February 2011


PBL being a favorite topic here, I am always excited to learn new opportunities and applications for project based learning in our classroom.  NAIS,  in its own hard thinking about the future of education,  has identified high level, academically rigorous PBL as a centerpiece of the educational program of Schools of the Future.

Project-based learning, as an integral part of the school’s program, [should be] woven throughout all grade levels and disciplines.

My emphasis has been primarily on PBL with Web 2.0 technologies, as best demonstrated in the work of New Tech Network schools, which I have visited several times, and in the writings of Suzie Boss, which I have written about often.

But often it is great to set aside the computer (says the blogger who really ought to be packing right now for NAIS), and facilitate our students in making stuff from scratch with their own hands, knowing that this requires a thoughtful and thorough process of planning, preparation, design, collaboration, analysis, and action, and results.

I’m inspired by a both a short session I enjoyed recently at Educon by Laura Deisly (below) and a recent EdWeek article, Encouraging the Hand-Mind Connection in the Classroom.

One of the defining characteristics of our species: Our ability to construct the things we need to understand and function in our lives. How did we manage to get so far off course, to take something that is so quintessentially human and make it so alien? (more…)

NAIS is a three days away, and the anticipation is building.   Jason Ramsden wrote last week a nice post about his enthusiasm for the conference, and  I value his recognition of NAIS’s journey in the past few years toward a fuller embrace of 21st century learning and the initiatives the association is taking to facilitate its member schools in becoming Schools of the Future.

Peter Gow wrote in a parallel way about the NAIS evolution and advance brilliantly three years ago, in an EdWeek commentary entitled The New Progressivism is Here.

My Hopes:

1. That the WiFi works, and works well.  It was awful in San Francisco, and erratic in Chicago; it makes such a big difference to have fast-flying WiFi.

2. That the electrical outlets are in high supply (and that I remember to bring a power strip so as to better share outlets if they are not.)

3. That I keep it all in balance. Yes, it is my fault, but I stuff way too much into these 55-odd hours: Learning in sessions, blogging, tweeting, visiting with old friends, excitedly meeting and making new friends, enjoying time with my wife who attends with me, and this year presenting also in four separate sessions.  Too much. (more…)

It’s awkward to write about leadership as a leader.  I write this to share not my accomplishments but my strategy of the last 20 months leading my school, the success of which remains to be seen and is for others to evaluate.

Soon I will be presenting, along with two Head of School colleagues and Ken Kay, founder and longtime President of the Partnership for 21st century skills and now of EdLeader21, on the topic of  21st Century Learning at NAIS Schools: Leading and Networking for Progress.

As part of this session, each of us will speak of our vision of leadership for progress; in preparation, this preview.

Leadership is,  more than anything else, a project of managing change.   We are living in a time of accelerating societal, technological, and global change, but our schools, many of them, are struggling to adapt to these changing times in order to provide our students an education that will be compelling, meaningful, enriching and preparatory.  Leadership is required across the educational sector to lead our schools through this transformative era.

A suggested Seven Steps for Leading in 21st century learning.

1.  Develop the Vision (and Keep Developing it).   We can’t lead if we don’t have a sense of the direction we are headed; we can’t influence change if we don’t have clarity about what that change should be.  These visions should be grounded in research and knowledge about educational practices and the unique qualities of independent institutions. Our vision must be wise, bold, and inspiring to ourselves and others: it ought to give us and our constituents purpose and passion for the challenge of educating students in the 21st century.

In this fast-changing era, our visions must be dynamic, adapting themselves to new tools and techniques, new information and understandings. Leaders must be learners: (more…)

[As always, this post is available to all and all are always welcome, but this one is, like many of my posts will be in the next ten days, especially  intended for those attending the Annual Conference of the National Association of Independent Schools]

If you are new to Twitter, or contemplating taking the plunge, a conference like NAIS  is a great place to start (in every way but one).

To start, just go to Twitter.com and spend 3-5 minutes (at most) creating a profile.

The NAIS conference, or any big conference, is a great place to start Twitter because you immediately have a conversation to follow and a stimulating forum to join.  To enter the NAIS Annual Conference “feed,” simply type into the search box on top this: #naisac11, and hit return.   (this is called a “hashtag”, using a pound sign in front of a term in Twitter; another great hashtag for independent school educators is #isedchat).

