Reflections from WISE 2014

I’ve just returned from the sixth annual WISE 2014, a Summit organized by the Qatar Foundation and supported by the former first lady of Qatar, HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. The Summit brings together individuals from both the private and public sector to explore innovative solutions to address the global challenges facing education. The panelists and speakers included:

The Summit asked world leaders about their political will to resolve the global challenges facing education and the implementation of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, highlighted the need for urgent action to bring education to all children in the world, and explored innovative and entrepreneurial solutions to address the challenges.

Some of my Summit takeaways:

Broad Shifts

  • We are no longer in the knowledge economy. We are in an innovation economy. Changing how we educate children is an urgent necessity.

  • Teacher preparation needs disruption.

  • Empathy has become an essential life skill. How are we cultivating and developing this skill?

  • Human lives are far more than the economic imperatives of innovation. Creativity seems to be too much about the economy, about jobs. Shift in narrative required – from focus on economics to humanity, from jobs to human spirit. Shift in vocabulary – people are more than ‘markets’ – human spirit, spirituality, intellectual. Cultivate creativity for all aspects of our lives. To help us be more free and fulfilled individuals in our lives.

  • Need to shift the vocabulary – Instead of using ‘Creativity’, use ‘Creative Problem-Solving’ to get the attention of public institutions.

Education Post-2015: The Unfinished Agenda

The implementation of the UN’s Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) continue to be a matter of debate. In 2000, education was declared as one of the MDGs. Almost 15 years later, progress towards achievement of this goal seems to be abysmal.

  • Through the MDGs, the world pledged to secure education for all by 2015.

  • The statistics are overwhelming:

    • 250 million kids – unable to read and write after four years of schooling

    • Across Africa, Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, 58 million children are without primary education. 55% of the children affected are girls

    • Reasons include conflicts, poverty, disabled, nomadic children, and global epidemics.

    • Effect of conflict on children

      • Currently there are 8 conflict zones in the world

      • Number of children affected or out of school due to conflict is going up

      • Classrooms are co-opted for refugees who are displaced

      • Girls are adversely affected – the sexual violence that accompanies conflict

      • We need to devise specific alternative means to bring these children into schooling

    • In addition to the 58 million children without primary education, 70 million youth who are illiterate, have to be brought into the education system.

  • Putting children in school is the only solution to beat the cycle of poverty

  • Where’s the political will to make concerted efforts for change? This cannot be just be a UN problem. Countries have to make meaningful, visible, and impactful national efforts. At the national level – fix and adjust policies to address the challenge. Synergy can be created by connecting each country’s national efforts with a regional effort. This in turn can become an impactful global effort.

  • There is a global financing gap for primary education. Cost of not making education investments are enormous. By 2020, there is a projected deficit of 80 million jobs globally; this is a breeding ground for extremism. The world is currently spending upwards of 1.3 billion dollars a month on fighting extremism.

    • The world has enough money to resolve this. The priorities are not in the right place. Think about the amount of money that is being spent on wars.

    • $ 26 billion a year is required to close the gap. This is equivalent to 6 ⅔ days (less than a week) of global military spending. (UNESCO, 2011) Where’s the political will to address the challenge?

    • The world is in danger of losing progress; Donor financing is going down. Aid to education has gone down by 5% a year since 2009.

  • The UN is drafting SDGs or Sustainable Development Goals for 2016 to 2030. Education for all must be made the top target of SDGs. The SDGs need a finance goal linked to education – to address the ways in which domestic country budgets will allocate for education. Commitment to education should ideally be 6% of a country’s domestic budget

LCPS – Low Cost Private Schools

  • There is a need to move from altruistic reasons for the existence of schools to open the space to creative problem solving and entrepreneurship that can help address the urgent challenges in education.

  • Squatter communities all over the developing world have no recognition by government. Hence they have no schools and no government spending on education.

  • Abolition of fees can result in increase in school enrollment. Low fees vs low cost – In India, 350 million people are living on a mean of 90 cents a day; 60 cents a day schooling is not affordable!

  • Public schools are a failure of governance.

