productive communication skills are acknowledged and rewarded, are more likely to continue to demonstrate such behavior. Students who feel secure and respected can better apply themselves to learning. (Why Champion Social and Emotional Learning?)

Here are some resources for bringing social emotional learning into the school and into the classroom:

Anti-Racism Awareness and Actions

When you’re essentially [teaching] a kid to be anti-racist, you’re deliberately encouraging them to talk about race and Racism. You’re deliberately teaching them that all the racial groups are equals. You’re deliberately showing them, yes, there are different colors and there are different cultures. And we should value them all equally.

It’s important for parents and for educators to be intentional about preparing our young people for the world that they are inheriting and living in. To not talk about it is a disservice to all young people. So not just black students who need to learn about their blackness and their history, but white students as well and nonblack people of color need to know our country’s history and talk explicitly about it.(How Can Parents Make Their Kids Understand How To Be Anti-Racist?)

Some anti-racist learning activities can be found at:

Parting Shot

Educational stakeholders such as administrators, educators, parents, and community members might look at this or a similar list of proposed educational reform actions, and say, “This is unrealistic. It can’t be done.” To them I say, “None of you expected the changes that COVID19 would force upon you and your students/children, but you made those changes. Not all have been successful, but most were successful to some degree. It demonstrates, though, that significant change is possible when all stakeholders work together.”

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 13, 2020 at 11:03 pm

A Beautiful Boy

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During Fall 2020, I taught gifted education at the high school on our south-side. The south-side is known for its low income housing and its primarily Hispanic population. As an itinerant gifted education teacher, I work at several schools. Our district has extremes of schools – high income communities at one extreme, that have the characteristics of private schools, to the other extreme of Title 1 schools with 100% free and reduced lunch programs. I choose to work at these schools. For three years previously, I taught at Title 1 K-6 schools. I wanted to give high school a try. I really wanted it to work but it ended up being too difficult for me. I realized I can better serve younger students. Too many of my students (noting that they were identified as gifted) have mentally and intellectually checked out of school and were flunking many of their classes. Their emotional needs were too vast and deep to be able to concentrate on their academics. For example, I spent an afternoon with two 9th grade gifted girls who were my caseload, one had gotten into trouble for missing for two days. She had been holed up with a 19 year old guy who wouldn’t take her home. They told me stories about their lives that were absolutely heartbreaking – sexual abuse as children, abusive foster care homes, a father in jail for murdering someone, their own sexual promiscuity and drug use.

This leads me to a beautiful boy, Ivan. He was in a STEM class I taught that one semester. He showed up . . . sometimes. At one point, he was gone for a few weeks. I checked to see why and found it he was in juvenile detention. He was on probation (I am not sure why). Because he skipped school, he broke his probation and was put in juvie. He told me that he got in trouble in middle school due to anger problems, but all I saw was a kind, gentle and soft spoken young man. He told me about only living with an older brother because his mother lived in a town up north with “some guy.” He also told me he thought a lot about what was going on in the world and spent time on the internet looking up these things he thought about.

Although he rarely did work in my class, spending most of his time on his cell phone finding and listening to music, I really, really liked him. I couldn’t help but light up when he walked into the classroom, which was typically late. There was something special about him. I missed him when he was in juvie for two weeks, so much so that when he returned to school and my classroom, I yelled hooray, jumped up, and gave him a big side hug. He smiled at me with his big, bright smile and gave me a big side hug back.

Even with a label of gifted, school met none of his needs. He was only interested in writing and performing rap. He wrote, recorded, and published one of his songs onto an online music platform (I now wish I knew which one). I asked him to play it for me during class. I loved it. His eyes shined with joy and pride when he told me about it and even more so when the other students in the class and I listened to it. Such a beautiful boy!

He was such a beautiful boy. I used past tense, “was,” because this past week we got an email from the high school principal that Ivan was murdered due to gun violence.

