Making a Difference
This Time It's Personal and Dangerous2013 has been an interesting year. Education is being juggled more than ever between pedagogy and corporate control AND it is personal -- for you -- for me -- for our children. The marketing strategy of adaptive learning systems is that of 24/7 services that you can access at any time, in any place and at any pace. Education has adopted this language to reduce costs with business-like customization and streamlined productivity. The expectation is for a flexible education system that will also be more efficient and cost effective. [Source: Rebirth of the Teaching Machine Through the Seduction of Data Analytics: This Time It's Personal by Phil McRae]
"The adaptive learning system crusade in schools is organized, growing in power and well-funded by venture capitalists and corporations. Many companies are looking to profit from student and teacher data that can be easily collected, stored, processed, customized, analyzed, and then ultimately resold".There's money in it, but not for the right reasons nor for the right people: our children. I read this research by Phil McRae and it all made sense. This time it is personal. Corporations are taking our educational system, shaking it up and spitting out children who cannot think for themselves. They are calling it cost-effective but actually, adaptive learning systems are more costly than we know. It is all about the data this time. This is so dangerous for our society that I have to speak up and hope you speak up about this also. We need to fight for our children and their future and their data. Framing adaptive learning systems as "personalized learning" has to stop. This image “At School in the Year 2000” - a futuristic image of learning as depicted on a postcard from the World’s Fair in Paris, Circa 1899 predicting what learning will be like in France in the year 2000. It is scary that this depiction is becoming true in the US and other parts of the world because we are being sold a bill of goods. Corporations and politicians are really good at framing what they believe we want to hear around a philosophy or concept that markets something they want to sell or use. Wikimedia Commons The idea of children having their own personal choice how they will learn is being redesigned as increasingly data driven, standardized, and mechanized learning systems. Children should not be treated like automated teller machines or credit reward cards where companies can take their valuable data. It is all about control and saving money. But who's money? Yes, technology can help personalize learning, but what technology and how? And who's data? Let's be real: adaptive learning systems are for those things that can be easily digitized and tested like math problems and reading passages. They do not recognize or encourage high quality learning environments that are creative, inquiry-based, active, relevant, collaborative, and what our children need to be global citizens who are critical thinkers and problem-solvers. We did this before. McRae reviews the history of using technology to control learning. It was all about feeding information to kids and controlling what they learned. B.F. Skinner did this in the 1950s where learning was about measurability, uniformity, and control of the student. I grew up then and remember having problems understanding some concepts. That was mainly because everyone in the class was supposed to learn the same content at the same pace -- too much content -- too fast for most of us. I was provided an "intelligent tutor" outside of the classroom and sat in front of a screen answering multiple choice questions about what I read. I felt stupid and ashamed. It still didn't make sense, but the teacher didn't have extra time to spend with students falling behind. I know I'm smart, but I felt stupid in many of my classes. If I went through that then, how many others felt like me? I wanted to give up, but one teacher and my parents believed in me. They spent time with me figuring out why I didn't get it. That's all I wanted -- time with a real person who cared. We didn't have all the technology then that we have now or I would have googled it and figured it out by myself. The problem with the technology then was that it wasn't personal for me. It was the same worksheet I didn't understand in the first place now on a screen. In the 1970s and 1980s, Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) became the next big thing. Programs like PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations)and Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC) were building labs for schools for large numbers of at-risk children paid with Title I money and categorical funds. I remember these because I was asked as technology coordinator and professional developer to help set them up. Schools put these labs in any area that would fit. Some high poverty schools had them set up next to heaters and most were managed by a parent or para-professional. Teachers would rotate their classes in and out every week. Kids were so excited at first to play the games that supposedly taught concepts they needed to learn. After about six months, kids got bored with the games and clicked on any keys just to get through the games. There was nothing relevant or made sense for them to be there. Kids are so much smarter than we give them credit. When they were in their classes, they felt like they could maybe ask questions about their learning. But, in the lab, there was no one or no way to question what or if that was the one right answer. After a few years, the labs were dismantled or used for other purposes. But all the money was gone so there was no one left to run the labs or train the teachers. CAI is now back as "adaptive learning systems." Some of the old programs have been repurposed with more interactivity. McRae states it as "adaptive learning systems still promote the notion of the isolated individual, in front of a technology platform, being delivered concrete and sequential content for mastery. However, the re-branding is that of personalization (individual), flexible and customized (technology platform) delivering 21st century competencies (content)." [Source: McRae's research] CCC's SuccessMaker is now Pearson's adaptive learning system. Other adaptive systems have repurposed content but they still promote building mastery with sequential content. It is similar to the old worksheets repurposed using new technology. Dreambox refers to Skinner's teaching machine and "adaptive learning as a computer-based and/or online educational system that modifies the presentation of material in response to student performance. Best-of-breed systems capture fine-grained data and use learning analytics to enable human tailoring of responses. The associated learning management systems (LMS) provide comprehensive administration, documentation, tracking and reporting progress, and user management." [Source: http://www.dreambox.com/adaptive-learning] Source: U.S. Department of Education , Office of Educational Technology, Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics: An Issue Brief October 2012, page 30 Dreambox is now framing their system as "Intelligent Adaptive Learning" and others are starting to use the term "Intelligent Tutors." Companies are creating hundreds of white papers and studies to prove that adaptive learning systems benefit our children. Be careful! Read them closely for the messages being delivered. We need to be critical consumers for our children's sake. McRae writes why we are so seduced for adaptive learning systems:
