Need a “Pep Talk”?

I came across this video posted by SoulPancake (Rainn Wilson) and love it! Some important take-aways:

1. Don’t be boring. Boring is easy, everybody can be boring.
2. If life is a game, aren’t we all on the same team?
3. Take the path that leads to awesome, not the road most traveled. (Even if it leaves you saying, “Not cool, Robert Frost!”)
4. What if MJ had quit? There would be no Space Jam. What will be your Space Jam? Don’t stop believing.
5. We got work to do…are we gonna cry about it or we gonna dance about it?


Love Learning, Yet Hate School?

This morning, in an email from TIE, I received a link from Greg Limperis to watch a viral video related to education. The title caught my attention…Why I Hate School But Love Education. I was hooked…had to watch. You should too…

Now, I should mention that I’m currently reading Tony Wagner’s latest book, Creating Innovators. I’m only a chapter or two in, but something clicked as I watched Suli Breaks‘ video sermon about re-envisioning the role of school in education. No, I wasn’t thinking that schools are no longer needed just because a handful of famous, wealthy, successful people didn’t stay in school (and I don’t think that was ultimately his point). Rather, schools are at risk of failing to serve students who want a more meaningful learning experience (which reminds me of Dan Brown’s An Open Letter to Educators video rant back in 2010). Could schools actually be on their way to earning a failing grade in their own course, Education 101?

We must evolve our approach to teaching and learning. If we don’t, schools WILL become obsolete. It’s NOT good enough to hand our students a laptop or an iPad and proclaim, “There, now we’re 21st century school.” It’s about changing the fundamental way in which our schools and classrooms operate to best serve the needs of the modern day student. We have to make a shift from a pedagogy founded on  knowledge-delivery to one that promotes creativity, innovation, and differentiation.

Suli makes this point with prose that brings words to life…true “education” is education that is meaningful to it’s possessor. Picasso learned the art of, well, art. Shakespeare mastered the art of words and Colonel Sanders perfected the art of fried chicken. Each did it their OWN way, not one that was prescribed in a school’s curriculum. As Suli vividly describes in my favorite example of his about passion-based learning, Beckham didn’t learn to “bend it” (a penalty kick) at Chingford Foundation School. In fact, David once said,

At school whenever the teachers asked, ‘What do you want to do when you’re older?’ I’d say, ‘I want to be a footballer.’ And they’d say, ‘No, what do you really want to do, for a job?’ But that was the only thing I ever wanted to do.

So he did. Beckham bends it with such skill and precision, not because Chingford Foundation School successfully coaches all their kids to do so, but because he had a passion for the sport that drove him to study and perfect the art of penalty kicking. Imagine how scary he would be on the pitch had his teachers fully accepted and promoted his passion for soccer as a career!

Ultimately, schools must learn to inspire and promote our students’ inherent passion for authentic, meaningful, and individualized learning. After all, our future depends upon it.

What are your thoughts about Suli’s video? How can we shift our approach as a school to provide a more relevant and authentic experience? Please share your thoughts.

Transforming Learning Through 21st Century Skills- Part Two

I finished the book with a true grasp of the topic. The very clear and concise points moved smoothly through the rest of the chapters. There were many opportunities to stop and see where each individual fits in the discussion. Chapter 4 defined and stressed the importance of school culture as it applies to the climate and atmosphere of the school. Six characteristics define a positive school culture. The survey assessment was particularly interesting. Chapter 5 covered setting and achieving goals. One suggestion was a list of energy savers and energy wasters. By visualizing the end result, the process made perfect sense to me. Chapter 6 was perhaps my favorite because it emphasized the need to communicate clearly. It is an essential skill to all aspects of life. Chapter 7 asks the reader to predict possible roadblocks and barriers. Four types of response were discussed and the challenge to identify where the individual fits into the discussion was very enlightening. Chapter 8 asks for the individual to engage support with personal accountability and peer groups. Chapter 9 says to make it real in the classroom and continue learning. There was a very comprehensive collection of resources at the end of the book.

