Value-based Learning: From Bake-sale to Brilliant

Going Beyond

Schools all over are trying to figure out how to provide real-world learning for their students and many are beginning to realize how much a regular school schedule gets in the way of curating authentic learning experiences. Part of “real-world” is rethinking how we structure our time. I have previously written about the importance of “concentrated endeavor ” and wanted to share some of my experience creating and supporting off-time-table learning experiences through the lens of value creation. For examples of programs I have created, see iLead+Design (California) and GreenLEAP (Green School Bali).

Value-based Learning

I recently advised on the development of an exciting new program at Chinese International School (CIS). CIS is a day school based in Hong Kong but several years ago they spun up a residential program in Hangzhou, China, which most of their Grade 9 students attend. The aim is to build independence and provide language and cultural immersion by “…taking students away from the remote ‘classroom world’ and immersing them in the real one.” Continue reading

Concentrated Endeavor

https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/

flickr.com/photos/smemon/

I often get asked about the learning environments that support entrepreneurial learning/21st century skills development. There are many practices that weave together to create proper conditions, informed by guiding principles and paradigms such as:

  1. Education must be real.
  2. Primary focus should be creating advanced learners (see my Teaching Without Knowing post for more on this)
  3. We must scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions.
  4. We need to approach education by building on strengths, instead of correcting deficiencies.

One of the most important practices is how we structure our learning experiences in time. I’ve already spoken in my post on The Entrepreneurial Learner about how endeavor relates to learning, how students should not be given an education—they should endeavor to build one (with expert support). But what is concentrated endeavor? I’ll start by illustrating it’s opposite, distributed endeavor. Continue reading

Noticing and Wondering: Kicking off and supporting enquiry

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpovey/

Wonderment

Noticing and Wondering

(Special thanks to colleague Sara Soulier who helped me workshop this at a recent conference)

Could there be any more important skills than the skills to notice and to wonder?

The normal paradigm in school is to train students that what other people notice and wonder about is more important than their own observation and enquiry. Example: “Students, today we are studying American history from the industrial revolution to the present. Here is the syllabus of important topics, and when and how we will engage with them.”

The assumption is that what’s important here is the information and lessons we can learn from this period in history. Those are important things to know. But what about the ability to determine what is important and how to learn it? I would argue that is the more important “lesson” to be learned.

It’s possible to learn information without gaining the skills to determine what’s important and how to learn it. It’s not possible to learn what’s important and how to learn it without actually learning content. Content is a byproduct of learning to learn. The opposite is not necessarily true.

Recent research is showing that overly scheduled children have reduced executive function. We have growing anecdotal evidence from every sector that hiring “A” students from top universities guarantees mostly that you will get people who can follow directions very well, but who often cannot identify problems or architect and implement solutions. What can we change in how we approach education to alter our course?

Focus on learning how to learn as the primary purpose of education with content as a byproduct. But what does that look like? Continue reading

Reflection on Persuasion

This reflection on persuasion was done by me as part of an exercise in my Communication and Media Literacy class.  (You can find the Teacher Edition here).

“On Persuasion”

When I think about persuasion, I realize that we are always trying to persuade people to either do things or believe things. Often, it is ourselves we are trying to convince. And people are always trying to persuade us to do or believe things as well. What strikes me is that we need to be careful — to be full of care — by being clear on why we are trying to persuade people of things. Often, when we are trying to persuade others of things, it is for our own selfish benefit, even if we habitually try to persuade ourselves it is for the benefit of the other person. So we must take care. When we try to persuade others for our own benefit — which is okay, by the way; it is not something to be ashamed of in and of itself — we do need to be careful that we are clear to ourselves who we are doing it for, and to be ethical in our methods. Persuasion can fast become manipulation if we are not ethical in our methods. What are some guidelines to keep us from moving into manipulation territory? Well, I have a few ideas, but I decided to look into what some other people think on this, and found this post by Jonathan Fields, that I thought discusses the line between persuasion and manipulation pretty clearly and insightfully. According to the author:

The difference between persuasion and manipulation lies in:

1) The intent behind your desire to persuade that person,

2) The truthfulness and transparency of the process, and

3) The net benefit or impact on that person

 

I’ll definitely ponder this further, and examine some of the “persuasion” situations in my life. I’m hoping the audit is favorable to my character 🙂

 

Physical Orientation Predicts Team Performance (concise version)

(This is the relatively concise version of this post, relatively light on the preaching. To see the full post, with more preaching and more details about the challenge, click here).

I’m sure this has been written about in a thousand other places, but I have some recent evidence to support the idea that small teams that orient themselves in physical shapes conducive to communication will outperform teams that do not. Facilitating a handful of sections of 9th graders attempting a 30 minute challenge (ostensibly to post a link in a forum to a shared Google Doc), in every case the winning team was the one that oriented itself in physical space for better communication, and in every case it was a blowout win. I also have some assertions about the need to design our instruction of all content to explicitly include the development of critical skills (21st century skills, etc. etc.).

Now to the findings. Here are examples of two of the classes, and how they arranged their seating for the group challenge.

Following image: In a classroom with a big square-cornered horseshoe, the team that huddled at one corner demolished the other team, which was spread far apart.

Horseshoe seating arrangement for teamwork

Following image: In a room with individual desks originally arranged in typical grid format, facing front—it was the team that arranged a circle that demolished the other, which had brought their desks closer together, but remained facing forward.
Grid seating classroom self-arranged for teamwork

The obvious hypothesis is that the winning arrangements allows for better communication—likely through the simple fact, in my thinking, that the team members can see each other, and thus pick up on the preponderance of communication signals that are non-verbal. What are they communicating? Likely many things, but my suspicion is that checking for comprehension is paramount to success, because that is what allows for any needed help to be expeditiously delivered. (Of course, dear scientists out there, it is also possible that the physical orientation of successful teams is a result of the already superior team-working skills of the winning teams, but I think the random sampling of the team formation addresses this issue).