"First, it is seen as opening up possibilities for greater access to data that can be used to hyper-individualize learning and in turn diagnose the challenges facing entire school systems. Second, the modern teaching machines, and the growing reach and power of technologies, promises to (re)shape students into powerful knowledge workers of the 21st Century."As I said in my own situation, all I needed was time and someone who cared and listened to me. Today the technology is at our fingertips and children are using technology at younger and younger ages. We don't need to spend millions on these systems. Information is available when we need it now. We just need to teach our children how to acquire the skills that help them access, evaluate, and use the information they find. We cannot feed information to children from "Teaching Machines" like what was in the 1899 postcard and what Skinner projected. It didn't work in the 50s or the 90s. It won't work now. This is dangerous for our children and our society. Our children need caring and compassionate classrooms that encourage independent, creative and collaborative work. Technology is changing rapidly. We don't need to go backwards and plug our children into machines. They will do that on their own but they need guidance in a different way. They need to know what is happening with their data. Schools protect student data, but adaptive learning systems sell the data to third party companies. Consider all the free social media and other programs available that collect data from you. You probably are aware when you sign in to certain programs, they know you and your data. But you might not have known that your child's data including social security numbers and health concerns are being sold to third parties. This is dangerous! It will get even more dangerous if the government funds it and encourages the use of adaptive learning systems without some oversight. Teachers need to know how to facilitate a different kind of learning environment that is flexible, personal, and creative. Personalized learning means that learners own and drive their learning not the technology using algorithms based on performance that controls learning. Learners need to learn how to think on their own. This will not happen if adaptive learning systems control how and what they learn. It is personal now! Let's all work together and do the right thing for our children. Teach them to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Show them that they can drive their learning so they can reach their fullest potential.
Learning that is Personal and Beyond OurselvesEverything is "personalized" and kids today are so connected more than ever. Will kids be ready for their future? Read more
Why I Love LearningI used to say to my kids that "I love learning" and they would just laugh at me. But I do. I relish each new concept I learn and take apart and roll it around in my brain. I love what I do which is helping teachers develop learning environments that are engaging and full of joy. Maybe what I want is for everyone, teachers and learners, to have that same "love of learning." I read AJ Juliani's post "Why do so many bad students turn out to be great teachers?" and definitely could relate. I was just a s0-so student in high school. Traditional teacher-centered instruction just turned me off. I didn't see why I had to learn the times of events in history from the most boring teacher I ever had. We had to sit straight with our hands clasped while he talked in a monotone voice. This was 10th grade. Now really!! He destroyed my curiosity about history. I barely passed his class and felt stupid. Then in 11th grade my eyes were open to World History. I was drawn to want to learn more about the people and the times they were living in. We relived times and events and performed as characters from the past. I never had this experience before where I participated in the learning. I was even given a choice on how I wanted to express myself. This was where I got the bug for learning. I grew up in Maryland in a very nice area not too far from Washington, DC. A great place to grow up. I don't think my experience with school was that different than others my age. I'm going to go back where I lost my way -- when I was in first grade. This is where I realized I was a "bad" student. My teacher was strict and even punished us with a ruler. She would put people in groups by height, girls or boys, and even by color of hair. So that's when I lost my confidence. I was the only redhead in the class and sat by myself. Why would she do that? The year got worse and my confidence dropped farther and farther. I felt that I wasn't very smart so this is how I participated in school all the way to 11th grade until I had that great History teacher. There were a few good teachers here and there and my parents always believed in me. My mom was an artist who taught me to think outside the box and draw outside the lines. That was never allowed in my 1st grade class. I loved learning before I started school, but school made me feel like I couldn't learn. After I graduated High School (barely), I moved to California and went to community college. I felt free. I felt like me. I was told when I was younger that I can't write. But I can. I love to write. I wrote some poems for my English teacher and he asked me to read them in the quad. Everyone gave me great feedback. Then he helped me enter one of my poems in a contest. I won first prize. Then I took Anatomy and Physiology from an amazing teacher who made me want to learn everything about the body. I couldn't wait to go to his class. Then I took Humanities and Art History. I loved this. All of it. I wanted more and more. I realized and believe now that I am smart in my own way. I love to write and read and learn. I wish and hope all children never lose that love of learning, the curiosity they were born with, and the opportunities to be creative. This is why I see the importance of making learning personal for each and every learner. I love learning. Do you?
