Category Archives: Inquiry

Notes Instead of Thoughts – From 3 Rules to Spark Learning

When talking about Digital Portfolios, both Dr. Alec Couros and George Couros talk about the place where you do your messy work and then the place where you put your best work.  Below is some of my messy work.

Sometimes you know you just need to keep things around to refer to and to think about.  I hope others will read and think about this too.

While flying this morning, I watched a 6 minute TED Talk from 2013 called 3 Rules to Spark Learning by Ramsey Musallam.

Right now, one of my personal inquiry questions is, how can we convince parents and our communities that the status quo in public education is a loser (to quote Michael Fullan)?”

How do we engage in questioning the current system of assigning two-digit numbers to our children, sorting them top to bottom?

How do we focus on creating cultures of learning, not cultures of schooling and filtering?

Dean Shareski responded here that we need talking points.  We need a clear message.  I am looking for those messages that will resonate with the public.  We need messages that will resonate more strongly than a Fraser Report or a PISA ranking.

Ramsey Musallam shows me that we can have powerful messages in 6 minutes.  His talk is engaging and entertaining and worth watching.

There were a few points that resonated with me.  I am simply note taking here, and sharing the notes, so that I am not alone in thinking further about these rich statements.

“Questions and curiosity are magnets that draw us toward our teachers, and they transcend all technology and buzzwords in education.”

Our greatest tool as teachers is our students’ questions.

Lectures can be dehumanizing chatter, flipped or not.

If we have the guts to confuse and perplex our students, then we can tailor robust and informed methods of blended instruction. (Just “blended learning” on its own isn’t engaging – it still needs inquiry, questions, trial and error, investigation)

“Snap me out of pseudo-teaching.”

“Students’ questions are the seeds of real learning, not some scripted curriculum that offers tidbits of random information.”

At this point I am reminded of the frustrations over the past two years in Canada, when it seemed impossible to get anyone to ask questions about the destruction of scientific data and libraries, the closing of top-notch research facilities like the Experimental Lakes Area, and the removal of environmental protection for our waterways.  If we want engaged citizens, we need to embrace the importance of asking questions.

Three rules for lesson planning:

  1.  Curiosity comes first.  Questions can be windows into great instruction, but not the other way around.
  2. Embrace the mess.  Learning is ugly
  3. Practice reflection.  What we do is important.  It deserves our care.  It also deserves our improvement.

Can we practice as though we are surgeons saving lives? Our students are worth it, and every student is different.

Four-year-olds ask why about everything.  How will their future teachers embrace and grow this?

Dropping out of school comes in many different forms.  

Students do not have to be out of the room to be checked out.

Graduation rates are a low bar, a false measurement, because there is no evidence of any engagement in learning.  Students who hate school and students who have learned to hate learning can walk across a stage.  

We need a different measurement of our success as a system.

As educators, we need to rethink our roles.  We are not just disseminators of content, but cultivators of curiosity.

Resources:

Three Rules to Spark Learning

Learning From Afar: CanConnectEd 2015 Live Stream

The live stream for Connect 2015 can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/y_ZmM7zPLyI?rel=0

I was thrilled to catch Jamie Reaburn Weir and Dan Ballentyne today.  They shared this video, which I believe is important for all to watch.  Most educators intrinsically know all of this already.  They do live it, after all.

They just don’t know how to change it.

That’s why more than just educators need to watch.  What kind of world do we want?

Is it not a national tragedy that so many students are turned off learning, and that a number determines their future learning opportunities?

How many brilliant people refuse to play the game?

I will not let an exam result decide my fate:

Dangerously Irrelevant!

The Key to Innovative Practice? More Ideas!

For a long time in Ontario, we have relied heavily on standardized test results, and the tested ideas and strategies grounded in research to inform our educational practice.

But does this kind of thinking short-change our kids?

Dr. Chris Dede talks about the importance of spreading pockets of excellence and adapting successful practice into our context.

