Category: Student-centered Learning

2 Questions Worth Asking To Determine Your Professional Fantasy?

2 Questions Worth Asking To Determine Your Professional Fantasy?

Have you ever been asked by an administrator a question like Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Well, a close colleague and school leader posed a different flavor of the question to me: What is your professional fantasy? I was absolutely startled by the question and fumbled through my answer, mostly because of the word fantasy- something that is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

a pleasant situation that you enjoy thinking about but is unlikely to happen.

So now that I have had a few days to really process this question, and it got me really thinking 2 things:

  1. What ridiculous thing would I like to do in education?
  2. And does it have to be “unlikely to happen”?

 

Before I go into a state of mind wandering,  let me provide the current context of most educational systems around the world:

In the past, we heard about the “digital divide” between those who had access to technology and those who didn’t. We are now seeing a new divide emerge–a Creative Chasm between those who actively create…Our current model of schooling amplifies this Creative Chasm. From the bell schedule to the grading system to the lesson planning and pedagogy, our students inhabit factory-style schools. Phrases like  “content delivery” and “delivering a lesson” treat education as a commodity to be collected and then used in the future. This model might have worked in developing compliant factory workers. So here are now, well into the twenty-first century. The factories are gone … Yet, this industrial model remains.

Excerpt taken from LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer

So how do I, as an educator who has been raised and trained in a factory-model system of education lead students into the future whose workplace values has shifted? This is highly personal–will I cling to the past or participate in the future? Well, this is where my fantasy begins, as  I cannot stand by and stagnate in my practice and continue to leave technology to the “kids”.

To answer my first question (What ridiculous thing would I like to do in education?), I’d like to be involved in a revolution in education–in which paradigms are shattered and we rip into the sacred cows of education. What sacred cows do I speak of? Mainly, that, as an educator, I am the knower of all things and I hoard that knowledge wisely and dispense it in time through a scope and sequence or a curriculum map.

Some of you might have gasped aloud–if that responsibility of our profession was downsized or completely eliminated, then what? Well, don’t be silly. The universe abhors a vacuum, something innovative and necessary would undoubtedly emerge to replace it. I daresay it already is. Read The Future of Professions  or gain insight through this video:

 

In my former career as a scientific researcher, I used to experiment on animals. I have sometimes joked that my students are like my “lab rats” with whom I manipulate and observe the results of my prodding (aka, “the black box of best practices”). But now I have come to see them, not as “animals” that I “experiment” with, but as fellow researchers. They are right along siding me, poking at reality and questioning its very nature. That’s the paradigm I wish to infuse in our educational systems: Students are Teachers; students can recognize what is worth knowing and develop effective ways in which these ideas can be transferred and shared.

I  understand that many of our students grow up immersed in a consumer culture and then attend schools where they consume rather than create knowledge. In my professional fantasy, I enlist an army of educators who plot and scheme an offensive to drive out students’ resignation and apathy towards their learning. Instead, these students join us and become generals themselves, crippling this very infrastructure of this archaic industrial age model.

Truthfully I believe that this revolution is presently underway and this army is already amassing with innovative and passionate educators. Educators like you.  And so I have to wonder if this is really a fantasy at all? Maybe through this blog and other ways and means, I can connect and engage with fellow concerned and diligent educators who do not wish to stand by and allow the old to become new again; but instead will we engage and empower our students, who may very well rewrite our job descriptions and redesign the frameworks and goals of our institutions.

Say you will join me!

 

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Homework Vs. Deep Work

Homework Vs. Deep Work

We had an open house this week, and as I sat down to answer parent questions about our Primary Years Programme, I opened up my Powerpoint, prepared to refer to my laundry list of all the ways the International Baccalaureate is wonderful. But then questions came and my presentation took care of itself. I began to get a clear picture of how truly different we are and how rigid so many schools are in China. One mother pined for her 3rd-grade son’s happiness and felt awful that she had to battle him daily to do 2 hours or more of homework a night. Having 2 hours or more of homework?–a parent’s free time also gets demolished as I’m sure they have to sit there with their student to complete the worksheets. You can imagine that both parties suffer burnout and do not enjoy these nightly sessions. So parents feel equally imprisoned by the idea of doing homework, as what they see as a necessary evil.

