February 2012

As part of a continuing exploration here, I am happy to share this next example of and reflection upon “Open Computer” or “Open Internet” Testing at St. Gregory.  As I’ve written before, I think this assessment approach is a highly valuable one for promoting deeper learning, information literacy, and analytic and organizational skill development over memorization and regurgitation.  I think that many tests in most subjects can be, with the right intentional design, “open internet” and that they will be the better for it. 

Some argue against tests altogether, but I still love a good test, and taking the time to think through as a teacher what kind of questions can we ask which will continue to be meaningful assessments when Google and Wolfram Alpha are available is, I think, a highly productive exercise, and, of course, will generate a more authentic assessment experience far more well aligned with the real world of professionals for which we are preparing our students. 

Below is a report about another experiment with this approach from our Theater teacher and director, Lisa Bodden.

Comparing my approach to teaching this course with the last time I taught a similar version I realized that the major thing that has changed is the student’s access to technology. Did I still need the students to buy a heavy, although comprehensive, textbook? No, the information is available at their fingertips.

Did I need to order lengthy videos describing very limited topics and spend time plucking out the important details? No, YouTube is almost too easy and has a plethora of informative  videos, performances, and interviews with scholars and professionals.

Therefore, did I really need the students to regurgitate information or could I ask them to utilize  Internet resources and their class notes to compose essays based on questions that they helped craft?

The “answers” the students created in response to the essay prompts not only proved to me how well they understood the information, but also allowed them to maintain their individuality, voice, and opinion. I asked for historically specific information, but they could choose who and what on which to focus. The test went very well, in my view, and I will happily turn to this method again and again. Although this will not be my only method of assessment, I consider it a success. (more…)

The above is Jane’ s Ted-talk, highly recommended if you didn’t have the chance to see her speak today.  This talk topped the event, in my opinion: McGonigal really brings us close the emotional power of gaming, and connects better than anyone gaming to the real world and our goals for our students: motivation, meaning, relevance, social fabric, connectivity, collaboration.

There is no excuse for not taking her lead in examining the opportunities for this kind of blending: games which are integrated into our academic experiences, and gaming which inspire us to think again: what is so compelling about gaming, how does it provide flow and generate growth from stress, and how can learning and our own social experiences be enhanced by the lessons of gaming.

I want to add too: I am not a gamer per se, but I know I would grow, learn, and benefit from more gaming in my life.  But I will say that blogging and social media is an analogue for me: blogging is a positive stress, leads me to a social connection with others sharing my passion, gives me a sense of an epic win by the impact I am having on the world, gives me feedback on how I am doing and a sense of progression and productivity.   Blogging is my gaming, in a significant way (I intend to write more about this soon).

Key Ideas

We have achieved complete game play in the US among under 20 year olds: 95% plus.  Even two year olds.

10,000 hours of gaming are spent by the age of 21, as much time playing games as kids are in the classroom.

Can Games Teach us to save the real world? 

We don’t think of games as a way to get real things done.

“The opposite of play isn’t work– it’s depression.”

10 positive emotions derived from playing games:

Most game play today is social and cooperative.

We get to try something new– a sense of creative agency, as we play games in the virtual world around us.

Kids playing video games regularly tested higher on Torrance test of creativity.

Where do these positive emotions and creative agency associated with gaming come from?  EUSTRESS.    Nothing going on more in gaming positive stress: fierce determination, grit and perseverence, flow state, total immersion in something right at the edge of our ability. (more…)

Although it was disappointing we couldn’t view his slides, Eagleman’s presentation was a big lift for those of entirely enthusiastic about the new age of information we live in, and what it means for empowering our students to be digitally savvy, connected critical thinkers.   Eagleman calls himself a “cyber-optimist,” just as I am, and he offers valuable, neurologically founded, evidence and perspective on where learning needs to be going.

As an optimist, he is anything but gloomy about the way students brains are changing, but rather embracing this moment to change up what we are doing: to take learning online, to take it toward active, engaged, decisionmaking, critical thinking, mistake making and retooling, rich environments for our student.

Let’s not be daunted, let’s be inspired.   This is genuinely the most exciting moment to be an educator, and most exciting moment to be a learner, since Socrates was in taking inquiry more deeply with his fellow Athenians, and each and every day let’s ask ourselves: what can we do to realign what we are doing to take advantage of this moment?

Key Ideas

The conscious I is the smallest part of the mind: the conscious aware I is like a broom closet of the mansion that is the brain.

“In each of us, there is another who we do not know.” Jung.

We have to understand the conscious mind to help understand how to better steer kids toward the learning that matters.

Think though problems, synthesis, come up with solutions, creatively: what we need most for teaching and learning.

What does the unconscious mind have to do with creativity? 

The key to neural networks is that they make associations: everything is tied to something else.   The problem of the path of least resistance.  The unconscious mind is incredibly efficient: It seeks the swiftest, straightest, path to the answer, the path of least resistance, the simplest and plainest result that it can.

