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Archive for February 2011


The Educated Unemployable

Thomas Friedman’s article China, Twitter and 20-year-olds vs the Pyramids wrote:

“Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Tunisia today are overflowing with the most frustrated cohort in the world — “the educated unemployables.” They have college degrees on paper but really don’t have the skills to make them globally competitive. I was just in Singapore. Its government is obsessed with things as small as how to better teach fractions to third graders.”

This issue is not the middle East’s problem alone. The world is changing and education is not looking at the bigger picture. We are in a global crises everywhere. Young people 15-29 are realizing that their education or lack of it is impacting their ability to get the type of jobs they need to live. They are finding they have a voice: on the Internet. People making sure they are heard: on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Friedman writes:

“The Arab world has 100 million young people today between the ages of 15 and 29, many of them males who do not have the education to get a good job, buy an apartment and get married. That is trouble. Add in rising food prices, and the diffusion of Twitter, Facebook and texting, which finally gives them a voice to talk back to their leaders and directly to each other, and you have a very powerful change engine.”

What if oil prices rise? They will. It’s inevitable. Then food prices. Yes, they will rise too especially if more countries have government turnovers and the people of the country revolt. It is now happening in Algeria. What about developed countries like the United States, the UK, Australia, and Europe. If the unemployment rate does not go down in the US to 8%, the US is going to make some changes maybe not to where we need to go. Also are the numbers correct? What about the 99ers who have been unemployed for over 13 months?

We have educated people who have been looking for work for months. Work has changed. Businesses are running slimmer and cutting costs because of the uncertain economy and less cash flow. So things have to change all over. If people 15-29 are educated, use social media, then maybe we need to teach them how to use social media to create businesses and entrepreneurial skills. For those in under-developed countries, this will be a very big challenge. How to create enough jobs or businesses for 100 million people? Oh my!!

There just are not enough jobs for everyone. When I look at organizations like Kiva that provide small loans for people around the world who want to start their own businesses, I see hope. Everyone of us has a dream somewhere down deep. We were born as unique individuals who have interests and passions. If we continue to teach the same way we have for hundreds of years, we will continue to get the same products. People looking for work that is not there.

It is time to review all this emphasis on testing and standards and question “are we preparing our children for their future?” Our competition is not the school next door. It is China and India. Our children are part of the global marketplace. As long as they believe school as we know it today may prepare them for their future, they are caught in a system that could lead them down a road of failure. Some jobs are definitely needed: doctors, lawyers, engineers. But even if you become a teacher, it does not mean you will be assured there will be a job for you where you want to work.

How about teaching how to do projects, create projects, and market your projects? People who have critical thinking skills and are creative how they find solutions will get projects. Jobs where you received benefits and a pension may not be the same anymore. Just having a job now does not give anyone security anymore. We are in a revolution. Education is the key but what it looks like today is not what we need for the world’s economy. It is not all about jobs anymore. It is about how we are preparing people for their own survival and how it benefits society or the people in your area. If we start children very young asking questions and being curious about the world, they will come up with solutions.

Why not create a project about the climate, the creeks in your area, housing market, or another major issue that impacts your community? Except ask the students to create the project, ask the questions, and own the process. Any project can match standards. Students own the learning when it is relevant and real to them.


The Purpose of Education

Purpose BadgeThe purpose of education is to provide opportunities for all children to meet their fullest potential. That’s not happening. The dropout rate in the United States is higher than ever. More children are left behind now since the law No Child Left Behind. Now we’re Racing to the Top expecting all children to be at grade level by 2014.

Schools are designed the same way they were hundreds of years ago. The teacher is delivering instruction and facts very similar to the lessons they taught with an overhead projector or chalkboard. Schools were designed after the factory model starting in the 1800s. Grouping by age meant a teacher would have more control over their classroom like a manager in a factory behind closed doors. Standards were developed so at each grade level, students at one age would learn skills and attain specific knowledge that would prepare them to move to the next level. Just because one child is at a five year level doesn’t mean that all five year olds think alike or have similar prior knowledge.

Each child learns at different rates, and has different learning styles and intelligences. One six year old may be reading and writing fluently where another has never had the opportunity to read at home nor owns books and may not even know the letters of the alphabet. Since No Child Left Behind legislation, instruction is more teacher directed with the focus on increasing scores. Textbook companies created content that taught to the test. Several of the textbook companies own or are closely tied to the testing companies.

My dream is for every child to be in control of their own learning. The purpose of education needs to shift to the learner learning in any environment.. Now with digital textbooks, online courses, Web 2.0, social media, and access to everything a learner needs at their fingertips, the purpose of education is changing.

We cannot continue to deliver instruction feeding students facts. We need to rethink how to structure learning. Does it have to be at a school? What if students could review what they need to learn by the end of the year and collaborate with their teacher, peers, and parents to design real-world engaging and innovative activities? Students should be able to assess their prior knowledge and be able to challenge a class so they move at their own speed.

