Sunday, October 28, 2012

Making a case for change in grading kids

If you are an educator, how do you grade your students?  What is the difference between an A and a C-?  How would you describe an "A" student?  

Grading is a very controversial subject.  Similar to methodology, teachers desire autonomy when deciding how to score their students.  They want to be free to determine what counts for a grade, the weight each assignment will carry, and how each assignment is scored.  Many schools have a "grading policy," yet teachers continue to find a way to make it their own.  

Teachers base student grades on many different factors: number of correct answers, completion of assignments, participation in the activity, effort... the list goes on and on.  The number of graded assignments varies as well.  Some teachers give assignments every day, others only once a week.  Still others will give one assignment for the entire marking period.  

Due date is another key factor in grading student work... every assignment has a due date, and each teacher has a "late policy" for assignments.  Some accept late work for full credit, others take off points for each day it's late, some won't even accept late work. 

What is the point of all of this?  What does a student's grade really mean?  

In our current model, grades serve two purposes: to rate and rank students.  In my previous post, I spoke of the four critical elements of learning.  Our current model of grading makes it very difficult to embrace those elements without contradicting the culture current grading practices have established.  

Collaboration and communication
In our current system, grades are used to rank students.  This need to know "who's number one" creates and nurtures a culture of competition and isolation.  It does not encourage collaboration, even when students are assigned "group work."  In that scenario, students are individually graded.  In cases where groups are graded together, those who want a good grade will often pick up the slack of those not motivated to contribute.

In addition, students are not encouraged to communicate with each other or the teacher in ways that are meaningful to them.  Instead, they are given specific assignments, with clear rubrics, and deadlines to follow.  Stick to the task, follow the directions, provide the correct responses, and you'll get a good grade.  The focus for students becomes centered on the final grade, instead of learning and personal growth.

Critical thinking and problem solving
I spoke about this in a previous post on teaching 21st century skills without technology:
The correct answer... We encourage our students to strive for the correct answer on tests and quizzes, on homework, even in essays and lab reports.  What if we started asking questions that had multiple correct answers?  Or had no answer at all?  Educators need to move away from the step by step approach to problem solving that is engrained in current practices.  We are so fixated on the correct answer (often in the back of the book or in the teacher's edition) that we avoid offering opportunities for our students to find the path to the solution for themselves.  

With a focus on grades in a traditional approach, students are encouraged only to find the correct answer to a problem.  Students are penalized for a failure to find the correct solution, and that failure can ultimately lead to receiving no credit towards advancement or graduation.  Risk taking is frowned upon, and students don't have the luxury of learning from mistakes.  They don't even have the luxury of making mistakes in the first place.

Creativity and Innovation
In a traditional grading model, creativity and innovation fall under attack on two fronts.  As with critical thinking, students are not encouraged to take risks in their learning, and being creative often means adding color to a poster or PowerPoint... We'll call it "safe creativity."  True creativity in learning requires risk, and risk often leads to failure.  In a traditional grading situation, failure on one assignment can spell certain doom for a marking period grade, which could negatively affect a quarterly GPA.  This could eliminate many top colleges and universities as options for post graduation studies.  Most students would not take that risk, nor would many teachers encourage it.

I have had many conversations regarding creativity in the classroom, and many teachers have expressed high levels of interest, but have challenged the notion with the question "how do I grade it?"  This question from teachers takes us back to the earlier conversation regarding finding the correct answer.  In a classroom that embraces creativity, there is often a period of divergent thinking.  Many of us would call this period "thinking out of the box."  When employing divergent thinking, students are encouraged to generate a large quantity of solutions unfettered by evaluative thoughts.  Quantity over quality.  In this situation, there are no correct answers, no restrictions.  You see, divergent thinking does not give us one correct answer... It gives us many possible answers.  

Following a period of divergent thinking and idea generation, there is a period of convergent thinking.  During this time, students begin to evaluate all the possible solutions that were generated, eliminating those that do not work, keeping those that might, until they have arrived at what they believe is the solution.  This might sound like an unnecessarily long, winding path to the answer, but what's critical is the process, not the answer.  The process opens the mind to possible solutions that are often hidden when the focus is on finding the correct response.  But the question of grading this work still remains.  How do you grade divergent thinking in a traditional model?  This question alone will hold teachers back from using creativity and innovation in their classroom.

