This year we’re using a Word form that teachers can submit to apply their project for the 2013-14 SY G21 Faire.
Access the form here in Word Format.
Then, email the form not to John Hendron, but to:
One doesn’t have to go too far away to hear conversations about change, especially in the field of education. Change often comes with new leadership, that’s a given, but change in our field has been actively discussed, really, since Dewey’s writings in the earlier half of the twentieth century. Since I’ve been involved in the field, beginning fifteen years ago, I’ve seen large scale discussions of change too. I’ve heard ideas on teachers covering global awareness, twenty-first century skills, workplace readiness, and producing a tech-savvy graduating class. The inequities across class, race, and wealth also have a place among discussions in the education field, including on how best to eliminate disparities and how to give every student a full opportunity to reach their potential.
I got into this field for a number of reasons, none of which are terribly important. But the reason I’ve grown passionate within the field is the opportunity I’m afforded to make things better. I recently heard a discussion around “paradigm change in the classroom,” and my ears perked. This type of change is what really engages me.
Almost any source will tell you that the role of change agent—if in fact it’s a person or group—is a tough one. People are resistant to change, at least if they’re comfortable in their current state of equalibrium. While my title or my role is often tagged with something to do with technology, I primarily see myself as a change agent. We come in different varieties, but I have tried to focus upon being the patient type, omnipresent to help. I recently came across a phrase which I think summarized my position fairly well: a continuous, gentle push.
If we’re going to talk about a paradigm shift in our classrooms (here, or anywhere, really), we have to have a clear vision of what that means. It’s not enough to run away from a school, screaming “whatever is going on in there now stinks, and we have to change it to something else… anything!” At least not in a district/division like Goochland, which by many measures, is doing a lot of the right things for our kids, both in- and outside the classroom.
Our new strategic plan attempts to define what our priorities for improvement will be over the next 5-6 years. And there’s a lot in there that deals with instruction. If we look into the fine details, there’s got to be something lurking within that deals with a paradigm change in classrooms. I see phrases like “deeper learning,” “engagement,” and “personalization” that might be candidates. I know I’ve used my role on our instructional leadership team, and as an instructional technologist, to advocate for where I think we should be headed. By no mistake, my own thinking has been articulated in our strategic plan, congruently, I might add, by my colleagues who crafted each word in consultation with many stakeholders.
As we articulated together all of the dreamy ideas we had about where our schools should be in six years, a phrase emerged that really captured the essence of this vision for classroom instruction. And by definition, the task ahead is to move toward that vision. That’s the classroom paradigm change or shift before us. I’m confident in the six years ahead we’ll be well on our way.
If I were choosing a label, I’d call it “Personalized Inquiry-based Learning,” and if you need an abbreviation or acronym to remember that, it’d be PIbL. I’m a big fan of project-based approaches for learning, as well as those we might categorize as constructionist (the preferred term by Dr. Seymour Papert, who adapted his own theory after Piaget’s concept of constructivism). The sentiments, at least on the surface, are similar but involve the idea that we learn best through the creation of knowledge. The way this happens? Through experiences. The key then is to design experiences where kids can learn through the process of creation. The classic terminology might be “create lessons where kids can learn.” But lessons are rigid, formally-designed experiences, neatly abstracted like the storyboard for a sitcom. Don’t worry, if the lesson is boring, it will be over in just 28 more minutes. The key to the constructionist approach, I believe, is that we’re asking kids to many times create and sometimes innovate. And to do that, we have to have their engagement in the experience. They have to want to be doing and constructing, it has to be enticing. I could extend this thinking by positing that these experiences should be personalized for our students, so that they can apply their own interests, strengths, and needs for growth into the learning process.
The formal design of inquiry-based instruction does not necessarily follow one model. Our G21 program was designed to introduce to everyone of our teachers and students a method of learning that focused effort on the development of one or more of twelve twenty-first century skills in the production of a product or performance. Roughly speaking, it was a framework for product-created learning experiences. It’s cousin, if you will, is Project-Based Learning. Projects many times involve a product, but can be slightly more complex in planning. Another “relative” in instructional design, problem-based learning forces students to confront a problem, where they apply already acquired and new knowledge to solve the problem, often in the context of a small group. The commonality between all of these frameworks is the role of inquiry, or putting the student in the role of actively questioning what they need to know, applied to a simple problem, or a complex project. The very nature of having to figure something out, like a puzzle for instance, has a somewhat engaging aspect to it. The key, I believe, is supporting this interest that leads to engagement is a school-wide climate that encourages the type of open-ended thinking that so often is required in inquiry-based learning experiences. I know that the climate of standardized testing has done quite the opposite for many students. Some education pundits posit that standardized testing has killed creativity and problem-solving in schools, focusing everyone on finding the right answer from a choice list of four to five.
