November 2010

As Jamie Reverb and Lee Burns write in this fine and valuable piece, among the most important in NAIS Independent School magazine in recent years, it is not enough any longer to discuss what might be aspects of 21st century learning, it is time to “actually start being 21st century schools.”

There’s a tendency to continue to do school as usual — tweaking things, rather than embracing serious and necessary innovation.

The authors organize their article, and their work at Lee’s school, Presbyterian Day School (PDS), around Google’s Nine Principles of Innovation.

Ideas Come from Everywhere.

At PDS, they are cracking open the walls of their campus to engage with and study cool developments happening all over the world.   For me, the most important suggestion here is what they are doing with faculty meetings:

At PDS, we have restructured faculty meetings and retreats so that the focus is far less on logistics and far more on provocative questions that engage all of us in discussions.

We are working to reinvent faculty meetings too, at St. Gregory, in these same ways– both in full sessions, and in our incredibly valuable Critical Friends Groups, where there are many “provocative questions” being pursued.

Share everything you can

The argument here is for transparency in schools, and that we find every way we can to put ideas and actions out into the ether to be seen and considered.

Schools are siloed geographically with their egg-carton designs and siloed psychologically with their role-specific emphasis.

Knock down the opaque walls, I frequently call for, literally and metaphorically.   I adore our series of classrooms with glass walls along the walkways because of the signal that they send that learning is visible at St. Gregory.   (more…)

Resources and Links below, or after the jump.

Some comments:

1.  As much as the audience seemed to appreciate my presentation, some who were there, and some who were not, expressed and/or felt that the topic wasn’t ideally suited for an audience of  ed. technologists and librarians– because they are not often involved enough in the decision-making about assessment and measurement of learning.  (And I am apologetic for my topic having been a little off-base for some attendees).

However, there was definitely interest in some areas of the talk:  the topic of computer adaptive assessment as exemplified by MAP, for one.   Some asked me why, when the technology for computer adaptive assessment has been available for years, why it is only now coming on-line (or, according to Sec. Duncan, won’t be available until 2014).  I didn’t know the answer, but others in the audience speculated that it might be because the hardware hasn’t been available in the classroom to exploit computer adaptive assessment software until now.  There was also an illuminating conversation among attendees about new tools via Moodle for teachers to design their own computer adaptive testing, which was fascinating to me.  (more…)

Two topics which have always been useful to media outlets to draw attention and spur consumption are teenagers and technology: they are right up there with communism and germs.   Since at least the fifties Americans have worried about teenagers and what they are up to in their spare time, and why they are not “doing school” in the way we adults wish they would; since at least the early 19th century luddites and others have feared what technology is bringing us.

Put teens and tech together and you can cause quite an alarmist splash.

The New York Times last Sunday did exactly this: put teens and new technology together on the top, center, of the front page in a lengthy, 4000 word, scary article called Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction, asking many frightening questions:

  • What are teens doing with their free time?
  • Why aren’t they studying what we tell them to study in the ways we tell them to do so?
  • What is all this new technology doing in schools anyway?

Let’s acknowledge there are certainly valid concerns.    Like the principal at Woodside, I see seeking moderation in all things (as the Greeks advocated) as my guiding philosophy: of course we want teens to have balance.  Of course Ramon, the ninth grade boy at Woodside, would be healthier if he were not playing video games 50 hours a week, but let’s not mistake this: if school doesn’t engage him, he will find something else which does: video games, skateboarding, or any number of other activities (many of them far more destructive than video games).

It is appalling that schools are canceling recess so students take more time to fill in the blanks of their workbooks; it is appalling that schools are cutting arts, music, and athletics so as to narrow their students’ focus to what can be tested, at the expense of balance in their lives and intellectual development.   At my school, I am entirely proud of all the ways in which we have students learn out-of-doors (4-8 days a year), participate in interscholastic athletics (80+%), perform on stage (50+%), perform community service, and discuss real issues in advisory: all of them without any computers present.