  • Some ways in which the challenges can be addressed:

    • hiring local teachers from within the community where a school is located.

    • providing ongoing PD as opposed to the one time PD that is usually available.

    • use teacher observation as a way to provide formative feedback

    • create and empower parent-teacher associations and increase community engagement

  • Monitoring of education quality is not happening, and wherever it is, it’s shoddy and not focused on improving learning for children.

    • Neutralize inspectorates of education

    • Identify what good data looks like to define ‘quality’

    • Define accountability measures

    • Explore ways to improve school governance models – reform inspectorates; grow active engagement of parents

    • Design and create activity based curriculum – with a tech component (e.g. School in a box, 360 Schools)

    • Involve the private sector to help improve public schools (e.g. Rishi Valley model)

  • Omega Schools in Ghana are a good example of how to bring education to all. It is a means of extending education for those who cannot afford it.

This Summit has placed several provocations in front of us. How we respond to these will greatly impact our world’s future.

Making and Tinkering in Schools

You have probably heard about the Maker movement, a growing global Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture. Creativity, collaboration, and open access are the hallmarks of the Maker Movement. We are all aware of the power of the internet to connect everyone in virtual spaces. Virtual networking has highlighted the need for hands-on experiences in designing and producing in the physical, real world. Design Thinking processes and the language of design schools are finding a place in our lives; ‘rapid prototyping’, ‘design cycle’,  and ‘ideating’ are some of the concepts and practices that are slowly becoming familiar.

Forecasting the Future of Making

The Institute for the Future (IfTF) does long-term forecasting using quantitative futures-research methods. They provide strategic and practical foresight into the shifts taking place in a rapidly changing world. Playing the role of provocateur, in 2008, IfTF identified future forces that are likely to have a profound impact on the ways in which we live and work. Their forecast “map” for “the Future of Making” has the following statements that nudge us to consider the implications of the maker mindset:

  • Forces are “intersecting to transform how goods, services, and experiences — the ‘stuff’ of our world – will be designed, manufactured, and distributed over the next decade. An emerging do-it-yourself culture of ‘makers’ is boldly voiding warranties to tweak, hack, and customize the products they buy. And what they can’t purchase, they build from scratch. Meanwhile, flexible manufacturing technologies on the horizon will change fabrication from massive and centralized to lightweight and ad hoc. These trends sit atop a platform of grassroots economics — new market structures developing online that embody a shift from stores and sales to communities and connections.”

  • “Individual makers are amplified by social technologies that connect ideas, designs, techniques, and, of course, people, to revolutionize the process of innovation and production.”

  • “The maker culture will not replace traditional industry. In the future, traditional manufacturers and maverick makers will be closely linked – sometimes cooperating, sometimes competing, but frequently blurring the boundaries that separate them. Success will occur when the new culture are woven together in new and interesting ways.”

The “map” of “The Future of Making” is a useful guide for understanding and exploring the maker mindset. Understanding the concepts of “drivers”, “trends”, and “signals” are essential for reading the map. There are six “drivers” of change – social and technological phenomenon that are making the trends possible:

  • Platforms for Sociability – Social networks as hubs for collaboration and problem-solving

  • Eco-Motivation – the new mantra is Reduce, Reuse, Remake.

  • Rise of the Professional Amateur – the blurring line between amateurs and professionals

  • Access to Tools – decreasing costs and increasing capabilities are making access to tools commonplace, making it easy for everyone to become a maker.

  • Open-Source Everything – customization and zero cost is the new mantra for software

  • Quest for Authenticity – the growing need for hands-on experiences and a new balance of the virtual and real worlds.

The “trends” that will shape ‘making’ between 2008 and 2018:

  • If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It: From closed IP to open innovation — “What it means to own a creation is changing as more makers expect their hardware and software to remain in beta, open for tweaks, improvements, and unintended uses.”

  • Personal Design and Fabrication: From the machine shop to the desktop – “Better desktop tools for design and fabrication are making it so that access to a complex shop full of tools and machines or a formal vocational education is no longer a prerequisite to making cool things.”

