December 2010


The edu-blog awards prompted a spirited debate on twitter in recent weeks, with many arguing that those of us in education who oppose awards in our schools should oppose the edu-blog awards.  One of my favorite tweets in that conversation argued that instead of awards, we in the blogging community should instead write a list of our favorite blogs.   I was inspired.

As an aside, I do not oppose supporting my students in seeking external awards: I love to see them compete and triumph outside my school community, and I like to celebrate their successes in doing so.   What I worry about, though, is that internal awards, where our students’ teachers select “favorites” among them, is potentially damaging to the strength of our school community. So with that as my standard, I don’t see such a conflict in bloggers who oppose in-school awards celebrating their edu-blogger award nominations.

The problem with any list is once you start it is hard to know how to stop.    There will inevitably be many fine blogs left off a list like this, so I offer my apologies to any potential exclusions in advance.  This list is is no particular order whatsoever.

1. Peter Papas is a former public school educator, now consultant, who blogs at Copy/Paste: Dedicated to Relinquishing Responsibility for Learning to the Students.   The sub-title alone represents its point of view compellingly; this is a great blog.  Peter seems to publish 5-10 times a month, and he is unafraid to write lengthy, thoughtful, academic posts which really inform as they inspire.   Copy-Paste has great themes which resonate closely with my own writing, but with sharper analysis and more thorough elucidation.     Some excellent recent posts include

2. David Truss is the independent school (international independent, in Dalian, China) administrator whose blog I currently most admire; he writes at Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts. He posts 2-5 times a month; he writes about his school-work and his educational philosophy interchangeably;  and he uses images powerfully.  He is also unafraid to write at length.     Some recent posts I admired include:

3. George Couros, a Canadian public school principal,  is a great inspiration to me, both for his work as architect and soul of Connected Principals and for his individual blog, The Principal of Change.   (more…)

False and mistaken binaries cloud our minds far too frequently.   We look at an impending dramatic transformation, such as what is happening with technology in education, and our minds often cannot help but create binary, zero-sum pairs: more technology must mean less face-to-face communication or less active, physical learning.

Mentally, we cannot help but stipulate the contemporary status quo as the normal and the effective, and so create anxiety about how change will do damage, often not confronting how ineffective, and often how abnormal, the current status quo really is.

These thoughts are stimulated by reading two short, excellent, paired pieces in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s special issue (November 5) on Online Learning.   The two pieces, easy to overlook, near the back of the issue, deserve much more attention than they are likely to get: they set the stage and articulate the transformation that is coming brilliantly.

What they do is establish that online learning, blended into our current educational models, offer incredible opportunities to fix what isn’t working today (“YouSnooze U.” and lecture learning which under-serves the struggling and bores the accelerated) but also, even more valuably, they offer opportunities to return education to its roots, whether in the 18th century or in Socratic/Aristotleian learning, of conversational, activity based learning. (more…)

2010 has been a great year blogging for me; this is my third year blogging, and each year gets better.   Blogging is a craft that could be called asymptotatic, as Dan Pink describes in Drive; there is no ceiling to bump into, no limit, and provides a stimulating challenge for the ongoing pursuit of mastery. Pink: “You can approach it.  You can home in on it.  You can get really, really close to it.  But you can never touch it…. Mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.”

In 2010 I posted over 150 times here at 21k12; over at Connected Principals, which was launched in August by the terrific blogger George Couros, I posted over twenty times (in many cases, those posts were re-posted from here at 21k12).

Readers of my blog don’t have the same perspective about the “success” or relative significance of posts that I do, because they don’t see the stats the way I do about visits.  But once a year it seems wise to share the dozen or so posts which seemed to strike a chord with readers.

What is nice to me about this list is that it corresponds very closely to my own view of my favorite posts, the ones of which I am proudest.  Below this list I add another half dozen that I wish had received as much attention as this list.

1.  Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”.  190 views here, 2001 views at CP.   Over 2000 views in a period of less than two months is certainly a personal record for my blogging.  One of my favorite aspects of this successful post is that its content was entirely the result of my learning as a blogger.  I had previously posted about Khan Academy, and spoke about the concept of inverting instruction there, but then John Sowash commented on that post about reverse instruction, and this new post was born from that dialogue on Connected Principals.  I should also thank here the attention given to this post by Stephen Valentine in the November Klingbrief and Shelly Wright who blogged about it here.