That’s all; that’s all you need to do to experience powerfully and valuably Twitter for the three day NAIS conference.  By doing this, following the #naisac11 feed, you will be monitoring an ongoing flow of thoughts about the conference:  suggestions for good sessions, great takeaways from speakers, amazing quotes, links to websites related to the presentations,  and much more.    Often, for instance, when a speaker makes a reference to a great resource– a useful website, or a valuable book or article–  others in the session on Twitter will quickly shoot out the link, which is very helpful.  Click on the link to open it in a new tab, and then bookmark it for the future.

You don’t need to make any tweets yourself: many people begin as just observers, and many remain that way for a long time (or always).  That is fine.  (more…)

Delighted to be presenting tonight online for the Consortium of Jewish Day Schools Principal Training Institute.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can school-leaders use a focus upon assessment to influence improved, 21st century, learning?
  • What particular types of internal and authentic assessments, classroom-based and school-wide,  can best support learning in the 21st century?
  • What is the role of data collection, using external measurement tools, in instructional leadership?
  • What external measurement tools are particularly well suited to supporting 21st century learning?

Many links are embedded within the slides above, but for ease of reference, below are some particularly highlighted links.  (more…)

An academically demanding curriculum is an essential element of excellent schooling in every era, equally for the 19th and the 22nd centuries.

The new Schools of the Future guide from NAIS  lists as the first of its 8 “unifying themes” that schools be academically demanding.   They then offer in the elaboration six paragraphs, including some very valuable elements to define what they mean by academically demanding.

The difference is that they must go beyond the traditional passive capstone of a written examination to active application of knowledge in a new situation.

The model schools emphasize depth over breadth, adopting in spirit the motto of the Singapore Schools, “Teach Less. Learn More.” Like those who annually “purge” their closets of outdated, rarely worn garments,these schools systematically scour the curriculum to eliminate non-essential and redundant content. Although all of theschools have students who perform well on AP exams, most choose not to teach AP classes, or like Brimmer and May, selectivelyoffer only those AP classes that are what Anne Reenstierna calls “more than a mile wide and an inch deep.”

It  is terrific to read in  an official NAIS publication that the core principles for advancing academically demanding learning in our schools include active application of knowledge,  depth over breadth and less is more:  educational leaders now across our association have the national association’s official publication behind them as they move in these vital directions.

At St. Gregory,we are working to realign our curriculum in exactly these ways:

  • sustaining our commitment to block scheduling for depth over breadth in each course period;
  • thoroughly deploying PBL with tech.  for the vigorously active application of knowledge,
  • changing away from a pattern of year-long survey courses in upper grade levels toward topical, inquiry semester seminars which intentionally privilege a Singapore style less is more learning philosophy.

However, as I said in my previous post, it still disappoints me that they didn’t, (more…)

[re-posted here from Connected Principals.]

Steven B. Johnson writes in Where Good Ideas Come From about the revolutionary power of social media such as Twitter to advance ideas and innovation in a myriad of fields, and it has been fascinating to see this concept in action in the swift spread over the past six months of the practice of flipping classrooms,  which is also known as reverse instruction or learning, and is closely related to (or often synonymous with) teacher vodcasting.

Johnson also writes that when a good idea is “ripe,” it emerges from multiple inventors and innovators simultaneously, making credit very difficult to assign (this “convergence” concept is also heavily explored in Kevin Kelly’s fascinating new book What Technology Wants).

Over the past three months,  my post on Reverse Instruction on Connected Principals has been read an average of thirty times a day, and shows no sign of slowing down.   Educators widely are experimenting with this idea and sharing their own reactions and learnings about the practice online; they are being informed and influenced by the fine work and writing  of Karl Fisch of the Fischbowl,  Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams of the Teacher Vodcasting Network, John Sowash of the Electric Educator, and many others.

This innovation is also being greatly enhanced by the buzz around Salman Khan, who will be a keynote speaker for the NAIS Annual Conference this year.   It was in thinking about Khan’s impact that I first began to learn and think through more the implications of reverse learning, and I have written about that twice before, in Khan Academy: Where Does it Fit? and Collapsing Binaries: Digital learning transformation for better learning environments.

Just today, in fact, there is a very powerful post at Singularity Hub, entitled, Yes, the Khan Academy is the Future of Education: ”The Khan Academy is the best thing that has happened to education since Socrates.”

Below, after a quick review of the practice, I share input and feedback about the practice from two teachers at my school and from Jason Kern, Lorri Carroll, Shelley Wright, and Chris Bigenho. (more…)

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