  • Grassroots Economics: From products to stories — “Makers are turning away from big retail and venturing out on their own, often online, to share and sell goods and services in marketplaces where shoppers want to know the people and stories behind the products.”

  • Lightweight Manufacturing: From centralized production to ad hoc factories — “Unlike assembly lines and dedicated factories, job shops enable fast, flexible, and customized production.”

  • Citizen R&D: From R&D labs to R&D communities — “Research and development is no longer relegated to a lab where only ‘experts’ are welcome. Makers reach out to communities and networks to ideate, iterate, and solicit feedback.”

  • Networked Artisans: From garage inventors to maker meet-ups — “Makers aren’t tinkering alone in garages, backyards, and basements. They’re building communities, forming networks, and meeting up to collaborate and celebrate their creations.”

Each trend has related “signals”, examples of products, ideas or innovations that will coalesce by 2018 to realize the trend.

Making in Schools

A film produced by Abilene Christian University shares stories of making, highlights the contexts that nurture the maker culture, and provokes conversations about the implications of making for education and learning.

One of the individuals in the film is Dale Dougherty. Dougherty is the founding editor of Make magazine and is considered the founder of the Maker Movement. His passion and drive for creating communities of makers and tinkerers has become the catalyst for widespread conversations about the importance of “making” in our lives. His Maker Education Initiative, with the tagline “Every Child A Maker”, has launched several programs for young learners including Maker Corps and Young Makers. In 2006, Dougherty started Maker Faires, popular maker meet-ups, hosted in several cities across the US and the world.

In the primary years in schools, students “make” and “create” things using playdough, legos, wooden blocks, craft objects, and other items. As they move through the older grades, somewhere along the way, the focus on the maker mindset seems to disappear. How can schools create opportunities for making and tinkering? In several schools this is taking the shape of Maker Spaces and Maker curriculum that enables students (and adults) to tinker, experiment, and fabricate using design thinking processes.

Making Their Way: Creating a Generation of “Thinkerers”

Why the Maker Movement is Popular in Schools

What is your school doing to provide making and tinkering opportunities for your students?

Speed Innovating

Yesterday I presented at the Speed Innovating event at NAIS 2013 Annual Conference. My presentation was titled Superstructing: A Model for Rapid, Effective, Systemic Change in Schools. (Link to our school’s prezi.) I loved the structure of this event and plan to adapt it for our work at ASB. The event was organized by NAIS’ 21st Century Curriculum/Technology Task Force. This was the description of the event – “Maximize information and idea gathering — attend Speed Innovating! It’s three mini-sessions in one devoted to Going Beyond Boundaries.” It was an evolution of the speed dating idea. In a ballroom twenty presenters were set up to host their own tables. These were large round tables that seat ten persons. With a presenter at each table, there was room for nine attendees to sit. Attendees pre-registered and chose three topics that interested them. Each speaker had 15 minutes to share short, focused information bytes on an innovation. After 15 minutes at a table, attendees moved to another table for another 15 minute sharing from a second speaker. The hope was that attendees walked away with three cutting-edge ideas to take back to their schools.

Here’s a time-lapse video of the event – 45 minutes of innovation in 60 seconds.

One of the things I personally loved was the opportunity to reflect on what I was planning to share. Prior to the session I had to spend time thinking about the key details of the innovation I was sharing and ensure that I maintained the focus as I had only ten minutes to share out.

The Speed Innovating event was a fantastic structure that moves away from the sit-and-get type presentations, and encourages a higher level of engagement and interactivity. It should be adapted and made a regular part of our classroom sharing with our students!

Get ready to participate in some Speed Innovating adaptations at ASB Un-Plugged!

Prototyping BYOD

ASB is a leader in the use of technology to enhance our students’ educational experiences. We believe that by using technology appropriately, students are more highly engaged in their own education, have increased opportunities to develop higher order thinking skills and are better prepared to participate in a world where technological fluency is essential.

With the increased availability of sophisticated personal mobile technologies, it is becoming possible to personalize learning for each and every learner. For students to be truly self-directed and reflective lifelong learners and collaborative meaning makers, they must own their learning and the devices that facilitate it.