Yet, this is endemic of living in Asia–so many of the countries here, with their large populations and competitive job markets, staunchly value education as the only means to have a decent life. School is life for young people, and it is also very normal that children, beginning in Kindergarten, get tutors or attend “academy”–a night school that teachers next year’s math or other content knowledge.

Ever since this meeting, my mind is wandering, thinking about my own child.  I love my little person and I want her to come home eager to tell me her tales of school that day. I don’t want to berate her about doing homework.  So earlier this year, I had her think about creating a homework schedule, which obviously has a fair amount of parent input (my daughter never would put in IXL willingly). You can see the final schedule in this post, which amusingly you can notice that the weekend is “Hannah’s to do list”–meaning that mom and dad leave her to her own devices.

However, I am starting to rethink this concept of homework, which is essentially practicing what the skills that they are in the midst of learning that week. I do think this is important and of value, but I’d also like to cultivate her interests, which lately has been coding and Minecrafting. I’m a big fan of Cal Newport and his treatise on Deep Work which can be summarized here (although I recommend you read the book since there are more nuggets inside). cal newport

In particular,  Cal recommends that one “drains the shallows” and create focused, uninterrupted attention on developing a skill, working on a project or task that is challenging and demands ideation to promote innovation in your area of interest. When looking over one’s schedule, it is vital to quantify the depth of every activity–is it moving you towards a goal or achievement? Is it really helping you to cultivate depth of knowledge and expertise? Once you evaluate your schedule, then you recreate it and reallocate your time to doing this “deep work”. The end goal of these accumulated hours is to bring into fruition new and better ways of doing something, solving a problem or producing a product which will have an overall greater benefit on humanity.

With this idea in mind, I asked my daughter if she had to get rid of something on her schedule, what would it be, draining the shallows, sort of speaking. She told me that she’d get rid of the writing on Tuesday. When I probed to know why she told me that she didn’t like writing, she told me that she likes to draw and she never gets to do that in her writing prompts. She’s in 1st grade, the year when drawings are replaced with words to convey ideas, but I could appreciate her struggle with the transition. (Through this conversation, I gleaned some insights and it gave me an idea for next year to try when I teach 1st grade, as I motivate students into using better word choice rather than pictures to describe their ideas.) I told her to redo her schedule and she readily replaced writing with coding. As you look at her schedule below, it was obvious to me that her interests are emerging.

 

Although I’d like her schedule to be refined to maybe 1 or 2 focused items a day, it is a first step towards managing one’s time and developing readiness for “deep work”.
It got me thinking if all students were to be asked to do this task–creating their own after school schedule, what would it be? How could we instill within our students a desire to pursue their interests?–to redirect their attention to work that is meaningful to them. This idea of time management is one of the Transdisciplinary Skills or Approaches to Learning (ATL) that we seek to create in our IB learners. So as much as I want students to practice skills that they are in the midst of developing, I also want them hungry to learn so that they independently and organically augment their abilities. This is a key distinction of learning in the IB. So, I am just wondering if we were to tweak the idea of homework and teach parents to be partners in their student’s passions if that would make for more fulfilled families, overall. Perhaps introducing this concept of “deep work”, reframing homework in a new light, could not only shift the dynamics of home learning but could also inspire greater student selected inquiries into their passions.

 

I’m definitely interested in anyone else’s experiences with transforming homework into a joy rather than a drudgery. Please connect with me @judyimamudeen or leave comments below.

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Online Fire Drill and Lockdown Procedures

Online Fire Drill and Lockdown Procedures

 

The more I embrace 21st-century skills as a learner, the more I recognize how much I inadvertently underserve my digital natives. And that became plain to me in the latest YouTube Live Chat with Jennifer Casa-Todd during the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). These educators discuss how students need mentoring in their online life just as much as in their physical life. Some of their conversations included:

  • The impact of teaching students how to create a positive online digital image.
  • Fire drills and lockdowns–can we do that online?

As I listened to Jennifer Casa-Todd, it really got my head reeling a bit, thinking about how one’s digital footprint matters as much to what we do in our real life. As soon as they spoke about it, it seemed intuitive and easy to take for granted, but I know how much our digital and physical worlds can collide 1m234cand affect the learning in a classroom.

And although platforms like Google Classroom, Edmodo and SeeSaw offer wonderful “training wheel” experiences, it pales in comparison with the interactions that one may encounter on YouTube, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, WeChat and other sites in which comments are made and ideas are shared.  So what happens when something goes wrong online?

