Sunday, 21 April 2013

The 3 P's of Authentic Learning

Tim Clark's post on the Ikea Effect and BYOT got me thinking about students building real things.  The idea behind the Ikea Effect (offered here by Dan Ariely) is that when people work at something, they like it better.  Requiring to add an egg makes instant cake mix sales increase; putting together that bookshelf causes a higher valuation of the bookshelf.

This leads to a discussion about students producing over consuming. As opposed to learning from Math tutorial videos (consuming), students can be making Math tutorial videos (producing). The videos they make will be valued higher than their teacher's.  I have felt the pull from consuming to producing in my own life.  Here is my most recent Facebook update:

When we blog, we create.  When we tweet, we add ideas to the great melting pot of global ideas.  Further, we receive feedback, sometimes near instantly.  We feel part of something.  This feeling of connection and creation has even beat out the draw of social games for me which can be initially addicting but don't have the staying power.  Pursuing a feeling of "I made that" will win in the long run.

So what does it take to open the door to authenticity, to shift from consumption to production in the classroom?

My first attempt at authentic learning
When I moved from student services to grade 7 six years ago, teaching Ancient Civilizations was completely new to me.  My solution was to parse out the curriculum to the students.  They made a handout, a presentation, and a quiz.  Then each student would take a class and teach while I learned and tried to catch errors. 

The buy in was good but the setup was long.  I booked the computer lab for a month to the shagrin of my colleagues.  And there were some funny looks when in October I said I hadn't started Mesopotamia yet.  In the end, though, it paid off.  The curriculum was covered and learning took place.

To go deeper into this idea, though, teachers must ask themselves: what are real things?  Is a PowerPoint on Mesopotamian law truly real to the student.  No.  This is Mr. Robinson's reality, not the students.  In order for something to be genuine, the author has to give a piece of themselves in the creation.

And that is happening right now.  Your students are sharing their pictures on Instagram and Tumblr.  They are sharing their video on Youtube.  They are sharing their words and ideas on Facebook.  They are sharing creations on Minecraft.  There is authentic creation going on without the teacher having to say boo.

So the questions become: how do we bring that authentic creative spirit into the classroom?  And how do we guide the learning into meaningful avenues?

Bringing authentic creation into the classroom and guiding it into authentic learning, I am finding, is a big part of BYOT.  In BYOT, students bring their own electronic creation/networking tool and use it in the context of the outcomes we all feel as necessary for learning to take place.  When I was pondering this, three P's emerged that I would like to share.

Students require inclusion in the decisions around the learning goals of their classroom.  True, there is a set of Prescribed Learning Outcomes.  But students need to be given the why's and allowed to choose the how's.  This is not easy.  I believe the teacher needs to do some soul searching, some questioning, and particularly some listening. Giving over power to the students evokes buy in. And the more power we give, the greater influence we have.
Some questions to ponder:
"Am I stifling the creativity in my class?"
"Are there things I am teaching that don't make sense anymore?"
"Can I give my students more choice and control?"

Permission and access, really.  When a student comes to school with their own PCN (Personal Creation/Connection Network) through lets say Tumblr or Facebook, can we give them permission to access their network for the purposes of learning, transforming their PCN to a PLN.  Often, a student comes to school and is asked to turn that connection off.  So when they head off to the washroom, out comes the phone.  Imagine if a student used their Facebook account to collaborate on learning something.
Some questions to ponder:
"Are there networks my students are involved in that can extend learning?"
"How do I teach my students to use their networks for meaningful learning?"
"Is there some learning I need to do around utilizing my own PLN?"

Authentic creation can be dangerous on a number of levels.  Students must be taught about Internet safety.  Students must be guided as to what information to share and what to keep private, knowing that everything is a "screenshot and send" away from public.  Also, students need to learn to be good digital citizens. They need to be taught how to take care of each other online just as they would be taught to make positive community decisions offline.
Some questions to ponder:
"What are the legal requirements I have to abide by as I deal with my students posting/connecting online?"
"What is my level of comfortability around online access: classroom only, school-wide, district wide, sky's the limit?"
"Am I making connections with fellow educators in order to maximize my understanding around students PLNs?"

This is a new area for myself.  But as I continue with my BYOT focus, I am asking the above questions.  Could Bring Your Own Technology be transformed into Bring Your Own Learning Network?

Monday, 15 April 2013

What do students need. . .BETTER ANSWER

Last blog entry, I started with Stats Canada to tease out what we need to be teaching our students.  Today, 2 bombs exploded injuring and killing people in Boston.  Sharing that our kids need some training in sales seems pretty low on the totem pole, right now.  So in light of utter tragedy, I must express that there are things that we need to teach our children that have nothing to do with Math or Language Arts. . .or selling.

Social Responsibility is how we in BC, Canada bring ethics into our curriculum.  And to be quite honest, when the offerings for social responsibility Pro D workshops are pitted against the technology ones, I have often found myself learning about or Twitter when my colleagues are delving into teaching kids to make the world a better place.  But it seems that more and more, we need all our resources. . .every available influence. . .to wage war against a world with a tendency to take care of "number one".

In BC, our social responsibility strands include: CONTRIBUTING to the classroom and school community, SOLVING problems in peaceful ways, VALUING diversity, DEFENDING human rights, and EXERCISING DEMOCRATIC rights and responsibilities.  In light of the tragedy today, could there be anything more important that instilling values such as these in our students.

But the real question is how is it done.  How do we teach people to be socially responsible.  A quick perusal through the October 2001 BC Social Responsibility Framework and you'll see that the scales are voluntary.  The framework provides opportunities to measure the level of social responsibility through "what would you do" scenarios (be it washing dirty car parts in a nearby salmon inhabited stream or helping someone who was having trouble with her locker.)  This begs the question: if we measure the students and provide feedback, will that cause students to take another step towards altruism, compassion, selflessness, kindness.  I don't think so. 

