Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Libraries and/or ICT?

At the IBAP teacher's convention, each thread of the conference (e.g., Library, On-line Learning Communities, Applied Technologies in Instruction & Assessment, etc.) had a forum where we were asked to evaluate the ongoing issues in our area.

In the Library forum one outstanding issue raised was the relationship between school libraries and ICT. Separate but equal? Collaborative partners? One and the same?

So it was nice to have Stephen Heppell (the man who is said to have put the "C" into ICT) rave about the importance of librarians in 21st century schools.

Librarians are clearly more important than head teachers.

Librarians are needed to thread and guide the components of the learning (because the ability is build a thread is what's valuable, it's about narrative connecting stuff).

The Internet is built all wrong -- it's focused on stuff, not on people. What's important about a library is it's where people come together. The staff are the asset, that's why the librarian is far more important than the books in a library.

On his website he has a page devoted to Learning Places and Spaces -- virtual and actual. There's a lot there for anyone designing a library in the future.

Local to global? Or global to local?

You hear it over and over again. Learning must be relevant to kids' lives. I completely agree. But sometimes I feel too little credit is given to the power of how we -- as teachers -- can make something non-local relevant to kids.

At a workshop I recently attended my table was supposed to be coming up with sample research paper assignment questions which would force kids to go beyond the basic instruction to "Write about a disease." We proposed a series of increasing challenging questions, from "what is disease? what diseases do I know?" to "what are the most deadly diseases in the world for which we don't have a cure?" to "if I had to write Bill Gates and convince him to give money [or raise money myself] for research into one deadly disease, what would it be and why?". The workshop leader was gently trying to get us to come up with questions more based in the kids' everyday reality, e.g., what diseases are in my community and what I can do about it?

But what if malaria isn't rampant in our community? Does that mean we shouldn't encourage kids to learn about it?

As Rischard said at some point in his talk, we must get people into the mindset of the question,
How can I be first a global citizen, second a national citizen, and third a local citizen?

Which makes me think of Kieran Egan, one of my favorite educational theorists. In an article back in 2003 in the Phi Delta Kappan, he asked if we should, "Start with What the Student Knows or with What the Student Can Imagine?"

While starting with what the child knows works with some subjects, e.g., material ones, it shouldn't be a rigid rule. He bemoans the limitation of the social studies curriculum which annually expands from the family to the community to the state to the country to the world. It can take forever to get to that world perspective. Perhaps that's where we should be starting...

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Networking about pressing global issues

Continuing on re Rischard and his book High Noon.... (see previous posting)

The 20 most pressing problems, according to Rischard:

Sharing our planet: Issues involving the global commons
1. Global warming
2. Biodiversity and ecosystem losses
3. Fisheries depletion
4. Deforestation
5. Water deficits
6. Maritime safety and pollution
Sharing our humanity: Issues requiring a global commitment
7. Massive step-up in the fight against poverty
8. Peacekeeping, conflict prevention, combating terrorism
9. Education for all
10. Global infectious diseases
11. Digital Divide
12. Natural disaster prevention and mitigation
Sharing our rulebook: Issues needing a global regulatory approach
13. Reinventing taxation for the 21st century
14. Biotechnology rules
15. Global financial architecture
16. Illegal drugs
17. Trade, investment, and competition rules
18. Intellectual property rights
19. E-commerce rules
20. International labor and migration rules
[both images, above right, taken from www.nais.org]

Rischard stresses that these problems require long-term thinking and commitment, something democracies cannot easily deliver (due to electoral pressures). Nation-states, territorial by definition, are also inadequate, given the inherently global nature of the problems. He proposes the establishment of Global Issues Networks, consisting of experts from various countries appointed by world leaders. These experts will work to extract rough consensus for norms and standards for all countries to adhere to in the interest of the whole world.

Rischard said you'd have to tell these experts that they were working for humanity with an eye to each of them winning a Nobel prize for their work. (I love that idea of appealing to their pride!)

The other thing we'd have to do, he said, is to work towards developing the mindset of global citizenship -- which is where education steps in.

