Nov 30, 2009

Conditions for Innovation - David Gilmour

Just saw this article linked in John Connell's blog and had to post David's "Conditions for Innovation." I'll comment later. I'm especially interested in his stance on long-term planning. For the full article, click here.


Transparency: If people see what others do it generates support and peer pressure.
Greenhousing: Innovative ideas often start out as fragile little shoots that need nurturing.
Benefit focus: Keep asking what it is you’re trying to achieve – don’t just tick boxes.
Diversity: Of people, background, experience and outlook. Avoid groups of people who all think the same.
Risk-taking: Recognise risks, watch out for politics, listen to people at the sharp end.
Avoid deficiency models: Telling people they need to be there rather than here does not work.
Mistakes: It has to be all right to say, ‘That didn’t work – let’s try something else.’
Long-term planning: Can’t be done for innovation. Sensible next step is best that can be done. Then look closely at what happens and take another step.

Nov 29, 2009

Student Notebooks in the Age of Social Networks

Many teachers have used authors notebooks, science journals, etc. in the past. There is tremendous value in them. But, now that we have easy access to blogs, wikis, social networks, and more, how do we take the student notebook/journal concept and adapt it for today's tools and learning methods? What I'm struggling with particularly write now is which tool is best for my students to conduct ongoing social studies inquiries of various sizes, on a variety of topics, with different partners/groups that I want shared with the class/world. If I go with a wiki, do students record their work on an individual page, a group page, a topic page, or something else? What would be nice would be if the elements on a page could be individually tagged by student, group, topic, method, etc. so that the content could be sorted and sifted in different ways. Students could see the range of their own work if they sort/sift it by their name. Groups could collect their work by sifting for their names and topic. Topical pages could be created by sifting for topics and/or subtopics. An online database would be the answer, but what databases have the ease of use, multimedia capabilities, and web2.0 nature of wikispaces?

Failure, Success, and Motivation

(This post the fourth in a series commenting on Kathy Sierra's presentation about creating passionate users.) 

As a professional development facilitator, curriculum designer, mentor, or teacher, how do you motivate your "users." One of Kathy's points is to make the product they will actually use. She suggests to make the right things easy for people and the wrong things hard. Kathy was presenting in a certain style that makes it hard to get beyond the superficial, but that seems too simplistic. If we are aiming for intrinsic motivation, one element that seems extremely important is finding the right balance between failure and success. Making things too easy or too hard leads to frustration or disinterest. When you have learners (kids or adults) that all come in knowing different things and having had different experiences, how do you design a one-fits all that will balance failure and success?

Scientific American recently had an article related to this conundrum. The article presented findings from a study that found learning becomes better if conditions are arranged so that students make errors. How many of us have created learning opportunities designed to avoid the problems and pitfalls students might encounter? 

A couple of other related resources:
On His Team, Would You Be a Solvent, or the Glue?
Famous Failures
Failure – The Secret to Success
F Is For Fail
Zone of Proximal Development

Nov 26, 2009

What's The One Thing You Can Do To Be Amazing?

(This post the third in a series commenting on Kathy Sierra's presentation about creating passionate users.) 

Have you ever attended one of those workshops where so many things are covered that you don't know where to start? Or, have you ever visited on of those sites that describe 100 Web 2.0 tools? Many professional developers seem to think that value comes from the quantity of tools, tips, slides, lesson ideas, etc. that they can cram into an hour, half-day, or whole day.

That seems contrary to Kathy's statement that we can help our "users" by giving them the one thing they can do to be amazing.  I didn't take that statement to mean that we should tell teachers we work with exactly which tool they should use and in which particular lesson. In fact, struggling to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of certain tools in certain situations may be the most important "problem" we can lead teachers to consider. Instead, Kathy's statement reminded me that we need to think very carefully about the number and order of tools, tips, activities, etc. we do present. Will they make the teachers (really, their students) amazing, or will they distract them from what's most important/beneficial/amazing? Would you rather have a teacher that has thought carefully about when and how to creatively and thoughtfully use one tool like a wiki throughout the year in their subject(s), or a teacher who has mastered a dozen tools, but can't achieve rigor or relevance with them? Less is probably more if teachers develop a nuanced understanding of their tool(s) and how they best fit with their pedagogy and subject. They can always add another tool later in the year or the next year.

Nov 24, 2009

Practice Eating Your Own Dog Food

(This post the second in a series commenting on Kathy Sierra's presentation about creating passionate users.)  

I know it sounds funny, but when Kathy mentioned practicing all the time, it connected with Guy Kawasaki's rule to "Eat Your Own Dog Food." Guy meant that statement in regards to technology developers using their own products. I connected Kathy's appeal to practice all the time and Guy's rule to use your own products to the typical paradox of professional development where new pedagogical methods are "taught" using old pedagogical methods. I realize there are many reasons that occurs, but this is why teachers need to use the same tools we want them using with their students. (I am definitely not advocating they need to use them so that they know them better than their students or before they let their students use them!) Teachers don't need to use the tools to complete the exact same sort of projects as the students. They need to use them in an authentic way for their own learning. When using the tools for their own learning, their understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the tools will grow as will the range of possible uses for these tools in learning activities. With time, the teachers will develop an intuitive feel for the tool.

