Friday, December 12, 2008

For A Friday: My Blog Wordle

Yesterday, in a sophomore English meeting, we broke into small groups to identify themes in quotes we all collected from our common reading: Proust and the Squid. With my partner, a conversation began to take shape around these questions: at what point does English class become effective communication class? In an English class, is the highest priority a students' development as a pen-to-paper/finger-to-keyboard writer? Or, is it more important for students to engage with and grasp the concepts and complexities of stories and essential questions? How important is the act of writing? Is dictating to a computer the same? Is it of equal value to us if a student does a better job expressing the complexities of an idea with a multimedia project vs. a written essay? And more questions along those lines. Of course, we have no answers...that's good. But the discussion of awareness of one's own use of language and the visual-ness of the digital world reminded me of what I'd seen on some blogs lately: Wordle. What a cool way for a student/writer to get a sense of the kind of words they use and how they create a certain kind of impact. Here's a Wordle for this blog:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just Read Some Books And Call It A Class

Today at lunch, several colleagues and I were discussing a unit in our freshman and sophomore English courses known as the limited free choice book project, which equates to varying levels of choice depending on the teacher. I like to think of the way I frame the project in my class as "guided" free choice. The book choices are not limited or governed by me, but I move the students through a process focusing on making an informed choice about the book they're going to read.

Anyway, what I want to post about today is what I offered to the group over teri-tofu and chicken long rice soup: a class that was simply independent reading and blogging. This idea comes after a very successful three weeks of guided free choice reading and blogging in my class (and a free choice project). After the process of choosing books, we studied facebook and came up with a protocol for leaving comments and expanding others' ideas with conversation. This led to some really impressive student blogs. In addition, we studied the elements of books: first chapters, centers of gravity, questions that authors seem to be trying to answer in their chapters, metaphorizing, amongst other things. It didn't matter that we weren't reading the same stories because we had a common language for talking about literature. Along the way, students get a sense of their reading interests, strengths, and challenges, monitored and guided by me when necessary. I used the metaphor of a book universe that they create and explore. And it was all about using brain research to scaffold activities offering students differing paths to literacy and expert reading.

So many heads in books.

So, for the course I'm imagining, my colleagues challenged me on whether students could read graphic novels, children's books, Twilight and Harry Potter. The classic questions. So I thought I'd have them read from all genres: fiction, non-fiction, classic, graphic novel, fanfiction, etc., in any order they please. This is going to lead me to learning more about fanfiction, as well as books that accompany video games.

Are there courses like this out there? What do they look like? How well do they work?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Schools Of The Future Debrief Part 2: Innovation Management

I keep thinking about the concepts from Don Richardson's breakout session on "innovation management," in an attempt to transfer them to my K-12 school context. Richardson is Microsoft's Innovation Manager and is responsible for making the capturing of new ideas part of the work flow process at Microsoft. Their biggest fear is that good ideas walk out the door everyday just because somebody decided not to listen. He made the following claims before describing Microsoft's "idea grab" system.

-Research and development does not mean innovation. Innovation needs a shared framework.

-The best ideas come from inside organizations but have no process for being nurtured.

-The least amount of good ideas are generated externally.

-It's important to have a culture of innovation.

Microsoft's Process Looks Like:

Sounds a lot like the elements of critical thinking to me. So any employee can access this innovation process via portal/social network/collaborative workspace. And each idea gets entered, tracked, tagged, and peer reviewed as it moves its way through the process.

What if I had something like this interactive innovation database as part of my class curriculum? Students could enter ideas for learning opportunities and environments, and we could collaboratively work on them. The course would be collaboratively designed and amorphous.

In this spirit, today, I asked a student that I know is interested in architecture to think about and sketch his ideal classroom. We'll see what I get.

Or what if we had something like this as a network of teachers in a school (or across many schools). We'd build curriculum collaboratively. I could go back to ideas of teachers from 10 years ago and work with them with a fresh perspective. Maybe the school just wasn't ready for the idea, but now they are...

Don pointed to some examples in education:
Cosmic Blogs - for younger students
Lego Mindstorm
Both are examples of what Richard called "open innovation."

Other examples and ideas?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Schools Of The Future Debrief Part 1: "Disrupting Class"

Micheal Horn was the first keynote speaker at the conference (and one that made an impression on me), there to discuss the ideas in his book Disrupting Class, co-authored with Clayton Christensen (link's to their blog). Horn began with the question: why do successful organizations fail? This anchor question led to a discussion of the theory of disruptive innovation. Basically, that technology moves faster than what people need and/or want. So real innovation happens when there are areas of non-consumption that are ripe for a new model, new way of being. And this led to his discussion of technology in education.