Unearthing HumorAs a parent and educator, you always hope that your children and students find their purpose and passion and then live it. My daughter, Sara Zimmerman, is living her passion better than many people I know. She's an artist, web designer, musician, climber, mom, wife, daughter, sister, and now author. Check out "Unearthed Comics" where she just launched her book "Un-earthing the Universe, One Comic at a Time" and I'm a sponsor. What a great idea! Everyday is exciting for Sara, her husband, Rob, and her 5 year old daughter, Cali. I am learning from them that you can play while you work and work while you play. They have a band where Sara plays her drums and Cali has her own set to follow along. Rob and Sara are a real team with the web designing, their band, and climbing. Check out "Unearthed Comics" and get yourself the book and a decal. You can even take the decal with you when you travel and share where in the world you and the Marilyn decal are visiting on her blog. And for anyone wanting some great marketing advice, download her free eBook on Making Smart Marketing Decisions.
Reflections on Change and LearningI find myself in an interesting time in my life. I could retire but I don't want to. This is an exciting time where all the efforts I've taken for years to change education are starting to come together. I can taste it, smell it, and feel it. I'm working with schools around the world and the issue seems to be the same. There are a few pockets of excellence but we tend to still be embedded and entangled in a system of traditional education. The questions I get from teachers all over the world have the same tone:
- how do I give students voice and choice when I am accountable for their learning?
- how do I become a co-designer with students who don't want to be at school?
- what if I transform a lesson and it fails?
- Does the administration trust that the teacher will meet all the required curriculum?
- Does the teacher trust that their students will do the work?
- Do the students trust the teacher to teach them what they need to know?
Available Anytime AnywhereWe talk about having access to content from anywhere using our mobile devices, but we didn't think about what that meant to us. We thought it meant access to content anytime from anywhere. What it seems is that it also means we are available anytime someone wants us. It doesn't mean we have to be available. Let me clarify why I'm writing this. I have to turn my cell and other phones off at night because now I'm on several lists that I cannot get off. I get calls on all my phones from a "Name Unavailable" from different numbers from around the world wanting me to sign up to different promotions all day and all night long I don't answer "Name Unavailable" yet they don't leave a message. So I gave up one night at 3am and answered it. It was someone promoting Google Ads. I asked to be taken off the list. 30 minutes later I got another call from a different "Name Unavailable" number for the same type of promotion. There is no way to be taken off this list because these are individual freelancers trying to make money. They could be anywhere in the world. The same thing happened during the last election. I received calls from people working for different campaigns around the country who were using their cell phones. There was no way for me to block them. They came up "Name Unavailable." So back to Google or Yahoo or other "FREE" programs that call you in the middle of the night wanting you to sign up for something. I started reviewing what I signed up for and realized several years ago I signed up for Google Adsense. Then I thought maybe I could try Google Checkout for my store. So that's how I got on a list. I do not use either one. I get it. I also tried promoting my company on Facebook. That's another list. I'm using Safeway's Just for You. Another list. Every time I signed up for something "Free" I was put on another list. So to get off a list, you have to remember what lists you signed up for and unsubscribe. Mmmmmmmm! I don't think that is possible today. You don't know who has your number. I heard we have over 150,000 data points associated with us. That is, I joined Facebook and added friends. If any of those friends sign up for Words with Friends, I'm a data point now. That means that Words with Friends used an algorithm to find me and promote their game to me. The same thing happens when you sign up for a credit card, make a purchase with debit card, or join a "Free" website that is connected to social media. So back to being available anytime. The idea of 24/7/365 is that you have access to resources and your network anytime when you log on using your computer or your smart mobile device. This gives a whole new meaning to "smart" and how you use it. Today's kids have been brought up with the Internet and mobile devices. They only know anytime, anywhere. I see kids texting while they are sitting next to their friends. For all I know, they are texting each other instead of talking. The world is different. The world is smaller. Friends mean so much to them that if they get a text, they answer right away. We had to make a law "No Texting While Driving" because it is rampant and causing accidents. I think we need to teach another new skill: boundaries. When do you say today in this moment I do not need to answer the call or read the text. It is all about priorities and respect. I had to learn this when I created My eCoach. I wanted to be there all the time as a coach. But a coach also does not need to enable the other person. The idea of coaching is to nudge and support the other person so they can find their own way. I still like the idea of having a place like My eCoach that respects your privacy. We don't sell any data or advertise or call you in the middle of the night. We do have clients from around the world who are up when I'm asleep but that's okay. They can access My eCoach anytime, anywhere. I finally got it that my time is important. I can be available when I have time. Not when I'm driving. Not when I'm sleeping. So if I don't answer you in the middle of the night, it's not that I don't like you or something; it's because I need to sleep.