Let’s redesign schools into learning centers similar to Reggio Emilia schools. Teachers as observers and co-learners. Students ask questions that mean something to them. Everything is inquiry-based. This approach can be adapted for K-20 even if you base it on standards. Students can learn at a higher level if they are motivated. Look at collecting evidence of learning in an ePortfolio posted online and showcasing projects that mean something to the world so students celebrate what they know and do. We can bring joy back to learning and create amazing citizens who collaborate on global projects.


Building a Learning Village

First posted in the Winter OnCUE Journal 2011

“Many of our schools are good schools, if only this were 1965.”-Louise Stoll & Dean Fink

The world is changing. Today everyone is connected to each other with information instantly at your fingertips. Everything is changing, that is, except schools. Teachers and administrators are integrating technology by adding interactive whiteboards, instant response clickers, and even 1:1 laptop programs. However, one glance into most classrooms, you would find very little has changed over the past 30 or more years. Education still mainly involves teachers feeding information to students to cover the curriculum in preparation for a standardized test. 21st Century teachers involve everyone in the community in their children’s learning.

Changing the learning environment takes more than adding technology to the mix. It means bringing in the real world, involving the school community, and changing the learning environment so our children have the skills they need to compete in the global economy. Some of the resources we had in our homes 30-40 years ago include:

  • Television without remotes
  • Landline phones
  • Records and maybe 8 track cassettes
  • First personal computers with less than 128K owned by very few
  • No Internet or maybe a select few had email

Today, most children, even those who may be at-risk, have cell phones. Many of these cell phones are Smartphones with the ability to connect to the Internet, text messages, listen to music, and even watch TV and movies. The power of these Smartphones is thousands of times more powerful than what we had with multiple devices 30 years ago.

Culture influences student learning more than even formal learning with easy access to cable television, music, video games, cell phones, movies, and other technology. Before and after school students connect to each other and virtual places that transform them into worlds we have no control over. The classroom can no longer be separated from the real world. Educators need to find ways to make learning relevant and applicable to students’ real world so that they are influenced by intellectual information rather than simply the pop culture of today, which has changed drastically over the past 30 years. [Johnson, B and McElroy, T. 2010]

Authentic Relationships with the Community

Teachers have been and many still prefer working in an isolated environment. The classroom is their domain. The teacher who prefers working in this situation may lack the confidence they need to engage in authentic conversations with parents and others from the community. The classroom door is literally closed to the world. The 21st Century teacher involves everyone in the community that believe in their children and want the best for them. This open and inviting teacher welcomes dialogue, builds authentic relationships with all key members involved, and sees this as an opportunity to develop classroom support for their students and themselves. Authentic relationships are built upon respect between all the members of the school community. Each member has responsibilities in developing and nurturing these relationships. All key individuals are important because of the experiences and abilities they bring to the educational community. It takes everyone in the educational community (the village) to produce an intentional relationship.

Opening up the classroom and inviting the community to be involved with what is happening in the classroom is new for many of our teachers. Even our newest teachers may not have learned these strategies in their teacher education programs. Change is scary. This administrator can build the relationships with the community first by promoting their school and its goals. The administrator can reach out to teachers, leaders, businesses, parents, and other stakeholders to encourage their involvement in designing a shared vision for the school.  Everyone needs to voice their hopes and fears in a risk-free environment. A shared vision gives all stakeholders a sense of ownership and feeling of pride in the outcomes. Asking a business or organization to participate in students’ learning activities may open doors that lead to new doors.

You never know what could present itself if members of the community realize they could help their school. Some ways might include:

  • a plot for a community garden
  • mentors and tutors for the after-school program
  • career day
  • author book talks
  • technology support
  • offering prizes and rewards for events

In turn, students could participate in community service learning projects:

  • reading to young children
  • maintaining the garden
  • teaching technology to seniors
  • being a docent for an exhibit

Bringing Parents on Board

Today’s families have also greatly changed compared to 30-40 years ago. There are extreme pressures on families with the economic concerns and other demands of today’s culture. The number of working moms has doubled from 30 percent in the 1970’s to almost 60 percent today. Just to keep the family together means that Americans work 160 hours more per year than they did 20 years ago. With the economic conditions, some parents are out of work and having difficult times paying their bills.  On top of that, many students live with one parent, a guardian, or two working parents.  Parenting is even more difficult when you consider the gap between parents and their tech savvy children.

The 21st century teacher can initiate new types of relationships with their students’ parents. This teacher contacts each students parents or guardian to learn more about their child, their hopes and dreams for their child, and how they can work together to guide their child to success. They become a team that is a collaborative support system that keeps a close eye on the progress of their child. The school can have an online portal that parents can access to check on homework, grades, and projects. Since face-to-face meetings may not be possible with parents busy schedules, teachers can forge a connection with parents in a virtual environment. Teachers can connect using a variety of tools such as setting up a website or wiki, a newsletter, a contact form, chat, email, IM, Twitter, blogs, and even providing their cell phone number. In this instantly connectability world, parents and teachers do not have to be strangers.


Johnson, B. and McElroy, T. The Changing Role of the Teacher in the 21st September 2010. Vol. 7. No 9. Online. Retrieved September 20, 2010.” target=”_blank”>