Monday, March 26, 2012

21st Century Skills: Are we doing enough?

Our school's book club recently chose to read 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times written by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel.  There has been so much talk about 21st century skills for years now, and many argue what those specific skills are exactly.  Trilling & Fadel discuss four powerful forces that are converging on our world and they create the need new forms of learning.  Below are the four converging forces on our educational system according to Trilling &Fadel.

1. Knowledge Work
2. Thinking Tools
3. Digital Lifestyles
4. Learning Research 

Knowledge Work

The world of work is changing in the Knowledge Age (21st Century).  There is big time pressure on us in education to make a shift to develop these skills.  Content isn't the problem, I think it is the process we use to deliver our lessons.  
"Today's knowledge work is done collaboratively in teams with team members often spread across multiple locations, using a digital zoo of devices and services to coordinate their project work." 
Are we doing enough in our schools to prepare our students for Knowledge Work?  Are we creating environments that teach our students these skills?  How does your school stack up?

Thinking Tools
"Technology and the digital devices and services that fill a knowledge worker's toolkit - the thinking tools of our time - may be the most potent forces for change in the 21st century."
Eric Sheninger talks often about creating initiatives like Bring Your Own Technologies into schools.  He tweets and blogs regularly about 21st Century skills.  You can read more here: It is time for schools to seriously consider BYOT This may be the easiest way to put more devices or thinking tools into our students hands.
"In the past, memorizing the tidy set of known facts, rules, figures, and dates of any school subject was challenging but necessary part of learning.  Today, attempting to memorize the overflowing storerooms of facts and knowledge in any field is clearly impossible."
With the amount of information that is available, is it necessary to teach facts anymore?  

Digital Lifestyles

We live in a digital age. If you are under the age of thirty-one you grew up surrounded by digital media.  Our students don't know anything else, this is their lifestyle.  They know that they are different than "digital immigrants" these are people who learned to "do technology" later in life.  The following are the  expectations of this group according to a recent student. 
  • Freedom to choose and express their personal views and individual identities 
  • Customization and personalization 
  • Scrutiny - detailed, behind the scenes analysis 
  • Integrity and openness in their interactions with others from organizations 
  • Entertainment and play to be intergrated into their work, learning and social life
  • Collaboration and relationships to be a vital part of what they do 
  • Speed in comminications, getting information, and getting responses to questions and messages
  • Innovation in products, services, employers, and schools, and in their own lives
"A one-size-fits-all factory model and one-way broadcast approach to learning does not work well for these students."
How are we personalizing learning for these students?

Learning Research

Trilling & Fadel found five key findings that may help to guide and reshape learning to meet our times.  

  1. Create more authentic learning experiences.  Students need more real-world problem solving, internships in real work settings.  
  2. Allow mental model building, students should be put into situations that incorporate new experiences that change their views over time.  
  3. Create lessons that have an emotional connection to what is being learned.  I can remember this whenever we covered the Holocaust.  Students were so into the lesson, because of the emotional connection involved.  
  4. Create more personalized learning opportunities for students.  Differentiate!
  5. Embed social learning into lessons.  Online communication is an option.  

How are you currently embedding 21st century skills into your school or classroom?  What are the most important skills that we need embed into our curriculum?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reflection: Catching Up or Leading the Way?

#edfocus recently finished up reading Catching Up or Leading the Way, by Yong Zhao.  Zhao voices his concern with the direction of educational reform in the United States.  He brings a unique perspective in that he was born in China,  and went through their educational system.  He now lives in America and has children that attend American schools.

We often hear quotes by very important people that bash our system and our current state of affairs.
"America's high schools are obsolete." - Bill Gates  
"Our schools have been underperforming for 25 years.  America is slipping farther and farther behind the rest of the world academically because we have been unable to enact meaningful reforms or substantially improve student in learning in the last quarter century." - Strong American Schools, 2008
Zhao makes an argument that questions if the system is broken.

Why is it that Americans still receive over two-thirds of the patents issued per year?

Zhao labels China as the "Worlds Factory." They manufacture goods that have been thought of in America.  Very little innovation occurs in China, even with the large amount of college graduates.

Is it the American education system that is the strength?  Lack of standardization in the past may have attributed to the creativity and individuality that allows innovation to bloom.
"Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play.  Every individual makes a difference" - Jane Goodall
Zhao explains that China operates under a rigid standardized system, and leaders realize that even though they may score high on international testing, they fail to produce innovators.  Due to this understanding they are making the shift away from standardization and beginning to mimic the educational system in the United States.