I have spent the week wondering. I wonder if the schools better addressed his passion for music with his days spent at school writing lyrics, composing music, and recording and publishing his rap songs – maybe he would have been in a recording studio rather than roaming the streets in the very early morning hours. I wonder what would have been different if the schools focused more in his social-emotional needs than on his academics. I wonder what would have been different if the schools better addressed the socio-cultural factors and hardships that he faced everyday – maybe the cycle of violence and poverty could have been broken. Finally, I wonder what kind of man Ivan would have turned out to be since he was such a beautiful boy (young man).

Parting Shot: I sent the high school principal the photo of Ivan that I took of him working on an Arduino (bottom of post). She sent the news my photo. I guess they asked her for one. It was my final gift to him – being able to show him to the world as engaged in a school project; showing him at his best – I have a hunch there are possibly no other photos like this of him. RIP, Ivan – you really did rock!

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 18, 2020 at 2:53 pm

Universal Skills for Learners: Increasing School Relevancy

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Kids are learning – but for way too many it occurs outside of the school environment rather than during school. Given today’s technologies, it makes sense and is exciting that learning occurs after schools hours, but for exciting, engaging, and profound learning not to occur during school hours is, simply put, a travesty.

I contend that school, especially in the latter part of the 20th century, had a high degree of irrelevancy but in today’s highly connected world, it is absurd, verging, in my perspective, as unethical practices. We are asking today’s students to spend so much of their school lives doing tasks that are unconnected to the the skills that need now and in their future lives.

. . . and the kids agree as studies have indicated.

Gallup has conducted more than 5 million surveys with students in grades five through 12 over the past several years. These students have come from every state and from a range of rural, suburban and urban school settings. Almost half of students who responded to the survey are engaged with school (47%), with approximately one-fourth “not engaged” (29%) and the remainder “actively disengaged” (24%). A closer look at the data by grade level reveals a disturbing trend. Engagement is strong at the end of elementary school, with nearly three-quarters of fifth-graders (74%) reporting high levels of engagement. But similar surveys have shown a gradual and steady decline in engagement from fifth grade through about 10th grade, with approximately half of students in middle school reporting high levels of engagement and about one-third of high school students reporting the same (School Engagement Is More Than Just Talk).

Just 54 percent of middle schoolers and 46 percent of high schoolers think their studies are relevant, according to new data from the nonprofit YouthTruth. Relevance was rated lowest on the survey of various measures of student engagement: if students take pride in their work, if they enjoy going to school, if their schoolwork is relevant, if they try to do their best, and if their teachers’ expectations help them with that goal (Only Half of Students Think What They’re Learning in School Is Relevant to the Real World, Survey Says).

Over five years ago, I wrote a post entitled Universal Skills All Learners Should Know How to Do in order to discuss those skills I believe are important for learners during this era. For this post, I revisited it. I revised it to now include financial literacy and civics.

I think most administrators and educators (and learners) would agree with the importance of most of the skills on this list to assist learners to be successful now and in their futures. Sadly, though, too few of these skills are directly and intentionally taught to learners: writing, speaking, and for more progressive schools, engaging in the arts and the computer science related skills. Is the current school system model really the best we can do?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 15, 2020 at 8:32 pm

My List of Best Education Videos – 2019

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Here is my annual list of best education videos.

Youth Voice

As you’ll notice the first several are youth voices.

“The power of youth is the common wealth of the entire world… No segment in society can match the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of young people.” Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate


Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg chastised world leaders Monday, Sep. 23, for failing younger generations by not taking sufficient steps to stop climate change. “You have stolen my childhood and my dreams with your empty words,” Thunberg said at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. “You’re failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you,” she added.



“Change will happen when we put the flourishing neighbor above our own hero status. Even though we don’t always get to be the hero, we always have the chance to be a world changer. “How should we respond to the current wave of activism? Megan calls us to treat this political moment as a time for both celebration and self-examination. See how she recommends we share power and resources and prioritize others above ourselves.



Jahkini Bisselink is the Dutch Youth Ambassador of the United Nations representing all young people in The Netherlands. Jakhini is auspiciously bridging the gap between young people and politics, fighting to let their voices be heard in national and international decision-making.