At the elementary school level students in grades 1 to 5 are provided laptops by the school. (In the middle and high schools, all students buy and bring a school-specified Tablet PC.) Earlier this year we ran a prototype for eight weeks in a section of grades 3 and 4 where students brought their personal mobile device – iPad, Android tablet, Netbook, or Laptop – to school daily. This was an optional program – not all students brought a device to school. During the eight weeks we studied how using a personal device in school can impact student learning, classroom instruction, classroom management, and digital citizenship. This was done through classroom observations, focus group interviews, and parent surveys.

We were answering two questions through this prototype:

  • What are the types of learning opportunities that a Bring-Your-Own-Device program can enable?
  • What are the essential conditions for a successful Bring-Your-Own-Device in the ES?

These are the findings from the BYOD prototype in grades 3 and 4.

Parents’ hopes and expectations for their child(ren) prior to the start of the prototype:

  • Learn to use their device.
  • See their device as both an educational and a leisure time tool
  • Understand how to use and become comfortable with using the same device at home and in school.
  • Will be prepared for middle school laptop ownership
  • Develop skills in consistently storing/managing data.
  • Learn to be responsible in looking after the device – charging, etc.
  • Will not only become proficient using the device and learn new and creative ways to use it but become more of an inquirer taking responsibility for their own learning
  • Become more responsible and also enjoy new ways of learning.

Important Learnings from the prototype

  • The Bring-Your-Own-Device option supports the following:
      • Personalized learning for each and every learner
      • Students can be more self-directed and reflective
      • Give students more ownership of their learning – When students bring their own devices, the computers are not locked down and they have full ownership over the device. This has been shown to be valuable as it gives them control over the device which is then connected to control over their learning.
      • Expand learning opportunities outside the classroom
  • All our software is in the “cloud” or on the web. This is an important factor that contributed to the success of the prototype as no software installations were required. Irrespective of the operating system and device, students were able to access the tool they needed online.
  • Not all devices were appropriate for the level of productivity we required from our students. The “tablet” devices like the iPad and Galaxy Tabs became supplementary consumptive devices and did not support the kinds of work our students needed to do using a connected device.
  • Our conclusion — Devices that best support our students’ work in school – laptops.
  • As laptops can be used for three or more years, we defined minimum specifications for these to support students’ use of these devices into middle school.
  • A list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) was also created to support learning.
  • Suggestions to consider:
    • Guidelines for parents on home use of devices so they can provide effective guidance at home.
    • Create drop-in office BYOD hours for parents after school (e.g. from 3 to 4 pm) a few times a week where parents can get tech help on their child’s devices.
    • Share a list of laptops that parents can consider purchasing that meet the minimum specifications.
  • Parents also noticed the following specific changes in their child(ren) and their use of the personal device
    • Use of school email to access links and information for homework.
    • Greater confidence and ease with the use of their personal devices and other computers at home.
    • Seamless switching between devices to find the information they need.
    • Proactive problem solving on all devices
      • Shift in the use of the device from searching for games to creating google docs to sharing documents and information.
      • Increased level of responsibility
      • Seamless use of technology tools for research and learning
  • The following conditions need to be in place for a successful BYOD:
    • A Culture of Tech Integration – where technology use as a tool is already seamlessly integrated into the classroom.
    • Digital Citizenship – a continuous and ongoing focus on digital citizenship and responsible use of technology (hardware, software, data)
    • Technical Specs – Minimum specifications defined for the acceptable device so there’s minimal downtime.
    • Tech Support – Guidance and advice available to parents and students.
    • Parent Digital Fluency – Parents have a level of comfort in using technology and online tools so they can engage with their child in their learning as well as monitor use of technology at home.
    • Home-School Partnership – ongoing conversations between home and school as both partner to prepare students for a world where using technology is an essential life skill.

What started as a prototype to answer two questions has now been implemented across the school. Next year we are going BYOD from grades 6 to 12 and giving students in grades 4 and 5 the option to bring their own laptop to school! It’s been a surprising and amazing shift in a short time. I look forward to continuing to share our journey over the next year.


