December 2010


Former Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise, together with Disrupting Class co-author Michael Horn (a multi-time commentator on this blog), have released a new call to arms for Digital Learning Now.    Organized by the Digital Learning Council, the project has its own website, and a list of ten elements of High Quality Digital education on which it says it will grade states annually.

While I respect that Bush and Wise probably oversaw the politics of the effort, I am going to draw the inference that Horn is the key author of the report, because it seems so aligned with what I have observed Horn writing about the past few years.     Horn’s analysis and insights are multifaceted, both an “is” and an “ought” : this digital revolution is happening whether we like it or not, and because it is, let’s try to steer this wave the way it best ought to happen. (more…)

Another Sputnik, it was called last week: the latest OECD results were released, and Shanghai schools topped the list, with the US far down the ladder.    This is disappointing, to say the least, and we in the US should indeed be deeply concerned.

But let’s be clear about what we should be concerned.   Readers of the New York Times article, for instance, (and probably that source is the most common source), might not have the opportunity to recognize and appreciate what is really being tested in the PISA until the very last sentence.

I fear NY Times readers might read carefully only through to the quote from Secretary Duncan: ““The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”  In doing so, they might think that PISA is a conventional bubble test of “basic skills,” and that what Duncan is suggesting we take from it is that we need more NCLB type teaching and basic skill development, because unfortunately that is what Duncan department of Education has become known for: NLCB on steroids.

(I don’t think this is an entirely fair characterization of Duncan’s leadership and vision, but it is what has become the connotative representation of his administration thus far.)

This would be wrong. In fact, the PISA results suggest quite the opposite: we need to break away from the curricular narrowing effects of conventional standardized testing, basic skills emphasis, and rote memorization, and unleash in our schools a revolution of applied problem-solving to real-world situations. (more…)


Remarks to students, 12.8.10, revised and expanded.

Exams are next week: how many of you are looking forward to taking exams?   I hope the answer is many of you, because I believe that when a well-prepared mind engages with a well designed test, fireworks can happen inside our minds.   I had many experiences of feeling more intellectually stimulated, engaged, creative and innovative, when taking a well-designed exam than during almost any other time.    My mind leapt to new insights and perceptions, made more connections and inferences, and discovered and constructed original solutions or approaches to vexing problems.   I love taking exams.

But you do need to be well prepared to be successful.    Some suggestions for you to be better prepared.

1.  When you study, don’t just read: write!   Too often we think we are studying when we let our eyes drift over the words in our notes, our textbooks, and our study guides.   That isn’t enough; we must write to remember and develop better understanding.    My freshman year of college I struggled with my midterms, and was quite disappointed with the results.   Come finals, I chose to do something I had never done before: I simply rewrote, word for word, every note I had taken during lecture– and when I went to take my exams I was flabbergasted with how much more I recalled and how much more confident and authoritative I was addressing the questions.    Recopy notes, or write about your notes and texts:  what are the most interesting, more original, most surprising, most confusing, most important, most controversial ideas or informational nuggets in the texts you are studying?  Write these out, and you will be better prepared.

2. Study in groups. When this works well, it is awesome; when it doesn’t work well, it can be a disaster.   The opportunity is great, but effective execution is essential.    When you do it well, the result will be better understanding and retention of key factual content and key interpretations , better anticipation of what will be on the test, and far more breadth of wisdom in how to answer those questions.

Here is my suggested strategy: (more…)

For me, teaching is joyful when you feel that you are both leading and participating in a collaborative problem-solving team tackling real-world problems.  This I tweeted recently in response to a twitter inquiry: what brings you joy in teaching.

I was taken by the parallels of my view and Wesch’s  when viewing this video and hearing his argument that the best way we can teach students “knowledge-ability” is to ask them to tackle real-world, challenging problems, problems we don’t know the answer to, and then lead and guide them as a collaborative team in addressing those problems, while facilitating their use of the best available tools to address these problems.

Knowledgeable is what we call people who have learned a lot of material, a lot of content; I don’t think Michael is saying that we no longer want knowledgeable students.  He is saying that they need to be more than that, they need to be knowledge-able: they need to be able to construct their own knowledge, to make their own meaning, and to have the tools and skills to effectively and compellingly critically think, communicate, create, and collaborate on-line.     He is also saying that this is no longer a TV watching generation: it is one which thrills to two-way participatory environments and is dulled senseless by one-way communication channels.    The knowledge they need to acquire they need to learn by working with content, not absorbing it.

In looking back over the past five years to identify the key handful of “moments” when I became energized and inspired to embrace and advocate a new vision of learning in our new fast-changing era, I know that watching Michael Wesch’s students’ famous, brilliant, and chill-inducing video, A View of Students Today, was one of the main ones.  Watch and see if you don’t shiver, and see if your own worldview of learning does not change.   (more…)


Independent School Management has a series running on the 21st century school, and I have commented on previous chapters in this series before.   In September, there was a piece on the 21st century faculty, (unavailable on-line).

ISM opens with a valuable and perceptive paragraph to establish contrast on the 20th century teacher:

the autonomous teacher who exists in an egalitarian culture and is rarely, often never, effectively evaluated for impact on student performance, enthusiasm and satisfaction.   At all levels of the school, teachers are organized into silos of teaching with little effective time within the silo to truly collaborate and professionally assess and grow, and equally little time to communicate outside the silo in and effective way.  Teachers spend most of their time teaching on their own and preparing to teach.

ISM cites approvingly a study which calls for “redefining teacher quality to redefine what a highly qualified teacher truly means.  The words highly qualified  should refer to a teacher whose work improves student learning.”   I like this: New Tech network schools, of which I am a fan, actually take this a step further; they simply no longer use the word teacher and have replaced it with the word “facilitator” to match their changing the word student to “learner.”

Teacher leadership is the 21st century answer to this… all teachers must become leaders,” ISM advocates.    Although it has the virtue of being succinct, this statement seems to me pretty abstract and pretty limited to be a valuable expression and articulation of a concept as important as “the 21st century teacher.” (more…)

Woke up this morning to find the international Edublog award shortlist.    As you can see by clicking here, 21k12 has been shortlisted for Best School Admin Blog.  I believe, after a quick review, that my blog is the only NAIS representative in this category.   Readers are invited to click over to the voting and enter your choice!

It is also great to see the six nominations for Connected Principals: one in Best School Admin Blog (which means I am “competing” against myself!) and others  in Best Group Blog, Best New Blog, and three others.

I am very excited and energized by my participation in Connected Principals.    I am one of about 30 principals contributing to CP, and the dynamic among the group of us is wonderfully supportive and illuminating.  I feel very good about what I have been able to contribute to CP, and I am pleased to have been able to raise my profile as a blogger by my contributions.   You can vote for Connected Principals as Best Group blog here.

My thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement; the positive feedback of my readers is highly motivating.

Credit goes to my fine student videographer, Derek Jobst ’13

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