February 2011

[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…)

As Tony Wagner argues in his essential book, The Global Achievement Gap, I too think that we need to be very concerned that our secondary and college students are not learning what they need to be learning.   We can be deceived: they may go through the motions of learning, and the bright ones (bright from unique combinations of lucky genes, supportive parents/households, and strong K-8 education) may score well enough on the SAT to convey to us we are educating them.   But are we, and how do we know we really are, succeeding in facilitating their development of the essential critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing skills they most need?

Academically Adrift, the new book which I haven’t read but have read several articles about, is about college students, not secondary, but I believe it has compelling information for us.  From the NYTimes article, How Much Do College Students Learn, and Study?:

the authors followed more than 2,300 undergraduates at two dozen universities, and concluded that 45 percent “demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college.” (more…)

The video above comes from a panel presentation which followed a screening of the Race to Nowhere, a film we are screening at St. Gregory March 3 at 7pm, and I am using the blog here to promote that upcoming event.  Ticket information is here.  We too will present, following the film screening, a panel presentation (details below).

In the video, some outstanding thinkers in the field of adolescent development and secondary education share their reactions to the film, including Deborah Stipek, Madeline Levine, and Denise Pope.    Also fascinating in this edited clip are some comments from the audience, including the following:

We have to have measurements, we to be able  tofind out how much progress we are making in whatever we are doing, but what  but what are we measuring, and are we measuring the right things?

The Ivory tower is a name we use for measuring people that memorize useless facts, but in business often we focus too much on money and not solving problems.

If people got together and you talk about project based learning–  I think that’s it.  If we got together and actually work on problems and solve them together, maybe we could do our education around solving real problems and get the satisfaction of solving them as a community.

Of course I think this is exactly right: we do need to measure learning and respond to those measurements, but we need to measure what really matters, especially in authentic, problem-solving tasks, and we need to  promote learning in environments where students develop and acquire these kind of real-world situated problem solving skills.

After the 7pm screening, we will present a six member panel to respond to the film and then to comments and questions from the audience.

Our panel will be moderated by Rachel Villarreal, Ph.D., the Chair of the United Way of Tucson’s Youth Development Coalition and St. Gregory’s Director of Development.


Barry Bedrick, Headmaster, St. Michael’s Parish Day School

Michelle Berry, Ph.D, History Department Chair, St. Gregory

George Davis, Ph.D., former Provost, U. of AZ, former President, University of Vermont

Malika Johnson, Director of College Counseling, St. Gregory

Ann-Eve Pedersen, Board President, Arizona Education Network

Eve Rifkin, Principal, City High School

Looking forward greatly to this event.   As it is said in the video:

The film is just a vehicle to bring people together to talk about these issues and inspire change.

Here at St. Gregory, we are wishing the best and offering our great appreciation to our long-time Librarian, Mrs. Lois Speetzen.  For nearly 15 years she has shared her love of literature with students, and displayed a magic touch for her extraordinary ability to find the right match of book and student, day after day, year after year.

The position description for our next Librarian and Director of Information Literacy is below, after the jump (more).

In preparation for our search, I spent the afternoon in the offices of the Main Library of the University of Arizona, with its Head Librarian, Carla Stoffle, who is “past president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, past chair of the Center for Research Libraries and the Greater Western Library Alliance, and past treasurer of ALA.”

Here I want to quote her at some length, to share with readers her extraordinarily well informed vision of how libraries and librarianship is changing.

A Library is a learning place, not a storehouse.

Libraries are places for study spaces, for group study, for active learning, for collaborative learning, and for cutting edge technology.

Our goal is to become as digital as possible as fast as possible: our journals are now nearly entirely only available online, and 53% of our books purchased last year were e-books.  (more…)

We want, enormously, for our students to be prepared for the challenging world they will be entering, and we know that that preparation will be best when it instills in them a lifelong love of learning, an intrinsic motivation to achieve and accomplish, and a genuine joy in what they are doing and for the future they are pursuing.

The anxiety I have in presenting the film Race to Nowhere, which we are doing at St. Gregory on March 3 at 7:00pm (order tickets here), is that the perception will arise that the message of the film is that kids should work less, study less, try less.  That is not the message of the film, and it is not ever the message of our school or my leadership: we want kids to work harder, smarter, in ways that matter to them and engage and reward them meaningfully.   Here are the critical quotes, from the trailer, about the problems in American education this film is confronting:

Our students are pressured to perform, but they are not necessarily pressured to learn deeply and conceptually.