The Learning Journey Continues. . .

It’s been a very busy few months since I last wrote a post. During this time I’ve visited several schools to either observe their innovative programs or support schools interested in 1-to-1 learning, attended a couple of conferences, and participated in our school’s biennial 1-to-1 learning international conference, ASB Un-Plugged. As I get back to posting more regularly, I want to share some of the amazing work being done by our school’s faculty and staff.

  • Earlier this year we started a blog called Findings that is a collection of musings and reflections by members of ASB’s R&D Team members on practices that are relevant to emerging new paradigms of teaching and learning in the 21st century.  The posts are thought-provoking. Take some time to read, reflect, and respond.
  • ASB also published the first volume of Evolutions: Tech Integration Stories. “For over a decade, ASB has been studying, implementing, refining, and effectively integrating technology to enrich and extend the curriculum, to enhance and accelerate the types of learning that support the development of our students’ proficiency in 21st century skills of creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, leadership, and communication. Just as a person matures from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood, ASB’s approach to, and integration of, technology has matured, growing in depth and complexity. Evolutions  is a direct manifestation of our maturity vis-a-vis technology integration and our vision. In this volume you will encounter a collection of experiences, reflections, and practices for the integration of technology as we have lived them at ASB.” The book serves as a guide for others while providing documentation of some of our practices in a transient international school. Volume 2 of Evolutions  will be published in Spring 2013.
  • Next week we will launch the International Research Collaborative, a research partnership among international schools, researchers, and  universities. The Collaborative will be made up of international schools seeking to more closely examine and evaluate a range of educational technology access, practices, beliefs and outcomes related to teaching and learning. ASB has been working with a researcher to study various elements of our 1-to-1 program and its impact on student learning and achievement. Through this Collaborative, each participating school will be given full access, instructions and support to customized research and measurement tools to systematically collect, quantify, and interpret the perspectives of students, teaching staff, and parents through a series of fully customizable state-of-the-art surveys. For participating schools, such results will provide a general audit of teacher and student access, beliefs, and practices (with and without technology) that support learning. To provide a broader perspective and lens, schools will also be able to compare their own results to other international schools in the Collaborative. Look out for more information about the Collaborative in the coming week.
  • We’ve evolved our vision for ASB Un-Plugged. This spring we announced the inauguration of our ASB Un-Plugged Impact series. The Impact series will take place in years when the ASB Un-Plugged 1-to-1 Learning Conference is not held. These conferences will focus on topics, instructional practices, and bodies of research that are forcing paradigm shifts in education. Impact 2013 will focus on the impact of the growing body of neuroscience research on our understanding of how we teach and learn.

Look forward to sharing more as it develops. . .

Does Your Child Have A Kindle?

Nine months ago I got my first really smart phone.  Six months ago I read my first book on that phone with the Kindle application for Android from Amazon.  Since then, I’ve read 18 books–on my phone.  This sounds awful to most people, and probably to you too.  But you should see the pages glide by, see how easy it is to highlight, add notes, follow links, and look up words.

Before Kindle (BK), my reading life consisted of re-reading the same paragraphs of the same book on my bedside table before falling sleep. However, my phone is (usually) wherever I am. I read anytime, anywhere.  On SV road alone, I get in about an hour of reading a week.  Of course, there are another 20 books that I’ve purchased but not read yet. Digital titles are cheaper than their paper editions.  There is no charge for shipping, and it takes about two minutes to download a new book. Today, one of our 2nd graders came in with his mom and asked if he could bring his Kindle to school. The new Magic Tree House is just out. I should have seen this day coming. “What if the Kindle broke?” That would be an expensive loss.  Then I thought, “All the laptops have Kindle reader software. What if the student used that? There are the two Samsung tablet computers in our class.  We could use those.  How would we manage accounts?  What if everyone started bringing them in?”There are currently 2,511 book titles for children aged  4-8 available on Kindle. For children aged 9-12, there are currently 4,377 books available in Kindle format.

What would you say if you were the teacher?  By the way, does your child have a Kindle?

eTextbooks & Open Source Textbooks, The Good the Bad and The Future?