The reflections listed at the end of the chapters appealed to me because they followed up with the ideas presented in the chapter. This allowed me to finish a chapter with reflections and a sense of closure. For me, I wish I had the actual book rather than the digital book. I think keeping the reflections in a journal format would be very appealing; however, the notes I took accomplished the same goal, but not as organized as I would have liked. I enjoyed this format and the focus of the topic. Highly recommended for those who want an excellent overview and guidebook for this important venture in education.

Action Research Complete!

For the past year, three other physics teachers and I have been investigating how explicitly teaching an expert-like approach in problem solving affects students in a modeling based physics classroom. We presented our findings Friday July 20th at Arizona State University and our report is, at last, complete!

We didn’t find anything groundbreaking. Unlike many larger/more popular educational innovations, our conclusions are conservative. Although we believe what we did has the potential to be beneficial to some students, we don’t claim it’s a silver bullet. In fact, we found that for students who didn’t build a strong conceptual understanding in physics, our explicit emphasis on problem solving was not beneficial.

Few people will likely be interested in reading our entire paper (it’s quite long!), but some may be interested in selected parts. I’ve posted our paper, Effects of Emphasizing Intentional Problems Solving here.

Here is our abstract:

Students begin their education in physics as novice problems solvers. Instead of carefully defining a problem, using qualitative models, and planning a method of solution, students often immediately attempt to find the answer to the problem. The result of this lack of methodical approach is that students are not only unable to solve problems, they are unsure of even the basic steps that lead toward solutions. Previous research has shown that intentionally teaching expert-like strategies increases students’ problem solving ability. Other studies have found that Modeling Instruction improves students’ expert-like problem solving ability. This study was initiated to evaluate the impact on students’ problem solving skills through teaching explicit problem solving strategies in addition to Modeling Instruction. There was no conclusive evidence that the gains from the two methods were additive; however, this approach was reported to be beneficial by study participants. There was substantial evidence that without a solid conceptual understanding, expert-like problem solving ability was limited.

Transforming Learning through 21st Century Skills

If you are still looking for a general overview and background information on the subject of 21st century education, this is a great resource. It is very clearly organized and easy to read. Chapter 1 deals with the rapid pace of change in the world as it applies to our students. Two statistics jumped out at me. First, the top jobs that our students will be competing for as adults did not exist in 2004. Second, today’s students will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38. Lydotta and Jill gave personal observations of their children’s experience with technology in the 1980’s. I was reminded of my daughter’s delight with her Speak and Spell – after all, it was so advanced that ET was able to use it to contact his space ship, right?
The authors identified eight of the greatest challenges for educators today. They also defined generations from Baby Boomers to Gen I, and gave a synopsis of the evolution.

Chapter 2 discusses 21st century skills and a model for change. “We do not believe that technology is a must in every 21st century skills learning opportunity.” A rainbow graphic shows the skills that our students will need to master- they look very familiar and incorporate information media and tech skills as one of several components. The chapter ended with a self check- is your classroom a 21st century classroom? Even the most traditional teacher will be delighted to find that they are farther along than they could imagine. The Who Took My Chalk?tm step by step model was then explained. The chapter summary allows the reader to take a moment to make sure that they have the main ideas presented in the text.

Chapter 3 challenges the reader to recognize the need or desire to make changes in their approach. Looking at our own fears and keeping a positive attitude for their suggested 21 days can allow the teacher time to make a few changes and then reflect on the process. The authors also said that keeping the changes and adjustments positive and happy for the teacher is a key approach.

These first three chapters have provided a solid background and foundation for the next section.

Global Achievement Gap Part 3: Assessment

Wagner introduces several new kinds of assessments that schools should consider to better evaluate the kind of 21st century skills we want our students to have and the skills we want our teachers to have as well. Here are a sample of a few to consider. Even if teachers don’t administer this particular test, I think it could still be useful as a model for how to write our own tests. 