Jennifer reminded us that schools often prepare students for emergencies with having fire and lockdown drills, and she suggests that we also practice that in the online environment as well. Having an action plan for when someone comes in hijacks your post with smutty language or disparaging remarks can be really helpful and it is a benchmark skill for our digital natives because at some point in their lives, someone is going to say something hurtful or they themselves might behave badly on social media. In the digital world, those sorts of things can be tracked down, and they need to consider the repercussions of those interactions.

In the event of spam or a nasty or negative comment, how one responds can either determine whether things go out of control or gets “locked down”.  One thing that is important to remember that your site or your post is technically your responsibility to manage. So here are just some ideas that I’ve curated from other sources like this one that others can use to moderate their posts:

  1. Delete or hide the post if it’s spammy. Leaving it there delegitimizes the value of your content.
  2. Have members of your online community respond to the negative comment.
  3. Respond to the commenter in a private message, preferably in a compassionate tone that is equal to the respect that you wish to have online.
  4. Ignore it but keep posting other great ideas.
  5. Address it, but with lightness, humility and/or humor. Intend to diffuse the situation.
  6. If it really spirals out of control, and you have the opportunity to delete the post, then do so.
  7. If other attempts to make peace with the hater fails, you can block or ban the person from commenting.

Hopefully, these give some good food for thought as to how to approach online interactions. However, one thing that they didn’t discuss in the session, but I think it’s worth noting here, is also preparing students if they post something that is ignored. Yes, in these learner management systems like Edmodo and SeeSaw, we have parents and other community members coming on and giving it a “like” or a positive remark, but more often than not, when you create content, it might rarely be viewed, let alone commented on or shared. Take, for example, a YouTube video that a student creates–EVERYONE wants their stuff to go viral, right? But what if it doesn’t-what if only your mom and dad and your best friend watch it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen kids disappointed that their content was ignored or under appreciated by an audience. And I totally get the feeling of that because I blog. If no one reads or comments on a post, I wonder if my ideas are of value and worth sharing. Because of the high level of exposure that goes with digital media, this vulnerability can create self-doubt and anxiety, lowering one’s self-esteem. Since our children do not have the maturity and resilience that us adults have to not take this personal, we also have to develop their mindset when it comes to this factor as well, recognizing that the WHO consuming it isn’t as important as the WHY we create online.

I think approaching these aspects are critical to our digital natives and I’m grateful that I was able to reflect on how I might make a positive impact on teaching and learning that is relevant and meaningful.

 

 Attention Deficient

 Attention Deficient

It’s no secret. I have an earnest desire to see my students become happy and capable people who make a difference in this world, so I feel it is my duty to find their “Awesome” and cultivate it. In Week 4 of our Innovator’s Mindset MOOC  (#IMMOOC), George Couros encourages us to stop operating on a “deficit model that focuses on a learner’s weaknesses and start operating on a strengths-based model that build on the learning’s strengths.” Amen to that, but how exactly can you do that? hmm…

The other day my daughter invited me into her “world” in Minecraft. Let me tell you, I did NOT want to play Minecraft with her. Really, I didn’t. As a busy adult, I have plenty of stuff to do. But she was really proud of what she created and she wanted me to see it virtually. So I downloaded the app on my iPhone, created a character and added her as a friend. Suddenly I was in her “Love World”. She had made me my own house and she taught me how to fly, tame a horse, feed the pigs and drink invisibility potion. It was a strange sort of tender moment between us. Learner-Centred

But this was a lesson for me, and  I thought about my students–what are they trying to show me that is important to them?  What are they eager to talk about with me? What is it that I am too busy doing as an adult and teacher to notice about my students? I know we make a big deal about students having attention deficient disorders, but I think that could also be true about us teachers. Are we really focused on the learner?

I know that if I pay more attention to my students’ tangents I can probably locate some treasure in there if I just go digging around. Most of the time, it’s probably right there in front of me, in broad daylight. If students are interested in something, there’s a strong possibility that there is a strength waiting to be unearthed and shared with our learning community. And I think finding the time to show students that their ideas matter and are valued will probably be the best time spent this year anyhow.