Education Thought Leaders

“Are we helping children find solutions to their own challenges? This will become their strengths.” Leading thinker, best selling author and friend of Big Change, Simon Sinek shares his thoughts on the future of education – the change that’s needed and the change that is possible.




Catlin Tucker’s keynote at Fall CUE 2019. Grade better, make your life less stressful and be more effective. 



In her SXSW EDU keynote, Jennifer Gonzalez explores the Aerodynamics of Exceptional Schools. In any school, just as in air travel, different forces impact our progress: some of these forces push us forward and lift us up, while others pull us back and drag us down. The success of our schools depends largely on how well we manage these forces. By applying wisdom from change management theory, instructional coaching, the tech industry, and even the fitness world, we can learn how to fight weight and drag, increase lift and thrust, and make our schools truly exceptional.



Pedro Noguera shares his insights on educational equity, Project Based Learning, and more at PBL World 2019. Pedro Noguera is a Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. His research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions, as well as by demographic trends in local, regional and global contexts.



Here’s an overview of the benefits of PBL. To read more, check out: http://www.spencerauthor.com/10-things-happen-students-engage-project-based-learning/



The Future of Social Media?

Social media has become our new home. Can we build it better? Taking design cues from urban planners and social scientists, technologist Eli Pariser shows how the problems we’re encountering on digital platforms aren’t all that new — and shares how, by following the model of thriving towns and cities, we can create trustworthy online communities.



Feel Good Videos



Released at the end of 2018 and received a 2019 Oscar nomination for best animated short. Luna is a vibrant young Chinese American girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut. From the day she witnesses a rocket launching into space on TV, Luna is driven to reach for the stars. In the big city, Luna lives with her loving father Chu, who supports her with a humble shoe repair business he runs out of his garage. As Luna grows up, she enters college, facing adversity of all kinds in pursuit of her dreams.



Anna Hopson, 5, was born with a rare neurodegenerative disorder. But that hasn’t dampened her spirit. As Steve Hartman explains, her good mood has even rubbed off on her school bus driver.



First Lady Michelle Obama brings gifts and surprises to Randle Highlands Elementary School in Washington, D.C. (Videos like this make me cry – not so much due to the students’ and teachers’ joy, although that does touch my heart, but because they are so happy about receiving resources that all schools should have – an up-to-date computer lab and a basketball court.)



. . . and because this feels so good. Michael Clark Jr. had crowd of supporters at his adoption hearing this week, which included his kindergarten classmates from Wealthy Elementary in East Grand Rapids.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 25, 2019 at 11:35 pm

Authentic Learning Experiences

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Providing authentic learning experiences to all learners should be the highest prior for all administrators, curriculum developers, and teachers.

Authentic learning is learning designed to connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications; learning experiences should mirror the complexities and ambiguities of real life. Students work towards production of discourse, products, and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school; this is learning by doing approach (Authentic learning: what, why and how?).

In education, the term authentic learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications. The basic idea is that students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more motivated to learn new concepts and skills, and better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood if what they are learning mirrors real-life contexts, equips them with practical and useful skills, and addresses topics that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of school. For related discussions, see 21st century skills, relevance, and rigor (Authentic Learning).

The bottom line, in my perspective, is that learners view their experiences as having relevancy to their own lives, that they address their interests and needs.

Qualities of Authentic Learning

I believe authentic learning experiences have the following qualities (which, by the way, are way too, often are not the qualities of many classroom activities):

authentic learning

Some Recent Examples of Authentic Learning

Here are some recent examples I have done with my learners – one class did a social entrepreneurship unit while  another class made Makey Makey Marble Mazes. I posted videos so their engagement can be seen.

Social Entrepreneurship

My students are finishing a unit on social entrepreneurship where they started a business to raise monies for a local nonprofit. They created a market survey using a Google Form, which asked about products, price points, potential nonprofit organization recipients of the profits; analyzed survey results, decided on and tested products; developed an expense sheet, using Google Sheets, for expenses and income; created a business plan that included the name of company, cost analysis, promotional plan; made a promotional flyer; created a sales and record sheet; delivered products; and managed monies.