In “Great to Excellent: Launching the Next Stage of Ontario’s Education Agenda“, Michael Fullan stated (p. 12)

“What Ontario educators and leaders have accomplished in the last nine years is truly remarkable and impressive on a world scale. Yet it is also disturbingly precarious without the focused innovation required for excellence.”

How do we accelerate the use of innovative practices in our classrooms?

In Eureka! Mapping the Creative Mind,  we learn that one of the best ways to have a great idea is to have lots of them (Linus Pauling).

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Shared under a Creative Commons attribution license by Celestine Chua

 

Chris Anderson argues that Crowd Accelerated Innovation results from our ability to access a global community of ideas online.  “Radical openness” works to spread ideas.  Innovation emerges as groups of people “bump up” the best ideas.

Our reality is that we are part of a global community.

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The role of a teacher is to ensure that ever single child in the classroom is learning.  Teachers are researchers, searching for the best practices to meet the learning needs of each child.  Focused, disciplined innovation results from modifying and adapting strategies and ideas that have been successful in other contexts.

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Isn’t it important, then, that all teachers know how to effectively access, and contribute to, the global community of ideas?

Learning from Singapore: Pak Tee Ng and the Focus on “Teach Less, Learn More”

#uLead15 was an opportunity for educators to hear from some of the leaders in education where PISA scores are consistently the highest.

It was obvious that the leading PISA countries do not use strategies like practicing test writing, teaching to the test, focusing on “moving the high level two students to level three”, data walls, SMART goals, common core standards or tying teacher pay to student “achievement”. In fact, the words “student achievement” are rarely used in relation to test performance.

Overall, there is an agreement that valuing education as a society, having very high-performing and highly-respected teachers who learn to teach in a highly selective, focused program of education, and viewing education as an investment rather than an expenditure, are critical characteristics of the people living in the countries where PISA results are consistently excellent.

Personally, it was my first opportunity to learn about education in Singapore.  Here is what I learned from the fascinating, highly entertaining and widely respected Dr. Pak Tee Ng.

(I have included a number of Tweets from his presentations.  Click on the tweets to follow the conversation on Twitter.)

What are the characteristics of education in “high-performing” Singapore?

1. Manageable size – Adaption/adoption and spread are facilitated by the small size of the country.

2. Stable education funding – Education is an investment and funding is never cut.

3. Highly skilled and educated teachers who are well-respected in the nation.

4. Education is valued by all as the way to a better future.

5. Equity is at the centre of the education system. Everyone has access to the same public education system.

6. Teaching is seen as complex, and inquiry, including adapting methods from other contexts, is ongoing, always.  Change from a position of strength is preferable to, and more mindful than, change made out of desperation.

7. Courage and tenacity to stand up for what is best for children is valued and encouraged.

8. “Teach less, learn more” is a central concept.

9. Creativity is in children already. Schools should strive to leave it there!

10. Children are individuals.  They were not meant to sit in desks all day.  Play,  joy and love of learning are essential to their well-being.

 

Singapore itself is a very tiny country.  There are only 400 schools and one university for teacher education.  This reminds me of the work by Ken Leithwood on the characteristics of strong districts, and the learning from Andy Hargreaves on the importance of the size of the political unit when considering the impact on student learning.

 

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Pak Tee Ng is a master at the use of metaphors.

He asked us to consider the loving mother, cooking food for her child, slaving over the stove and selecting the items she knows are best for her child.  When she tries to feed the child, he says no, I am not eating any more.  Then what?  She tries to stuff the child.  She makes more food.  The child wants no more.

This, Pak Tee says, is the ‘teach more learn less’ model, where conscientious and well meaning teachers work hard, trying to organize information for students, then they try to stuff it into their heads.  The students hate it and want no more.

Instead, what if the mother cooked a few wonderfully interesting food items.  Students tried them and wanted more?

This is like the ‘teach less learn more’ model, where the teacher is the master chef, creating interest, and leaving the learners wanting to learn more, and to learn how to feed themselves to get more.

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It’s precise teaching – inquiry into what works – that is important.

