It’s not just about connecting the educators…

Cross-posted at Education Is My Life

It took me a while to wrap my head around the idea of “Connected Educator” month. I work with school administrators and teachers all over the world. Quite simply, educators either embrace the potential of connectivity or they don’t. It’s not really about the technology any more, because there are very few folks out there that don’t have a smart phone, and therefore the ability to connect with a network at any given time. Building a personal learning network comes from a desire to be connected, or a frustration in not being connected.

So educators have this amazing potential to connect with each other and continue to learn and grow. How about the students? If connected educators really practice what they preach, they are providing connection opportunities for their students as well.

I can’t help but quote from David Price’s new book Open: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future

Going ‘open’ is a social revolution that represents a fundamental challenge to the established order of things – one that cannot be ignored. It disrupts and changes, so things can never be the same again. But, as with all revolutions, there are winners and losers. The winners are ourselves, happily connecting and collaborating through global networks of friends, colleagues and online acquaintances. We are powerfully motivated by the easy access to ideas and information, and the informality, immediacy and autonomy that it brings. The losers are our formal institutions: businesses, schools, colleges and public services that are failing to grasp the enormity of the change taking place. Price, David (2013-10-02). OPEN (Kindle Locations 58-63). Crux Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Price goes on to suggest that schools and colleges don’t have to be losers, as long as they embrace the open nature of knowledge and intrinsic human motivation to learn, while shifting away from our current industrial model of schooling to embrace learning as it was originally conceived: an act for public good, collaboratively pursued, for the betterment of all citizens. At its heart is this core principle:

No one can be ‘made’ to learn anything: for knowledge and understanding to stick, we have to have learner intent. The quality of one’s learning is directly related to our desire to learn. This is why progress made in learning socially, voluntarily, is invariably far greater than in the formal, compulsory context. Price, David (2013-10-02). OPEN (Kindle Locations 1112-1114). Crux Publishing. Kindle Edition.

So, yes, connected educators are modeling learning the way it should be done – by personally embracing their own need to grow personally and professionally. How is that translating into classroom practice? When it does, we’ll really see things change for our students.

School is over. Learning begins.

Off to Morocco

Off to Morocco with the same red backpack since Kindergarten.

So, in one of the most wonderful/awful parenting moves ever, I recently put my daughter on Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca so that she can live in Morocco for 2-1/2 months. She’s doing a gap year between high school and college. Because she has some significant goals (learn to speak Arabic and understand Arab culture), we concluded that the best way to do that was to go live there for a while. Of course that was six months ago and the whole thing felt safely far away (both geographically and chronologically).

However, September 1st eventually rolled around and the next thing we know, we’re at JFK waving goodbye as she walks through security. Sending your 18-year-old off for several months in Rabat is not the same as moving them into a college dorm, believe me.

But we didn’t do this foolishly … we used Projects Abroad to provide a connection to a family, Arabic teacher, and volunteer project placement. They gave her lots of preparation advice before she left, met her at the airport, and have provided a support group to help her learn her way around and understand how to be an American living in a different culture.

And sure, it’s been a hard first week. But Cory’s blog is really funny – and she promises to write longer, more thoughtful posts when she can get her computer to the internet café this weekend. In the meanwhile, check it out.

So as an educator, this confirms my belief that schools and curriculum are missing some major opportunities. We only really learn when we take risks, embrace challenges, and consider all that the world has to offer. It is imperative that we create these kinds of opportunities for our students, our children. Not everyone has to fly off to Morocco, of course. But we have to push kids out of their comfort zones in whatever way we can.

Games for Change Festival – NYC June 17-19!

Games for Change catalyzes social impact through digital games.

Founded in 2004, Games for Change facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts.

We aim to leverage entertainment and engagement for social good. To further grow the field, Games for Change convenes multiple stakeholders, highlights best practices, incubates games, and helps create and direct investment into new projects.

The Games for Change Festival is the largest gaming event in New York City and the leading international event uniting “games for change” creators with those interested in accessing the positive social impact of games.

Click to learn more!

Best Practices … Revisited

Children of the Salaam Baalak Trust in New Delhi

cross posted at Education is My Life

In my last post on Best Practices, I explored the notion of student engagement and the need for teachers to be mindful designers, concentrating on facilitating meaningful experiences for students, rather than simply covering content. Tootling around various education-related blogs on the web, I feel like I’m in an echo chamber – too many of us are repeating the same notion over and over, perhaps clothed in different vocabulary or using different analogies – but still, it’s the same idea.

I recently returned from several weeks in northern India, a trip that was in and of itself a major learning experience. While I was there, I had the opportunity to explore Indian education initiatives and the incredible pressure placed on students to succeed (watch the Bollywood hit 3 Idiots – it’s both eye-opening and a wonderful movie). However, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer happiness and joy of students in India. In a country that is 1/3 the landmass of the USA, but over 3 times the population … there is an intense struggle to increase the literacy rate of its population – and over the past few years, more and more Indian children are able to attend school. However 4% of Indian students never attend school and 58% never work past grade 5. Those percentages may seem small … but 4% of India’s population is 8 million children … and 58% is 74 million. You can imagine that in India, education is considered an extremely high priority. Indeed, whenever I encountered students in India, they were smiling and happy, eager to practice their English (however limited), and simply thrilled with the idea of being in school.

This raises the question of culture … and how much has changed in US education over the past few decades. Tests that measure creativity emphasize a drop in American student ability in past years – nicely correlated with the rising emphasis on standardized testing. Teachers cite having to “teach to the test” as a reason to leave the profession. Students are being lulled into a plug and play mentality … and can be overheard asking teachers to “just tell me what will be on the test so I can memorize it.” Who cares if they really understand?

There is a distinct difference between teaching and learning. Teachers can always fail, but learners never do. In terms of best practices, we need to foster an environment that values learningand not just attending school, passing through, and succeeding on exams.

In his recent book To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink discusses the current state of education in the US, emphasizing the need for students to connect to what they are learning. While schools emphasize a priority on problem-solving ability, in reality, employers are looking for graduates who can identify problems. Solution isn’t the real issue when we need to figure out the problem in the first place. It’s challenging to identify a problem when there is no personal or professional connection to it … context is simply absent.

To circle back to my previous post on engaging students in the learning process, Schlechtyidentifies the need for instructional designers to consider authenticity – but much of what we teach students is manufactured or manipulated. When assignments are inauthentic, they are not meaningful or relevant, and inherently disengaging.

For those who argue that curriculum cannot be meaningful or relevant, take a look at Big Picture Schools, now being replicated around the US. Core curriculum is built around student interests rather than using a standardized approach (á la Common Core) … lo and behold, students become passionate about their learning because it finally matters.

International Women’s Day 2013

I’m not sure how I feel about the need to have an International day to promote women’s rights … part of me feels like we should have gotten to a place of equal rights a while ago.

However, on my recent visit to India, I was up close and personal with the fact that girls around the world are still denied basic educational opportunities that boys receive as a matter of course.

Some of the lucky school girls in New Delhi that gave us the warmest greetings and widest smiles of our visit to India.

The disparity in male/female literacy rates in developing nations is shocking … and in the end, only serves to undermine a country’s efforts to move its citizenry out of poverty.

For a well-articulated reason why educating girls is a global need, visit The Girl Effect and check out the video that explains how girls are the agents of change.