Archive for August, 2012

Technology + Core = Freedom for Creativity

Are we in the middle of a perfect storm?  We currently have technology entering the classroom at an incredible pace, and most states have made it the law for all teachers to teach from the Core Standards.  This can sound very scary to a lot of educators because their practices must change drastically.  They now have to learn how to use a technological device that they may have very little to no experience using, and that their students probably have been using for the past few years.  They also have to plan their lessons differently, which could mean the loss of some of the resources and lessons they have been using for the past decade or two.  All of this sounds scary for a large number of educators.

However, I had a conversation with one of the educators in my building who felt much different about it.  She described it as freedom!  She told me that she has felt trapped for quite a while and that the implementation of a one-to-one initiative of iPads and planning from the Core has freed her to be creative again.  She is excited about the changes she is planning to make.

After hearing this, I couldn’t help but get excited with her.  I have been reading many articles about the science of teaching – how we have to all teach the same things and have the same expectations.  If we are to all teach the same things, have common assessments, and common grading practices, many of us begin to feel trapped and unable to be creative in our craft.  All of this sameness feels very blah!

Here’s the flip side to all of this.  Technology gives us access to just about an unlimited number of resources.  And the Core tells us what we must be teaching and assessing, but nowhere tells us how we must do it.  There is actually more freedom in the Core than there is in a textbook.  The Core gives teachers and even learners the permission to be creative again.  Lessons don’t have to come out of the same book for every teacher.  Learners don’t have to read the same pages to understand the standards and benchmarks they are learning that day.  Technology has allowed teaching and learning to become completely personalized.  We can use videos, read articles, practice problems from an interactive site, talk to people anywhere in the world, and many other ways to teach and learn the standards.  Finally, educators have the freedom to become artists again.

So, what kind of educator are you?  Now that you have the freedom and the right resources to create a perfect storm in education, what are you going to do with it?  Are you an artist who has been waiting for this day?  Well here it is, jump on it, and enjoy.

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Let Them Own the Learning

How do you learn best?  What are your interests?  What are your strengths and weaknesses?  What motivates you?  How fast of a learner are you?

Are your answers to these questions the same as everyone else you know?  My point is, we are all very different.  So, if we are all this different, why are we forcing students to learn the same way and at the same pace?  I know that I learn best when I take ownership in my learning, by having choice in what, how, when, and how long it takes me to learn.  Do you?  I have been thinking a lot about what an education system would look like that personalized learning for every child – a system where students become learners who are actively seeking knowledge instead of receiving it.  I would like to create a school where the learners are presented with every standard, benchmark, and/or competency they will have to demonstrate mastery of.  After they are presented with these, learners are given the freedom to piece them together however they like and begin learning them in what ever order they like.  They may choose to learn from a teacher in a traditional classroom setting, on-line, through a work-study in the community, or by doing some kind of project.  There could be other ways that I haven’t thought of yet that students might come up with at a later time.

My point is… every person in this world learns differently, is engaged in different things, has different motivations, has different strengths and weaknesses, and learns at different paces.  If we give every child choice in how they learn, where they learn, how long it takes them to learn, and how they demonstrate mastery of their learning, they will take more ownership in their learning.

So what exactly would this look like?  Below I have included some examples.

If a learner wanted to work on a project that covered several competencies in multiple subject areas, they would only have to present their proposal to the facilitators for approval to begin working.  If the facilitator did not feel it was enough to prove competency, the facilitator would help support the student to improve their proposal to meet the competency.  Once the project was approved, the learner would have permission to begin working on it.  After completion, the learner would turn the project in to be evaluated.  If improvements needed to be made to meet competency, the learner would be given more opportunities to reach it.  Failure is not an option since more opportunities will continue to be given until competency is achieved.

If a learner wanted to work on a group of standards through an online course, or through direct instruction with a facilitator, these options would be provided.  There are many learners who like the structure of being told when to learn something, how to learn it, how long to spend on it, and how they will be assessed on it.  For these learners, there will continue to be traditional classes and on-line classes available to them.

There are also many learners who learn best when completely submersed in real world application of the learning.  For these learners, the school would partner with the community to provide authentic, hands on learning in the community.  The issue with this model is that community members cannot reward credit for completion of a competency.  Because of this, learners would still need to check in with their facilitators (teachers) to discuss how they will prove mastery of the competencies.

In each of these examples, it is the learner who chooses their personal method with the approval of a facilitator.  Currently we have a system where teachers hold the majority to all of the control.  In order for a system like the one I envision to be successful, teachers will need to give up some control and become facilitators of learning, and students will need to take more ownership and become learners.  We all learn best with the right motivations.  Most of us are intrinsically motivated to do more and learn more when we have some choice in the process.  Let’s release some control and let the students own their learning!

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