There are several educational projects, based on Rischard's book and his advocacy, now in place, with more likely.

In the US, the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) has a program called Challenge 20/20, which pairs schools in the US with a school elsewhere in the world to work on creative global problem solving.

In Europe there are GIN (Global Issues Network) groups starting up in international schools. Clayton Lewis, head of the International School of Luxembourg, has been working with Rischard and a GIN conference is planned for next year.

Here in Asia WAB (Western Academy of Beijing) has a program in place called GIG (Global Issues Group) and they are planning to host a (student?) conference in March 2008.

Rischard said he is also meeting with the IBO to discuss how his framework could be spread throughout their school network.

It's all exciting stuff. Our school already has a well-developed Global Concerns program, but I can see the benefit of becoming part of the Global Issues Network.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Questioning projects and assessments

The importance of generating good, meaty, essential questions, especially for student projects, is something everyone agrees on. However, those of us in a school with an explicit inquiry-based learning framework in place often feel ahead of the game.

For example, at Doug Johnson's EARCOS 2007 pre-conference workshop for teacher/librarians on Designing Projects Students (and Teachers) Love, those of us at PYP schools felt his 4-level Research Question Rubric -- where Level 1 asks for simple recall, Level 2 asks a specific question, Level 3 asks for personal response, and Level 4 includes a call for action -- simply reflected different stages in the inquiry process.

Using Kath Murdoch's inquiry cycle model, a Level 1 question is equivalent to Tuning In, a Level 2 question might be Finding Out or Sorting Out, a Level 3 question reflects Going Further or Making Conclusions, and a Level 4 question falls under Taking Action followed by Sharing/Reflection. So, while he was trying to get us to generate a Level 4 question to assign to students, we all felt the rubric was just a spiral students would move along themselves in any one project or unit of inquiry.

When the question of appropriate assessment (or assignments) came up at the IBAP conference, Prof. Stephen Heppell had a few great substitutions he threw out to us (likes scraps to hungry animals) -- especially after the IB Diploma students participating in the forum complained about two years of effort being assessed in a 2-hour handwritten exam worth 80% of their grade.
  • ~ instead of an 80% exam, why not require a 3-nation collaborative task for students?
  • ~ instead of assigning a 1,500 word essay, why not require either a) scripting and posting a 3-minute podcast, or b) managing an online discussion for a week, or c) annotating 10 website links?
  • ~ instead of bemoaning the availability of "free online essays" for students to pinch, why not assign the task of choosing 4 "free online essays" and critiquing them, and then improving on one of them?
I mentioned this to my daughter and a friend, both of whom are about to take the IGCSE/GCSE exams, and they leapt onto the last idea, saying how useful it would be for them to critique other people's essays -- to internalize the examiners' rubric and understand more fully what it is they are being asked to perform.

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Pre-search, or look before you leap

  1. The initial, guided investigation of topics, themes and main ideas for schoolwork before delving into the deeper research process.
  2. An activity sincerely appreciated by overworked librarians, offered by Answers.com.

This is clever marketing aimed at librarians on the part of Answers.com.

"Presearch" isn't a term explicitly used in well-known research models like the Big6 or the NSW (Australia) Information Process, but it was definitely a focus of attention in several workshops I attended at the EARCOS and IBAP conferences (see previous posting).

Most people agreed that "Define" as step one implied a big first step that students find daunting. They need to be encouraged to take their time.

That's why I like the first step in Kath Murdoch's inquiry model -- which is called Tuning In (followed by Finding Out, Sorting Out, Going Further, Making Conclusions, Taking Action, and Sharing/Reflection).

Tuning In is also more in line with the first step of the revised Bloom's taxonomy (in which Remember replaced Knowledge as the lowest level; another revision was to switch the positions of Synthesis and Evaluate -- putting Create as the highest order):

1. Remember
2. Understand
3. Apply
4. Analyze
5. Evaluate
6. Create

Remembering is a good way of tuning in -- asking what we already know before we start finding out. It also reflects the level of just being able to spew out undigested facts.