 

Literacy Amplified: Using Technology Tools Effectively

Literacy Amplified: Using Technology Tools Effectively

Technology has the ability to enhance learning with positive results. That said, we need to be careful not to assume all technology is good technology or that just having access to technology automatically equates to higher learning outcomes. Strong leaders in education carefully select technology tools and implement strategies so that the tool will not distract or take away from the learning goals, which can easily happen.  -Elizabeth Moje-

I can completely relate to that piece of wisdom, as we have explored 1:1 iPads in our primary classes. Sometimes classrooms can be overzealous in the use of technology, and the point of its use gets lost in using this “shiny tool”. We’ve had to reflect, is it the app/tool that drives our instruction or is it the curriculum? And I think to refine our choices through this filter (the curriculum) is helping us to make better decisions when selecting technology tools.

Studies by Harold Wenglinsky and other researchers from the US Department of Education have indicated that there are criteria that we must consider in our decisions with effective technology use in the classroom. Educators have to ask themselves the following:

  1. Does it elicit higher-order thinking around the contenttechnology-in-class or just an over consumption of content?
  2. Are their social interactions between students, which help build student knowledge. Collaboration is a key skill in developing digital literacies, so keep that in mind when selecting tools.
  3. Does it provide quality over quantity when it comes to practicing skills so that critical thinking is being developed?
  4. What is the “value-added” element of the tool?  Is instruction more personalized and/or differentiated; and can the students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the content?

 

When it comes to developing literacy skills, we have to remember that whatever the tool we choose, it should augment what we already know is critical in developing good readers. So what do we know about good readers?

  • They are active, with clear goals in mind and a purpose for reading.
  • They are constantly evaluating the text, asking questions and making predictions.
  • They can peruse the text carefully, noticing the importance of text features and structure.
  • As they read, they are engaged in making meaning of the text, constructing and revising their understanding.
  • They are making decisions as they read, reflecting on what to read carefully, what to read quickly, what not to read, what to reread, and so on.

When it comes to good writing, we want to make sure the tool reinforces what we know is vital to cultivate in our learners:

  • Writing that is focused, with an obvious topic or idea.
  • Ideas that are detailed and flow clearly.
  • The student engages in a process of revision, elaboration, and editing so that the writing improves.
  • The student sees themselves as an author and is aware that their writing is meant to be shared and appreciated.

Keeping in mind, what we know about good literacy instruction, then we can use technology to amplify the learning in our classrooms. I love what Eric Johnson says about using technology in his instruction, as he explains how teachers can discern what makes for enhanced literacy teaching and learning with technology.

fullsizerender-50
These four-year-olds work together to create a simple story. Each selected a character and then recorded their characters’ expressions to create a dialogue between them.

Considering this, when we want to amplify the results of our literacy programs, we need to make sure that students aren’t sitting alone, swiping mindlessly through an app or game, but instead, we have a clearly defined purpose for using the tool, and then demonstrate how to use these tools through a Think Aloud or Read-aloud. We may have to model how to work collaboratively in order to apply certain literacy strategies and/or complete a project.  This could include even how students should be sharing their knowledge, and reflecting how well they are doing in meeting the standards of the task.

In our classrooms, we want our students engaged and their learning enhanced as they work with technology. Even at home, I’m a huge advocate for showing students and their families how iPads are tools and not toys so that there is more thought put into the use of this technology. We want our students to be empowered and innovative so that there is a shift from consumption to creation when it comes to content.

So before you start app smashing or sit your student down to a website, ask yourself what impact will this technology REALLY make in the overall learning? And if you can’t identify that, then move away from the “shiny tool” syndrome and take more time to either find a more appropriate tool or use a time-tested traditional method to meet the learning goals.

 

A’ Wondering about Educational Technology

A’ Wondering about Educational Technology

Have you eve thought that at one time in human history cave art was a huge technological leap. As as we evolved and paper was invented, scrolls were considered controversial forms of educational technology; according to this research, ancient philosophers felt that if things were written down, then it depleted your memory. Quite surprising, huh? Thus our current digital technologies are no different: there will always be people who embrace technology wholeheartedly and those who resist it.

Nevertheless, iPads and other tablets have infiltrated so many households that to not use them in the classroom would be a sin. At our school, we have a BYO-ipad policy for students in grade levels 3-5. And as educators this type of technology transcends so much of what we can do with pen and paper. But where to begin?

