Sunday, May 2, 2010

SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain

This book launches with an amazing case study (Naperville Central High School near Chicago) where key players have significantly improved learning through systematic and strategic exercise that was appropriate for the learner. My first question is why are PE, recess and other physical exercise being reduced or dropped in so many schools? Why aren’t more schools looking at innovative ways to implement this approach or one based on the same principles?

Surprisingly, this book isn’t simply about learning in schools, but learning in general and the key exercise can play. The author, John Ratey, MD, who also wrote Driven to Distraction, explores how exercise can help everyone with learning (plus optimal emotional and physical health) by diminishing stress, anxiety, depression, attention deficit, addiction, hormonal changes, and impacts of aging. Of course, this isn’t the first book on the importance of exercise in all these areas, but the power of this book is the constant reference to brain research. Prior to the past five to ten years, there were strong correlations between exercise and diminished effects of stress, anxiety, etc. But we now have solid evidence that proves exactly how much exercise, to what level of intensity, and in which situations. Ratey is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, but also runs his own private practice. Therefore, not only does Ratey reference recent, remarkable research, but he embeds it in a human context.

Given the story of how a “fitness program helped one U.S. school district out of 19,000 rank first in the TIMMS science test, and given brain research evidence that s incontrovertible: “aerobic exercise physically transforms our brains for peak performance,” will we take the steps to give students this added benefit? Also. will we make it feasible and attractive for teachers to exercise as well?

Learning from the Extremes

This White Paper, published by Cisco, is a report that outlines four basic strategies governments (and motivated individuals and groups) in the developing and developed world can pursue to meet learning challenges: improve, reinvent, supplement, and transform schools and learning.

Here is the visual that so perfectly captures their framework:

However, Cisco doesn’t just stop there, they analyze specific examples in both the developed and developing world. Not only is this paper a fascinating read, but more importantly, it gives hope of possibilities for truly transformative innovations in the area of learning.

I believe International Schools do fairly well in “improving schools (through better facilities, teachers, and leadership”) and “supplementing schools by working with families and communities.” (Of course given the clientele and resources, this is not a great challenge.) However, these same “highly successful schools” seem completely paralyzed in moving forward with reinventing their schools to better meet the learning needs and desires of today and tomorrow. At least in that arena, there are rumblings if not action. In the final quadrant, “transforming learning by making it available in radically new ways” is not on the radar screen. Imagine if we were able to re-conceptualize the concept of the “virtual school” for our kids so that it wasn’t viewed as just an extra load of homework, but explore “radical new ways” for students to learn.

As the conclusion of the paper states, “The 20th century was the century of the teacher and the school, the class and the exam. The 21st needs to become the century of the educational entrepreneur and of the pupil as protagonist, self-motivated and self-organized learning, at scale, wherever and whenever it is needed.”

When and where will international schools work towards disruptive innovation in learning to meet the needs of our students? Will you and I become the needed social entrepreneurs in this area or are we too main-stream and embedded?

DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

For those who loved A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, you will definitely want to get your hands on DRIVE. Or if you enjoyed Alfie Kohn’s Punished By Rewards back in the 1990’s, you’ll love this! I’m only a couple of chapters into it and already highly recommend it. Here are Pink’s Twitter and cocktail summaries:

"TWITTER: Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose.

COCKTAIL PARTY: When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system—which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators—doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way. This new approach has three essential elements: (1) Autonomy—the desire to direct our own lives; (2) Mastery—the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and (3) Purpose—the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves."

Like, Kohn, Pink debunks the motivation myths grounded in behaviorialism that we still find prevalent not only in business, but throughout the world of education. There are places that have shifted to more of a “pull” approach” rather than a push, but these are few and far between. So, the question is . . . how long until this becomes the way we facilitate learning? What’s holding us back? How can we capitalize on the powerful pockets already there?

What's the Big Idea: Teaching and Learning for Transfer

“We teach it because they said we had to” is one of my professional pet peeves. It is my stance that, as professionals, unless we have clarity about the WHY of our learning goals, we should not be spending any time on them.