There are many other critical skills students can internalize through such activities, and I think that we are remiss as teachers if we are thinking explicitly only of the content we are covering. Yes, I need all these students to be able to use the cloud resources we covered in this exercise, but that “content” is not nearly as important in my mind as what they learned about teamwork and communication. Further, I would argue, and I think the research strongly supports, that this “content” is learned better when it is done in conjunction with social interaction and the employment of various other “critical skills” (see 21st Century Skills, Blooms Taxonomy, etc.).

It was amazing how easily we were able to predict the outcome, every time, within the first 30 seconds of the challenge, based on how the students oriented themselves in space. Except for one, and this was interesting. We had our first class where both teams oriented themselves into team-friendly shapes, and myself and the other teacher in class commented to each other that this was going to be the first close match. Our prediction held, and the team that won did so just barely (whereas all other classes saw blowouts, with the well-oriented team soundly defeating the other). Interestingly, we were still able to predict within two minutes of the 30 minute challenge which of the two well-oriented teams would win, and this was done based on the amount of eye contact, chatter, and getting up to walk over to another team member the team exhibited (all manifestations of the behavior of checking for and assisting in comprehension between teammates, as mentioned above.)

By explicitly having group / team dynamics as part of the learning objectives of this lesson, and by allowing the students to experience the inherent trials and triumphs therein, I believe we were able to be more successful in growing these critical communication, teamwork, and meta-cognitive skills than if these skills were not an explicit part of the lesson’s focus and design.

 

 

Physical Orientation Predicts Team Performance

(This is the more detailed and slightly more preachy version of this missive. For the relatively more concise and less preachy version, click here).

Assertions:

  1. Small teams that orient themselves in physical shapes conducive to communication will outperform teams that do not.
  2. This law of Team Orientation is best learned through doing, and not from being told (as are most things….)

Scene: Classroom, students divided into two teams.

The task: Could be anything, but in this case, it’s designed to give students exposure using Moodle and Google Drive.

Rules of the challenge: First team to have all members reply to a forum post with a click-able link to a shared Google Doc (in this case containing a brief on their relationship with technology) wins.

Limitations: (Limitations increase creativity and innovation – see Phil Hansen’s TED Talk, Embrace the Shake). Each team gets only two questions of the instructor (this forces use of internal team resources, and clear team communication about when to use the valuable resource of a question to the instructor).

Teacher skill development: Practicing letting students trip and stumble until they find their stride as a team. I fear our parenting (mine included) and our education paradigm are depriving people from learning how to solve problems on their own and in groups, and that we have to wean ourselves of constantly stepping in and helping them along. (See Blessings of a Skinned Knee and tons of other resources on this point).

I’m sure this has been written about in a thousand other places, but I have some recent evidence to support Assertion #1; that physical orientation is a factor in team success. Facilitating a handful of sections of 9th graders attempting this team challenge, in every case the winning team was the one that oriented itself in physical space for better communication, and in every case it was a blowout win. Here are examples of two of the classes, and how they arranged their seating for the group challenge.

Following image: In a classroom with a big square-cornered horseshoe, the team that huddled at one corner demolished the other team, which was spread far apart.

Horseshoe seating arrangement for teamwork

Following image: In a room with individual desks originally arranged in typical grid format, facing front—it was the team that arranged a circle that demolished the other, which had brought their desks closer together, but remained facing forward.
Grid seating classroom self-arranged for teamwork

The obvious hypothesis is that this arrangement allows for better communication—likely through the simple fact, in my thinking, that the team members can see each other, and thus pick up on the preponderance of communication signals that are non-verbal. (Of course, dear scientists out there, it is also possible that the physical orientation of successful teams is a result of the already superior team-working skills of the winning teams, but I think the random sampling of the team formation addresses this issue).

There are many other critical skills students can internalize through such activities, and I think that we are remiss as teachers if we are thinking explicitly only of the content we are covering. Yes, I need all these students to be able to use the cloud resources we covered in this exercise, but that “content” is not nearly as important in my mind as what they learned about teamwork and communication. Further, I would argue, and I think the research strongly supports, that this “content” is learned better when it is done in conjunction with social interaction and the employment of various other “critical skills” (see 21st Century Skills, Blooms Taxonomy, etc., and Assertion #2 above).

Schools that are able to survive and thrive in the coming years, and more importantly that will best serve their students, are ones who institutionally and culturally embrace the idea of explicitly designing instruction for critical skill development, and who help their teachers develop the skills teachers need to construct these 21st century learning environments in ways that model the environments the teachers are designing for. Saying that another way: teachers will need to learn these new skills — in how to design learning to explicitly incorporate critical skills practice and development — in environments that model the environments they will be designing (real problems, and community-integrated, IMHO).

UPDATE 9/13/13

We had our first class where both teams oriented themselves into team-friendly shapes, and myself and the other teacher in class commented to each other that this was going to be the first close match. Our prediction held, and the team that won did so just barely (whereas all other classes saw blowouts, with the well-oriented team soundly defeating the other). Interestingly, we were still able to predict within two minutes of the 30 minute challenge which of the two well-oriented teams would win, and this was done based on the amount of eye contact, chatter, and getting up to walk over to another team member the team exhibited.

 

Don’t Build Your Teaching Around Technology

Technology ToolsWe in education have spent far too many years trying to integrate technology tools into the classroom. By that I do not mean that technology should be avoided in teaching. Far from it. However, the approach in the past has been to pick the tool, and then try to figure out how to wrap instruction around it. This is the approach that has built up years of resentment and resistance from teachers. Continue reading