The things that actually get our kids to think are pushed aside.

What is it going to mean when we have a whole population of doctors and dentists who have been trained from a script.

These kids come to the table with this creativity and this love of learning; let’s just not take it out of them.

What does it take to create a happy, motivated, creative human being?

We are hoping for a great turnout for the film, and we will follow the 80 minute film with a 60 minute panel presentation, welcoming educational experts from within the St. Gregory community and from across Tucson to offer responses to the film and to questions from the audience.

We need not just educational innovation, but education for innovation.   Our problems are too great, and our global competitive challenges too significant, for us to feel successful unless we educate our students to be effective innovators.

We know too that innovation happens in clusters, it happens in open societies which value and affirm innovation and create communities of inquiry, experimentation, and practice.   Let’s help our schools be such places.

Two articles I encountered just today offer valuable insight into what I like to think of as the Ed2In project.

The first came from Harvard University’s Gazette, in an article entitled Innovate/Create: Innovation, Creativity power fresh thinking at Harvard.   What is the formula, simplified?  “Harvard’s combination of questing minds, passionate spirits, and intellectual seekers tackling society’s toughest problems fosters a creativity that has produced a stream of innovations.” (more…)

Congratulations and Kudos to the National Association of Independent Schools, its Commission on Accreditation, and its Schools of the Future Committee for their publication this winter of the new A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future.   The 60 page document, prepared by Robert Witt and Jean Orvis as lead authors, is an attractive, appealing guide and deserves reading by every independent school board and faculty.

I’m enthusiastic about the guide’s Unifying Themes: “eight commonalities exist among the schools that are successfully delivering a 21st century education.”

  • The schools are academically demanding.
  • Project-based learning, as an integral part of the school’s program, is woven throughout all grade levels and disciplines.
  • Classrooms extend beyond the school walls, actively engaging students in the world around them.
  • Digital technologies and a global perspective infuse all aspects of the curriculum.
  • Vibrant arts programs help promote creativity, self-expression, self-discipline, and flexibility.
  • The adults are actively engaged with one another and with the students in a process of continuous learning.
  • A culture of engagement and support invites participation, innovation, and a“growth mindset” on the part of teachers and students.
  • Transformational leadership challenges the status quo, draws out the issues, navigates through conflict, and mobilizes people and resources to do the adaptive work necessary to create and sustain effective change.

I provided bolded underlines for the items that leap out at me, but it was hard to resist highlighting every word. Comments on each of the highlighted terms above follow:

Academically demanding comes first, as it came first in my previous post, 15 Ways for Schools to Be Relevant in 2015 and Beyond.   What I worry about as I read the guide’s first bullet is that this wording, “academically demanding,” is a bit generic, and leaves me hanging– well how do you know?  I would have written,  Schools are academically demanding as demonstrated in widely varying quantitative and qualitative ways.   (more…)

[original version, 11 Ways…, originally published at Connected Principals, 1.24.11]

[Numbers 11-14 have been added since the previous publication.]

Technology and innovation are accelerating rapidly outside education, but not rapidly enough inside education.  To quote NAIS President Pat Basset, Schools which are not schools of the future will not be schools in the future.

Like others, I am fascinated by pieces  forecasting the coming changes in schooling, and I am inspired by their example to offer my own.

Two that have been particularly intellectually intriguing and influential to me are  Tom Vander Ark’s Ed Reformer post,  The Pivot to Digital Learning: 40 Predictions, and Shelly Blake-Pollock’s post, 21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020.

I should add too that my thinking is greatly informed by the Christensen and Horn’s Disrupting Class,  US DOE’s Karen Cator’s NETP: National Education Technology Plan, the writings of Michael B. Horn, and the Digital Learning Now initiatives.

This particular list is intended to present fifteen ways schools can continue to be  relevant, compelling, attractive, and effective to both students and parents in the coming years.   (more…)

I’m just back from Philadelphia and my first (but not last) Educon— this was the fourth Educon.  It was a terrific experience, and I feel deeply indebted and appreciative to Chris Lemann, the staff and faculty, and the students, of Science Leadership Academy, our hosts.

Educon is:

EduCon is both a conversation and a conference.

And it is not a technology conference. It is an education conference. It is, hopefully, an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools.

Its Axioms are as follows:

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked

I am writing this from a hotel room in Hermosillo, Mexico, where I am spending a week introducing St. Gregory to schools, families, and students here, exploring possible collaboration, exchange, and enrollment opportunities.

10 thoughts about Educon:

1. Innovation matters. (more…)

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