Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Life Long Kindergarten and the Quest for Creative, Forward Motion

Caught this interview with Mitch Resnick in a post yesterday. It's a simple philosophy Resnick is talking about really... and that's why I love it. Direction like this takes a lot of thinking, collaboration, trust, and commitment to forward motion. It makes sense and it's the essence of why I love project based education. I've always admired what MIT is doing on these fronts and I have integrated many of those practices and philosophies into my work.

Resnick's comments between 5:36 on through the end of the clip... love it!

Education bureaucracy can be stifling. Forward motion is the key. If more leaders, more teachers... more schools pursued this sort of thinking... then we'd be onto something.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Where would you go and who would you speak with if you sought out innovation in education?

If I were going to visit the most innovative schools and educational places in the world where would I go?

What characteristics do the most innovative schools / sites / communities share? What are the traits of visionary the visionary leadership, the pedagogy... the exploration and use of technology, creativity? How about the sense of community? Here are a few places on my radar in no particular order:

  • Boston Arts Academy, Boston MA
  • High Tech High, CA: Geri and Anne Jacobs HTH, San Diego CA
  • MIT Media Lab, Cambridge MA
  • Minnesota High School for Recording Arts
  • Reggio Emilia and Early Childhood Education, Italy
  • Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia
  • Singularity University, Moffett Field CA
  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA
  • Virtual Florida: Talk to the folks who run the program... in person and tour how they do it.

... and I just realized I wrote them down alphabetically. Strange feat for a Sunday morning, pre-coffee thinking.

If I were going to talk to the game changers, the visionary educators, the shapers, the creators, the folks who have their pulse on the needs and shifts in education, who would I speak to?

Here are the folks I'd like to chat with below. I'd like to hear their thoughts on what education should and shouldn't be. I'd like to explore their thoughts on learning, on what our schools should look like in the near future. How do they seek innovation? How do they stay fresh? What are their thoughts on creating programs, on leadership, and on inspiring people?

Listed in no particular order:

Linda Nathan: Boston Arts Academy
Larry Rosenstock: HTH
Mitch Resnick: MIT Media Lab
Dave Ellis: HSRA
Alfie Kohn: Author
Chris Lehmann: SLA
Gary Stager: Author, Educator
Will Richardson: Author, Educator
Karl Fisch: Author, Educator
Anya Kamanetz: Author
Yong Zhao: U Michigan, Author
Sugata Mitra: Researcher, Educator
Eleanor Duckworth, Harvard University

For many years I've relished the idea of sitting down with Seymour Papert and discussing learning. I'm not sure if Dr. Papert does such things these days after his accident though. I've read Papert's books, papers, seen a good number of videos of his speeches here and there and think he's quite a visionary. I saw a video of Papert some years ago, in Maine I think, speaking about rigor in education, of the need to create things rather than simply use them. I'd love to ask Dr. Papert about his thoughts today on these matters. How can we create better learning environments and more meaningful projects for kids?

For years I've always wanted to sit down and talk with Ray Kurzweil as well. Transhumanism, singularity, the concepts behind creating Singularity University, the work (play) environments there, our interaction with technology in the future, his thoughts on technology in public education in the main: The good the bad and the ugly... and what we could do to better serve students.

I've followed the work of the folks above for some time, books, blogs, and seen many of them speak on the web and at a few conferences. They've inspired me. I'd like the chance to sit with them, to discuss the questions above and to pick their brains about the scope of what I do in a classroom and how it could improve.

As for conferences / seminars:

I'd like to go participate in the main TED conference in Long Beach CA. The price of the event (some 6k in admission alone) takes the event off the map for me. The scope of the conference, the vision, the thinkers assembled are most intriguing though. Sounds like a fine way to spend a week, something that would inspire me.

I attended the EDUCON conference in Philadelphia a few weeks ago (an event I highly recommend). Can't wait to head there again. I'd like to head back to SLA at some point and see teachers in action, be a fly on the wall during a faculty professional development session and talk with Chris Lehmann.

While roaming the hallways at the EDUCON conference in deep thought I found myself buying a raffle ticket to help the school raise money. Lo and behold, I won admission to the Constructing Modern Knowledge Conference this Summer in NH. There are some grand folks there. Can't wait.


What other places or educational systems should I see?

Who should I speak with?

What questions should I ask?

What other conferences should I attend?

This all sounds like one hell of a sabbatical idea... now I just have to convince my school it is too.

Many thanks for tuning in. Looking forward to hearing from you. Adam

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A New Course for Seniors

I've had many discussions with Seniors over the years about the things we don't seem to cover in high school, and how it often seems disconnected with their 'practical living' needs as they head into the future. In these discussions we sift through things that would help make the transition from high school into the world. I've often pondered why schools seem to be quite comfortable with grooming students with traditional academic subjects but don't tackle what you'd consider more practical daily living items, often things that people learn through 'the school of hard knocks.' Here's a few:

Health and medicine
Nutrition: Cooking, hydration, understanding metabolism
Finance: Investing, credit cards, mortgages, loans, depreciation, writing checks, balancing a budget...
Roommates and apartments
Aging: 18, 21, and on
How parent / guardian relationships evolve with time
Creating and maintaining our digital, online presence

I had thoughts back to my high school 'culinary arts and sewing classes...