What if we stopped employing the traditional methods of grading?  What if we eliminated the traditional methods of evaluating students and embraced a mastery model?  

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a big fan of standardized testing and an even smaller fan of using standardized testing to evaluate teachers.  There is one thing I do like in the new APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) regulations... HEDI, which stands for Highly effective, Effective, Developing, and Ineffective (not a fan of ineffective... Doesn't really motivate a teacher to explore ways to improve).  This rating scale is used in the evaluation of teachers and principals within the APPR framework.  Used correctly, and without the associated punitive measures, this evaluation method can open a dialogue that could ultimately lead to high levels of personal growth for educators.  What if we used a similar approach to evaluating kids?  What if we eliminated punitive measures to evaluating kids learning and focused instead on open dialogues with each one regarding their personal growth in learning.  Students would be given constructive feedback in addition to the following ratings of progress towards learning goals:
- Highly proficient
- Proficient
- Developing
These ratings, when used with students as a way to open the conversation regarding personal growth, can give teachers and students a common starting point from which to discuss personal progress.  All three invoke positive feelings, focus of moving forward, and encourage learning from failure.  As a matter of fact, I believe failure should be a big part of all three levels, especially if Highly Proficient has no ceiling.    

Moving away from traditional grading could have profound effects on the culture of education in this country, from early elementary all the way to higher education.  The focus would shift from performance and the winner-takes-all mentality to individual growth and the development path of each child.  There would no longer be a need for standardized tests.  Most importantly, students would be in a learning environment driven by individual progress and passion and not by the rating and ranking of each child.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Teaching 21st century skills without technology

"We lived in an electric world. We relied on it for everything. And then the power went out. Everything stopped working. We weren't prepared." 

The NBC show Revolution takes place in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future. In the show, an unknown event disables all technology dependent on electricity on the planet, ranging from iPhones and televisions to engines, appliances, and batteries. People are forced to adapt to a world without functioning technology.

At the recently held Edcamp Toronto, I participated in an excellent discussion on 21st century skills and their importance to the future success of today's students.  The session facilitator asked the question "can you teach 21st century skills without technology?" 

Before answering the question, I think it's time to toss the moniker '21st century skills' and instead refer to them as the four critical elements of learning (the 4 C's):
- collaboration
- communication
- critical thinking and problem solving
- creativity and innovation

In today's classrooms, technology can play an important role in teaching the four critical elements, but is it absolutely necessary?  What would happen if all the lights went out, like they did in Revolution?  Would these skills still be important to our students and their future success?

The four critical elements of learning have never depended on technology, and have been the cornerstones of innovation and success for the past hundred years, if not longer.  They have led to the introduction of game-changing inventions such as the light bulb, the mass-produced automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, even the device I'm using to write this post (Apple's iPad).  In a way, we could say that the four C's ushered in the age of technology.

So what would happen if all the lights went out... Would we avoid teaching the four C's?  Only if we were interested in a guaranteed collapse and disappearance of humanity.  I believe the four critical elements of learning would play an even greater role in the survival of our society. 

Education needs to embrace the four critical elements of learning not as part of technology integration, but as core foci in all areas of the curriculum.  The educational programs currently aligned to state and national standards need to expand beyond preparation for standardized tests and embrace the skills that will continue innovation and growth in all areas of our society.  And I suggest we start without using technology.

Using technology is not an end, but a means to an end.  It is a tool, albeit a powerful one, but only a tool.  In education, we sometimes focus so intensely on the tool, we forget to begin by planning the learning first.  iPads are notorious for this.  I've seen it.  Teachers get so excited about a technology, they choose the tech first, then try to build a lesson around it.  That's why I'm encouraging a different approach.  Let's take technology out of the equation in the beginning and just focus on teaching the four C's.  Then, when the time is right, introduce technology as a tool to assist with the critical elements.

Teach students to collaborate with each other.  Encourage them to work in groups, share ideas, and find solutions together as a team.  Introduce the need for roles within each group, roles based on the strengths of each member.  Let your students define the roles.  Create a learning environment in your classroom that embraces the notion that collaboration is not synonymous with cheating.  And please, get rid of the "desks in rows" classroom set up.