The New York Times piece, however, doesn’t strike this reader as genuinely respecting balance: it seems its primary intent is to induce our fear of  technology’s power to distract our kids from what we think is most important for them: sitting in our classrooms and doing what we assign them for homework. (more…)

St. Gregory, as is often discussed here, is very excited about its initiatives in education for innovation; our students are having many new and terrific experiences developing innovative mindsets and exercising their innovation skills.     Innovation isn’t always about new technologies; it can be terrific practice for students to develop skills of collaboration, design, problem-solving and ingenuity even with old-fashioned technologies, such as catapults.  Enjoy the videos from our students in their excellent Design/Build Innovation Tech class.


Welcome, everyone, to Fall Family Gathering Day; we are very thankful you are here.

Gratitude is among the cardinal virtues in all the ancient wisdom texts, including the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and the Koran.    The Roman philosopher Seneca explained “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

More modern philosophers agree: Dietrich Bonhoffer wrote that In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that our life become rich.”

Psychologist Robert Emmons, in his book Thanks,  a book for which I am very grateful and from which my talk today is very much borrowed, writes that “I am not neutral about gratitude; I believe it to the best approach to life; Gratitude elevates, it energizes, it inspires, and it transforms.”

Emmons is one among many scientists who are joining the religious thinkers and the philosophers in declaring the importance of gratitude.

First, of course, we need to understand better what we mean by gratitude; gratitude is not simply saying thank you (though that isn’t a bad start).   Emmons explains that gratitude can be best understood in two stages, and that both stages are active work.

First, gratitude is acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life: we “affirm that all things taken together, life is good and has elements that make it worth living.”

Second, is the recognition that “the source of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self; it is a recognition and a humility that we could not be who we are or where we are in life without the contribution of others.”

This second statement is especially meaningful today, for this audience, welcoming grandparents and other family members and friends to our school: you are most certainly some of the most important people in our students’ lives, without whom they could not be where they are today. (more…)

This video displays the kind of real ed. reform we so desperately need: use digital tools in learning to make it more practical, more preparatory for the workplace, more conceptual, more challenging, and more authentically rooted in the real world.

Here at 21k12, my passion is for recognizing how dramatically the world has changed and the way digital technology changes everything, and for how learning should change with it: to become more challenging, more authentically connected to the real world, more relevant,  and more digitally empowered and empowering for students.

In a very recent post, I wrote about open-computer testing, an idea exactly aligned with what Conrad Wolfram is calling for: give students difficult problems which require creative, critical, and analytic thinking, and welcome them to use computers for the “machinery” of that problem-solving, the computation (just as, let’s face it, every single “professional” mathematic problem-solver– engineer, physicist, chemist, architect–  does).

Wolfram’s TED talk hits all of these marks.  Let’s realize math education is often dull and demeaning not because it doesn’t have passionate and brilliant teachers (it often does) but because it is reduced and simplified to artificially-tooled problems disconnected from the real world.   Let’s recognize that math need no longer be about computation: it should be about identifying problems in the real world, using real brain power to think through how to render these problems into mathematical terms, using computers to do the computations of these “hairy” real world problems, and then about applying the answers out back into the real world to see if they work. (more…)

We know that content memorization must no longer the goal of our learning programs; what our goal must be is that students can make the most sense of the voluminous and fast-accelerating quantity of information which will forever be at their fingertips, and about which they must be able to think critically, to select, to evaluate, to apply, and to amend as they tackle challenging problems.

So why shouldn’t our school-tests evaluate our students ability to do exactly this?  Why not structure tests appropriately, and then invite and welcome (and require) our students to use their computers on their tests? Isn’t this real world, and real life, preparation?

Radical maybe, but it is happening.   In Denmark, for instance.

At five to nine, the room falls silent. CD-roms and exam papers are handed out together. This is the Danish language exam. One of the teachers stands in front of the class and explains the rules. She tells the candidates they can use the internet to answer any of the four questions. They can access any site they like, even Facebook, but they cannot message each other or email anyone outside the classroom.