Google Body

“One time, this guy handed me a picture of him, he said,”Here’s a picture of me when I was younger.” Every picture is of you when you were younger. “Here’s a picture of me when I’m older.” “You son-of-a-^%$#@! How’d you pull that off? Lemme see that camera… what’s it look like? “

-Mitch Hedberg Comedian

The Good

Mitch Hedberg’s camera of the future is here. Like a picture, starting “Now”, textbooks are historical and dated. But having eTextbooks or open source textbooks means that textbooks don’t have to be pictures of the past, they can change when information changes. 

Picture eggs, butter and coffee. In the 1980’s, The two-egg breakfast, with buttered toast was synonymous with a heart attack.  But times have changed, current information about eggs tout them as “playing a role in weight management, muscle strength, healthy pregnancy, brain function, eye health and more.”  

Butter, once (and still?) a health hazard has proved to be more healthy than the previously-thought-to-be more healthy margarine. Margarine, it turns out is a trans-fat laden health hazzard that far exceeds butter as a health risk.  Butter may even provide a feeling of satiety that may ward of feelings of hunger for dieters.

Coffee, once thought to be at it’s best, inert or unhealthy because of it’s caffeine content, is being thought of differently.  A growing body of research indicates that coffee drinkers are less likely than non-coffee drinkers to “have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia. They also have fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems, and strokes.” 

The picture for these foods has changed. Much like a photograph, textbooks have been pictures in time, but information is ever changing. eTextbooks and open-source textbooks offer learners the distinct advantage of learning our best most up-to-date understandings. In this way eTextbooks or open source textbooks are good for learners.

The Bad

“Wikipedia’s promise is nothing less than the liberation of human knowledge – both by incorporating all of it through the collaborative process, and by freely sharing it with everybody who has access to the Internet. This is a radically popular idea. (The Economist, 20 April 2006)

The fact that there is something called an eTextbook infers a few possibilities:

1. “Textbooks, are so good, let’s make them electronic.”

2. “Textbooks are outdated, so let’s give them an electronic facelift.”

3. “It’s possible to un-bind and continuously rebuild these texts as eTextbooks or open source-text books.”  

Each of these is a limited or bad proposition. The textbook, no matter what kind, is living on borrowed time.  Daniel Pink’s illustration in Drive where he points out the scale and accuracy advantages of Wikipedia compared to the Encyclopedia Britannica points to the limitations of eTextbooks or open source text books (Pink 2009).


The Future

The basic premise of a text-book is sharing information at a cost to those who pay for it. Now this information is prolifically public already. Either through, wiki-type sites, or organizations like Wolfram Alpha or the Khan Academy. While the need for lower-level bloom information is fundimental, it is also free.   It’s hard to imagine the designation of open source textbooks or eTextbooks won’t be consumed or replaced  by more broadly open-sourced wiki-space or publicly available resources like like Google Body, or the Human Genome Project.

This shift in location and accumulation of knowledge underscores that our students won’t be “benefitted’ by eTextbooks or open source textbooks for long. Online environments like Haiku, where you can customize content will take over the function of providing highly specialized “textbook functionality. ”for the individuals that must have it.  Students will have more direct access to these broader resources in order to analyze evaluate and create.  Open sourced text-books like the wagon wheel, will become history.

Pink, D. (2009). Drive:the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, New York: Riverhead Books.

Gaming: The Future of Learning?

Gaming has always been an area of personal interest and professional fascination for me. Over the past few years the public and business interest in gaming has grown. This morning I read a post in Mashable on Gamification. The author of the post defined gamification as “the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. In other words, it means taking the best lessons from games like FarmVille, World of Warcraft and Angry Birds, and using them in business. Whether targeted at customers or employees, across industries as diverse as technology, health care, education, consumer products, entertainment and travel, gamification’s impact can already be felt.” He goes on to share seven gamified innovations. The post ends with a forecasting statement — “Gartner Group estimates that by 2015, 70% of the Forbes Global 2000 will be using gamified apps, and M2 Research forecasts that U.S. companies alone will spend $1.6 billion on gamification products and services by that same year.”