Tips to be CreativeI've been rethinking learning and see how innovations can happen. I love books and see the potential for eBooks. That is, until I learned about Richard Mason's book History of a Pleasure Seeker. Mason is a prolific author who writes his original manuscripts by hand in a journal the size of an iPad. When he saw the iPad, he visualized how his book could come to life -- not just an eBook or iBook. It took two years, but this is the way I wanted books to be. One reviewer wrote:
"The History of a Pleasure Seeker app is exactly what a book app should be! You can read or listen to the book (or both at the same time) and enjoy the little extras (extremely well produced extras, I might add) without having to put the book down."He included ways for his readers to ask him questions, paragraphs can be read to you, you can visualize text, and more. Mason is a writer and changed the way he saw how his words could be represented to his readers.
- Observe: When you are trying to come up with a new project or idea, study how others do something similar and the problems they might be having.
- Become an Expert: Focus on something you are interested in and learn as much as you can. Then share what you find.
- Step out of your Comfort Zone: Do something outside of the ordinary for you. Sign up for a class doing something you always wanted to do, read a different type of book than you are used to reading, learn a new language, go on a trip to somewhere you never thought you would go to. New experiences change your brain and might open up ideas you never thought of before.
- Be Willing to Work Alone: Sometimes working in a group and brainstorming stops the creative process. If you focus on your ideas and play with them, you just might come up with something yourself. Then share it.
- Play and Have Fun: Balance in your life is good for you. If you only work all the time, you will start resenting what you are doing. If you stop and play, you can come back refreshed and maybe have new ideas to work on.
- Daydream: It is amazing how the mind works. It doesn't stop even when you sleep. Take a nap in the middle of the day. Pause and reflect on what you have been doing. Then imagine things that are just almost impossible.
- Reflect: Keep a journal or write a blog. You never know what ideas come to you as you start reflecting on your thinking. Then share your ideas in social media. It might be interesting to see if any of your ideas are retweeted.
- Share your Ideas: If you come up with something novel, share it. Find others who will give you constructive feedback. They may give you ideas that go in a completely different direction that will make your ideas even better. You may get ideas that will not help you at all but confirm the direction you are going.
- Challenge Yourself: Sometimes you are onto something and just keep doing it because you started it. Stop! See if this direction is going to work. Maybe you need to stop and start a new project or idea and put that other idea to rest for a little to come back to later.
- Express Yourself: Take a break to sing a song, dance a dance, or draw a picture. If that doesn't get you going, then just get up and move. Go for a walk. Your brain works best if you move and stimulate both sides of your brain.
Read Around the World á la Francais
My search for student-centered learning environments led me to Nicole Naditz who teaches French at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks near Sacramento, California. Our conversation first started about flipping the classroom. She wrote me:
"I think I'm like many teachers: most of us feel like we haven't yet arrived where we want to be in terms of what we're doing with students. I have so much further to go and I really want to do more work that infuses rigor and relevance in the curriculum and connects my students to both their communities and the French-speaking community." Nicole Naditz
"I'm still a novice in terms of fully turning over my curriculum to the students, but I'm always striving to work more in that direction. In the meantime, I work hard to ensure that what their learning is put to meaningful use, is rigorous and engages them with the French-speaking community beyond our school. For the online projects with other countries, I have typically designed them in cooperation with the other teacher, although my students always have significant input. I tell the students to write a book encouraging children to eat healthfully. After that, they are free to create. The best books are sent to France or Belgium to be put in the waiting rooms of children's areas of hospitals or dentists.That's when I knew Nicole was moving into the student-centered world even if she didn't realize it. Email after email, I received specific projects from Nicole.
Making Thinking VisibleHow can classrooms become places of intellectual stimulation where learning is viewed not as test scores but in the development of individuals who can think, plan, create, question, and engage independently as learners? Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners offers educators research-based solutions for creating just such cultures of thinking. This innovative book unravels the mysteries of thinking and its connection to understanding and engagement. It then takes readers inside diverse learning environments to show how thinking can be made visible at any grade level and across all subject areas through the use of effective questioning, listening, documentation, and facilitative structures called thinking routines. These routines, designed by researchers at Project Zero at Harvard, scaffold and support one's thinking. By applying these processes, thinking becomes visible as learners' ideas are expressed, discussed, and reflected upon.
The authors, Ron Ritchard, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison, ask "As we shared our research and classroom tested ideas about how to make thinking visible, be it in a classroom or with a group of adult learners, people kept asking us where they could read more about them. How could they learn more about how others were using them? How could they ensure that they and their students weren't just using the thinking routines as activities? To answer those questions we put together this book with help from educators around the world."
Watch a video from co-author Ron Richard about the Importance of Thinking.