Can you really become fluent in something you do not want to be fluent in?

One theme of the model schools conference this year was the uptake of schools on game based learning. Their definition of game based learning is drill and kill made fun. I think the exact quote is, "Games make repetition and volume fun." There are other definitions of game based learning that I am more excited about, but I became much more impressed with the underlying ideas as the conference went on.

Two advantages of computer based games really caught my attention. Return to areas of safety and detecting the use of working memory for basic facts.

Back when I first played video games, which I do not do hardly ever anymore, when your lives were up you set back to zero. That is not the case anymore. Good games take you back to your spot of safety, the place that you can confidently conquer. One of the reasons I gave up on games was the infinite boredom of reconquering levels. 

The argument in education goes like this. If a teacher knows you do not have your multiplication facts down you get a worksheet with all of them. A computer only gives you the ones you need and enough others that you have success and stay interested. This makes for more targeted and more efficient use of student time, something I am in favor of. 

The speaker also went on to say that based on time to answer games could make decisions about whether or not a student was using working memory or long term memory to solve a problem, long term memory being the goal. If a student is pulling necessary information, like a math fact, our of long term memory then they are fluent and can solve more complicated problems. If we know this has happened we can stop wasting their time with practice they do not need. This is a good thing.

I wonder if, when a student wants to overcome a barrier, a teacher could hand them the right game based tool to really advance their fluency in an area. The argument goes that this frees the teacher to focus on making the classroom more rigorous and relevant and it also frees the student from tons of monotony and exchanges it for focused targeted learning. 

More time on the not boring stuff seems good to me, and if a teacher can increase the amount of relationship in their class because basic skills are effectively and efficiently taught, that also seems good to me. What seems bad is the likely unthinking application of these tools upon kids that have not found the hook to learning a skill yet. Then it will be just as boring at the fortieth game of Pac Man, or in today's case Fruit Ninja.

Getting the student to want to be fluent seems to be the big hurdle to using the tools well.

Presentation: Creating A Culture Of Learning

Today I did a presentation entitled Creating A Culture Of Learning. The slides should be posted below. I thought it went well. If you look at the slides you find that I tried to set up a situation where I grounded some of our initiatives in a theory I am working through called conditions of the 21st century. I hate the buzzword, but I think there are some things that are different and am trying to base some of the things that we have found successful in the changing landscape to the world. I will gladly talk to anyone about the presentation, leave a comment.

If you were at the presentation and have not already please leave me some feedback, either in the comments here or in the form. Also, if you were there I gathered a lot of other ideas about conditions of the 21st century from you and the link timed out and I lost them, so if you remember yours add it to the comments here. Thanks a ton.

There are a lot of links in the presentation and I think that maintains those.

Who is the leader around here?

I have continued to think about the conditions of the twenty-first century. If I were a better blogger and writer I would have split the last post into two posts and had the whole list, but that is not the way I role. I think conditions is the right word, because the skills we need are not different. The conditions under which we are called to use those skills are. Here is my list of conditions, to date.
  1. Everyone builds capacity (since I wrote that I thought may be everyone improves would have been better).
  2. Everyone leads.
  3. Everyone is in charge.
  4. You have to know what you do not know.
  5. Everyone needs to be reflective.
  6. Feedback is instantaneous.
  7. Everyone has to manage their connectedness.

So who is the leader around here?

Teachers need to lead students, not boss them around. This can only be done if you yourself are moving somewhere and going somewhere. It can only be done if you are exploring, feeling out how what the world is like in the context of your subject. Teachers need to be leaders among their peers. They need to take charge of a grade level or department goal and lead the group in the direction that the school mission statement directs. Teachers also need to build into the others on their teams the capacity to lead where they do not have the right resources to lead. Teacher need to graciously accept that there are times when they need to be led.

Who might they be led by? Other teachers. Administrators. School boards and parents. Most importantly they need to build the capacity of leadership into their students by following their students. I hate to say that we need to build leaders, because I have a mushy feeling that there is no such thing as leadership. There is just doing and not doing. That said we need to create people in schools that are doing and keep doing right from the start. Then they will lead, students, teachers, and administrators. One of the best ways a teacher can do this is to follow the lead of a student.