Communication is a skill that is often overlooked, and yet it is vital to sharing ideas and collaborating with others.  There are many ways to communicate, and not all are verbal (my previous post on the arts gives some insight into other forms of communication).  Give your students the opportunity to explore ways to communicate, and encourage them to select and develop the ones that allow the greatest expression of their thoughts and feelings. 

Critical thinking and problem-solving
The correct answer... We encourage our students to strive for the correct answer on tests and quizzes, on homework, even in essays and lab reports.  What if we started asking questions that had multiple correct answers?  Or had no answer at all?  Educators need to move away from the step by step approach to problem solving that is engrained in current practices.  We are so fixated on the correct answer (often in the back of the book or in the teacher's edition) that we avoid offering opportunities for our students to find the path to the solution for themselves. 

I was recently asked to give an example of what I would consider "a good" exam question.  My response was this: "Was Hitler a hero or villain?"  I followed that up with a simple caveat... Students would be allowed to answer the question in any way they saw fit, and they had a week to submit their "product".  Thinking about possible responses, I offered three possible solutions, each by someone well known in our society (Warren Buffett, Pope Benedict, and George Lucas).  Mr. Buffett would submit a glossy paper, complete with well-designed charts and graphs, discussing the economics of pre-war Germany and the effects of Hitler's government of the economic growth of the country.  The Pope, on the other hand, would deliver a moving sermon on the morality of the German war machine.  George Lucas would create Star Wars. 

While this example may seem a bit of a stretch, the message is clear: when given the opportunity to explore a question or problem on their own terms, students will take ownership over their responses.  All three of the responses are valid, and reflect the individual interests and passions of each person responding.  This is very different from our current assessment model that depends on a standardized, one-size-fits-all testing.

Creativity and Innovation
Creativity and innovation are two of the most sought-after skills in the world.  According to an IBM study completed in 2010, CEOs around the world indicated that creativity, as opposed to rigor, discipline, integrity, and vision, was the most important skill in business, and critical to navigating an increasingly complex world.  Yet, according to Achieve, Inc., “college and career ready refers to the content knowledge and skills high school graduates must possess in English and mathematics – including, but not limited to, reading, writing, communications, teamwork, critical thinking and problem solving – to be successful in any and all future endeavors.”

Where's creativity in this definition?  Achieve, Inc. helped bring the term "college and career ready" into the conversation surrounding education, and left out creativity.  Why is that?  I believe it's because they do not understand creativity, or how to assess it.  Or they do understand it, and continue to ignore its value. 

Creativity is more than just the arts.  It is a different way of thinking.  Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as "the process of having original ideas that have value."  Think of it as "applied imagination."  All human beings are born creative.  The trick is to help kids develop and nurture their creativity, instead of sterilizing it.  We need more than just art class, and arts and crafts time is not the answer.  Kids need to develop their ability to express themselves in creative ways, explore the world without boundaries, and solve problems using divergent thinking, instead of the back of the book or the answer key.

The lights are going out in our schools. As budgets are cut and a school's ability to invest in computers, iPads, and other devices diminishes, can we ignore the need to teach these skills because we don't have the tools?  Or do we need to concentrate on the skills, and use whatever tools we have available?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Art Education and Why We Need to Save the Arts in Schools

Many who think of art education think of art classes... you know, classes of students in paint-covered smocks creating colorful works for parents to hang proudly on the refrigerator.  This common misconception is one of the many reasons why the arts are being cut from schools across the country.  Many politicians and school district leaders see the arts as an extra, an add-on that requires considerable resources and, in their eyes, does not help students on any standardized test.  And they are correct.  

The arts can put an incredible strain on already stretched budgets.  Materials for one painting class could easily exceed the budget of an entire math department.  And it's true, art education will not help students on standardized tests (unless test designers start adding creative problem-solving to the test or allow students to draw, paint, sing, or dance their responses).  If leaders continue to use budgets and test results to determine a program's viability, then the arts are doomed in public education.

