Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Make School Different

Credit Scott McLeod for, once again, pushing our thinking and promoting positive change with school and education. His current endeavor challenges educators to identify five ways schools should be different, and label these recommendations with the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. The second part of this challenge is to tag five people who you would like to see engaged in this conversation.

Part One - Five things we need to stop pretending in school 

  1. Schools are the epicenter of all learning.
  2. Classroom teachers are the primary gatekeepers of knowledge and information.
  3. Testing is worthwhile use of class time.
  4. Letter grades provide valuable learning feedback to students.
  5. Classrooms with closed doors, rows of desks, and a podium, are student-centered.

Part Two - Five educators who I'm inviting to engage in this dialogue 

  1. Alfie Kohn - @alfiekohn
  2. Brad Gustafson - @gustafsonbrad
  3. Will Richardson - @willrich45
  4. Tom Whitby - @tomwhitby
  5. Alan November - @globalearner

There are countless other respected educators who deserve mention, but some have been previously tagged while others will certainly make it on to someone else's list. These are five thought-change leaders who stretch my thinking, and add to my widening perspective regarding the role of school in education and learning. Please extend this conversation by sharing your 5 + 5 using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag.

photo credit: Interior of classroom, Indian Industrial School, Brandon, Manitoba, 1946 / Intérieur d’une salle de classe, École industrielle indienne, Brandon (Manitoba), 1946 via photopin (license)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Three Ways Social Media Enhances Student Learning

"Engaging in various forms of social media is a routine activity that research has shown to benefit children and adolescents by enhancing communication, social connection, and even technical skills. Social media sites such as Facebook offer multiple daily opportunities for connecting with friends, classmates, and people with shared interests." (The Impact of Social Media On Children, Adolescents, and Families - American Academy of Pediatrics)

With stories of cyberbullying, harassment, and plagiarism, the risks of engaging in social media are well-publicized. However, research suggests the use of social media impacts learning in many positive ways. Here are three benefits that merit extra attention; 

  1. Increased Student Engagement - Students readily connect with others through social media. Watch what happens when kids need to find a solution to their problem. They reach out to their networks, they "Google" for information, and they watch instructional videos. Billy, my stepson, and a high school freshman, wants to build his own computer so that he can become dominant in the world of Minecraft. Where is he learning how to accomplish this? You guessed it, through experts on social media. He will document the assembly process using photos and video, and share the results on YouTube with his network. Students, like Billy, will use social media tools, often for hours on end, to solve problems, communicate ideas, and create media demonstrating their skills. Purposeful use of social media brings elements of empowerment, enthusiasm, and play into the learning experience. These elements increase engagement, and increase the likelihood of meaningful, deepened, learning.
  2. Collaborative Learning Opportunities - Learning is a simultaneously personal and social endeavor. Social media allows students to differentiate, and individualize their learning. In addition, social media allows learners to connect and communicate with others beyond the walls and bells of the classroom. Problems and projects that seem out of reach become possible and real through collaboration. My friend, Alex, teaches a STEM class where students learn how to build and program robots with the help of mechanical engineers at a nearby manufacturing facility. The production teams use Google Hangouts to video chat, and share design documents that will give students an authentic science and engineering learning experience.
  3. Sharing Learning With Authentic Audiences - Research indicates social media elicits positive learning outcomes, particularly when evidence of learning is shared transparently with social networks. Prompt feedback from an authentic audience provides some explanation to the correlation between student use of social media and academic achievement. Another colleague and friend, Theresa, asks her English students to share their compositional writing through blogs. Depth of understanding, and quality of student writing has increased. Theresa says, "In the past, students would write well enough to satisfy a descriptor in a grading rubric. Now, students have the intrinsic motivation of writing something the eyes of the world will want to read. Students thoroughly enjoy getting comments from readers, many from thousands of miles away!"
To maximize effectiveness, educators would be best served to experience personal and professional learning through social media. Teachers would then be better equipped to explain why learning in digital environment is engaging and fulfilling. Teachers would also be better prepared to support student decision-making, and promote safe communication. Today's students are growing up with social media embedded in their social, emotional, and intellectual development. It's up to educators align social media activity with learning outcomes, and assessments for learning. Bottom line, learners of all ages stand to benefit by connecting, collaborating, and communicating with other learners through social media.