Everyone needs to lead, and everyone needs to be open to being led. This is the twenty-first century.

Twenty-first Century: Now is the time to increase capacity, everyone's capacity.

The last two days I spent a lot of time listening to a consultant from ISM. I really know very little about ISM, it was a gift opportunity. I also know little about consultants, I am rather new to the administrator gig and in fact still teach physics for one period a day. So what this all leads me to say is I am not sure what grains of salt to put on what parts of what I learned. I will say this, consultants can say whatever they want and that in and of itself is fun.

He started with a presentation on twenty-first century skills. I think about this a lot because my school and my classroom are places where people think these skills are developed. He had a lot of lists of the skills, the most intriguing one was from a presentation that I had delivered a while back that was buried on our website. He did his homework. He went on to say that he thought that twenty-first century skills were something different. They were less skills, because as he pointed out, everyone in the room full of administrators had most of the twenty-first century skills without having been educated then. He thought that the expectations were different in the twenty-first century.

I have some thoughts on some of his list, but first he said that the rule for the twenty-first century academic administrator is to build capacity in their faculty. As is so often the case I had never heard it put so succinctly before, but I think this is true. As a Technology Coordinator before and an Instructional Specialist now I have been building capacity in teachers for a long time. However, I wondered in my reflection on the point if it was not broad enough. I wonder if we must all be capacity builders in school, and really in all of our life.

All of us need to increase our capacity and the capacity of those around us. Somehow somewhere even those of us who went to college have lost or not maintained the ability to increase our capacity. We want to be told what we need to do to get the job done. I spent probably ten years as a good teacher not changing too much, reflecting for sure on what went right and wrong but not really doing much more than tweaking around the edges. The last few years my curriculum has been new each year and probably not repeatable. This year I am spending time developing units that I know will not be compelling to students next year. I am confident that the experience of making lessons that are reactive, local and relevant will be and awesome tool and open the doors I need open for future classes to succeed. I am building my capacity to respond to the people around me and support them where they are at. Never done. All can improve. No finish line.

Schools needs to be a place filled with capacity builders. Administrators need to imagine what their teachers and students could be and support them to be that. Teachers in turn tended to ask their administrators for help building capacity. They need to spur their colleagues on to better capacity and they need to build it in their students. Teachers need to build capacity in their administrators by supporting their work, and helping where needed. Students should be expected to build capacity in all the people around them as well; other students, their teachers and administrators. We will know we are building capacity into our students when they start to build capacity into us. School should be a place where everyone improves.

How do we make the world new?

I collect quotes about imagination. I think imagination is one of the most powerful parts of being human. I encourage it in my children, my students and my teachers. I am not sure of this but as I ponder what makes a master teacher I think imagination appears somewhere in my list.

Today the chapel speaker used this Emerson quote:
A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.
I wanted so to replace the word worship in this quote with imagination. The words are not mine to do that with. And I am sure that Emerson was much more careful in word choice than I am. So here are the questions this quote generated for me.

  1. So what do imagination and worship have to do with each other?
  2. How do they both contribute to the new creation that the future is?
  3. How might we add worship into the curriculum, because certainly I would like my students to imagine and create a beautiful world.
  4. Since, as Emerson points out, they will create a new world no matter what how do I get them to use the tools in my class to imagine better, create better and worship better?
  5. What other actions create the world new?

Do you have any more questions. What new worlds will your students create?

PeteSearch: What the Sumerians can teach us about data

Please read the post linked and think about the data we collect on students.
How can we make grading a more neutral act?
How do we convince others that they do not have the power or should not have the power?
How is the data I collect corrupting me?
How is the data our schools collect corrupting them, and in the process making them less valuable?
How do we be more open that all data collected has it base in subjective humanity?
Do we regularly look over the data we collect and try to find where it is giving us bogus information?
(Via Nat Torkington )

"It is very difficult for a set of metrics to fully measure what you value."

