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…)

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.


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…)

RSA Animate offers us a visually compelling view of an important talk by Robinson, who continues to emerge as an incredibly valuable global voice for new forms of education.   The video speaks for itself, in many places; the history is familiar, but still informative.   The 75 second digression upon ADD/ADHD I find less well informed, and less illuminating, than other parts of the video.  Robinson’s questioning of age-level groupings in school also leaves me conflicted; of course he has a point that it is is odd and problematic to group kids by age rather than ability, but he doesn’t acknowledge either the incredible social value of age groupings, nor the dramatic downsides to ability grouping.

But there are many essential points.    One is that as the world becomes more stimulating and fascinating, (and distracting), and as there are more and more “channels” by which students can acquire and process information and learning, school is going to become duller if it stays the same.   It mustn’t stay the same.

Robinson’s discussion of divergent thinking is intriguing and disturbing.   It adds to many other voices in making the point that young children are indeed already fine scientists and thinkers, and that schooling must advance, not retard, those strong young minds in a way that is not now often enough the case.   Standards and testing which compel children to search for the one right answer may well diminish the power of divergent thinking, and we need more (many more) tests and assessments that ask students for many right answers, and analysis of each, rather than one right answer.

I like his discussion of the centrality of collaboration in growth and learning: “most great learning happens in groups.”   School cultures which view collaboration as cheating, or don’t actively act to advance student collaboration, are setting us backward.

Finally, a big appreciation here for his argument that separating out the intellectual from the practical is a myth.   We need to embrace more practical learning in our classrooms where students can apply and reinforce their academic learning.   I love it all: I love to see students discuss symbolism and imagery in Shakespeare, and I love to see them building robots in Tech Design class.   (more…)

1:1 laptop programs are a great enthusiasm of mine; in my 21 school visits I undertook last year, in most cases those schools with 1-1 programs seemed far further down the road of promoting quality 21st century learning environments.  This is not a casuality — it is not because they had a 1-1 program in itself that made them so, but because they had a classroom culture of student inquiry, of research, collaboration, and on-line publishing, all of which were well supported by the laptops in students’ hands.

A valuable article in e-School News summarizes recent research in 1-1 programs, and among the most important conclusions is that the mere implementation of 1-1 laptops alone will not accomplish great learning gains; they need to be integrated into effective, contemporary, forward-looking, best-practices learning environments, one where teachers are serious about engaged, active, collaborative, and creative student learning.  “Laptop computers [would not be] technological tools; rather, [they would be] cognitive tools that are holistically integrated into the teaching and learning processes of their school.” (more…)

The Digital Ed. blog having recently brought Chris Dede to my awareness,  I have been poking around his publications at his Harvard GSE faculty website.

  • One paper, called Transforming Education for the 21st century, very effectively brings together a number of the issues and priorities that I blog about here:
  • * what the fast-changing world requires of our students to learn in the new era;
  • * how our students must have higher level thinking skills such as problem solving and communication;
  • how tackling real-world problems enhances the development of these 21st century skills;
  • and how contemporary digital tools enhance the opportunity for our students to gain these 21st c. skills. (more…)