Are you and your students using social media to enhance learning? Please share your story in the comment section.

Related Reading

The Impact of Social Media... - American Academy of Pediatrics

How Social Media Can & Should Impact Higher Education - Hispanic Outlook, Mark Blankenship

Social Media A Cause: Learning Activity - User Generated Education, Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

photo credit: iPhone 4 #4 via photopin (license)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Relevance Recipe For Educators

A Relevancy Salad is a nutritious mixture of communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, plus connectedness. For many, the "4-Cs of 21st Century Education" have become a daily part of our school-based jargon. However, there is still some question as to what defines a relevant educator. What are the ingredients and processes necessary for creating a nutritious, tasty, and satisfying relevancy salad?

The first step in creating your relevance salad is the embracing of a learner's mindset. Many, if not all, educators speak highly of lifelong learning, but the best relevancy salads are made by educators who make learning a healthy part of their daily routine. Much like the open air kitchen at your favorite bakery or delicatessen, relevant educators are transparent with their learning processes and reflections. They know getting just the right flavor requires taking some chances. They also acknowledge there may be mistakes and miscalculations along the way, but their growth mindset comes with the understanding that failure can provide beneficial seasoning in the learning process.

Second, sharing is a welcome and essential process in creating a nutritious relevancy salad. The defining quality of an effective personal learning network (PLN) revolves around members contributing a variety of high-quality ingredients to the learning mixture. Just as the variety of fruits and vegetables contribute to the overall flavor of a salad, collaboration invites unique perspective and skills sets to the learning process, along with the creative products of learning.

Third, even old world recipes take on new flavor by incorporating digital technologies and innovative techniques. Connections alone are not enough. In the produce area, it takes a keen eye, a sharp sense of smell, and experienced hands to select the best foods for a fresh, flavorful salad. Following effective contributors, and curating high quality resources takes time, deliberate thought, and experience. Relevant educators have a willingness to try different tools and new techniques for curating, creating, and sharing. 

Relevancy coupled with true innovation involves a shifting of constructs and paradigms. What has worked in the past may still be viable, but may not be what's best for "next-gen" preparedness. Relevant educators, through a process of reflection, realize the learning never ends.

Let's get into the details of our relevancy salad. Adjust ingredients, and quantities to personal preference. Season to taste. In a large mixing bowl add the following items;

  1. Layer in several parts social media. For robust, hearty flavor include a mixture of the following; 1 cup Twitter, 1 cup Linkedin, 1 cup Pinterest, and 1 cup YouTube. Other ingredients that can be substituted or added to this mix include; Google+, Facebook, Instagram, and Remind. These ingredients will form the foundation of connection in the relevancy salad, and will enhance networking capacity.
  2. For more body and depth of flavor, add blogs and social readers. Social readers such as Feedly, Zite, and my personal favorite, Flipboard, introduce timely variety and tastes into the relevancy mix. The reading and writing of blogs adds depth to the presentation while providing a platform to share with authentic audiences.
  3. Immediacy and excitement can be added by mixing in video conferencing (Google Hangouts), webinars (Skype), podcasts, and online chats. Technology allows real-time interaction and collaboration to give the relevancy salad unmatched freshness. The capability of global connection increases the likelihood of wider perspective and deeper understanding.
  4. Conferences add face-to-face seasoning to the relevancy salad. EdCamps allow personalized, empowering aspects to the traditional conference model. The social media ingredients increase the capacity for real-time sharing of the conference experience. These opportunities can add meaning and strengthen PLN relationships. Relationships form the heart-healthy, flavorful dressing of the relevancy salad.
As mentioned previously, these processes and quantities can be adjusted to taste. However, the basic ingredients of the relevancy salad must include learning and sharing.

Now it's your turn to contribute to a collaborative recipe. Feel free to break out the mixing spoons and add your insights or questions in the comments area.

  • What steps and ingredients do you include in your relevancy salad? 
  • Who embodies the concept of a relevant educator? 
  • What contributions have relevant educators made to your recipe?
  • How will you assist other learners in gaining relevance?

Related Resources

The Relevant Educator; How Connectedness... - Tom Whitby & Steven W. Anderson

photo credit: Breakfast via photopin (license)