If budget woes and test results are the reasons to remove the arts, let me offer a reason to not only keep the arts, but to also integrate them into all parts of the curriculum.  In a word, the reason is creativity.  All kids are born creative.  And that creativity is not limited to times when they have a paint brush in their hand or a kazoo in their mouth.  Kids are creative in many aspects of their lives.  And yet, when they enter a formal education setting, creativity is often left for arts and crafts time or art class.  Art education is so much more.

In addition to supporting art education, we need to start integrating art into all aspects of the curriculum.  Many teachers know that kids need 21st century skills (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem solving).  Unfortunately, because those skills are not tested, they are not valued, and are left out of the curriculum in exchange for test prep.  We need to put them back in, and we can do that through art integration.  

All four of the 21st century skills can be taught when art is integrated into the curriculum.  Visual and performing arts are forms of communication, where artists convey ideas and emotions through their work.  Many artists collaborate with others, blending different genres, disciplines, or mediums together to engage the audience in a new experience.  Although most common in music, examples of collaboration are found throughout the art world.  Critical thinking can be expanded in the curriculum through analysis of art in a historical context, symmetry in nature in a science classroom, even finding connections between the literature and the visual and performing arts of particular periods of time or geographical locations.  

The final 21st century skill is creative problem solving, and it will play a critical role in the success of children around the world as they prepare to join the global community.  Creative problem solving is the process of using divergent thinking to more clearly define the problem and generate many possible solutions.  This process requires large amounts of original thought unfettered by the constraints of perceived reality.  Many define it simply as 'thinking out of the box.'  Regardless of what you call it, one thing is clear... You need creativity.  This is where art integration, as well as art education, can help to unlock the creativity trapped inside each child.

The question now is, how do we do this?  And where do we begin?  I think I'll leave that for a future post...  But I think I can give you a preview...

Sir Ken Robinson once said: "if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original."  As educators, we need to be willing to take risks and give our students a safe and nurturing place to explore their own creativity without the fear of failure.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Creativity and Asynchronous Learning

"we have a system of education which is modeled on the interest of industrialism, and in the image of it..."
- Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms

Examine the majority of public schools in this country, and you'll see individual classrooms, bell schedules, cohorts... Even the curriculum shows the influence of the industrial age on education.

In many classrooms, curriculum is structured to follow a clear set of standards in a sequential, teacher-determined path, each step mapped out through a series of lessons. These lessons are designed to teach specific skills or content to a group of students in short bursts (usually 45 to 50 minutes). The class period begins with an opening activity, followed in many cases by directed instruction, and ending with student practice and a short assessment to check for understanding. This design is known as a synchronous learning model.

The synchronous model can be very good for a homogeneous class, where all students are operating at the same level, have the same learning styles, come in to the class with the same prior knowledge, and have the same level of engagement. Unfortunately, this does not describe a single classroom I have visited in the past eight years.

Fortunately, there is an alternative approach. Called asynchronous learning, this new approach (although it's not really 'new', just new to our current paradigm) allows students to learn the same material, but at different times and in different ways. The asynchronous classroom has all students working independently or in small collaborative groups. Students work at their own pace and complete a set of assignments of their choosing. Teachers provide a wide variety of resources, a collection of assignment choices for each standard covered in a given unit of study, and opportunities for students to interact with each other and the teacher when help is needed. The asynchronous learning model accounts for a wide variety of learning styles and abilities in the heterogeneous classroom.

Can the asynchronous approach enhance creativity in students and encourage them to innovate?

The first thing to understand is that the asynchronous approach alone will not enhance student creativity or learning. In the words of Aaron Sams, "a worksheet will always be a worksheet". Meaning, if you give all students the same set of pre-determined, cookie-cutter assignments, it doesn't matter if they're working synchronously or asynchronously... The outcome will be the same.

What the asynchronous approach does offer, though, is the opportunity to deliver learning experiences that can engage students and help them to develop their creativity. To begin with, the teacher operating within the model must embrace the "guide on the side" mentality when designing student experiences. Direct group instruction will not work in an asynchronous environment. The instruction must be individualized and students must be given choice in how they acquire information and how they present their understanding of material.