How do we get people off the path of least resistance?

The brain is constantly rewriting its own software.   The brain is so plastic and malleable. (more…)

This wasn’t a talk that worked so well for me, but it is not that there was nothing of worth here.   Our speaker was entirely and enormously correct to say that we should make a high priority of managing our-selves, of ensuring we practice good habits of sleep, diet, and exercise; that we renew and refresh and take the breaks we need to be more productive in our working times.

The importance of regularly taking breaks in our absorption of content for processing and synthesis is great, and certainly all educators should advocate this for their students and practice it for themselves.

Focus is important, of course it is; but to be reductionist or simplistic about multi-tasking isn’t helpful.   There is an incredibly wide array of activities associated with what is labeled multi-tasking, and to generalize loses all this.

Writing while we listen, sharing and connecting ideas we are receiving to other ideas, considering the implications of what we are learning, managing multiple points of view or considering other ways of understanding ideas: these can be called multi-tasking or they can be called sophisticated thinking.   Athletes and performing artists multi-task brilliantly; it is an enormously valuable human quality of genius to be able to coordinate oneself  doing multiple things in a productive way, just as it is a sadness to not be able to recognize when we are diminishing our ability to enjoy or be successful when we are doing too much at once.

I am no extremist on this: Tony’s point of view bothers me, just as Cathy Davidson’s argument, to my mind, goes far too far the other direction.    Read my thoughts about Davidson’s defense of and advocacy for multi-tasking here:   What about when the goal is counting the basketball passes? Responding to Davidson’s Now You See It.

For a fuller treatment of this Tony Schwartz talk, please click over to read Jennifer Lockett’s post.

You could feel the room was less animated as this, the third of three challenging and provocative presentations, proceeded; saturation was setting in, and this was no fault of presenter Michael Horn’s.   This session did offer powerful analysis of the power of trends and the significance of the ongoing technological wave surfing over education, though Michael was more subdued as a speaker than his two predecessors.   His talk was also less directly centered on applicable take-aways to today’s classrooms than that of Jacobs and Bassett, but nonetheless offered very important prophecy and analysis.

I should add: motivation matters enormously, and I appreciate very much his attention to this;  it shows a deep caring for kids and their experience of our schools, and urges us to use always this as a foundation for our planning.

Horn’s both predicting and evangelizing for a digital revolution in our schools, but that is not to say his values are somehow technocratic.   It is because he recognizes all learners crave and benefit from feedback, that all learners desire to be more interactive with other learners, that all learners do best when they can track their progress and derive real satisfaction from their learning, that he believes the digital revolution will and should occur: because technology serves these humane and humanistic goals for learning brilliantly when blended with the best of classroom learning.

Resources, Links, Key Ideas

My previous posts on Michael Horn:

“We really have to understand what turns students on and fires them up.   This question of motivation is a problematic one.  Noone has cracked it at scale.”


A bracing, challenging, informative talk from Heidi Hayes Jacob enlivened our afternoon.   What year are we preparing our students for?   I embedded below (after “more”) her Ted Talk; I hope you find these resources, suggested action items, and conversation starters and you reflect on her talk.

Resources, Links, & Key Points

Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World

Jennifer Lockett’s blog post about Jacobs’ talk.

Everyone agrees today that we are going to learn something.

A new pedagogy is emerging: more student self-navigation.

At the end of every proficiency you have as a goal for your student, there should be an adverb: “Independently.”

New Tools, New Literacies: Digital, Media, and Global

The tool we use impact learning:  Paper is over.

Every student should read and write a screenplay.


Curriculum 21 Learning Commons

Classroom 2.0

A New Kind of Learner Needs a New Kind of Teacher

Research means Search Again.

The Curriculum 21 Clearinghouse.

Gapminder World visualization tool.

Google Art Project

Museum Box

Digital Literacy is the thoughtful and deliberate development of web 2.0 applications.  (more…)

Good day and welcome to the ISAS teacher conference.   I am delighted to be one of a set of bloggers here today, (find the full set here), and to have collaborated with Chris Bigenho in promoting and arranging a larger social media (twitter and blogging) dimension to the conference.   The host-site where you can follow all the blogging and tweeting is here: http://isastc.wordpress.com/

Chris will be Liveblogging the speakers; my game plan is to try to take a slightly different tack.  For each of the six speakers, I intend to provide a post without a summary/narrative, but with instead three elements:

Resources: pertinent links for learning more.

Takeaways: Things you can do at your school soon from these speakers

Inquiries, or discussion questions:  Conversation starters for faculty/department/administrative meetings to continue the conversation.

First up: Pat Bassett, NAIS President, 2 presentations melded together:
Difficult, Fierce, Conversations & Schools of the Future: 4 Questions.

Resources and Key Points:

Jason Kern’s blog post about Pat’s talk. 

Jennifer Lockett’s blog post about the talk.

Recommended Book: Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most, Douglas Stone.

Heather Brothers book, Switch.  Terrific resource about change and psychology. (more…)

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