We kicked around the idea of forming it up into new course... a modern day Senior Seminar of sorts. One that includes a heavy social networking element and the goal to create deeper personal learning networks and support groups. The thought is we'd ask guest speakers to come in, both person and by video conference to explain their area of expertise and also to tell their tales about the journey out of high school, and how they got where they are today: The success and most importantly the struggles. The class would design projects on these topics and we'd explore each and every persons interests they bring to the table.

I recently worked with two students to shore up the work we started on this and I'm happy to say that the new course description was recently approved. We'll crank up in the Fall of 2011.

The title: Social Networking: A Senior Seminar

We live in the most collaborative era in the history of our civilization... and there's more to social networking than traditional academic pursuits.

My hope is that this might open the door for discussions on more advanced internships, shifts in traditional scheduling... who knows.

Here's the entry on the rLab blog. I'd love to hear folks opinions on the matter.

Stay tuned. AP

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Keep Moving Forward

So here I am… a two-hour delay after a snow day yesterday. I took the morning to sit down and write up some thoughts on the Educon conference I attended last weekend at the Science and Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. The conference, much like the personal learning network I have, the folks who's' posts  on blogs and on Twitter I actively read, always help me move forward.

Educon is not your typical conference. The conference sessions must be collaborative, active discussions. Check out the Conversations page on the web site and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Here are the guiding principles of Educon straight from the web site:

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked

Here are the guiding principles of the Science and Leadership Academy (where the Educon conference is hosted and woven into):

1) How Do We Learn?
2) What Can We Create
3) What Does It Mean To Lead?

The curriculum at SLA is built on the roots of UBD (Understanding by Design). It's a project-based curriculum built off the following process:


Simple, common sense stuff… that takes a lot of work. Helping students learn is tough, and I've always thought it's far different than teaching. I've been doing project based design work for more than 10 years. It's challenging and, I feel, ultimately far more beneficial to students. It also keeps me fresh… the engagement, the sharing of ideas, the challenges of creativity.

The students at SLA were actively involved both in making the conference run and in the presentations themselves, as were the teachers there and the administration, most notably the Principal Chris Lehmann. It was easy to see how much they enjoy exploring learning and working together at SLA and it's sense of community. The process of learning is an active discussion there. It's was also easy to see some of the problems: Limitations of the building, budget and in the governing construct of the Philadelphia educational system.

Is Educon perfect? No. Was it considered exceptional by all attendees? No. Such are the trials of conferences I think and of education itself. There's a great discussion on this very topic going on in the blogshpereThese types of discussions, pre, during and post Educon are another reason why I like the conference so much: It's messy. There's as much, perhaps even more content to evaluate post Educon than during… and there's great strength in that as well. It's engagement. I think it's a sign of learning success.

I don't think there is a perfect system… for conferences or for education. I think we spend too much time talking about the perfect system. Instead we should direct our energy toward actively and positively trying improve systems. Educon, much like anything else, I think you get out of it what you put into it. The conference certainly gives everyone the opportunity to learn and collaborate.

There's a blog title out there (and a good read) called 'Learning is Messy' and it's a phrase I've used many times over the years, one that always seems to ring true for me. I like the refined simplicity of SLA's messages and the significant amount of work it takes to bring those simple goals to fruition... and the mess it tows with it, the active debate and discussions.

But here's the salt of what I've been thinking (at last): What I appreciate the most is the willingness of SLA to put itself under a microscope for the weekend, to open it's doors to roughly 500 attendees and it's clear goal to better itself from the process. They have the resolve to drive forward and try new things… and not just talk or complain about it. Many other schools could learn from that process, to turn themselves inside out and do some deep thinking. Hopefully that's not where it will stop though. Taking some action steps to improve things is next card to play.

… Debate and Steps Forward.

… and then we do it again, and again. And that's how things get better.

When we lose pieces of that process, when we get stagnant, when 'Steps Forward' get bogged down in endless bureaucracy, when it falls under the weight of folks being truly negative or just plain stagnant… that's when people lose their spirit. That seems to be where students lose opportunities.

Now, I know this reflection isn't anything innovative… and I guess that's my point. It's just all good common sense… and what education, especially in the main, sorely needs to practice more often.

With any amount of luck I'll be headed back to Educon next year. If I'm doing it right, I'll have more challenging conversations, meet great folks to collaborate with, have more fun, and be more active, I'll challenge myself more… and hopefully that will all lead to some great steps forward for my students, school, and for myself.

Thanks for tuning in, AP