The CWRA test for college readiness: 

I like the real life task element of this test as well the use of multiple documents that students must synthesis.


The ETS iskills Test:

Focuses on technology skills students will need to use in a variety of daily tasks at most any job.



What other ways have you modified assessment to match the new skills/lessons you’ve incorporated into your 21st century classroom?

Standards Based Grading

I heard an interesting presentation/discussion from one of my classmates on standards based grading (SBG) today. I’ve heard people mention the term before, but I previously didn’t know what it meant in the classroom. The idea sounds fairly neat, although it also sounds like a lot of work. Essentially instead of grading students on points, students are assessed on targeted standards each unit. Unfortunately the devil is really in the details for SBG & it’s hard to explain those on a blog.

Right now, it doesn’t sounds like there are strong resources for modeling physics teachers and SBG. I think that will improve rapidly. For now though, I don’t think investing in SBG is time-effective.

How to Use Video Game Tactics in the Classroom

Science teacher Paul Anderson describes his attempt to make his classroom experience more like that of a video game, with constant feedback, self-directed learning, and failure that leads to discovery rather than disappointment.

The lessons he learns along the way, that kids inherently want to be social, and that they will tend to skim or skip reading big blocks of text, are important ones to consider as we prepare to go 1:1.

Check it out!

Blogging with Research

Here is a short blog/article written by a modeler about 21st century learning & the workplace. One of the things Carmela does that I think is super important is cite research. I think 21st century learning needs to be research and data driven.

Global Achievement Gap Part Two:Pros and Cons of Digital Age Learning

In chapter five of his book The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner outlines characteristics of students who have grown up using the web and how it effects the ways they relate to each other, how they are motivated, and the effect on their learning styles.  For each of these there are both positive and negative impacts which need to be considered.

  1. Multitasking

Watch students at work and you’ll see them navigate three browser windows while listening to music and building a prezi. This continuous partial attention can be viewed positively by focusing on the continuous attention  or negatively by focusing on the partial aspect. If they are not fully focused on any one thing, the quality of the work suffers. There is less time spent reflecting on decisions. Studies have also shown that multitasking  contributes to a more stressful lifestyle.

2. Constantly Connected

Students have a variety of tools to help them communicate with people all over the world. But interacting online has also led to cyberbullying.

3. Instant Gratification & Speed of Light

Living in a world where data can be transferred instantly means students learn faster response times, but it they also have become less patient and more demanding and less able to interact face to face.

4. Learning through multimedia

Students receive information now through more than just text on paper. Video, websites, databases—the options are endless. But just because students are surrounded by media doesn’t necessarily mean they are media literate. They still don’t know how to think critically about what they are consuming.

5. Learning as discovery

Engaging in a web search, clicking one link which leads to another which leads to another is the new nonlinear, more active way of discovering information. Students are more willing to try something and see where it goes and discover what works and what doesn’t by trial and error. But much like the multimedia learning above, evaluation of the information being received is not always a top priority. In addition, “the desire to constantly ‘do’ and interact often comes at the expense of contemplation and reflection—essential aspects of both learning and growth”(184).

6. Learning by creating

Students are no longer limited to just consuming knowledge that someone else gives them (aka lecture style) but can create and share their own knowledge with others. But quality is often compromised as students struggle to discern between what makes for good or bad creations.

But just because each of these new digital age characteristics have problems attached to them, doesn’t mean technology should be rejected. In the end, it is ultimately our role as teachers to help students practice more of the positive sides of each of these new digital age learning strategies and avoid the negative. As Wagner puts it,

“younger generations have enormous potential either to become lost in an endless web of fantasy and entertainment or to use their skills with these new technologies to make significant contributions to our society as learners, workers and citizens. What is needed to tip the balance to the positive is an older generation that better understands what drives the younger generation and has learned how best to harness and focus its energies” (187).