At the IBAP conference, Cathy Hill and Yvonne Hammer introduced me to a new model: Parnes' Creative Problem Solving model (which they say is frequently used with gifted and talented students, based on the belief that creativity is a set of behaviors that can be learned).

* Clarification stage:
1. Mess Finding (e.g., brainstorming)
2. Data Finding (collecting the facts, acting as a camera while looking at the "mess" -- a major evaluative tool)
3. Problem Finding (prioritizing options, speculating, focusing, and finally forming a statement or question)

* Transformation stage:
4. Idea Finding (generating ideas and feeling responses, elaborating, more brainstorming)

* Implementation stage:
5. Solution Finding (evaluating, re-examining the focus, identifying leads, and analysing views of the problem)
6. Acceptance Finding (considering the audience, target the priorities, developing a plan of action, editing, presenting work)

I particularly like the word "mess" as the place to begin -- because that's exactly how I feel when I start off on a new project. I create a big mess of information and have to sort through it.

Perhaps "digging in" is a better phrase for that first step -- as it combines the idea of "tuning in" and making a "mess".

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Embarrassing to be an American

Watched three documentaries with my three teenagers over the past 24 hours.

Hacking Democracy -- about abuses in voting machine counting in the past two presidential elections (wonderful story of how one woman started asking questions and it led to years of her life becoming absorbed in the inquiry process...)

Who Killed the Electric Car? -- about the various powers-that-be crushing the energy-efficient electric car a few years ago (though there is better news since the documentary came out) -- again, the story of dedicated individuals getting to the bottom of an unsavory situation

The Most Hated Family in America -- mind-boggling BBC documentary about an uber-religious cult family in the States who "hate America" (and gays and Jews, in particular)

Oh, and we also watched Richard Dawkins's documentary on The God Delusion, featuring many overly religious Americans, including Ted Haggard, the prominent evangelical minister, now defrocked for regularly privately paying for gay sex (and crystal meth) while publicly preaching/campaigning against gays.

My kids have never lived in the States, and, I must say, from the outside it looks like a very dubious place...

Abolish school!

I just love to read calls to abolish schools. If only we had to courage to do it.

Robert Epstein, author of the recently published The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, openly argues for it in his article "Let's Abolish High School" in Education Week. Just as Alvin Toffler explained why we need to shut down the public education system in the Feb. 2007 issue of Edutopia.

It's what Prof. Stephen Heppell was suggesting at the IBAP conference: instead of schools, what if we could measure what people know and offer a free, global model of recognition of accomplishment? A kind of YouTube for learning outcomes, as he said.

During his talk, Heppell showed us several examples of work by "researchers" (as students are called, to distance them from traditional school language) participating his notschool.net project. These kids, excluded from traditional schools for some reason, are given a brand-new Macintosh computer, a broadband internet connection, and mentors -- and the learning begins. The program has exceeded all expectations. (See this report on the Apple Learning website.)

Heppell was also instrumental in the establishment of Ultraversity -- a degree course now offered at a UK university, where people can work full-time and study full-time -- by learning about the work they're already doing. (See this 2003 Guardian (UK) article on Ultraversity.)

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Global visions of the world

How can we convey global visions of the world?

A fantastic visual tool I've started using with my primary students is worldmapper: the world as you've never seen it before - a joint project of the Univ of Sheffield (UK) and the Univ of Michigan (US).

Statistics about the world are presented on a world map where each country or area swells or shrinks in proportion to the data being represented. A picture is worth a thousand words -- start with the basic land area, then move on to population, then look at the estimates of the distribution of the world's wealth in the year 1 (yes, 2000 years ago) and in the year 2015. There are 366 maps so far, covering pollution, disease, resources, violence, education, etc. It's a site to watch.

Then there's the Breathing Earth website which shows you births, deaths, and carbon dioxide emissions in real time around the globe.

On a more artistic note, see Jonathan Harris's Universe project which "reveals our modern mythology" using input from the news portal Daylife.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The form & content of the future

For all the virtues of virtual connections, there's nothing like a few days of face-to-face with large numbers of peers for some mental and social expansion.