Nov 22, 2009

Stuck in Program Mode

(This post the second in a series commenting on Kathy Sierra's presentation about creating passionate users.) 

One metaphor Kathy briefly made was having your camera stuck in Program Mode. Thinking about teachers, I took that equivalent of teaching the lesson as the textbook says to or if it is a lesson or project designed by the teacher, teaching it the same way every year. Getting the teachers out of P Mode means getting them to reflect on their lessons. They need to reflect on the TPC of the lesson, and who their students are so that they can modify it (or ditch it) for greater success.

One way curriculum designers can encourage this reflection is to design lessons with optional activities. I don't mean optional in take it or leave it, I mean optional as in a flow chart or a football option play, where depending on what is observed/experienced, the teacher makes a choice. If we add in reasons why they might choose different options, the teacher can make better choices, but also "hear" an expert's thinking. Who knows, they may even internalize it with time. Otherwise, we have merely created a new textbook for teachers to teach from.

A second way professional development and curriculum facilitators could lead teachers away from only using Program Mode, would be to build up their understanding of a wide variety of activity types. This would need to be accompanied by discussions of the affordances and constraints of these activity types as well as how each of those might be modified depending on the technology used to accomplish them. Teachers would then have myriad choices and a better feel for when to select one activity type or technology over another.

Listening in on Tangentially Related Conversations

One of my sources of food for thought is IT Conversations.  A presentation I listened to a month ago is still sparking thoughts. Kathy Sierra presented at an Ignite conference on creating passionate users. While she was talking about users of products, I first thought about "users" as my students and then as the teachers (adult learners) I work with. Over the next few posts I'll comment on where those thoughts led me.

Nov 15, 2009

Puzzling Professional Development

Most teachers recognize that much of what they teach cannot be done learned easily or quickly. Learning to read, write, reason, etc., all take years to learn, even at a superficial level. Mastery takes even longer. (Gladwell and others have posited that it takes 10,000 hours. Though others, like Godin, disagree about the exact amount of time.)

So, why is it that teachers and district administrators, most who once were teachers, keep planning professional development in a manner that fails to take this into account? Do they really expect more than a superficial understanding after a staff meeting, one day workshop, or even a four day training? Is it any wonder that most professional development has little effect in the classroom?

And that's not the only difficulty. Even if the teachers can see the theoretical value in a longer term development project, they feel as if whoever is facilitating the project should be able to communicate the whole even before they begin. If they don't, many teachers start to get frustrated. Donald Schön expressed this difficulty in Educating the Reflective Practitioner,
It’s as though the teacher said something like this: “I can tell you that there’s something you need to know and I can tell you that with my help you can probably learn it. But I cannot tell you what it is in a way that you will understand. You must be willing therefore, to undergo certain experiences as I direct you to undergo them, so that you can learn what it is that you need to know and what I mean by the words I use. Then and only then can you make an informed choice about whether you wish to learn this new competence. If you are unwilling to step into this new experience without knowing ahead of time what it will be like, then I cannot help you. You must trust me. (p.66)
Most adults are uncomfortable with such a proposition. Many teachers actually prefer the ineffectual one-hit wonder type of workshop. Interesting that they expect their students to be willing to live through just such a situation. (Or maybe they don't, and they only expect rote memorization and skill mastery.) The question is how to structure their adult learning in a way that can help them live through and eventually appreciate such a deep learning experience. If the school or district even considers such opportunities.

Nov 14, 2009

When will districts embrace the new forms of writing?

Most of my students don't enjoy traditional forms of writing. Most of my students enjoy writing much more when it is in the form of a wiki project, online discussion, tweet, text message, etc. There are myriad elements that may be behind this increased motivation and engagement. It may be due to the novelty of the technology, the authentic audience, the interactive and collaborative opportunities, the ability to write multimodally, the variety of structures, or the ability to hyperlink. Yet, most districts still cling to only basic writing, the traditional five sentence paragraph or five paragraph essay being typical. If they have taken a step farther, to them, a writer's journal exists in a notebook. How sad that they hope to improve student writing with more of the same.

Fortunately, there is hope. Throughout the web you can find inspiring examples of students and teachers who have embraced new tools and methods. Furthermore, NCTE has endorsed a change. To learn more about their suggestions check out their set of articles, Writing in the 21st Century, or better yet, this new book, Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom.

Nov 13, 2009

Minds on Fire

Yet another interesting article related to the !gnite program in Birmingham, Minds on Fire (doesn’t the title make it sound related?). Make sure to check out the section on Social Learning. I thought the following study should be noted,

Compelling evidence for the importance of social interaction to learning comes from the landmark study by Richard J. Light, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, of students’ college/university experience. Light discovered that one of the strongest determinants of students’ success in higher education—more important than the details of their instructors’ teaching styles—was their ability to form or participate in small study groups. Students who studied in groups, even only once a week, were more engaged in their studies, were better prepared for class, and learned significantly more than students who worked on their own.
There is also an audio file related to this topic by John Seely Brown and others from a Celebration of the opening of MIT’s involvement in Open Courseware.