As I finish up, Zhao poses an interesting question, is there a correlation between high international test scores and a nations' overall success?  Anyone read any research supporting this belief?

By the way, I am not saying we don't have our problems in our schools by any means.  Zhao does provide some good points though.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How do you evaluate?

This is a very important time of the year for myself and staff.  As I wrap up my final post-observation meetings it is time to reflect on the past few months of formally evaluating teachers.  Evaluation is never an easy process for both sides, my hope is to help my teachers grow as educators.  It shouldn't be a gotcha moment for teachers.

It is important that trust is established and that it isn't a session full of nitpicking and negativity.  I had some very good conversations about teaching and learning.  It makes it all worthwhile when you see growth from year to year.  Anthony Cody put together a nice article a few days ago regarding evaluation.  It really caused me to think differently about my current state of evaluation.  
"A teacher meets with his or her evaluator. They review the professional standards in use, and look for areas in need of growth. Maybe it is a focus on literacy and writing skills. Maybe it is bringing the English learners level of engagement and participation up. They discuss strategies the teacher might try to address these things, and they also discuss the forms of evidence they will look at over the year to see what is happening in this area. Assessment, especially of the classroom-based formative sort, is a powerful tool. How is a teacher assessing his or her students' abilities? How are they using that information to give feedback and give the student appropriate, challenging work? This is where test data may play an important role, because a skilled teacher draws on this data to better understand their students."
"Once an area of focus has been defined, the teacher and evaluator find some professional development resources that might help as well -- maybe a conference to attend, some books that might be read, a grade level team that might come observe a lesson here and there and offer feedback, a colleague that is expert in this area to go observe. Then over the year, the teacher collects student work samples that provide evidence of learning. They document how they have designed instruction to help students learn, and show where they have provided feedback. The evaluator observes, a few times at random, and a few times by request, to see particular lessons. This evidence would be appropriate to the goal that has been set. It could include some test data, but test data would just be one source of evidence among many."
What is your evaluation process?  How can we have more of these deep discussions regarding teaching and learning throughout the year?

How do we remove the stigma attached to evaluation?  Can we?

You can find Anthony Cody's full post here: Teacher Evaluation: Should we Look at Evidence of Learning?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Public Schools Saved My Life

I have been partially disconnected for the past 4-5 days from internet.  I must say it was rather nice.  My family and I went down to Arizona to visit my aunt and uncle.  We took in the Phoenix zoo and the Children's Museum and we enjoyed ourselves.  I have not seen my aunt and uncle for many years and it was great to reconnect.  On our trip I was able to to get a start on reading Catching Up or Leading the Way.  This book and my experience in AZ impacted me big time recently!

My aunt and uncle live in a part of town that used to be the suburbs 15-20 years ago in Phoenix, AZ.  The demographics have certainly changed since then.  It made me think of where I came from and where I am at now.  I often ask questions like, why did I make it out when others did not?  Through a combination of the book and having a chance to reminisce with family I had an epiphany.  Public schools saved my life!

Teachers like Mr. Nygaard, Mr. Lunde, Mr. Brecht and Mrs. Daffer gave me the confidence and encouraged me.  I'll be the first to say to anyone that I was not the greatest student in high school.  I was your typical at risk student.  I had all the risk factors; divorced parents, poverty level, free and reduced lunch, unstable home life, and failing grades.  School was the last thing on my importance list, I was more concerned with survival than anything else.

We are trying to emulate an Asian educational system where standardized testing is the norm.  Testing outcomes control whether or not students lead a successful life or not.  This is a system that doesn't  give "late bloomers" like myself a chance.  I didn't value school at the time, because there were too many distractions.  BUT caring teachers kept me focused and did everything in their power to encourage me to go 2,000 miles away to college.  Where would I be if I was not able to enter college based on a standardized test score?

Public sentiment in support of teachers and our education system is eroding, this is no secret.  Many critics site terrible schools and bad teachers as reasons for this.  This "broken" system has helped me succeed and many others as well.  The worst part about it is that our lowest performing schools now represent all schools. The best charter schools represent all charter schools.

Our system gives kids second chances and allows us the opportunity to be a late bloomer.  We currently don't write off kids when they can't pass a test.  We push them and give them help and allow them to be an individual rather than a number.

Why are we trying to implement an oppressive system of standardization that Asian countries are trying to get away from anyway?  Our focus on individuality is what makes us great.

"Innovation comes from innovative people" - Yong Zhao

Are high test scores really tied to high economic development?  Can this even be measured?

If so, we should not be as successful as we have been the past 30-40 years.