Last week I had two such valuable experiences at overlapping conferences:

[The EARCOS one is listed on Hitchkr (a compendium of blog postings on different conferences) but not the IBAP one. As for handouts to download, the IB ones are listed on the conference website given above, but for the EARCOS ones you have to drill down into the sub-pages, e.g., the Workshop Presenters page, and look under each name.]

I'm writing up my notes here and here, but the focal point of both experiences was on the form and content of the future that educators, in particular, need to start acting upon -- and each conference provided an excellent guru.

Technology is obviously the form, but while anyone can get up and rant about exponential growth and the need to embrace change, not just anyone can show us workable paths and original thinking.

At the IBAP conference, Stephen Heppell (check out his bio, if you've never heard of him) pulled up example after example from his crowded Mac desktop screen showing us how he's involved in getting students and teachers to learn collaboratively using the latest technology (see notschool.net, teachers.tv, the learnometer project, the "be very afraid" film series, etc.). His presentation lived up to the tags on his website: learning, ingenuity, research, policy, design, technology, and delight. (I'll blog more about his ideas in a separate posting.)

Global issues are the content. The appearance of Jean-Francois Rischard, author of the book High Noon, at the EARCOS conference was very timely. Consensus on the pressing problem of global warming has coalesced (thanks in part to Al Gore's movie) over the past several months, so it was wonderful to hear from someone who has been thinking seriously about the problem -- and even bigger ones -- for several years.

His overall message was that we need to come up with a new methodology of global problem-solving because the problems now facing the world must be resolved by countries working together. Like Heppell, Rischard is someone who has been involved in the system he's critiquing, as he used to work for the World Bank and is very knowledgeable about the current international organizations available. (I'll blog more about his ideas in a separate posting.)

The popular meme that was killed for me, thanks to these conferences, was Marc Prensky's digital immigrant/digital native divide. I've been guilty of spreading it myself, but, I'm sorry -- given the rate of change, doesn't the divide continually shift? Is it meaningful? Each cohort born will be exposed to some technology at a younger age than those born a few years before. There was a "Student Perspectives on IT and Education" forum at the IBAP conference and the teens who participated (from two different international schools in Singapore) admitted they marvel at how younger kids are utilizing technology at a younger age than they did, e.g., mobile phones. The term "digital natives" did not resonate with them, though they did gripe that many of their teachers were not as digitally fluent as they were. I much prefer the idea of a digital literacy or fluency continuum, regardless of age.

A focus on an age definition of "digital natives" (e.g., born after 1973 or whatever the current year-marker is) also ignores the very real economic digital divide. To speak sweepingly of a whole digital generation, when many children have yet to touch a digital device, is misleading.

Brain research is strongly linked to this concept of "digital natives" and "digital immigrants". I must go back and review the latest reports because almost every speaker (especially that stand-up comic/evangelist preacher Ian Jukes) made it sound like kids' brains have eternal neuro-plasticity while ours are hopelessly hardwired. I'm sure I've recently read about the window of neural-plasticity staying open (longer), e.g., that the elderly can even continue to build new neural pathways if they keep mentally fit (the old 'use-it or lost-it' saying). Anyway, something to look up later.

As I've mentioned Jukes, I also want to point out something that strikes me as odd about his blog. I've clicked on at least six different postings (see, for example, Video Games Focus on Exercising Brain and The Handwriting is on the Wall) and they appear to be his comments on an article, for which he provides a link at the bottom of the posting. BUT, when you go to the article, it's word-for-word the same as his posting. So he seems to be posting whole copies of article texts on his blog with no attribution (neither publication nor author) on the blog itself -- though he does provide a link to the article (which doesn't always work though -- e.g., several link to expired articles (Students use IM Lingo in Essays and Shoes Track Children Using GPS) and one posting appears to be an image so you can't actually click on the link (1867 Nanomachine Now Reality)). My impression of him was as an energetic re-packager of ideas (I had heard them all before from other sources) and his blog makes it look like he doesn't even do that very well.

Would we really let students copy an article on their blog without indicating that it was NOT their own words in the posting, even if they did provide a link at the end to the real article? Must review online ethical etiquette sometime...

More thoughts in separate postings...

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