For more information about this unit, see Elementary Social Entrepreneurship: A Perfect STEAM Lesson https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/elementary-social-entrepreneurship-a-perfect-steam-lesson/.

Makey-Makey Marble Mazes

Another group of earners made a Makey-Makey Marble Mazes as described by @Colleen Graves, see https://colleengraves.org/2018/05/04/makey-makey-marble-maze-and-5th-grade/

Reflection

I absolutely love planning authentic learning experiences. I get to use my creativity to plan and implement them. It does take lots of pre-planning – finding resources, usually videos, and purchasing, gathering, and organizing the resources used.

I also love watching how excited learners get doing them. There is 100% engagement. I’ve said before that being an experiential educator, there is lots of pre-planning but the learners work harder than me during class time – as it should be.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 20, 2019 at 9:31 pm

My List of Top Ten Videos of 2018

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I think we are living in amazing times whereby we can access and view high quality videos for free! I have selected some of my favorites from 2018. My criteria for their selection are that they made me laugh, cry, cheer, and/or made me feel inspired and hopeful. There are very few mentions of traditional schooling and education; yet, they all have connections to what school and education should aspire to be.



Educator and author Luis Perez gives a powerful TED Talk about how his experience with visual impairment forced him to live between and betwixt worlds. This inspiring talk covers his journey with disability, the importance of access and the role of technology for all learners.



11-year-old speaks out, at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, for all the African-American girls who have been left out of the gun violence discussion. Wadler led a walkout at her elementary school to bring attention to the gun violence in schools across the country.



Michelle King discussed her current conundrums: How might we create empathetic institutions that remind us of our humanity?  How might we re-design for equity and social justice in and out of school learning? How might we design learning institutions to build connections? How might we allow those connections help us re-see the worlds we inhabit?  How might we embrace silence in our lives?



SOAR is an award-winning 3D animated movie about a young girl who must help a tiny boy pilot fly home before it’s too late. (Not from 2018, but that’s when I first viewed it, and it has such great connections to maker education.)



Adam Savage gives his annual “Sunday sermon” at the 2018 Bay Area Maker Faire. Adam talks about an essential aspect of making and maker culture: generosity and sharing. With examples from his own experiences and the world at large, Adam explains why the more we share, the more we have.



Emily Pilloton shares stories of community-focused creative projects and provide strategies and mindsets to bring purposeful making into any classroom. Furthermore, by connecting creativity to our communities, bringing real projects to life in the real world, students become young leaders with the soft and hard skills that will prepare them for the future. This talk shows an initiative that uses the power of creativity, design, and hands-on building to amplify the raw brilliance of youth, transform communities, and improve K-12 public education from within.



Watch Michelle Obama and Tracee Ellis Ross in conversation at the 2018 United State of Women Summit on May 5, 2018 Los Angeles. (I cannot overstate how much admiration I have for this woman.)



Maria Town’s keynote at the Maker of Nation’s conference where she talks about the rights of persons with disabilities especially from a maker’s perspective.



In this joyful, heartfelt talk featuring demos of her wonderfully wacky creations, Simone Giertz shares her craft: making useless robots. Her inventions — designed to chop vegetables, cut hair, apply lipstick and more — rarely (if ever) succeed, and that’s the point. “The true beauty of making useless things [is] this acknowledgment that you don’t always know what the best answer is,” Giertz says. “It turns off that voice in your head that tells you that you know exactly how the world works. Maybe a toothbrush helmet isn’t the answer, but at least you’re asking the question.”



. . . and my parting shot speaks for itself:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 22, 2018 at 9:32 pm

Why do we group students by manufacture date?

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Presentation1.jpg

Ken Robinson once famously said, “Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture.” (Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything).

I have the privilege of working with 2nd through 6th graders in my gifted education classes and Kindergarten through 6th grade in my summer STEM and robotics camps. With my summer camps, they get to choose their camp by interest not age. In my gifted program, they select from a menu of content areas so it is also interest- rather than age-driven. I wouldn’t have it any way.