The development of creativity and innovative thinking must be a priority of the teacher developing the lesson if it is to be one of the desired outcomes. This development in students does not often happen on its own. It begins with teacher-created opportunities for students to explore personal interests within the framework of course standards, instead of lessons driven by content-specific learning.

Teachers working to develop learning experiences that encourage and nurture creativity and innovation must embrace a few key tenets. First, the learning experiences must be interdisciplinary, drawing on information from across the curricula of various content areas. Disciplines can no longer be separated by bell schedules or classroom walls. Second, the experiences must be collaborative, hands-on problem-solving, using real world problems whenever possible. And third, teachers must empower students to embrace their curiosity and encourage their intrinsic motivation.

While the asynchronous approach is not a silver bullet, it does offer teachers a unique opportunity to offer individualized learning experiences that can develop creativity and innovative thinking in students.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, September 3, 2012

Learning spaces

"It's not just what you teach, but the space in which the students learn" - Alicia D., librarian.

"Spaces are themselves agents for change. Changed spaces will change practice." -JISC, Designing space for effective learning.

Imagine a learning space that encourages creativity and innovation, allows for collaboration, and supports design thinking. Now imagine a school built around that space. This is the task that lies ahead. What do you see when you imagine this space?

This post is call out to all educators, designers, and creative thinkers... Share your thoughts on new learning spaces in the comments section. With your input, I hope to post more on learning spaces in the weeks to come...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, August 31, 2012

Creativity and Innovation in the Flipped Classroom

I recently attended the Flipped Learning Summit hosted by NYSCATE at Buffalo State College.  The keynote speaker was Aaron Sams, author of the book Flip Your Classroom: Reach every student in every class every day (also available in the iTunes bookstore).  While his presentation focused on the challenges, benefits, and structure of the flipped classroom, his underlying message was his true passion.  To Aaron, using the flipped classroom approach to instruction is a tool, a way of reaching his true goal: to engage every student at a level they can work and to tap into their individual learning style to ensure understanding and ultimately mastery of the learning goals set forth at the beginning of the course.  

Today, during our final day of teacher orientation before the official start of the school year, I shared with the staff the flipped classroom approach.  I chose to flip the PD by emailing a video about flipped classrooms to all the teachers prior to the session.  I decided to select a video that showed a flipped classroom in action, instead of one that spelled out every step of the process.  This proved to be critical to the success of the session.

After teachers arrived for the professional development and I confirmed that everyone had watched the video, I asked them to share with the person next to them what they thought flipping the classroom meant and what were some of the possible benefits to the approach.  For two minutes, the teachers were engaged in excellent conversations about the video, what it told them about flipped classrooms, and why they were considering using it during the new school year.  I then asked a few of the teachers to share with the rest of the group.  The discussion that followed could have continued for the remaining 55 minutes of the session.  

Each teacher that spoke shared a unique perspective on the flipped classroom model, and expressed the perceived benefits as well as a few concerns.  While I won't go into every step of the professional development session that followed, I shared this opening activity in order to show the value of a flipped approach to learning.  The teachers were incredibly engaged in the discussion of something that was introduced to them in a three minute YouTube video viewed before the PD session began.  By experiencing first hand the opportunities for communication and collaboration flipping allows, they began to understand the power of this approach.

I'd like to take the flipped classroom conversation one step further and start the conversation about infusing creativity and innovation into the learning experiences of students in a flipped model.  As many who are familiar with the flipped classroom model already know, the activities you have the students complete are as important to the learning and understanding as the videos.  So the question I hope to explore is: how do you give the students the opportunity to learn through innovation in a flipped classroom?

The answer is quite simple, and yet requires a leap of faith on the part of the teacher.  According to Tony Wagner in his book Creating Innovators, "more and more students are saying that education which is merely content delivery doesn't work, doesn't stick... It's about applying what they know, in order to connect the dots." This is where opportunities for students to make, do, build, shape, and invent things in response to problems posed by the teacher can encourage curiosity, engagement, and innovation in all students.  This can occur regardless of a student's abilities and academic standing.  

In a flipped classroom that is focused on developing skills in creativity and innovation, we would see students collaborating on projects and using all available resources (including networks, online resources, and the videos provided by the teacher in the flipped model) to solve often complex, multidisciplinary problems.  Students would feel empowered to take ownership of their learning and feel a sense of intrinsic motivation to learn and grow.  