So, I could ramble on. But my point is this: we’re headed in a direction to try and change what teaching and learning looks like in our county, centered around experiences that personalize learning, with inquiry-based approaches. It does not mean that everything we’ve done is old and will be thrown away. We’ll start with our best exemplars for teaching, and replace others. For some classrooms, the changes might be more radical than in others. It’s safe to say that inquiry and personalization are not foreign to our teachers. What’s important to realize for everyone is that this change will be gradual.
For one, we’re taking the challenge of offering ubiquitous computing opportunities to students slowly at a pace that we can handle technically. We can do a lot of preparation for getting the technology, but in all honesty, we’ve been preparing for this for many years. The real transformation can’t really happen until teachers and students both have ready and regular, reliable access to learning tools and resources.
Technology will help in some ways with student engagement. The research I’ve looked at suggests that many districts see positive correlations to 1:1 programs in the first several years with attendance rates, graduation rates, and a reduction of discipline issues. But engagement is not the whole story.
Technology is, as I describe in our upcoming instructional newsletter, Explorations in Learning, a bicycle for the mind. In the case of our iPad 1:1 program, the omnipresent iPad in kids’s hands means they can look up a fact or answer a factual question any time of the school day. They have a multiplicity of encyclopedias, dictionaries, and online fact books at the ready. It is obvious, then, that technology supports a classroom paradigm grounded in inquiry.
Yet, technology’s greatest contribution to the ideas behind “PIbL” is the economy it provides in creating new knowledge. This was Papert’s point in his book The Children’s Machine, that a computer made the experience of creation, in a digital or virtual realm, so much more economical than some of the same things you could do with real physical objects in the world.
In my visits with schools and district leaders with one-to-one programs, I see those who have loaded their devices with drill and practice games. I’ve seen all sorts of digital textbooks. These resources are clearly grounded in the state standards and have little to do with a new classroom paradigm. We can do that, but I’d like us to aim beyond. I have no doubt that as we continue our program, we will standardize on a learning management system where teachers can present the requisite content. Students will have access to this content and be able to interact with it in ways that go beyond the textbooks and worksheets that still remain a tried and true staple of learning in schools today. But the changes we’d like to see in pedagogy will take time. If we move too fast, the process of change is too uncomfortable. If we move too slowly, we won’t see a return in our investments in expenditures on technology and new resources, not to mention training. But time and time again those who have already gone through ubiquitous computing programs report that staggering the roll-out of technology, and proceeding with constant, ongoing professional development is the key to doing it right.
At the end of the day, someone is liable to ask “Why?” What needs changing, and for what reasons? Why should there be a classroom paradigm change?
I can articulate a few reasons, none of which are particularly new or novel.
To get where we’re going, I believe we need to:
Thank for you taking the time to read this. No doubt, this is a draft of my current thinking on the ideas behind change. I won’t be doing the work alone, but in concert with our other district leaders who also bring a wealth of experience and ideas to the execution of our strategic plan. The fact that so many of our teachers have already welcomed the change I describe is a testament to my certainty that together, we can succeed at maximizing the potential of every student. Change may be a challenge, but hard fun is the best kind of engagement towards our commitment to education.
I received an invitation some time ago to attend a World Faire at Goochland Elementary School. This was one of several outstanding G21 projects I looked forward to seeing come to life this year.
Students organized country stations around the cafeteria with interactive components designed for the iPad, for learning about each country. The most popular interaction, of course, was the food students made that came from around the world.
While the technology inclusion was cool, the most outstanding take-away for me from this well-organized event was the ownership students had of the content associated with each country. Students were enthusiastic about knowing the culture and customs of each country and were eager to share it with their peers and visitors. I had the fortune today to tour the fair with my colleagues Bruce Watson, Pete Gretz, Steve Geyer, and James Lane.
GES students and teachers: awesome job!
I had a great time discovering what 6th graders were learning about in class today — animals and habitats. Students were on their way with creating a virtual zoo. This G21 projects will challenge students to build an appropriate dwelling for animals based on their needs. Ms. Kass’s students are also learning how to build 3D structures using Google Sketchup with the help of Ms. Cantor. They’re demonstrate their understanding through the creation of a 3D model.
I was impressed with every student’s engagement with the beginning lesson today. I can’t wait to see the students’ zoo dwellings when they are done! If you haven’t ever played with Sketchup, you can download it free on a home computer from here. While it is a tool used by professional architects, it’s easy enough to get started for tinkering too!
As we gear up for G21 planning this school year, I wanted to share some ideas on project-based learning.
The first ideas come from an article authored by the Buck Institute. The article calls for us to have essential ingredients for a successful project. These include a few I’d wager deserve special attention:
Their project design rubric is a great tool for assessing the best practices of project-based learning. Things to be sure and look for:
I’d be interested in hearing through comments or email your thoughts about the Buck Institute’s “flavor” of PBL compared to what we’ve traditionally focused upon with G21.