Jane McGonigal was a speaker at the February 2010 TED event. Jane directs game R&D at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit forecasting firm. She developed Superstruct, a massively multiplayer game in which players organize society to solve issues that will confront the world in 2019. Her philosophy – “Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality.” In her TED talk, she makes a case for harnessing the power of gaming to solve real-world problems.

In February this year PBS released a new program titled Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century. It shared five examples of 21st Century learning and featured thought leaders, innovators and practitioners in the field. One of the schools featured was Quest to Learn where design thinking and complex problem-solving are the school’s two big ideas. The school is the outcome of a collaboration between New Visions for Public Schools, the Institute of Play, and the MacArthur Foundation and uses ‘game-like learning’ as a way to teach kids. Quest to Learn opened in 2009 and its website states that Q2L “supports a dynamic curriculum that uses the underlying design principles of games to create academically challenging, immersive, game-like learning experiences for students.”

A wide and growing range of articles and blog posts make a case for integrating gaming and the principles of gaming in learning environments – e.g. Five Reasons Why Video Games Power Up Learning,
How to Plan Instruction Using the Video Game Model, Teaching the Physics Behind Angry Birds, Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom, Students Design Games and Software Tools to Tackle Real-World Problems. . . Another TED speaker, John Hunter, shares how his World Peace Game engages his 4th graders through complex problem solving and deep engagement. . .

There are obvious reasons for the interest in using gaming to support learning. The human mind does not follow rules; it isn’t a calculator. It learns from experience and we know that well-designed learning experiences are very effective. A well-designed learning experience motivates (through emotional engagement), has clear goals, provides copious and immediate feedback, manages attention, provides practice, and has opportunities for debriefing and reflection. Some features in games that make them good for learning:

  • Motivation (creates an emotional attachment)
  • Clear goals
  • Well-ordered problems
  • Problem solving
  • Performance before competence (like first-language acquisition)
  • Cycle of expertise (give the person a problem, let them practice the problem until it’s automatic, give them a new problem where their automatic expertise doesn’t work)
  • Copious feedback
  • Mentoring within the game
  • Failure is low-cost
  • Meta-game (expressing learning in community settings; interest groups that talk about the games that are being playing)

As games are designed in totality, they are well-designed and complete learning experiences. AND they are social and fun! Talking of fun, I just finished reading a book by Tom Chatfield titled Fun Inc: Why Games are the 21st Century’s Most Serious Business. It provides valuable research and insights into the history of gaming and the business of gaming. Makes me wonder: Is Gaming the future of learning?

Do we create ‘movements’?

I’ve been busy over the past couple of months making several shifts. One of these was a shift in how a graduate course could be taught.

For two months I spent considerable time reflecting on changing the way adult students should learn. I was scheduled to teach a new course for a Masters program that is currently being offered to our faculty at ASB. The cohort had completed two thirds of the program before taking my course. The course is titled ’21st Century Learning’ and focuses on building an understanding of 21st century skills and the elements of a 21st Century learning environment.

ASB has a unique culture of exploring innovative practices and integrating technology deeply and seamlessly. However like other schools, we often have to fit into a 20th century mold. The mold consists of division and discipline silos, alignment of standards, assessments, lessons and schedules, limited planning time, and sometimes school-directed professional learning opportunities. Given the limitations of this mold, our teachers innovate and lead daily in amazing ways. (Several folks witness these practices when they visit our school during our biennial ASB Un-Plugged conference.) But this new course was not a technology course or one on tech integration.

I played with the idea of using the course to break the mold and ’cause widespread change.’ It seemed like a great opportunity to create a movement, the kind that Seth Godin describes in his blog

‘A movement has an emotional heart. A movement might use an organization, but it can replace systems and people if they disappear. Movements are more likely to cause widespread change, and they require leaders, not managers.’

