Upside Down with Standards

It’s that district mandated time of the week again: workshop day. It’s time to triangulate the world of standards and outcomes with the world of working with students. Notice, however, how few “student choice” workshop days there are or “learning & learner focused” days there are mandated in any given district. 
In scouring over all of the academic standards and essential learner outcomes thoughts instead drift to the Upside Down Academy. It’s model, structure, and standards are all quite simple.

"The best way to learn is to try and teach."

    1. Learn something.
    2. Pay attention to what you find confusing.
    3. Come up with a way to make it less confusing / more fun for the next person.
    4. It can be a blog post, video, dance, song, smoke signal, what ever.
    5. Create a lesson and make it a little easier for the next person 
     I find the idea of planning learning environment with this kind of an outcome or this kind of a structure in place to be far more engaging than anything conceived of by a standards committee. 
    The technology exists to make this a reality. We just need the will to make it happen. And to have the savvy to reconcile that new world with what things like this. 

    It sounds like a challenge worth accepting, don’t you think?

    Poetry and Crowd Seeding a Sonnet

    In the upcoming unit I’m planning I am encountering something that teachers everywhere fear. No, not just Shakespeare; poetry. Go ask a teacher if they would like to go impromptu substitute teach in a poetry class. Go ahead. I’ll wait. No volunteers? 
    I’m one of those “weird” guys that actually likes poetry. Poetry has been a part of my life since before I was a teenager. Yes, for that long a time. But teaching poetry still gives one a sense of trepidation. So in the spirit of transparency I thought I would try a new approach in working with students writing poetry. 
    The process is one that comes from the writer Chuck Palahniuk. I recently heard him speak at the Fitzgerald theater in St. Paul Minnesota. He brought up a process of writing that he has spoken about and written about before he calls it “crowd seeding”.
    To develop his themes, Palahniuk also conducts experiments in what he calls “crowd-seeding”: At parties he tells people what he’s working on and freely hands out his phone number to generate ideas….

    All of his books are packed with this group expertise “so that you feel like you’re learning,” he says. It’s the Google-era technique of novel writing: social composition. “I’m simultaneously testing my material or premise with people and tweaking it,” he says. “Plus, it’s a fun game and gives people a role to play.”

    This brings to mind a different author, one that I’ll be seeing in the near future, Jane Mcgonigal. Here’s a bit about where she is coming at the whole technology/education interplay:

    Given that Mcgonigal says in her book that

    All games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation

    So I’m thinking, why not crowd seed the writing of a sonnet? One could even make a game of it.

    Hopefully more to come…

    Eulogizing Bankruptcy and Lessons in Disruption

    I went into Borders yesterday and bought a book.

    Soon that sentence will no longer be a possibility. As many already know, Borders has lost it’s battle with bankruptcy and is moving into full-on liquidation. While others have done a far better job of parsing the days and ways that this came about there remain valid lessons in this case for education and other targets of market disruption.

    The Relationship with the Internet

    As Slate points out:

    Borders famously flubbed its relationship with the Internet. From 2001 until 2008, it outsourced its online sales to Amazon, essentially handing customers over to the bigger, better site during the formative years of e-commerce.

    The lesson for education?

    Here is an example of outsourcing core competencies. Sites like Kahn Academy and e2020 can be valid supplemental resources for things like blended learning. But that is all that these should be supplemental resources.

    Overly scripted or “curriculum in a box” programs like Read 180 can provide structure and a basis for instruction but there is an implicit message being sent to educators: We don’t trust you to handle it alone. Such prescriptive programs can lower morale but also affect the sense of community. Make no mistake, I still think that any teacher that feels that they can be replaced by a computer probably should be. But we should take care not to use web-based programs and curriculum in a way that removes learners from the community of education in a school because they will simply seek out another to be a part of instead.

    The Future Is Digital and Will Need Curation

    NPR comes on strong in it’s Monkey See blog with two points.

    The first:

    There is no other future for reading but a digital one, and getting misty about the decline of tangible books is an exercise in futility. Reading itself has never been more popular, even if formats are in flux.

    The second:

    Bookstores are very special places, even the behemoths. They provide a space for cultural dilettantism. You can get lost in them for hours, perusing covers and picking up obscure titles. They are dedicated to discovery and are curated by some of the most dedicated retail employees around (even to get hired at a large corporate chain, one is still required to exhibit a sharp passion for reading).