Many people know about Understanding by Design and/or Teaching for Understanding of Project Zero. Neither of these is a “program” or “template” but rather a paradigm for thinking and planning for learning that is focused on key principles of learning. Two key learning principles speak directly to this issue of being clear about the WHY of your learning goals:
1. Learning is purposeful and contextual. Therefore, students should be helped to see the purpose in what they are asked to learn. Learning should be framed by relevant questions, meaningful challenges, and authentic applications.
2. Experts organize or chunk their knowledge around transferable core concepts (“big ideas”) that guide their thinking about the domain and help them integrate new knowledge. Therefore, content instruction should be framed in terms of core ideas and transferrable processes, not as discrete facts and skills.
Copyright 2010 Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins

Ultimately if we’re not clear about the purpose or relevancy of our learning goals, we obviously can’t contextualize the learning for students. Also, if we are the facilitators responsible to guide students’ building of understanding, isn’t it therefore our responsibility to frame this learning around the key understandings (with related skills and knowledge) and clearly communicate the relevance of this learning?

Or better yet, might we be framing the big ideas, skills, and knowledge based on students’ questions and desires to explore?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sustainability, Final Project Planning

Taking Action by creating a Public Service Announcement

As stated in the previous blog, the Grade 5 at ISB took some risks this year by attempting an integrated (social studies, language arts, and science) unit on Sustainability. Not only does this meet our school's mission of developing Global Citizens, but it also incorporates a fair amount of the TAIL standards:
  • Recognize bias in digital resources while researching an environmental issue with guidance from the teacher. (TAILs: 1, 2)
  • Explore causes, consequences, and possible solutions to persistent, contemporary, and emerging global issues, such as pollution and endangered species. (I.f)
  • Recognize and interpret how the "common good" can be strengthened through various forms of citizen action (A.j)
  • Identify, collaborate, and investigate a global issue and generate possible solutions using digital tools and resources. (TAILs: 1, 2, 4, 5)
We framed this final "take action" phase of the unit with this essential question: As global citizens, how can we contribute to a sustainable future?

Through this third phase of the unit, we were hoping that students would develop the understanding that Global Citizens . . .
  • understand that sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
  • keep informed about current sustainability issues
  • examine sustainability issues, in depth, in which they’re interested
  • learn how to deal with sustainability issues, which do or can affect them
  • consider probable and preferable futures and human potential to affect change
  • plan and take action towards a sustainable future
We then developed the following GRASPS Task:
Goal: Help your family reduce its ecological imprint. (We've been exploring the concept of an environmental footprint and uncovering the reality that currently humans consume more resources than the earth can replensh and therefore we are not functioning in a sustainable manner. Students engaged in an online "footprint" analysis and then came up with ways they were willing and able to diminish their footprint)
Role: You are a global citizen concerned about the impact your family is having on the sustainability of the environment.
Audience: Your family and any other interested global citizens around the world
Situation: You need to analyze one aspect of your family’s environmental footprint, research why there is such an impact and propose innovative ways to diminish that impact in order to create a preferable future.
Product, Performance, Purpose: * You will make a compelling Public Service Announcement to include the following:
1st min (max) = communicate what the problem is
2nd min (max) = communicate why this is a problem and its impact on the sustainability of the planet?
3rd min (max) = what are we going to do about it, solution to the problem

Thanks to our to our Tech leader, Chrissy, here is our proposed tentative timeline:

1 session: Explore iMovie (Great idea from Jeff Utecht)
1 session: Introduce and analyze PSA using “Digital Bridges”
1-2 sessions: immersion in PSAs and analysis of several (Problem, cause/effect, solution + use of audio, visual, and text in delivering the message)
2-4 sessions to Plan (brainstorm, research, + storyboard phase)
• Use a storyboard to plan out your PSA • Write a script based on the research • Find pictures, talk about research, citing sourcing, how to save and organize images Use: Compfight or Search:Creative Commons (both search flickr) • Find creative commons music for the video (no copyright probs) Use:
2 sessions: Create the PSA
1 sessionL Peer Review
1 session: Reflect