I’ve been really inspired by the presentation by  Tom Daccord & Justin Reich as they strive to guide teachers through the murky waters of using iPads in the classroom. I appreciate how succinctly they spell out the taxonomy of their use with 4 levels: Consume, Curate, Create and Connect.

ipads

Although I get enthusiastic about using apps for education, there are some thorny issues that we have been discussing, especially with regards to research skills. Not only has there been much debate over having students use books vs. internet websites as primary sources of information, but whether using apps like Notability or One Note to curate content really helped students digest the information and convert it into personal knowledge. As I reflect on the graphic above, it makes me wonder if these are not really levels, but the process by which we should take students through a project or problem that they must solve as they research ideas using the iPads. As more of our classrooms begin to shift to embrace these technologies, I think we need to consider how we can go deeper in our learning so that, not only does the technology evolve, but also the thinking in our classrooms.

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

From Mind into Matter: 5 Ways to cultivate the Mindset of the MakerSpace

From Mind into Matter: 5 Ways to cultivate the Mindset of the MakerSpace

There is a Zen saying, “to know and not do is to not yet know.”  This seems relevant in today’s shifting views about learning, and I recognize my own struggle as an educator in preparing students for the unknown of the future. One of the skills that seem most intangible for me is teaching students to be more discerning in their learning-how to get them to love the journey and not the destination, so they want to ask more questions and dig deeper.

Lately, I’ve been inspired by the book, Invent to Learn. I think it really speaks to this disposition of curiosity as the impetus for extended learning, in which the child’s mind becomes the essential “makerspace”; our classrooms merely become the concrete representation of this immaterial world of their ideas. Experimenting and creating something is an act of discovering that a thought can be made solid.

It acknowledges that the power of making something comes from a question or impulse that the learner has, and is not imposed from the outside. Questions like “How can my car go faster?” or “I like the way this looks, can I make it prettier?” are treated as valid, and in fact, potentially more valid than criteria imposed by anyone else, including a teacher. Learners are empowered to connect with everything they know, feel, and wonder to stretch themselves into learning new things. We seek to liberate learners from their dependency on being taught.

Sylvia Libow Martinez, Invent to Learn.

As I reflect on the quote above, I think about how important it is to catch students in the act of curiosity so that I can implore them to engage in their ideas. In this way, I am no longer the guide but their champion. I wonder if this encouragement can compensate for the attitudes in our societies, in which quick fixes are highly valued. I believe it’s important to have students develop their stamina and see failure as an important element for their inevitable success.

Making things has changed the way they look at the world around them, opening new doors and presenting new opportunities to get deeply involved in processes that require knowledge, skill building, creativity, critical thinking, decision making, risk taking, social interaction, and resourcefulness. They understand that when you do something yourself, the thing that changes most profoundly is you. (Frauenfelder, 2011)

There are several units in our POI (programme of inquiry) that could incorporate many of ideals of the makers mindset. I know in the Early Years, this is easiest to do because students at this age have the permission to play. This seems a bit unfair when you think of it. “Play is called recreation because it makes us new again, it re-creates us and our world.” (Brown & Vaughan, 2010). I think this process of re-creation is ongoing and the foundation of life-long learner. Implanting design-processthis mindset into classrooms could not only empower students, but also teachers. Moving out of our instructional comfort-zones then becomes an act of faith, because we have to be trust that students can learn on their own. As soon as I write that sentence, it seems self-evident–of course students can learn on their own–that is their natural inclination!! But how can we nudge them to taking their discoveries from thoughts into doings? How can we translate the ideas of the minds into real learning.

Here are 5 strategies that might help teachers render the MindSpace of the Learner into a reality:

  1. Be curious about what students are curious about. Not all students will present their curiosities as questions–in fact many young students present their ideas as statements. Write and track them, even if anecdotally.
  2. Use self-evaluation for students to reflect and assess their attitudes towards the design mindset. This could be as formal or informal as you like, such as a discussion with a 1-3 finger self-assessment or a journal entry.
  3. Advertise problems and promote solutions, even if they are silly.
  4. Set up a classroom “creation station” with some”junk” to be repurposed.
  5. Share inspirational stories as exemplars. You can connect with other classrooms either in your school or virtually through a resource like ePals.

I know that I will take my own advice as I strive to make my classroom more engaging and student-centered. I wonder what suggestions others might have about shifting our classrooms into laboratories of the mind. Perhaps you can share below what other ideas or strategies you might have.

Until then, stay in Joy!

 

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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