    The lesson for education?

    Educators have to embrace multiple forms of authorship when it comes to content for their students both in terms of source and creation. Saying that you are a digital educator because you have a PowerPoint or Twitter lesson just isn’t going to cut it. This isn’t to say that all students need to be educated to be the next Amanda Hocking - but they should be allowed the option to geo that route if their passion dictates it.

    The second point brings up the salience of curation. This point concerns me the more I learn about student motivation in the face of increased accountability testing. Right now education’s focus is more “what’s on the test” than it is “what are my students passionate about learning.”

    The Take-away

    People have written about how much they are going to miss Borders and just as many have written about the mistakes that got Borders to this point. One could say that a series of bad decisions broke the chain. But the real take-away from an educational standpoint is that technology was either dismissed or discounted to Borders’ detriment. These are mistakes that education not only cannot afford to make but also possesses the means to surmount. If education embraces technology, and through it change, Borders will be a cautionary tale. If not it will become an outlier.

    Sent from my iPad

    The Spiral of Up-votes & Learning

    Given the rise of websites like Reddit, Stumbleupon, and yes, Google+ this story from Gizmodo bears consideration. The premise:

    Flickr user André Rabelo saw when he uploaded this b&w photo to a Flickr pool called DeleteMe!, which votes on whether a photo has any right being amongst the top classes of photography.

    However, the joke was on the people commenting on “Rabelo’s” photo. The photo was actually one by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Yes, the Henri “father of modern photojournalism" Cartier-Bresson. But the plot thickens:

    Over 500 comments have been added to Rabelo’s uploaded photo, and it makes for a hilarious yet thought-provoking read flipping through the pages. The first batch of comments from the DeleteMe! group some 68 months ago look rather foolish in hindsight, but not as foolish (in my eyes) as the bandwagon-jumpers who latched onto the prank once it was revealed, calling it “art” and a “masterpiece.”

    This is kind of a case of “Schrödinger’s Photograph” - is something quality based on its observable merits? Or should the overall work transcend its constituent parts? Who decides what is “Art” or merely “art?” What about learning?

    Given the rise of the aforementioned socially curated news and web content this story could be an outlier. While I love using Google+ and want schools to have the option of adding it to the Google Apps for Education suite, I have to take Rabelo’s photo as an admonition.

    As an educator, the danger is to be a commenter of either extreme. Yes, there are many that want web 2.0 tools used in education, but when the discussion spirals out of the black & white which side should we be on? The one of process and learning Learning.

    photo © 2009 Ariston Collander | more info (via: Wylio)

    Spiral Sphere

    Sent from my iPad

    Testing the Cupcake Dog

    In preparing for the school year I’ve been approaching my planning from a different standpoint. In the same vein as this blog, the aim has been to be as transparent as possible in terms of the learning process. One inevitable reality of the learning process in public schools is assessment which often takes the form of tests. During this preparation an interesting meme that came at me sideways was Stains the Cupcake dog. 

    This clip from "It’s Me or the Dog" has started to take on a small life beyond the show. It could be the production values, or the disconcerting amount of focus by the dog, but in any event it’s amusing and thought-provoking. 

    While preparing for the school year I’ve been embedding multiple assessments of different natures, all with the goal of improving student achievement. Within this goal is the focus and assumption of education being something more than mere operant conditioning. Too many students consume information, retain it until the test, and then promptly forget said information to ready the mental space for new information presumably for the next test. In this way the learning of Stains the Cupcake dog is a cautionary tale. If all we assess is the memory of wrote facts we are racing not to the top but toward obsolescence. Learning requires a basic knowledge of facts but that knowledge is not the sum total of learning. Though it may be easy to manage I do not want a classroom full of cupcake dogs.  

    What’s the answer then? I’m not entirely sure, but I want to bring my students into the process of the learning that they take part in. A first step is giving them power to choose, let them peek behind education’s curtain, to have opportunities Stains did not. If we do not teach students how we create lessons and curate learning how can we then expect them to learn on their own? The interesting thing is that we know what to do. The talk below is something that I am going to share with my students. Because I want learners, not cupcake dogs. 