The last, and often most critical component necessary for the success of a flipped classroom focused on innovation is the support of students when they take risks.  Our current educational model discourages risk and punishes failure, and yet innovation requires failure as a path towards success.  In the words of Tony Wagner, we need to nurture students who are "unafraid to try new things, to explore the world, and to face unexpected problems." They do not view failure as something to avoid, but instead a "step in the process of learning."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fly fishing and the art of teaching

Fall is quickly approaching, and that can only mean one thing... Any guesses?

Beginning of a new school year?  Well, yes, that is something that happens in the fall, but I was thinking of something else... Fall fly fishing!

At this point you're probably wondering why I'm talking about fly fishing on an education blog... Well, it's because educating kids and fly fishing are actually more similar than you would think.  Let me explain...

Fly fishing is a very skills-based activity, although some would argue it's more of an art.  I tend to agree with the latter, although there's an incredible amount of skill that goes into the success of catching a trout on the fly.  The same could be said for educating kids.  While there is a high degree of skill needed to manage a classroom and have successful students, there is an art to the practice.

The similarities do not end there.  I want you to imagine yourself preparing for a day of fishing.  You grab your rod and reel, some waders, a box of flies, and a good hat to keep the sun at bay.  You roll out the door before the sun is up to get a jump on the day.  You head down to the river, tie on a fly, and make your first cast.  Chances are, you are not going to catch many fish all day, no matter how many times you cast that fly in the water.  You might get lucky and land a few fish, but your chances are low and are based more on luck than anything else.  

There is a reason why you won't catch many fish: you haven't gotten to know them.  If you just barrel down to the river and throw in any old fly, the trout are not going to be fooled.  You see, trout are actually very intelligent fish, and they know when you're just winging it.  They're not impressed by your perfect casting, and they don't care that the same fly worked last Saturday...

In order to be a successful fly fisherman, you have to get to know the fish.  You have to observe them in their surroundings.  You have to watch what they eat, when they come to the surface in search of food, and what type of water they like to spend their time swimming in.  You have to be a patient observer, and treat every trout as an individual.  When you finally get to know them, you make your fly selection and pick the best water to present that fly to them.  You'll know you're successful when they rise up and take that fly.  

The challenge does not end there... You still have to land that trout, and that can be as difficult as selecting the right fly.  You see, some trout are very reluctant to go without a fight.  If you fight back with aggression, chances are you'll break your tippet, the trout will escape, and will be much more cautious the next time it feeds.  Your chances of catching that trout again are slim.

So what does all this have to do with teaching?  Kids are very much like the trout in the stream.  As a teacher, you have to begin by being a patient observer.  You have to get to know the children as individuals, what motivates them, what scares them away, and what you can do to get them to take that fly.  You have to watch how they interact with their surroundings... Do they like working with others? Are they solitary students?  Are they auditory learners, or do they need to see it before they can understand it?  Are they more comfortable sitting or standing when they do work?  Is there a part of the classroom they seem to gravitate towards?  Only after you have gotten to know your students can you shape a learning experience that draws them to the surface where your fly is waiting.

There will be students who resist, even when you think you've created a great educational experience for them.  They will want to run, not because they don't want what you have to offer, but because they are scared... Some will be afraid of the unknown or trying something new, others will be afraid of failing.  If you meet this resistance with aggression, they will withdraw from the class and avoid engagement.  Instead, you must respond to resistance with a gentle touch, slowly bringing them closer and closer to the goal of learning.  

So as we start this new school year, we must remember that it's not enough to show up on the first day and expect the trout will be biting... We must take the time to get to know our kids and then select the right fly and present it in a way that draws them in and never lets them go!

Thursday, August 16, 2012


The idea for the #bold_ideas hashtag was born after watching an inspiring 5 minute talk from ISTE 2012 by Will Richardson (@willrich45):

iste-presentation from Will Richardson on Vimeo.