The Problem with Grouping Learners by Age

Grouping students by age or manufacture date is a contrived sorting mechanism. It assumes that same age kids are alike in their intellectual, physical, emotional, and social development; that they have commonalities in addition to their age. Academic standards used by almost all schools are based on the false and incorrect belief of the average student. Todd Rose quoting Mike Miller’s research on brains found that “not a single one was even remotely close to the average. The average represented nobody,” and he added, “Average is widely misleading. In education, there is no such thing as an average student. Our educational system is built on the assumption that there is an average student.”

This critique of age-grading was written in 1912 by Frederick Burk:

It is constructed upon the assumption that a group of minds can be marshaled and controlled in growth in exactly the same manner that a military officer marshals and directs the bodily movements of a company of soldiers. In solid, unbreakable phalanx the class is supposed to move through all the grades, keeping in locked step. This locked step is set by the ‘average’ pupil–an algebraic myth born of inanimate figures and an addled pedagogy. The class system does injury to the rapid and quick-thinking pupils, because these must shackle their stride to keep pace with the mythical average. But the class system does a greater injury to the large number who make slower progress than the rate of the mythical average pupil . . . They are foredoomed to failure before they begin.

In his article, The Science of the Individual (why average doesn’t make sense in school, A.J. Juliani quoted Rose:

This is not a new debate. In fact, this century-old clash of foundational assumptions might be regarded as the cardinal battle for the soul of modern education. On the side of education for individuality, we find some of the most admired and progressive names in American education, including John Dewey, Charles Eliot, and Benjamin Bloom. These “Individualists” were animated by their defining assumption that every student is different and that education should be designed to accommodate those differences.

Grouping by Interests Rather Than Age

I do understand that mixed age groups will have developmental differences but in my programs, they are grouped by interests rather than by age. I find this to be more natural and mimics real world learning as individuals often seek out others in their out-of-school lives who have similar interests. Interest-driven learning is much more motivating and engaging. Community develops naturally due to shared interests. With groups of same aged peers, there may be no connections other than age.

I find the advantages of multiage groups to be:

  • Increased sense of community as learners bond through discussing and participating in interest-driven activities.
  • Increased socialization skills as the kids learn to navigate the learning tasks in their multiage groups.
  • More variety and perspectives. At times, even the youngest kids offer unique ideas of which the older kids hadn’t thought.
  • Older kids helping the younger kids which leads to feelings of importance and responsibility.
  • Decreased behavior problems as the kids become engaged in learning activities they would choose to do outside of school.

In addition, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) lists the following benefits of multiage classrooms:

  • Children are viewed as unique individuals. The teacher focuses on teaching each child according to his or her own strengths, unlike in same-grade classrooms that often expect all children to be at the same place at the same time with regard to ability.
  • Children are not labeled according to their ability, and children learn at their own rate.
  • Children develop a sense of family with their classmates. They become a “family of learners” who support and care for each other.
  • Older children have the opportunity to serve as mentors and to take leadership roles.
  • Children are more likely to cooperate than compete. The spirit of cooperation and caring makes it possible for children to help each other as individuals, not see each other as competitors.
  • Older children model more sophisticated approaches to problem solving, and younger children are able to accomplish tasks they could not do without the assistance of older children. This dynamic increases the older child’s level of independence and competence.
  • Children are invited to take charge of their learning, by making choices at centers and with project work. This sense of “ownership” and self-direction is the foundation for lifelong learning.
  • Children are exposed to positive models for behavior and social skills. (http://www.uwyo.edu/ecec/_files/documents/multi-age-benefits.pdf)

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 18, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Documenting and Reflecting on Learning

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I am a strong proponent of encouraging learners of all ages to engage in reflective practice.

Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. The most powerful learning often happens when students self-monitor, or reflect. Students may not always be aware of what they are learning and experiencing. Teachers must raise students’ consciousness about underlying concepts and about their own reactions to these concepts. ETE Team

Documenting Learning

Silvia Tolisano sees documenting learning as:

  • a process of intentional documenting serves a metacognitive purpose
  • a creative multimedia expression (oral, visual, textual)
  • a component of reflective practice
  • taking ownership of one’s learning
  • a memory aid
  • curation
  • being open for feedback  (Documenting FOR Learning)

http://langwitches.org/blog/2014/07/01/documenting-for-learning/

Blogging as a Form of Documenting Learning and Reflection

I find blogging to be a one of the most powerful ways to documenting learning and engage in reflective practice.

Blogging has its own unique benefits as Sylvia Duckworth’s Sketchnote summarizes:

Top-10-Reasons-for-Students-to-Blog-Sylvia-Duckworth-CC-BY-flickr

Experiential, STEM, STEAM, and maker education are the focus of my gifted education classes. The learners in my gifted education classes have access to Chromebooks.  Having learners take pictures of their artifacts and describing what they did is a standard practice in my classes.

Sometimes I list vocabulary words I ask learners to include in their blogs. For example, for a design challenge, I asked learners to include the following vocabulary:

  • design thinking
  • communicate
  • empathy
  • tolerance

Here are some example blog posts from 6th grade students:

2017-05-21_1054

2017-05-21_1104

2017-05-21_1057

Blogging, as opposed to keeping a hand-written journal of classroom experiences, has unique advantages in my classroom:

  • Learners can easily include photos of their work.
  • Work is easily reviewed and edited for errors.
  • Learners’ classmates can easily view and comment on one another’s work.
  • Blogging acts as a formative assessment whereby I, as the educator, get an opportunity to learn what elements of the projects were significant for my learners.

A Picture Tells So Many Stories

Because my classroom activities are high engagement, learners become totally immersed in the activities. They aren’t interested in taking photos during the activities. Also due to the student-centric nature of the learning activities, my role becomes that of facilitator walking through the classroom and visiting with individual groups of students to find out what they are doing, answer questions, give feedback. This guide-on-the-side role allows me to take lots of photos of the students. In essence, then, I become the official photography documenting student learner so they and their parents have an archive of the school year’s activity. We review these photos throughout the school year as a form of reflection. It’s fun to hear the learner comments exclaiming joy and amazement in what they learned earlier in the school year.

Here are links to photos I took for my two gifted classes and posted to a shared folder on Google Photos during the 2016-17 school year:

A Final Reflection

As a way to wrap-up the school year, learners should be given the opportunity to review their work from the past school year. For my learners, I asked them to look through all of the photos I took and the blog posts they wrote and choose between 5 and 10 of their most favorite and best projects. (It was great listening them express their delight in reviewing all of the projects they completed during the school year.) After selecting these, learners were asked to create a presentation of their chosen works using one of the following options:

They then presented their work to their peers and a group of adults: parents, school officials, visitors to the school.

A few afterthoughts about this final activity:

  • Throughout the school year, learners were asked to present their learning in front audiences. One of the students has a dual diagnosis – gifted and Asperger’s. This student wouldn’t even talk to the group at the beginning of the year. Loved the confidence shown during the final presentation.
  • The final presentations gave me, as the educator, a type of program evaluation where I got the opportunity to learn the most significant classroom projects from my learners’ perspectives.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 21, 2017 at 5:42 pm

Natural Differentiation and Personalization Through Open Ended Learning Activities

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This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level.  This actually is a definition of differentiation.

Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)

One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.

Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning.  Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:

Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?

Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?

The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do.  The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.

Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.

selfdifferentiating

Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

A Model for Teacher Development: Precursors to Change

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Too often teachers are passive recipients of professional development rather than being active agents of their own development and change. Several recent reports have indicated that teacher professional development, as it is being implemented in most schools, is ineffective and a waste of time and money.

Several studies over the past few years that have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers. Only 30 percent of teachers improve substantially with the help of district-led professional development, even though districts spend an average of $18,000 on development for each teacher per year, according to a new report. Most professional development today is ineffective. It neither changes teacher practice nor improves student learning.