The teachers also think the nature of the questions make it harder to cheat in exams. Students are no longer required to regurgitate facts and figures. Instead the emphasis is on their ability to sift through and analyse information. (more…)

Thinking Forward, our new St. Gregory admissions/marketing brochure-viewbook has been recently published, and I am very pleased to share it here. I think it is an attractive and important articulation of our school’s 21st century educational program and philosophy.

Despite my best efforts, I failed to embed the page-turning scrolling version inside my blog here, but I do encourage visitors here to view and read it by clicking here.

The three things I am most passionate about these days in my educational leadership (and blogging) are the following:

1. Empowering students to be more engaged, active, vigorous learners by providing them the digital tools to go, explore, research, collaborate, publish, create, and communicate in web 2.0, online learning environments.

2.  Grant Wiggins taught us the power of backward design, and we know that we can effectively transform learning by transforming assessment, by measuring what matters, and by using next-generation assessment tools for this purpose.

3.  The most important way for educators to confront and accept the challenge to educate effectively in this new era is to embrace both the responsibility and the opportunity to grow and learn, ourselves, each and every day, in collaboration with each other at schools which make serious commitments to this collaboration,  and via the power of social networks online.

For me, these three things are absolute hallmarks  and essential elements of the 21st century learning from which is so critical for our students to benefit.     They also align themselves very exactly with my major areas of educational leadership at St. Gregory:

  • bringing our new 1:1 laptop program, Wings, to our school along with a parallel commitment to project based learning, 21st c. skills, and web 2.0 interactivity;
  • implementing a new report card extension, the Egg, for evaluating and assessing students development of these skills, and implementing three new assessment/measurement tools: the HSSSE, the CWRA, and the MAP;
  • and establishing a dramatic increase in the amount of time we provide in the school-week for faculty collaboration, shared reflection upon practice, and professional development,  and supporting a faculty-lead and initiated new program of Critical Friends.

So, it is great (!) to read the new report from the US Department of Education: Tranforming American Education: The National Education Technology Plan 2010 (NETP), and see in the Executive Summary these three major objectives: (more…)

Our middle school has launched a new pilot project using computer adaptive testing, the Measurement of Academic Progress, from NWEA, the Northwest Evaluation Association.

We have administered it only once now, in September, to sixth and seventh grades, and our MS teachers are beginning to use the results we have gotten,and consider how they can best inform and improve learning for our students.

Regular readers know that this blog frequently advocates best practices in next-generation assessments.   I will use this space to update you regularly about our progress.

Good evening:

Thank you for attending this session, and thank you everyone at NYSAIS, especially arvind, Alex, and Barbara for inviting me.   I want to open with a quote:

In this day and age, many schools incorrectly view successful education as an extremely complex process, but
the formula for a really first rate education is relatively simple: put highly qualified, caring faculty, and eager, bright youth together in a personalized setting with a robust curriculum – and let things happen.

There are plenty of sentimental reasons to appreciate this quote.   Some truths about excellence in learning are timeless, and I think we can still learn enormously from Socrates and Aristotle.   But my suggestion is that if you accept this idea whole-heartedly, you are welcome to head over to the bar early– go ahead and get yourself a drink.

I believe the world is not just flat, the world is spinning: faster and faster, and that schooling can not rely on the simple formulas of the past:

  • because what our students need to learn is changing,
  • because our understanding of how learning works is changing,
  • because the technology which enhances learning is changing. (more…)

Pat Basset’s article on Demonstrations of Learning

* Demonstrations of learning Google Doc: Enter your ideas!

NAIS Monograph: Student Outcomes that Measure School’s Value Added

* St. Gregory’s HSSSE results on slideshare.

High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE)

Secretary Duncan’s Assessment 2.0 speech

My post on Duncan’s Assessment 2.0

NWEA’ Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP)

College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA)

St. Gregory students discuss the CWRA

St. Gregory’s CWRA institutional report

My post about St. Gregory’s CWRA results

Taking Teaching to the (Performance) Task: post about Marc Chun’s article

Examining a Performance Task.

Performance Task Assessment: Cla in the Classroom

A great book on problem-based learning: McCain’s Teaching for Tomorrow