2.  Engaging, not Distracting, the Digital Generation: Responding to the Times’ Wired piece.  327 here, 890 at CP.     Like many others in my corner of the blogosphere, I was inflamed by the Times piece, and spent Thanksgiving week furiously thinking how to respond, and then poured my passionate indignation into this post.  I am so happy it struck a chord for others too; it was my most “retweeted” post, 121 times at CP. (more…)

The Chronicle of Higher Ed recently ran a valuable piece containing many inspiring anecdotes of university successes entitled “How to Build a Perception of Greatness.”    In it, they “outline some principles of slowly and sustainably building a perception of greatness,” drawing upon examples at dozens of colleges and universities.   It bears to reason though that some of these principles might also apply to K-12 schools.    Four of these principles follow:

Playing to your Strengths. It may be an obvious one to begin with, but as the article notes, “many colleges have been reluctant to focus on just a few strengths.”   The reporting they collect at the Chronicle suggests though that as hard as it is, it is powerful: “identify unique or distinctive strengths and put resources into those, perhaps at the expense of others.”

Examples include Ball State’s immersive learning program, which requires students to complete projects for practice experience, and Northeastern’s required cooperative-education program.   “Even elite universities can end up diminishing and diluting the impact of their programs by refusing to highlight a few.”

This is old news, but still valuable: Know your school’s strengths, invest in them, develop them further, and become the best school you can be in those ways. (more…)

“If you are not a school of the future, you won’t be a school in the future.”

In NAIS President Pat Bassett’s presentation Monday, he called upon educators to frame their inquiry about becoming Schools of the Future around four Essential Questions:

  1. What should we teach?
  2. How should we teach?
  3. How should we assess?
  4. How do we embed the vision?

He then elaborated upon each; perhaps it was due to time running out, but his discussion of the fourth was most abstract and least pertinent, I thought.   But I offer some summary and thoughts about the first three:

What should we teach?

Pat urged schools emphasize the The Five C’s: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Character.  He argued that thought some schools may have done good work with articulating the language arts or science curriculum, K-12, via mapping, now it is incumbent upon us to map these skill and value curricular strands: “What is your PS through 12th grade leadership curriculum?”

But once schools have embraced the responsibility to ensure students can do, rather than just know, it is time to then grapple again with what is is students must know: “Is there a body of knowledge that is mandatory and universal for our students?”

This is the right place to start, and I appreciate Pat’s focus on this most essential of questions as the foundation for creating schools of the future.  (more…)

I enjoyed greatly a six hour session yesterday with NAIS President Pat Bassett; he spoke on critical trends facing our industry and on generative questions framing the “School of the Future.”

I have, for this post, picked out seven of the trends he discussed, summarizing his points and offering a small response to each.

1. Marketing and Communicating Value: Competition among school sectors (public, charter, private, independent, on-line, home schooling) will only continue to intensify.   To flourish, NAIS  schools will need to seek and gain a larger market share of a declining market: we must work harder to demonstrate value,  to make the case for quality education of our kind, and we must discover and distribute a sticky message.    PB suggests one possible message, to the many consumers who are struggling with the costs associated with quality, national caliber independent education:  You Can’t Afford Not To Afford an Independent School! Many, many high school graduates are attending college, PB points out, but far, far fewer succeed brilliantly in college, graduate, and go on to grad school successfully– but NAIS grads do, in high numbers.     The investment is worth it; independent school grads succeed in university in unparalleled proportions, Bassett argues.     (more…)

PBL, and particularly PBLT (with Technology), is a frequent topic on this blog, and I appreciate the value of video.   Kudos to BIE for recognizing the importance of video communications as a tool to promote the value of PBL, and engaging Commoncraft to produce this introduction.

Unfortunately, I think this intro falls too short.   It might be helpful to certain population segments who really have no idea what PBL is, but it doesn’t speak to most educators, who understand as much as this shows already, nor does it to the critical parent segment: the concerned or skeptical.    The weakest spot is the discussion of the flu-transmission presentation, where some students “get away” with a poster of kids sneezing into their elbows as their “product.”  Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it, and for those of us who are advocates, it is almost an embarrassment to us that it can be depicted as only that.   Overall, too, the video doesn’t demonstrate deep, rich, penetrating thinking and learning, leaving advocates vulnerable from those who rightfully fear PBL can lack rigor. (more…)

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