The hard truth is that the help most schools give their teachers isn’t helping all that much. When it comes to teaching, real improvement is a lot harder to achieve—and we know much less about how to make it happen—than most of us would like to admit. (New report reveals that teacher professional development is costly and ineffective)

My beliefs around teacher professional development are that it should be:

  1. driven by the teacher, him or herself.
  2. based on change models which result in deep, meaningful, lasting changes.

Conventional wisdom on teacher development tells us that we already know what works when it comes to professional development for teachers—typically “job-embedded,” “ongoing” and “differentiated” kinds of development opportunities, in contrast to old-school “drive-by PD.” (Do We Know How to Help Teachers Get Better?)

I believe that professional development needs to go even deeper than being job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated. Teachers need to receive training on models of change. Teachers should be trained in identifying their own professional development needs based on their classroom performance, areas that they aren’t performing up to par based on their own personal self-assessments as well as feedback from students, colleagues, and supervisors followed by intentional processes to help make positive changes in their work environments.

The model being proposed is based on a series of strategies for working with counseling clients entitled 7 Precursors for Change. I modified it to be more in line with teacher professional development. This is just an overview. Each step would need further exploration and explanation if presented as a model of change for teachers. Plus, these are not linear and they are all interconnected.

1) A sense of necessity: The educator must see a need for change; that there is a belief that something can be done better; that some circumstance of teaching is not working. Driving questions include:

  • What do you value as a teacher? What are actions are you doing in the classroom that address those values?
  • What do you want for yourself as a teacher? for your students? What are you doing to get it?
  • What is not working for you when teaching your students?

2) A willingness or readiness to experience anxiety or difficulty: The educator must be willing to deal with the inevitable discomfort which arises naturally with the onset of change. Moving from how one typically behaves to how one would like to behave is a process that often involves a difficult transition or a groan zone. It is an awareness and acceptance that change requires going from one’s comfort zone to a groan zone prior to coming into the growth zone. It is about accepting that failure and iteration are part of the growth process.

Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort – these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work. Joyce Carol Oates

3) Awareness: This is simply knowing that a problem in one’s performance related to teaching exists and then being able to isolate what thoughts behaviors and feelings are connected to the problem. This is closely related to accurately perceiving one’s environment. The big driving question is, “When you think about a specific performance problem or issue you are having, what thoughts and feelings do you experience?”

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel Branden

4) Looking directly at the problem: This is when the educator is willing to focus his/her attention on the problem so s/he can fully understand all of its’ attributes. Essentially this is knowing and accepting all the effects of the problem and admitting the truth to oneself. A powerful driving questions is: “If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and the problem was solved, how would things be different?”

The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution. Albert Einstein

A problem well put is half solved. John Dewey

5) Effort towards change is the actual actions taken to solve the presenting problem. This is the actual effort. Changing something that isn’t quite working often takes a series of actions or graduated tasks over time.

We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other.   Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

6) Hope for change: This is having the belief that change will occur. This is a realistic expectation based on rationale thoughts and behaviors. Hope in this sense is not synonymous with wish. Hope involves seeing how things will change and believing they can be accomplished. It is related to having a growth mindset – that growth and change are possible and probable.

Hope is a vision for a new reality. Hope means to become a steward for a new reality. Again, to hope is not just a wish. It’s full-on engagement with vision and potential. Alfred Adler

Instilling a sense of hope can occur when the educator finds, listens to, and/or reads about colleagues who have gone through similar challenges and change. It provides a type of support as s/he takes action to make changes which directly connects to the final step.

7) Social support for change: This is about finding people in the educator’s life that are supportive of the relevant change to be made by the educator. This is where establishing, connecting with, and proactively using a professional learning network comes into play. Educators working through this model of change should be encouraged to and provided with strategies for building both face-to-face and online professional learning networks.

teacherpd

Implementation of this model  is not a quick and easy fix to teacher professional development. Implementing it will take time, commitment, and struggles but what is the alternative –  costly and ineffective teacher professional development?

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. R. Buckminster Fuller

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm

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