When you go to the doctor, does he say “take two aspirins and call me in the morning” no matter what your symptoms are?

Similarly, why would we ever prescribe exactly the same learning for every child?

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Continuing to do the same thing that we know doesn’t work, makes no sense.

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We work very hard to educate our teachers and education leaders to be the best they can be for every child.

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It is NOT about test scores.  It is about children, and our future.

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Why do we think we need 21C Skills?

What has changed?  Isn’t it still about the best learning for children?

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We don’t need to teach creativity.

We say we want our children to graduate from school as creative and innovative individuals.

Our children enter school this way.  We just need a school system that doesn’t take this out of them!

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We need to recognize that both form and substance are important.

Practice is important, but it is no good to only practice.

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There must be joy in learning.

We have to remember that we are teaching children.  It is against the nature of childhood to sit still and quiet.

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Do we really want to create a student body that is just becoming more tolerant of boredom?

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Every single child must be educated to the best of their ability.  We don’t need a slogan like “No Child Left Behind” because it would never be any other way.

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There is no magic bullet – education is complex!

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Teachers are the most important people in society.

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Educators need courage and tenacity to stand up for what is best for our kids.

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Courage to make the right decisions must be balanced with wisdom so that we are always doing the best for our future through our children.

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Education is an investment, not an expenditure.  We have long term stability in education funding so we can plan and continue to make our education system excellent.

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We must get Pak Tee Ng on Twitter!  There is so much to learn from him!

Here we are trying to convince this man, trending 2nd in Canada on Twitter, that he needs to be there!

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Disrupting Content Delivery in Ontario

We have come a long way in Ontario from the idea that eLearning required a “learning management system” to deliver content, to the understanding that building relationships is at the centre of all learning (f2f or at a distance).

Slide shared by Dean Shareski http://www.slideshare.net/shareski
Slide shared by Dean Shareski http://www.slideshare.net/shareski

 

Slide shared by Dean Shareski http://www.slideshare.net/shareski
Slide shared by Dean Shareski http://www.slideshare.net/shareski

As we work with eLearning teachers through their collaborative inquiries into best practice, I often wonder about how best to “spread” some of the  great online pedagogy I see around the province.

Then yesterday, I saw this tweet:


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It’s a quick post, an idea that came out of some work with  #GEDSBLead, and a great catalyst for sharing, connecting and elevating online learning.

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Shared by George Couros here: http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/5093

 

So what if we change this a bit?  What if every eLearning teacher tweeted one thing they did each day in their online “classroom” to the hashtag #eLonted – and then took 5 minutes to read each others’ tweets?

We know that connecting online educators works.  We know that networking online educators is essential.  We know that eLearning teachers want to share their practice.

This could help us do all three.

Are you in?

 

Digging Into Collaborative Inquiry

Over the past few weeks, I have been taking some time to dig more deeply into collaborative inquiry.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 10.39.28 AMI began reading Jenni Donohoo’s book Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement, which is a valuable resource for anyone involved in education.  It contains not only clear, research-based information about CI, but also includes excellent examples of how to facilitate learning through CI.

Image shared under a Creative Commons attribution license by ThinkPublic
Image shared under a Creative Commons attribution license by ThinkPublic

After reading through the whole book quickly, I sat down to dig more deeply into some of the ideas, and I was stopped on the very first page.  It’s here that Jenni discusses the two different types of challenges we face as educators.

“Technical” challenges are those we face regularly, and where we have set protocols and solutions to come to the resolution we are looking for.  We have the capacity and will to solve them as part of our daily work.

“Adaptive” challenges, on the other hand, are challenges that require new learning.  They are problems that old solutions don’t work for any more, or new challenges that we don’t know how to address.  In order to tackle these new challenges, we need to rethink what we believe to be true.

Shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by Nick Fletcher
Shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by Nick Fletcher

We have to “adopt new values and beliefs” (p. 1) before we can solve adaptive challenges.

