September 2009

A continuing conversation here is how to teach the skills and habits of mind which will strengthen our students’ ability to be innovators.   Some may say it cannot be taught, but I refuse to accept that.   Harvard Business Review’s blog has a nice piece today on the question: How do Innovators Think?

The researchers, who surveyed 3000 creative individuals, and interviewed 500, report on five “discovery skills” which distinguish these creators.

  1. Associating: making connections among diverse ideas.
  2. Questioning: Asking what if, and why.
  3. Closely Observing, particularly details of people’s behavior.
  4. Experimenting: trying new experiences and exploring new worlds
  5. Networking with smart people from different sectors.  (more…)

The Arizona Daily Star published an op-ed piece of mine today, again discussing the question of China as role model. Click here to see it on their site.

This is a second posting in a continuing project here to combat the notion that China’s traditional educational model should be a template for American educational reform.    This pernicious notion is much in the air, and is advocated most loudly perhaps by Bob Compton and his 2 Million Minutes movie movement.   To combat it, I am drawing upon the research and wisdom of MSU Education professor Yong Zhao, who I think has a good claim to be the leading expert in the US regarding Chinese education.   I have now read his fine, brand-new book, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, and I intend to share more from the book in future postings, but here I want to look most closely at his chapter: Why China isn’t a threat yet: The costs of high scores.

Zhao opens with a discussion called “Premier Wen’s Anxiety.”  Simply put, China has a “shortage of creative and innovative talent…only .003 percent of all Chinese companies own the patent for the core technologies they produced.”  Let me repeat that percentage: .003.    Zhao quotes from another source that “China has failed to establish, so far, an effective indigenous network of technological innovation…In 2005, only 21,519 patents originating in China were granted, while more than 134,000 originating in the US were granted.”   China President Hu is also cited, from a 2006 speech:  “China has a severe shortage of outstanding talents in science and technology.”  These data points alone call into question whether we in the US should seek to emulate China’s educational approaches. (more…)

Last week, Chris LaBonte, Ph.D., visited St. Gregory; Chris is the Middle and Upper School Head of Tesseract School in Phoenix.    He wrote the following to share with teachers at his school of the qualities of St. Gregory which impressed him:


1. The school has a great outdoor program and works to train their seniors to become leadership facilitators to the Middle school and underclassmen.

2. . In the Upper school at St. Gregory they take a summer trip to Kenya where they teach in local schools.  This was quite impressive and encouraged me to be open to more exotic trips during the summer.  I encourage interested MS and US faculty to look at this for next summer.

3. I visited a number of outstanding classrooms; in one,  the Latin teacher had totally transformed his room, with a stage, life size chariots, Lego Roman solders.  This  reminded me that no matter WHAT the subject,  kids will love it if we love it and if this is demonstrated by the environment.

4. I visited an outstanding science lab in which some space had been purposely kept empty to run cars and tracts.  There was also tracking across the entire ceiling so that swinging balls could be hung from adjustable tracks. (more…)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

One of the attractions for me of coming to Tucson was the way in which this city is becoming a national hub of 21st century K-12 learning.   This is manifested in many ways: that Partnership for 21st century Skills is headquartered here, that there are some fine charter schools here, and that several of the public school districts are doing fine 21st century learning.

Elizabeth Celania-Fagen is the (relatively) new Tucson superintendent here, and truly an outstanding next generation educational leader.   She was appointed only about a year ago, and declared her innovative approach right away, in words which sound much like my own to the St. Gregory search committee: “The heart of who I am is focusing people around the future and what we want from our schools,” said Celania-Fagen. “Not everybody understands the difference between a 20th-century educational model and a 21st-century educational model.”

Recently she appeared on Arizona public media, where one questioner challenged her on what does she really mean, anyway, by her vision of “21st century sustainable outcomes.” She answered as follows:

It is no longer viable for our students to just memorize information, which has been sort of our history: You come,  the teacher has the information, the textbook has the information, you memorize it,  you regurgitate it, you get an A, and you move on. (more…)

illustration of a man pole vaulting over a computer

Problem and Project based learning, and technology integration, are  topics frequently advocated for here.  In a recent piece on edutopia (which is publishing great stuff these days), Suzie Boss has offered five steps for integrating technology without great additional expense.  Boss is author of a book called Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, a book I have recently acquired and am looking forward to reading and reporting on.

Step 1: Innovate with the Tools You Already Have. Boss makes two points in this section.  First, she argues that there is much you can already do without getting new tools,  but the larger point in this discussion is one close to my heart:  teachers need support from principals to experiment. “To support her nontraditional approach, Norfar required one more thing: “I needed a ‘yes’ principal — and I have one,” she explains.”  (I hope I am seen as a “yes” principal!)  And another: “It’s not about the stuff,” Carleton emphasizes. “It’s about making connections and working with what you already have. Our principal trusted us and allowed us to take that risk.”   A neat site for carbon footprint studying is also provided here. (more…)

There is a little civil war brewing nationally this summer/fall within the 21st century schooling movement.  The fight centers upon whether we should use Chinese education as a model for American schooling, and it has broad implications for issues of standardizing national education, and for programming within individual schools.

The argument I have been following is taking place between two individuals of sharply different backgrounds and perspectives, Yong Zhao, a Chinese born and educated scholar who is now an Education professor at MSU, and Bob Compton, a Kentucky venture capitalist and the force behind the 2 million minutes movement. (more…)

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