Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tradition Part 2

I wanted to add some more to the post below because I don’t think I quite got across what I wanted to say, so I’m going to try again. (I probably still won’t quite get there, but I’ll keep working on it.)

I like what Brian commented about “change immersion.” I think that’s a great phrase. The idea I’m trying to get across is that it seems to me that the teachers who are really preparing their students for the 21st century are the ones who are going whole hog. Despite my inclination to take baby steps, to proceed at a slow and methodical pace – examining every step before we take it - I’m beginning to think that’s the wrong approach. I think it’s teachers like Clarence and Darren who are truly transforming their classrooms, re-creating them for the realities and challenges of the 21st century.

For example, this post by Clarence:
Driving over with two high school girls who are graduating in June and who I taught several times when they were younger was an interesting experience. The girls being very close to graduation, the topic of conversation of course revolved around their plans for next year. Both of these girls are planning on heading to college. One of them is going to study radio production and broadcasting and the other wants to work on music production and digital editing. Interesting, very digital choices for girls from a small town. Both of these girls have spent time over the past year or so in their basements playing with digital audio editing tools, getting experience that would be impossible in our small school where courses in things like this have never been offered.

Our conversation eventually turned around to MySpace and time online. While both of these girls have spaces, only one of them is a heavy user. It was an interesting conversation as she talked about the Japanese anime shows that she watches and the manga novels she is interested in. She knew a great deal about the culture of anime in Japan itself and clearly understood the importance of these art forms. She also told me that she uses MySpace to download and listen to a lot of European and Japanese music. "North American music is terrible," she told me, "The music they make in other parts of the world is a lot more interesting." To get the full understanding of this conversation, ideas of context loom large. Would this conversation have been possible to have ten years ago? Would kids from a small isolated town have any idea about Japanese art forms and Finnish rock music? Not at all. When I grew up in this same small town, we had very few ideas about global cultures and ideas. The net has changed what is possible.
Keep in mind that Clarence and his students live in a very small, rather isolated (geographically) town in Canada. Darren is from Canada as well. I’m thinking that some of the teachers that are at the forefront of this are teachers that are from relatively isolated places. They are seizing on these new tools to provide their students opportunities that just weren’t possible before. But as part of that process, they are also leapfrogging ahead of teachers (and students) in more traditionally “connected” areas like ours where students have always had good resources. It reminds me of when Friedman in The World is Flat talks about which countries are best situated to take full advantage of the Flat World. He suggests that the countries with no natural resources are the countries that are going to take the best advantage of the flat world. Because their only resources are the minds and hard work of their people. So they are developing that resource, whereas countries with more natural resources may be ignoring the most important resource of all. I’m concerned that we are doing the same thing with our students – assuming that since they’ve always had all the advantages the “traditional” approach will be just fine for them. Meanwhile the rest of the world is leapfrogging over them.

Or the idea that some countries are skipping an entire cycle of technology and going straight to the current technology. Like in China where they have never had anything even remotely close to our saturation of local phone service, yet they are now skipping directly to everyone having a cell phone. Or South Korea leading the world both in broadband Internet penetration, as well as speed (8 MB/s is ubiquitous and only “average” there, yet rare and expensive in the U.S.). These countries are leapfrogging more established countries because they don’t have the legacy systems we have. To use Friedman’s terms, several billion people are suddenly stepping onto the global playing field. A significant number of them are stepping onto the field with better and faster connectivity to the Internet (both wired and wireless – their cell phone technology is ahead of ours as well), and a willingness to work hard and take advantage of these new tools and resources. What does that do to the “advantage” that our students have always enjoyed? Where does that leave our students if we don’t change?

So my point – and I think I have one here somewhere – is that the kind of incremental change that we have been talking about may not be enough. Pick whatever catch phrase you want, “paradigm shift,” “sea change,” whatever – but we are looking at a completely different world than anything we have known before. I think that different world is going to require a radically different notion of education and school in order to prepare students to be successful in that world. I’m just not sure that small, incremental change to a “legacy,” industrial age schooling model is going to cut it. Instead of adding a constructivist piece here and a technology piece there, we need to start at square one and really, truly examine what our students need to know and be able to do, then redesign our classrooms to reflect that.

I think there’s something really important here that we need to think about, which is why I’m returning to this idea. I’m still not sure I’m quite getting it (or getting it across), but maybe you guys can help me by asking questions, challenging what I’m saying. Push me like I’ve been pushing you to help me define my ideas – and the direction of our project.


  1. At our last class, I enjoyed hearing the discussion about the changes that had taken place at p/t conferences. At the same time, I felt a little bad/wierd/amused (not sure of the appropriate descriptor) because I had experienced none of what everyone was talking about. I've changed my gradebook, reworked assignments, added written portions to multiple choice tests, etc. etc. etc., yet nothing has really changed. My conferences were still focused on grades, and my teaching still looks very "traditional."

    So Karl, I think I'm feeling some of the same things you are. That the change needs to be bigger. I've put in hours and hours this semester, but I feel like I'm a gerbil in a wheel. I'm starting to understand the vision, but it hasn't filtered down to my students.

    In Biology, I'm feeling more and more frustrated with curriculum. I think Brian said it a while ago, but our students don't actually do any science. They learn a heck of a lot about what scientists have figured out in the past, but who really cares? They forget it after the test, so what exactly was the point of that three week unit?

    And there seems to be an excuse for everything...We don't do any dissections (now that would actually be doing science) because of the number of kids, safety, budget, etc. Wallace had a great idea about doing a fishbowl discussion where groups of kids debated the best predators for our animal unit, but "the computer labs are full so we can't get any time for research." (I realize that some of Kristin's old-school attitude should rub off on me and we should use the library books instead!) And the list goes on and on...

    I guess I'm really ready to go for it. It would be awesome to remove the restraints of the curriculum, tell kids the topic of study, and let them decide what their learning looks like. I'd love for them to come up with questions, use technology/textbooks/laptops to collectively discover the answers, and create and do labs/dissections/activities that enhance what we're studying. I think then it would be about learning and the process.

    So Karl, I'll push you to help me figure out how to make that happen. Keep challenging us to think big so that we will do the same in our classes.

    I browsed through some of the links Karl added from Derran and David Warlick. I was struck by (and will end with) this quote: I continue to maintain that when we can not clearly predict our children’s future, it becomes much less important what they are learning, and much more important how they are learning it, and what they are doing with it.

  2. I agree that changes should be made, and that slow changes are quickly being beaten by the rapid evolution of how the real world works. But unfortunately, it would require a massive change on everyone's part, not just high schools. They're all connected which makes things difficult. I would love to change the grading system and make it more learning based than points. But colleges are still in the old methods. But I'm sure some changes will be successful.

  3. Molly and I were on the same page. She sees that colleges are still relying on the traditional (and some are moving ahead). I look at K-8 and how little of the stage is being set. So I see incremental steps as being practical when we have little influence (YET) over what comes before or after us.

    Political realities and fear of new and different in our traditionally successful community are rational concerns. It seems as if havng a few take giant steps (like at least the 3 with laptops?) while others are more incremental...for now...might allow change to be accepted. At the beginning of our CIT (small group) discussions, we spoke of less can be more. Let's find a few people who are willing to really go out on a limb. They will be more willing to make giant leaps, will be more dedicated to the total picture, and (assuming success) will act as great models for those that come next.

    While it would be phenominal to see Araphoe, as a whole, step forward, some realities from the POV of the district, the community, the staff, the administration, and yes, even the students make it important that we don't just leap. We must leap well.