He says, and so does all of the latest education research that I've been reading, that computers in classrooms have essentially failed, they haven't made a difference. At best, the most digital of conventional schools are simply digitizing the same old teaching and learning techniques. Or, they're cramming disruptive technologies into old paradigms. Sure, small gains have been made in small pockets (charter schools mostly). But on the whole, not much meaningful innovation in schools.

In his slides he presents an argument for 50% of education being online by 2019, using some pretty complex graphs and charts. The basis for this contention was mainly the usual suspect: mandates vs. the way we really learn. And, that what are disruptive technologies now will reach innovative status in education by 2019 or so. In online education, as the technology and vision catch up, it's easy to see that I could teach all 18 students in my sophomore English class, for example, according to their individual learning styles and needs, and I could track those learning needs, and teach them how they learn best and how to be the best learner they can be.

In addition, Horn listed areas of non-consumption in education, just waiting for a little educational entrepreneurship:
-Credit Recovery
-Drop Outs
-AP courses
-Schedule Conflicts
-Homeschool and Homebound Students (over 2 million of them today)
-Small Urban and Rural Schools

He goes on to name areas of global education non-consumption:
-3 million worldwide that don't attend primary school
-200+ million worldwide that don't attend secondary school
-Budget Pressures
-Barriers of distance, security, and infrastructure

Finally, Horn named some examples of places and companies that seem to be getting it:
-K-12 ed in Dubai
-Mobile Solutions

Now excuse me while I go start planning my online school:)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jam Session Learning

For me, going to a conference is not really about the conference, per se, it's more about the juxtaposition of the travel, conference events, visits with friends and other schools, and mostly stepping outside of individual school context for a fresh perspective. So while I'll go on to post and share about some specific conference sessions and related reflections and ideas, I first want to frame those posts with some of the extracurricular experiences I had while spending 8 days in my Washington state hometown and commuting by ferry boat each morning to the Schools of the Future World Summit hosted by Microsoft.

One of the highlights of my trip (besides the conference) was spending an afternoon and evening with two of my best friends. The three of us went to school together K-college, and spent just about every free minute outside of class in any given basement, writing music in the form of several permutations of rock band. We called ourselves Injured By Green, then Wish Cotton Was A Monkey, then The Chucks.

I bring this up for two reasons:

1. In the process of writing the literature for my MEd Plan B, I came across a metaphor for learning in the 21st century that I've been expanding ever since: "Jam Session Learning." So I talked about this with my buddies, one the leader of a development group for a high profile technology company, the other a professional jazz musician. Amongst a lot of ideas, several floated to the surface for the purpose of this post.

First, having a band sticks out to all of us as one of the most significant learning experiences of our "school" careers. Our jam sessions were a time and place to debrief and process all the information we had gathered during the day or week, and make something new, make sense of it. And for contrived school projects, we had a natural group of diverse learners playing off each others' strengths and compensating for challenges. We remembered taking our English class vocabulary list and writing song lyrics around them. Similarly, as high school freshman, it was hard to get into the music scene in our little county, so we decided to put on our own rock show, giving our band a place to play. In the process, we had to acquire a venue, rent a PA system, hire the bands, market the concert, and have a cause. We did all of this ourselves, and by the end of the show, each band (6) walked away with over $1000 and we donated truckloads of food to our local Food Bank. Funny that we didn't really think anything of this experience until later in life, as I'm hearing about schools like Hip Hop High and High Tech High. The concert bleeped on our collective radar screen when a Facebook group popped up for people throughout the years that had in some way been a part of the music scene in our county, and the concert was the subject of random reminiscing. These are concepts that I plan to explore in more depth as I synthesize my conference week and blog here.

Reason #2. I haven't blogged much lately. I think it started to feel like it wasn't part of my job, just something extra. I'm going to grad school full-time and teaching full-time and expecting a child for the first time. But mostly I've let myself get stuck in a place that David Foster Wallace describes in "The Nature of the Fun." Basically, he describes how writing starts off as really fun because it's honest. Soon, once an audience develops, self-consciousness challenges the original fun. The writer has some expectation of the audience's expectations, and just like that, the writing becomes "shitty."

So every year, my band entered the school talent show. Freshman year, we were the defending champions. During the rehearsal, there was a double controversy with our performance. First, we wanted to play two songs but were only allowed one. Second, we had a particular lyric that was objectionable to the school, not because of any "swear" words just because of the idea. Naturally, we problem solved and made a tough decision. We used a cymbal roll to make two songs into one; and, we said we'd change the lyric, but on stage, we didn't change it.
I'm not inspired to be inappropriate, but after the SOTF conference, I've realized how significant this blog is to my professional development and how important it is to remember the nature of this fun.