I recently received an e-mail from someone outside our division which ended with this quote:
> Let’s not forget what’s important–educating every child in the twenty-first century.
My reaction was the voice in my head asking “Is there another option? Can I go back and try educating some children in the 18th century?” Which is a little humor to illustrate a point: should the label for our current century be a label we use for anything?
We have a well-known program here in Goochland we call G21™. The “21” is for 12 (ooh, an anagram!) skills we promote in conjunction with a product-based instructional approach. We call them twenty-first century skills. Are there alternative labels? Do we need a different label?
Fujimoto framed it well when he wrote about the label “21st century skills” back in 2010:
> there’s an argument that “21st-century skills” is somehow a bad label because, throughout history, we’ve always needed good communication, good team work and good collaboration. Further, to even be employed, many companies themselves don’t utilize or even practice these skills very well.
While Fujimoto believes there’s something “different” today than before, Professor Diane Ravitch is critical about the term, as she describes in this blog post for EdWeek:
> I maintained that the movement for “21st Century skills” sounds similar—if not identical—to earlier movements over the past century. Its calls to teach critical thinking skills, creativity, problem-solving, and cooperative group skills are not at all “21st Century.” Certainly for the past generation, these goals have been virtual mantras in our schools of education. If there is anything that teachers have been taught over the years, it is the importance of pursuing these goals, which are certainly laudable in themselves.
In the same article, a comment struck a chord with me, from someone named Margo/Mom:
> So–are we quibbling about the name? Although I would argue that mid-century technology and the communication skills that were required were vastly different from those today.
Dr. Ravitch chose to reply:
> Margo/Mom, the only skills that are different today from 60 years ago are technology skills, and I don’t know of any school in which children are not learning how to use a computer. We don’t need a movement made up of business executives and software companies to tell us that children should learn media literacy and technology skills.
For me, there is something different about this set of skills, and I framed it well in the poster I made (above) for a professional development effort we offered called Learning Hacks. “12 Great Reasons to Bring Laptops into the Classroom.” I agree with Ravitch that the ideas are not new, as much as Fujimoto suggests — we’ve always needed good communication, good team work and good collaboration. And while we wouldn’t be wasting any time in offering students the opportunities to learn how to do that as we may have by teachers first inspired by John Dewey in the 20th century, the ubiquity of technology today does offer a new element to the recipe. Because for me, the concept of twenty-first century skills has always included technology as part of the definition.
> How does technology affect/add/change/amplify/diminish our ability to make real world change, collaborate, research, problem solve, or teach others?
I think Dr. Ravich simplifies the contribution of technology when she reduces it to “children not learning how to use a computer.” The goal of a school should be so far beyond how to use the tool, just as it would be in a shop class on using a saw, or a music class on making an oboe reed. Why are we using these tools? What are we going to accomplish?
I’ve heard people dislike the term “21st century skills” because they suggest we’re well into the 21st century. That is true, and I do not believe we will see any less of technology in the remaining 85 years.
But is it silly to use a span of time as a label for a set of educational objectives? It might be, but the term has so often been used now in educational research and literature that it is well-understood. When someone says “We’re buying new technology to help address the deficit of instruction with twenty-first century skills” educators today have a fairly good idea about what they’re saying. If I am looking up a research article, “21st century skills” is a pretty good keyword for finding articles about school-based problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.
When I put together the framework for G21™, I thought about the concept of forcing creativity and the creation of a product as central to the design. I knew that if kids were going to have to create something — a 3D model, a musical performance, or a website — that by in large a lot of those skills were coming along for the ride.
So for those who are not fond of the term, I am taking suggestions for replacements. Here are a few I’ve come up with on my own:
None of them really have a ring. Maybe we don’t need a label at all, because we acknowledge that education has to address them without compromise or substitute. When developing communication skills with students, we need to spend as much time in how to talk face to face with adults as on how to set up a Skype-based conference call. When we practice collaborating in a small group in running the school store, we’ll also practice writing together in a Google Doc. I was reminded in reading the Ravich article that SCANS Skills pre-dated our twenty-first century replacements, with many good ideas. Born in the 21st century? Nope, 1989.
Are we ready to make technology an integrated part of our curriculum? Or do we still need a special name?
Dr. Gretz and I collaborated at the start of last summer on an article on the Goochland G21™ Instructional Framework. It was published today in the Virginia ASCD Journal. The focus on the edition was Taking on Challenges in Teaching, Learning, and Leading. Addressing the “softer skills” in an era of accountability with the Virginia SOL definitely is seen be me as “taking on a challenge.” But we can see each year through our G21 Faire submissions – and only through the ones we formally recognize – that our teachers and especially our students are up to the challenge.
It was a great pleasure to collaborate with, and learn from, Dr. Gretz in this endeavor. And it is great to share this edition with many other fine articles. In the end I’m glad we could share something special we have here in Goochland with the other educators from across the Commonwealth. Learn more about VAASCD here.