This talk from Adam Mosseri about being data informed is great. It is worth the thirty minutes. At 13:00 in he says the line that makes this post's title. He then shows two examples from Facebook where the data sent them in wrong directions. These are my summaries of the reasons:

  1. Most of your data is generated by your power users, so if you aim for increasing pure engagement you will market to this group only.
  2. When you optimize for one piece of data you will eventually ignore anything that is not measured by the data.

I think that both of these points contain great truths for teaching.

Bonus quote, "The greatest risk is taking no risk at all." (29:20)

UPDATE: Forgot the link.

Video A Problem Being Solved

We had a visit a month and a half ago from Jim Maltas who teaches at the University of Northern Iowa lab school. He showed us a classroom that his team wired with microphones, video cameras, a teacher and math students. We watch the videos and learned from them. It was time well spent on a professional development day.

I wondered to myself if I would gain some insight into my students if I videoed them. Here is what I did.
  1. I taught a new mathematical model in a pretty traditional way.
  2. I gave some simpler example problems.
  3. When it came time to give a problem that put it all together I had the students video their groups solving the problems. 
Here is a link to one of the videos. For the good conversation watch from 0:50 to 2:00. I love that they are arguing about efficiency and referring to their notes to solve the dispute.

Here are some things I did right.
  1. I told them I would not help during the videos, I wanted the conversations, no the right answers.
  2. If you were holding the pen you could not talk.
  3. I did not watch all the videos. I wandered the room listening to the conversations and noted the moments that highlighted missteps I normally would have warned about in a lecture.
  4. The next day I showed just a minute from two videos where groups argued and overcame the common misconceptions on the problem.
Here are some things I did wrong.
  1. I had them use Photo Booth to make the videos. Using the built in Quicktime recorder flips the video so you can read the problems.
  2. I should have had them write the problem on the board or flip chart paper.
  3. A couple of the groups did a Camtasia recording of the process and did the problem in Skitch. I liked this, but I wish they had turned on the camera in Camtasia so we could have seen the group too.
How would you use this strategy? I think it has benefits different from a flipped classroom and it can be used later as professional development. Hope you like the idea, and I would love to know if you have ideas to extend it.

Two Dozen Reasons Your School Should Buy You An iPad 2 In One Feature: The Camera

Reviews about the iPad 2 have said that it is not much of an upgrade. For education this is not the case. Cameras are another input tool, and as soon as you can take more into a computer you can create more with it. Schools need devices with cameras. This week I am presenting at the annual MACUL conference in Detroit. One of my sessions is called, "So Your Laptop Has A Webcam, Now What?" I am excited to show the people at MACUL how webcams have totally changed the opportunities for learning in our school. Hopefully you can use the information to convince your school to give an iPad 2 a whirl. See you in D3-22/23 at 8:30 on Friday morning.

Bots For Cows

This week our school is raising Money for Heifer International. I am not sure how this goes in other schools but when student council has a fundraiser for an organization you collect money in your first hour class and turn that money in at the end of the week. Then the student council takes the dollars raised by your class and divides by the number of students and that first hour class gets breakfast. In seventeen years of teaching my first hour class has never won. The main reason for that is that for about ten years the idea of competition for fund raising repulsed me. I am less hoity toity now, so game on.

When we got the email about the fund raiser I forwarded it to my students with an email saying, we are going to win this. I had no plan. I Wednesday I asked the Holy Spirit into our class here is the result.

Right now we are building simple bots in class. This is inquiry for our DC Circuit unit. As I have been trying standards based grading this year I have looked for ways for students to totally control demonstrations of learning. So the simple bot project has them build a bot, and demonstrate with modifications to the bot any standards that they feel they know but have not gotten credit for. I like quite a bit how this final challenge of a unit has works out.

Wednesday when I looked around and asked the students how we could fund raise, the conversation led to auctioning off our bots to buy cows for people that need them. Here is the very quick Google site that my students put together to show off what they have learned and what their bots can do. Watch the movies, there is at least one funny one. Suggested donation is $100. If you want to give more or less add a comment to the page and I or a student will contact you. The bots are in some sense worth $3. But the learning and excitement in first hour has been priceless. It has been some of the funnest conversations of the year. And the worst thing that could happen is my kids have been excited about the donating and have given deeply out of their own pockets.