In the video, Richardson discusses 19 bold ideas for change in education.  I won't go into a discussion of each of the changes, but I would like to comment of two of them.  The first is his 4th bold idea "Flip the power switch".  As he stated in the video, we need to turn the control of the learning experience into the hands of the students.  We need to let them define their own path to learning and understanding, and support their exploration of the ideas and topics that they feel passionate about.  And if you don't believe young students have passions, just ask my two-year-old son.  He loves anything mechanical.  He is fascinated by trains, construction vehicles, tractors, cars, and motorcycles.  Now you might say that most young boys are interested in these things, and I wouldn't argue, but where did that interest come from?  

My wife and I are both very creative people and love nature.  We introduced our son to artistic activities and to the outdoors.  And while he loves both, he would pass on either one for the chance to see a train.  There's something about mechanical objects that drive his interest.  Six months from now, it might be something different... And that's okay.  The important thing is that he is given the opportunity to explore his interests and passions.  We need to give our students the same opportunity daily to explore their interests and find their passions.  I will be talking more about this in future posts.

The second bold idea from Richardson's talk that I feel warrants discussion is his suggestion to "Disrupt the system".  He encourages educators to try new things, to create an environment that nurtures innovation, and to stand up and say 'no, I won't teach to the test'.  And while most of us are required to administer standardized tests, it doesn't mean we have to standardize the educational experiences of our students.  This concept is what led me to create the bold ideas hash tag and tweet:

@javarob: Until we can standardize kids, we shouldn't be standardizing their learning.  Kids are individuals, their ed[ucation] should be too. #bold_ideas

We need to work towards individualizing the learning experiences of our children, and that customization can be done in many ways.  Educators are exploring strategies such as flipped learning, asynchronous lessons, understandings-based grading, and gamification of the learning environment.  We need more teachers exploring these approaches.  And if those approaches don't work, educators can look for other ways to create opportunities for their students to explore and discover, to create and evaluate, and to work collaboratively to solve real-world problems.  

My plan is to continue using the bold ideas hashtag, sharing bold ideas that can change education.  In time, I hope other educators will add their own bold ideas, and rich conversations about ways to change and improve education will follow... 
In the words of Will Richardson, it's time for us to help our students "change the world"!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Welcome to create-Ed

"It's very formal- it's good if that's what you're going for, otherwise it's a bit resume-like"

Wow... Brutal honesty from my wife. I guess it's a good thing I had her read my first draft... I'm certainly not going for resume-like. For those interested, here's an excerpt from my rough draft for the opening post... It's a real page-turner:

Welcome to create-Ed, a new blog dedicated to sharing thoughts and ideas on creativity, technology, and innovation in education. First off, a little about me... I have been an educator in public schools for the past eight years, first as a science teacher and then as an administrator. I chose to move to administration early in my career because I wanted to explore opportunities to shape the educational landscape of my students in ways that were limited as a classroom teacher...

Yikes... After reading it again, it does seem a bit business-like. I suppose I should try again...

So welcome to create-Ed, a blog dedicated to creativity, tech, and innovation in education. I joined the education community about 8 years ago, after spending time as a professional photographer. While I enjoyed taking pictures, the job left me unfulfilled. I considered a few different career paths, but ultimately my wife convinced me to try teaching. I had previously taught rock climbing at a local gym, so I knew I enjoyed working with kids and sharing knowledge and experiences. That decision proved a critical turning point in my life. Within days of starting my student teaching, I knew without a doubt that I was meant to be an educator.

By February of the 2011-12 school year, I was starting to feel burned out and disillusioned with my career... I had made the move to administration after only 5 years of teaching, and the changes in regulations, the move towards more standardized testing, and cuts in education funding left me wondering if I needed to find a new career path. And just when I was ready to quit, I was saved by a 20 minute TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

The video reawakened a passion for creativity and innovation in education that had been dormant for quite some time. I was back, ready to help shape the future through the education of kids. I started building my Personal Learning Network (PLN), joined Twitter (@javarob75), and began planning the first Edcamp in western New York for spring 2013 (@edcampbflo). And that's just the beginning!

This blog is an open journal for me, an opportunity to share all the discoveries, insights, and visions that I experience on my journey. I am also looking forward to comments and questions readers might share. Thanks for joining me and I hope you enjoy reading the posts as much as I enjoy writing them!

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