Evidence of Learning:
  • Rubric: (generic digital storytelling rubric currently being tailored to suit this project, which includes the content pieces)
  • Class Reflection: what could have been improved and to what degree we might be impacting future environmental sustainability
  • Self-Assessment Rubric (generic digital storytelling self-assessment rubric currently being tailored to suit this project)
  • Sharing: Students upload their PSA to their blog
  • Individual reflection: write blog post reflecting on their personal experience with the project
The next four blogs will be reflections on the various stages of turning this plan into reality.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Plan for Sem II Project

I have the great fortune of working with the Grade 5 team in creating an interdisciplinary unit, Sustainability, that weaves together outcomes of Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, and TAIL. We've outlined just the Global/Digital citizen piece of the project here.

Stay tuned as we update how this project progresses over the next three months.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

NETs for Teachers

Continuing from the previous blog, let's look more closely at the NETs for Teachers:

1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity. Teachers use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments. Teachers:
a. promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness
b. engage students in exploring real-world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources
c. promote student reflection using collaborative tools to reveal and clarify students’ conceptual understanding and thinking, planning, and creative processes
d. model collaborative knowledge construction by engaging in learning with students, colleagues, and others in face-to-face and virtual environments
  • To me, this is all linked to one's philosophy. Do you value developing innovative thinking in children? Do you believe in real-world application and problem solving? Do you believe that children construct their understanding and that revealing misconceptions and level of understanding is all part of the process in learning? To make this a reality, our learning leaders need to buy in to this philosophical stance.

2. Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the NETS•S.
a. design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity
b. develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress
c. customize and personalize learning activities to address students’ diverse learning styles, working strategies, and abilities using digital tools and resources
d. provide students with multiple and varied formative and summative assessments aligned with content and technology standards and use resulting data to inform learning and teaching

  • Again, this is the general work of learning facilitators--designing learning experiences and assessments, using the best available and most engaging tools that meet given learners' needs (only figured out through authentic on-going assessment). Once again we see philosophical tenets such as valuing diverse learning styles and allowing students to personalize and show their learning in varied formats. What if teachers don't philosophically believe in this?

3. Model Digital-Age Work and Learning
Teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.
  • Couldn't one exhibit these skills and knowledge and yet not necessarily improve student learning? Obviously one needs this content base but this standard doesn't seem learning-centered.
a. demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations
b. collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation
c. communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital-age media and formats
d. model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning

  • So basically we need teachers to be life-long and effective collaborators, communicators, and learners? Doesn't that encompass all of this?

4. Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility
Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.
a. advocate, model, and teach safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology, including respect for copyright,intellectual property, and the appropriate documentation of sources
b. address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies and providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources
c. promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information
d. develop and model cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with colleagues and students of other cultures using digital-age communication and collaboration tools

  • Much like what we saw with the NETs for Administrators, of course we need to model, promote and facilitate ethical and responsible use of digital resources--any resources for that matter.

5. Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership
Teachers continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources.
a. participate in local and global learning communities to explore creative applications of technology to improve student learning
b. exhibit leadership by demonstrating a vision of technology infusion, participating in shared decision making and community building, and developing the leadership and technology skills of others
c. evaluate and reflect on current research and professional practice on a regular basis to make effective use of existing and emerging digital tools and resources in support of student learning
d. contribute to the effectiveness, vitality, and self-renewal of the teaching profession and of their school and community

  • I like the part about being a life-long learner and global citizen as a model for students. However, many of the other details have more to do with teachers' lives outside of the learning realm and won't necessarily translate into improved student learning.

In conclusion, I feel these standards are not necessary. I believe we need to have philosophical agreements and support teachers in gaining the knowledge, skills, and understandings to become life-long learners, collaborators, and communicators. The facilitation for learners will then happen naturally. What do you think?