I believe the work done to formulate the social responsibility performance standards was not wasted.  I think it is helpful to measure and provide feedback.  I don't, however, think that measurement and feedback is enough.  So what takes us from writhing id's to thoughtful super egos?  What causes a once self-oriented child to become a sacrificial mother?  What sends a cut throat businessperson into the heart of Africa to spend the rest of his life serving orphans?  This goes beyond "what if" scenarios and 4 point rating scales.

Mother Theresa said:  "I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."  What keeps us from loving until it hurts?

I am going to make a statement about humanity here.  It's a general statement, but one that connects the dots between our desire for good and our own self centeredness: we are empty.

People are empty.  And they need filling.  They need a whole lot of filling.    The human spirit needs nurturing.  And we cannot neglect the inner part of ourselves.  As I said, it is war.  And we need the Math teacher and the soccer coach and the dance instructor to take up arms.

My twins were born at 30 weeks.  They spent their first few days in a tray attached to wires.  They spent the week after that in an incubator, separated from their mother and I.  When I would come to NICU, the nurses would ask me to do "kangaroo care".  This meant that I would unbutton my shirt and have one of the twins rest on my chest.  This skin to skin contact, said the nurses, would help to stabilize the child, normalizing temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, weight gain.  The effects can be seen in cognitive development, reduced stress, motor development and proper growth.  How could I refuse.  So there I would sit for as long as I could to help.

When the filling happened, the growth was made possible.  I believe it is the same way with our students.  Without that, all the teaching in the world wouldn't make a bit of difference.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

What do students need to learn. . .I mean REALLY

For my evening reading I thought I would peruse Stats Canada to check out what they have for occupations.  Now I am not planning on applying for a job there.  I just thought that as an educator, I should see what kind of market my "product" (my students) would be entering.  I was particularly interested in skills.  Really: what skills must I get across to my students.

Now I mean hey. . .WE ARE IN THE INFORMATION AGE.  Shouldn't we have a good handle on the breakdown of what people need in terms of skills.  Shouldn't we know with pinpoint accuracy (as when in 1977, the voyager spacecrafts were launched with such precision that they would slingshot around one gas giant to meet the next) what our students need today to meet the challenges of tomorrow. 

Here are some of the stats I came across.  This is a breakdown of what kind of occupations people over 15 were involved in during the 2006 census.

A  Management occupations
   B  Business; finance and administration occupations
   C  Natural and applied sciences and related occupations
   D  Health occupations
   E  Occupations in social science; education; government service and religion
   F  Occupations in art; culture; recreation and sport
   G  Sales and service occupations
   H  Trades; transport and equipment operators and related occupations
   I  Occupations unique to primary industry
   J  Occupations unique to processing; manufacturing and utilities
Total experienced labour force 15 years and over

Stats Canada

How about this.  Here are the top 5 occupations:

OccupationsLabour force (15 years and over)
All occupations16,861,180100.0
G211 Retail salespersons and sales clerks729,8404.3
A211 Retail trade managers341,4402.0
G311 Cashiers324,8551.9
G961 Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related occupations322,1051.9
H711 Truck drivers304,8901.8

From Stats Canada
So was this all a waste of time?  A lot of different skills there, Robinson.  All things won't remain the same.  Who know what the future holds?

I don't think so.

Over 4% of the population will be directly involved in retail sales.  And almost 25% of the population of Canada will be part of sales and service occupations.  This includes occupations like: real estate agents, hairstylists, funeral directors, babysitters, estheticians, butchers and bakers.

Now I am not a statistician, but these figures get me thinking about one thing: sales.  In 2006, 42% of the over 15 workforce was involved in the business and sales categories.  And there will be a continual rise of entrepreneurship adding to the population of sellers.  Won't the ability to sell be huge in the future.  And won't everyone need to sell: sell objects (on Craigslist even :)), sell ideas, sell ourselves to prospective employers.

So as educators and parents, lets teach the very transferable skill of sales: the art of listening to another's needs, the ability to make a convincing presentation, the difference between being persuasive and coercive, the skills to market something, and the idea of a win-win situation. 

Time spent teaching these skills will pay future dividends.

Thirty-five years later and Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are still active, still sending information back to earth.  There was future thinking behind these programs.  If only our own programs could be so encompassed in what lasts.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Day 2 BYOT. I've got a problem. . .

It all started famously. . .

For my lesson, I had students go to a bogus web site:  I asked them to email me answers to these question:
- Where was Christopher Columbus born?
- When was Christopher Columbus born?
- When did he set sail with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria?
- How did it all end with Columbus?

I started getting a few students telling me that Christopher Columbus was born in Australia.  Then later someone asked how Columbus could be born in 1951 but sail in 1942.  Quickly, however, the students realized that something didn't quite make sense.  Then the emails started pouring in:

They got it!  Check your sources...One website ain't enough...Mr. Robinson's a tricky son of a gun.

So here is my problem. . .

Part 2 of the lesson: finish off your brainstorming using the app of your choice.  Then email me a screenshot.  Well the emails started pouring in again.  I've got 27 students and though not all of them emailed me something, several emailed me their work, then changed it and emailed me again. . .

So as I am weeding through all these emails, I was thinking THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY!!!

This is what I am asking for: I want to "reach" in to each student's device, see what they are doing and how far they got, and be able to evaluate it FOR learning or AS learning.  Instead of it going to me, I'd rather have me go to it. . .but easily.  Is that too much to ask?

So if you have any advice, I'd love to hear it