    Google, Data, and the Problem of the Chessboard

    Last week a rather impressive statistic was used by Google CEO Eric Schmidt - Tech Crunch has the figure and the quote: 
    Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until  2003, according to Schmidt. That’s something like five exabytes of data, he says.

    Schmidt goes on to say that the lion’s share of this new data is user-created but the implications for all of us as learners is enormous. The immediate analogue is the proverb of the wheat and the chessboard
    The short version is that an ancient ruler (some say India, others China) was quite pleased with one of his scholars who invented the game of chess. The ruler goes on to let the scholar name the reward for creating the chessboard. The scholar replies that he would like to receive one grain of wheat for the first square of the board and have the total amount of wheat doubled for each subsequent square. The ruler wasn’t the mathematician that the scholar was but it works out to

    To solve this, observe that a chess board is an 8×8 square, containing 64 squares. If the amount doubles on successive squares, then the sum of grains on all 64 squares is:

    T_{64} = 1 + 2 + 4 + \cdots + 2^{63} = \sum_{i=0}^{63} 2^i = 2^{64} - 1 \,

    This equals 18,446,744,073,709,551,615.

    To bring this back to Schmidt’s quote it important to note that an exabyte is defined as

    exabyte definition

     2^60 = 1,152,921,504,606,846,976 bytes = 1024 petabytes or roughly 10^18 bytes. 
    So what we’re seeing nearly daily in data creation is something akin to the wheat & chessboard scenario. Again, a sizable portion of this data can be chalked up to the effluvium of life that comes in texts, tweets, and assorted blog postings - including this one. However, if even a fraction of this information is of merit it means that a drastic shift in pedagogy is needed. 

    Often when people criticize education it’s that recent graduates are woefully inept when it comes to remembering facts. Such a lack of memory has even been the subject of late night television segments and game-shows. With the aforementioned exponential increase in the creation and storage of data, how can something like the Common Core Standards hope to serve to prepare students for the future? Given the bureaucracy that surrounds the Common Core, and education legislation in general, keeping up with “all the facts that are needed to know” seems to be an almost foregone conclusion. 
    Knowledge is needed to acquire any skill; facts are an indivisible part of learning. But the intertwined nature of facts and process in learning begs some important questions. Are educators supposed to strive to prepare their students for life, or for the next test? When looking at the chessboard are we approaching education as the ruler or the scholar? 

    Hiring out “Milkshake Mistakes”

    The Washington Post has an intriguing article posted today regarding college admissions that got my thinking connected to a post by Rob Jacobs over at Education Innovation. The article in the post is detailing how colleges are struggling to distinguish talent amongst the thousands of applications they are receiving. A money-quote: 

    "We felt that students who managed to come to campus were not reflective of the diversity of our applicant pool," said Maria Laskaris, dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College. via The Washington Post
    The article goes on to detail the pitfalls of the “to interview or not” conundrum and what kind of technologies (Skype, webcams, etc.) might be used to this end. This brought me to Rob’s post and a book I, and it seems technology enthusiasts and educators everywhere, have been reading - Clay Shirkey’s "Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age".  Rob does an excellent job of summing up what Shirkey dubs “The Milkshake Mistake.” The problem occurred when McDonald’s researchers, working to increase milkshake sales, were surprised to find that milkshakes were being purchased in the early morning contrary to their expectations. Shirkey goes on to point out how the customers were simply hiring out the milkshake to perform a needed service, regardless if it was contrary to its expected use. Rob’s post connects this to education:
    You “hired” the technology to help students consume. They “hired” it to help them produce. You hired the technology to help students connect. They “hired” it to comment and critique.
    The question over what we’re hiring technology to do in education is somehow both salient and elusive. Shirkey does provide a key quote in a later chapter: 
    The logic of digital media, on the other hand, allows the people formerly known as the audience to create value for one another every day. 
    When using technology in education, are teachers committing a “Milkshake Mistake?” How are the expectations in the use of technology being communicated in relation to adding value? If the prevailing progression of test well, do well in school, get into a good university now involves an interview process that is designed to have prospects demonstrate skills - how are the Common Core Standards or test-based teacher accountability systems preparing students for this possible future? All I can think of is this quote:  So what future action should be taken? One thing I’m thinking about is teaching my students about Bloom’s Taxonomy as a foundation piece for the school year. If we understand what we value and how we add value, maybe we can avoid some Milkshake Mistakes.