As the world continues to change at an exponential pace, educators face more and more adaptive challenges.  The old models of “school” don’t work in our connected world, and our methods must evolve to support our students to thrive in today’s reality.

Adaptive change is particularly difficult because it requires that we reconstruct our understanding of our work.

As we work together to solve adaptive challenges, our thinking changes, and our way of doing business changes with it.  As we adapt to these new challenges, it changes us.

Image shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by B K
Image shared through a Creative Commons attribution license by B K

For me, one of my greatest personal challenges is engaging leaders in the notion that connecting, sharing, and learning together – modelling the change we want to see in our students’ learning – is important and worthwhile.

This simple explanation of adaptive challenges, and the fundamental change in thinking and acting that must accompany our response, helps me to better understand the difficulties we face in trying to adapt an entire system to the realities of the world today.

How are you adapting to new challenges in education?

 

 

 

What is the Purpose of School? Nova Scotia Considers Its Future

It’s perplexing to me that as Canadians we can unite at ungodly early morning hours to cheer on our hockey team as a country, yet when it comes to education we live on seemingly unconnected islands.

In my province, Ontario, we have just completed a “visioning” exercise, looking at how to move our public education system from “great to excellent“.  In the meantime, in what feels like a different country (because we rarely connect and share what we know), the province of Nova Scotia is about to embark on an education review.

Last week, the Province of Nova Scotia launched its urgent call for change.

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http://noworneverns.ca/
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http://noworneverns.ca/

The report states that a crisis exists that threatens the standard of living of Nova Scotians.  It outlines 19 goals and 12 long-term strategies that are needed to turn the economy around and stop the current decline.

Robert Sutton, in his recent publication “Scaling Up Excellence” demonstrates that using logical arguments to spread the need for change are often not effective, and we need an emotional attachment to an idea to really move change forward.  The Ivany Report, with the focus on Urgency and Mobilizing Strengths, has created this “hot cause” to “stoke the engine”.

However, critics say that the report, while strong on ideas, lacks concrete policy.

As an educator, I read the report looking for how the education system would be redesigned to meet the goals of “One Nova Scotia: Shaping our Economy Together”.  With a quarter of the population under the age of 19, it would seem that transforming an economy would certainly require a transformation in how young people were educated.  But there is very little in the report to suggest how this might occur.

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A small section entitled “Excellence in Education and Training” (combining those terms is concerning) suggests that a “rigorous curriculum review” and “setting the bar high” will hold Nova Scotians accountable for reaching their goals.

There is essentially no conversation on how a system of schooling, created with an industrial mindset, could now produce young adults who thought like entrepreneurs rather than obedient assembly line employees.

So what, then, should be the purpose of Nova Scotia’s upcoming comprehensive review of the education system?

In Ontario, we have learned that public support of public education is critical.  In our three priorities, raising the bar, lowering the gap and securing accountability, we have focused on how, as a province, we can believe in what we are doing as being the best for our students.

At the same time, research must be central to learning.  So what, then, is the role of public consultation?

Perhaps the real question Nova Scotians need to answer is “What is School for?” How can we possibly determine what is working, and what needs improvement, if we aren’t in agreement on why we have schools in the first place?

Once we know what schools are there to accomplish, there is a world of research available to help move those goals forward.  High yield strategies like assessment for learning, and student-work-study teacher initiatives are well-documented.

The citizens of Nova Scotia,  faced with the findings of the Ivany Report,  now need to deeply consider their expectations, their beliefs, and their understanding of the purpose of the school buildings in their communities, and the reasons for the hours that young people spend there every day.

What kind of person emerges from the years in the school system, and what kind of province results from that education system?

As Canadians, what do we see as the purpose of school?

Further reading:

The Future of Schooling: Are Students Being Prepared to “Dance with Robots”?

http://educhatter.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/the-future-of-schooling-are-students-being-prepared-to-dance-with-robots/

Stop Stealing Dreams – Seth Godin

http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/stopstealingdreamsscreen.pdf

What should a school be?

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/13/what_we_talk_about_when_we_talk_about_public_education_partner/