In order to do this I had to redesign several aspects of teaching and learning in this course. The course was scheduled to be an intense learning experience, offered at the start of the summer break. It would run over seven days – 9:00 am to 4:00 pm daily including a weekend with a mid-way break. It was going to be an immersive learning experience. In order for the students to understand 21st century skills and teaching and learning, they had to experience it. So I set up the class as a exploratory constructivist learning lab – where the learners had to construct their own knowledge and create their own understanding. This amazing cohort of 25 professionals embraced the stance of active learners, and read, reflected and discussed aspects of 21st century learning. There is really nothing new about 21st century skills. (These skills have always been important but we now need to intentionally and purposefully ensure that all our students have these skills.) The learners participated in various types of learning activities and reflected on these experiences and the application for their practices. They identified and discussed the urgency of changes that are needed in the structure and organization of schooling including scheduling, learning spaces (both physical and virtual), teacher and student roles, the concept of grade levels to support learning, etc. They designed new learning environments for the future. . . Throughout the course they questioned their own and each others’ thinking and practices, nudged each other to think outside the box and envision and redesign learning. The pictures they painted with their new learning designs highlighted ‘the death of education and the dawn of learning’ (Stephen Heppell, Learning to Change, Changing to Learn). . . They arrived on the first day of the course with a lot of questions; they left on the last day with some answers and a lot more questions . . . They left empowered, their emotions stirred and with an eagerness to step out of their comfort zones, and be the change and lead it.

I’ve had a few days now to reflect on my own learning at the end of the course. Some of my early takeaways:

  • Social constructivists – The experience reinforced my belief that humans are social constructivists and that in order to make sense of new information, we need to interact socially, contributing to each others’ understanding, reflecting upon the understanding, and generating and testing hypothesis collaboratively. This is what the learners in this course did. This has implications for professional development and professional learning.
  • Authentic Activities – We all know about the research on the importance of creating authentic problem-based projects. The final project for this course was to design new learning environments. The project was not just another assignment to be turned in. The work done by the learners will be used next year to continue to study ways in which we can superstruct teaching and learning. This raises a question in my mind – What are the kinds of professional learning experiences we can design that can support school improvement or school transformation efforts?
  • Empowering teachers to be leaders – Too often we leave the task of leading change with administrators. We know they should be thinking beyond the core subject areas and asking questions like ‘What skills should students master by the time they graduate from high school? Do they need to be effective communicators and collaborators and critical thinkers?’ If they are not asking these questions or cannot answer them, they should not be the ones to decide what the ideal learning environments need to be. Consider the possibilities if teachers are allowed to expand their thinking about learning environments beyond the traditional classroom. Once teachers are empowered to lead, the changes can be more visionary and far-reaching. Distributed leadership models are necessary for the creation of learning designs for our students.
  • One size does not fit all – The reflections shared by the learners in the course reinforced my belief that each school needs to consider questions about 21st century learning and start their own conversations. The responses to the questions will be unique to each school.

I am searching for ways in which we can continue to empower this cohort while engaging other educators and members of the community in conversations about new learning designs. Any suggestions?

Leaders or Managers – What do schools need?

The past couple of months have been busy with travel to some schools and planning/giving presentations at conferences. While organizing the presentations I had a lot of time to think and had lots of random ideas and thoughts (that I will share in future posts). However there’s one thing that I did spend a lot of time thinking about — about independent schools, where we are, where we should be, and the challenges and opportunities. The opportunities for independent schools to evolve are amazing – there has never been a better time in the history of education when several forces have come together to transform the teaching/learning process. Over the past couple of years I’ve observed a change in independent schools — there is now a greater acknowledgment of the urgency to move forward and embrace the changes. The schools that will be front-runners will be those whose leadership has the gumption to think differently and “lead” change at their schools. Which brings me to the question that school leaders and leadership teams need to ask themselves – do we individually and collectively have the guts to think big and lead change? Thinking big is not tinkering around the edges, but creating a different mold and facilitating transition to the new mold. There are many different designs to support the creation of experimental spaces, new roles, etc. However these require each of us thinking and acting like “leaders”, and not managers. Each school leader has “management” type responsibilities that are an important part of their work. We need to pause and think if this is all schools do – if all we do is “manage” our divisions and departments, then who is doing the “leading”?